Pentagon to Reevaluate Strategy and Goals in Iraq
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Pentagon is conducting a major review of the military's Iraq strategy to determine "what's going wrong and should be changed" to attain U.S. objectives in the war-torn country, the nation's top general said yesterday.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, initiated the review this fall after starkly deteriorating security in Baghdad led commanders there to rule out any significant cut this year in the level of U.S. troops in Iraq -- now at about 145,000 -- according to senior defense officials and sources.
Pace said he, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, who as head of Central Command oversees the U.S. military in the Middle East, are all working on recommendations for how to improve Iraq strategy.
The military's growing view that Iraq is at a crossroads, a belief spurred largely by intensified sectarian fighting and mounting U.S. casualties on the ground, coincides with political pressure in Washington to find alternatives to the current Iraq policy, heightened by this week's election and the Democratic takeover of Congress.
Pace is scheduled to meet early next week with members of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission mandated by Congress to review the Bush administration's Iraq policy and propose changes, a senior defense official said. Pace's review and other military recommendations are expected to be merged with the work of the Iraq Study Group as part of a broad effort by the administration to redefine Iraq policy. "It will become part of something bigger," the source said.
"We need to give ourselves a good, honest scrub about what is working, what is not working, what are the impediments to progress, and what should we change about the way we're doing it," Pace said in an interview yesterday with CBS News.
"We'll make the changes that are needed to get ourselves more focused on the correct objectives," Pace said, adding in a later interview that the U.S. objectives are themselves in question.
In a string of television appearances to mark Veterans Day, Pace declined to provide details of any specific recommendations for major military shifts in Iraq, saying that would be "premature" and could compromise the effort. "We should not be signaling to our enemies what we're going to do next," he told MSNBC.
Pace said he and other military officials "continuously review what's going right, what's going wrong, what needs to change" and give the defense secretary and the president their "best military advice."
Still, sources said that Pace's review marks a more fundamental and open-ended look for possible solutions in Iraq than the military has undertaken to date, growing out of a realization that Iraq could descend into chaos and that the current strategy is inadequate.
"The collapse of the strategy in Baghdad . . . caused a very deep introspection by the military," said a source connected to the Pentagon, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
Asked by one interviewer whether the United States is winning the war in Iraq, Pace replied: "You have to define 'winning.' I don't mean to be glib about that.
"Winning, to me, is simply having each of the nations that we're trying to help have a secure environment inside of which their government and people can function," he said, in remarks that seemed to depart from the administration's more ambitious stated goal of building a democracy in Iraq.
"You are not going to do away with terrorism," Pace continued. "But you can provide governments in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere with enough security capacity to keep the acts below a level at which their governments can function," he said.
Pace's comments also could foreshadow a reassertion of influence by senior officers in the wake of this week's resignation by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, according to military officers and analysts. Moreover, some military officers have voiced concern in recent days that if they do not assert a greater role in formulating a future course in Iraq, that course will be defined for them by the resurgence of congressional Democrats, many of whom favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
"Senior military officers in Rumsfeld's watch felt their counsel was only welcomed when it was congenial to Rumsfeld's view, and they now want the whole story, good and bad, to be reflected in whatever strategy the administration pursues," said Loren B. Thompson, a national security expert at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank.
Pace said yesterday that he was surprised and saddened by Rumsfeld's resignation, calling him "a strong advocate for all of us in the military." But he also praised President Bush's nominee to replace Rumsfeld, former CIA chief Robert M. Gates, as a "very talented, dedicated patriot." Gates "has a reputation as a man who gets things done, a man who is collaborative and solicits subordinates' opinions," Pace said.
"Unless they get a very hard push-back from Mr. Gates during the early days of his tenure, the officers will try to reassert military control over the strategy in Iraq and the investment agenda," Thompson said.
Pace said the military will forge ahead with its work in Iraq, regardless of the change in civilian leadership at the Pentagon. "The change in leadership itself will not have a direct impact on what we do or don't do in Iraq," he said. "We in the military are used to changes of command."
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Pentagon to Reevaluate Strategy and Goals in Iraq
The New York Times
Slow Home Grants Stall Progress in New Orleans
By LESLIE EATON
NEW ORLEANS — The $7.5 billion program to rebuild Louisiana by helping residents repair or replace their flooded homes has gotten off to a slow start, frustrating government officials and outraging many homeowners who say they are still in limbo 14 months after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Though nearly 79,000 families have applied to the program, called the Road Home, only 1,721 have been told how much grant money they will receive. And just 22 have received access to the cash, which was provided by federal taxpayers and is being distributed by the state.
“I don’t know of anyone who has actually received any money,” said Cassandra D. Wall, who is active in a group of homeowners from the eastern part of New Orleans. Ms. Wall said she planned to attend a protest Nov. 17 in Baton Rouge, the state capital, “to go public with the outrage and the outcry.”
Many hopes have been pinned on the Road Home program, which is widely considered the most important factor in rebuilding the ruined neighborhoods of New Orleans and is also meant to start an economic boom in southern Louisiana. Homeowners who rebuild or buy new houses in the state are eligible for grants of up to $150,000 to cover their uninsured losses, although the average award has been about $68,000.
The city’s mayor, C. Ray Nagin, is so dissatisfied with the pace of the program that on Nov. 1 he announced that the city was developing a plan to lend money to people waiting for their Road Home grants.
[Officials announced on Nov. 6 that Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco had ordered the contractor managing the program to calculate 10,000 awards by the end of the month.]
“It’s time to kick into high gear,” said Walter Leger, a lawyer and a member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, which devised the federally financed Road Home program. “It’s time to forget the reasons and excuses” for the slow pace so far.
In some ways, the program’s low-speed beginning reflects an urgent need to avoid the kind of waste and fraud that plagued federal programs after the hurricane. The government, among other things, is demanding that applicants produce details of insurance policies and payouts, proof of title to a house, and, if possible, official assessments of a home’s prestorm value. Many New Orleans residents lost such paperwork in the flood, or never had it in the first place.
But the larger explanation is that the program is, in effect, a giant experiment.
“There is no precedent,” said Andy Kopplin, executive director of the recovery authority. “Louisiana’s version is the single largest housing assistance program ever done anywhere.”
The only similar program is in Mississippi, which got a full Congressional appropriation for its roughly $3 billion plan months before Louisiana got the full $7.5 billion it asked for. The Mississippi program is smaller and differs in many details; fewer people are eligible, for example, and the grants do not have to be used for housing.
But Mississippi’s program has been plagued by some of the same problems, including a slow start that drew public criticism from, among others, Trent Lott, the state’s junior Republican senator. New data from the program show that it has now paid $320.6 million in 5,201 grants — but officials had originally planned to have given out most of the grants by the end of August, the first anniversary of the storm.
Some Louisiana officials also point out that the Mississippi program got a public-relations black eye when it turned out that several state lawmakers had won a lucrative legal contract with the program. No accusations of fraud or conflicts of interest have surfaced in Louisiana’s program.
That is not much comfort to people like Lisa A. Lincoln, a social worker flooded out of New Orleans who now lives about 130 miles away, near Lafayette. Ms. Lincoln applied for a Road Home grant in August. She was interviewed, her house was inspected and her thumbprint was taken as a fraud-prevention measure.
But she still has not heard if she will get a grant to repair her Creole cottage in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans. The house still needs at least $60,000 worth of work, she said; it took all her insurance money, and help from community groups, to gut it and install some wallboard.
The delay appears to be that the program has to verify that she had insurance, and how much it paid her, she said. “And that could take however long to get,” she said. “I’m in limbo.”
Dealing with the insurance companies is just one challenge the program has faced, said Michael Byrne, a former New York City firefighter who is now chief program executive for ICF International, the private company the state hired to run the Road Home program.
Complicated federal regulations bar what is called “duplication of benefits,” so anyone who received insurance money or housing assistance from a different government agency, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has to document it and have it subtracted from the Road Home grant. And there have been computer systems to coordinate, documents to verify, hundreds of people to hire and offices to open across the state and, soon, in Houston.
Even figuring out how much a house was worth before the storm — the cap on the amount of a grant — is difficult, slow and often controversial.
Michael M. Homan, a professor of theology at Xavier University, is among the few who has been told how much he can get to repair his badly damaged house in the Mid-City neighborhood. But Professor Homan thinks the amount he was offered, about $64,000, is too low.
That is because the program assigned a prestorm value to his house of $146,000, less than he paid for it in 2002 and about $40,000 less than the appraisal when he refinanced his mortgage the next year. So he has appealed, and is hoping that his grant will be increased. Because he writes about his experiences on the Internet (at michaelhoman.blogspot.com), his results are being anxiously watched by other applicants.
Professor Homan said he was not dissatisfied with the program, compared with his other experiences after the storm. It has been, he said, “a year of incredible frustration,” starting when the levees broke. He had flood insurance, but is suing his insurance company, which denied his claim for wind damage.
It is not just the financial strain. As anyone here will tell you, trying to live in New Orleans is hard. Professor Homan, his wife and two children are living in the second story of their tilted house and in a FEMA trailer parked out front. Around them, some houses look abandoned, and a few have waist-high weeds in their yards.
