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You Call This a Democracy?

Our political system is starting to resemble the kind of banana republic authoritarianism we claim to despise.
Features > September 28, 2004

You Call This a Democracy?

By David Sirota

There is nothing quite as hypocritical as a politician preaching the virtues of democracy while doing everything he can to destroy it. But as Election Day approaches, that is exactly what is happening.

President Bush is traveling the country bragging about supposedly bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan while waging a stealth campaign far different from his rhetoric here at home. Unwilling to wage a fight within legal bounds and undeterred by the odious stench of the 2000 debacle, the president has deployed his operatives to rig the outcome on November 2.

Before you call this conspiracy theory, read on:

In August 2003, the head of one of the biggest manufacturers of voting machines wrote a fundraising letter saying he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Walden O'Dell, CEO of Diebold INC., also "attended a strategy pow-wow with wealthy Bush benefactors—known as Rangers and Pioneers—at the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch earlier this month." The next week, he invited guests to a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for the Ohio GOP at his mansion in the Cleveland suburbs. This is the man whose machines have no paper trail and will be used by at least 8 million voters in the upcoming election.

In June 2004, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his political appointees used the guise of clearing felons off voter rolls to hide an attempt to disenfranchise 48,000 traditionally Democratic voters. The list, which was disproportionately African-American, was rife with inaccuracies. Additionally, in a state with a heavily Republican Cuban population, a technical error caused the names of thousands of Hispanic felons to be excluded from the list.The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has asked the Department of Justice to investigate.

In July, a top GOP official in Michigan gave voice to Republican efforts to squelch minority voter turnout. State Rep. John Pappageorge said, "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election." What did he mean? While Michigan is predominantly white (78 percent), Detroit has an overwhelmingly minority population (88 percent). This strategy is no accident: Polls show that more than four in five blacks believe Bush did not legitimately win the election and two-thirds think deliberate attempts were made to prevent black voters' ballots from being counted.

Also in July, the Miami Herald found the Republican Party staking out naturalization ceremonies for new immigrants to trick them into registering Republican. Specifically, GOP operatives have been handing out voter registration forms to new citizens just moments after being sworn in by the U.S. government with the party affiliation box already checked Republican. Once registered, the GOP can target mailing and other campaign outreach to those voters.

In August, Jeb Bush was at it again—this time having his political appointees at a key county election board hire a law firm with direct connections to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Though the Broward County Elections Board is supposed to be nonpartisan, Bush's official there hired the law firm Blosser & Sayfie. James Blosser is a top fundraiser for the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Justin Sayfie is co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Broward County. The firm, which was fired after public outrage, was to represent the county in legal challenges should another election debacle occur.

Outrageous, certainly, but at least we have our ability to freely protest against them without being harassed, right? Wrong. The New York Times reports that the FBI has "contacted" a number of people who have organized political demonstrations, forcing some to appear before a grand jury to disclose what they know of protest plans. Want to take your complaint to the top? Think again. The Albuquerque Journal reports that those who wanted to attend a speech by Cheney were refused at the door unless they signed a pledge to vote GOP in November. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the Secret Service, led by the president's top personal aide, accosted peaceful AIDS demonstrators during a Bush speech last month. Demonstrators were "shoved and pulled from the room—some by their hair, one by her bra straps—and then arrested for disorderly conduct and detained."

Our political system is starting to resemble the kind of banana republic authoritarianism we claim to despise. The only things missing are government-sponsored mural portraits of George W. Bush splashed on sides of buildings and state-run television.

Who knows? With Bush's aircraft carrier stunt, Fox News' incessant propaganda, and the White House now telling journalists it has a "different set of rules" for those who give too much coverage to the president's opponents, anything is possible.

~ ~ ~

David Sirota is director of strategic communications at the Center for American Progress and a former spokesman for Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

homepage: homepage: http://www.inthesetimes.com/site/main/article/you_call_this_a_democracy/
address: address: In These Times

This is a banana republic. 29.Sep.2004 19:35

saddened

We even have the CIA paying for vigilante Stalinist style goons to harass dissidents. The Protest Warriors are a perfect example of how the new banana republic operates.

Do whatever you can 29.Sep.2004 20:06

me

to get someone else (unfortunately that means Kerry) voted into office! talk to everyone you know, this is an election between fascism and democracy (granted a really impovershed democracy but all the same). promote every kind of media that can share the truths about Bush's actions in the past and present. Make sure every person you can think of that would vote against Bush actually votes, theres still 13 days to register, but make sure everyone registered who would vote for Kerry actually gets their ballot in. And join with others and organize election fraud watchgroups and be there on nov 2.

