Two Thumbs Down

Here at the Debate, we try to focus on a single big issue each week. Of course, sometimes things crop up that don't warrant a week all by themselves, but are worthy of mention. Here are a few such items.

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First, two thumbs down for Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who wants to put graffiti artists "on TV and cut off a thumb."

The story goes on to explain that "Goodman also suggested that whippings or canings should be brought back for children who get into trouble." But, Goodman added reassuringly, "They would get a trial first."

* * *

Next, the tidbit that is germane to this week's debate. (Many thanks to Debater carpeicthus for the tip.)

What's all this about crucifixion?

Caveat: I haven't yet tracked down enough supporting evidence to be able to vouch for the authenticity of that story. If you have solid info to add -- confirming or debunking the story -- share it with us.

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Just want to draw your attention to something, about halfway down in this article on top oil execs appearing before the Senate to answer questions about alleged price gouging. In spite of the fact that the swearing in process is fairly commonplace around the Capitol, the story says that Republicans were against a Democratic move to swear in the executives. And indeed, when the time came, Sen. Ted Stevens blocked the Dems motion. (Not exactly a performance of I'll-Quit-the-Senate-if-You-Take-Away-My-Bridge proportions, but impressive nonetheless.)

Brings to mind today's Toles cartoon. Wonder how much money is coming from all those tax breaks and loopholes in the energy bill. Won't it be fascinating when the Energy Task Force records are finally declassified, revealing who consulted on the energy bill?

(I don't hold out hope that they will be, though, since Bush's Executive Order 13233 makes it possible to keep presidential and vice presidential records classified pretty much indefinitely -- all it takes is a request from the former president or "upon the death or disability of a former President, the former President's designated representative." See in particular sections 3(d), 10 and 11.)

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The use of video games as military recruiting device has officially entered the mainstream. Are games like Conflict: Desert Storm and now Conflict: Global Terror not doing the job well enough?

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Anyone know if the Senate version of this resolution honoring Americans killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom ever passed? (As I understand it, the concurrent resolution was a few hundred pages long because it contained not only the names but also data like hometowns and a bit of biographical info of those killed.)

* * *

And finally, the "Cell Phone Bandit" -- a mysterious (but talkative) bank robber.

By Emily Messner |  November 13, 2005; 11:59 PM ET  | Category:  Debate Extras
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Has American democracy died an electronic death in Ohio 2005's referenda defeats?
By Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Online Journal Contributing Writers


Nov 14, 2005, 00:12

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While debate still rages over Ohio's stolen presidential election of 2004, the impossible outcomes of key 2005 referendum issues may have put an electronic nail through American democracy.

Once again, the Buckeye state has hosted an astonishing display of electronic manipulation that calls into question the sanctity of America's right to vote, and to have those votes counted in this crucial swing state.

The controversy has been vastly enhanced due to the simultaneous installation of new electronic voting machines in nearly half the state's 88 counties, machines the General Accountability Office has now confirmed could be easily hacked by a very small number of people.

Last year, the US presidency was decided here. This year, a bond issue and four hard-fought election reform propositions are in question.

Issue One on Ohio's 2005 ballot was a controversial $2 billion "Third Frontier" proposition for state programs ostensibly meant to create jobs and promote high tech industry. Because some of the money may seem destined for stem cell research, Issue One was bitterly opposed by the Christian Right, which distributed leaflets against it.

The Issue was pushed by a Taft administration wallowing in corruption. Governor Bob Taft recently pleaded guilty to misdemeanors stemming from golf outings he took with Tom Noe, the infamous Toledo coin dealer who has taken $4 million or more from the state. Taft entrusted Noe with some $50 million in investments for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation, from which some $12 million is now missing. Noe has been charged with federal money laundering violations on behalf of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Taft's public approval ratings in Ohio are currently around 15 percent.

Despite public fears the bond issue could become a glorified GOP slush fund, Issue One was supported by organized labor. A poll run on the front page of the Columbus Dispatch on Sunday, November 6, showed Issue One passing with 53 percent of the vote. Official tallies showed Issue One passing with 54 percent of the vote.

The polling used by the Dispatch had wrapped up the Thursday before the Tuesday election. Its precision on Issue One was consistent with the Dispatch's historic polling abilities, which have been uncannily accurate for decades. This poll was based on 1,872 registered Ohio voters, with a margin of error at plus/minus 2.5 percentage points and a 95 percent confidence interval. The Issue One outcome would appear to confirm the Dispatch polling operation as the state's gold standard.

