Friday, November 21, 2008

Why Minnesota Rocks

This is a release from the Citizens for Electoral Integrity of Minnesota. This is a great thing to read, and explains pretty well how to run an election. I'm putting it here in its entirety - pg

Why Minnesota's Recount Process is a Model for the Country
- Statement by CEIMN November 20, 2008

Mark Halvorson, Director, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota; David Klein, Elections Operations Specialist, formerly with the Ohio Secretary of State; and Pam Smith, President, Verified Voting Foundation.

With a celebrity candidate and record-setting expenditures the race to represent Minnesota in the US Senate captured the nation’s attention even before the historically close margin was announced. An automatic, manual recount of the Minnesota U.S. Senate race that began could last until mid-December. As non-partisan, election integrity advocates in Minnesota, we welcome this attention and hope that one of the outcomes will be lessons learned that strengthen our democracy.

One reason for our optimism is that Minnesota’s election system minimizes problems and circumstances that have historically reduced voter confidence. The occurrence of such problems and circumstances in other states plagued the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. The people, procedures, and technology comprising Minnesota’s election system are among the most respected in the nation. Minnesota’s election system has great potential to certify results that accurately reflect the will of the voters and in which voters can have confidence.

Minnesota’s reputation for electoral integrity begins with the state's choice of election technology: a system of voter-marked paper ballots which are read by optical-scan machines. A meaningful recount is possible because the paper ballots provide a permanent record of each voter’s intent. Such a permanent record does not exist in all states; over one third of the states use electronic machines that do not offer voter-verifiable paper records. Many top computer security experts have warned that paperless electronic voting is inherently insecure and does not provide for a real recount.

Minnesota’s election process is characterized by transparency and openness. Citizens can, and do, observe the process. For example, Citizens For Election Integrity Minnesota, The League of Women Voters Minnesota, and Common Cause Minnesota are mobilizing a non-partisan citizen observation of the recount to protect the integrity of the process.

Minnesota independently assesses the accuracy of the election system that uses optical scanners by auditing a random sample of roughly 5% of the ballots immediately after every federal election cycle; 16 states conduct post-election audits, which is the highest number ever, but not high enough. There is no question that every state should include a mandatory process to independently check the accuracy of election results that includes provisions to expand the verification when errors are detected. Moreover, such post-election review processes need to have mechanisms in place to see that the errors are corrected automatically instead of needing to go to a judicial or a legislative body. The audits, along with the 2008 primary election recount, have given Minnesota election officials statewide the experience in manually counting ballots and in determining voter intent necessary for the impending U.S. Senate recount.

Claims of partisan application of the law will inevitably be leveled in these situations. Certainly there is a benefit to laws in Minnesota and elsewhere that prevent our state’s chief election officer from grossly appearing to have a conflict of interest such as overseeing an election while also chairing the state’s committee to elect one of the candidates as was the case in Florida (2000) and Ohio (2004).

The detailed, written procedures of the Minnesota recount law leave little room for discretion or bias in conducting the recount, covering: the ballot chain of custody, ballot counting, and the interpretation of voter intent. The Minnesota recount law requires that 100% of accepted ballots be manually inspected, counted, and tallied.

At the end of the recount, we expect to see a lot of really bored lawyers, election officials, reporters, and citizens who were present for the sorting, stacking, and counting of 2.9 million paper ballots. We expect confirmation that the vast majority of ballots unambiguously reflect a selection of one of the candidates, or no vote at all. We expect a tiny percentage of ballots marked in a way that the optical scanners cannot determine the voter’s intent, which could change the outcome given the miniscule margin. Any programming errors, software glitches or clerical errors in reporting vote totals will be caught and corrected by the manual recount.

Be careful not to yawn and fail to recognize that the effort and detailed care is necessary, even if the outcome doesn’t change – there is no other way to be confident in the results of this race. It is not that a systematic review is required because we distrust the election system. Rather, a systematic review is required because we care enough about this important process to be as certain as possible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

GM Bailout?

Hey... I have an idea.

Extend Medicare to cover all GM employees.

You save the country and the industry from a bloody Labor-Management battle.

You effectively bail out GM by saving them from crushing health care costs for their employees. You remove the incentive to bust the Union or export jobs overseas. You turn one corporate giant against another.

If you borrow more money from China to bail them out, that money's going to go right into the healthcare industry. Fuck that.

