Thoughts from a Yellow Dog Democrat living in Olympia, in the great BLUE state of Washington

I am a liberal because it is the political philosophy of freedom and equality. And I am a progressive because it is the political path to a better future. And I am a Democrat because it is the political party that believes in freedom, equality and progress. -- Digby

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

We Can't Let Them Consent to Gonzalas Without a Fight

From the website:

No on Gonzales

by Armando Tue Jan 25th, 2005 at 12:43:07 PST

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Convention, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales's actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality - views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings - inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: "After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should 'judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'" We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, "[t]he world is indeed watching." Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?
With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

Signed, Daily Kos Management (past and present):

Monday, January 24, 2005

Michael Shaw has some Scary Photos

Over at Bagnewsnotes, Michael Shaw shows pictures of American soldiers campaigning in Iraq !!

It's not just a bored GI on his off time. As Shaw says:

  • pictures of soldiers circulating campaign literature depict three different units in at least two different cities on at least three different days over more than a week span.

What the hell are we doing??!!

Juan Cole' s Pictorial Commentary on Inaugural Speech

The shame is that he stopped at the first line.

Good job, Dr. Cole!

Monday, January 17, 2005

A Friend's Take on the Social inSecurity Message

This ploy is just another in a long string of actions by the economic elite to return the middle class to serfdom, although perhaps it is the final blow. Any attempts we have made to insulate ourselves from the highly manipulated, yet ironically capricious economic system have been meticulously crushed. Any progress we make to maintain independent economic interests apart from the interests of those in charge of the financial markets is viciously attacked. They simply do not want a large middle class in control of their own economic fate. It is just maddening that they frame it as economic independence to sell it to us.
Seriously folks, this is a blatant attempt to so entwine us with the financial fate of the moneyed elite that we will lose all ability to act independently. We will be serfs, but instead of being bound to land, we will be bound to credit and investment institutions, which if you haven't noticed are solely controlled only by the richest investors. That is the difference between being a citizen of a democracy and being a mere shareholder. Small shareholders have no power. The Bush administration is masterful at frightening people into acting against their own obvious interests. This is a line across which they must not be allowed to pass.


Well said!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Molly Ivins Common Sense Take on Social Security


AUSTIN, Texas -- In the Texas legislature, they are called "prior-roarities," such a happy coinage. What should come prior?

When the pitter-patter of falling year-end columns comes again, not necessarily next year, but certainly four years from now, I fearlessly forecast a dismal unanimity: that the Bush Administration II suffers from bad and dumb prior-roarities.

Actually, the passage of time is not required for proof -- look around. The Bushies are about to launch a $50 million to $100 million dollar propaganda campaign to convince us the Social Security system is in crisis. Actually, it's not. It's quite robust and has astonishingly low administrative costs, less than 1 percent.

According to President Bush's own Commission to "Strengthen Social Security," the administrative costs of keeping track of private accounts will be 10 to 30 times the cost of administering the current system.

The Socialy Security System is in no danger whatsoever of going broke or even of having to pay out less than full compensation for at least 50 years. There are any number of statistical models and premises one can argue about here, but when the administration begins with a premise that requires fixing Social Security based on an extrapolation to infinity, you know you are not dealing with people who argue in good faith.

Even if Social Security were in full-fledged crisis, none of the sensible, cheap, effective ways to fix it would involve the massive trillion-dollar boondoggle this administration contemplates.

Let's get this straight. The Republicans do not want to fix Social Security, they want to kill it. Period. They don't want to "partially privatize" Social Security, they want to end it. What they want is a private pension system like the one their pointy-headed heroes at the University of Chicago dreamed up for Chile, the poster child of why we should not do this.

This same rigid, inflexible, impractical the-market-is-always-best ideology is like a form of mania with these folks. As Paul Krugman patiently points out, "Claims that stocks will always yield high, low-risk returns are just bad economics."

In fact, it's more than passingly reminiscent of another rigid, inflexible, politico-economic orthodoxy: communism. And just as capable of robustly ignoring reality.

And for robustly ignoring reality, you can't hardly beat spending $50 million to $100 million on a propaganda campaign to convince America there's something seriously wrong with Social Security while you ignore the collapse of the American health care system. It is common to begin all discussions of American health care with a complete lie, uttered in this example by President Bush: "We live in a great country that has got the best health care system in the world, and we need to keep it that way."

The peerless investigative team of Donald Bartlett and James Steele reports in their new book, "Critical Condition: How Health Care in America Became Big Business -- and Bad Medicine," one of our most enduring myths is that we have "world class health care."

"To be sure, it does offer the very best of care to some folks," they write. "It does offer world-class high-tech surgery and some space-age medical procedures. But these benefit 2 or 3 percent of the population at most, along with the richest citizens of other countries who come here for the highly specialized treatment. ... Many countries around the world take far better care of their people, achieve better results for their health care system and do it all with far fewer dollars. ... The statistics are even grimmer when life span is counted in years of healthy living. ... By this measure, the United States in 2002 ranked a distant 29th among the countries of the world, between Slovenia and Portugal."

Now, that's a problem. So is global warming. So is dependence on foreign oil. Social Security is not a problem. We are, however, about to be swamped by an election-style campaign to convince us it is.

According to The Washington Post: "Several GOP groups close to the White House are asking the same donors who helped re-elect Bush to fund an extensive campaign to convince Americans -- and skeptical lawmakers -- that Social Security is in crisis and that private accounts are the only cure.

"Progress for America, an independent group that backed Bush, has set aside about $9 million to support the president's Social Security plan. ... The group is asking its donors for more.

