The relentless but necessary fight ahead

It looks like the Grinch stole Christmas this year. The orange-haired Grinch surprised us by arriving on November 8, 2016. It’s a date that for many of us will equal, rival or possibly surpass September 11, 2001. I’ve heard from a couple of friends who see that date as in the day when our extinction went from probable to certain.

We are about to put in charge an administration that does not believe in climate science. To the extent that some of them do, it’s to deny that man has any significant role in it. There was some hope that if Hillary Clinton was elected that the United States, as the world’s principle carbon polluter, might at least change the dynamic with a massive investment in clean and renewable energies. President Elect Donald Trump is a climate denier, so this means four years at best where we will actually accelerate climate change.

It’s appalling that he could be so out of touch with science, but Republicans have been so for years. Ever see The Music Man? “Professor” Harold Hill tells the children he sold band instruments to that they don’t actually have to know how to read music to play their instruments. He has “the think system”. This is essentially how the Republican Party has chosen to handle climate change. It all goes much better if you simply decide it’s not a problem. They deny temperatures are rising. They deny what you may have proved in chemistry class: that when you add carbon dioxide to a closed system it retains heat longer.

So essentially the Republican Party has raised a big middle finger to future generations, dramatically raising the likelihood of resulting environmental damage, species extinctions, one of them that is likely to be the species homo sapien. Hitler’s Holocaust killed between six and eleven million people. Last week through the democratic process, Americans elected a man who could kill all seven billion of us, plus many generations yet to arrive and suffer. He’ll kill more if he can loosen environmental regulations. We already kill kids every year from all the ozone and pollutants in the atmosphere. You can find them every day at your local hospital suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses. By electing Donald Trump we may be setting in motion an irreversible set of events destined to kill our posterity and make their lives miserable until their premature demise. We get all this from a “pro-life” party.

Nice going America! Now what should we do about it? That is what I have been pondering. There are lots of answers but it boils down to one thing: fight like hell. There’s not much choice here unless you think extinction is a good idea. Obviously, I’m not alone. One of the few encouraging things since Trump’s election has been the reaction to it. Sustained and virulent protests have broken out in most major cities. There are plans for a massive protest in Washington during Trump’s inauguration.

We need large and sustained protests that we have not seen since the Vietnam War. Protests need to be loud, personal and relentless. Wherever Trump goes, protesters should follow him. His properties should be picketed and protested. His brands should be undercut. His products should be boycotted. This is a good start.

What Trump really needs though is to be regularly, loudly and persistently shamed. We must make it clear that we are ashamed that he is our president and that he is the antithesis of our values. He is not Reagan’s shining city on the hill. His “Make America Great Again” campaign should be exposed for what it really is, a “Make American Hate Again” campaign.

Democrats should not accommodate Trump or any of the Republicans in Congress on any of their initiatives. Republicans spent eight years opposing everything Obama and the Democrats proposed. Democrats now must turn the tables. Oppose every Republican initiative. Oppose votes on repealing Obamacare or undoing Medicare, as Speaker Ryan proposes. Senate Democrats should filibuster where possible. Any Democrat in Congress should simply refuse to vote on any initiative that changes the social compact. Let voters see who stood for them.

To the extent they can be organized protestors need to be loud and obnoxious, heckling Republican congressmen and women and senators who support Trump’s plans. At every rally aside from the theme of the day there should be placards and signs saying Trump is a racist. Trump’s life and life for any Republican member of Congress should be made as difficult as possible within the constraints of the law. Protest outside your Republican congressman’s house when he is home. Protest outside his local offices too. Show up at their town meetings and yell like hell.

While this is going on, Democrats need to organize. As I discussed in my last post, Democrats need to quickly reinvent themselves, casting off the Clinton baggage and embracing those elements that will fight for the environment, working people, and for a country where privilege is not doled out based on race or sex, but on merit.

Also while all this is going on it’s likely that “unified” Republican government will flounder as factions with the GOP splinter. The role of Democrats becomes to help amplify these differences so that they become discordant. To the extent Trump can fulfill his policies, they are likely to cause an economic backlash anyhow. The price of these changes needs to be felt sooner rather than later, so that voters can reassess their intentions when 2018 elections roll around. It’s not impossible for Democrats to regain Congress in just two years. Consider that in 2004, Democrats lost the presidency; and Republicans gained three seats in the House and four Senate seats. In 2006 though Republicans lost both the House and the Senate. It can be done.

Not only can it be done, it must be done. We are called by history and by future generations who deserve meaningful lives to get it done. Join me in jumping in with both feet.

Election 2006 Postmortem

What a difference two years makes! Two years ago this week I surveyed the results of the 2004 election with dismay. President Bush, who should have handily been defeated for bungling the War in Iraq, was reelected, although the difference in the popular vote (2.4%) and the electoral vote (35 votes) made it one of the closest wins in recent history. While the Republicans picked up only three House seats, they solidified a formidable 30-vote majority in the House. In the Senate, Republicans picked up four seats, making the odds of retaking the Senate this year so small that even most Democrats (like me) thought it was a long shot.

Now that the dust has settled, the results of Tuesday’s election are stunning. Democrats picked up 29 House seats while losing none. A number of elections in dispute are likely to add to this total. In the Senate, with the concessions today by Montana Senator Conrad Burns and Virginia Senator George Allen, the Democrats took a 51-49 majority. This majority though feels rather fragile. It assumes that the newly reelected Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, who ran his independent campaign more like a Republican than a Democrat, doesn’t feel a case of sour grapes and align himself with the Republicans. Amazingly, not a single Democratic incumbent running for the U.S. Congress lost, which may be a first for either political party.

This amazing upset hardly ends at the national level. Looking at state races, Democrats will now control a majority of the governorships (28) next year, up 6 seats. Five state legislatures switched from Republican to Democrat; not one went from Democrat to Republican. New Hampshire turned stunningly Democratic. (The New Hampshire House went from 37.5% Democrat to 59.8%. The New Hampshire Senate went from 45.8% Democrat to 66.7%. In addition, it elected Democrat John Lynch as governor.) Counting state Senate and House seats nationwide, Democrats picked up 349 seats out of 7393, a gain of 4.7 percent.