Because housing in New Orleans has traditionally been relatively inexpensive, limiting grants to the prestorm value of a house may keep many people from rebuilding, said Melanie Ehrlich, a professor at Tulane University who is a founder of Citizens Road Home Action Team, a group that is pushing for changes in the state program.
Dr. Ehrlich, a molecular biologist, cites statistics suggesting that before the storm, about 10 percent of the city’s houses were valued at less than $50,000, and about two-thirds were valued at less than $125,000, far less than it would cost to build them from scratch. State officials say that low-income homeowners will be eligible for special loans that will be forgiven if they live in their houses for five years.
Salvatore S. Barone may be a test case, of sorts. Mr. Barone and his sister inherited a house in the eastern part of New Orleans after their mother died in 2000. Mr. Barone said that the house was valued at about $72,000, and that a contractor told him it would cost $52,000 to fix the flood damage.
But his situation, like many here, is complicated. His sister, who lived in the house before the storm, failed to pay the insurance or tax bills, probably because she was suffering from dementia, Mr. Barone said, adding that she was now in a nursing home.
A former driver for United Cabs in New Orleans, Mr. Barone said he was disabled by a stroke a decade ago and lives on $699 a month in federal benefits. He is staying in a trailer in rural Mississippi.
Though he has applied for a Road Home grant, Mr. Barone must first get his name on the title to the house, a common problem in New Orleans, lawyers there say.
Paul Tuttle, the pro bono counsel for Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, said that since the storm, his office had heard from hundreds of people living in family homes that they suddenly have to prove they own.
And the issue is critical. In Mr. Barone’s case, he said, “I’ll be living in a cardboard box under the Interstate if I don’t get this grant.”
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:52 AM
Eagleburger to join U.S. Iraq study group
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawrence Eagleburger, who briefly served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush's father, will replace Defense secretary-designate Bob Gates on the blue-ribbon study group that is expected to recommend a new U.S. approach to Iraq.
The announcement was made by the United States Institute of Peace, which is coordinating the study chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat.
Bush and Democrats -- who won control of the U.S. Congress in Tuesday's elections -- are looking to the study group to chart a new bipartisan course on Iraq, where more than 2,800 U.S. troops have died since the 2003 invasion.
Opposition to the U.S. presence in Iraq is seen as a major reason for the Democrats' defeat of Bush's Republican Party which saw them take back control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Eagleburger is the latest foreign policy expert known for their pragmatism and association with the first Bush presidency to be elevated into a high-profile position. Gates, the CIA director under Bush's father, was nominated earlier this week to replace Donald Rumsfeld, who was widely blamed for U.S. failures in Iraq.
Eagleburger, a retired foreign service officer, served Baker as deputy secretary of state and became secretary of state in August 1992 when Baker became White House chief of staff.
The study group, comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans, was created in March 2006 to conduct a forward-looking, bi-partisan assessment of the situation in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests.
There has been speculation the group will report its findings by year's end but no specific date has been confirmed. Members are to meet Bush next week.
Other members include Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., former attorney general Edwin Meese III, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, former defense secretary William Perry, and former U.S. senators Charles Robb and Alan Simpson.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:51 AM
Poll: More evangelicals sour toward Republicans
By Ed Stoddard
DALLAS (Reuters) - U.S. evangelicals have lost some of their enthusiasm for the Republican Party, a factor contributing to the party's drubbing in Tuesday's congressional elections, a new survey found.
In a Beliefnet poll of 771 evangelical Christians from Tuesday to Thursday, 30 percent said they voted for fewer Republicans than in previous elections. Evangelicals have been a core base of Republican support.
About 15 percent of respondents said they voted for more Republican candidates, while 55 percent said they voted for the same number of Republicans as before.
The findings were in line with exit poll estimates such as CNN's, which found about 70 percent of white evangelicals voted Republican in Tuesday's elections in which Democrats regained control of the U.S. Congress from President George W. Bush's Republicans.
While still strong, that level of support was below the 74 to 78 percent range that different surveys found in the 2004 election.
Significantly, about 60 percent of those polled in the Beliefnet survey said their views of the Republican Party had become less positive in recent years.
"It's not that they are soured with the Republican approach to culture war issues like abortion, it's that they are angry with them on issues such as Iraq and corruption," said Steven Waldman, editor in chief of Beliefnet.com, a Web site on issues of faith.
As with other Americans, the Iraq war topped evangelicals' list of electoral concerns, with 22.5 percent citing it as the issue that most affected their votes.
Respondents were not asked to specify if Iraq was a negative or positive factor, so some who cited it may have voted in support of Bush's Iraq policies. Other surveys have found white evangelical support for the unpopular war to be higher than among other Americans.
Abortion and gay marriage/homosexuality were second and third among evangelicals' electoral concerns, cited by 16 percent and 10.7 percent respectively.
The survey found a general disenchantment with politics among devout evangelicals, with 51.5 percent also saying their views of Democrats had soured in recent years.
"There has been some movement away from the Republicans but it is by no means a stampede of evangelicals toward the Democrats," Waldman said.
Over 52 percent still felt Bush was a better Christian than former Democratic President Bill Clinton, while 13 percent felt the reverse was true. About a third rated them evenly.
Among Christian leaders, evangelist Billy Graham -- a household name in America who has long distanced himself from overt political activity -- was viewed favorably by 86 percent of the evangelicals polled by Beliefnet.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, a prominent conservative Christian, was viewed in a favorable light by only 17 percent.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:49 AM
Friday, November 10, 2006
Poppy Bush and James Baker gave Sonny the presidency to play with and he broke it. So now they’re taking it back.
A Come-to-Daddy Moment
By MAUREEN DOWD
Poppy Bush and James Baker gave Sonny the presidency to play with and he broke it. So now they’re taking it back.
They are dragging W. away from those reckless older guys who have been such a bad influence and getting him some new minders who are a lot more practical.
In a scene that might be called “Murder on the Oval Express,” Rummy turned up dead with so many knives in him that it’s impossible to say who actually finished off the man billed as Washington’s most skilled infighter. (Poppy? Scowcroft? Baker? Laura? Condi? The Silver Fox? Retired generals? Serving generals? Future generals? Troops returning to Iraq for the umpteenth time without a decent strategy? Democrats? Republicans? Joe Lieberman?)
The defense chief got hung out to dry before Saddam got hung. The president and Karl Rove, underestimating the public’s hunger for change or overestimating the loyalty of a fed-up base, did not ice Rummy in time to save the Senate from teetering Democratic. But once Sonny managed to heedlessly dynamite the Republican majority — as well as the Middle East, the Atlantic alliance and the U.S. Army — then Bush Inc., the family firm that snatched the presidency for W. in 2000, had to step in. Two trusted members of the Bush 41 war council, Mr. Baker and Robert Gates, have been dispatched to discipline the delinquent juvenile and extricate him from the mother of all messes.
Mr. Gates, already on Mr. Baker’s “How Do We Get Sonny Out of Deep Doo Doo in Iraq?” study group, left his job protecting 41’s papers at Texas A&M to return to Washington and pry the fingers of Poppy’s old nemesis, Rummy, off the Pentagon.
“They had to bring in someone from the old gang,” said someone from the old gang. “That has to make Junior uneasy. With Bob, the door is opened again to 41 and Baker and Brent.”
W. had no choice but to make an Oedipal U-turn. He couldn’t let Nancy Pelosi subpoena the cranky Rummy for hearings on Iraq. “He’s not exactly Mr. Charming or Mr. Truthful, and he’d be on TV saying something stupid,” said a Bush 41 official. “Bob can just go up to the Hill and say: ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t there when that happened.’ ”
Bob Gates, his friends say, had been worried about the belligerent, arrogant, ideological style of Rummy & Cheney from the start. He fretted at the way W.’s so-called foreign policy “dream team” — including his old staffer and fellow Soviet expert Condi — made it up as they went along, even though that had been their complaint about the Clinton foreign policy team. A realpolitik advocate like his mentor, General Scowcroft, he was critical of a linear, moralizing style that disdained nuance, demoted diplomacy and inflated villains. In 2004, he publicly questioned the administration’s approach to Iran.
While Vice went off to a corner to lick his wounds, W. was forced to do his best imitation of his dad yesterday, talking about “bipartisan outreach,” “people have spoken,” blah-blah-blah — after he’d been out on the trail saying that electing Democrats would mean that “the terrorists win and America loses.”
“I share a large part of the responsibility” for the “thumpin’ ” of Republicans, he told reporters. Actually, he gets full responsibility.
W. has stopped talking about democracy as a standard of success in Iraq; yesterday, he said that Iraq had to “govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.”
He was asked if his surprise at the election results showed he was out of touch with Americans. “I thought when it was all said and done,” he replied, “the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security.”
So it was just that the American people were too dumb to understand? W. also managed to bash Vietnam vets, saying that this war isn’t similar because there’s a volunteer army, so “the troops understand the consequences of Iraq in the global war on terror.” Is that why W. stayed out of Vietnam? Because he understood it?
An ashen Rummy was also condescending during his uncomfortable tableau with W. and Bob Gates in the Oval Office, implying that he was dumped because Americans just didn’t “comprehend” what was going on in Iraq. Actually, Rummy, we get it. You don’t get it.
