Political MoJo

Happy Halloween: Scary Election Stories

| Tue Oct. 31, 2006 5:24 PM EST

One week until the election and things are getting scary. Yesterday, the New York Times had a full-page ad featuring a creepy vampire peering over the shoulder of an unsuspecting woman at the voting booth. Maybe the creepiest part was that the poor woman looked like an innocent, naïve and vulnerable librarian-type.

The ad was warning voters to watch out for election fraud, report anything suspicious and not accept provisional ballots. But are voters really too naïve? How easy is it to actually rig an election? Well, one website lays it all out in a detailed list titled "How to: Do Election Fraud, Steal Elections or Fix a Vote." The document was posted on a site about database administration created by computer tech expert named Steven Hauser. It is a work in progress that makes some disturbing statements:

"A simple PC and a database program or spread sheet is enough technology to sort targets by vulnerability or effectiveness for attack. Public available data files such as public voting records from the Secretary of State, (about $45 for the data set from the State of Minnesota) and the US Census are enough data to fine tune a set of targets figure out vulnerabilities and organize subsets of targets by method of attack."

What method of attack, you ask? Well, they range from "Inserting Security Problems with Voting Rule Manipulation" (essentially consisting of challenging voters' identities and records), to the more traditional method of gerrymandering.

If you want something that will give you a good scare tonight, pause that Scream 3 DVD and check out this scary how to list.

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

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Menendez in GOP Crosshairs

| Tue Oct. 31, 2006 4:45 PM EST

New polls show Bob Menendez hanging on to a thin lead in the New Jersery senate race, but Tom Kean,Jr. is attacking non-stop, now with more backing from the National Republican Senatorial campaign in D.C. A new ad, sponsored by the committee, once again hammers Menendez on corruption. A CNN poll is giving the Democrat a 12 point lead among registered voters and 7 points among likely voters. Nevertheless, the GOP clearly sees the possibility of a win here. They have been diverting money from other key races, such as in the Ohio senate battle, where they have concluded a loss is inevitable. The new money is meant to enhance Kean's image in south Jersey.

Menendez insists he's not under investigation and that Kean is a Bush puppet. "I don't think the national Republican Party would spend $3½ million if it didn't believe at the end of the day that Tom Kean Jr. will be a vote for the president and his policies," Menendez is quoted as saying in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Meanwhile Kean is off on a new attack, ripping Menendez for giveaways to illegal aliens. In a hysterical ad, young Tom shrieks: "Stop Bob Menendez from giving billions in social security benefits to illegal aliens."

--James Ridgeway

Global Warming Compared to Y2K, the "Killer African Bee Scare"

| Tue Oct. 31, 2006 2:39 PM EST

WVII and WFVX, two local TV stations in Bangor, Maine, will no longer cover stories on global warming. The general manager of the station, Michael Palmer, declared that only when "Bar Harbor is underwater…" will they do stories on the subject. Sounds like a good philosophy, right? In an email to his staff, Palmer wrote that the stations will no longer cover global warming because:

"a) we do local news, b) the issue evolved from hard science into hard politics and c) despite what you may have heard from the mainstream media, this science is far from conclusive."

But won't it be local news when Bar Harbor is underwater? Maybe Palmer should read the latest issue of Mother Jones, where Julia Whitty talks about 12 tipping points in the global ecosystem triggered by global warming, all of which have local impacts. Plus, he can add to his reading list the Mother Jones article last year which broke the story on ExxonMobil's funding of climate change deniers, the ones who agree with him that the "science is far from conclusive." Palmer went on to write that "global warming stories [are] in the same category as 'the killer African bee scare' from the 1970s or, more recently, the Y2K scare when everyone's computer was going to self-destruct." A little extra reading defininitely can't hurt.

Scrabble Amateurs Post Record Score, Americans Obsess About Just About Everything

| Tue Oct. 31, 2006 1:52 PM EST

Stefan Fatsis, author of Word Freak, reports in Slate about the latest in chapter in the country's Scrabble obsession. Earlier this month, in the basement of a Unitarian church in Lexington, Mass., a carpenter scored 830 points in a single game. His opponent, scored 490. The two men set three records for sanctioned Scrabble in North America: the most points in a game by one player (830), the most total points in a game (1,320), and the most points on a single turn: 365, for QUIXOTRY.

Read Fatsis' play-by-play of how the two amateurs, in a growing world of money-making pros, produced the Scrabble Shot Heard Round the World.

