Friday, March 04, 2005


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

U.S. Ends Search for WMD in Iraq

It's offcial....again! Dubya started a war for nothing! Oh, I's about the oil stupid.

U.S. ends search for WMD in Iraq
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. inspectors have ended their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in recent weeks, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN.

The search ended almost two years after President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, citing concerns that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction and may have hidden weapons stockpiles.
Members of the Iraq Survey Group were continuing to examine hundreds of documents and would investigate any new leads, the official said.

Charles A. Duelfer, who headed the Iraq Survey Group's search for WMD in Iraq, has returned to Iraq and is working on his final report, the official said.

In October, Duelfer released a preliminary report finding that in March 2003 -- the United States invaded Iraq on March 19 of that year -- Saddam did not have any WMD stockpiles and had not started any program to produce them.

The Iraq Survey Group report said that Iraq's WMD program was essentially destroyed in 1991 and Saddam ended the country's nuclear program after the 1991 Gulf War.

The report found that Iraq worked hard to cheat on United Nations-imposed sanctions and retain the capability to resume production of weapons of mass destruction at some time in the future. (Full story)
"[Saddam] wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction when sanctions were lifted," a summary of the report said.

Many of the military and intelligence personnel, who had been assigned to the weapons search, are now working on counterinsurgency matters, the official said.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Worse Than Fiction

January 7, 2005
Worse Than Fiction

I've been thinking of writing a political novel. It will be a bad novel because there won't be any nuance: the villains won't just espouse an ideology I disagree with - they'll be hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels.

In my bad novel, a famous moralist who demanded national outrage over an affair and writes best-selling books about virtue will turn out to be hiding an expensive gambling habit. A talk radio host who advocates harsh penalties for drug violators will turn out to be hiding his own drug addiction.

In my bad novel, crusaders for moral values will be driven by strange obsessions. One senator's diatribe against gay marriage will link it to "man on dog" sex. Another will rant about the dangers of lesbians in high school bathrooms.

In my bad novel, the president will choose as head of homeland security a "good man" who turns out to have been the subject of an arrest warrant, who turned an apartment set aside for rescue workers into his personal love nest and who stalked at least one of his ex-lovers.

In my bad novel, a TV personality who claims to stand up for regular Americans against the elite will pay a large settlement in a sexual harassment case, in which he used his position of power to - on second thought, that story is too embarrassing even for a bad novel.

In my bad novel, apologists for the administration will charge foreign policy critics with anti-Semitism. But they will be silent when a prominent conservative declares that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

In my bad novel the administration will use the slogan "support the troops" to suppress criticism of its war policy. But it will ignore repeated complaints that the troops lack armor.

The secretary of defense - another "good man," according to the president - won't even bother signing letters to the families of soldiers killed in action.

Last but not least, in my bad novel the president, who portrays himself as the defender of good against evil, will preside over the widespread use of torture.

How did we find ourselves living in a bad novel? It was not ever thus. Hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels have always been with us, on both sides of the aisle. But 9/11 created an environment some liberals summarize with the acronym Iokiyar: it's O.K. if you're a Republican.

The public became unwilling to believe bad things about those who claim to be defending the nation against terrorism. And the hypocrites, cranks and scoundrels of the right, empowered by the public's credulity, have come out in unprecedented force.

Apologists for the administration would like us to forget all about the Kerik affair, but Bernard Kerik perfectly symbolizes the times we live in. Like Rudolph Giuliani and, yes, President Bush, he wasn't a hero of 9/11, but he played one on TV. And like Mr. Giuliani, he was quick to cash in, literally, on his undeserved reputation.

Once the New York newspapers began digging, it became clear that Mr. Kerik is, professionally and personally, a real piece of work. But that's not unusual these days among people who successfully pass themselves off as patriots and defenders of moral values. Mr. Kerik must still be wondering why he, unlike so many others, didn't get away with it.

And Alberto Gonzales must be hoping that senators don't bring up the subject.

The principal objection to making Mr. Gonzales attorney general is that doing so will tell the world that America thinks it's acceptable to torture people. But his confirmation will also be a statement about ethics.

As White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales was charged with vetting Mr. Kerik. He must have realized what kind of man he was dealing with - yet he declared Mr. Kerik fit to oversee homeland security.

Did Mr. Gonzales defer to the wishes of a president who wanted Mr. Kerik anyway, or did he decide that his boss wouldn't want to know? (The Nelson Report, a respected newsletter, reports that Mr. Bush has made it clear to his subordinates that he doesn't want to hear bad news about Iraq.)

Either way, when the Senate confirms Mr. Gonzales, it will mean that Iokiyar remains in effect, that the basic rules of ethics don't apply to people aligned with the ruling party. And reality will continue to be worse than any fiction I could write.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

New Year Message

I felt compelled to say a few things before 2004 signs off and we start a New Year. I think I'll start off with the 'bad' of '04. I've always felt no matter how bad things get, you can usually find a thread of something positive or something to take with you and move forward with. So, here's just a few things that shaped my year.

In October, by brother-in-law Steve finally lost his heroic fight against cancer. I don't know if I fooled myself for months, or just wanted to believe if anyone could beat it, he would. What strikes me now is how he never gave up until the bitter end. He seldom complained about the disease that was ravaging his body. Knowing things might not turn for the good, he continued with experimental treatments, hoping that someday, his fight would be able to benefit someone else down the line. If that isn't a lesson in selflessness, I don't know what is. I miss you bro - and I know one day our paths will cross again in another life.