“Baker’s no fool,” a Bush 41 official said. “He wasn’t going to go out there with a plan for Iraq and have Rummy shoot it down. He wanted a receptive audience. Everyone had to be on the same page before the plan is unveiled.”
They don’t call him the Velvet Hammer for nothing. R.I.P., Rummy.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:12 AM
Patti Davis: Bush’s Father Issues
Father issues still haunt George W. Bush.
By Patti Davis
Nov. 9, 2006 - A few years ago, during my father’s memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., I saw a telling moment between the two George Bushes. Bush 41, the former president, had just finished his eulogy, a poignant, touching tribute that hit all the right notes—soft humor, sadness and a clear affection for the man he was there to remember. The current President Bush followed him, and though father and son passed each other so close their shoulders almost brushed, George W. Bush passed his father as if he were invisible, keeping his eyes straight ahead and walking briskly to his destination. To me, it looked like there was some trepidation in the eyes of Bush the Elder, as if he knew his son would slight him.
I thought about that scene as the midterm election results came in Tuesday night. In the wake of a stinging defeat for his party that has clearly put the president in a terrible mood, it seems a good time to ruminate on the story of Oedipus. In the Greek tale, Laius, believing a prediction that his son would one day kill him, had his infant boy hobbled with nails driven into his ankles and then taken to the mountains and left there. Laius believed he had successfully killed his son long before Oedipus could grow up and murder him. Of course, he was wrong, and years later a roadside altercation between the two men resulted in the prophecy coming true.
After getting into more trouble by unwittingly marrying his mother and after she hanged herself upon discovering the truth, Oedipus was so overcome with remorse he blinded himself with the pin of her brooch. Granted, it was a dramatic way to show humility and shame, but at least he did come around.
Which is more than we can say for the president. I’m not suggesting George W. Bush reach for a brooch and blind himself, but I am saying that life is always inviting us to be more humble. Whether we accept the invitation is a matter of choice. What we saw in Bush’s post-election statement Wednesday was an angry man reading from a prepared speech that was supposed to sound conciliatory but didn’t at all because his voice bristled with resentment. No humility there, no reflection or introspection on the dissatisfaction of a majority of Americans. And, the irony of ironies, with the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, W. finds himself working closely with many of his father’s old advisors.
The term "oedipal" has fluttered around the younger Bush’s presidency from the beginning. Much has been made of the psychology behind the scene of the competitive son marching onto the battlefield his father had vacated, determined to win a war Dad walked away from. When the son raised his fist (symbolically) and cried out, “Mission accomplished!” it wasn’t just about the statue of Saddam being dismantled, ripped to ruins in the center of Baghdad. It was about (again symbolically) conquering his father.
If the purpose of life is that we grow wiser, more open and receptive, more willing to step back and learn from mistakes, more willing to change, then there are three words that should come to mind for this president today: Mission not accomplished.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:09 AM
Pastor will shut down controversial kids camp
By Religion News Service and The Associated Press
The summer camp featured in the documentary "Jesus Camp," which includes scenes with disgraced preacher Ted Haggard, will shut down for at least several years because of negative reaction sparked by the film, according to the camp's director.
"Right now we're just not a safe ministry," Becky Fischer, the fiery Pentecostal pastor featured in "Jesus Camp," said Tuesday.
The documentary, which hit select U.S. theaters during the summer, portrays Fischer, 55, as drill instructor to a group of young evangelical children steeling themselves for spiritual and political warfare.
Led by Fischer, the children pray in tongues, as is common in charismatic strains of Pentecostalism; tearfully beg God to end abortion; and bless President Bush at a weeklong camp in Devils Lake, N.D.
Fischer has drawn fire from some corners for "brainwashing" the children. After vandals damaged the campground last month and critics besieged Fischer with negative e-mails, phone calls and letters, the pastor said she's shutting down the camp for at least several years.
"I don't think we'll be doing it for a while," she said.
Fischer lives in Bismarck, N.D., and is chief pastor at The Fire Center, a church devoted to children's ministry there. She has run the weeklong "Kids on Fire" summer camp, which is featured in the film, since 2002, with 75 to 100 children attending each year.
The documentary also includes scenes of Haggard, the evangelical leader accused of gay sex and drug use.
In one scene, directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady visit Haggard's 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo. He tells the vast audience, "We don't have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity. It's written in the Bible."
Then Haggard looks into the camera and says kiddingly: "I think I know what you did last night," drawing laughs from the crowd. "If you send me a thousand dollars, I won't tell your wife."
Later, another joke for the filmmakers: "If you use any of this, I'll sue you."
The married, 50-year-old father of five admitted in a letter read Sunday to his followers that he was "guilty of sexual immorality." He has yet to address specific claims by a male escort that Haggard paid him for sex over the past three years.
Haggard also leads the audience in praying for President Bush to select a Supreme Court nominee who supports their beliefs (it would end up being Samuel Alito) and later brags about the rapid expansion of evangelicalism.
"It's got enough growth to essentially sway every election," Haggard says with a smile. "If the evangelicals vote, they determine the election."
Haggard has acknowledged that he paid Mike Jones of Denver for a massage and for methamphetamine, but said he didn't have sex with Jones and didn't take the drug.
He resigned last week as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 30 million people, and was removed Saturday as leader of his own church.
For the last three years, Fischer has rented a campground in Devils Lake from the Assemblies of God, one of the largest national churches in the Pentecostal movement. But Fischer said she was asked not to return after vandals broke windows and caused $1,500 in damage at the campground in October.
Fischer said she has asked the distributors of "Jesus Camp" not to release the film in Bismarck because she fears for the safety of the 70 children who attend The Fire Center.
Grady, the co-director of "Jesus Camp," said the negative reaction to the film "has weighed a little heavy on our hearts."
"Not that we had anything to do with it, but [the campground] wasn't getting vandalized before the film and it was after it, and we need to acknowledge that," Grady said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:07 AM
R.I. senator may leave Republican Party
By MICHELLE R. SMITH, Associated Press Writer
Two days after losing a bid for a second term, Sen. Lincoln Chafee (news, bio, voting record) said he was unsure whether he would remain a Republican.
Chafee lost to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in a race seen as a referendum on President Bush and the GOP. On Thursday, he was asked whether he would stick with the Republican Party or become an independent or Democrat.
"I haven't made any decisions. I just haven't even thought about where my place is," Chafee said at a news conference. When pressed on whether his comments indicated he might leave the GOP, he replied: "That's fair."
Chafee, 53, is a lifelong Republican who has represented Rhode Island for seven years. His father held the same seat for 23 years before that.
He is the most liberal Republican in the Senate and was the sole Senate Republican to vote against the war in Iraq. But that was not enough to prevail against Whitehouse, who shared many of Chafee's views but was a Democrat in a heavily Democratic state.
Chafee said he has not decided what to do after leaving office, but he hoped to stay involved in public life. He said his loss may have helped the country by switching control of Congress.
"The people have spoken all across America. They want the Democrats and Republicans to work together," he said. "I think the president now is going to have to talk to the Democrats. I think that's going to be good for America."
Chafee said he waged a lonely campaign to bring the party to the middle. He described attending weekly lunches with fellow GOP senators and standing up to argue his point of view, often alone.
"There were times walking into my caucus room where it wasn't fun," he said, adding that he stayed with the GOP largely because it helped him bring federal dollars home to Rhode Island.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:06 AM
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Robert Gates was a controversial figure in the Iran-contra affair. Will his Reagan-era activities hamper his confirmation as Rumsfeld’s successor?
Will Gates Nomination Revive Old Scandals?
Robert Gates was a controversial figure in the Iran-contra affair. Will his Reagan-era activities hamper his confirmation as Rumsfeld’s successor?
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
Nov. 8, 2006 - By choosing Robert Gates as his new Defense secretary, President George W. Bush is once again turning to a trusted warhorse from his father’s administration. But the Gates nomination also could remind the new Democratic Congress about controversies from the George H.W. Bush era as well.
Gates was investigated during the late 1980s and 1990s by independent counsel Lawrence Walsh over whether Gates had told the truth about the Iran-contra affair, which occurred during his tenure as deputy to Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey. Questions about Gates's knowledge of secret arms sales to Iran—and the diversion of proceeds to support the Nicaraguan contras—caused Gates to withdraw his nomination to succeed Casey as CIA director in 1987.
Gates was again nominated by President George H.W. Bush to be CIA chief in 1991, setting off an intense and spirited confirmation hearing in which charges and countercharges about Iran-contra flared anew. Gates also was publicly accused by former CIA subordinates of slanting intelligence about the Soviet threat—a criticism that evokes an eerie parallel to accusations hurled against the current Bush administration over its handling of pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and alleged ties to Al Qaeda.
After months of partisan wrangling and debate, Gates was confirmed as CIA director in November 1991 and served in that capacity until the end of the first President Bush’s term in January 1993. He later served as director of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and, after that, as president of Texas A&M University where the Bush library is housed. After Congress in 2004 passed "intelligence reform" legislation creating the post of a national intelligence director to co-ordinate the activities of feuding intelligence agencies, the White House approached Gates to see if he wanted to become the first new intelligence czar. But on that occasion, Gates turned George W. Bush down.
Bush today praised Gates as a “steady, solid leader who can help make the necessary adjustments in our approach to the current challenges.” And indeed some former associates describe Gates as a savvy and seasoned bureaucratic veteran who is almost certain to establish a more co-operative relationship with the uniformed services and other agencies.