And speaking of amateurs using big words, check out the latest issue Mother Jones, on newstands now, which includes an inside look at the obsessive world of high school debate, "Revenge of the Nerds", where folks like Brad Pitt and Karl Rove got their start.

Poll: Arab Americans Increasingly Voting Democratic

| Tue Oct. 31, 2006 1:26 PM EST

The Arab-American voting bloc is having an increasing impact on the outcome of U.S. elections and is now shifting Democratic, according to a poll released last week by the Arab American Institute (AAI).

"There's clearly a trend in the Democratic direction and that shows up not only in head to head races, but also in the issues," said Dr. James Zogby, president and CEO of AAI, and brother of pollster John Zogby.

The poll, conducted by Zogby International in October, surveyed 701 Arab-American voters in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida — states that have close races in which the Arab-American vote is expected to play a "decisive role."

Just ten years ago, Arab-Americans were virtually split between both parties, according to a Zogby poll taken at the time. In the most recent poll, the split had shifted, with 45 percent of Arab-American respondents identifying themselves as Democrats, and 31 percent as Republicans.

Part of this could stem from the war in Iraq. Seventy-seven percent of those polled in October rated the war as crucial in determining their vote for members of Congress.

"Our numbers track the country, but writ large. We're kind of like canaries in the coal mine on some of these Middle East issues," Zogby told Mother Jones.

Initially more split on their opinion of U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq, the disapproval rate among Arab Americans has risen to over 90 per cent, Zogby said.

"If a Republican standard-bearer were to break dramatically with the Republicans' interests on Middle East issues, there would be a change," said Zogby. "But I don't see that happening."

--Caroline Dobuzinskis

Electronic Voting Gets Its Own Satire Site

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 8:11 PM EST

When the Yes Men meet Diebold, the result is Fixavote.com. Purportedly the web home of an outfit called Elections Consultants, the site teases with promises such as "we overcome the challenges of competition and ensure election results for our clients." The site's pitch-perfect stock photography and annoying tinkling music are the hallmarks of a satire but sadly, not everybody has got the joke. Darius Parker, who claims to be the president of Elections Consultants, said that he had been contacted by representatives of about 30 political campaigns to date. "They're asking me the details of a specific geographic location and what I can do to enhance the election for them," he told PC World.

Those 30 eager campaign workers called the wrong number: everybody knows that if you want to rig an election, you call Hugo Chavez or Kenneth Blackwell.

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Senators Tell ExxonMobil to Stop Funding Climate Change Deniers (A Story Mother Jones Broke)

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 5:45 PM EST

In the summer of 2005, Mother Jones ran a huge investigative piece by Chris Mooney (author of the Republican War on Science) about how ExxonMobil funds a vast array of think-tanks and special interest groups that promote climate change denial.

And now, according to ABC, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockefeller, (D-W.Va) have written to ExxonMobil demanding that the company "stop funding groups that have spread the idea that global warming is a myth and that try to influence policymakers to adopt that view."

In their letter to ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson, Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., appealed to Exxon's sense of corporate responsibility, asking the company to "come clean about its past denial activities." The two senators called on ExxonMobil to "end any further financial assistance" to groups "whose public advocacy has contributed to the small but unfortunately effective climate change denial myth."

Remember folks, you heard it here first.

The ABC story also notes that the "letter comes as dozens of major U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart, Citigroup and GE — get set to gather in New York next week for the Corporate Climate Response conference. The conference provides a forum for companies to discuss their efforts to address global warming, a topic getting increased attention in boardrooms across the United States.

And so the cover package we have in the current issue could not be better timed. One part is a story by Julia Whitty that asks when humans will get past denial and deal with climate change, and lessons humanity can learn from other species about how cooperation is the key to survival. And the other is a multi-story package on corporate responsibility, which takes a hard look at what part of the movement is just spin and what part is substance. (For a taste, check out Bill McKibben's "Hype vs. Hope: Is Corporate Do-Goodery for Real?".)

Aye, Caracas!

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 5:01 PM EST

So let me get this straight. Diebold, an electronic voting machine company with spotty record run by extremely partisan Republican and major Bush contributor, not a problem.

Virginia electronic voting machines, made by Hart InterCivic, that just happen to cut off the name of the Democratic candidate in three of the most liberal areas of the state, not a problem. (Or a problem that's not fixable until after the election, according to the Virginia board of elections. And wasn't the whole point of electronic voting machines supposed to be that such problems could be simply reprogrammed…but I digress.)