My sister and niece taught me about strength and courage. Nancy will be the first to say, what choice did I have? Regardless, watching someone you love loose such a battle and being there for them every step of the way takes both attributes. I see Molly, who was 20 years younger than I when I lost my dad hold her composure and move forward. I was amazed by her strength and it serves as a testament to who her dad was.

His passing was literally days before the election. Looking back - another strange time in my life indeed. While all that was going on, I found comfort and a wonderful diversion to what was going on in our lives. It seems a little surreal now. In one moment we fought back tears - the next I was at a rally or doing volunteer work for the Kerry campaign.

Speaking of the election - what the hell were you thinking America?

Living in Columbus meant we had a candidate here just about every other day towards the end. By October 30, Jodi (my best friend) and I had an election to remember. Our first rally in July had us on-stage right behind Kerry as he gave a speech in my neighborhood. I was fortunate to talk with him briefly and
get a signature. When he won the nomination, we attended a rally where Ben Affleck spoke - he truly is hot in person! I was standing at the gate line when Edwards got up on the fencing and had his stomach in my face for a few minutes. I call that my "Monica" moment of the campaign. Suffice it to say, I did get to shake his hand and Kerry's again. I will fondly remember the Zanesville rally in the rain.

The next event, I went solo - I met Teresa. I adore that woman - she's very bright and well spoken. I gave her hug and got her signature. We attended a town hall meeting with Elizabeth. I was struck by her candor and smarts too.

I spent the eve of my 41st birthday with John Edwards at a presidential debate party in downtown Columbus. Another hand shake, but even cooler - on the Kerry site, we were in the main picture in the front row. The day after my birthday we found ourselves in Cleveland at the Vote for Change tour with Bruce.

That led us to private invitation event featuring Kerry and Dana Reeve. Literally, we collectively held back our tears as she spoke of Christopher's passing.

The last rally with Kerry brought us Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuce! WOW! If that wasn't cool, I don't know what was. I have some candid shots of him backstage and he waved at me.

The last two events of the campaign were with Elizabeth at a Mom's for Kerry rally. And, Michael Moore with the Goo Goo Dolls and some other folks. This took place 3 days before the election. I gave Elizabeth a big hug and wished them luck - days later we would find she had breast cancer.

Final stop before election day, Michael Moore. We managed to sang front row seats. The Goo Goo Dolls played, Michael made us laugh and think. I thought for a few moments that this country can turn around.

Kerry brought me hope - I truly supported him and he was my first choice for president. However, we are stuck with a man that has no vision for this country. I'm starting to wonder if I will see full equality in my lifetime. I will continue to voice my thoughts/opinions as he takes our great nation down his path of hell.

Christmas of 2004 began with a blizzard and a power outage. I must admit, that was nerve racking to say the least. As I told my Uncle Bob - watching all those episodes of "Survivor" taught me well. In the end, we are all safe and sound and by the grace of Big Bird, our houses have no damage. Nancy & Molly are still without power, hopefully today is the day!

As bad as that was for us personally, to see the victims of the Tsunami serve as a reminder to how fortunate we are. Everyday as new footage comes out, I'm blown away by the devastation and destruction. I honestly thought Sudan was going to be the story of human tragedy this year. In either case, if you have a dime to send either of these groups of people - please don't wait, people are dying by the hundreds (thousands) and it is our duty in being those fortunate in the human race to help them. It could've been you in their shoes.

Barring any major act of Big Bird, we are headed to Cozumel in a few weeks! I'm so excited. My first cruise AND with Melissa Ferrick if that doesn't rock!

Which leads me to the best person in my life. I thank you for putting up with with my political rants, grumpy moods when I don't get enough sleep and my overall smartass behavior 24/7. Thank you for accepting my flaws - as beautiful as they are! You mean everything to me and I remind myself how 'empty' life would be without you.


And maybe, just maybe, this is our year to start the rest of our lives together. You get the gnome for the garden - but, I really think we should get that white dog from the pound.

I know I've left out bunches of other things - but, my goal wasn't to keep rambling for a change!

To my friends, and family - obviously - I'm there if you need me. To the internet strangers that write and thank me for my web sites, I thank you for taking the time to drop me a line. Your stories can be very inspirational - and they do serve as a reminder as to why I do this in the first place.

To anyone bothering to read this - I wish you the best for 2005. May you and those you love have a safe and healthy New Year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Investigating Ohio

Investigating Ohio
Rep. John Conyers isn't ready to declare the election stolen, but he'll continue to dig into the droves of complaints -- and fight to fix the broken U.S. election system
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Tim Grieve
Dec. 21, 2004 | For those who believe that the 2004 election was stolen by George W. Bush, Karl Rove and an unholy alliance of party operatives and voting-machine impresarios, a 75-year-old Democratic congressman from Detroit has emerged as the last best hope for American democracy. Almost alone in official Washington, Rep. John Conyers has insisted that the nation understand -- and then correct -- the problems that plagued the 2004 vote.

With little attention from the media and little support even from members of his own party, Conyers has launched his own probe of the 2004 election. His early conclusion: There may not have been an active conspiracy to suppress the vote and steal the election, but all those problems in Ohio -- the long lines in Democratic precincts, the voting machines that may have switched votes, the suspicious actions of a voting-machine company representative, the trumped-up concerns about terrorism in Warren County, the Republican-friendly rulings by the state election official who also happened to chair the Bush-Cheney campaign -- well, those things didn't all happen by accident, either.