"Stephen Moore, head of the Club for Growth, has raised $1.5 million, and hopes to reach a $15 million target. ... Those contributions are likely to be dwarfed by those from corporate trade associations, spearheaded by the National Association of Manufacturers. Other likely contributors include the financial services and securities industries. ..."

I'll say they're likely contributors. This is a giant fee-generating scheme for Wall Street.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I Love Krugman

January 11, 2005OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Iceberg Cometh

Last week someone leaked a memo written by Peter Wehner, an aide to Karl Rove, about how to sell Social Security privatization. The public, says Mr. Wehner, must be convinced that "the current system is heading for an iceberg."
It's the standard Bush administration tactic: invent a fake crisis to bully people into doing what you want. "For the first time in six decades," the memo says, "the Social Security battle is one we can win." One thing I haven't seen pointed out, however, is the extent to which the White House expects the public and the media to believe two contradictory things.
The administration expects us to believe that drastic change is needed, and needed right away, because of the looming cost of paying for the baby boomers' retirement.
The administration expects us not to notice, however, that the supposed solution would do nothing to reduce that cost. Even with the most favorable assumptions, the benefits of privatization wouldn't kick in until most of the baby boomers were long gone. For the next 45 years, privatization would cost much more money than it saved.
Advocates of privatization almost always pretend that all we have to do is borrow a bit of money up front, and then the system will become self-sustaining. The Wehner memo talks of borrowing $1 trillion to $2 trillion "to cover transition costs." Similar numbers have been widely reported in the news media.
But that's just the borrowing over the next decade. Privatization would cost an additional $3 trillion in its second decade, $5 trillion in the decade after that and another $5 trillion in the decade after that. By the time privatization started to save money, if it ever did, the federal government would have run up around $15 trillion in extra debt.
These numbers are based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis of Plan 2, which was devised by a special presidential commission in 2001 and is widely expected to be the basis for President Bush's plan.
Under Plan 2, payroll taxes would be diverted into private accounts while future benefits would be cut. In the short run, this would worsen the budget deficit. In the long run, if all went well, cutting benefit payments would reduce the deficit.
All wouldn't go well; I'll explain why in another column. But suppose that everything went according to plan. Even in that unlikely case, privatization wouldn't even begin to reduce the budget deficit until 2050. This is supposed to be the answer to an imminent crisis?
While we waited 45 years for something good to happen, there would be a real risk of a crisis - not in Social Security, but in the budget as a whole. And privatization would increase that risk.
We already have a large budget deficit, the result of President Bush's insistence on cutting taxes while waging a war. And it will get worse: a rise in spending on entitlements - mainly because of Medicare, but with a smaller contribution from Medicaid and, in a minor supporting role, Social Security - looks set to sharply increase the deficit after 2010.
Add borrowing for privatization to the mix, and the budget deficit might well exceed 8 percent of G.D.P. at some time during the next decade. That's a deficit that would make Carlos Menem's Argentina look like a model of responsibility. It would be sure to cause a collapse of investor confidence, sending the dollar through the floor, interest rates through the roof and the economy into a tailspin.
And when investors started fleeing because they believed that America had turned into a banana republic, they wouldn't be reassured by claims that someday, in the distant future, privatization would do great things for the budget. Just ask the Argentines: their version of Social Security privatization was also supposed to save money in the long run, but all it did was move forward the date of their crisis.
A responsible administration would reverse course on tax cuts and the botched 2003 Medicare drug bill, both of which pose much greater threats to the government's solvency than the modest financial shortfall of the Social Security system. But Mr. Bush has declared his tax cuts inviolable, and he says that his drug bill will actually save money. (The Medicare trustees say it will cost $8 trillion.)
There's an iceberg in front of us, all right. And Mr. Bush wants us to steam right into it, full speed ahead.

My Response to Donald Luskin's NRO Article

I couldn't disagree with you more. I cannot agree that our government's obligation to pay back borrowings means a "crisis." Tax cuts were given which ate up our surplus and now we're incurred a huge deficite. It should not be the creditor's obligation to "forgive" debt to a debtor that took a voluntary cut in pay and then went on a spending spree. This government badly needs to get back to fiscal responsibility or we are headed to to the fiscal devastation of Argentina.

It's not SSI's fault -- it's the fault of politicians who are playing a shell game of smoke and mirrors pretending to cut taxes while stealing the insurance premiums. Get rid of the theft, balance the budget and collect taxes honestly, pay off the debt to SSI and suddenly the crisis is gone.

"Spend now, pay later" is the crisis and SSI should NOT have to pay the price for the reckless spending and revenue cutting that these last 4 years have been famous for.

You are misleading people by characterizing obligation to pay back debt as a "crisis" -- I bet Visa and Mastercard wouldn't agree with you.

