James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Vote, hope, but don't bet the house

Democratic Party officials are so excited they're almost wetting themselves, or at least that's how they present themselves to the public less than a week before the 2006 election.

Political reporters, columnists and broadcast flapjaws also are bleating about the big gains the Democrats are going to make in Congress. Barring some unexpected event, the House certainly will go to the Democrats, and there is a very good chance the Dems will control both houses after this month's election, the commentators claim.

Give us your money and your time and we'll win big, the Democrats promise.

They're wrong.

Some of them probably know it, others maybe not.

Sorry, but I believe the hype is terribly overblown. Those of us who care about our rapidly fading republic need to prepare ourselves for further disappointment and what could be the final push of liberals, progressives and even so-called moderates into irrelevancy.

This is not a happy prediction. In fact, I'm increasingly depressed over the prospects. If I'm wrong, I'll willingly eat crow, raven and desert buzzard -- raw, no mustard.

You'll note that while some Republican candidates are running scared, to the point that they've gone completely out of control on dirty tricks, outrageous lies and major distortions of their opponents' records and positions, the really big boys in Washington seem cool enough.

They are telling the panting political press that they will keep their grip on the country and know what? I think they know what they're talking about.

They are, after all, the fixers, and the fix is in. Again.

It's possible that the Democrats will get a thin majority in the House. If so, it's not a wonderful prospect. It's highly possible that they'll be set up for a more deadly failure in two years.

The people who call the shots for the Democrats – that is, the neutered crowd who already lick the boots of corporate executives – are too stupid to see that coming. They appear to be really excited about the possibility of that thin margin, which they assume – probably correctly – will be enough to allow them two retain their comfortable sinecures.

What they don't get is that it will be only for two more years. Unless the Democrats come on strong in Congress in the next two years nobody will want or need them after 2008.

Before I go further, let me say that, yes, it's important to vote, and to help get others to the polls wherever possible. That's because the bigger the vote, the easier it will be to demonstrate election fraud and beyond-the-pale dirty tricks. If thousands turn out in powerfully Democrat-leaning precincts and somehow the Republican candidates “win,” the criminality will be obvious, perhaps obvious enough to launch winnable legal action or even to force election reform.

If exit polls and other basic pre-election numbers show Democrats winning large, but the official numbers make them losers, the public may well get angry enough to demand reform.

That, I fear, is about as much as can be hoped for in many places in this country this year, and even that will happen only if the truth is obvious to all but the craziest wing nuts.

Anyway, there probably are local elections that matter, so get out and vote.

In the past week, CNN and HBO's documentary division have aired shows – good, solid reporting – on the fraud in elections beginning with that of 2000. Public television also has done solid reporting recently. They tried for balance, but the facts showed there really is no balance. A handful of renegade Democrats diddled their own elections; the Republicans defrauded the entire nation.

George W. Bush has never won a national election, but he's the bumbler officially addressed as “Mr. President.”

There's much better proof of that than what's been on television. There is, in fact, irrefutable proof. The Conyers Report, almost entirely ignored by the corporate news media – now essentially an arm of big money's propaganda machine – makes the case clearly and unmistakably.

The report is named for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) who chaired an investigation by the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee. Republicans refused to participate and, in fact, did what they could to block it. It's findings, released in January 2005, show beyond doubt that Bush's “win” in Ohio was a fraud and that, in fact, the majority of Ohio voters cast their ballots for John Kerry. And that's in spite of the fact that many Ohio voters were kept away from the polls by various underhanded and illegal means. The fraud gave Bush a second illegal term.

Several other investigations have confirmed the findings of the Judiciary Committee Democrats.

Votes also were criminally altered or stolen, and or Democratic votes suppressed, in Florida (of course) and at least 20 other states, including, in relatively small numbers, my supposedly super-clean state of Minnesota, which has a right wing, openly partisan secretary of state.