You have to look very hard for any Republican successes. If Republicans succeeded, it was in not making their losses completely catastrophic. Republicans held on to a retiring senate seat in Tennessee and a retiring governorship in Florida. That was about it. Tuesday was an overwhelmingly Democratic night. Republicans can take some comfort in that the margin of victory for Democrats was in many cases achingly small. Both Conrad Burns and George Allen lost by less than 1% of the popular vote. Still, it was remarkable how in very tight major races, they went consistently for the Democratic candidate.

There is no single reason why Democrats faired so well. Clearly, the voters were expressing extreme unhappiness of the last five years of one party rule. Many were voting to express their disgust with President Bush in general and his bungled War in Iraq in particular. Many others were expressing their unhappiness with their more precarious standard of living.

However, there were also demographic changes that came into prominence in 2006. This country is becoming less white and the minorities are voting disproportionately for Democrats. As young voters begin to vote, they vote predominantly for the Democrats. These demographic forces bode well for the Democratic Party’s future.

Those who discount the force of netroots are in denial. While the netroots community is overwhelmingly progressive, that does not mean they were myopic enough to give money only to progressives. Clearly, the netroots lost in Connecticut, but they picked up impressive victories too. Donations from the netroots to candidates like John Tester and Jim Webb were not only instrumental in their election, but they also made it possible for them to mobilize in the first place. Arguably, neither Tester nor Webb would be senators elect today had it not been from the netroots. The netroots are now a proven means of winning seats. Netroots won the U.S. Senate for the Democrats. It is not your father’s smoke filled room anymore.

Having won the reigns of legislative power, it is another question entirely whether Democrats will prove to be competent to govern. Voters in general were expressing more extreme displeasure at Republicans than enthusiasm for the Democrats. Democrats have traditionally been the “none of the above” party, rather than a party with a coherent message and platform. Perhaps after being out of power for so long they will absorb some important lessons. At least our initial rhetoric is encouraging. The likely next Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi talks about being the Speaker of the House, not the Speaker of just the Democrats. She is stressing bipartisanship. Senator Majority Leader elect Harry Reid is expressing similar thoughts. If history is a guide, this spirit will not last too long, but it is a hopeful sign nonetheless.

Having spurned bipartisanship, President Bush now has to embrace it if he wants anything in his last two years to be more than a footnote. His prompt dismissal yesterday of our disastrous Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was a hopeful sign. (I called for it in 2004.) Bush’s dismissal is bizarrely inconsistent with remarks he made a few days earlier wherein he promised he was never going to get rid of him. Since the plans for Rumsfeld’s replacement were clearly well along before the election, essentially Bush was lying. He probably justified it as an attempt to attempt to fire up his base in order to win the election.

No amount of bipartisanship will solve some problems. One of them is our quagmire in Iraq. Both sides are likely to embrace the recommendations of the nonpartisan Iraq Study Group. They will use it for political cover, because it will be politically unacceptable to make a recommendation for withdrawal that is not contingent upon Iraqis achieving benchmarks that they will not be able to meet. For the next two years, expect that our troops will remain in Iraq. Perhaps some small percent will come home to give the illusion to the American public that we will extricate ourselves from the war. Undoubtedly, the real responsibility for Iraq will remain with Bush, not the Congress, because strategy and tactics are the responsibility of the Commander in Chief. This bodes well for Democratic prospects in 2008. It is quite possible that in two years our government will move from Republicans in charge of all branches of government to Democrats being in charge of all branches but the Supreme Court.

For myself I am savoring this exquisite moment of victory. I would like to think it is the first of many, but I am sanguine. What goes around comes around. Without a hardnosed attention to the people’s business, Democrats will be lucky if they are still in power ten years from now, despite the carnage inflicted by Republicans these last six years. I am trying not to think about these sad political realities right now. For a Democrat like me, Tuesday night was magical. It was perhaps a once in a lifetime event. The closest parallel was the Election of 1974 following Watergate. However, in that election, Democrats already controlled both Houses of Congress. I would dance from the rooftops, except I have two left feet. Nonetheless, I am beaming, as is everyone in my very Democratic household. I helped make this election possible through my own contributions in time and money. I feel vested in its outcome and am thrilled to have Jim Webb, my netroots candidate, as my new Senator elect.

Jim Webb: Mr. Smith goes to Washington

As regular readers know, I have been keeping my ears close to the ground these days. I still hear a political earthquake coming tomorrow. Of course, I could be wrong. I certainly was wrong calling the 2004 election. As I ponder political earthquakes closer to where I live in Northern Virginia, I hear another one coming: tomorrow Jim Webb, who was virtually unknown at the beginning of this year, will defeat George Allen in his bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Virginia will wake up Wednesday and find it has wisely chosen a person of substance over a man of image.

Recent polls have been saying this race is too close to call. Very recent polls give hope to both George Allen and challenger Jim Webb. I think Webb will win though because he is the real deal, whereas George Allen is just another George W. Bush clone.

Really, it is eerie how much George Allen imitates President Bush. Bush pretends to be a Texan, even though he is a New Englander. Allen pretends to be a Virginian, even though he is a Californian. Both go out of their ways to be perceived as Southerners. Both were governors of very red Southern states who touted dubious achievements in education. Bush claimed to have turned around the Texas public schools. Allen promoted the now institutionalized Virginia Standards of Learning. These tests, like those in Texas, have become so dumbed down that my senior age high school daughter informs me, “You have to be really stupid not to pass a SOL exam.” Both belong to mainstream Protestant denominations: United Methodist in Bush’s case, Presbyterian in Allen’s case. Both avoided serving in war but at least Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard. Perhaps the closest identification to Bush is seen in Allen’s votes. He voted for virtually whatever Bush promoted, including our failed war in Iraq. He was one of the last Republicans to stop insisting the way to win in Iraq was to stay the course.

