Blogs

E-voting fraud: Not a question of "if" but of "when"

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 6:59 PM EDT

Apropos the coming ballot meltdown, when it comes to electronic voting we already know to be afraid, very afraid. Now comes a report from NYU--by all accounts the most authoritative on e-voting to date--demonstrating that "it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome" of a national election. (WP)

The report concluded that the three major electronic voting systems in use have significant security and reliability vulnerabilities. But it added that most of these vulnerabilities can be overcome by auditing printed voting records to spot irregularities. And while 26 states require paper records of votes, fewer than half of those require regular audits.

With billions of dollars of support from the federal government, states have replaced outdated voting machines in recent years with optical scan ballot and touch-screen machines. Activists, including prominent computer scientists, have complained for years that these machines are not secure against tampering.

Indeed not. And, as Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, tells the Washington Post, "It's not a question of 'if' [somebody hacks an election, or at least tries to], it's a question of 'when.' "

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Will the GOP Regret DeLay's Redistricting Scheme?

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 6:13 PM EDT

Just want to add an interesting twist to Monika's story. It's true that the Supreme Court ruled that Tom DeLay's naked power grab down in Texas was fine and dandy. What's significant is that this ruling sets a precedents for states to rewrite their district boundaries whenever they damn well please—rather than wait for the Census to come out every ten years, as used to be the tradition.

Now according to Richard Sammon, this could be a major boon for Democrats, if they want to get devious. This fall, Democrats will likely take both the governor's mansion and the state legislature in Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York, and that means they can do what Texas did and redraw their districts, in effect shifting more and more seats in the House of Representatives into the Democratic column. They could potentially do the same in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, if they win state elections there. The only places where Republicans could potentially retaliate are Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri.

So the Democratic Party could, if they wanted to, take Kennedy's ruling and redraw enough electoral districts to take back the House in 2008. Personally, I don't like the idea of elections being decided by whichever party comes up with the cleverest—and most aggressive—redistricting plan, but that's the reality right now. An ideal alternative would be for states to turn into multimember districts and elect at-large representatives for the House—which would be perfectly constitutional—so that we could junk this gerrymandering nonsense altogether, but that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

All We Need to Know We Learned from Tom DeLay

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 6:00 PM EDT

Lesson for today: It pays to break the rules. In 2002, Tom DeLay conceived of and executed a scheme to raise money for Republican legislative candidates in Texas, who would take over the statehouse, then immediately turn around and redraw the state's Congressional districts to cement the GOP majority in Washington. It worked: Texas sent 17 Democrats and 15 Republicans to Congress the year before the redistricting; the year after, the delegation had 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats. And now we know that it was legal too: Yes, said Justice Kennedy in his opinion rejecting a challenge to the redistricting, the new Texas districts were drawn "with the sole purpose of achieving a Republican congressional majority"--and that's just fine. So what if DeLay is still in trouble for the possibly illegal means by which this enterprise was originally financed (for a primer, see Lou Dubose's DeLay profile)? Win some, lose some; as long as you lose the battle and win the war...

Coalition of eleven insurgent groups tries to make a deal with the U.S.

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 4:59 PM EDT

The Associated Press has reported that eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt on all attacks in Iraq if the United States will agree to withdraw foreign forces from the country within two years. These groups, which operate north of Baghdad, are know not for attacking Iraqi civilians, but for attacking U.S.-led coalition forces.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has reiterated George W. Bush's conviction that a timeline for withdrawal "is not something that is useful."

There are believed to be about two dozen insurgent groups in Iraq, so a coaltion of eleven of them is a substantial number. Their other demands include:

-An end to U.S. and Iraqi military operations against insurgent forces.

- Compensation for Iraqis killed by U.S. and government forces and reimbursement for property damage.

- An end to the ban on army officers from Saddam's regime in the Iraqi military.

- An end to the government ban on former members of the Baath Party - which ruled the country under Saddam.

- The release of insurgent detainees.

Down with Air-Conditioning?

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 4:47 PM EDT

Over at Alternet, Stan Cox has an interesting two-part article about air conditioning, and how its rise has transformed the United States. Granted, his section on how A/C has helped make the country more conservative—by allowing more and more people to move to those sprawling, Bush-voting, water-guzzling Sun Belt regions—seems a bit overstated. He never really explains why hotter regions are so conservative (because they have more senior citizens living in retirement communities?). Anyway, I'm more interested in these assorted statistics:

The United States devotes 18 percent of its electricity consumption just to air-condition buildings. That's more than four times as much electricity per capita as India uses per capita for all purposes combined. ...

About 5.5 percent of the gasoline burned annually by America's cars and light trucks—7 billion gallons—goes to run air-conditioners. ...

Fifty-six percent of refrigerants worldwide are used for air-conditioning buildings and vehicles. North America, with 6 percent of the world's people, accounts for nearly 40 percent of its refrigerant market, as well as 43 percent of all refrigerants currently "banked" inside appliances and 38 percent of the resultant global-warming effects.So air conditioning is destroying the planet. And the cherry on top:

Better insulation and 'green' energy can never be enough to satisfy the nation's summer demand for A/C. Just to air-condition buildings—and do nothing else—would require eight times as much electricity from renewable energy as is currently produced.
That doesn't mean it couldn't be done, of course. But might Americans just have to use less A/C and learn to suffer through the heat if we want to convert to renewable energy, lower our carbon emissions, and have any hope of staving off global warming? Cox believes so, unless, of course, someone invents some sort of ultra-efficient air conditioner (the EPA recently raised energy-efficiency standards for A/C units by 30 percent, but even if all current units were replaced overnight, which they won't be, that would only mean a scant 5 percent reduction in power used for A/C).

