Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Of Jonestown, Maquiladoras, and Elections

Last night, through the Los Angeles Film Festival, I saw a documentary called Jonestown: the Life and Death of Peoples Temple, by Stanley Nelson. What started for some as a noble ideal of equality and justice for all turned into a nightmare. They found themselves living in a police state of the mind so strong that parents encouraged their kids to drink poisoned Kool-aid. The original faith in their leader turned to fear and even loathing, and yet, they did not feel they could escape his grip. The few that tried had guns trained on them, reminding them that life as they sought it was not an option.

While watching, I wondered, as did many in the audience, how did they let it get so far? Originally, the church was simply one of the few that had all the joy of a black gospel service but with the interracial twist that many found so enticing. People who had lives of little joined a community that promised, and for a time delivered, lives of plenty. Healthcare was readily available. All the food you needed. Shelter. Love. Community. For many, People’s Temple was a socialist Utopia, the likes of which they had never seen in their lives.

At the end of the screening, some of the survivors, members of People’s Temple who were not at the compound in Guyana that day, took questions from the audience. One person asked, "How could you not see that Jim Jones was crazy?"

And then it hit me.

We are all living in Jonestown now.

As one of survivors said, the craziness came upon them so slowly that they didn’t see the signs. One is reminded of the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, that doesn’t leap out because the heat is upped so gradually he boils to death. (This appears to be an urban legend, but the image is too valuable not to use.)

Here we sit, as our freedoms are stripped from us one by one, including our right to privacy, or unwarranted search and seizure, rights which are violated when our phone records, email records, and bank records are snooped indiscriminately, or worse, for political revenge. We sat by and watched as George Bush stole Al Gore’s victory and claimed the Presidential mantle for himself. We sat by as the government told us they had no idea someone would fly a plane into a building (even though such scenarios had been widely discussed and pictured in defense department literature). We sat by as we saw a false case being built for war in Iraq. Some of us marched, but what good did that do? After marching, we went back to consume the goods produced by our sick society and tuned out, because to do otherwise was too painful.

And then another election stolen from the voters. Republicans in Nevada threw out Democratic voter registrations. Straight party votes in New Mexico weren’t counted. Voter Rolls were purged in several states. And then, Ohio. We sat by, and kept drinking our Kool-aid, living in the nightmare described by the late, great comedian Bill Hicks: Go back to sleep, America. Your government is in control. You are free, to do as we tell you.

So who are we to judge anything about what others did at Jonestown? Who are the real crazies? The ones who chose for themselves a better life, not knowing how high a price they would have to pay, or those of us who, by our inaction, choose an increasingly worse life, marked by the loss of rights, the rise to power of those who cannot separate fact from fiction, and our own unwillingness to remove our fingers from keyboards long enough to work for the ideals for which people once readily gave their lives. It’s crazy. Our leaders are crazy. We’re crazy, for accepting all of this.

But what options do we have? Well, that’s where the other documentary I saw recently, Maquilapolis, comes in. Sunday morning, for free, thanks to the Los Angeles Film Festival, I had the privilege and heartbreak of watching the stories of several women who live just across the border of America, in Tijuana, working in the Maquiladoras – factories for Sanyo, Panasonic, and other household brands you’d recognize. These factories exist at the border for one reason only: to take advantage of cheap labor, unhampered by labor and environmental regulations. Through payoffs to the Mexican government, the multinationals have persuaded the Mexican government to allow their citizens to be used for slave-wage labor in these outposts of humanity. (Some of these companies are now relocating to Indonesia, were labor, and presumably government payoffs, cost even less.)

Onscreen, we watch how the companies take advantage of rains to dump their toxic sludge into the community, where it rushes down the unpaved roads and paths of the community, an overly beautiful word for homes made from discarded garage doors, things we throw away, in America. Our garbage is their protection, their only protection, from the elements. Wires hang into puddles, electrocuting children who play there while they’re parents are scrambling to bring food home for them. The lovely river, which used to be a place where people vacationed and camped, is now a cesspool of filth they try hard to avoid coming into contact with.