Until a few months ago, many Republicans considered Allen to be a leading contender for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008. No one thought Webb had a snowball’s chance in hell at defeating this popular ex-Governor and senator. You know what happened since then to bring Allen down, so I will not repeat these incidents. Suffice to say that George Allen was one of many Republicans who were not agile enough to respond to changing political winds. Moreover, he, like our president, was headstrong enough to think he could do things like put Confederate Flags and nooses in his office and it did not matter or speak to his true character.

For a politician like Allen, his worst nightmare is a challenger who seems tailored to expose all his personal deficiencies. Jim Webb seemed to come out of nowhere. He did not even start running for the Senate until February. A successful Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan, U.S. Naval Academy graduate and decorated marine, Webb was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts while a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam. A successful author of eight books, self-described Reagan Democrat and former follower of Ross Perot’s Reform Party, he was moved to become a Democrat and run against George Allen because Allen supported Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq. While not totally without his share of controversy, Webb comes across as a clear-eyed and sober patriot while Allen comes across as George W. Bush lite: handsome, giving the appearance of being a family values man, but headstrong and with obvious vindictive and prejudicial sides. His real constituency was white Protestant Republicans, and everyone knew it.

Webb is something of a political oddity. In many ways he is who I would be if I were to be a politician. Unfortunately, I could never begin to match his credentials. He is the genuine reluctant candidate, motivated by conviction rather than ego. Webb is a man who refuses to pick up the phone and schmooze donors for campaign contributions. He may be the last of his kind. In spite of this, he has pulled in impressive campaign contributions, including huge amounts of relatively small donations from the Netroots and from ordinary Joes like me.

I was one of the 3% or so of Virginia Democrats who voted in the primary. Despite Webb’s previously Republican leanings, I was enthusiastic about voting for Webb. He won that election narrowly, and he may well win tomorrow’s election narrowly too. This time though I expect we will see something close to record turnout for a midterm election. His election will send a powerful signal that genuine character matters again in politicians. Voters will reward honest accomplishments rather than empty rhetoric. Webb is authentic and genuine. He is perhaps the last of the Mr. Smiths to go to Washington. He will probably be the only politician in Congress who will not be influenced by special interests. It may doom him to a single term. Still, it will be a refreshing six-year term.

I expect big things from Jim Webb. Should he choose to seek even higher office some day, I think he will find an enthusiastic group of supporters from both sides of the political spectrum, as long as he remains true to his values. His campaign says he was born fighting. He has some huge fights ahead in the Senate on behalf of not just Virginians, but the vast majority of us disenfranchised Americans. Virginians: let us establish a beachhead for him by voting for Jim Webb tomorrow.

Why Democrats should punt on a plan for Iraq

There are just eight days until the midterm elections. That pungent smell of rancid urine is not from trying to litter train your new puppy. It is from all the Republicans wetting their pants. It would be an understatement to say the Republicans are nervous. They are plain scared. They can feel power slipping away. Some like Republican strategist Karl Rove feign optimism. Nevertheless, by now even Republicans can feel the political earthquake approaching. The question now becomes, what will its magnitude be?

President Bush has been running around the country engaged in, what else, blaming Democrats. This is not new of course, but what is new is that he is blaming Democrats for his mistakes. “The Democratic goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq”, he said today at Georgia Southern University. “If you listen carefully for a Democrat plan for success, they don’t have one. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, yet they don’t have a plan for victory.” President Bush has a point. It is hard to find any Democrat with a plan for winning with Iraq that passes the sniff test. Such as they are, most Democrats are calling for beginning a withdrawal of troops in 2007. They also want to involve regional powers in Iraq’s future. Mostly though Democrats sound wishy-washy on how to succeed in Iraq. Instead, they state the obvious by calling attention to Bush’s mismanagement of the War in Iraq. Hmm, maybe that is their plan.

If so, I think it will prove to be very politically effective. By calling attention to the Democrats’ lack of a plan for Iraq, what Bush is really trying to do is get the Democrats to share ownership his failure. He hopes that by showing that they are bereft of good ideas on Iraq, the cloud of doom that has been hanging over him and his party will lift. In this case, the lack of a Democratic plan should be construed as a short-term political blessing for the Democrats. It is a smart election strategy for the Democrats to keep the focus where it belongs: on Bush’s bungling the War in Iraq in particular and the War on Terror in general.

In reality even if Democrats sweep both houses of Congress next week, there is not a whole lot they can do to bring the troops home. They could in theory cut off funding for the war, but they will not have the votes to override a presidential veto. Congress’s power has never been in exercising the war, but in its oversight. However, if they control Congress, Democrats can exercise genuine oversight on the war. This has been sorely lacking with Republicans in charge. However, the power to run the war constitutionally will remain with President Bush. Iraq will remain his albatross for the rest of his life. I believe that its colossal failure will almost certainly make it impossible for a Republican to become elected president in 2008.

Here is the reality of our situation in Iraq, if it is not already apparent to you: we have lost. As I alluded before the war even started, we would lose because we had insufficient troops to secure the peace. Overthrowing Saddam and his government was a given and a no brainer. It was containing the inevitable and historical sectarian strife, along with occupying a Muslim country with forces perceived to be Christian that were the real obstacles to long term success. This is not to say that hope is entirely lost in Iraq. It is just that success at this point is so bizarrely improbable that only the willfully foolish think it can possibly happen.

No wonder Democrats are mum about a plan for success in Iraq. Unlike Republicans, most Democrats inhabit the real world. They know the situation in Iraq is so bollixed up that even a speculator with tons of spare cash would not waste any money betting on a successful outcome. Given that nothing Democrats can say or do will change this sad reality, why should they assume part of its ownership? If they did, in 2008 voters might assume they would do something equally foolish in the next conflict. It is better to leave Bush and the Republicans holding their ball. If Bush is the nation’s quarterback, the Republicans are on offense, it is fourth down and 99 to go, and there is two seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter, it is better that the Republicans take the inevitable fall.

If Democrats must propose plans for the War on Terror, it is far better to focus on where there is some probability of success. Success in Afghanistan is looking dubious, but it is not virtually hopeless as it is in Iraq. Besides, Osama bin Laden is reputedly in Afghanistan, or in nearby northwestern Pakistan. At least we could leverage sufficient forces to go after those who actually hurt us on 9/11.

