Friday, October 3, 2008

Maverick News: Extreme Makeover Time

THIS WEEK

BLOCKING THE VOTE: Just in time for the elections, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has released one of the first serious examinations of voter purging. That’s the practice of removing voters from registration lists in order to update state registration rolls. The center studied purge practices in twelve states – Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin – and concluded (no surprise) that "election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation."

Myrna PĂ©rez, counsel at the Brennan Center, said, "Far too frequently, however, eligible, registered citizens show up to vote and discover their names have been removed from the voter lists because election officials are maintaining their voter rolls with little accountability and wildly varying standards. ... Our report finds the following: According to the US Election Assistance Commission, between 2004 and 2006, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia reported purging more than 13 million voters from registration rolls. ... Voter Purges finds four problematic practices with voter purges that continue to threaten voters in 2008: purges rely on error-ridden lists; voters are purged secretly and without notice; bad 'matching' criteria mean that thousands of eligible voters will be caught up in purges; and insufficient oversight leaves voters vulnerable to erroneous or manipulated purges.”

Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Center’s Democracy Program, added, "Given the close margins by which elections are won, the number of people wrongfully purged can make a difference.”

The report provides some examples of recent purges:

* In Mississippi earlier this year, a local election official discovered that another official had wrongly purged 10,000 voters from her home computer just a week before the presidential primary.

* In Muscogee, Georgia this year, a county official purged 700 people from the voter lists, supposedly because they were ineligible to vote due to criminal convictions. The list included people who’d never even received a parking ticket.

* In Louisiana, including areas hit hard by hurricanes, officials purged approximately 21,000 voters, ostensibly for registering to vote in another state, without sufficient voter protections.

* In 2004, Florida planned to remove 48,000 "suspected felons" from its voter rolls even though many of them were eligible to vote. When the flawed process generated a list of 22,000 African Americans to be purged and only 61 voters with Hispanic surnames, in spite of Florida’s sizable Hispanic population, it took pressure from voting rights groups to stop Florida officials from using the purge list.

THE DEBATES: Last week Barack Obama and John McCain took the stage, and most people saw it either as a draw or a narrow win for Obama. On October 2, it was Biden and Palin. If there was any news, it boils down to this. Sarah Palin didn’t self-destruct, as many people expected, and, like Dick Cheney, she thinks the Vice President should have more power. As I’ve said before, be afraid.

VP Debate Highlight Reel



WOW MOMENT
: On the NPR show Fresh Air Thursday, former CIA operative Robert Baer, author of the new book, The Devil We Know, said he and most CIA agents he knows think Osama bin Laden may be dead. It might be a good idea to do a little more research on that before we charge into the border between Afghanistan and nuclear-armed Pakistan to find him.

THE BIG STORY


ECONOMIC ARMAGEDDON, WEEK THREE: Let’s catch up. Last weekend Congressional leaders worked out a deal on the so-called rescue plan. Then, on Monday morning, Sen. McCain declared victory – just before the bill went down to defeat. Two-thirds of House Republicans, plus a smaller group of Democratic populists, just said no. Republicans blamed Nancy Pelosi – except for McCain, who blamed Obama.

By the end of the day the stock market was down 777 points, the largest one-day point drop in anyone’s memory, and Citigroup agreed to buy the retail banking operations of Wachovia, which was on the verge of collapse.

On Tuesday, both Obama and McCain released new campaign ads, each blaming the other party for creating the crisis. Meanwhile, the stock market bounced back by 485 points.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted on a revised plan, now a 451-page bill called The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. It included some new tax breaks – called sweeteners or pork, depending on your point of view: one for bicycle commuting, sought by an Oregon Congressman; a solar tax credit, a priority for Arizona, which hopes to be the "Silicon Valley of solar energy;" $8 billion in tax relief for those hit by natural disasters in the Midwest, Texas and Louisiana; help for rural schools, aimed mainly at lawmakers in the West; extending the deductibility of state and local taxes for people in states without income taxes, including Florida and Texas; and new tax breaks worth nearly $500 million for movie and TV producers who make films in the US. There was also a proposed hike in the limit on federally insured deposits, up to $250,000 from the current $100,000 cap. It passed with 74 votes. Vermont’s Senate delegation split its vote, with Pat Leahy saying yes and Bernie Sanders voting no.

On Thursday – as if not noticing – the market was down again, this time by 350 points. The revised plan went back to the House. And today, with plenty of hand-wringing on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers passed it on a 263-171 vote. Bush signed it into law within hours. Touchdown! But do they think it will solve the problem? No so much.

So, what’s missing from the plan? Here are just four examples. 1) A moratorium on foreclosures and amendment of the Bankruptcy Code to let people modify their loans and stay in their homes. 2) Extension of the ban on short-selling in financial stocks. 3) $50 billion in revenue sharing for state and local governments hit by the decline in tax revenues stemming from falling property values. And 4) Bernie Sanders’ proposal for a five-year, 10 percent surtax on income over $500,000 to raise more than $300 billion in revenue.

COMMENT

For almost 30 years Republicans have been telling people government is the problem. Now, when the financial system looks like it might take us into a Post- Industrial Depression, is it any surprise that people don’t trust government to solve the problem? The reasons why conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats voted against the bailout plan are different. But the response of the general public isn’t ideological. It’s primal. They’re mad at everyone, and don’t trust their own leaders.

Some people are so suspicious that they think either the elections this November will be rigged, or may not even be held. A fixed election is certainly possible. We’re still seeing the purging of voter lists, and with high turnout and lots of new voters we’re likely to see other obstructions at polling places – not to mention recounts afterward.

But the idea that the election will be cancelled goes too far. Here’s why. The people who run this country want to keep running it. And to do that they have to convince you that the basic system still works. Cancelling the election would make America no different than any other dictatorship. Then we’d really be ready for a revolution. And that’s the last thing our rulers want to see.

I remember a time, back in 1972, when people worried that Nixon might find some excuse to call off the elections. Obviously, he found other ways to make sure he won. In 2000 the Supreme Court decided the election. That’s one way to go. In 2004 we had allegedly manipulated voting machines. Obviously, there are lots of ways to get the result those in power want.

The question is: what do they want this time? Some say they want McCain. I disagree. The Republicans didn’t even want him. And the smart money has been with the Democrats – like it was in 1976 – for quite a while. Electing Obama sends just the message they want: the system still works. Obama puts a new, friendly face out in front – a happy, Hollywood ending to the nightmare we’re in.

That doesn’t mean he’ll definitely win. But everything possible will be done to reassure the public. Job one right now is to restore confidence. Cancelling the elections clearly won’t do that. The real question is how far our overseers will go – and what they can get away with – to give us a believable outcome.

I could be wrong, but it looks like government is about to get an extreme makeover.
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