"You know, orchestrated attempts don't always require a conspiracy," Conyers told Salon on Monday. Conyers said that Bush's supporters in Ohio may have worked to suppress the vote based on cues rather than orders from party officials. "People get the drift from other elections and the way [campaign leaders] talk about how they're going to win the election."

Conyers isn't looking to overturn the election, and he won't say that the Republicans stole it; coming from a member of Congress, such an allegation would be "reckless," he said. But neither is he willing to put the election of 2004 behind him yet. This is the second presidential election in a row in which Republicans have succeeded in suppressing the vote, Conyers said, and he wants to ensure that the system is changed so that it won't happen again. He'll continue his investigation, he'll join the Rev. Jesse Jackson in a protest rally in Ohio on Jan. 3, and when the new Congress meets in January he'll push for further investigation and reform.

Conyers spoke with Salon by phone from Detroit.

Your first public forum on the 2004 election was called "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio?" Do you know the answer to that question yet?

Well, dozens and dozens of things went wrong. It depends on what part of the state we're going to examine. In Hocking County, a private company accessed an election machine and altered and tampered with it in the absence of election observers. It disturbed a deputy chair of the election in the county so much that she has given a sworn affidavit that has been turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and we're in the process of running that down. But what about in Cleveland, Ohio? There, thousands of people claimed that their vote for Kerry was turned into a vote for Bush. Poll workers made mistakes that might have cost thousands of votes in Cleveland. And in Youngstown, machines turned an undetermined number of Kerry votes into Bush votes as well. Provisional ballots were thrown out. There were several conflicting rules. There was mass confusion. In Warren County, they talked about [the possibility that] terrorism might close down the election. I mean, please.

What we're doing, understand, is we're collecting the complaints, the grievances, the outrages, the indignities that people suffered, and then we've got to process them to find out what is valid and what needs to be further examined and what needs to be tossed out. It's not like every complaint is one that has to be counted. What we're trying to do is make the system better.

Do you believe that there was an orchestrated attempt to steal the election?

Well, you know, orchestrated attempts don't always require a conspiracy. People get the drift from other elections and the way [campaign leaders] talk about how they're going to win the election. When you have the exit-polling information discrepancies that occurred in 2004, where the odds of all the swing states coming in so much stronger for Bush than the exit polls indicated -- they say that that is, statistically, almost an improbability.

[People] are saying, "No, no, no, that doesn't mean much." But it means a lot. It feeds this growing, [but] not provable feeling among millions of Americans that this was another unfair election.

Do you have that feeling?

Sure, I have a feeling that whenever we can come across ways to make elections fairer or work better or improve the process or simplify the regulations or make voting more available to people who have language problems or disabilities, we have a responsibility to do it. We're trying to improve the system. I'm not trying to attack the outcome. What we need is a system where there are only a few of the kinds of the tens of thousands of complaints that we already have.

Do you believe the outcome of the election would have been different if it had been conducted more fairly?

I have no way of saying that because this gets into conjecture. I make one conjecture and somebody else makes a counter conjecture, and where are we? We're all, "This is what I think." I'm not as concerned about what I think as I am about what people told me went wrong on Election Day that we in Congress, especially the Judiciary Committee, have the responsibility to correct.

But is there any real chance that anything will be corrected? The entire nation was focused on the problems with the electoral system in 2000, yet very little seems to have changed. If meaningful reform didn't come then, how can anyone expect it to come now?

I thought that the Help America Vote Act would improve things dramatically. And although it helped in places, the provisional ballot [process] was misinterpreted. We couldn't get all these private companies to come up with a paper trail on their machines. And with the precinct machines, there was quite a disparity in the conservative counties in Ohio as opposed to the Democratic areas where there were only a few machines.

Republican precincts had plenty of machines, and people could vote quickly.

Instantly, yeah. And we had people waiting for hours only miles away.

So what comes of all of this?

First, we've got to collect the complaints. Second, we've got to investigate them and bring forward the ones we're willing to stand by. And then we have to examine how we correct them. There needs to be, generally stated, more federal regulation over presidential elections. There are just way too many differences, from not only state to state but also county to county.

So far, which complaints are you willing to "stand by"?

It's not a matter of my claiming ownership over the complaints. I'm just doing my job. If all of them are valid, that's what I'm going to present. If half of them are valid, that's what I'm going to present. I'm not going forward with complaints that don't reach the level of believability or credibility.

The complaints you've described in this interview -- do they meet that level of believability and credibility?

Oh yes, and plenty more reach that level. So we've got a problem. Many people in the media are saying, "Look, the election's over, and yes, we had problems." It's like many people are just taking this. Then we have the hundreds of thousands of people who are outraged and supportive of me for carrying on and trying to make sure we get to the bottom of all these grievances that have been brought forward.

We've received e-mails from hundreds of those people, and many of them seem certain that the election was stolen, or at least that the outcome would have been different if the election had been more fair.


But you're not there yet.

Well, no, that's not why I'm doing this. I'm not trying to get there. I'm trying to do the kind of job that people will say, "I think the congressman and those working with him are going about this in a fairly impartial, effective manner" -- and not that they're coming in as thieves trying to upset the election result. To me, that would not be what I'm in Congress to do. I mean, I would be doing this if it were just the reverse. A fair election process applies to everybody -- Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals alike.