So who are the people who work in these factories? They are incredibly smart people, predominantly women, who never had the opportunity to go to school, who have had children dumped on them by absent men, who originally came to the Maquiladoras because they offered some wages when there were no jobs elsewhere. These women tell their children not to touch the ball being kicked around in the street, because it has rolled through the toxic sludge and contact will produce open sores on their body. They display rashes on their arms and faces from contact with chemicals. At work, the women get dehydrated, because the employers won’t let them drink water, or go to the bathroom, during their shift. They breathe lead at work because no one has their back and the corporate owners know only one God: Profit. Cleaning up the lead reduces profit. So it’s simply not done.

So what have these women done? They have formed a group to educate the others among them of the law, of their rights, to try to press for the accountability their elected officials should be demanding on their behalf.

One woman was just amazing. She was very young – maybe early twenties. She already had three children to tend. She took care of the children by day, and then worked all night. Sometimes she wouldn’t get any sleep. When her company folded up and left town, she checked her employment contract and noted that, according to the agreement, they owed her two weeks pay. The company simply refused to pay. She pressed. She couldn’t afford a lawyer. She became her own advocate, studying the law, learning, working with others in her community. She tried to work the legal system, only to find all the people in it drew money from the corporations she was trying to fight. Still, she pressed on. The company started paying attention. Through their lawyers, they tried to settle for half what they owed her. They fought this case hard because they feared this would set a precedent. The woman fought just as hard, for exactly the same reason. No, she said. This is what you owe. After three years, she had finally gotten the system to hold the company accountable, and the company finally paid up. They even threw in a little extra.

What a lesson.

She was not brainwashed into feeling powerless. She was not drinking the Kool-aid offered to her at every turn. She knew what was right, and would not stop until justice was served. And once she got her share, she started teaching others in their community about how they too could stand up for themselves.

If the poorest, most desperate among our fellow men and women can work for their rights, how is it that we, who are not in danger of losing our livelihood, who don’t necessarily have mouths we can’t afford to feed, do not have time to fight for our rights? We should be the ones looking out for the less fortunate. We should be the ones ensuring our elections mean something, and that elected people really work on our behalf to ensure the enforcement of laws, and to guarantee our rights. We are not holding each other, or the system, accountable. And as a result, it is failing us right and left.

Which brings me to the final point here today. We need many more people working on election protection. Every county and township needs people willing to hold their election officials accountable to whatever laws exist. We need people well-versed in the laws, who can go to the person in charge of vote counting (the county registrar, e.g.). This is not hard work, but it does require some time and effort. Others need to press for new laws to protect our vote.

It’s really this simple: We must have a voter-verified paper record, and that paper record must be audited, before we can claim to know the outcome of any election. We all need to get very educated between now and November so we can hold people’s feet to the fire.

I don’t know who won in 2004. To change the popular vote from a Bush victory to a Kerry victory would have taken a very small number of changes in every large county in the nation, or an even smaller number of changes in more places. Given that people are always trying to game the system, from the lowliest elected office up, it’s not hard to imagine that happened.

This fall, I want to know who wins. I don’t want to be like the people in Jonestown. I want to be like that woman in Maquiopolis, taking nothing for granted, demanding that the system be accountable to the law.

Will you join with me? Isn’t our vote worth some portion of your time, this year, while it may yet make a difference? Or will you just follow Bush to Irantown or wherever he’s going to drag us next?

If ever there was a time to make a stand, it’s now. We may not get another chance. What are you willing to do for your country?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can You Protect Your Vote? You Can!

In California, I've been working with the California Election Protection Network (CEPN), among other groups, in an effort to ensure our votes are counted accurately.

Many people are concerned about our vote, and whether it is being accurately recorded, but few know where to begin. The point of this post is to give you a road map for what to do before and after an election to try to ensure the integrity of your vote.