Once again, a little sanity please... 30.Sep.2004 17:49

Derek Maddox

You folks DO realize, don't you, that the only voting precincts in Florida that were even alleged to have any kind of voting irregularities were precincts run, staffed, and otherwise operated by Democrats? As much as you might hate to admit it, there is a limit to Karl Rove's influence!

You might not like the fact that convicted felons aren't allowed to vote in Florida. I think that is appropriate, but will allow that there is at least an argument to be made to the contrary. Regardless, that is the law in Florida. The governor is entirely appropriate to insist that the law be upheld.

I'm also mystified by the "outrage" that electronic voting systems leave no paper trail. The election in 2000 left paper trails by the thousands, and there was STILL a controversy. Paper trails aren't always useful. Obviously, even with a paper record, there can be absolutely no possibility of identifying the individual voter. You can record the fact that a specific individual voted, but cannot link that person's identity with their actual vote. The possibility of vote fraud is no greater, and possibly significantly less, with electronic systems.

I'm actually amused by the way you close your missive. I'm really not sure what the President's arrival on the aircraft carrier, in which he quite appropriately wore a flight suit and helmet, has to do with the election. As a flight test engineer myself, I know that if you get onto a military aircraft, you wear a Nomex flight suit. It's a safety regulation. You also wear leather shoes, just in case the plane goes down. Makes it easier to identify the body if at least one foot survives the flames. But whether he got out of that plane in a flight suit and survival vest (also a safety requirement) or in his birthday suit, I don't understand what that's got to do with vote fraud.

I'm also confused by your reference to Fox News. According to the information published today, Fox is attracting more viewers than all other cable outlets combined. In fact, they're giving the network news a run for their money. You have to presume that the majority of television viewers in the US are idiots if you're pursuing the argument that Fox is wrong in the way they present the news. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Sorry, Bill O'Reilly is coming on. I've gotta go.

you see sanity 30.Sep.2004 18:30

researcher

But you cannot recognize it because you don't have the facts.

"the only voting precincts in Florida that were even alleged to have any kind of voting irregularities were precincts run, staffed, and otherwise operated by Democrats?"

No, there were many precincts with irregularities, including the large number of those run by republicans who refused the state order to recount their votes or those in minority counties where 1 in 8 ballots wasn't counted (yet when the election supervisor was replaced vote counts returned to average levels in the next election). As for Theresa LePore she left the democratic party and her recent candidacy was supported by republicans. So much for being a democrat.

"You might not like the fact that convicted felons aren't allowed to vote in Florida"

I might not, but that is not the issue. The issue is whether people who are not felons are removed from the voter rolls when they are falsely identified as felons. I'd suggest you look up NAACP v. Katherine Harris where Katherine Harris admitted that over 90,000 people were illegally removed from the voting rolls because they wrongly identified as felons and were not (and of course, over 90% just happened to be democrats, go figure).

"The governor is entirely appropriate to insist that the law be upheld."

Yes, but isn't interesting that Jeb has violated at least 2 court orders to uphold the law which states that convicted felons of other states do not lose their rights to vote in Florida. Seems like Jeb has a serious problem upholding the law.

"The election in 2000 left paper trails by the thousands, and there was STILL a controversy."

Sure, there are many forms of electoral fraud and the wise strategist makes use of all available methods.

"Paper trails aren't always useful."

Yes, they need to verified by the voter and then protected from tampering.

"but cannot link that person's identity with their actual vote."

There is no need to do this.

"The possibility of vote fraud is no greater, and possibly significantly less, with electronic systems."

Bait and switch? Electronic systems offer a greater possibility of fraud since they are easy to hack and change the votes without anyone noticing. It takes far less effort to change a Diebold machine (which runs windows 98, and uses an unencrypted, non-password protected access database to store its data) than it is to change paper ballots. However, electronic machines with a voter verified paper trail could be a way to go but people seem a lot more content with republican owned and operated companies with proprietary source code, no oversight, and no paper trail. Whose interest is helped by that I wonder?

"Fox is attracting more viewers than all other cable outlets combined"

Yes, entertainment is far more popular than education and people do like being told what they want to hear.

"You have to presume that the majority of television viewers in the US are idiots if you're pursuing the argument that Fox is wrong in the way they present the news."

Well, there is a certain truth to that. Statistically, those who watch fox news are much less likely to be accurately informed on world events (believing that Hussein was involved with 9/11, WMD were found in Iraq or were used on US troops, or that most of the world supported the US invasion of Iraq). So the question is does watching fox news make you ignorant or do ignorant people simply watch fox news? I report, you decide.

"I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
- Walden O'Dell CEO Diebold