Jane Johnson


Here's his response back to me:

Tue, 11 Jan 2005 22:29:39 -0800
"Donald L. Luskin"
"Jane Johnson"
You may be entirely correct in your assessment of the moral nature of
the crisis. But don't kid yourself. It's still a crisis.
Donald L. Luskin
Chief Investment Officer
Trend Macrolytics

Friday, January 07, 2005

Experiences from King County Hand Re-Count

January 05 - 11, 2005Inside the RecountA ballot counter on the Democratic side matches wits with wily Republicans and survives with this news: The hand recount of the gubernatorial election wasn't pretty, but it was squeaky Karyn Quinlan
Democrat Christine Gregoire was elected governor by 129 votes last month in the third tabulation of one of the closest elections in U.S. history. While many are skeptical about the outcome, I am not among them. I was there at the historic moment the last ballots were tallied. In fact, I personally counted those and more than 10,000 of the 900,000 other ballots cast in King County. Over two weeks, as a temporary county employee and Democratic Party designee, I also learned a thing or two about partisan holy war—and human nature. The Re-Recount of 2004 wasn't pretty, but the system worked as designed. The hand recount gave us the true winner: the voters.
My involvement began with an e-mail. "Help with the King County recount for governor's race and get paid!" said a message on Dec. 4 from the Backbone Campaign. The Backbone Campaign is a group of local artists and activists whose mission is to encourage citizens and elected officials to stand up for progressive values. I called the King County Democratic Party and enlisted as one of 80 party designees in the hand recount of ballots. The Republicans provided their own 80 designees. It would be the third and presumably final tally of 2.8 million ballots statewide. Republican Dino Rossi won the first machine count by 261 votes and a recount by machine by 42 votes. As a computer professional, I understand the fallibility of automated systems better than most. It was clear to me that the only way to accurately determine the winner in such a tight election was by a hand recount.
So I became a Democratic partisan, despite the fact that I have never been a true believer in the Democrats or in their candidate for governor. Among Democrats, my pick would have been retired Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge, who dropped out of the race early last year for health reasons. In the 2000 presidential election, I voted for Ralph Nader, and had it not been for the candidacy of Dennis Kucinich, I might have voted for Nader again in 2004. I voted the Democratic ballot in September's primary, but I am hardly a party faithful. For 12 days last month, however, I was a warm-and-fuzzy, dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. In the account that follows, I speak what for me is a surprisingly partisan truth.
It certainly wasn't the money that motivated me. At $12.70 per hour, the 10-hour days for less than two weeks would pay a few bills, but not many. I was there to distract myself from the holidays and to participate in a small piece of history—in that order. The training sessions, mandatory for all ballot counters, took place on Monday, Dec. 6, and Tuesday, Dec. 7. Work began on Wednesday, Dec. 8, and was expected to continue six days a week through Wednesday, Dec. 22. We worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. For the duration, ballot counters, though representing the two parties, were considered temporary employees of King County. The respective parties also designated unpaid observers to serve as monitors.
The King County Records, Elections, and Licensing Services Division enlisted regular seasonal employees to serve as recorders and runners. One recorder was assigned to each pair of partisan ballot counters to form a total of 80 teams of three people to a table. Ballot counters were obliged to sit side by side, with the recorder seated across the table. Runners, as their name suggests, were charged with the task of delivering sealed boxes of ballots to the teams and retrieving the boxes. There were also first-tier supervisors and supervisors above them in the hierarchy—all regular employees of King County Elections. Also on the scene were representatives from the Democratic and Republican parties.
While waiting for my training session the first day, I went looking for a comfy chair somewhere in the almost-vacant office building at Boeing Field, which was leased from King County International Airport by the elections division for this historic hand recount. A sign indicating the GOP Lounge looked at least partially promising. Sadly, I was shown the door moments after stepping inside. But I did manage to glimpse the big empty room with offices around the perimeter. It wasn't much of a lounge, but it was theirs, bought and paid for, as it happened, and they vigorously asserted exclusive rights to their domain. The GOP Lounge was essentially a war room, and it was strictly off-limits to Democrats.
After the mandatory training sessions for ballot counters, Republicans held a special meeting in their private quarters. Incredibly, some GOP ballot counters thought they were entitled to record the partisan meeting on their time sheets. Officials set the record straight with an announcement that the GOP meeting was not paid time.
Since the Democrats had to front the money for the hand recount to the tune of $730,000, they lacked the cash for their own private space—and frankly, I doubt the idea ever occurred to them. Meanwhile, for a mere $500, the GOP had what I joked was their own "private Idaho." They had even planned to offer free catered lunches to Republican observers and ballot counters alike, until King County elections staff cited their policy that employees, including temporary ballot counters, were barred from receiving gifts, favors, or anything else that might be perceived as exerting outside influence.
Lavender Republicans
(Kevin P. Casey) The front-and-center recount tables.
Early Wednesday, Dec. 8, partisans began lining up for the first day of work. Fittingly for me, a Green, Democrats were obliged to wear green badges. The Republican badges were lavender, which, ironically, is the unofficial color of the gay and lesbian community. For Democrats, the only thing more amusing about this trifling detail was that the irony was totally lost on the Republicans.
Even without badges, it was not hard to tell Democrats from Republicans. Sadly, the Democrats' rainbow coalition was looking rather long in the tooth in contrast to their relatively youthful, white-bread Republican counterparts. Some among us gleefully bandied about the nom de guerre "purple people eaters" to describe our ever-angry Republican cohorts. No doubt, the Republicans had fun at our expense, too. But playful backbiting aside, the Dante's rings I had feared were nowhere in evidence—except maybe in the parking lot. The intense clash of vehicles, bumper stickers, Darwins, and fish was more than a little unnerving.
However, as Democrats and Republicans were paired up to sort ballots into precincts, the atmosphere was convivial, almost giddy. I was lucky enough to be coupled with a funny, and intelligent, young woman I'll call Ellie. Ellie was a recently laid off Web developer. As an outsourced computer professional, I found that we had some common ground. Together we got through the tedious task and even managed to have a good time. Ellie and I agreed that we had had worse jobs. In fact, I was enjoying Ellie's company so much that it barely registered when she joked (I hoped it was a joke) that the oath we had taken was invalid without a Bible to swear on. I made a mental note to keep my cursing to a minimum and to stop using the Lord's name in vain when I made a mistake.