There are several things to know before the election:
  • What are the rules for elections in your state?
  • What equipment is licensed for use in your state?
  • What equipment is your county or township using, and is it appropriately licensed by the state? (We had to fight that here in some counties - don't assume that if they're using it, it must be licensed. It may not be!)
  • How are the votes tallied?

And the most important step of all,

  • How are the vote tallies audited?

Anyone and anything can count the votes and present a tally. The issue is, how can you tell if the tally is correct?

The answer is this: AUDIT the tally. Conduct a manual (that means "by hand") recount of what is commonly called the "voter verified paper audit trail", or VVPAT. Not every state requires a VVPAT. If yours doesn't, get busy.

The audit should be part of the "official canvass," the set of procedures that constitute the full counting the vote.

Let's look at this in steps.

Step 1. Find out if your state requires an audit. If not, get busy and get some legislation in place to provide for that.

How do you know what your state requires? By looking up your state's elections code of law. These come in long, boring documents. But they are important. And in many states, the code is online, and searchable online. If yours isn't online, call your Secretary of State, the state-level office responsible for elections, and ask them to put the code online in a searchable format. Remember, government officials work for you. YOU employ them. You get to make requests and if they are responsive, and many try to be, you can get results.

Get to know your state elections code. Or find an activist you trust who can do this for your state. Make sure the laws in place are followed. If the laws you need aren't in place, lobby your legislators to pass appropriate legislation. I'll use specific examples in CA to illustrate the points to look for. Your laws will, of course, differ, but hopefully not by very much.

In California, Elections Code Section 15360 states:

15360. During the official canvass of every election in which a voting system is used, the official conducting the election shall conduct a public manual tally of the ballots tabulated by those devices cast in 1 percent of the precincts chosen at random by the elections official. If 1 percent of the precincts should be less than one whole precinct, the tally shall be conducted in one precinct chosen at random by the elections official. In addition to the 1 percent count, the elections official shall, for each race not included in the initial group of precincts, count one additional precinct. The manual tally shall apply only to the race not previously counted. Additional precincts for the manual tally may be selected at the discretion of the elections official.

Step 2. Make sure elections code requires that all machines that record votes provide a VVPAT.

In California's Elections Code (Section 19250) we find:

On and after January 1, 2005, the Secretary of State shall not approve a direct recording electronic voting system unless the system has received federal qualification and includes an accessible voter verified paper audit trail.

So in California, any touchscreen voting machine must provide a piece of paper that the voter can look at, and verify. The accessible voter verified paper audit trail. The AVVPAT (often just called the vvpat, the need for accessibility being a given under HAVA, the Help America Vote Act.)

In addition, Section 19253 says this:

19253. (a) On a direct recording electronic voting system, the electronic record of each vote shall be considered the official record of the vote, except as provided in subdivision (b).

(b) (1) The voter verified paper audit trail shall be considered the official paper audit record and shall be used for the required 1-percent manual tally described in Section 15360 and any full recount. (2) The voter verified paper audit trail shall govern if there is any difference between it and the electronic record during a 1-percent manual tally or full recount.

In summary, for electronic voting machines, all machines must provide a vvpat, and the 1% manual audit must use the vvpat, and not just a separate machine printout. Are you still with me? Great!

Step 3. What technology is used to count your vote? Which machines, exactly? And what are the state laws re approval of such machines? What are the certification tests and who conducts them? Is the machine an AccuVote-TS, made by Diebold? Or the AccuVote TSx? Find out the exact model and maker. It matters, as you'll see in step 4.

Most states use a variety of vendors. Usually counties select a smaller number of vendors than those allowed by the state. What is allowed in your state, and what is your county using, and do they match? You'd think they would, but they don't, in all cases, and this is something to watch for.

Sometimes the County wants to use something that hasn't been approved. And if no one raises a stink, they can. And if no one raises a stink after, they can get away with it. It's all about accountability. And guess who the only person who is going to hold your officials accounted is? Yep. That face you see in the mirror every morning.

Step 4. What are the specific procedures that should be used for that model of machine?