Four years ago, when it came time for Congress to certify the election results, a number of House members rose to protest the certification of the Bush electors from Florida. Not a single member of the Senate joined them. Do you expect the same thing to happen this time around?

No, I think the Senate is going to go along with an inquiry this time. I don't think they would embarrass themselves to let this happen two times in a row.

Has any senator said to you that he or she will call for an inquiry?

No, I haven't talked with a single one. I'm not citing somebody who I know is going to do it. I'm not aware of anyone. I just don't think the Senate would get caught in that position.

You haven't exactly enjoyed a groundswell of support from other members of Congress. Are there Democrats in Congress who support what you're doing but won't come forward and say so publicly?

Well, there are Republicans who support what I'm doing who haven't been willing to come forward. Look, calling for fair elections is not the most radical thing in the world. We're not positing some revolutionary theory here. We're asking that the people who complained be given a fair hearing.

Have any Republicans actually told you that they support your efforts?

I'd rather not comment on that.

Are you surprised that none of them have said so publicly?

No, not really. If you had a majority leader like theirs, you'd probably think twice about it yourself.

What about the Democratic leadership? Harry Reid, the new Senate minority leader, says he'd rather dance with Bush than fight him. Should the problems in Ohio change the way Democrats in Congress think about accommodating Bush in his second term?

Well, I'm not sure how much accommodation is going to happen. I listen to Bush talking about "reaching out," which he talked about the first time, and we had the most divided federal system in memory. And now those kinds of phrases are being tossed about during the Christmas holiday again. Please. I don't put much stock in it.

Bush billed himself as a "uniter, not a divider."

I keep reminding myself of what he said. He sure didn't unite anybody I knew of.

And what about John Kerry? Have you spoken with him about your investigation?

His lawyer was in Columbus for our hearing there last week. And he has also, at the same time, asked for a full recount in Delaware County [Ohio].

Has the Kerry campaign done enough? A lot of Democrats think Kerry conceded too soon.

It's easy to be in an armchair somewhere saying, "You've got to do this; you've got to do that." He had more in his control. And besides, he's the candidate. I wish he'd listened to me more, and everybody wishes that the guy they voted for would listen to them more. But he's the master of his ship.

When you say that you wish Kerry had listened to you more, do you mean during the campaign or in the days after the election?

During the campaign and after.

What do you wish he were doing now?

I don't want to go into all of this "shoulda, coulda, woulda." I think it takes our focus off the fact that we had far too many grievances and misfires in this election that have to be corrected.

But you don't believe that those problems were the result of a concerted effort by the Republican Party or the Bush-Cheney campaign? You think people who wanted to see the president reelected just got the message somehow that they were supposed to do the things they did?

People didn't have to get a message. If you use questionable tactics and generally attempt to suppress the vote -- that's what the Republicans' strategies were all about: "How do we limit the vote?" Because the more people who voted, the more imperiled they felt they would be. And from that kind of an assumption, you can get a whole lot of activities that might not meet the smell test.

Because people on the ground understand the overall strategy and then take it upon themselves to engage in whatever conduct they think will help?

That's what frequently happens, and usually does.

Do you believe that Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell did that? Do you think he acted with the intent to suppress the vote?

I know that Kenneth Blackwell made some decisions that were blatant and outrageous for a secretary of state. How he felt that his head was big enough to be chairman of the "Re-elect Bush" committee and also head of the administration of the electoral vote for the president in that same state was beyond me.

Is that the sort of issue that you hope to address through legislative reform?

Oh, good night, yeah. There are very few people who did what he did.

Do you think you'll ever be able to prove that there was a coordinated effort to steal the election?

We're not trying to prove that. This is what we're discussing: We're trying to improve the situation wherever we can to make a better voting system in the states.

But a lot of the people who support your efforts desperately want you to prove that there was a conspiracy. If the e-mails we get are any indication, a lot of them believe that the existence of a conspiracy has already been proven.

Well, you know, a citizen's point of view may be different from a federal lawmaker's point of view. The citizens are entitled to form their own opinions. They can assert that easily. A member of Congress, the ranking member of Judiciary ... I can't make those assertions without proof. That would be reckless.

So you don't make them.

No, I don't.

What do you do?

We pass laws. We make laws and we try to correct the system through the legislative process.

And what conclusions have you reached about how the system can be fixed?

Everyone is beginning to reexamine the appropriateness of the Electoral College. We realize that provisional balloting needs to be streamlined and simplified. We know that there should be paper trails in computers. We're beginning to wonder if we haven't privatized the electoral system so that the computer tabulators can do more and know more than the electoral commissions of the counties themselves.

In the meantime, what do you say to all of the people who believe in their hearts that our democracy is broken and that the election was stolen?

I ask and invite everybody to turn in any evidence that they want that helps proves whatever position they believe, or even a position they don't believe. But this isn't a hunch and suspicion game. This is very serious business. Either there were defects so numerous and so plentiful that we had a faulty election, or we had an election that had these defects [but they didn't alter the outcome of the election]. And as we go forward with trying to improve the process, my whole objective is not to change the election result but to try to improve the process itself.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

In Search of Armor an Exit Plan

In search of armored Humvees and an exit plan
By Arianna Huffington

Dec. 16, 2004 | If there is one thing Democrats should have learned from Karl Rove during this year's election, it is the value of relentlessly attacking -- day in and day out -- your opponent's perceived strength.