But some of Gates's old critics—who not coincidentally have also been critics of the current Bush administration’s Iraq policy—maintain he is not necessarily the best candidate for the job of correcting a war policy that is seriously off course.
When he heard today about Gates's nomination, “I nearly choked on my sandwich,” said Mel Goodman, a former Soviet analyst at the CIA who testified against Gates’s nomination to be CIA director in 1991. “This is not a guy who’s ever been accused of speaking truth to power. If you’re looking for somebody who’s going to change Iraq policy, he’s hardly the guy to do it. The only policy he’s going to consider is what is acceptable to the White House.”
During his 1991 testimony, Goodman testified that Gates, as deputy CIA director, consistently politicized intelligence-community reports about Iran, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in order to cater to the hard-line anti-Soviet policies of the Reagan White House. Gates’s role as deputy CIA director “was to corrupt the process and the ethics of intelligence on all of these issues.” When Goodman protested his actions, Gates “went off like a Roman candle,” Goodman said today. “It was the same kind of manufacturing of intelligence” in the run-up to the Iraq war, Goodman said.
Congressional records and transcripts extensively document the debate over Gates's credentials and record in the Bush and Reagan administrations. In one case, Democrats accused Gates of helping to push an allegedly contentious report about the Soviet Union's influence in Iran.
One of the most controversial intelligence issues concerning Gates, as CIA No. 2, involved an investigation into contentious allegations that the Soviet Union played a role in the 1981 shooting, by a Turkish extremist, of Pope John Paul II. According to Senate transcripts, the CIA prepared a memo outlining the case for Soviet complicity in the attack on the pope and in a cover letter forwarding the document to Reagan. Gates allegedly stated that the intelligence review upon which the memo was based was comprehensive. However, a CIA internal review later denounced the memo as being skewed, and Gates himself later admitted the document had been based on thin evidence. "The charges [against Gates] of politicization, intimidation and demoralization of analysts, particularly in the Soviet field, are compelling. After all, even Mr. Gates has expressed worries about politicization," commented the late Sen. Brock Adams, a Washington Democrat, during the Senate floor debate that eventually led to Gates's confirmation as George H.W. Bush's CIA director.
A report produced by Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel appointed to conduct a criminal investigation of the Iran-contra affair, criticized Gates for possible lack of candor related to what he knew about the Reagan-era scandal. According to the report, Gates consistently testified that he first learned in October 1986 that money from the sales of arms to Iran may have been diverted to anticommunist contra forces in Central America. Other evidence, however, suggested that Gates got a report on the affair from a senior CIA official several months earlier. Walsh eventually decided that there was not enough evidence to warrant the filing of any criminal case against Gates. "In the end, although Gates's actions suggested an officer who was more interested in shielding his institution from criticism and in shifting the blame to the NSC [National Security Council] than in finding out the truth, there was insufficient evidence to charge Gates with a criminal endeavor to obstruct congressional investigations," Walsh wrote in his report.
Confirmation hearings on Gates's nomination to become Defense secretary will be held by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will be chaired by Michigan Sen. Carl Levin if Democrats do take control of the Senate. One of the Democrats' best-informed members on military and foreign-policy issues, Levin is also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and has been in the forefront of efforts by both committees to investigate allegations that policymakers in the current Bush administration "cherry picked" intelligence reporting and pressured analysts to highlight information supporting White House policies toward Iraq.
If he holds on to his slim election-night lead and is sworn in as the final member of a new Democratic majority in the Senate, Virginia's Jim Webb may also ultimately have an interesting take to offer on the Gates nomination. Webb, a highly decorated war hero, was secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration and, before that, had attended the U.S. Naval Academy with Oliver North, the Marine colonel who was at the center of the Iran-contra scandal. Webb publicly criticized North years ago when the former colonel ran unsuccessfully for the Virginia Senate seat that Webb himself is now on the verge of capturing.
A Capitol Hill official familiar with the views of Senate Democrats said, however, that while Democrats like Levin are expected to grill Gates thoroughly about his past record—including the Iran-contra affair and allegations of politicization—Democrats at this stage are not necessarily gunning to shoot down the Gates nomination. The official said that while Democrats were aware of allegations, which they themselves publicized, that Gates had skewed intelligence or misstated his knowledge of the Iran-contra affair, the view among some Democrats is that once Gates finally became CIA chief under the first President Bush, he turned out to be "one of the better [CIA directors] we've ever had." The official added: "Generally his reputation as CIA director is very positive."
Bill Harlow, a spokesman for former CIA director George Tenet who worked with Gates at the National Security Council during the previous Bush administration, described Gates as "extremely smart, dedicated, hardworking and experienced." He added: "I'm sure he will be a unifying figure at the Pentagon."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:41 AM
Alter: GOP Loss Is Good for Bush
Why the GOP's losses may be a blessing in disguise for Bush.
By Jonathan Alter
Nov. 8, 2006 - As President Bush admitted in his post-election news conference, he and the GOP took a “thumping” at the polls Nov. 7. And he didn’t look happy about it. His joshing first line to reporters—“Why the glum faces?”—reflected his underlying belief that “liberal” reporters should have been smiling instead of downcast like him.
But after the sting is gone, Bush may begin to understand that the “thumping” was a blessing in disguise—a way for him to yet salvage something of his presidency, both at home and abroad. He began that process by firing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the first step toward regaining the initiative on Iraq. And the dividends for Bush of the Democratic victory may keep paying off for the rest of his term—and in the history books.
In Washington, it’s much easier to block something than to get it through. So if the GOP had maintained control of the House of Representatives, Democrats would have been able to stymie any Bush legislation, just as they did last year on Social Security. Had the Bush policy in Iraq been validated by the election, he would have had no incentive to listen to the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton or otherwise find a way out of the quagmire. Democrats would have just kept firing away at a failed policy for the next two years.
But when you get control, you have to produce. So Democrats will pass bills (with the help of a Republican or two on the Senate side, if necessary) and dare Bush to veto them. And he will, but he will also—as he indicated in his press conference-negotiate with incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the new Democratic leadership to “get something done.”
History favors this outcome.
When President Ronald Reagan wanted wins on Social Security and tax reform in 1986, he negotiated with House Speaker Tip O’Neill and other Democrats, either in person or by proxy. And when Bill Clinton wanted to make good on his pledge to reform welfare, he couldn’t do it with a Democratic Congress, which was wedded to old thinking on the subject. It took Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republicans to hold his feet to the fire by passing welfare bills that he first vetoed, then signed in 1996. Now Clinton calls that product of so-called gridlock one of the greatest parts of his legacy.
The best model is Bush’s own father, who pushed through domestic accomplishments like the Americans With Disabilities Act with Democratic votes. In 1990, Bush père hoped to rescue the American economy and reassure the bond market by balancing the budget. So he got together with Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell on a package of spending cuts and tax increases. The bipartisan budget deal worked, helping to kick off the biggest economic boom in American history. Of course the deal meant repudiating his “Read my lips no new taxes” pledge and it helped cost Bush re-election in 1992. His son took that lesson to heart when he adopted Karl Rove’s “base strategy,” under which any tax increases were verboten.
But this Bush, safely re-elected, doesn’t have to worry about paying the ultimate political price for conservative heresy. He can play now to his legacy. The president has already indicated that he will sign an increase in the minimum wage early next year, and he’ll do the same for several other bills the Democrats pass. In fact, even his precious tax cuts for the wealthy (originally crafted just to respond to Steve Forbes’s flat tax in the 2000 Republican primaries) will be on the table. Next year, when he signs a tax bill that makes the cuts fairer to the middle class, he’ll take credit, just as he will when Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton come up with a withdraw-the-troops-to-Kurdistan plan or some other face-saving policy in Iraq.
So look for the alcoves devoted to “Stabilizing Iraq” and “Helping Working Americans” in the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Five years from now, we’ll find him there, beaming.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:40 AM
Bush's Father Exerts His Influence
Cheney and Rumsfeld are on the outs. Scowcroft, Baker and Gates are in. Can they get America out of Iraq?
By Howard Fineman
Nov. 8, 2006 - President George W. Bush's Iraq policy is now in the political equivalent of receivership—a bankrupt project that is about to be placed in the hands of the worldly-wise pragmatists who surrounded the president's own father. Think of them as receivers in bankruptcy, looking for ways to salvage America's military and moral assets after a post-September 11 adventure that voters (and most of the rest of the world) concluded was a waste of blood and treasure.
Here's another analogy: the Shakespeare histories and tragedies in which battlefield mayhem ends with a restoration of order in the person of the Respected Nobles. In this case, these are the old royals from the Castle of Bush the First: a coterie of commercially minded globalists (as opposed to those ideologically minded globalists, the neocons) who have spent their lives as advisers and friends of former president George Herbert Walker Bush.
The man who is about to be isolated in the White House is not the president, but Vice President Dick Cheney—the last neocon left. Elbowing him aside now, as Donald Rumsfeld departs the scene, are people such as former secretary of State James A. Baker III and now—as Rumsfeld's replacement at the Department of Defense—former CIA director Robert M. Gates. They are loyal liegemen of Bush 41, and they bring to an analysis of Iraq decades worth of diplomatic and intelligence-community experience. They come from and inhabit a world of gray, not the black-and-white universe of good and evil that Bush 43 has occupied for years, especially since 9/11.