If you doubt it see the book “How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and is Rigging 2008” by Bob Fitrakis, Harvey Wassserman and Steve Rosenfeld. See also “Fooled Again,” by Mark Crispin Miller, which still is in hardcover but which will be out in paperback in January. For a very short version, see the Oct. 1 and Oct. 15 issues of the Washington Spectator, in which Miller boils down his findings to pieces that can be read in a total of about 30 minutes.

Despite the refusal of most of the corporate press to print the genuine major stories of this year's campaigns, it's almost impossible to avoid knowing that the Republicans again are neck deep in lies, cheating and outright fraud.

The press likes to pretend that both major parties are slinging mud with equal force. Democrats are slinging plenty, but the quantity and the degree of outright lying from their side doesn't begin to touch the level of filth spewing again from the Rove machine. And when it comes to outright, illegal fraud, the Democrats aren't even in the ballpark.

Remember that much of the fraud in 2004 involved hacking and other manipulation of electronic voting machines, all of which are manufactured – and their votes counted – by companies closely allied to the Republican Party.

Ohio two years ago used mostly voting machines manufactured by Diebold. The chief executive of Diebold was a major player in the Bush campaign in that state – as was the Ohio secretary of state, who came up with numerous ways to suppress Democratic votes. It's actually worse than those bare facts, but that story has been fairly widely told on the net and in smaller publications.

The thing is, those electronic voting machines are much more numerous now than they were in 2004, and have supplanted more easily monitored election systems in many more jurisdictions. It has been proven beyond question that they can be – and have been – hacked with the greatest of ease, in a matter of minutes. Several universities are among the agencies that have made such findings.

Among people who have investigated the voting machines and their misuse, the results they produce for Republican candidates is called Diebold Magic.

But in many places the Republicans don't even have to bother to hack the machines. As Black Box Voting, a small but potent organization, and other investigators have shown, Republican election officials in key spots around the country diddled the machine votes in 2004 and can be expected to do it again.

Last year, when one crooked California Republican congressman, Randy Conningham, who “represented” the San Diego area, was tried and imprisoned for accepting bribes and suchlike peccadilloes, a special election was required.

Although the area is heavily Republican, polls showed the Democrat, Francine Busby, ahead right up to election day. But, gee, Republican election officials took the voting machines home with them and kept them there for several days before the election. The Republican candidate “won,” according to the machine vote.

A whole lot of people immediately demanded an investigation but, before the vote was legally certified, the Republicans put their supposed winner, Brian Bilbray, on a plane and rushed him to Washington, where House Speaker Dennis Hastert swore him in.

A Republican judge of the state's Superior Court then declared that California no longer had jurisdiction to conduct an investigation because Bilbray already was a member of Congress.

Got that? Remember that the Bush crowd and Republican governors in California and elsewhere have had two more years to load the courts with highly partisan – let's call them activist – judges.

Beyond direct criminal messing with votes, the Republicans again are using an amazing number of methods to keep Democrats from voting. Some of their activities undoubtedly are illegal, but they're close enough to the edge that it's virtually impossible to get anyone to prosecute and, anyway, the people who would have to take legal action are part of the Republican juggernaut in many key areas.

Isn't it cute that the Bush bunch arranged about a month ago to have the verdict of the Saddam Hussein show trial announced two days before our election? What a coinkydink huh? You'd have to be a real boob to think that little act matters, but there are lot of boobs around.

One of my favorites this year, for sheer audacity, is the one in California, where a Republican campaign functionary sent out an official-looking notice telling residents of a heavily Hispanic area that Republicans will vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote Wednesday. Nothing, no subsequent denial, will entirely undo the damage.

Another one of similar character, also aimed at naturalized citizens, involved phony notices declaring that it is illegal for foreign-born people to vote in this country, and that violations will result in imprisonment.

Dirty tricks like that are being played in many places this year – and, no, they damned well aren't cute, or funny. The Republican Party structure is silent on them. No condemnations, no warnings. And that amply demonstrates that the party under Bush and his boy Rove, is bereft of honor.

Of course, those tricks are relatively minor when compared with the official, open gaming of the Republican Party.