Well, from now until Congress is asked in January to vote on the next $80 billion the president wants for the war in Iraq, not a day should go by without Democrats shouting from the rooftops that the White House is shamefully betraying the very troops it so vociferously claims to be supporting.

Last week, one brave soldier's question opened the door on this scandalous subject. Now it's up to Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi -- and all citizen-activists who have learned what a difference they can make -- to kick the door in, and force the media to spend some of the precious oxygen consumed by Scott Peterson's sentencing and Bernie Kerik's nanny on the dangerous mess in Iraq, with first on the list the deplorable treatment of the young men and women we've sent there.

Some, like Sen. Joe Biden, have begun making the case. "This was a war of choice, not necessity," said Biden last week. "Why is it that, 20 months after Saddam's statue fell, our troops still don't have the protection they need?" He's right, but these kinds of pointed attacks have been scattershot. To really make a difference, the loyal opposition desperately needs to mount a concerted and impassioned assault on Bush's bankrupt Iraq policy.

And the ammunition at its disposal is devastating.

For starters, as Army Spc. Thomas Wilson pointed out to the shockingly-still-in-office secretary of defense, our troops continue to have their lives put in jeopardy due to a lack of properly armored vehicles. Indeed, half of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq might still be alive if these basic tools of a modern army were available.

Let me repeat that: Half of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq might still be alive if only our troops had been properly equipped. What's more, one of the companies that makes the protective plates for the Humvees used in Iraq said last week that it could easily have increased its output -- if only the Pentagon had asked. Remember how often on the campaign trail the president trotted out his surefire applause line, promising, "I'll make sure our troops have the best. They deserve the best"? Maybe he was referring to the quality of their funerals.

Then there is the deceitful way his administration continues to underreport the number of injured and ill soldiers, leaving as many as 15,000 off the Pentagon's official casualty count because their wounds -- including spinal injuries, bone fractures, heart problems and mental disorders -- were not the result of enemy fire. Eighty percent of these soldiers were injured so severely that they never returned to their units -- but, to the Pentagon, they are not even worth counting.

As for the injuries they are willing to tally, the numbers tell a chilling tale of suffering. For instance, American soldiers in Iraq are having their limbs amputated at double the rate of previous wars, while Army suicide rates are soaring, up 40 percent in the past year.

Some of the latter can, no doubt, be traced to the lack of a clear purpose guiding our troops. "That," says Iraq war vet and Operation Truth founder Paul Rieckhoff, "is the most basic tool a soldier needs on the battlefield -- a reason to be there." And it can't help morale to have the administration repeatedly invoking stop-loss orders (many just in time for the holidays) and turning decades of Pentagon policy on its ear by calling on troops to serve multiple tours of duty overseas.

The situation doesn't get much brighter once the troops finally make it home. Twenty percent of the nearly 28,000 Iraq war vets who have sought help from the Veterans Administration were diagnosed with a mental disorder, including major depression, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, emotional numbness and violent outbursts. And, stunningly, Iraq war vets are already starting to turn up at our nation's homeless shelters, the first drops of what homeless-vet advocates fear could become a deluge.

The rotten cherry on top of this disgusting sundae? Reports that wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital are asking for donations because the government refuses to pay for their long-distance phone calls. Feel like talking to your loved ones while you recover from a wound you received fighting for your country? Not unless you can get someone to give you a handout. That is, if you still have a hand to put out. Yet here was Rummy claiming: "We're focused on the power of saying 'thank you' to people. And not just 'thank you' to the troops, but also their families." As long as it's a local call.

The time has come to stop being cowed by accusations that criticizing the war is the same as criticizing the troops and to start speaking the truth: Tens of thousands of young American men and women are having their lives destroyed because of the Bush administration's willful negligence.

As Sen. Biden said, this was a war of choice -- and the president chose to wage it before our forces were properly equipped for battle. Convinced that the people of Iraq would, in the words of Paul Wolfowitz, "greet us as liberators," the administration wildly miscalculated. The original war plan estimated that we'd have as few as 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2003. Instead, as we head into 2005, the White House is pushing troop levels to 150,000 -- the highest since the invasion.

All because the president refuses to course-correct. Which is, after all, the only reason Rumsfeld still has a job. Iraq is Bush's signature offering to the world -- and firing Rummy would be like McDonald's deciding to pull the Big Mac off its menu.

Instead, the president continues to operate in a fog of denial, serving up rosy assessments of the mayhem he has unleashed. Just last week he held fast to the notion that the Iraqi insurgency is the result of "the few people in Iraq that are trying to stop the march toward democracy." Even the Pentagon puts the number of insurgents at 20,000, while the British military estimates that it's closer to 40,000 or 50,000 (and that's on top of the 24,000 Iraqi rebels who have already been captured or killed). I guess it depends on what your definition of "few" is.

For a more clear-eyed judgment on Iraq, I suggest the president turn away from the mirror and the small circle of yes men and women he surrounds himself with and listen to Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel. "We were unprepared for what we are facing in a post-Saddam Iraq," said Hagel. "But too many of our leaders in this administration were going around the country reassuring Americans our troops had everything they wanted. Certainly the Congress was passing a lot of money to make sure they had everything they wanted."