Besides, things can only improve when those who screwed up this war are out of power. If Democrats win Congress, one of the most effective things they can do is hold many hearings on the war. It needs to be clear that people like Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld were instrumental getting us into this mess. They need to account to the American people for their actions in public hearings. Why did Rumsfeld go into Iraq without a plan to win the peace? Why did Cheney forcefully assert Iraq had WMDs when there was no conclusive intelligence? Why were we repeatedly lied to? In making these public officials account for their actions, Democrats can help facilitate their ouster and position our government to being one that is accountable again. Democrats should demand these instigators be replaced with leaders who are grounded in reality.

It is obvious to voters that Bush does not have a viable plan for victory. Stay the course is not working. Democrats should demand that Bush present a viable plan for Iraq’s success. He is after all the Commander in Chief and it is his responsibility. Perhaps in the process, Bush will realize it is time to fold his hand. The reality is he has had nothing to show for years except bluster.

Great Expectations

Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. Can my country resurrect itself? After all, our Congress just recently gave President Bush permission to torture.

We will know on November 8th after voters go to the polls for the midterm elections. The vote will tell me whether our country will remain extreme or rejoin the mainstream. I certainly hope it is the latter. Perhaps we can then plead short-term insanity.

The sense of public outrage at our Congress and Administration is palpable to me, and I bet to you too. Even flamboyant Republicans that I know are strangely mute. Many are also ashamed. They no longer even try to justify President Bush’s strategy with Iraq and the War on Terror. Now that its consequences are crystal clear, there are no words that can plausibly justify our invasion of Iraq. Most journalists now agree that Iraq is in civil war. Its so-called government is ineffective. One credible estimate suggests 665,000 Iraqis have died from the Iraq War so far. So many bodies, many dismembered and decapitated, are found floating in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that local fishermen no longer bother to fish them out.

The Iraq War consistently comes up as voters’ top concern. Falling gasoline prices, while welcome, do not seem to be helping Republican prospects for controlling Congress. Nor are new highs in the Dow Jones Industrial Average helping. Typically, these events would add to a ruling party’s Congressional majority. However, polls show that they have failed to check expected Republican losses in the midterm elections. Instead, polls show that expected Democratic gains are increasing. Most Republicans now privately admit they expect to lose control of the House of Representatives. They seem to be hedging their bets on retaining control of the Senate too. Bush’s approval ratings are close to reaching record lows again. Congressional approval ratings, already at an all time low for this Republican congress, plunged further with revelations that now former Florida Congressman Mark Foley preyed on male pages in suggestive and occasionally lurid email conversations. The party of family values is now perceived as the party that will put expediency over principles as long as it allows them to keep their hands on the levers of power.

Many voters though are like me. They are wondering if their vote will be accurately counted. For three election cycles, there were rumors of voter fraud. Only now does much of the public believe that many votes were miscounted or fraudulently reported in the elections of 2000, 2002 and 2004. I know I felt it in 2004. Discrepancies in exit polls compared with final results told me that Bush had lost Ohio. Subsequent investigative journalism revealed that these feelings were not misplaced. Given the recent problems with electronic voting machines during the primaries in Maryland, it is hard not to continue to feel the unease.

Nevertheless, polls show a growing trend: more voters want the Republicans out and the Democrats in. Recent polls show that the preference for Democrats over Republicans have exceeded twenty percent. It remains to be seen whether such frustrations will carry over into local contests. Still, in poll after poll, races where Republican candidates were recently leading have moved to no clear favorite. The trend is unmistakable. The trend is even more remarkable given that the Democratic Party has failed to articulate what they will do if they regain power. It does not seem to matter to voters. We have to just get to get rid of these losers, is what the public seems to be saying.

Will this election resemble the 1994 election? In that election, 44 seats shifted in the House of Representatives, and eight shifted in the Senate. Since then Republicans refined a new tactic for maintaining power: draw those congressional districts very narrowly so it becomes almost impossible to oust an incumbent. In addition, where possible in places like Texas, redistrict out of turn to add to your majority. Consequently, a change of 44 seats in 2006 seems out of the bound of possibility.

Therefore, I have to check myself. Wishing does not make it so. Yet I still feel the political ground shifting below my feet, and now I am feeling tremors. For years, I have said that Bush and the Republicans cannot escape accountability forever. The public can only be kept in fear for so long. Neither can we forever ignore gross incompetence.

In less than a month, I will know whether my feelings this time are valid. Barring massive voter fraud, my gut tells me that the Democrats will recapture both the House and the Senate in the midterms. I think it will bear an uncanny resemblance to the election of 1994.

Sweating Bullets for Democracy

This video has been making the rounds on the Internet. If you have not seen it, you should. If you have seen it and you were not affected, you might want to check to see if your heart is still beating. You could be dead. You should feel appalled and very, very scared. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake.

The video shows that a particular model of Diebold voting machine can be hacked to ignore a machine’s actual vote count and substitute its own. If that alone were not shocking enough, it also shows that the machine’s lock can easily be picked. The flash card that slips into its reader slot is easily procured commercially, and can be programmed with desktop computers. If this is not outrageous enough, it also shows how easy it would be for someone who is malicious to turn the program on the flash card into a surreptitious virus, allowing all sorts of voting machines of the same type to be hacked. One unscrupulous person in the election trust chain could circumvent the will of the people.

We can thank the Center for Information Technology at Princeton University for exposing these voting machine flaws. If you want to dig into the details, you can read their white paper. It should be a wakeup call for anyone who cares about sound voting systems. It seems a bit curious then that the White House has been silent on this matter. I am sure it has nothing to do with Diebold’s contributions to the Republican Party.

It used to be that our biggest voter fraud problem was ballot box stuffing. Those frauds were fairly easy to detect. Today, thanks to flawed electronic voting systems like this one, there is no point in cutting down trees to mark fake ballots. Now, whoever controls the voting booths (at least those that run Diebold machines) can decide who is elected. Moreover, no one will ever find out.