A new Republican favorite this year – embraced throughout the country – is the drive for new voter registration laws and regulations to stem “fraud” that is all but nonexistent. The regulations and laws have been adopted in some states – Minnesota's extremist secretary of state has had some success, though because of a lack of coverage very few citizens are aware of what she's done.

The phony "antifraud" rules sell pretty well to the kind of people who still think we're doing well in Iraq because Bush and Dick Cheney say so. Mostly they involve requiring all sorts of documentation to prove one is a legitimate voter. The costs and the travel required to get documentation and the complexity of regulations tend to weed out naturalized citizens, the young, the elderly and others who can be expected to vote for Democrats.

And, of course, other voter suppression techniques used in Florida, Ohio, Tennesse and other states since 2000 are in play again. In Ohio in 2004, for example, voting machines were distributed to polling places under the Bush-backing secretary of state in such a way that there was no waiting in heavily Republican neighborhoods, while lines to vote in poor, black and other Democrat-leaning areas were backed up as long as seven and a half hours. Four and a half to five hours was the norm, many of the polling places lacked waiting space inside and it was a cold, rainy day – perfect for Republicans.

That technique was used elsewhere, as well, and it worked so well we can expect an expansion of its use Nov. 7.

No need even to talk about the use of cops for deliberate intimidation of would-be voters in Florida. It will happen again, and maybe spread to more areas of the South and Southwest.

Incidentally, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Rep. Rush Holt ( D -N.J.) this year introduced bills to impose criminal penalties for deliberately and knowingly using devices such as those California “notices” mentioned above, to deceive or intimidate voters. The Congressional leadership (entirely Republican, of course) wouldn't allow consideration of the bills.

I believe that a very large voter turnout will help greatly to put the dirty tricks and outright criminal activity of the right wingers before the public, and that could move us toward saving the electoral system. None of the decent Republicans I know approve of fraud and crookedness any more than I do. But they have to be convinced of the fact that it is taking place on a massive scale.

Two progressive organizations are trying this year to do the job the Democrats should be doing to seek out and fight fraud as it happens.

People for the American Way and True Majority Action will have volunteers at polling places in at-risk areas around the country Tuesday to help people understand and deal with new voting procedures and identification requirements, and will operate a hot line staffed by lawyers and other knowledgeable volunteers to record and try to deal with voting problems. The number for that line is 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

One more quick thought: If the Democrats do get a majority in even one house of Congress, they will have it only for two years unless they use the time to do real work for the American people, to drive hard toward improving health care and the economy, to get us out of Iraq and improve our relationships with the rest of the world, and to lay bare of the evils of the Bush administration. They can't get it all done, of course, but they can protect us from the right wing's most extreme moves, and they can lay the groundwork for a recovery in 2008.

Blow it by playing the corporate game and appeasing the lobbyists and the right wing will be in control for decades.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Take gnarly Hatch over pretty Pawlenty

It makes sense that someone deeply concerned about this country and its government would refuse to vote for any candidate who holds strongly opposing views, regardless of what party label the candidate chooses to wear.

If I lived in Connecticut, I'd be urging on the horses pulling the anti-Leiberman bandwagon.

But it makes no sense to me to vote against a candidate who shares your political views but who has an image – created by sulking reporters, for the most part – of being “unpleasant” or “too tough” or some such equally vague criticism.

Yet that is what is happening in some circles in Minnesota, and it may well cost us four more years of seeing what is good about the state dismantled under a very pretty, slick, beautifully mannered but ruthless right wing governor.

It appears that similar false issues are affecting campaigns in other places.

Here's the situation in my home state:

The Republican incumbent, Tim Pawlenty, is one of those handsome hardshells the party regularly puts before us these days. (See the piece below this one.) He is deeply committed to furthering the interests of the very rich and the big corporations and to deeply cutting, preferably eliminating, government services to the rest of the population.

The Democrats are running the state's attorney general, Mike Hatch, for governor. Hatch is one of those rarities these days, a genuine populist.

He has fought, usually successfully, against insurance company and HMO ripoffs of the public, and hammered at health care executives who have drained hundreds of millions of dollars from the system for their personal treasuries while slashing services and raising the costs of health care for individuals and families. He took the lead in the national campaign to make tobacco giants pay for at least some of the damage they have done to society and to individuals.