During the break, I learned that Starbucks had offered to supply the GOP Lounge with free coffee. Election officials, however, refused to allow it, again stating that for the duration of the hand recount, temporary staffers were employees of the county and prohibited from accepting gifts or favors. (When I inquired about this, a Starbucks spokesperson said the company is a "nonpartisan organization" but could not confirm or deny an offer of free coffee to the GOP Lounge.) The lack of coffee anywhere on the premises produced a collective whine among Republicans, and even some Democrats. So election workers arrived each morning toting not only water bottles but also thermoses of hot coffee.
On one issue, almost everybody seemed to agree: We were going to need all the caffeine we could consume. Ballot counters were charged with the monumental task of counting 335,000 poll ballots and 560,000 absentee ballots—a total of nearly 900,000. The boxes of ballots locked behind a floor-to-ceiling chain-link fence—and guarded by sheriff's deputies—looked overwhelming. It felt like the whole world was watching.
The third day, Friday, Dec. 10, when the critical work of counting ballots began, I was assigned to another table with another partner, a plausible Sean Hannity look-alike. Officials seemed keen to make sure that nobody got too cozy. Mix things up and keep counters on their guard seemed to be the modus operandi. After all, we were there to count ballots and to serve as partisan police, not become pals. There was certainly no danger of my becoming pals with this guy. He alternately flirted and yelled in my face ("teasing," he called it), and at break time he disappeared into the GOP Lounge.
Of course, the fact that Democrats were not allowed in the GOP Lounge only served to feed speculation about what was going on inside that inner sanctum. One friendly GOP ballot counter, who preferred hanging out in the nonpartisan break room, told me she never went in there because it was "all politics." I had figured as much, but something else proved more telling. I noticed that if you paid attention, you could actually hear that day's GOP strategy expressed as "talking points" that bounced from table to table across the counting room. When everybody is saying basically the same thing, it is not hard to figure out what is going on. One day it was all about "over-votes."
'Over-Votes' Are Over
(Kevin P. Casey) Boxes of ballots await the recount.
Over-votes are ballots on which the voter has done something, intentionally or otherwise, in addition to filling in a single oval. It could be as simple as a stray dot inadvertently made before or after the bubble for the desired candidate was correctly filled in. The counting machines read that as an over-vote, so such a ballot is not counted. Over-votes are also ballots on which voters have correctly "bubbled" in their choice but for some reason—perhaps emphasis— decided to also include the candidate's name as a write-in. Machines also reject these ballots as over-votes unless workers manually override it. As we ballot counters discovered, voters do some very whimsical things to their ballots. However, unlike machines, hand counters can easily determine a voter's intent in most instances.
For example, if a voter fills in the oval adjacent to Dino Rossi's name, then inexplicably colors in and circles the "R" denoting the candidate's political party and also fills in the write-in oval and writes the name "Dino 'the man' Rossi," like it or not, voter intent is pretty darn clear.
So even if the voter has technically over-voted, when the voter's intent is readily apparent, hand ballot counters are instructed to count it as a legitimate vote. It is indisputably the fairest way to honor voter intent. Rossi and Gregoire both picked up a large number of votes this way from ballots that otherwise would not have been counted, not only in King County but in counties statewide.
So the sudden flurry of over-votes identified by GOP counters that day was curious. Based on the voter-friendly interpretation of the rules, the incidence of over-votes should have been quite infrequent. Instinctively, I began to read aloud the candidate name for all over-votes identified by my GOP partner, so the observers would be made aware of how the game was being played: Designate as many Gregoire votes as you can as over-votes in an effort to get them thrown out.
Clearly, there was no concern for voter intent in this blatant practice. "Let me guess, it's a Gregoire vote," I'd say in vain hope of shaming my partner. Even smudges and stray spots of ink from other ballots were seen as fair in the GOP's over-votes game. It began to arouse the suspicions of observers. In an election as tight as this one, it was entirely feasible that such a strategy could make the critical difference between winner and loser. Within a day, the election officials got hip to the scheme and instructed all ballot counters to henceforth refer all over-votes to the canvassing board. In essence, the entire over-vote category was abolished. Clearly, this measure—along with the burden it imposed on the canvassing board—would not have been needed had the GOP refrained from conducting such an underhanded tactic.
Another time, the strategy was apparently "make a fuss." A notable handful of Republican ballot counters were suddenly speaking loudly and often about the evil and corrupt nature of the big "D" and, by extension, the small "d"—the democratic process itself. At one point, my partner, the Sean Hannity look-alike, demanded to speak with the supervisor's supervisor about a disagreement we had over the determination of a single ballot. As described above, in such cases the procedure was simply to send the ballot in question to the canvassing board. However, my über-partisan partner stubbornly refused, instead trying to bully me to surrender. For nearly 20 minutes he managed to harangue the "Democrat-controlled canvassing board" and the stupidity of women—generally and one in particular—without taking a breath.
By the time Carlos Webb, assistant superintendent for voter registration, was on the scene, it was anticlimactic. The show was over. The real objective—draw a crowd of observers behind the yellow rope adjacent to our table and, above all, the media—had been achieved. Less than five minutes after Carlos made his pronouncement, repeating what the recorder and the first-tier supervisor had already said, the Sean Hannity look-alike quietly placed a mark in the line on the tally sheet for the canvassing board and moved on. Mission accomplished.
The next day, Monday, Dec. 13, I noticed with some satisfaction that my attention-grabbing ex-partner was consigned to sorting ballots alone in a back corner under the watchful eyes of several observers. Meanwhile, I was selected by the Democrats to do a second hand recount of ballots in the section that was front and center. Republicans, similarly, made selections for ballot counters to serve in this high-profile zone. Interestingly, included in the announcements that morning was a strongly worded "reminder" about what to do when a ballot was in dispute. To paraphrase: As ballot counters, it is not your job to persuade your partner. If you do not agree on a ballot, "send it to the canvassing board. End of discussion."