Section 19205 of California's Election Code requires:

The Secretary of State shall establish the specifications for and the regulations governing voting machines, voting devices, vote tabulating devices, and any software used for each, including the programs and procedures for vote tabulating and testing.

For the purposes of our example, let's look at the "Procedures Required for Use" for the use of Diebold Election Systems AccuVote-TSx (Touch Screen) Model R7, pursuant to Section 19205 above. On page 57 of the referenced document, the procedures state:

8.6. 1% Manual recount procedures
For the purpose of validating the accuracy of the computer count, within fifteen days after every election at which the AccuVote-TSx system is used, a public manual tally of the ballots cast in at least one percent of the precincts, chosen at random, shall be conducted as to all candidates and ballot measures voted on in each of the precincts. If the random selection of precincts results in an office or ballot measure not being manually recounted, as many additional precincts as necessary shall be selected and manually recounted to cover any office or ballot measure not recounted in the original sample. (EC 15360)

Precincts selected at random pursuant to Election Code section 15627 as amended for the 1% manual recount shall not be revealed to the persons responsible for programming the electronic ballot until the semi-official canvass is complete. For the one percent manual tally, the AVPM paper audit trail and ballots shall be tabulated by hand using County established procedures.

The AVPM is the AccuVote Printer Module that prints out the AVVPAT for the voter. In other words, the Procedures state clearly that the AVVPAT is the piece of paper that should be used in the 1% manual audit. No new piece of paper should be printed for the audit.

So let's put this all together in an incident that happened TODAY:

In Alameda County, aided by legal research from Joseph Holder, one of the CEPN activists, went to watch the manual audit. On some machine, not identified to the activist, 8 1/2 x 11" pieces of paper were being generated - ballot images, recreated from the internal computer vote.

In other words, the clerk was preparing to count a NEW paper ballot, not the AVVPAT. Not a ballot the voter had the chance to see, or confirm. In other words, had someone altered the numbers inside the computer, new choices could have appeared on those pieces of paper, and no one would be the wiser.

So the astute activist challenged this practice. When the clerk told her oh, it's okay, we checked with the Secretary of State, the activist asked to talk directly to the County Registrar.

Guess what happened next?

The "new" ballots were put aside, and the original vvpats, the "toilet paper rolls" from the machines, the ones the voters had the option to verify, were pulled out.

So the moral of the story is this: Don't trust anyone to know the laws, or to abide by them! If there is no oversight, there is no accountability. And if there is no accountability, scenes such as the one that was about to happen, before the activist intervened, will replay all across the country.

If you don't know who in your area is working to protect your vote, check the main organizations and get on their boards. They'll point you to others. And be prepared to step up to the plate if you're the first in your county. We literally need activists in every county in America if we're going to ensure our votes are counted accurately.

I hope this was helpful. And I hope it showed the value of knowing the law, and using it.

As Jefferson warned us, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. If you don't have the time to get involved personally, at least give money to the organizations who are working to protect our vote. Thank you for listening, and hopefully, learning from and acting upon this information.

Monday, June 19, 2006

God Bless Robert Kennedy, Jr.

How can I not absolutely and completely love this man?

After all his family has suffered, no one would blame him if he had just curled up in a fetal position for most of his life. But he didn't do that. He has fought for the health of the Hudson River. He has fought to get to the bottom of the growth in autism and found a probable cause. He has served on the board of the National Resources Defense Council for decades.

And now, this. Robert Kennedy is actively considering possible election lawsuits for the fraud connected with the 2004 election.

While 99% of our party, and I'm not just talking about the elected leaders, are afraid to take on this issue, Robert Kennedy Jr. has raised his hand and said, I will help.

When journalists failed to do the job on this story, RFK Jr., who isn't even a journalist, had to do the job for them.

Now, when election officials, government officials, and party officials have failed to hold anyone accountable in the corrupt elections of 2004, this man has boldly, bravely (few in the country can appreciate this level of bravery, because few have had a father and uncle killed for stepping forward and trying to help), stepped into the fray.