He's also fought, usually successfully, to make the state's big polluters clean up their acts and the ground and water they have despoiled, and to make corporations follow the law in protecting workers' health and safety.

If you believe the public needs protection against the rich, powerful and conscienceless, he's your guy. And, in fact, it's hard to find anyone whose personal holdings are less than a few million bucks who would deny he's done good things for the citizens of Minnesota.

Yet a considerable number of people with liberal leanings and quite a few of the left-over decent Republicans and real conservatives, say they will vote for the Independence Party candidate, Peter Hutchinson, who has no chance of winning and who very probably would be a poor governor if he could be elected.

The reason for such intentions, as I've heard from a dismaying number of people, is Hatch's reputation for being hot-tempered, angry and just “not nice” in a state where “niceness” -- primarily meaning bland – is regarded by many as the highest virtue.

Hutchinson, as mentioned, has no chance of winning. His poll numbers remain in single digits with a week to go to the election. Those who like him seem to be those who believe endless negotiation and being sweet to your opponents will produce workable policy. (I believe in negotiating, too, until it becomes obvious that it won't work, at which point I want someone with a progressive outlook to make the decisions.)

In fact, Hutchinson does seem to be a decent human being, as far as one can tell from his press. He also was largely ineffective in previous appointed or for-hire government jobs. He was the outsource contract superintendent of the Minneapolis school district for a few years and did no great harm, but also no great good. He was basically an uninspiring leader who could get nothing important going.

But some folks prefer him to Hatch, whom they know only through the rough-guy image created by the press. And those people, though almost surely less than 10 percent of the electorate, may be enough to throw the election to Pawlenty.

Here's a bit of the governor's history and public record. These points, typical of his performance in office, demonstrate why we need to get rid of him even if the only real alternative, Mike Hatch, isn't someone we want to cuddle:

*In 2002, Pawlenty intended to run for the U.S. Senate, but Dick Cheney telephoned and told him to step aside for Norm Coleman and he did. (Both Coleman and Pawlenty jump to orders from the White House as quickly and unquestioningly as a West Point cadet for a general.) Pawlenty then chose to run for governor. There always has been a strong implication that Bush/Cheney will provide something better for him at some point.

*Pawlenty ran against a Democrat who had been too long in the Legislature, and a former right-leaning Democratic congressman ran as an independent, helping to push Pawlenty into the winner's circle.

Pawlenty's campaign was telling in ways much of the public didn't grasp. He called for an imposed waiting period before abortions could be performed. He pushed for a law permitting carrying of concealed guns, and promoted a couple of anti-immigrant measures. Those things and George Bush's then popularity helped him with the passionate right.

Most importantly, Pawlenty pledged himself to dance to the tune of the Minnesota Taxpayers League, a small group of very rich people, and to refuse to allow any new taxes or raises in taxes of any sort under any circumstances. He actually signed such a pledge. The rich tax dodgers pumped money into his campaign.

*The media have failed to remind people this time around that the first Pawlenty gubernatorial campaign was hit with several ethics complaints, some fully substantiated. (Sources: old newspaper clippings.)

*After that first election, but before he was sworn in, Pawlenty went to the headquarters of Northwest Airlines and pledged, openly, that he would do whatever the airline bosses wanted. Supposedly his goal was to preserve airline jobs as well as the (customarily over-priced and poor) service to the Twin Cities.

Northwest since has taken thousands of jobs from Minnesota employees, replaced many with lower-wage scabs and reneged on a deal that brought it millions of dollars in state aid and loans. Taxpayers forked over, Northwest has declined to honor any part of its side of the bargain. Service from the Twin Cities, which Northwest dominates, is terribly ovepriced, and even worse than it was a few years ago. Pawlenty hasn't complained. (Sources: Twin Cities newspapers, Minnesota Public Radio.)