After this promising start, the day abruptly turned sour. An observer who blithely ignored the "no open beverages" rule stepped forward to examine a ballot that my partner and I were huddled over, and tripped, spilling her cup of hot coffee on my backside. The ballots were spared, but for the next several hours I was obliged to work with soggy hindquarters.
At this point, a word about the ever- present observers. Speaking bluntly, observers were largely considered by ballot counters—Democrat and Republican alike—to be a clueless and mildly annoying pain in the butt (literally, in my case). To be fair, the observer role was fraught with challenges, not least among them to get up to speed about the process they were obliged to observe. Every time a new observer arrived, there was the all-too-predictable learning curve to behold. The protocol for observers was to stay behind the yellow rope and silently raise a hand whenever they had a challenge, question, or both about the proceedings. Newbies were easy to spot. They were always throwing up their hands, some with great fanfare and righteous indignation.
On one occasion, a well-meaning and diligent observer put his hand up to challenge a stack of ballots I had just counted. The supervisor for our section then asked me to recount the stack. When I asked the reason, I understood his mistake. What the observer had witnessed, upside down and from behind the rope, was a write-in that I had counted as a legitimate Dino vote. He challenged it, perhaps because he was trying to look out for the Democrats. Or perhaps he was actually an observer for the Libertarians or a write-in candidate. Normally, you could tell the partisan affiliation of the observers by a small colored label at the bottom right corner of their otherwise all-white badges. Yellow (inexplicably) denoted a Democratic observer, while lavender denoted the Republicans. I didn't happen to notice his partisan affiliation, and it wouldn't have mattered.
As I explained, the ballot in question was not a write-in but technically an over-vote, because the voter had correctly bubbled in his or her choice for governor and then also written it in. I reiterated that in such instances we were instructed not to count the vote as either a write-in or an over-vote. Since the voter intent was clear, we were obliged to count it as a vote for the chosen candidate. Satisfied, the supervisor and observer, thankfully, did not force me to recount the stack.
Now, let's be up front about this. Some people, when given a little power, become tyrants—not all, certainly, but a memorable few. It serves no useful purpose to call them out here for all-too-human failings. For the most part, I am awfully glad the observers were there and that they carried out their role so responsibly. They played a hugely important role in ensuring the integrity of the process. Even the most fired-up of partisan observers ultimately found very little to object to once they fully understood the rules. Despite what the right-wing radio blowhards in town say, the hand recount was a squeaky-clean and totally transparent process.
Losing the Partner Lottery
Speaking of transparency, one morning, as I entered the counting room, my clear plastic baggie containing lip balm, eye drops, rubber finger, surgical glove, and two Band-Aids was confiscated. I was now a seasoned professional ballot counter, and these were my tools of the trade. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and I got my baggie back in short order. Happily, I positioned my rubber finger on the middle finger of my right hand and donned my glove on my left. Later that day, standing in line at the coat check, I noticed that the Sean Hannity look-alike had a bunch of papers tucked inside the roomy inside pocket of his suit jacket, in blatant violation of the rules. I was left with the distinct impression that there were two sets of criteria for enforcement: one for tall guys wearing designer suits and an air of self-importance, and another for short, scruffy-looking Democrats.
As it happened, I continued my unlucky streak in the partner lottery for several days. I was forced to sit through a litany of unpleasant topics, including the glory of guns, subtle and not-so-subtle homophobic arguments against gay marriage, and that ever-popular anthem of the right, the evil of taxes. So it was not a moment too soon that I got hooked up with a smart, affable guy I'll call Ben. The first day we sat side by side, idly chatting for eight-plus hours, along with our designated recorder. Of course, the observers were there, too, ever hopeful for something to observe. However, we had virtually nothing to do that day. I kept thinking about all the money being spent to have us sit on our hands. We handled at most a dozen ballots, and other tables were similarly idled. Apparently, we had gotten ahead of the sorters. So we spent the day increasingly desperate for something—anything—to do but unable to leave the table. We discovered that the only thing worse than counting ballots was not counting ballots.
The next day, we had plenty of work to do, and officials had mixed things up again. I was beginning to doubt that there was a partner lottery. Often the partner matchups seemed quite intentional. This time, I was stuck with a high-strung partner with almost palpable hostility. The following day, I was paired with another aggressive partisan, but thankfully we were in no position for small talk. We were stuck in what ballot counters had come to call the "hot seat." The hot seat was in the most prominent section. Cameras were in our faces all day, and a large gaggle of observers monitored even the tiniest of personal tics with an intensity bordering on perversion.
By Friday of the second week, Dec. 19, precincts were largely sorted and everybody was counting again. I was relieved to discover that I had gotten Ben again as a partner. Actually, it was quite a surprise. I had been scouting the nonpartisan break room for a heads-up on my partner du jour, but there had been no indication. Turns out Ben was a frequenter of the GOP Lounge.
Later that day, even Ben, the most mild-mannered of my partisan cohorts, returned from lunch in a feisty mood. When he miscounted a huge box of ballots, not once but twice, the rules forced us to relinquish that precinct's ballots to another team. His voice became uncharacteristically loud and prickly as he demanded the right to send two of the ballots to the canvassing board, even though he understood full well that we had just lost that right due to his carelessness. A small group of observers gathered nearby. He insisted, "It's my right as a citizen." The supervisor of our section explained what we already knew. The rules mandated that a new team would be assigned and that we had lost all rights to make a determination about any of those ballots because our numbers did not match. After the crowd dispersed, Ben joked that maybe he needed a nap and promised to redouble his efforts to count accurately. Suddenly, he was his affable self again, but I was left with a lingering bad taste in my mouth.
Time for Prayer