The other car makers, and other corporations, are going to line up to be a part of this deal. The health insurance industry is killing us. The only way to stop them and get decent health care for all Americans is to turn the other industries against them.

I have another idea: Huge tax breaks for every electric car manufactured. GM and the other carmakers, including startups, can get huge tax savings, basically bailouts, by producing electric cars. You've got to produce the financial means for these major car makers to stop being pawns of the oil companies.

If GM and the US carmakers don't want to take your deal, you let them fail and let Tesla, Myers Motors, and Commuter Cars inc take the deal.

I have little sympathy for the American auto manufacturers. Most of the cars they produce don't sell. They make 20 different models each, all of which do basically the same thing, hoping to make one that's 'hot' and catches the fancy of your average car buyer. Instead of searching for new markets (hybrid, electric, etc) they merely hope that extending more and more credit to car buyers will help them to buy cars more often. They have a very inefficient strategy. If people can't get the credit, their whole scheme is over. If people were more like me, and avoided going into debt for a car that will lose 90% (or more) of it's value in 10 years, there would be no auto industry.

But if I could buy an electric car for $20,000 that would give me thousands in fuel savings, I might do it. I, like most people, drive less than 50 miles per day. It's astonishing that I simply cannot buy such a car today, though it would meet my needs perfectly. My only option is for a tiny, expensive vehicle from a boutique startup, or an equally expensive conversion. If GM was still making the EV-1, can you imagine how many would have sold when gas hit $4 a gallon? It probably would have saved their ass. The Government of California already tried to save their ass in the 90's and they said 'Fuck you'. Now they come asking for a handout and blaming the unions. Maybe we should tell them 'Fuck You' and give the money to Tesla.

I actually think unions can be problematic. They wield enormous power, and while they are great, and necessary, in order to prevent worker abuse, they can shoot themselves in the foot by handicapping their industry and by eliminating merit-based pay. In this way, they can encourage mediocrity. And I say this as a person who's grandfather was a union boss. It's a tricky business. In a way, a union wedges itself into a position of co-managing the corporation, and they've got to think that way.

And I think most of them do. But I think the expanding cost of health insurance has put a knife into Labor-Management relations in this country. And I think they ought to work together to remove that knife and repair relations. And I think the Government ought to encourage that.

Pipe dream, I know.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

All this talk about what Obama's victory means and whether was or is now a center-right country or a center-left country is... not interesting, but notable.

I think that what happened was that the Republican Party was discredited by the events of the last 4 years - starting with Katrina and the quagmire quality the Iraq war took on, continuing with power abuses and the US attorney scandal, and finishing up with the economic collapse. Events proved the Bush administration's ideas to be without merit. And since the Republicans did such a good job of sticking together over the last eight years, there was no way any Republican could separate him or herself from Bush. And McCain didn't really try the 'distancing' approach until after the economic collapse. It was way, way too late.

It could be said that the only chance the Republicans had was to tack leftward. Only McCain, Giuliani and possibly Romney could have done that, but usually a moderate doesn't win a primary. In this case, almost miraculously, McCain won. He could have picked Lieberman or another more moderate Republican. He would have risked ascending the candidacy of Bob Barr, but that still might have been a better risk for him. Instead he picked Palin and tried to tack leftward and rightward simultaneously.

What does it mean? As I said, I think this election was about the failure of Republicans becoming apparent. However, it was also about the success of the Democrats' campaign - Hillary's as well as Obama's - to take advantage of the fracturing of the Republican coalition. But they did it not by forcefully espousing liberal or progressive ideas. They did some of that, but mostly they did it by truly capturing the center. Over the years, they've abandoned or de-emphasized some of the liberal views that many people find offensive. They've also repositioned themselves as the party of responsible, mainstream adults. They are not particularly hawkish or doveish. They don't generally put forth european solutions to social issues. They believe in God and go to church. They have marriages that often stay together. They're not gay, but they're OK with it. They're not super rich.

And as they've slowly convinced the American people that they're absolutely mainstream, the Republican Party has begun to eat itself in frustration. One head, the fearful, anti-intellectual country folk, blames the socially moderate, fiscal conservative monied head.

Has America changed? I'd say not much, other than people have sat up and started to notice things a little more. More people have bothered to get informed. And more people have decided that it's worth it to go and vote.