In a sense, the whole story of the internal conflict leading up to the war in Iraq, and a good bit of the backbiting since, has been about a subterranean and never-ending war between the Old Boys of the CIA and the State Department (the "pragmatists" for want of a better term) and the White House and Defense Department "Vulcans." The pragmatists believe in commerce above all, and in an America that survives through the cold-eyed view that our country has no permanent enemies and no permanent friends—only permanent interests.
Now they are in charge, having been handed one of the biggest military, diplomatic and public-relations messes in recent American history. Gates and Baker—and other pragmatists such as Brent Scowcroft—have been called in over the objections of Vice President Cheney.
He knew what the arrival of Gates and the Old Boys means. It means that the pragmatists have won the battle for the president's attention. Now let's see how the president responds, and what, together with the Democrats, they can do about Iraq.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:38 AM
GOP already starts the 'blame game' over its big losses
By Emily Bazar, USA TODAY
When a political party suffers a major defeat, soul-searching and ideological bickering follow.
Republicans continued that tradition Wednesday, launching a period of self-reflection by trading barbs and pointing fingers.
Commentator Rush Limbaugh accused the Republican Party of straying from its conservative ideology, saying, "This non-partisan Republican identity, that's what went down in flames." Former House majority leader Tom DeLay referred to his party's losses as a "Texas whooping" on MSNBC. He said Republicans had failed to fight for their core beliefs on such issues as tax reform and immigration.
Dick Armey, former House majority leader and an architect of the Republicans' 1994 takeover of Congress, told National Public Radio's Diane Rehm that the GOP had become the big government party. "They actually grew the government," he said.
President Bush took a jocular swipe at his top political adviser, Karl Rove, who is credited with Bush's victories in 2000 and 2004 and GOP gains in the 2002 congressional elections. "I obviously was working harder in the campaign than he was," Bush said.
Post-election finger-pointing is normal, Republican strategist Scott Reed said. "This is a big party made up of economic conservatives and social conservatives, and there will be an attempt to play the blame game," he said.
The party's self-analysis began about a month ago, when polls predicted Democratic wins, Reed said. "These efforts usually make the party go back to its fundamentals, make it more focused," he said.
Democrats went through a similar period in the late 1980s, when the presidency seemed out of reach, said Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute.
"Parties that don't engage in honest self-scrutiny rarely reform themselves," he said.
The Republican Majority for Choice, a lobbying group for Republicans who support abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, blamed the losses Tuesday on Iraq and "social extremism," Co-chairwoman Jennifer Stockman said. "Moderates have been alienated for years. This was the last straw."
Today, the group planned to unveil a campaign and website, modeled after the liberal MoveOn.org site, called RealRepublicanMajority.org. It will begin running TV ads in Pennsylvania on Sunday, contrasting images of Republican icons like Ronald Reagan with social conservatives such as Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost his seat Tuesday.
The campaign will continue through the 2008 presidential election, Stockman said. She said, "It's all focused on making sure the Republican Party returns to the center if there's any chance of keeping the presidency and getting some of these seats back."
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:37 AM
Peace Mom Sheehan Arrested in Washington
By DERRILL HOLLY
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested Wednesday as she led about 50 protesters to a White House gate Wednesday to deliver anti-war petitions she said were signed by 80,000 Americans.
The Berkeley, Calif., woman, whose son was killed in Iraq more than two years ago, was arrested along with three other women on the sidewalk outside the White House gate, said Lt. Scott Fear, a U.S. Park Police spokesman. They were charged with interfering with a government function after they blocked the gate and ignored orders to move, he said.
Before she was arrested, she joined the protesters in hailing the outcome of Tuesday's elections and chanting "Stop the War" outside the gate.
"It was taking too long for them to decide whether to accept them or not, so we just delivered them," said Sheehan, who waited about 15 minutes with other protesters before tossing the petitions over the fence.
The petitions opposed use of military force to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
Sheehan, 49, and other grieving families met with Bush about two months after her son died, before reports of faulty prewar intelligence surfaced and caused her to speak out. She has tried repeatedly to speak with the president again, including a 26-day vigil last year outside Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Wednesday's protest came as Republicans lost control of the House and the White House announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"He's being offered as a sacrificial lamb," Sheehan said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:35 AM
Youth turnout in election biggest in 20 years
By Jason Szep
BOSTON (Reuters) - Young Americans voted in the largest numbers in at least 20 years in congressional elections, energized by the Iraq war and giving a boost to Democrats, pollsters said on Wednesday.
About 24 percent of Americans under the age of 30, or at least 10 million young voters, cast ballots in Tuesday's elections that saw Democrats make big gains in Congress. That was up 4 percentage points from the last mid-term elections in 2002.
"This looks like the highest in 20 years," said Mark Lopez, research director of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which compiled the data based on exit polls. "Unfortunately, we can't say if it's a record because don't have good comparable data before 1986."
Rock the Vote, a youth-and-civics group, said young voters favored Democrats by a 22-point margin, nearly three times the margin Democrats earned among other age groups and dealing a potentially decisive blow to Republicans in tight races.
"The turnout was awesome," said 21-year-old Katryn Fraher, a political science major at the University of New Mexico who helped build a giant map of local polling stations for her school and was among a group of students walking the campus on Tuesday with a blackboard that counted down the time to vote.
But despite the big turnout, it may not be a record.
In the 1982 mid-term election during the Reagan administration, youth turnout reached 27 percent, but that was among voters aged between 18 to 24 instead of under 30 as measured by Wednesday's exit poll estimates.
Republican pollster Ed Goeas said young voters could have swayed a number of tight races on Tuesday, noting that of 28 seats Democrats picked up from Republicans in the 435-member House of Representatives, 22 were won by less than 2 percent of the vote and 18 were won by just 5,000 votes or less.
"The increase in the youth vote did come into play," he said.
GETTING OUT THE VOTE
As Republicans fought to keep control of Congress, both parties sought to rally young voters who turned out in record numbers in the 2004 presidential election.
At the University of Iowa, some students doubled as "Human Vote Billboards" with messages exhorting students to vote in the battleground state where Democrats won several races.
"It went well," said Brant Miller, 24, at the University of Iowa. "We got a bunch of students to get out there and vote."
Added Kelly Dolan, 24, at the University of Rhode Island: "The only way we can make politicians pay to attention to people our age is if we turn out in record numbers."
A poll by Harvard University's Institute of Politics last week showed that by a three-to-one margin, young Americans said the country was on the "wrong track."
Forty-six percent favored a total troop withdrawal from Iraq within a year, while a third said troops should be withdrawn after the Iraqis take full control.
Future elections could also be at stake. The "Generation Y" of Americans born from 1977 to 1994 -- shaped by the September 11 attacks, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina -- in nine years will make up a third of the electorate.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:34 AM
Democrat win may shift focus to U.S. middle class
By Andrea Hopkins
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - The election victory by U.S. Democrats has been hailed as a repudiation of Republican President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq, but Democratic Sen.-elect Sherrod Brown believes economic populism and pocketbook pain is what put him in power.
While exit polls showed the Iraq war, political corruption and the economy all drove the voters' decision to give control of Congress to Democrats, analysts believe the high-profile victory of a class warrior like Brown has set the stage for an economy-focused presidential election in 2008.
"More than Iraq, more than the reaction against President Bush, more than Republican scandals, I'm going to be in the Senate because our leaders don't understand middle class anxieties," Brown said in an interview on Tuesday.
Brown, a seven-term congressman from Ohio's rust belt, delivered a decisive victory in Tuesday's congressional election over two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, with 56 percent of the vote.
More than any other candidate, Brown aimed his campaign at the middle class, promising fairer trade and improved access to health care and college tuition.
"What I think you'll see is that economic populism will have a whole lot more traction than it did before yesterday," said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute think tank in Washington.
Republicans say they've learned a lesson.
"I learned that my people's mindsets have changed. Even though the economy is doing great, people still feel the pinch here in Ohio," said seven-term incumbent Ohio Rep. Deborah Pryce, who is ahead of Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by a razor-thin margin with votes still being counted.
While many experts believe the Iraq war will be less of an issue for voters in 2008 -- if only because politicians from both parties increasingly agree changes must be made -- forecasts show the economy may be worsening.
"There is a 50-50 chance of recession next year. That means you may well be looking at the first expansion on record where the middle-income household gained absolutely nothing," Bernstein said.
"On that basis, I would predict (2008) is going to be 1992 all over again, where you have another Clinton talking about the forgotten middle class," he added.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton -- whose husband Bill won the White House 14 years ago with a campaign mantra of "It's the economy, stupid" -- is considered a top contender for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.
Brown said his priorities in the Senate will be to increase the minimum wage, make college more affordable and help Americans pay for medicine and health insurance.
"I think Democrats are going to break the stranglehold the drug companies, the HMOs and the oil industry have on the Congress," he said.
But Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at forecasting firm Global Insight, said Democrats should not overplay their economic rhetoric, because unlike Europeans, Americans still harbor a fondness for the American dream that even the poorest citizen can one day be rich.