Monday, Dec. 20, turned out to be the last day for most of us. The place was packed. Everybody who was anybody, and nobody, was there. The atmosphere was almost festive—we were two days ahead of schedule and proud that we had successfully survived the Election Re-Recount of 2004. Democrats even handed out cute, predictably partisan buttons to commemorate the event. It felt like the last day of summer camp—perhaps "boot camp" describes it better.
My partner that day in the lottery turned out to be cut from the same cloth as the majority of her Republican brethren. Let's just say she had control issues. Early on, she made it clear that there was one right way of doing things—her way. But after interminable hours, and days, of doing nothing but counting ballots, I was in no mood. I could count ballots in my sleep. My fingers moved with a will of their own. My counting credentials were impeccable, and I was getting increasingly tired of the GOP Way. I had learned by then that for an awful lot of Republicans, the world divides neatly in half when considering every task, question, issue, or epistemological inquiry: right and wrong. Period.
After a tense interlude during which we staked out our respective personal boundaries, my partner and I both made an admirable effort to make small talk. After all, we were facing 10 hours of togetherness. Making nice seemed the key to avoiding mutually assured destruction. I was to learn later that when she attended the University of Washington, her sorority sister was none other than the top bubble in the governor's race—that's right, Chris Gregoire. Apparently, "Christine" came later, around the time she became a lawyer, according to my partner. Yes, indeed, I had read about that sorority in the news. It was "whites only" back when some among us apparently didn't know, or didn't care to know, that racial segregation was anything but sisterly. My partner and I got through the day in this vein and, amazingly, neither of us made a single error. When the recorder read out our counts, they matched perfectly every time. We appreciated each other for that alone.
During a long stretch that day, when ballot counters were idled, one GOP counter informally visited as many tables as he could to inform other counters that everyone was being forced to pay union dues to the Teamsters. Quite a few ballot counters, especially among the GOP, it seemed, were getting pretty worked up over this "unfair" practice. Before long, conspiracy theories about the Teamsters and the King County elections division were spreading like wildfire. However, according to a spokesperson for King County Elections, Bobbie Egan, the claim was false. She explained to me that regular seasonal workers are indeed Teamsters, and as such, they are obliged to pay union dues. (They are also paid a higher hourly wage than the temporary employees.) However, because the ballot counters were temporary employees of the county, employed for less than 30 days, they were not Teamsters and would not pay union dues. The only exceptions would be in such instances, if any, in which a temporary employee worked longer. This had been my original understanding, but I admit to having had a moment of doubt when confronted with the absolute certainty of the GOP ballot counter.
Luckily, or unluckily, I was selected for one more day, Dec. 21. Tuesday's team was comprised of an elite group of ballot counters—24 on each side—chosen by their respective parties to tackle the last bunch of ballots for a final final count. It turned out to be only a half-day, and I had a terrific partner—we had the requisite combination of speed and accuracy. In fact, we were such a well-matched pair that everybody else was left idling on standby in case further recounts were necessary. They weren't. When we finished the last box—actually it was a huge two-boxer—and our counts matched, even the observers burst into applause. It was over. Everyone was dismissed—we were free to go. The only tasks remaining fell to the King County elections staff and, especially, the canvassing board. For the rest of us, the only thing left to do was to await the results.
On this last day, I learned something that confounded my notion of what had been going on in the GOP Lounge. That morning I was surprised to see that the Sean Hannity look-alike had also been selected by his party for the final day. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been. After all, I knew he was a GOP party faithful. He was a precinct officer for his Eastside district and worked on the Rossi campaign. Seeing him for the first time in the nonpartisan break room that morning, I decided to seize the opportunity to ask, "How come I see you going in and out of the GOP Lounge at breaks and lunch?" It was a good question, since counters and observers were explicitly instructed not to talk to one another, and the observer rooms on both sides—Democrat and Republican—were supposedly off-limits to ballot counters. But I had personally witnessed several other ballot counters, Ben among them, disappearing inside the GOP Lounge, some even emerging with doughnuts and other tasty contraband. The answer the Sean Hannity look-alike gave me came as a shock.
It was for prayer time, he said barely above a whisper. I had to ask the other people standing with us—one other Democratic ballot counter and two Republican ballot counters—to confirm what he said. This was something I had never considered. That a political party interested in the results of an election would conduct daily prayers, formally or informally, inside an office building in which the express purpose is to conduct civic business left me speechless. Apparently, because they had paid for the space, they felt entitled to do whatever they wanted—or, more precisely, whatever they could get away with. The revelation that prayers were being conducted in the GOP Lounge, together with the fact that the Republican candidate for governor once said he thought creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public schools, gave me a chilling new understanding of the phrase "party faithful." What I had thought was a contest for governor turned out to be more like a religious war.
The separation of church and state is one of the most cherished tenets of our democracy. Many would argue, myself among them, that those who seek to blur or erase the line are the real enemies of the American way of life. While I started out not caring much about who among the disappointing choices would be our next governor, suddenly I found that I care a great deal.
Our ballot-counting effort changed the outcome of the governor's race. Gregoire won by 129 votes out of more than 2.8 million. The likely ensuing legal wrangling aside, the Hand Recount of 2004 was probably the fairest and most accurate election tabulation ever. If Republicans are complaining about the outcome, they do so with knowledge that they did everything they possibly could to game the system. On one point, at least, there should be no argument: Election reform, at the state and national level, is sorely needed. We simply must find a way to ensure that no legally entitled citizen is disenfranchised, that every vote is counted.
Before going our separate ways, a handful of us, several Democrats and one Republican, went out for barbecue and beer and toasted bipartisanship. As I sat there enjoying the company of new friends and reflecting on the unprecedented election of 2004, I felt certain that as imperfect and messy as things sometimes are, this is what democracy looks like.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