In many jurisdictions, the supervisor of elections is a partisan position. This was true in Ohio during the 2004 elections, for example. You may have read the article Was the 2004 Election Stolen?, by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., in Rolling Stone. It presents enough disturbing information about inconsistencies in that state’s vote to give any true democrat the willies. If partisan shenanigans occurred in Ohio in 2004, which looks indisputable (although it is disputable that it affected the outcome of the election), they sure went through a lot of hassle to do it. Now there is a simpler way: make sure all voters are using this model of Diebold machine and surreptitiously plant your vote rigging software in the machine.

The paper ballot has nearly gone the way of the milkman. Give me a punch card ballot over a Diebold voting machine any day of the week. At least there is some evidence with a punch card ballot of the voter’s intent. Thanks to Diebold’s vulnerable voting systems, there is no record at all. Even if there were a paper trail, unless the voter physically checks the duplicate paper ballot before leaving the voting booth, there is no way to know for sure that his vote was cast correctly. It is estimated that in this fall’s election, more than 80% of the votes cast will be cast on electronic voting machines.

Here in Fairfax County, Virginia we have a system with the dubious name of WinVote. I do not know about you, but its name is a marketing man’s nightmare. It implies either it works under Windows, which most of us know from experience has far more holes than a warehouse full of Swiss cheese, or that it will pick the winner of the vote, not you. I used it of course because I had no other choice. Even when I voted absentee last year, I still had to use the electronic voting machine.

Outsourcing the design of our voting machines to the private sector is a fundamentally and profoundly stupid idea. Neither politicians nor supervisors of elections are qualified to render a professional opinion on the soundness of any voting technology. If we must use electronic voting then we need not just standards, but standards that are non-partisan and represent state of the art best techniques and practices. Fortunately, such an institution already exists: the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It should be the ones writing the standards for electronic voting machines. Not one electronic voting machine should be allowed to be used which does not comply with their standards. Ideally, every voting machine would be individually tested and certified by NIST and come in a box with a NIST seal on it.

We also need a bulletproof and auditable process for voting. It should specify national procedures for voting, buying voting machines, setting up machines, and verifying accurate vote counts. It should ensure that no part of the process could be compromised. We can do it today for classified information. Why can we not give our voting process at least the same level of protection?

In my opinion, the most trustworthy form of mechanical voting was the one I used when I cast my first vote in 1976. When you pressed the lever, you could hear it click into place. When you pulled the master VOTE lever, you could hear the mechanical counters increment. The levers automatically reset to hide your vote. This kind of machine is low tech, but it has the virtue of being impossible to hack. All it takes is a simple hardware inspection to remove any ambiguity about the machine’s integrity.

Supervisors of elections need to be ruthlessly non-partisan. Ideally, a judge would oversee or appoint the supervisor of elections. This should be the last position filled because of political patronage. Only candidates with unimpeccable credentials and demonstrated organizational skills should be considered.

No voting process is foolproof, but only fools will allow voting systems to be used without the necessary integrity and process checks that ensure each voter cast exactly one vote, and that the vote was recorded accurately. This Diebold machine demonstration may be extreme. It may be more common than we think. Indisputably, it points to a larger problem that must be addressed if we are to truly call ourselves a democracy.

Storm Warnings Posted

Are we in the blogosphere making too much of Senator Joseph Lieberman’s loss in the Connecticut primary to challenger Ned Lamont yesterday? Perhaps. Lamont’s margin of victory was not exactly a blowout, since he won by a margin of just four percent. Connecticut is not just a blue state, it is a bright blue state. Moreover, while trying to find consensus from Democrats on just about any issue is next to impossible, Lieberman seemed out of the mainstream even to most ordinary Democrats.

Now that he has lost and is declaring he will run a campaign as an independent, all of Joe’s nice and cozy congressional Democratic pals are putting him at arm’s length. Whether they are respecting the will of the voters or protecting their own hides is unclear. Clearly, there is a dearth of Democrats rushing to embrace Lieberman’s independent campaign for the Senate. Karl Rove’s willingness to use the Republican Party’s time and money to help Joe win in November should send the last supportive Democrats rushing for the exits. With friends like Karl Rove, who needs enemies?

I would not want Lieberman’s odds of winning the general election as an independent. In Connecticut, registered Democrats comprise about 33% of voters, Republicans 21% and Independents 44%. Prior to the primary, which attracted participation rates of over 40% (virtually unheard of for a primary, particularly in August) many Independents switched to Democrats just so they could vote in the primary. At this point, it is not clear whether these were Democratic or Republican leaning independents, but it is unlikely that too many Independents would become Democrats if they had Republican leanings. Anyhow, Connecticut Democrats will have to decide if they want to break ranks to vote for a man who has consistently voted with Republicans on matters that are core Democratic principles (such as approving right wing judges). That defies common sense. Republicans will have to decide that they are okay with holding their nose and not vote Republican. In addition, of course, Lieberman has to build up excitement for his run in a state which is just tired of the man.

Lamont’s victory was particularly startling because six months ago he was a virtual unknown who had only held one small public office some twenty years ago. It helps, as always, for challengers to be rich and be unafraid to spend their personal fortune. Even so, Lamont’s fortune could not make up for contributions from Lieberman’s political connections. Lamont was outspent by more than two to one. This win can be interpreted then as a sign the state’s Democratic voters are deeply frustrated with Lieberman and want someone who truly represents their values.

Attributing his success to the liberal blogosphere is disingenuous. Even though top liberal blogs like DailyKos attract up to a million visits a day, most ordinary Americans are not myopically reading political blogs. They have lives. Certainly, Lamont got some significant cash from the blogosphere as well as many volunteers. At best, the blogosphere was only indirectly responsible for Lamont’s victory. Their role, if anything, was simply to draw attention and energy to his candidacy. Lamont’s victory is more a sign of disgruntlement with Lieberman than enthusiasm for Lamont, although reportedly Lamont is a very down to earth and sensible man.

Perhaps Lamont’s surprise victory is this simple: he acknowledged the elephant in the room. Lieberman did not. In doing so Lamont demonstrated that he was grounded in the current reality, sad though it may be. It appears that this year voters are looking for candidates who can acknowledge the complexity of today’s issues. Iraq today is a hopeless place, yet Lieberman is one of the few people who still thinks we can really solve a problem that has devolved beyond our, or anyone’s ability to control it. It shows that he is seriously detached from reality.