I feel the need to say a prayer tonight. I want whatever God there is to wrap his man, protect this man, save us from the people who have sought for centuries to destroy this kind of man, and help him bring this country back from the brink of utter fascism. These are the darkest times I have ever known, politically, and I can't tell you what this does to me, knowing he is out there, like his father, speaking out for the powerless, the disenfranchised, the poor, and trying to use the system to fix what's broken. Please God, protect and aid this man in such a humane and necessary quest. Please don't let them take him from us. Please don't let them take such a man, again.

And I say to Robert Kennedy, how can I help you? What can I do? I would follow you into fire and back. You are a rare gem and I will always find time to be of service to those who strive so hard to protect the greatest number of us.

God bless you, Robert Kennedy Jr. How worthy you have proven to carry your father's name.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What would you do if your vote was stolen?

Robert Kennedy Jr. opened what I'll call a reality divide in the Democratic party. There are those who are willing to deal with reality, however dirty and ugly it may be, and there are those who either can't, or won't, or both. Case in point. In this Forward article, Jim Manley, the spokesman for Harry Reid, is quoted:

"I haven't even read the article, for God's sake," Manley told the Forward. We have "five or six months to go before the November elections; we've got an important debate about Iraq coming up." He added, "We're looking forward, not looking back."
In other words, there are those who are willing to look at history and learn from it, and those who are condemning us to perpetual repetition. Fortunately for our party, not all Dems are willing to ignore the value of history. The same article quotes Glenn Hurowitz, a former deputy field director for the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG):

"I think it would be incredibly useful for the Democrats to talk about these allegations over and over and over again, and by doing so, undermine the legitimacy of Bush's presidency even more," said Hurowitz, who is working on a book about the history of fear and courage in the Democratic Party. "I'm definitely disappointed" in the Democratic leadership.
Hurowitz is not alone. At the recent Take Back America conference in DC, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky told the crowd:

I apologize for not taking seriously enough the allegations that the 2004 election was stolen. After reading Bobby Kennedy's article in Rolling Stone, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?", I am convinced that the only answer is yes. He documents how 357,000 Ohio voters, the vast majority Democrats, "were prevented from casting ballots or did not have their votes counted…more than enough to shift the results." Watch for the DCCC to take some very public steps in the near future to ward off a repeat performance. In the meantime, there needs to be a citizens' effort starting now to assess the machines, the ballots, the registration process within each and every election jurisdiction in each and every swing district and state, in the case of Senate races. Where the situation looks perilous, go to the media, raise a stink, demand changes. This is a great project for the many of you who have been diligently working to guarantee fair and accurate elections.
It is important that people start to get involved (those that haven't already been working on this since before the 2004 election.) I feel privileged to know many of the real leaders of our party, the people who have been working hard, without any direction from the so-called party leadership, to rectify what's wrong with our vote. But it's way past time to go mainstream with this issue.

I'd like you to ponder the question that bothered me today:

If you knew, as cold hard fact, that your vote no longer counted, what would you do?

Seriously. What would you do? Would you roll over and go back to sleep, and figure hey, so long as I have a roof over my head, money enough to feed the kids, and a little extra for a vacation now and then, life is still good?

Would you pull out weapons (and be instantly arrested)?

Would you march in the streets on your own, or would you wait for some group to organize a rally?

What would YOU do? I'd really like to know.

The next question is directly related. What if it couldn't be proven that your vote counted, or didn't count, but you had suspicions that enough tampering was happening to swing major elections? Would you take action then?

I strongly suspect that no matter how much we talk about this, there are those who won't take any action until they're family members are being thrown in jail on trumped up crimes. Me, I don't want to wait that long. I'm trying to read and keep up on developments, but, as Brad Friedman knows better than anyone, it's a fulltime job trying to stay on top of all the problems, and possible solutions.

Do you think the party should just "look forward" and pretend the illegimate elections of 2000 and 2004 didn't matter, even though they gave us the worst president in history, upset the oil markets around the world, caused untold hundreds of thousands to die for our greed, and may yet result in the plundering of Social Security?