But America was never a center-right country. The unholy marriage, aka the 'southern strategy' , with a lot of corporate help, managed to elect a center-right Government. A long time ago, in 1976, an unholy marriage of old southern Democrats and liberal northerners managed to elect a center-left Government. Actually it may have been a right-left coalition Both fell apart, as unholy marriages do.

I think Obama will govern from a pragmatic place. I think it is pretty close to the center. The center is a place that Republicans have been calling radical left for years, but they only got away with that because of the temporary power afforded them by their unholy alliance. Meanwhile the Democrats have been utterly mainstream and uncontroversial for at least eight years, and I think people started to see that. Indiana started to see that.

This is all still Civil War stuff resolving itself. The Democrats, being the pro-slavery party, seceded from the Union in the face of a populist uprising of abolitionism. The Republicans, having defeated the Democrats, lost the will and the popular mandate to continue to occupy the south, so they let the Democrats back in. Slowly, by the 1920's, the popular tide had turned racist and the Republicans largely went along, clinging only slightly to Lincoln.

With FDR and the Depression, the Democrats began to capture the national needs, and then, with Kennedy standing up for Blacks in the south, they suddenly turned the country on its head by 1964. The chaos of the Vietnam war allowed a moderate Republican to be elected, who later damaged their brand further.

Finally, Reagan appealed to southern whites left behind by the Democratic Party's transition. And they rode that train as far as they could. But in the last eight years, they've completely discredited themselves by abandoning any sense of honor and fiscal conservatism.

I don't see the Republicans, as currently constituted, being able to hash together an alliance to win a national election. I think they will have to tack centerward, toward reason, honor and accountability, at some point. Perhaps the Democratic party will become too progressive in a way that turns off a lot of Americans and makes them ripe to be swiped back again. Maybe the Republican party will redefine itself as the anti-corporate party. Or the anti-interventionist party. Stranger things have happened.

Friday, November 07, 2008

What does it all mean?

My friend Audrey posted this:

The New Map

Our presidential electoral process distorts the vote to weigh rural areas more than urban areas. This was written into our Constitution in both the Senate and the Electoral College. The cities are finally getting big enough to overcome this hurdle. 80% of the US population lives in cities now - a trend that is not reversing.

Obama is the first Big City Northern Democratic President since JFK. And he won his first presidential bid without any of the following: being a vice president, a governor, a war hero, from a wealthy family, or from a southern state. so let's talk about mandate.

Obama won more than 50% of the popular vote as a Democrat (52%) - the first since the Reagan realignment in 1980, 28 years ago. Since 1900 only 3 Democrats have won a clear popular vote majority. Carter, Johnson, Roosevelt Wilson JFK and Clinton all won because of a split ticket. 10 Republicans since 1900 have won a clear majority - McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes.

There are may more historical precedents here besides which country his dad was from and his skin color.

The 20th century Democratic Presidents

Wilson was an openly racist son of wealthy confederate slave owners in Virgina who won twice because of a split Democratic party

FDR was a Wealthy Big City North-Eastern Liberal disabled man Governor of New York who won because of an economic crisis and the new technology of Radio

Truman was a former VP and War Hero narrowly won re-election with a rural whistle-stop tour

JFK a Wealthy Big City North-Eastern Liberal Catholic War Hero from Boston who narrowly won by mastering the new technology of TV

Johnson a former VP and War Hero Southerner from Texas who married wealth and ran as southern rural poor folk who came up in the world

Carter was ia Wealthy Southern peanut farmer and Sunday School Teacher Governor from Georgia won by having a national strategy

Clinton was was a Southern Governor of Arkansas who was the head of the Texas McGovern Campaign and won because of a split ticket

Obama is a biracial middle class Big City Machine Politics Chicago community organizer from Hawaii and Senator of Illinois who won by mastering the new technology of the Internet and having a national strategy also helped by a economic crisis

Here is a electoral map history of the US:

My response:

I would like to mention that Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, and by most measures would have won Florida and the Presidency had voter intent been correctly recorded. He did this overcoming a ticket split by Nader (not in Gore's favor, unlike Perot). Not to mention a mainstream press punditry that thought their own personal dislike for Gore was worthy of being presented as 'news'. I think Obama's victory represents a trend, temporarily derailed by 9/11 and the exploitation of it, as the Democratic Party has overcome the crippling assassinations of its most charasmatic leaders, and has also completed its transformation from a strange marriage of very liberal and southern Democratic remnants to a party that represents the mainstream of American values. Meanwhile, the Republican party has lurched rightward and fearward, relying on a coalition of establishment, monied urban fiscal conservatives and radical Christian evangelicals, creating their own strange marriage.