My Letter to Senator Maria Cantwell

How could you read the Conyer's Report and not record a "yea" vote to show support for election reform?

I'll remember you next year. Every time you ask for a contribution, I'll send Barbara Boxer a check.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Needed Election Reform

I get the question -- After all my hours of observing ballot counting and seeing a good system at work, do I think the election system is fine -- NOOOO! We need major reform. Some of my ideas include:
  • Extend election day to at least a week. Keep ALL polls open during that time, not just a few at county HQ.
  • Get rid of partisan election officials. A more ridiculous and inherently unfair system can never exist. It is the King of Conflicts of Interests.
  • Implement a national standard for voting and fund it.
  • Get rid of touch screen voting machines. A paper trail is useless, as a machine could easily be programmed to cast the vote for candidate A, while printing a receipt with candidate B's name on it.
  • Select optical scan machines. The technology allows for quick tabulation of the votes, while retaining a paper trail for random audits and full recounts.
  • All precincts that reported lines longer than one hour should be required to add voting machines before the next election.
  • The pitiful state of voting infrastructure in poor and minority areas is literally criminal, and redress should be sought both in the legislatures and in the courts.

  • Allow voting by fax and e-mail for overseas voters.

  • Welcome onservers at all stages and at all times -- make the system completely transparent. I was lucky. I observed in a great County, but many had to fight their way in and many were unsuccesful trying to observe.

Monday, January 03, 2005

We Lose Another Real Hero


Ex-Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm dies
- - - - - - - - - - - -Coralie Carlson
Jan. 3, 2005 MIAMI (AP) -- Shirley Chisholm, an advocate for minority rights who became the first black woman elected to Congress and later the first black person to seek a major party's nomination for the U.S. presidency, has died. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called her a "woman of great courage."
Chisholm, who took her seat in the U.S. House in 1969, was a riveting speaker who often criticized Congress as being too clubby and unresponsive. An outspoken champion of women and minorities during seven terms in the House, she also was a staunch critic of the Vietnam War.
Details of her death on Saturday were not immediately available. She was 80.
Chisholm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, a campaign that was viewed as more symbolic than practical. She won 152 delegates before withdrawing from the race.
"I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo," Chisholm said in her book "The Good Fight." "The next time a woman runs, or a black, a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is 'not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start."
Chisholm represented New York's Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and served until retiring in 1983. She also was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
"She was an activist and she never stopped fighting," Jackson told The Associated Press from Ohio. "She refused to accept the ordinary, and she had high expectations for herself and all people around her."
Newly elected, she was assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, which she felt was irrelevant to her urban constituency. In an unheard of move, she demanded reassignment and got switched to the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Not long afterward she voted for Hale Boggs, who was white, over John Conyers, who was black, for majority leader. Boggs rewarded her with a place on the prized Education and Labor Committee and she was its third ranking member when she left.
"My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn't always discuss for reasons of political expediency," she told voters.
During her failed presidential bid, Chisholm went to the hospital to visit George Wallace, her rival candidate and ideological opposite, after he had been shot -- an act that appalled her followers.
"He said, `What are your people going to say?' I said: `I know what they're going to say. But I wouldn't want what happened to you to happen to anyone.' He cried and cried," she recalled.
And when she needed support to extend the minimum wage to domestic workers two years later, it was Wallace who got her the votes from Southern members of Congress.
"She was our Moses that opened the Red Sea for us," said Robert E. Williams, president of Flagler County's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In her book, "Unbought and Unbossed," she recounted the campaign that brought her to Congress and wrote of her concerns about that body:
"Our representative democracy is not working because the Congress that is supposed to represent the voters does not respond to their needs. I believe the chief reason for this is that it is ruled by a small group of old men."
Chisholm's leadership traits were recognized by her parents early on. Born Shirley St. Hill in New York City, on Nov. 30, 1924, she was the eldest of four daughters of Caribbean immigrants.
She began her professional career as a nursery school teacher, eventually becoming director of a day care center, and later serving as an educational consultant with the city's child care department. She became active in local Democratic politics and ran successfully for the state Assembly in 1964.
She bested James Farmer, the former national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, to gain the House seat in 1968.
"I am the people's politician," she said at the time. "If the day should ever come when the people can't save me, I'll know I'm finished."
After leaving Congress, Chisholm was named to the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., where she taught for four years. In later years she was a sought-after speaker on the lecture circuit.
"Whether you agree with her politics or not, she had a moral compass," said Shola Lynch, director of "Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed," a documentary on her presidential campaign. "Why I was attracted to her story was because in some ways she's an average American woman who evolved into a a strong and courageous politician."
Chisholm was married twice. Her 1949 marriage to Conrad Chisholm ended in divorce in February, 1977. Later that year she wed Arthur Hardwick Jr., who died in 1986. She had no children.
"She was a mouthpiece for the underdog, the poor, underprivileged people, the people who did not have much of a chance," 88-year-old Conrad Chisholm told the AP early Monday from West Palm Beach.
Once discussing what her legacy might be, Shirley Chisholm commented, "I'd like them to say that Shirley Chisholm had guts. That's how I'd like to be remembered."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Truth From Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo

As pretty much all the sensible articles on Social Security have made clear, to the extent that we have a problem, it is not a Social Security problem, but an accumulated national debt problem. And this isn't just a looking at one side or the other

of the coin issue, but a category difference.

