Political MoJo

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.

Slap-happy in Wyoming

| Mon Oct. 30, 2006 1:54 AM EST

Wyoming's single House seat, held by Republicans since 1979, has come within reach of a Democrats' grasp. The latest poll finds seven-term incumbent Rep. Barbara Cubin leading by only four points - in part, it seems, because after a recent debate she told a wheelchair-bound third-party candidate, "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face". Now that's compassionate conservatism.

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NBC changes "Shut Up & Sing" to "Shut Up"

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 11:53 PM EDT

According to distributor Harvey Weinstein, NBC is refusing to air a promotional spot for the Dixie Chicks' new documentary, "Shut Up & Sing," because it is "disparaging of President Bush." The ad, which can be seen here, contains clips from the documentary that are familiar to many people. Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines tells a London audience that she is ashamed that Bush is from Texas, and Maines also pronounces Bush as dumb.

According to Weinstein, the CW rejected the spot, too, saying "We do not have appropriate programming in which to schedule this spot." A representative from the CW disputes this version of the story and says he was told that the Weinstein Co. was not going to make a national buy for the Dixie Chicks spot.

Justice For Pinochet Takes the Weekend Off

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 7:58 PM EDT

A Chilean judge ordered the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet today, charging the former dictator with 36 kidnappings, 23 counts of torture, and a murder. As part of an ongoing investigation, Judge Alejandro Solis met with Pinochet at his home earlier this month. The 90-year-old reportedly denied involvement in the torture and disappearance of political prisoners during his 17-year dictatorship. But Solis came away doubting Pinochet's claim that he suffers from dementia, saying he did not observe any symptoms of mental illness during his visit.

Judge Solis' announcement is the most recent development in what has seemed like an endless series of court proceedings aimed at prosecuting Pinochet for human rights abuses. But the saga isn't quite over yet. The arrest isn't expected to take place until Monday.

In the meantime, check out some of Mother Jones recent stories about the quest to bring Pinochet to justice, including this recent profile of torture survivor and crusader Hector Salgado and this 2004 profile of Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who tried to extradite Pinochet in 1998.

—Celia Perry

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White House Recants on Cheney Water Boarding Confession

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 7:10 PM EDT

So now the White House is saying that Dick Cheney wasn't really talking about water boarding when he said that water boarding is "a no-brainer" Tuesday. As Tony Snow explained, "You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will. You think Dick Cheney's going to slip up on something like this? No, come on." Put aside the laughable notion that Cheney never slips up for a moment. What's Snow really saying? That we don't waterboard or we just don't talk about it? If it's the latter, does this mark the first time in six years that Cheney has leaked something the administration doesn't want the public to know about?

Meanwhile, if you're wondering what waterboarding really looks like, check out this video in which a gutsy young journalist endures 24 minutes of near-suffocation (and talking with Alan Dershowitz) to find out if it really is torture. Not easy to watch.

Companies in China Ask... What's In a Name Anyway?

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 5:52 PM EDT

Chinese companies, popping up all over Shanghai and Beijing, bare a striking resemblance in name and/or logo to overseas companies, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. See below a picture of a Chinese local coffee shop called Shanghai Xingbake Cafe Corp.

 chinese_starbucks_web.gif

Look familiar? And the logo is not the only similarity. The word Xingbake means Starbucks in Chinese. Although Starbucks appears to be dealing with the most egregious copycat company, the American corporation is not alone. Here is a list of Chinese brands side by side their overseas predecessors.

chinese_starbucks_chart_web.gif

Advertising and branding experts excuse the Chinese companies saying the copycatters simply lack ingenuity and funds to pay for branding but others aren't willing to be so generous. Many companies are suing their mimics. Honda won a case against the Motorcycle company Hongda and GM and Chery, a Chinese car company, have recently reached a settlement. Most entertaining of all though are the excuses created by the copycatters. Chery claims its English name is based on the sound of Quirui, the Chinese name, which means "unusually lucky" and Shanghai Xingbake Cafe Corp claims its name is based on the character Simba in "The Lion King," which in Chinese is Xinba.

Hmmm…

For more branding wars and naming games, see Mother Jones's "What's in a Name."