Republicans strategists may use populists like Brown to paint the entire Democratic Party as dangerous liberals.
"Democrats have to be careful because they don't want to be portrayed as class warriors," said Gault.
But the economic theme may persist.
In the usually Republican state of Indiana, job losses and middle class woes helped three conservative Democrats win Republican seats in the House of Representatives. One of them was Baron Hill, who consistently referred to his wealthy opponent, incumbent Republican Mike Sodrel, as "Millionaire Mike."
Such campaigns hit home with people like Irma Esparza, director of Communities United to Strengthen America, who said the election results prove it is time for Congress to pay attention to Main Street, not just Wall Street.
"This year, the middle class has a clear mandate," Esparza said.
Posted by politicalstuff at 1:32 AM
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Supreme Court to consider abortion issue
By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is urging the Supreme Court to uphold a nationwide ban on a disputed abortion procedure, the high court's most contentious foray into the abortion issue under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts.
The court was meeting Wednesday to hear two hours of arguments over the fate of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which Congress passed and
President Bush signed in 2003.
Six federal courts on both coasts and in the Midwest have struck down the law as an impermissible restriction on a woman's constitutional right to an abortion that the Supreme Court established in its landmark
Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.
A day earlier, abortion was on several state ballots. In South Dakota, voters repealed a state law that virtually outlaws abortions, an issue that itself could end up before the court.
California and Oregon voters rejected measures that would have required that teenagers get their parents' consent before having an abortion.
A long line of people hoping for a seat inside stretched across the court's plaza hours before the session was to begin. Dozens of people camped through a rainy night in Washington to ensure their place near the head of the line.
Partial-birth abortion is not a medical term, but abortion opponents say it accurately describes "a rarely used and gruesome late-term abortion procedure that resembles infanticide," as Solicitor General Paul Clement said in court papers. Clement will argue the case for the administration.
Abortion-rights proponents dispute almost every aspect of the government's case, including the name for the procedure. They say the law has a much broader reach than the government claims and would threaten almost all abortions that take place after the third month of pregnancy.
Doctors most often refer to the procedure as a dilation and extraction or an intact dilation and evacuation abortion. It involves partially extracting a fetus from the uterus, then cutting or crushing its skull.
The procedure appears to take place most often in the middle third of pregnancy. There are a few thousand such abortions, according to rough estimates, out of more than 1.25 million abortions in the United States annually. Ninety percent of all abortions occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and are not at issue.
By a 5-4 vote, the court invalidated a similar law in Nebraska in 2000 because it encompassed other abortion methods and did not contain an exception that would allow the procedure to preserve a woman's health, an underpinning of Supreme Court abortion rulings.
Two things have changed in the past six years, the composition of the court and Congress' involvement in the issue by tailoring a law to overcome the objections raised by justices in the Nebraska case.
Abortion opponents are optimistic the court will uphold the law because Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor, part of the majority in the 2000 case, has retired and her place was taken by Justice
Bush appointed both Roberts and Alito, and most legal analysts believe that neither man will be especially supportive of abortion rights.
Anthony Kennedy, the court's swing voter following O'Connor's departure, dissented so strongly in the Nebraska case that many court observers believe he is unlikely to switch sides.
The congressional ban attempts to define the type of abortion more precisely and also declares that the procedure is never medically necessary, eliminating the need for a health exception.
Planned Parenthood of America and other abortion-rights supporters are hopeful that the court's respect for its own prior rulings and substantial evidence presented at three trials will overcome the administration's contention that Congress' pronouncements on abortion should carry special weight.
As it does in other high-profile cases, the court will release audio tapes of the proceedings shortly after the arguments conclude.
The cases are Gonzales v. Carhart, 05-380, and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, 05-1382.
Posted by politicalstuff at 10:19 AM
U.S. announces death of soldier in Iraq
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military on Tuesday announced the death of a soldier in a roadside bombing in northwest Baghdad.
The incident occurred on Monday, the military said in a statement, bringing this month's U.S. death toll to 19.
The soldier's name was being withheld pending the notification of family members, and no other details were given about the incident.
The military on Monday announced the deaths of two Marines and three soldiers, including two killed in a helicopter crash.
It also announced the deaths of two Army lieutenant colonels killed on Nov. 2, among the highest ranking officers to die in Iraq. The men's deaths had previously been reported but their names and ranks had not been.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:39 AM
Hastert May Face Post-Election Unrest
Foley Scandal Just One of Speaker's Problems
By Jonathan Weisman
House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's future is in doubt even if the Republicans retain control of the House because of unease among GOP lawmakers about his handling of the Foley page scandal and what a House ethics committee investigation might conclude about him, according to several Republican aides.
House Chief Deputy Whip Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) said last week that the House Republican leadership elections scheduled for Nov. 15 should be postponed until the ethics committee delivers its final report. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) confirmed yesterday on "Fox News Sunday" that he and Hastert have discussed that possibility. "We'll see how Tuesday goes and then we'll make some decisions."
But if Democrats seize control of the House in tomorrow's election, as many political analysts and pollsters are predicting, then Hastert is widely expected to exit the leadership stage and allow a new generation of Republican leaders to try to recapture the majority. Hastert, 64, the longest-serving Republican speaker, remains personally popular with House Republicans, but the discontent with his often lackadaisical, hands-off style is palpable.
"I believe that members have the highest regard for the speaker, his honesty, his integrity and his high ethical standards," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.). "But the last two years have been very tough for us as a majority. There's no doubt about that. Certainly we need to have a better direction, vision and drive than we've had during the 109th Congress."
The speaker and his top aides' response to warnings that former representative Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had for years been pursuing teenage male pages is part of an emerging pattern that is troubling Republican lawmakers.
In early 2004, as House Appropriations Committee investigators prepared to launch a sensitive audit of highly classified Capitol Hill security upgrades, Hastert's chief counsel made a surprise visit to the first meeting of the auditors.
His message was clear, according to participants: The speaker's office was not happy about the probe and would keep investigators on a tight leash. In September 2005, despite growing evidence of sweetheart deals, kickbacks, wasteful contracts and shoddy work, the probe was suddenly shut down.
Critics of Hastert say the incident -- reported by Congressional Quarterly last month -- is emblematic of a speaker's office dominated by powerful senior aides that has repeatedly thwarted aggressive policing of the inner workings of Congress. Two of Hastert's top aides -- chief of staff Scott Palmer and chief counsel Ted Van Der Meid -- had been warned about Foley's unimpeded pursuit of male pages long before ABC News broke the story Sept. 28. Hastert and his aides orchestrated a purge of the ethics committee in February 2005, after the committee admonished then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for misconduct. And there have been massive cost overruns at a Capitol visitors center known derisively as "Hastert's Hole." A project once slated to cost $265 million now is expected to cost as much as $596 million.
All of these actions point to serious failures on the part of the speaker's office, critics say.
"All of the mechanisms that should be in place and used to protect the speaker and the House itself have been abridged because they just don't want to look," said Scott Lilly, a former Democratic staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.
Lisa C. Miller, a spokeswoman for the speaker, strenuously objected to the premise that Hastert has been a reluctant self-policeman or that there is growing dissatisfaction with Hastert's leadership within the Republican ranks. "Since Republicans have come into office, this House operates in a highly professional manner," she said. "We have vigorous oversight with annual auditing by an independent inspector general."
And those audits have produced eight consecutive clean bills of health, she said.
The turmoil has been mounting with Hastert largely off the stage. The speaker had expected to maintain a vigorous campaign schedule, but since the Foley scandal erupted, the former high school wrestling coach has kept largely out of sight. Boehner said that while Hastert has not granted many interviews, he made campaign appearances last week in Texas, Arizona and Florida. His Democratic opponent, a little-known challenger named John Laesch, has tried to capitalize on the swirling controversies. On Friday, Laesch posted a Web site, http://www.therealdenny.com, to raise questions about Hastert's leadership.
Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers, such as Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) have been quietly putting out calls suggesting they might throw their hats in the ring for leadership posts. On Saturday, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Tex.) announced that he, too, would be seeking a leadership post if a slot is available.
Miller blamed the discontent on ambition.
"It sounds like this is coming from folks who want the speaker's job," she said, "and when we win back the House on Tuesday, the speaker will run again."
The Foley scandal is foremost in members' minds, but what critics see as a lax attitude toward self-policing goes well beyond the Foley incident. The security investigation may be equally serious, Lilly suggested.
Since the Cold War days of the Kennedy administration, a highly secret organization has watched over the security of what is known as the Capitol campus, which includes the Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings and the Supreme Court. That organization got a renewed mission after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when hundreds of millions of dollars were channeled to it, mostly through the classified "black" budget of the House and Senate defense appropriations subcommittees.
In 2004, the chairmen and ranking Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee and House defense appropriations subcommittees tasked contract investigators to look at contracting on highly classified security upgrades, especially air filtration systems being installed to protect the campus from chemical and biological attack. The scale of the upgrades is unprecedented, and so is the cost, likely to run more than $100 million, according to three different sources close to the project.
Concern had been raised that contracts were being steered to unqualified bidders, who were wooing the secret organization's management with Redskins tickets, expensive lunches, even golf clubs, said Ronald Garant, one of the investigators. But the more pressing issue was sheer waste and incompetence, he said. Another former appropriations committee investigator familiar with the probe said the team was told by a Lockheed Martin contractor that the filtration system being installed in the Ford House Office Building was so shoddy that the children in the building's day-care center would not stand a chance in the event of a chemical or biological attack.