There are various ways to illustrate this point. But the following, I think, is the best.

The United States has a bit over $7 trillion in accumulated national debt. You can say that's been built up over the history of the country. But overwhelmingly it was borrowed over what happens to be the span of my lifetime -- the last thirty-five years -- and especially over the last twenty-five years.

After 1980 we started borrowing money big-time to finance our deficits -- in large part because of tax cuts on high-income earners. However you want to slice it, we started spending substantially more than we were taking in in tax revenue.

So where'd we borrow the money?

This is from memory, so I may have the numbers a bit off. But I believe about $4 trillion of that debt was borrowed on the open market -- individual Americans have them in their investment portfolios, or pension funds hold them, or the Chinese, Japanese and the Saudis and others have them in bonds.

But about $3 trillion of those dollars we needed to fund the 1980s and 1990s deficits we managed to borrow closer to home. We borrowed it from the Social Security (and a few other government) trust fund(s).

Almost the entirety of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan comes down to a simple proposition: finding out how not to pay it back.

Now, admittedly, this is an approach that the president is rather familiar with from his own business career at various failed energy companies. But it is, in so many words, a straight up con -- one of vast scale, and one which virtually no one in the media ever frames in just these terms.

Before discussing that aspect of the question, consider a hypothetical. Let's say there'd not been a Social Security -- President Bush's dreamworld. We'd still have had the same deficits. The difference would be that we'd have had to borrow from private borrowers in the US and abroad.

Think we'd just be able to decide not to pay them back? Not likely. The Joneses and the Smiths with their 401ks probably wouldn't like that. And the Japanese and Saudis probably wouldn't like it much either. Of course, defaulting on our entire national debt would also certainly trigger a seismic international financial crisis. So you can probably figure that no one would be a huge fan of it.

So why does the president figure he can get away without making good on the debt to the folks who pay Social Security taxes, who are overwhelmingly low and middle-income wage earners (since no one pays Social Security tax on investment income or wage and salary income over about $85,000 a year)?

Isn't it obvious? Because he thinks they're an easy mark.

If anything, the fact that a sizeable portion of our huge national debt is owed (in the aggregate) to ourselves would seem to be a good thing since it gives us in extremis at least some flexibility on repayment. But to the president this is a reason to abolish Social Security so the money doesn't have to be paid back at all.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the challenges we face over the next several decades aren't really Social Security problems but national indebtedness problems, though the issues are clearly related.

One obvious and immediate way to relieve long-term pressures on Social Security financing is to reduce the national debt ... by ending our habit of running huge annual deficits or even better by paying down some of our accumulated debt (there are complicated macro-economic questions related to this second point; but in general it's correct.)

But what has President Bush done? He's presided over the biggest fiscal turnaround in American history, taking the country from modest annual surpluses to the biggest deficits -- at least in non-adjusted dollar terms -- in American history. And that's only one reason why you can make a decent argument that President Bush has done more than any other president and perhaps any other single American ever to endanger Social Security's future.

Across the board, it's just one big scam.

The guy who's the biggest threat to Social Security says he wants to 'save' it by abolishing the program and replacing it with private accounts.

-- Josh Marshall

A Great Loss for Our Cause!!

However, AP has confused the disease name with a character from "Catch 22"

Democratic Rep. Bob Matsui dies at age 63

Associated Press

Democratic Rep. Robert T. Matsui of California, who spent time in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans as an infant during World War II and went on to serve 26 years in Congress, has died of complications from a rare disease, his family said Sunday.

Matsui, 63, died Saturday night at the National Naval Medical Center in this Washington suburb.

Matsui juggled political and policy roles during more than a quarter-century in Congress. He was the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the past two years, in charge of the unsuccessful effort to regain control of the House.

He also was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he was his party's point man on Social Security legislation.

In a statement announcing Matsui's death, his office disclosed that the congressman was diagnosed several months ago with Milo Dysplastic Disorder, a rare stem cell disorder that reduces the body's ability to produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Victims of the disease are left more susceptible to other illnesses, with less ability to fight them off.

The statement said Matsui entered the hospital on Dec. 24 with pneumonia.

Matsui was recently re-elected with ease to his 14th term in Congress. His death will trigger a special election for a new representative in his Sacramento-area district.

Matsui was born in 1941. The following year, his family was among the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. Decades later, he helped pass legislation which apologized for the internment policy and provided compensation for the survivors.

Matsui won his seat in Congress in 1978. He generally supported Democratic legislation, but his support for global trade legislation put him at odds with members of his party on some high-profile measures.

As senior Democrat on the subcommittee on Social Security, Matsui gave every impression during the final few weeks of his life of being eager to lead the opposition to President Bush's plans to establish personal retirement accounts as part of a general overhaul of the program.

"With the passing of Bob Matsui, our country has lost a great leader and America's seniors have lost their best friend in Congress," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Californian, said in a statement.