But Issues 2-5 are another story.

The Dispatch's Sunday headline showed "3 issues on way to passage." The headline referred to Issues One, Two and Three. As mentioned, the poll was dead-on accurate for Issue One.

Issues Two-Five were meant to reform Ohio's electoral process, which has been under intense fire since 2004. The issues were very heavily contested. They were backed by Reform Ohio Now, a well-funded bi-partisan statewide effort meant to bring some semblance of reliability back to the state's vote count. Many of the state's best-known moderate public figures from both sides of the aisle were prominent in the effort. Their effort came largely in response to the stolen 2004 presidential vote count that gave George W. Bush a second term and led to U.S. history's first congressional challenge to the seating of a state's delegation to the Electoral College.

Issue Two was designed to make it easier for Ohioans to vote early, by mail or in person. By election day, much of what it proposed was already put into law by the state legislature. Like Issue One, it was opposed by the Christian Right. But it had broad support from a wide range of Ohio citizen groups. In a conversation the day before the vote, Bill Todd, a primary official spokesperson for the opposition to Issues Two through Five, told attorney Cliff Arnebeck that he believed Issues Two and Three would pass.

The November 6 Dispatch poll showed Issue Two passing by a vote of 59 percent to 33 percent, with about 8 percent undecided, an even broader margin than that predicted for Issue One.

But on November 8, the official vote count showed Issue Two going down to defeat by the astonishing margin of 63.5 percent against, with just 36.5 percent in favor. To say the outcome is a virtual statistical impossibility is to understate the case. For the official vote count to square with the pre-vote Dispatch poll, support for the Issue had to drop more than 22 points, with virtually all the undecideds apparently going into the "no" column.

The numbers on Issue Three are even less likely.

Issue Three involved campaign finance reform. In a lame duck session at the end of 2004, Ohio's Republican legislature raised the limits for individual donations to $10,000 per candidate per person for anyone over the age of six. Thus a family of four could donate $40,000 to a single candidate. The law also opened the door for direct campaign donations from corporations, something banned by federal law since the administration of Theodore Roosevelt.

The GOP measure sparked howls of public outrage. Though again opposed by the Christian Right, Issue Three drew an extremely broad range of support from moderate bi-partisan citizen groups and newspapers throughout the state. The Sunday Dispatch poll showed it winning in a landslide, with 61 percent in favor and just 25 percent opposed.

Tuesday's official results showed Issue Three going down to defeat in perhaps the most astonishing reversal in Ohio history, claiming just 33 percent of the vote, with 67 percent opposed. For this to have happened, Issue Three's polled support had to drop 28 points, again with an apparent 100 percent opposition from the previously undecideds.

The reversals on both Issues Two and Three were statistically staggering, to say the least.

The outcomes on Issue Four and Five were slightly less dramatic. Issue Four meant to end gerrymandering by establishing a non-partisan commission to set congressional and legislative districts. The Dispatch poll showed it with 31 percent support, 45 percent opposition, and 25 percent undecided. Issue Four's final margin of defeat was 30 percent in favor to 70 percent against, placing virtually all undecideds in the "no" column.

Issue Five meant to take administration of Ohio's elections away from the Secretary of State, giving control to a nine-member non-partisan commission. Issue Five was prompted by Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell's administration of the 2004 presidential vote, particularly in light of his role as co-chair of Ohio's Bush-Cheney campaign. The Dispatch poll showed a virtual toss-up, at 41 percent yes, 43 percent no and 16 percent undecided. The official result gave Issue Five just 30 percent of the vote, with allegedly 70 percent opposed.

But the Sunday Dispatch also carried another headline: "44 counties will break in new voting machines." Forty-one of those counties "will be using new electronic touch screens from Diebold Election System," the Dispatch added.

Diebold's controversial CEO Walden O'Dell, a major GOP donor, made national headlines in 2003 with a fundraising letter pledging to deliver Ohio's 2004 electoral votes to Bush.

Every vote in Ohio 2004 was cast or counted on an electronic device. About 15 percent -- some 800,000 votes -- were cast on electronic touchscreen machines with no paper trail. The number was about seven times higher than Bush's official 118,775-vote margin of victory. Nearly all the rest of the votes were cast on punch cards or Scantron ballots counted by opti-scan devices -- some of them made by Diebold -- then tallied at central computer stations in each of Ohio's 88 counties.