Now as strategies for reducing emissions go, I'd prefer to focus on making more fuel-efficient cars and bolstering public transportation before killing the A/C. But what if we had to use less air conditioning? Our economy currently depends quite heavily on it, especially in warmer parts of the country. No one's going to go to a sweltering movie theater in June, after all, or spend hours in a mall buying lots of stuff, unless there's air conditioning to keep people cool. And without air conditioning, worker productivity would plummet during the hotter months (long summer vacations, of course, are out of the question—that's crazy socialist talk). Fun little dilemma we have here...

The Coming Ballot Meltdown

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 4:32 PM EDT

Thought the Help America Vote Act (prompted by the realization that the U.S. electoral machinery was barely up to banana republic standards) solved our balloting problems? Oh, please. Andrew Gumbel--a veteran reporter not given to alarmism--raises the curtain on..."The Coming Ballot Meltdown" in The Nation. Read it and weep.

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Celebrating 50 years of interstate driving (and crawling)

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 4:05 PM EDT

While we're making bulleted lists about America's cars, here's one to mark the 50th anniversary of the U.S. interstate highway system. From McLatchy (formerly the late, lamented Knight-Ridder):

  • Interstates make up just 1 percent of total U.S. road miles, but they carry a quarter of all traffic and 40 percent of all truck traffic.

  • About 60,000 people ride over the average mile of interstate highway daily

  • Pre-interstate, drivers could cover about 250 miles in a dawn-to-dark day on the road. Interstates doubled that

  • Why do interstates feel more congested these days? Because they are. In the past decade, their traffic volume increased 29 percent. Total interstate lane miles increased just 4 percent in the same period.

  • Interstates today have a fatality rate of about 1 per 100 million vehicle miles. That compares with 2 per 100 million vehicle miles on other roads. Curved exit ramps (versus right-angle turns) and minimum speeds get much of the credit

  • Freight distribution by truck has been growing 12 percent a year since 1956

  • What state has no interstates? Alaska. Hawaii has highways that are considered interstates because they're paid for out of the same federal fund and built to the same standards, but they're designated with an H instead of an I

  • Which cities have the worst interstate access? Buffalo, N.Y.; Dover, Del.; Fresno, Calif.; Jefferson City, Mo.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Tulsa, Okla., according to the Federal Highway Administration

The interstate system is a great thing, no question about it. But clearly it hasn't proved an unequivocal good, as notes the party-pooping Washington Post:

Unsightly stretches of asphalt sprawl now surround virtually every major U.S. city. The continent-wide delivery system that allows Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Gap, 7-Eleven, Blockbuster and Holiday Inn to offer identical products and services in identical stores from coast to coast has turned a richly diverse nation into a standardized single market -- changing the shape of towns across America. ...

With the number of drivers increasing much faster than highway mileage, a system designed to save travel time has become a chronic waste of time for millions of commuters. A study for the Federal Highway Administration found that drivers using interstates in and around large cities spent about 25 hours per year in traffic jams in 1982; by 2002, the annual waiting time was more than 60 hours.

Are "Vets for Freedom" a PR Ploy?

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 4:00 PM EDT

From the annals of propaganda news: Apparently a group called Vets for Freedom, which bills itself as "America's largest non-partisan organization," has been trying to convince newspapers to run stories by two of its combat veterans who are now embedded reporters in Iraq, on the theory that their reporting will offer "balanced and credible viewpoints." But it turns out the group has ties with the Bush-Cheney public relations team, as first reported by the Buffalo News. And a former Bush spokesperson, Taylor Gross, has been hyping the group to newspapers without mentioning that he's a former political operative.

But the Buffalo story hasn't received much broader attention. Meanwhile, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post have all run op-eds by Vets for Freedom "without any reporting on who they actually were."

SUV's emit as much CO2 as 55 coal-fired plants! And the U.S. is the worst offender...

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 3:45 PM EDT

Via the Guardian, the Environmental Defence watchdog group has a new report out showing that...

  • Americans represent 5 percent of the world's population but drive almost a third of its cars

  • Americans' cars account for nearly half the carbon dioxide pumped out of exhaust pipes into the atmosphere each year

  • U.S. cars play a disproportionate role in global warming because they're less fuel efficient than passenger vehicles used elsewhere in the world; they emit 15 percent more carbon dioxide because they're less fuel-efficient and are driven across America's wide open spaces (see "sprawl," "exurbs"...)

  • The average U.S. passenger vehicle has a fuel economy of less than 20mpg
  • Overall U.S. fuel consumption will continue to rise in the next few years

  • More SUVs are still sold in the U.S. than any other type of car. (This has been true since 2002.)

  • SUVs "soon will be the main source of automotive CO2 emissions", emitting the equivalent of 55 large coal-fired power plants.

Ethanol, anyone? Read the full report here.

Net Neutrality Bill Falters in Senate

| Thu Jun. 29, 2006 2:39 PM EDT

Things don't look good for net neutrality:

In a dramatic tie vote Wednesday, a U.S. Senate committee rejected an amendment that would have preserved the status quo of equal pricing for all Internet traffic, an issue known as network neutrality.

Although the net neutrality amendment did not prevail in the committee, the issue could be revived. The amendment that failed was part of a larger telecommunications bill that passed the committee and now heads to the full Senate. A similar amendment could be reintroduced into the larger bill before that vote. Tim Wu wrote an essay in Slate recently about why people should care about network neutrality—"The future of the Internet depends on it!"—so go read that for a good backgrounder.