In early 2004, Garant and other investigators went to Arlington to meet with the organization. To their surprise, Van Der Meid, the speaker's chief counsel, made the trip, too. Van Der Meid made it clear from the start that he did not want the probe going forward, according to Garant, a retired, former high-ranking auditor for the Defense Department's comptroller with more than 30 years of experience in government oversight.
Investigators were prevented from talking to key personnel, had access blocked to key facilities and could not inspect the equipment they were supposed to be assessing. After hitting roadblock after roadblock, Robert H. Pearre, the appropriations committee's chief of investigations, delivered the news last September that the investigation had been shut down and its offices in CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., were to be closed.
"We were told, 'Lock the door, change the combination, take your papers, bring them over here. It's all over,' " Garant said.
House Appropriations Committee spokesman John Scofield said some investigators were taken off the probe, but he said the study is ongoing. Republican aides familiar with the issue say Van Der Meid was not concerned about the investigation's findings but the investigators' cavalier attitudes toward a super-secret security effort. Former FBI agents did look at some of the charges of contractor abuse and determined they were inconsequential.
The Republican aides say the problem was with the investigators' attitudes. They said the fact that former investigators are discussing the probe of so secret a matter with reporters is proof that Van Der Meid's concerns about the investigators were warranted.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:38 AM
Voting Problems Plague Election Day
From Malfunctions to a Dirty Trick 'Hoax,' Voters Experienced a Little Bit of Mayhem at the Polls
By MARCUS BARAM
Nov. 7, 2006 — - A perfect storm of voting problems, from machine malfunctions and violence at the polls to dirty tricks and hoaxes, cast a pall over Election Day.
In a number of states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah, voters reported that electronic voting machines were not working properly.
Among the errors were voting machines not turning on, failing to scan the ballots, and software that failed to function properly.
Many of these malfunctions were no surprise to election experts who had warned for years that the combination of new technology and high-stakes races would lead to voting fiascos.
"These are problems that anyone who's been paying attention completely predicted," said Tova Andrea Wang, a democracy fellow at the Century Foundation.
"Long lines because there were too few machines -- we saw that in 2004. Improper demands for identification all over the country, instances of voter intimidation -- these are all things that we frankly expected to happen," Wang said.
And some dirty tricks backfired.
A widely circulated voice mail purportedly proving Republican voter intimidation in the bruising Virginia Senate race turned out to be a hoax.
Earlier in the day, after complaints from staffers for Democratic Senate candidate James Webb, the FBI launched a probe into the voice-mail message that informed a voter he would face criminal prosecution if he showed up at the polls.
But Virginia Democratic Party attorney Jay Meyerson contacted Jean Jensen, the executive secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, and told her that the voter -- a Clarendon, Va., resident -- "was the victim of a hoax," Jensen told ABC News.
GOP state Chairman Kate Griffin was quick to demand an apology from Webb and fellow Democrats, and accused the party of sinking to "the lowest level" in the campaign.
One state that experienced major problems at the polls this morning was Indiana.
Because of inadequate training of poll workers, about half the precincts in Indianapolis and the rest of Marion County, Ind., had difficulties getting their machines started.
As a result, 175 precincts had to resort to issuing paper ballots, reported The Indianapolis Star.
Because voters in 75 precincts in Delaware County found that the cards to activate the machines had been programmed incorrectly, a judge extended the voting until 8:45 p.m.
Voters who showed up just before noon at a crowded polling place in Denver had to go home because the location ran out of provisional ballots. Two hours later, the ballots still had not appeared.
There were shortages of ballots at other sites in Denver as well, according to Fairvotecolorado.org, a nonpartisan voting education group.
And tiny Daggett County, Utah, had an unusual problem: The county had 947 voters, four times more than its population according to the 2005 Census, according to The Associated Press.
As a result, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was investigating complaints of vote-stuffing, including claims that the father of a Republican candidate for sheriff had 14 adults registered at his household.
Even candidates had problems voting. In Ohio, Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt, who is locked in a tight race for re-election, was one of the first in line to vote at 6:30 a.m. but the machine rejected her paper ballot. Election officials set it aside to be counted later in the day.
In other states, the problems were more due to human error. A poll worker allegedly choked a voter and pushed him out the door this morning in Louisville, Ky. The unnamed staffer was arrested and charged with assault and interfering with an election, officials said.
A police spokesman wouldn't explain what caused the altercation.
A voter was arrested after smashing an electronic voting machine with a paperweight, damaging its screen, at a polling place in Allentown, Pa.
"He came in here very peaceably and showed his ID, then he got on the machine and just snapped," volunteer Gladys Pezoldt told The Morning Call of Allentown.
In Cincinnati, Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot was turned away from the polls because he failed to bring the proper identification with him. Although poll workers recognized him, Chabot had to go home to get a bank statement that confirmed his home address.
In an election season notable for the nasty tone of the campaign advertising and the brutal tactics to scare voters, the Justice Department has sent out 800 election monitors to 65 cities in 20 states looking for irregularities and evidence of fraud.
Several states, including New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, have set up hot lines where voters can report incidents of fraud or voter intimidation.
In some cases, it may be difficult to apprehend those suspected of illegal voting.
In New York and Ohio, officials are investigating so-called "ghost voters," dead people who are still on the voter rolls -- and who sometimes end up voting.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:36 AM
The New York Times
Problems Lead 8 States to Extend Some Voting Hours
By CHRISTINE HAUSER and JOHN HOLUSHA
From a bomb threat in Wisconsin to glitches with electronic voting machines, polling places across the country tackled a variety of problems during the midterm election today that led at least eight states to extend voting hours in certain areas.
In Illinois, hundreds of precincts were kept open an extra hour and a half because of late openings at polling places related to machine problems. In Indiana, confusion over where to vote as well as voting equipment problems led to extensions of at least 30 minutes, in three counties.
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ohio, Georgia and North Carolina also extended some polling hours, according to a summary compiled by The Associated Press.
About four hours into the voting in Madison, Wis., a bomb threat shut down voting for about an hour as law enforcement authorities used dogs to search Madison East High School, where students were also attending classes.
Elections workers scrambled, removing ballots and booths to the sidewalk in front of the building and setting up voting outside.
“They voted outside for a good hour and a half,” said the city clerk, Maribeth Witzel-Behl, in a telephone interview. “Fortunately, it was a beautiful day here.”
A circuit court judge extended voting at the polling station for an hour, according to a spokesman for the Wisconsin elections board, Kyle Richmond.
In Kane County in Illinois, election workers did not boot up the electronic voting machines correctly in some areas, leading to delays of five minutes to four hours in opening polling stations in 223 precincts.
The equipment had worked well in the primaries, after county officials dealt with glitches in paper feeds, said the county clerk, John A. Cunningham, in a telephone interview. But just as a precaution, the county had deployed dozens of technicians in the field to be on hand today.
“We are a work in progress,” Mr. Cunningham said. “We will resolve the problems.”
With control of Congress hanging on a handful of races, many people have viewed the midterm election as a popular referendum on President Bush and the war in Iraq.
With about one-third of the precincts across the country using new electronic voting technology, a range of technical problems began frustrating voters in states like Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania soon after the polls opened.
Poll workers in Pittsburgh and parts of surrounding Allegheny County had trouble starting electronic machines today. Problems with printers and malfunctioning computers also cropped up, preventing at least some people from voting at 13 polling sites.
But no similar cluster of problems was reported elsewhere in Pennsylvania, so Barry Kaufmann, executive director of Common Cause/Pennsylvania, a voting rights group, said, “It sounds like there’s either not adequate training going on, or, in the worst-case scenario, a bad batch of computers.”
Election Data Services, a Washington-based consulting firm, said the chaos of the presidential election of 2000 and the enactment two years later of the Help America Vote Act had led to the biggest shift in voting equipment in United States history, affecting perhaps 55 million voters in today’s election. And changes were most common in smaller jurisdictions, which are often short of resources to correct election-day errors.
Some of the worst problems were reported in Marion County, Ind., which includes Indianapolis. Roughly half of the 914 precincts reported difficulties getting machines started. Insufficient training for poll workers was part of the problem, County Clerk Doris Ann Sadler told The Associated Press. Officials in 175 precincts were forced to turn to paper ballots.
Election officials in Delaware County, Ind., had said they would seek a court order to extend voting hours. Voters in 75 precincts were frustrated because the cards that activate machines apparently had been programmed incorrectly. A Circuit Court judge extended the voting until 8:40 p.m., The Indianapolis Star reported.
In Maryland, where serious machine problems caused chaos during the primary election in September, Montgomery County officials ordered election officials to check Monday night that they had the automated plastic cards needed to start machines. The cards had been omitted in some precincts in September, prompting Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, to suggest that voters might find absentee voting more reliable.
Senator Charles E. Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said that he and his House counterpart, Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, were encouraged by voter turnout but that they were looking into reports of voting irregularities or misinformation, especially in Maryland, where voters received literature that suggested, incorrectly, that the Republican Senate candidate, Michael Steele, who is African American, had been endorsed by Kweisi Mfume, the former head of the NAACP.