Looking at it that way, the last eight years could be seen as a desperate, hail mary attempt by the Republicans to hold onto power in the face of a much more logical and stable coalition. Their tools? Fear, loyalty to the Republican Brand, cultivation of a conservative press, and electoral shenanigans.

In addition, the Bush administration has not pursued an earnest ideological agenda for the most part, preferring to hand out the Government's assets to their big campaign contributors, disguising this grift as 'policy'. As the disaster created by this administration (and their willing accomplices in the Congress and in the press) unfolds, the Republican brand has been sullied, stripping away the last of the facade and pushing lots of people left behind(!) by the Republican Party over to the Democrats. And also, pushing a lot of those mainstream Pundits over as well.

All that was left was to field a decent candidate, run a strong, organized campaign, and register enough voters to overcome shenanigans. The candidate was extremely strong in terms of inspiration and organization - a little more challenged in terms of comfort with the needed crossover voters due to his background, name, skin color and experience level, but spectacularly able to reassure those voters.

The Democrats have captured the center ideologically and now have captured the Government politically. They are under no obligation to reach out to the remnants of the Republican machine. The Republicans are in a position where they must adjust for the sake of their political lives. Especially if this new Government is able to prove its worth to Americans over the next four years. And I think they will, especially as people are forced to think more about how to feed their families and less about whether abortions and gay marriages are happening and whether the terrorists are coming to their town.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

final election thoughts #1

To those that say that the Democratic and Republican parties are both wings of the same corpocracy or whatever, I say... "fuck off."

If you are playing a football game, and you are down three touchdowns, do you give up and leave the stadium because you can't take the lead in one drive?

I would say that a large percentage of Democratic politicians, maybe 40-50%, are useless, corporate-friendly placeholders. But for the Republican party, it's up around 90-95%. So again, to use another sports analogy, if my team is 5 runs behind, and I cannot possibly put us ahead with my current at-bat, do I just walk away, or try to hit a five-run homer?

No. I try to get on base. I try to start a rally.

The institutionalization of the two party system is an American tragedy. It puts us all into two camps when we are really many different places along the ideological spectrum. It places people of largely similar values on opposite sides of a bloody war. It is the continuance of America's Civil War. It shuttles everything toward the center, with no effective mechanism to pull anything toward any kind of progressive direction.

We need a couple of Constitutional Amendments - one, to establish instant runoff voting, which will empower and embolden third party and independent candidates and those who might vote for them. Two, we need to outlaw lobbying and other interference by corporations in the lawmaking process. We need to establish church/state type separations - between Corporations and Government and between political parties and Government. The influence of Corporations on Government has been a disaster for the people. Likewise, the institutionalization of the two party system has also been a disaster for the people.

But right now, the situation is what it is. What is the first step toward acheiving these goals? Is it a protest vote, for Nader or McKinney? No. The first step is to elect Barack Obama and to prevent John McCain and Sarah Palin from being elected. It's not the solution to our problems. It's actually a small step. But it's an important step.

Next, we need to continue to push the Democrats toward an anti-corporate, populist stance. Support progressive primary challenges of conservative or pro-corporate Democrats, or independent or third party challenges, where possible.

And for God's sake, should Obama get elected, when the Republicans try to take him down with some kind of Whitewater type scandal bullshit, let's not get on the bandwagon because we're pissed off that Obama didn't turn out to be our progressive savior. Like Clinton, he probably won't. But that doesn't mean he isn't our ally. Had Democrats not jumped on the impeach Clinton bandwagon, or given it legitimacy by not virulently opposing it, we might not be backed up to our own one yard line right now.

Obama can be our guy up there at the top. He can't take us all of the way there. But Nader or McKinney or Kucinich is not going to be up there right now. And no one more progressive than Obama is ever going to get up there unless we elect Obama now and continue to push and fight. We need a populist movement for instant runoff voting, and for the ending of corporate influence on elections and elected officials. These two principles must be adopted, and must be given the sacred status of amendments to the Constitution, in order to save this Republic from its own worst demons.