Or do you think that Robert Kennedy is right - this is the question we should be talking about, and dealing with, and working hard to fix?

You already know what I believe. I believe history always matters. As Lars Hansson once told me, those who refuse to learn from history aren't simply condemned to repeat it. They're condemned, period. I tend to agree.

I think Robert Kennedy was right to ask this question. I think the question of whether the election of 2004 was legitimate has become a Rorschach test for our party. Who can look at what happened and deal with the reality of it, and who will grasp at fake numbers and other strawmen to pretend nothing is seriously wrong?

I knew. When I saw, on election night 2000, the phone call from George W. Bush to his brother Jeb in Florida, and the complete lack of concern, I knew the fix was in.

You know when I knew the fix was in for 2004? In 2001. Before 9/11. These guys were so completely unwilling to even pretend to work with the Democrats on the hill, that they forced the defection of one of their own. Were it not for Jim Jeffords leaving his party and declaring himself an independent, we could have had more damage sooner. Then the 2002 elections came along, and people who were losing in the polls in significant races won, and by fairly large (as these things go) margins. Something stunk to high heaven. It took Bev Harris to put the pieces together for me, but as I read her work, and the work spawned by her efforts, it was so clear. Republican-owned companies counting our vote. What could be more obvious? People abroad got it. People at home remained in denial.

Then 9/11. And how Osama was morphed into Saddam. How the press dared not say anything negative against the rush to War. It was all planned. All in the bag. And there was no fear of anything. They tried to kill Social Security. They may yet succeed. I think they're on their third or fourth attempt to open up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge for oil that would last our gas guzzling country at most, about a year. (Millions of years of nature traded for a year of oil? Not on my watch.)

And through it all - there was never any effort to reach beyond their base. It was as if liberals didn't even exist. And in Ohio, in 2004, not enough of them were allowed to exist, on the voter rolls and at polling places and in the machines counted by republican-owned and operated corporations.

Was the election stolen? The Republican party operatives certainly had the ability to steal it, wanted to steal it, and committed several heinous offenses in an effort to steal it (moving people's polling places in African American neighborhoods in Ohio, putting in too few machines, counting the votes electronically instead of counting paper ballots, the list goes on and on.)

Can we just call that what it is? Means, motive, and opportunity.

Our party should have called for an investigation right away. After the travesty that was Florida 2000, there was no excuse, none, for Kerry to have conceded so quickly. He owed it to the country to hold out at least 24 hours, to get the reports, to hear what happens next.

Here's what I propose for 2008. Slooooooowwwww down. Isn't Democracy worth taking your time for? My gosh, we send young soldiers to die in its name. Isn't it worth a few more days of our time?

Did the world end when it took us several weeks to go through the motions in Florida in 2000? No. Al Gore, God bless him, fought with every legal means available, with the exception of asking for a statewide recount, which he would have won. He went all the way to the partisan Supreme Court, and lost. He ran with the issue as far as he possibly could. Kerry couldn't even take a single step in the right direction.

Whoever carries our hopes into battle in 2008 must be on record challenging the 2004 election, and not just in words, but in action. This person must prove to me they really understand what's at stake - that they understand the myriad ways the vote can be stolen, that they are not naive - and that they will do everything humanly possible to prevent it. And even that may not be enough. But I'm willing to give it one last try. And then, ...

and then...

well, I asked first.

What would you do if you thought your vote no longer mattered?

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Iraq War: "Successful" intel op?

The current issue of Vanity Fair features an in-depth article by Craig Unger about the Niger Yellowcake forgeries, which asks the question I've wanted to know since the documents were first discounted. Who made the forgeries? It's always struck me as bizarre that the media was willing to accept the documents were forged, but had no interest in finding out who was behind one of the biggest scams used to justify the war in Iraq. I'm glad Craig Unger, and Vanity Fair, are trying to find out. Unger writes:
For more than two years it has been widely reported that the U.S. invaded Iraq because of intelligence failures. But in fact it is far more likely that the Iraq war started because of an extraordinary intelligence success—specifically, an astoundingly effective campaign of disinformation, or black propaganda, which led the White House, the Pentagon, Britain's M.I.6 intelligence service, and thousands of outlets in the American media to promote the falsehood that Saddam Hussein's nuclear-weapons program posed a grave risk to the United States.
As I've often argued, many so-called intelligence failures can be viewed, from a darker point of view, as successes. I recently argued with a reporter about how I believed the assassination of President Kennedy was one of the great intelligence success stories, seen from the conspirators' point of view. There are some who call it a massive intelligence failure, which is certainly true from the public's point of view. But which is the more accurate way to paint it?