*Pawlenty claimed in August that thanks to him and a Republican Legislature, Minnesota had added a record number of jobs in the previous year. The press gave that plenty of coverage. Shortly thereafter, to much less coverage, the state's top labor market analyst pointed out that five times during the 1970s and '80s and three times during the '90s the state had higher annual job increases. (Twin Cities newspapers.)

More telling: Minnesota lost 12,700 jobs in September, making it the third worst month for job losses since 1950. Biggest losses were in government and education sectors, according to the state Department of E mployment and Economic Development. That can be traced directly to Pawlenty/Republican cuts in the state budget. The department said "furloughs" at the Ford Motor plant in St. Paul also were a factor.

Won't have to worry about layoffs at Ford much longer. The company has announced it intends to close the plant.

*From 1998 to 2002, Minnesota state and local taxes dropped. Since Pawlenty took office, and Republicans gained control of the Legislature, income and sales taxes of the middle class have increased substantially and are continuing to rise, but taxes paid by very high-income individuals have continued to decline. The rich have been given breaks on both income and property taxes and pay considerably smaller percentages of their income in taxes than do middle class taxpayers. (StarTribune and other sources.) Middle class suburanites, the core of Pawlenty's support, haven't figured this out.

*The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which has gone very far right over the past couple of decades, of course supports Pawlenty. Now several corporations, including Minneapolis-based Target Stores and 3M, are leaning on their employees to vote for Pawlenty and Republican legislators. It's akin to the influence the military has on its enlisted personnel. Information provided is highly colored and one-sided.

*The governor largely kept his pledge to the rich guys on new taxes, although he called a couple of tax boosts imposed on lower-income citizens “fees,” but as a result of cuts in state funding for cities and education to accomplish that goal, property taxes throughout the state have soared. Police and fire departments and school districts throughout the state have cut services and programs, class sizes have grown to unteachable levels in many school districts. Libraries in some cities, notably Minneapolis, have had to cut hours and services. (Reported by virtually every daily newspaper and television station in the state.)

*Pawlenty was the first Minnesota governor ever to cut education funding. During his first three years in office he slashed $50 million from higher education and $27 million from K-12 funding. (Wikipedia, from several sources.)

*Higher education, one of Minnesota's great claims to fame and a source of it's traditionally much better than average economy, has been priced out of the reach of thousands of would-be students. Average total annual cost of a state college or university (tuition and other expenses) has jumped 40 percent since Pawlenty took office, and the trend is still upward at a double-digit annual rate. (Information from Star Tribune.) Costs now are higher than the national average.

*The number of Minnesotans living in poverty (by the very inadequate official standards for poverty) has grown from 5.7 percent in 2000 to 8.1 percent in 2005. (Numbers from Alliance for a Better Minnesota.)

*In 2000, the real median household income in Minnesota was $61,497. At the end of 2005, at an inflation-adjusted rate, the real median household income in the state was $54,215. (Alliance for a Better Minnesota.)

*Pawlenty has made much of his attempts to get lower prescription drug costs for some Minnesotans through a state program that purchases the drugs from Canada. He's made some other gestures toward lowering drug costs. But out-of-pocket health care costs for Minnesotans have increased almost 8 percent in just the past year and total cost of family health coverage in the state has risen an appalling 87 percent since 2000. That's way over the general rate of inflation and much higher than rises in worker income. (Alliance for a Better Minnesota.)

*Last year, Pawlenty, with the aid of Republican legislators, tried to cut 27,000 people from MinnesotaCare, a program that provides basic health insurance for the working poor. Republican legislators wanted bigger cuts. Democrats fought back and Minnesota had its first-ever partial shutdown of state government because a budget bill wasn't passed in time to prevent that. A deal finally was worked out and fewer people were cut from the program. (Minnesota Public Radio and other sources.)

*MinnesotaCare or not, more than 383,000 Minnesotans, including at least 66,000 children, have no health insurance. That is 7.4 percent of the population, up from 5.4 percent in 2001, and the trend continues. (StarTribune.)

*Since 2003, Pawlenty and his Republican allies in the Legislature have cut $200 million from the state's Child Care Assistance Program. As a result, 11,000 Minnesota kids have lost access to licensed child care facilities and 1,127 licensed child care providers in the state have gone out of business. (Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.)