What's the electronic voting machine scandal that makes the front of the New York Times and all the nightly newscasts? The implication that Sequoia, an American voting machine company that has Venezuelan investors, must naturally be under the influence of lefty strongman Hugo "el Diablo" Chavez.

Do we really think that Hugo Chavez's master plan to take over the world involves a multi-year complicated strategy of corporate mergers?

At least now that the right-wing conspiracy theorists are as agitated about electronic voting machines as those on the left, real reform might be possible.

(For more on disenfranchisement by machine, check out Sasha Abramsky's Mother Jones article: "Just Try Voting Here: 11 of America's Worst Places to Cast a Ballot (or Try)," and plus this fun cartoon by Marc Rosenthal. And for more regarding Sequoia and electronic voting machines, check out Brad Blog.)

Election Conspiracy Theory du Jour: Bush to Declare Martial Law

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 2:17 PM EST

There's a provision in the defense authorization bill signed two weeks ago by President Bush that makes it easier for the White House to assume command of the National Guard during a major national emergency. This quiet yet significant expansion of executive power is causing all kinds of anxious buzz on lefty blogs. BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow fumes, "Between the right-to-torture bill and this one, it's clear that Bush intends to bring back the pork-politics glory of the Cold War by reinventing the Soviet Union on American soil." At towardfreedom.com, Frank Morales intones, "[I]t is particularly worrying that President Bush has seen fit, at this juncture to, in effect, declare himself dictator." The provison, which modifies the president's powers under the Insurrection Act and Posse Comitatus Act, allows him to mobilize the National Guard without governors' approval in order to respond to natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist attacks, and insurrections. This is feeding into conspiracy theories that, in the wake of a Democratic congressional victory (or mass protests against a rigged Republican victory) the administration will simply declare martial law. Why else, as Gore Vidal told the Huffington Post, would Bush seem so confident about the upcoming election results?

Let's catch our breath for a moment. For all the talk of this being a "stealth" provision, it's worth noting that the National Governors Association was against it, as were many members of Congress, including Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.). Does the law expand presidential powers unnecessarily? It certainly appears so. As Leahy explained publicly before the provision was made official:

[T[he Defense Authorization Bill will actually encourage the President to declare federal martial law—something has been done in only three—three—occasions over the past several decades.... [W]e certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy. It creates needless tension among the various levels of government—one can easily envision governors and mayors in charge of an emergency having to constantly look over their shoulders while someone who has never visited their communities gives the orders.

Yep, it looks like Congress gave Bush and Co. another big fat constitutional freebie, buried inside a big bill that passed the Senate unanimously and the House 398 to 23. But does this mean that Karl Rove is smiling because he's going send tanks down Main Street November 8? For all its flaws, there's nothing in the new law that hints that such a move is suddenly legal. And the last time I checked, the National Guard kind of had its hands full dealing with a much bigger disaster than the prospect of Speaker Pelosi.

The New Jersey X Factor

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 10:32 AM EST

While polls show Robert Menendez slightly ahead of Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey's cliff hanger Senate race, political pros fear Menendez is a likely goner. The New Jersey senator was expected to put a clamp on the race last week, but instead, suddenly got hammered by young Kean, who is subjecting the New Jersey democrat to a blistering attack, claiming, among other things, that Menendez is subject to a federal corruption probe.

Kean's offensive is getting sharper. One ad opens with a demand for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, then blasts Menendez for giving Social Security to illegal aliens. The ad ends on a family note, with his children helping their father read a campaign disclosure statement.

People in New Jersey would like to think Kean is a chip off the old block. His father, the former New Jersey governor and head of the 9/11 Commission, sometimes looks like a more or less independent Republican, who has departed from the party line to criticize the Bush administration for its failure to carry forward the reforms proposed by his commission. But they forget that the elder Kean acted like a Bush yo-yo during the probe, letting the President call the shots on how he was to be interviewed and what documents could and could not be made public. Still, the Jersey voters seem to love the man.

Sunday editions of the Bergen Record, a key New Jersey daily, show Menendez leading Kean 48 to 42. Strangely, though, New Jersey voters seem to prefer Kean to Menendez. According to the Record's poll, "voters found Kean more trustworthy by a 49-36 percent ratio, and they personally like him more than Menendez, 48-33 percent. But of those voters who consider Kean more trustworthy, 35 percent are voting for Menendez because they feel other factors, such as the war in Iraq and putting Democrats back in control of Congress, are more important."

In this type of climate, where Kean is actually perceived as the better candidate, the tide could turn quickly.