So where exactly has the $150 billion we've already spent in Iraq gone -- if not to "make sure our troops have the best"? It's a question that Democrats in Congress should demand an answer to before they rubber-stamp an additional $80 billion for Iraq right after the president is sworn in for his second term.

The loyal opposition needs to finally start opposing this administration's most catastrophic failure -- and make it clear that standing up to its delusions and incompetence is standing up for the truth.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tired of All the Bogus Comeback Tours?

One more time
Some bands just don't know when to quit. Tired of all the bogus comeback tours, Michael Hann sets down some ground rules for those contemplating a reunion

Michael Hann
Friday December 3, 2004

The Guardian

It used to be called the oldies circuit: troupers your parents, or grandparents, might have known, playing the pubs, clubs and Mecca ballrooms. Walking around provincial towns, one would see posters for groups whose names were half-remembered from brief clips on Pop Quiz, or from the radio stations favoured by bus drivers. Those were the good times, when bands whose time had passed knew that they should aspire to nothing more than comfortable, rent-paying mediocrity.
But old bands are now big business. The growth of heritage rock in the past few years - spurred on by the CD-reissue business, nurtured by magazines such as Mojo, which devote 20 pages to the making of the third Yes album - has created a market for any Tom, Dick and Harry that someone, somewhere has acclaimed as hugely influential. All it needs is some hack to assert that Tom, Dick and Harry's fourth album remains one of the classics of the neo-urban folk-funk genre, the influence of which may be heard in everyone from Dizzee Rascal to the Darkness and - lo! - T, D and H will be embarking on a 10-date tour, with original lineup, of some of our more prestigious venues, finishing with a night at the Royal Festival Hall in London, tickets £30 a pop.

Which is why we need some hard and fast rules to govern this reunion madness:

1. Make sure enough members are still alive

The strength of the brand (and make no mistake, reformed bands are trading as much on their brand as their music) is slashed if the ones who wrote the songs have long since succumbed to drink, drugs or old age. The experience of seeing the elderly New York Dolls tottering around the stage of the Royal Festival Hall in the summer was diminished rather by the absence of the late Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan - himself a replacement for a drummer who had died first time round. If, on the other hand, you can manage to get all the original band members in the same place at the same time without the need for emergency medical assistance, it could work out.

Getting it right: Television's classic lineup reconvened last summer for a handful of small-scale shows running through their late-1970s repertoire. All members were alive, and fully functioning.

Getting it wrong: Thin Lizzy - Touring next spring. Even though Phil Lynott is dead. Imagine Laurel and Hardy, without Laurel. Or Hardy. You get the picture.

2. Don't compromise your politics

If all your band ever stood for was generating enough cash to support the combined rural economies of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, by all means reunite and renew your audience's acquaintance with £150 tour jackets. But what if you were known for your strident Marxist politics, your bitterness about all-pervasive commerce and your refusal to pander to audience expectations? Best not to sully the purity of the original statement, surely? If you paint yourself into the corner of asceticism at 20, you should expect some dismay if you stride out of it at 40.

Getting it right: Duran Duran never had any principles to compromise. So making a fortune from a reformation world tour offended nobody. And they were surprisingly terrific.

Getting it wrong: Punk-funk pioneers Gang of Four were the most earnest rock band in history. They sang that everything you might enjoy, from falling in love (like anthrax infection, apparently) to going on holiday, was tainted by capitalism. Now punk-funk is back in fashion and you can see their original lineup for the first time in two decades in January - tickets start at £18.50!

3. If it's about the money, admit it

We understand that a lot of great, great bands never get their due at the time. And we understand that after splitting, the members - who may very well have changed the fabric of pop music - will often spend 20 years releasing solo albums no one buys and playing gigs no one bar two fanzine writers attends. So if the drug-addled members step forward and say, "Enough of noble poverty. We want some of the cash that talentless wasters have made by ripping off our sound," it's hard to argue. It's hard to feel quite so sympathetic when the musicians insist that they feel more relevant than ever now and have really got something to communicate to the kids - kids young enough to be their grandchildren.

Getting it right: The Pixies named their reunion the Sell-Out Tour. They've made a bundle, and they've played some blinding rock music. Now they and we can go home happy the job is done.

Getting it wrong: Jane's Addiction's reformation "came just when they're needed most", according to their website. No, no, no. It came when they were at a loose end. They've split again now, thankfully.

4. Don't trample on your legacy

Rock audiences will tolerate an awful lot: sullen, uncommunicative singers; a sound mix that makes the most delicate Bachrach and David number sound like Iron Maiden's Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter; a venue floor so coated in unnamed fluids you need half a gallon of white spirit to free your shoes at the end of the evening. What they won't tolerate is their heroes treating their back catalogue with contempt. Mess with the songs that, as some drunken slob in a curry-stained T-shirt tells you at the show, "were my life when I was 16", and you destroy the pillars on which they have built their subsequent cultural lives. They will never forgive you.

Getting it right: Mission of Burma were pretty well unheard of until they reformed in 2002. Which made it that much easier for fans at their reunion gigs - who had never actually heard the songs before - to hail them as the pioneers of the American alternative scene.

Getting it wrong: The Velvet Underground turned up in the early 1990s to play White Light, White Heat as such a pedestrian pub-rock boogie that one half-expected Lou Reed to announce the results of the raffle at the end of the song.