*As with Republicans in our federal government, cronyism and favoritism are out of control under Pawlenty. Just one of several possible examples: A long-time state safety inspector in northern Minnesota has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging supervisors in the Department of Labor and Industry's Occupational Safety and Health Division ignored and destroyed his reports of investigations to protect offending corporations. Some of the investigations involved serious injuries and fatalities of employees. (Star Tribune.)

The newspaper report made no mention of Pawlenty nor his administration, though he is responsible for the department's operations. Like the Bush crowd, political considerations govern the way most of the states' departments operate. That generally was not the case before Pawlenty became governor.

I could add many more facts, but that should be sufficient to show what Pawlenty in the governor's office has meant for Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more than once, including quite recently, fondly referred to Pawlenty's “boyish charm.” It's reporters, indeed most reporters who come in contact with him, are smitten. I think they, male and female, must giggle when he chucks them under the chin.

With a couple of exceptions – people who often are hobbled in what they can cover --they seldom write about what he has done to Minnesota, and that's worrying to anyone of good sense who cares about the state and nation.

Republican candidates: the clone corps

Every time I see Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty on the tube, or Sen. Norm Coleman, or some of the other seal-coated Republicans who now are the standard for the political right, I'm taken with the same thoughts:

Where do the Republicans get these people? And why can't the great majority of the public see through them?

There's a sort of generic “new” Republican candidate/office holder. Good looking in a mass-produced sort of way. Male and female, they wear clothes with the elegance of runway models and always are perfectly and expensively dressed, whatever the occasion. (But a giveaway is that while the real folks in the vicinity are wearing J.C. Penney or Target knits, the candidates sport $300 cashmere sweaters and $250 casual slacks or skirts along with their magazine-ad smiles.)

Under the prettiness, they obviously lack any feeling for anyone not of their sets, which can be the only explanation for the fact that they feel no qualms about slashing funding for education, cutting health care for children or child care help for the working poor and why their answer to most foreign policy questions includes bombs, guns and air attacks.

They believe utterly that the rich have a right to rule unfettered, and that the rest of us should take whatever they choose to allow us, and put finger to forelock in gratitude. In the real opinions they hide from fluttery reporters, we should keep our places and do as we are told.

Given the political structure they must yet contend with, however, the pretend to democratic views, even while passionately supporting a president who attacks democracy on every front. They are masters of faking sincerity when confronting the peasants at a fairgrounds or precinct caucus.

If you're on to them, you might reasonably suspect they rush to scrub their hands after shaking the paws and patting the backs of commoners.

The new Republican models are all over the country, as you can see if you watch the news shows. In Minnesota, their presence is seen not only in Pawlenty but in Minnesota's auditor, Pat Anderson, in Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, the bizarre anti-gay crusader Michele Bachmann, who stated proudly and publicly a couple of weeks ago that God personally told her to run.

God also told her she will win. We'll soon see how well he knows the Minnesota electorate.

Anderson has used her office to further Pawlenty's right wing positions and his campaign baloney, and Kiffmeyer as gone as far as Minnesota will allow in trying to keep liberal and Democratic voters from the polls. Bachmann walks hand in hand with her deity.

Nutty or extremist, the women, like Pawlenty, all look like mature movie stars and wear coats of plastic populism.

You could swear that despite their play-to-the-dimwits stance against inconvenient science, the Republicans have mastered the art and science of cloning. Somewhere they have a factory –- run by an evil troll who looks like and may be Dick Cheney -– turning out fully grown candidates in five or six models in each gender.

Unfortunately, the Democrats appear to be learning how to produce clone candidates, too, but they have a long way to go. The Republican models are all so rigidly affluent white that you can tell at a glance that they bounce and flap their elbows when they dance at the country club.

Some of the Democrat models still have darker and less-than-perfect hair and skin and express themselves in ways not commonly heard at those country clubs.

But, for sure, no gimpy Roosevelts or dumpy Trumans allowed in politics in these television-controlled days.