This same dichotomy holds true in Iraq. The war shows how a few covert operators, who can keep secrets to their grave, were able to build a false case for war. Who are these people? What was their ultimate motive?
In Italy, a source with intimate knowledge of the Niger affair has warned me that powerful people are watching. Phones may be tapped. Jobs are in jeopardy, and people are scared.

On the sixth floor at Via Baiamonte, a receptionist finally comes to the door of the nondescript embassy office. She is of medium height, has dark-brown hair, wears a handsome blue suit, and appears to be in her 50s. She declines to give her full name. A look of concern and fear crosses her face. "Don't believe what you read in the papers," she cautions in French. "Ce n'est pas la vérité." It is not the truth.

But who was behind the forgeries? Italian intelligence? American operatives? The woman tilts her head toward one of the closed doors to indicate that there are people there who can hear. She can't talk. "C'est interdit," she says. It is forbidden.
We don't talk about disinformation much, in America. It too appears "forbidden." But it's all around us. Every day, and in mainstream news sources. Does the journalist know the story isn't true? Not likely. They are fed disinformation by people they trust, people who have given them truthful information in the past, scoops, in fact. Why isn't it talked about? Because most of the time, it's impossible to prove. As Unger explains:
Unraveling a disinformation campaign is no easy task. It means entering a kingdom of shadows peopled by would-be Machiavellis who are practiced in the art of deception. "In the world of fabrication, you don't just drop something and let someone pick it up," says Bearden. "Your first goal is to make sure it doesn't find its way back to you, so you do several things. You may start out with a document that is a forgery, that is a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy, which makes it hard to track down. You go through cutouts so that the person who puts it out doesn't know where it came from. And you build in subtle, nuanced errors so you can say, 'We would never misspell that.' If it's very cleverly done, it's a chess game, not checkers."

Reporters who have entered this labyrinth often emerge so perplexed that they choose not to write about it. "The chances of being manipulated are very high," says Claudio Gatti, a New York–based investigative reporter at Il Sole, the Italian business daily. "That's why I decided to stay out of it."

Despite such obstacles, a handful of independent journalists and bloggers on both sides of the Atlantic have been pursuing the story. "Most of the people you are dealing with are professional liars, which really leaves you with your work cut out for you as a reporter," says Joshua Micah Marshall, who has written about the documents on his blog, Talking Points Memo.
There is so much I'd love to discuss in that article, but I don't have time tonight. READ IT. It's long. It's important. It matters. And that's more than can be said for 90% of what passes for news.

Buried among the many books on my shelf is a quote I'm too lazy to retrieve verbatim - you'll get the drift. It was from a CIA memo, explaining that once a disinformation campaign has been launched, it can be put back into play at any time. Because even after something has been discredited, new people come along who haven't heard the lie exposed, and believe the original lie all over again. You can fool all of the people, some of the time. And that's why disinformation works. You never have to fool them all at once.

The more you read about covert operations, the more you will understand how it works. Start with this article. It helps reveal the difficulties in navigating in the world of professional liars. You can see why reporters don't want to get involved in these stories. Which is why people like me, or Jeff at Rigorous Intuition, or Booman at Booman Tribune, feel the need to explore matters some deride, ignorantly, as sillly conspiracy theory. But finding out who forged the Niger documents matters. Finding out who killed Kennedy matters. Because if we can start to expose even one of these operations in full, we begin to understand the patterns of deception so that we're not fooled by the next operation. In fact, if we can learn to expose disinformation in its formative stages, maybe we can avert the next castrophe (Iran!)