I think yesterday’s primary was the first gust of wind in the first wave of a political storm will make landfall on November 7th. Storm warnings have been posted. Sensible politicians who want to survive are battening down the hatches, not standing on the surf laughing into the wind.

Rumblings of 1994

I hesitate to claim victory prematurely. Yet with less than 100 days to go before the midterm elections, it is getting harder to see how the Democrats can fail to recapture the U.S. House of Representatives in November. Even the U.S. Senate, once presumed off limits, may be looking Blue again. Could it be that beltway insiders, who are often notoriously wrong on elections but like to echo conventional wisdom, may be right this time? Could it be that I am engaging in wishful thinking? On the other hand, perhaps I really am hearing an approaching stampede of pissed off voters of all stripes.

Whatever. I have my fingers crossed. I have my toes crossed. I am glad to hop on one leg if that will improve the odd that Democrats will retake the Congress. Mainly, I just feel the coming change inside of me. I smell it in the hot, fetid, ozone-laden air that is resting here over Northern Virginia tonight. I hear it anecdotally at the office water coolers. What I am hearing is, “This country is royally screwed up. It is time to throw the bums out.”

One reason I do not think my prognostication is a result of all the glue I have been sniffing lately is this report from Charlie Cook. Cook is non-partisan and well respected. His outfit pays careful attention to the numerous House and Senate races out there. His judgments have an excellent track record.

In the latest Cook Political Report/RT Strategies poll, conducted last Friday through Sunday among 809 registered voters, only 27 percent said the country was headed in the right direction and 63 percent said it was off on the wrong track. In polling for NBC and the Wall Street Journal, conducted July 21-24 and for CBS and the New York Times, taken July 21-25, the right direction numbers were 27 and 28 percent, respectively, while wrong track results were 60 and 66 percent respectively. These numbers are about the same as they were at this point in 1994 and going into Election Day that year.

Out of touch. That is what I hear the most. I bet you are hearing it too. The Republicans controlling government have severed their connections with real life and in particular their constituents. Having control of all three branches of government, they simply no longer care what the voters think. A most recent and egregious example was the so-called increase in the minimum wage bill. It was passed in the House only because it was tied to estate tax cuts, which would exempt the first $5 million in estate taxes for singles, and $10 million for couples. Never mind our already stratospheric federal deficits. Who cares if these tax cuts would only worsen the deficit? This is compassionate conservatism in action. When fully enacted, the new $7.25 an hour minimum wage would still not come close to providing a living wage, but this bill would allow multimillionaires to pass on even more of their wealth to their heirs, who never earned it. Can you feel their love?

The Republicans whole approach to government has become faith based. It has become not just surreal but downright bizarre. You cannot make up this stuff. It reads like something in The Onion. President Bush is saying we cannot have an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon because it will not solve the long-term problem security problem. Instead, we must allow both sides to keep killing in order to ensure peace. Big Brother has been proven right: War is Peace, at least according to George W. Bush. We can cut the deficit by taxing less and spending more. We need to give public school students vouchers to attend private schools even though a Department of Education report shows that public schools and private schools perform equally with the same class of student. We can solve global warming by allowing corporations to choose if they want to meet emissions standards. Medical savings accounts will solve our high cost of health care, even though most people simply do not have the disposable income to contribute to such an account. Of course the biggest, baddest, most egregious and most insidious lie of all: we are winning the war on terror. If winning the war on terror equals Armageddon, it is time to throw a victory parade.

It would have been nice if Americans had sobered up in time for the 2004 elections. My belief is that they are fully sobered up now. All signs point to governmental incompetence on a level never seen in this country. Perhaps Americans would have preferred to keep their heads stuck in the sand. It is no longer possible. This current sensory overload can no longer be ignored. The country is badly off track and the current crew in charge does not even realize the country is off track. They think things are just fine. The lunatics are running the asylum.

I do not seeing it getting any better for Republicans before the election. Indeed, Republicans should be praying their house of cards does not fully collapse before then. Household savings rates are in negative territory: we are living off credit cards and our equity. Could a recession be in our near future? Iraq, if it is not yet is civil war, is likely to devolve into large-scale sectarian genocide, and our troops will be in the middle of it. Housing starts are down, and house prices are going down too. This means the equity on which we depend to live beyond our means is shrinking too. Interest rates are up. Stocks are trending down. Arguably, the NASDAQ is in freefall. Domestic car sales are off sharply. If Republicans are lucky, gas prices will not increase, but they too are likely to go up before November.

It is too bad that the Democrats, for the most part, do not have a plan. Actually, there is a Democratic plan out there; it is just that it was badly marketed. Most Americans have no clue as to what the Democrats would do if they recaptured the Congress. In such a situation, most political parties would loudly be marketing solutions that would assuage the public’s concerns. The public is now ripe for a real solution to health care costs. They want to hear that we will get out of Iraq on a rapid time schedule. Yet my party cannot seem to say these things. It does not believe that the tide has turned in their favor. It does not know how to capitalize on the moment. Here is the truth: one hard smack to the Republican Party and it goes down. Winning through intimidation has been their preferred tactic. All Democrats have to do is laugh at them and the whole country will laugh with them. Their mojo is gone.

It may not matter that the Democrats do so little to win this election. There is no other path out there other than to keep the current pillagers in charge of the government. Perhaps there is hope that once in power again the Democrats will develop something resembling spine. Instead, they seem more worried about being Swift Boated.

Billmon has said he does not want the Democrats to win. He argues that this mess is so big and so deep and so tall that Democrats will be blamed when they cannot clean it up. It is not often that I disagree with Billmon, but I do on this one. Democrats have a responsibility as citizens to put our country back into order again. We need to be a respected country in the world again. Someone has to throw out the bums out on the street. Someone has to take out the trash, sweep the floors, patch the window screens and tidy up the yard. Someone has to cut that national credit card in half and throw it in the trash.

If not the Democrats, then who?