According to a recent General Accountability Office report, all such technologies are easily hacked. Vote skimming and tipping are readily available to those who would manipulate the vote. Vote switching could be especially easy for those with access to networks by which many of the computers are linked. Such machines and networks, said the GAO, had widespread problems with "security and reliability." Among them were "weak security controls, system design flaws, inadequate security testing, incorrect system configuration, poor security management and vague or incomplete voting system standards, among other issues."

With the 2005 expansion of paperless touch-screen machines into 41 more Ohio counties, this year's election was more vulnerable than ever to centralized manipulation. The outcomes on Issues 2-5 would indicate just that.

The new touchscreen machines were brought in by Blackwell, who had vowed to take the state to an entirely e-based voting regime.

As in 2004, there were instances of chaos. In inner city, heavily Democratic precincts in Montgomery County, the Dayton Daily News reported: "Vote count goes on all night: Errors, unfamiliarity with computerized voting at heart of problem." Among other things, 186 memory cards from the e-voting machines went missing, prompting election workers in some cases to search for them with flashlights before all were allegedly found.

In Tom Noe's Lucas County, Election Director Jill Kelly explained that her staff could not complete the vote count for 13.5 hours because poll workers "were not adequately trained to run the new machines."

But none of the on-the-ground glitches can begin to explain the impossible numbers surrounding the alleged defeat of Issues Two through Five. The Dispatch polling has long been a source of public pride for the powerful, conservative newspaper, which endorsed Bush in 2004.

The Dispatch was somehow dead accurate on Issue One, and then staggeringly wrong on Issues Two through Five. Sadly, this impossible inconsistency between Ohio's most prestigious polling operation and these final official referendum vote counts have drawn virtually no public scrutiny.

Though there were glitches, this year's voting lacked the massive irregularities and open manipulations that poisoned Ohio in 2004. The only major difference would appear to be the new installation of touchscreen machines in those additional 41 counties.

And thus the possible explanations for the staggering defeats of Issues Two through Five boil down to two: either the Dispatch polling -- dead accurate for Issue One -- was wildly wrong beyond all possible statistical margins of error for Issues 2-5, or the electronic machines on which Ohio and much of the nation conduct their elections were hacked by someone wanting to change the vote count.

If the latter is true, it can and will be done again, and we can forget forever about the state that has been essential to the election of every Republican presidential candidate since Lincoln.

And we can also, for all intents and purposes, forget about the future of American democracy.
Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA'S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008, available at www.freepress.org, and, with Steve Rosenfeld, of WHAT HAPPENED IN OHIO, to be published this spring by The New Press.

Posted by: Che | November 14, 2005 05:25 PM

I've seen this 'rigged computer' argument before during last year's election cycle. I'm afraid I just don't buy into. While it may be true, I don't think it's true to the point of beyond a reasonable doubt. It implies a lot, but doesn't really have any conclusive evidence, especially to the point of proving actual voter fraud. It may be true; It may be a baseless creation of the Democratic propoganda machine. I would need more conclusive proof to acceept the article as fact. If there's some point or proof in the post that I'm missing, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll have to remain skeptical.
As for the subject of this particular debate here, I'm confused as to what the topic is supposed to be. Osama Bin Laden, maybe? I've beem wondering why we no longer focus on his capture, and, if we still are hunting him down on a massive level, how come we never hear about him anymore? Where's Osama? It's been over 4 years since 9/11, and still no Osama. If the Republicans were smart, they'd double or triple the effort to bring him to justice. At this point, it seems like his capture will be the only thing that might save the GOP and Bush from a disastrous election this time next year.

Posted by: ErrinF | November 15, 2005 01:02 AM

Errin, I don't know if you remember but Bush said in 2003 that he is not that interested in Osama anymore. Why pursue him, and piss off his buddies, the binLaden family who have been friends with the Bush's for years. By allowing the bin Laden's to fly out of America after 9/11 and refusing to let them be questioned by the FBI Bush made it very clear. He just doesn't care.He is a very simple man who is all about oil. Many complaints from soldiers in Iraq are the fact they spend most of their time protecting Halliburton. Surprise surprise.

Posted by: Gael | November 17, 2005 09:00 AM

And here I thought Bush was merely incompetent.
That the War On Terror suddenly became all about Iraq and little to do with Osama Bin Laden has always baffled me. Bin Laden was behind 9/11, and yet Saddam Hussein got put on the top of the hit list instead of Osama because of 9/11 and Bush's manipulation thereof.
Could capture Saddam; Couldn't capture Osama. If that's all that Bush can claim by the end of his presidency, then he will have done the American people a great disservice.

Posted by: ErrinF | November 18, 2005 02:45 PM

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