5. Wait for the cultural tide to flow in your favour

Rock music moves in cycles: what was risible a fortnight ago can be inspirational today, given the right endorsement from a new generation of musicians. But the secret is in the timing. Like playing chicken while driving a car, you need to wait as long as possible before making your move. So reform too early and you risk the world shunning you; choose your moment, after the appropriate number of namechecks from fanboys who have gone on to sell millions of records, and the world, if not Popworld with Simon and Miquita, is your oyster.

Getting it right: Slint, from Kentucky, sold about three records and played a handful of gigs during the first phase of their career. After they split, dozens of other bands forged careers from note-for-note rip- offs of their template. Now they have reformed - with enough cultural cachet to curate a rock festival of their own in February.

Getting it wrong: Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich got back together in the 1990s, yet they have still not secured that season at the Royal Albert Hall or the loving retrospective in Uncut. Why should that be?

Ohio Offers Lessons for 2008

Ohio offers lessons for 2008
Several factors contributed to 'lost' voters

By Michael Powell and Peter Slevin
The Washington Post
Updated: 11:31 p.m. ET Dec. 14, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Tanya Thivener's is a tale of two voting precincts in Franklin County. In her city neighborhood, which is vastly Democratic and majority black, the 38-year-old mortgage broker found a line snaking out of the precinct door.

She stood in line for four hours -- one hour in the rain -- and watched dozens of potential voters mutter in disgust and walk away without casting a ballot. Afterward, Thivener hopped in her car and drove to her mother's house, in the vastly Republican and majority white suburb of Harrisburg. How long, she asked, did it take her to vote?

Fifteen minutes, her mother replied.

"It was . . . poor planning," Thivener said. "County officials knew they had this huge increase in registrations, and yet there weren't enough machines in the city. You really hope this wasn't intentional."

Electoral problems prevented many thousands of Ohioans from voting on Nov. 2. In Columbus, bipartisan estimates say that 5,000 to 15,000 frustrated voters turned away without casting ballots. It is unlikely that such "lost" voters would have changed the election result -- Ohio tipped to President Bush by a 118,000-vote margin and cemented his electoral college majority.

But similar problems occurred across the state and fueled protest marches and demands for a recount. The foul-ups appeared particularly acute in Democratic-leaning districts, according to interviews with voters, poll workers, election observers and election board and party officials, as well as an examination of precinct voting patterns in several cities.

In Cleveland, poorly trained poll workers apparently gave faulty instructions to voters that led to the disqualification of thousands of provisional ballots and misdirected several hundred votes to third-party candidates. In Youngstown, 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of votes for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Bush column.

In Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, and on college campuses, election officials allocated far too few voting machines to busy precincts, with the result that voters stood on line as long as 10 hours -- many leaving without voting. Some longtime voters discovered their registrations had been purged.

'Disenfranchsing people'
"There isn't enough to prove fraud, but there have been very significant problems in running elections in Ohio this year that demand reform," said Edward B. Foley, who is director of the election law program at the Ohio State University law school and a former Ohio state solicitor. "We clearly ended up disenfranchising people, and I don't want to minimize that."

Franklin County election officials -- evenly split between Republicans and Democrats -- say they allocated machines based on past voting patterns and their best estimate of where more were needed. But they acknowledge having too few machines to cope with an additional 102,000 registered voters.

Ohio is not particularly unusual. After the 2000 election debacle, which ended with a 36-day partisan standoff in Florida and an election decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002. The intent was to help states upgrade aging voting machines and ensure that eligible voters are not turned away. To a point, it has had the desired effect.

"Viewed dispassionately, the national elections ran much more smoothly than in 2000," said Charles Stewart III, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in voting behavior and methodology. Because of improved technology "nationwide, we counted perhaps 1 million votes that we would have lost four years ago."

But much work remains. Congress imposed only the minimal national standards and included too few dollars. Thousands of precincts -- including 70 percent of Ohio's machines -- still use punch-card ballots, which have a high error rate. A patchwork quilt of state rules governs voter registration and provisional ballots. (Provisional ballots are given to voters whose names do not appear on registration rolls -- studies show that minorities and poor voters cast a disproportionate number of such ballots.) Ohio recorded 153,000 provisional ballots. But in Georgia, one-third of the election districts did not record a single provisional ballot in 2004.

In Florida, ground zero for 2000's election meltdown, professors and graduate students from the University of California at Berkeley studied this year's voting results, contrasting counties that had electronic voting machines with those that used traditional voting methods. They concluded, based on voting and population trends and other indicators, that irregularities associated with machines in three traditionally Democratic counties in southern Florida may have delivered at least 130,000 excess votes for Bush in a state the president won by about 381,000 votes. The study prompted heated critiques from some polling experts.

Stewart of MIT was skeptical, too. But he ran the numbers and came up with the same result. "You can't break it; I've tried," Stewart said. "There's something funky in the results from the electronic machine Democratic counties."

Berkeley sociologist Michael Hout, who directed the study, said the problem in Florida probably lies with the technology. (Florida's touch-screen machines lack paper records.) "I've always viewed this as a software problem, not a corruption problem," he said. "We'd never tolerate this level of errors with an ATM. The problem is that we continue to do democracy on the cheap."

Heated run-up
By October, the Bush and Kerry campaigns knew that this midwestern state was a crucial battleground. Each side assembled armies of 3,000 lawyers and paralegals, and unaffiliated organizations poured in thousands more volunteers. Both parties filed lawsuits challenging rules and registrations.