How to sustain a Democratic majority

About a year ago, I wrote that the Democratic Party needed to put together a new contract with America. How much in the 1994 election the House Republican’s Contract with America succeeded in aiding their rise to power is debatable. What are not debatable are the results. For whatever reason, be it “don’t ask, don’t tell”, Clinton’s health care initiative, or his actually very modest tax hike, American were in a surly mood twelve years ago. The results of the election though were stunning: Republicans picked up forty-four seats in the House of Representatives. The Republicans also took control of the Senate, picking up eight seats. In addition, the Republicans gained twelve governor seats, and won a majority of governor seats. Clearly, 1994 was a very good year for the Republican Party.

2006 offers the potential for Democrats to take back both the House and Senate, as well as claim a majority of the nation’s governorships again. Given that Bush’s poll ratings keep dropping (USA Today/Gallup today shows Bush at 31% approval) it may be that Democrats do not to do much to take back the Congress. You know things have gone from bad to worse when Bush’s support is eroding even among Republicans. Conservatives seem to be abandoning him, perhaps because he has actually vastly expanded federal spending instead of contracting it. Arguably, gas prices merely need to stay above $3 a gallon to seal the Democratic Party’s victory in November. This is certainly likely through Labor Day, since we have yet to hit the peak summer driving season and gas is already $3 a gallon in most of the country.

Democrats may discover that it is much easier being out of power than in power. Right now, they can claim not to be Republicans. That is plenty of incentive for people to vote for them, given the wreckage of the last six years of Republican government. However, that does not mean Democrats have a comprehensive plan to lead the country once they are back in power. It appears that now most Democrats are emulating Republicans, in the sense that they do not offer much in the way of an opposition platform.

Perhaps this characterization is unfair. Nancy Pelosi, currently the Minority Leader in the House, has recently announced plans for a one week blitz if Democrats win back the House. The plan includes raising the minimum wage, rolling back parts of the prescription drug plan for senior citizens, putting in place needed budget controls, and implementing new Homeland Security measures. I have sniffed around various Democratic web sites for the Senate, but Senate Democrats are missing an obvious comprehensive plan. Perhaps they think the odds of winning a Senate majority are too high to bother. There are many press releases from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office saying what Democrats would do differently. Nevertheless, I can find nothing in the way of a comprehensive plan. If there is one, they do not seem anxious to crow about it.

Over at the Democratic National Committee, my man Howard Dean is on the right track with his plan to take back Congress and the White House. It involves a fifty state strategy and looks toward building Democratic majorities beyond the 2006 elections. He also has something that looks like a comprehensive plan to sell to voters. It includes such points as Keeping America Safe at Home, Affordable Health Care and Civil Rights. The only problem with his plan is that it is mostly an invention of the Democratic National Committee. How much of it will be embraced by Senate and House Democrats remains to be seen. For if Republicans are only recently discovering disunity, Democrats have traditionally embraced it. It would be harder to find two Republican senators as divided philosophically as Russ Feingold and Joe Liebermann. Moreover, many of the Democrats currently in office still have not learned to develop a backbone. A majority still seem to give lip service to winning the war in Iraq, even though a majority of Americans believes the war is unwinnable. Perhaps they think this is leadership. In reality, it looks increasingly foolhardy.

This lack of a plan will not do. What is the point of gaining back power if Democrats have no real plan on how to use their power once they have it? Where is the clear and distinguishing Democratic brand? It is very clear at this point to the vast majority of Americans what has not worked over the last six years. My suggestion for leadership can be summarized as follows: lead pragmatically, and not by ideology.

That is it. It is true that if Democrats were to capture Congress that there might be a clamoring from the left to attack a host of issues dear to them. They might, for example, want to allow gays to serve openly in the military. It is not that I disagree with them; it is just that concentrating on these issues, as Clinton did when he took office, when you are trying to solidify your base is the wrong approach. For a precious time we will have the tentative support of Middle America. If we want to get it back for the long term, it must be earned.

We can do it by acknowledging that the government’s mission has grown, it is not going away, so we need more revenue. Rolling back the tax cuts on the richest 10% of us is an obvious way to bring more money into the treasury with minimal pain to the country. We also need to curb the growth in defense spending which by all measures has reached the theater of the absurd. Our enemies are different now. While we still need to be prepared to fight one conventional war, and probably not two, what we also need is the ability to get better intelligence and have better strategies to handle asymmetric warfare better. Real homeland security, like inspecting all cargo containers coming into our country, is also an obvious thing to do.

We also need new environmental laws that address the reality of global warming. Even conservative Republicans seem to grudgingly acknowledge that global warming is real. Trying to meet targets in the Kyoto Treaty in the short term is unrealistic, but Democrats need to push for big changes in fuel economy standards and emissions for automobiles and trucks, with an emphasis on conservation of natural resources and minimizing the amounts of greenhouse gases that we emit. The energy debate should be reframed: it is not about having as much energy as we need (for we will always want more); it is about finding ways to have our needs satisfied with less energy. In many ways, it is a 1970s redux. It is about solar cells and solar heating. It is about requiring all new cars to integrate hybrid technologies and all trucks to use clean diesel technology. We need to be candid: the days of our wasteful energy use are over. We can never go back. Conservation of resources must be a criterion that directs all our national policy. In the process, we earn real national security, because we are no longer dependent on foreign supplies for our energy.

We also need to acknowledge what Bill Clinton knew early in his term and for which we foolishly pilloried him. We need to comprehensively fix our broken health care system. Our system is collapsing because employers are finding it nearly impossible to provide health insurance and stay in business. We need a tiered national health insurance system. I suggest Basic, Silver and Platinum individual and family plans. A basic plan should be available to all and should cover basic wellness and catastrophic medical costs. It would not cover prescription drugs. It would resemble the Medicaid system. A Silver Plan would look a lot like a HMO. It would offer prescription drug coverage and, yes, it would not cover every conceivable injury or disease. The employer could partially fund its cost. If the costs are fixed such that all employers pay equally, then no employer is disadvantaged. Businesses can get behind this form of national health insurance. Finally, there should be a Platinum Plan for those who can afford it, providing PPO and Blue Cross like coverage, with perhaps additional premiums born by the employee, or by employers who want to use it as a carrot for attracting top talent.