There was a guy in the military stationed overseas who tried to warn that Kennedy was about to be killed. He could tell from the stories in the paper Stars & Stripes that disinformation was being laid down, in advance, to explain away the event he believed was about to take place. Had people believed him at the time, we might be living in a very different world now.

You can't fool all of the people all of the time. But you can fool most easily those who believe the New York Times or the Washington Post wouldn't allow something to get in the paper that wasn't true. And don't blame the reporters, entirely. Some of them really would pursue the truth, wherever it led, if their organizations would give them the time and resources. Without that, the reporter is forced to stand by the safer story, the government version. And that's a tragedy for us all.

Can our nation survive on a steady diet of disinformation? I fear we're going to see the ugly answer to that question in my lifetime if people don't wake up and deal with the ugly realities of conspiracies and deliberate deceptions that are all too much a part of the world in which we live.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Democracy slipping away

There's a lot of excellent reading to do this week - so rather than keep you here, let me send you on the rounds.

First. You MUST read RFK Jr.'s debate-changing piece, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" from Rolling Stone Magazine. This is the same magazine that gave us Carl Bernstein's seminal piece on "The CIA and the Media" in October of 1977. This June 2006 piece is an important summary of reasons to suspect that our election was hijacked.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s article is the clearest, most cohesive summary yet. God bless that man, who continues to show himself truly worthy of bearing his father's name. I feel that he is one of the few moral leaders of our time who is fighting for us, every day in every way, be it through his work with Riverkeepers, the National Resources Defense Council, his environmental awareness raising, and now, on the incredibly important problems with our election system. Read, forward, and discuss!

The article is not flawless. If you read Farhad Manjoo's piece in Salon, you might think RFK's piece was fraught with errors. However, Manjoo's piece is fraught with distortions, as this excellent diary on Daily Kos shows.

Another excellent post on Daily Kos compares the early days of Hitler's rise to our current situation. Like us, the Germans were willing to give up their freedoms for security. As in America, the changes were so gradual that people didn't stop to think how bad things were getting. Like the story of the frog in slowly heated water, the Germans thought if things were really bad, their countrymen would be taking action. By the time they realized how bad it all was, it was far too late to do anything about it.

And lest we forget, today is the 38th anniversary of the assassination of Robert Kennedy. His death presaged all of this. Had he lived, I know our country would have gone down a different path. We might be in Iraq, but it might have been to build hospitals, rather than to increase body count in existing ones. Nixon took the country a sharp turn to the right, a turn from which we have never recovered. We are accelerating down the wrong path, every day further from the values of justice and democracy which our soldiers signed up to die to protect. Shame on us.

I am reminded of words from the character V in V for Vendetta:
...the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn't there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance, and oppression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillence coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it. I know you were afraid. Who wouldn't be? War, terror, disease. There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.
We can't let fear control our actions. We must find the integrity within us all that has the power to override our fear, to swallow hard, and to do the right thing.

Our system of voting is in near shambles, thanks in large part to the cynically named "Help America Vote Act". That act required every state to upgrade its voting systems on a very short timeframe. The few vendors who make voting machines can't handle the load. And in many cases - we've thrown out what works and invited hacker-vulnerable systems in instead. It's very important that everyone realize how bad the system is, and work to fix it. No one is going to fix it for you. YOU have to get involved. If you care. If you don't want to be one of "Hitler's Willing Executioners" as an author called the people who passively accepted Hitler rather than fighting back. It's very bad. No, we're not burning Jews in ovens. They're burning votes. They're preparing us for a dictatorship.

So the best way to thwart this is to vote the thugs out. But if our vote is not our own, we won't be able to do that. What to do??

Vote as if it counts. Work as if it doesn't. Yesterday, I posted on Kos a list of actions you can take to help reclaim our vote. It's not yet too late. But the sand in the hourglass is rushing down.

Will you stand up? Will you take action? America is calling. Will you answer?