Mr. Schumer said Democrats quickly countered with their own literature, as well as a recorded telephone message from Mr. Mfume saying he endorses the Democrat, Representative Ben Cardin. Mr. Schumer said Democrats were also looking “an occasional report” of problems in the Kansas City area, but “nothing that’s overwhelming.”
In New Jersey, Republican officials said that close to two dozen voters across the state had complained that when they entered the voting booth, the name of Senator Robert Menendez was already lighted, and that it could be de-selected only by pressing it again. A party official, Mark Sheridan, told reporters that this had caused widespread confusion, and led some people to inadvertently vote for Mr. Menendez.
“We’re not sure exactly what the cause of it is,” Mr. Sheridan, the Republican state committee counsel, said in a conference call with reporters, “but it’s become too widespread to believe it’s a coincidence.”
He suggested that the problem was either “a significant computer malfunction or an attempt by someone to manipulate the vote.” Mr. Sheridan said that state authorities had been notified.
In a crucial Senate race in Virginia, some machines displayed, on their summary page, only the first name and middle initial of James H. Webb, the Democrat seeking to unseat Senator George Allen in an extremely close race. Mr. Webb’s full name appeared on the actual voting screen. The problem had been reported earlier but not fixed.
The F.B.I. was investigating claims in Virginia of voter intimidation and polling place misdirection, according to several reports. ABC News said it had obtained an audio file of a phone message left for one registered voter in which a caller, claiming to be from the State Board of Elections, told the voter that he was not registered in Virginia and that he would be criminally prosecuted if he attempted to vote.
The Webb campaign said it believed Republicans were behind the calls; Republican officials denied this.
In other parts of Virginia, voting was said to be running heavy, and going smoothly.
As in Indianapolis, inadequate training appeared likely to have contributed to troubles in some precincts. One machine used in many precincts, the AccuVote TSX, is delivered with a setup guide that includes 42 steps. Problems had been expected.
In Cleveland, voters rolled their eyes as election workers fumbled with new touch-screen machines that they could not start, The Associated Press reported.
“We got five machines — one of them’s got to work,” said Willette Scullank, a troubleshooter for the elections board in Cuyahoga County, Ohio.
In the Columbus area, the Franklin County phone system collapsed amid a crush of calls from voters and poll workers, The Columbus Dispatch reported. A similar collapse in the May 2 primary delayed final returns until 2 a.m.
Some machines in Hartford, Conn., were closed temporarily, and paper ballots issued, after the machines failed to display some candidates’ names, The Hartford Courant reported on its Web site.
Minor troubles were reported in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties in southern Florida, the scene of many of the problems that caused the election debacle in the 2000 presidential elections. Secretary of State Sue Cobb told The A.P. that she did not expect serious problems with the touch-screen machines.
“History has shown that the machines are far more accurate than paper so we’re quite confident in it,” Ms. Cobb said.
Both the Justice Department and private groups are supplying added observers, legal advisers and election-machine companies like Diebold provided hundreds of technicians in case of trouble.
Some states had passed new voter identification requirements, meant to reduce fraud. But some courts have struck down identity requirements as possibly discriminatory.
In Missouri, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the state’s top election official, was asked to show identification — three times — while casting an absentee ballot on Friday despite a recent state high court ruling upholding a lower court decision that photo I.D.’s were not necessary to vote.
“I was asked repeatedly for identification,” Ms. Carnahan said. “The law is very clear.”
And in Louisville, Ky., a poll worker was arrested today after being accused of choking a voter and pushing him out the door, Paula McCraney, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Clerk, told The A.P. The cause of the dispute was unclear.
“That about tops off the day,” Ms. McCraney said.
Democratic Party officials in Colorado asked a judge to extend voting hours after lines grew to as many as 300 in Denver, The Associated Press said.
Lisa Doran, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s secretary of state, said, “Despite the training, some of the election judges are intimidated by the machines.”
Reporting was contributed by Brian Knowlton, Richard Stevenson and Ian Urbina from Washington, and Jim Orso from St. Louis.
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:35 AM
Alter: Can We Trust the Vote Counting?
We need more safeguards at the ballot box.
By Jonathan Alter
Nov. 7, 2006 - As voters go to the polls today, half of them will be casting ballots that are not secure and not protected against potential fraud. Only 12 states have either older, reliable machines or electronic voting systems with the two necessary safeguards: a paper trail and an auditing program to find out if the paper trail matches what’s been recorded on the computers. The other 38 states will probably manage OK, but they are playing roulette with American democracy.
Nowadays you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to believe there’s something horribly wrong with the way we count votes. Maybe the new Congress will finally move toward fixing the problem. So far, such efforts have been “a travesty” and “a charade.” Those aren’t my words. They belong to the Rev. DeForest Soaries, who resigned last year as chairman of the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (set up after the 2000 Florida debacle) because he believes neither the White House nor Congress is serious about this problem.
The reports on the vulnerability of Diebold Election Systems and similar companies that make the ballot machines are piling up, from Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Berkeley and computer scientists at other reputable institutions. (Diebold acknowledges that there are occasional glitches but insists that no election involving their equipment has ever been compromised). “We urge election officials to be prepared,” says Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice, which has issued stinging critiques of the readiness of many electronic voting systems. The danger is not just the glitches (partly due to inexperienced and poorly trained polling place officials) and other voting irregularities we’ll hear about today and in the weeks ahead. The truly scary part is what we won’t hear about—computer viruses and bugs that cannot be traced. The film “Hacking Democracy” now running on HBO is one-sided, but it shows in eye-popping visual terms how easy it is to hack into the system.
And now we learn that the problem goes even deeper than technical problems on Election Day. A story out of Maryland suggests what happens when the same officials who evaluate the electronic voting systems have a vested interest in the systems they purchased. It’s another example of the lack of accountability we’ve seen so vividly in other realms.
In 2003, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, responded to critiques of electronic voting by commissioning an outside consulting firm to investigate the Diebold system purchased for the state. This week it became clear that more than 80 percent of that so-called “independent” report was censored. The excuse was “security;” the real reason was old-fashioned CYA. Over and over, critical assessments contained in the report were sanitized to make Diebold look better.
Over the weekend, a freelance journalist, Rebecca Abrahams, posted a leak of the original full report at bradblog.com, a site that chronicles news of electronic voting, sometimes feverish and exaggerated and other times terrifyingly true. Abrahams compares the 193-page original 2003 report, prepared by the respected Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC), and the 38-page redacted version put out by Maryland officials three years ago. Most of what’s in the original report is now old news about the vulnerabilities of the Diebold system. What’s important is the lengths to which the State Board of Elections in Maryland has gone to keep problems with its system out of public view.
When the state’s secretary of budget and management, Cecelia Januszkiewicz, a Republican appointee, urged that the whole report be released, the elections administrator, Democrat Linda Lamone, refused. Who was she protecting? The answer isn’t hard to figure out. She was protecting her decision to spend millions on Diebold equipment that was vulnerable. Lamone says many safety precautions have now been added, and she denies the system is flawed. But Governor Ehrlich has advised Marylanders to vote by absentee ballot instead of taking a chance on the Diebold machines.
When I confronted Lamone with evidence of the shockingly unwarranted redactions, she tried to duck blame, and she has continued to extol the virtues of Diebold to her counterparts around the country. Lamone told me, “I seriously doubt if they [Diebold] had much say in what was released.” And I seriously doubt Lamone on this point.
The way Maryland state officials have been covering for Diebold rankles the community of computer experts that has grown up around this issue. “It’s disgusting, and I can’t believe they got away with it this long,” says Johns Hopkins computer-science professor Aviel D. Rubin, whose exposure of the vulnerability of the electronic systems in 2002 and 2003 helped kick off the controversy. Rubin, author of “Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting,” says that the “security” excuse for not releasing detailed reports about electronic voting to the public is especially lame: “If they thought the system was not secure enough to survive the release of a report identifying vulnerabilities, then they shouldn’t have been using the system at all.”
The basic problem is that elections in the United States are shrouded in corporate secrecy. Vendors like Diebold and Sequoia (whose machines in Oakland, Calif., were found last week to contain a button at the back that, when pushed, simply added votes) have succeeded in selling the idea that their code is proprietary. It shouldn’t be. Congress needs to pass legislation that establishes full transparency in voting equipment. The software of these companies isn’t Coca-Cola’s secret formula and shouldn’t be treated as such. It makes no sense that even election officials are not allowed to know the details of how their systems work.
Will potential problems with Diebold in Maryland affect the closely contested Ben Cardin-Michael Steele race for the U.S. Senate? No way to predict that one. But there was one positive development last week: an American electronic-election-equipment company was found to have ties to the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is loathed in Washington. That means that national Republicans might now have more of a motive to join with Democrats like Rep. Rush Holt to clean up the system before Chavez can start intervening in our elections.
In the meantime, several counties around the United States have recently converted their systems to the only method of voting that takes place slowly enough and with enough transparency to assure an accurate outcome: snail mail. Vote-by-mail in Oregon over the last several elections has sent turnout soaring without incident. It should be tried elsewhere. This system means the end of the civic sacrament of gathering with neighbors at the polls, but how worthwhile is such a ritual if we cannot fully trust the outcome?
Posted by politicalstuff at 12:32 AM