Clearly, both Social Security and Medicare need long term fixes. Medicare’s long-term viability is the larger problem, since it is likely to go broke sooner. Medicare and Medicaid should fold into a multi tier national health insurance system. All health care should morph into one system with three levels: Basic, Silver and Platinum. All need to be actuarially sound and be run by an independent board of governors (like the Federal Reserve) that are empowered to keep it that way.

Perhaps Social Security could also evolve into Basic, Silver and Platinum system. A Basic plan would be similar to what we have now, but with perhaps a later retirement age based on actuarial statistics and which makes it self-funding. A Silver Plan would include defined benefits from a 401-K like plan which would be paid for by contributions from both the employer and the employee. A Platinum Plan would include benefits beyond a silver plan funded wholly by the employee. It could be thought of as an IRA on top of a 401-K.

I could throw out many more ideas, but I think that these are common sense ideas that are likely to be embraced by most Americans. They would demonstrate that government could pragmatically deal with our toughest problems. They would also, coincidentally, keep Democrats in power far into the future.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

It’s smoke and mirrors times at The White House.

First, it was Andy Card, the White House Chief of Staff. In March for reasons not made public (although I am betting it was prompted by a long lecture to President Bush from President Bush, the Senior), Andy decided maybe he didn’t want to be Chief of Staff anymore. (The yowl you heard was from his arm being so painfully twisted.) Taking his place was Josh Bolten, previously the head of the Office of Management and Budget. Josh was promoted because, well, it is hard to say why. Perhaps he was promoted because he was doing such a (cough, cough) terrific job balancing the federal budget. On the other hand, maybe it was because President Bush looked into his soul. We all know now what a fine judge of character our president is. I mean, look how well it worked with Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (not to mention Vladimir Putin).

Karl Rove, Bush’s Senior Political Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff, whom most credit for Republican gains in the last two elections, was told that he was working too hard. Rove was told to stop with the policy oversight stuff, and spend his time focusing on the upcoming Congressional elections. Republicans have plenty about which to worry. With a Fox News poll showing Bush’s approval rating at 33%, and a Congressional approval rating at 25%, some Republicans have finally discerned the obvious: their power trip may be over. It is time for more of the voodoo that Karl does so well and quickly before Republicans lose both houses of Congress in November. If they do not retain control then Bush will accomplish nothing in the last two years of his term. Even worse, the rich might have to pay higher taxes again. Oh Lordy, what nightmares! With his approval ratings in the toilet, Bush is already dead politically. Apparently, the political capital he thought he won in 2004 was an IOU. While Bush says, “I am the decider,” the American public has already decided: they want him and the Republicans out of power post haste. Bush never understood that real political capital is earned from the consent of the governed. Anyhow, Karl has to run to the rescue again to save their fannies. What will it be this time? Fear? Fear and rabid demagoguery? It will doubtless be some variation of the above. It’s their one trick pony, but it is unlikely to work this year. Americans have finally wised up. They are practically chomping at the bit to deliver their comeuppance. Even Pavlov’s dog figured out eventually that there was no need to keep salivating if the food no longer arrived on cue.

Scotty (Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary) was also sent out to pasture. I actually feel a tiny bit of sympathy for Scott. He had to stand in front of the cameras day in and day out and convey the unchanging White House message. He excelled at obfuscation, denial and outright lying. However, he had his marching orders. He was the loyal, dutiful but ultimately stupid good soldier, even falling on his sword in the end for the foolish bosses he served. Those making the policy did not have to talk to either the press or the public. They were much more comfortable in their ivory towers. Scotty could not evade the press. Josh figured out that maybe the White House needs something other than an angry pit pull as press secretary. Reputedly, Tony Snow of Fox News is being considered for the job. Well, at least that would establish indisputably that Fox News was just an extension of the White House.

As for the new Deputy Chief of Staff, Bolten is emulating our president, who can judge character by how many (nonalcoholic) mint juleps he has had with a guy. Therefore, Joel Kaplan, Josh’s deputy at OMB, became the logical choice for Deputy Chief of Staff. Meanwhile, Josh has told the White House staff that if they were even thinking of resigning, this would be a great opportunity. It looks better than being fired.

Doubtless, there will be more staff shakeups in the weeks ahead. Bush is hoping that with some new staff that his administration will have a shiny and new look to it. Do not be fooled. This is the same soap in a different box. It is not like, God forbid, Bush is actually firing the incompetent fools who helped make such a colossal mess of his administration. Cheney, of course, is still at Bush’s right hand. Bush said on Wednesday that Donald Rumsfeld is doing a “fine job” and “I have strong confidence in Donald Rumsfeld.”

It may be that Bush will have no choice other than to get rid of some of his closest advisors. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who last fall convinced a grand jury to issue an indictment against Cheney’s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, appears to be closing in on an indictment of Karl Rove. It may be that Karl will be too busy hiring $400 an hour lawyers and trying to keep his posterior out of prison to spend too much time worrying about congressional elections.

As for Josh Bolten, what he has is Mission Impossible. You know the metaphors too. The one that comes to mind to me: his job is to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. Go ahead Josh. Believe that all these personnel shuffles actually mean something. Go ahead and hope that they will make a difference. They will not. Not even an October surprise is going to save this president and his Republican congress this time. Your only hope this time is massive vote fraud. Sadly, it appears your party has acquired some significant skills in this area. However, you know things are bad when even in Texas, more people disapprove of Bush than approve of him. He now stands naked not just in front of the world, but in front of his countrymen, and worst of all, his fellow Texans.

There is no way out of this Pandora’s box. Government exists to serve the interests of the people, not special interests. Why are the Nepalese rioting against their king? They riot because their government is not meeting their needs. Generally, Americans overlook quite a bit but they too have a breaking point. It is not that the breaking point is going to occur, it already has occurred. Republicans, being clueless about these things, just do not grasp this yet. Denial is much more comforting. Nevertheless, the truth is that it is late in the fourth act of Hamlet and Fortinbras has entered the castle. The bodies are starting to drop like flies. The denouement has already begun.