Two decisions proved pivotal.

Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who was co-chairman of the Bush campaign in Ohio, decided to strictly interpret a state law governing provisional ballots. He ruled that voters must cast provisional ballots not merely in the county but in the precise precinct where they reside. For cities such as Cleveland and Cincinnati, where officials long accepted provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, the ruling promised to disqualify many voters. "It is a headache to take those ballots, but the alternative is disenfranchisement," said Michael Vu, director of the Cuyahoga Board of Elections, which includes Cleveland.

Earlier this year, state officials also decided to delay the purchase of touch-screen machines, citing worries about the security of the vote. That left many Ohio counties with too few machines. County boards are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, and control the type of machines and their distribution. In Cuyahoga County, officials decided to quickly rent hundreds of additional voting machines.

Other counties decided to muddle through. At Kenyon College, a surge of late registrations promised a record vote -- but Knox County officials allocated two machines, just as in past elections. In voter-rich Franklin County, which encompasses the state capital of Columbus, election officials decided to make do with 2,866 machines, even though their analysis showed that the county needed 5,000 machines.

"Does it make any sense to purchase more machines just for one election?" asked Michael R. Hackett, deputy director of the Board of Elections. "I'll give you the answer: no."

On Election Day, more than 5.7 million Ohioans voted, 900,000 more voters than in 2000.

In Toledo, Dayton, Columbus and Akron, and on the campuses at Ohio State and Kenyon, long lines formed on Election Day, and hundreds of voters stood in the rain for hours. In Columbus, Sarah Locke, 54, drove to vote with her daughter and her parents at a church in the predominantly black southeast. It was jammed. Old women leaned heavily on walkers, and some people walked out, complaining that bosses would not excuse their lateness.

"It was really demeaning," Locke said. "I never remembered it being this bad."

Some regular voters filed affidavits stating that their registrations had been expunged. "I'm 52, and I've voted in every single election," Kathy Janoski of Columbus said. "They kept telling me, 'You must be mistaken about your precinct.' I told them this is where I've always voted. I felt like I'd been scrubbed off the rolls."

Aftermath of Nov. 2
After the election, local political activists seeking a recount analyzed how Franklin County officials distributed voting machines. They found that 27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush. At the other end of the spectrum, six of the seven wards with the fewest machines delivered large margins for Kerry.

Voters in most Democratic wards experienced five-hour waits, and turnout was lower than expected. "I don't know if it's by accident or design, but I counted a dozen people walking away from the line in my precinct in Columbus," said Robert Fitrakis, a professor at Columbus State Community College and a lawyer involved in a legal challenge to certifying the vote.

Franklin County officials say they allocated machines according to instinct and science. But Hackett, the deputy director, acknowledged the need to examine the issue more carefully. "When the dust settles, we'll have to look more closely at this," he said.

In Knox County, some Kenyon College students waited 10 hours to vote. "They had to skip classes and skip work," said Matthew Segal, a 19-year-old student.

In northeastern Ohio, in the fading industrial city of Youngstown, Jeanne White, a veteran voter and manager at the Buckeye Review, an African-American newspaper, stepped into the booth, pushed the button for Kerry -- and watched her vote jump to the Bush column. "I saw what happened; I started screaming: 'They're cheating again and they're starting early!' "

It was not her imagination. Twenty-five machines in Youngstown experienced what election officials called "calibration problems." "It happens every election," said Thomas McCabe, deputy director of elections for Mahoning County, which covers Youngstown. "It's something we have to live with, and we can fix it."

As expected, there were more provisional ballots, and officials disqualified about 23 percent. In Hamilton County, which encompasses Cincinnati and its suburbs, 1,110 provisional ballots got tossed out because people voted in the wrong precinct. In about 40 percent of those cases, voters found the right polling place -- which contained multiple precincts -- but workers directed them to the wrong table.

In Cleveland, officials disqualified about one-third of the provisional ballots. Vu, the election board chief, said that some poll workers may have also mixed up their punch-card styluses -- that would account for why a few overwhelmingly Democratic precincts recorded large numbers of votes for conservative third-party candidates.

Still, state officials saw little to apologize for, particularly in the case of provisional ballots. A recent count of provisional ballots sliced 18,000 votes off Bush's margin in Ohio. "In Washington, D.C., a voter who casts a ballot in the wrong precinct cannot have that ballot counted," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Blackwell. "Yet in Ohio, it was 'voter suppression' and 'voter disenfranchisement.' "

In the days after the election, as voters swapped stories, anger and talk of Republican conspiracies mounted. "A lot of folks who, having put an enormous amount of energy into this campaign and having believed in the righteousness of their cause, can't believe that we lost," said Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County election board.

Most senior state officials, Republican and Democratic alike, tend to play down the anger. National Democrats -- including the chief counsel for Kerry's campaign in Ohio -- say they expect the recount to confirm Bush's victory.

But that official view contrasts sharply with the bubbling anger heard among rank-and-file Democrats. While some promote conspiratorial theories, most have a straightforward bottom line. "A lot of people left in the four hours I waited," recalled Thivener, the mortgage broker from Columbus. "A lot of them were young black men who were saying over and over: 'We knew this would happen.'

"How," she asked, "is that good for democracy?"

Slevin reported from Cincinnati. Special correspondents Michelle Garcia in New York and Kari Lydersen in Chicago contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company