Monday, June 26, 2006

So much for democracy

Chris Floyd writing for the Moscow Times about the surprising decision to allow Diebold voting machines in California:

Two weeks ago, an obscure, unelected, Republican-appointed official in California decided the future of the world. [...]

One of the few certainties in modern U.S. politics is that no Democrat can win the presidency without carrying California. Thanks to the Electoral College system set up by the Founding Oligarchs to keep the low-born rabble from voting directly for president, the big haul of California's electoral votes is crucial for Democrats to offset the multitude of small, sparsely populated states that reliably vote Republican. Bagging California doesn't guarantee Democratic victory, but without it, the cliffhanger electoral counts in the goosed elections of 2000 and 2004 wouldn't even have been close.

Thus, the sudden, hugger-mugger decision by California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to override the objections of his own experts and certify the eminently hackable voting machines of the politically partisan firm, Diebold, for use throughout the state means, quite simply, that the fix is in for 2008. It doesn't matter who the Democrats run -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, George Clooney or Jesus H. Christ in an Uncle Sam suit. It won't make a bit of difference. California is lost, the presidency is lost and the Bushists are in -- already. It's over.

For those old enough to remember Pravda, the U.S.S.R.'s official state newspaper, will have an Alanis Morissette moment: how ironic that the "free", privately-owned American mainstream media is taking a "softly softly" approach to the corruption of the American political process, ignoring the destruction of democracy, while the former home of Pravda is telling it like it is.

And this is how it is:

Last year, after Diebold's machines failed miserably a series of tests, McPherson put their certification on hold until a panel of experts had reported back. The panel delivered their conclusions back in February. The results are terrifying, much worse than even the most paranoid fears of nutty conspiracy theorists.

The panel of experts found that Diebold voting machines are completely compromised, riddled with curious bits of unexpected code, and "ceded complete control of the system" to hackers. Without needing to know passwords or cryptographic keys, just about anyone with access to a Diebold machine can change vote totals, reports, even the names of candidates and the election being voted on -- and detecting these vote changes would be difficult, if not impossible.

A more perfect vehicle for fixing an election can hardly be imagined. And it would require nothing more than a handful of high-tech zealots, not a vast conspiracy.

Naturally, after such a blistering condemnation, McPherson did what any official charged with guaranteeing the integrity and credibility of his state's elections would do: He approved the slipshod system by the dark of the moon, on a Friday before a holiday weekend, without any public hearings -- indeed, without waiting for the results of a pending federal review of Diebold's mole-infested code. Now, the Diebold contraptions, whose chronic "breakdowns" have featured in numerous contested elections and last-second "miracle" victories by Republican candidates across the country in recent years, will control California's pot of electoral gold.

In general, it is a good idea to never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. But what do you make of a careless shop-keeper who always short-changes his customers, but never gives back too much change? It is difficult to avoid the suspicion of deliberate cheating.

And so it becomes harder and harder to defend the voting irregularities over the last six years as incompetence when, time and time again almost without exception, the "mistakes" benefit one party -- the Republicans. And not just any Republicans, but especially those who are cronies of Bush and the neo-conservatives.

A good example of how this control works can be found in Alaska. There, the state Democratic Party has long been seeking an audit of some of the 2004 Diebold-counted returns, which produced a series of strange anomalies -- including awarding President George W. Bush an extra 100,000 votes that turned out to be phantoms. First, state officials blocked the request because that information, the vote count of a public election, was a "company secret" that belonged exclusively to Diebold, Friedman reports. Then they decided that the returns could be examined -- but only on the condition that Diebold and the Republican officials be allowed to "manipulate the data" before it was released. In the end, even this tainted transparency was too much for the Bushist ballot crunchers; late last month, Alaska officials suddenly declared that examining the returns would pose a dire but unspecified "security risk" to the state.

One wonders what possible security risk there could be to examine the election returns. Perhaps if people discovered just how badly the vote was fixed, it would destroy any credibility the government had and lead to rioting in the streets.

The American electoral system has rapidly been shifted to electronic voting with unseemly haste and virtually no effort at transparency and security. For folks in places like Australia, who still mark paper ballots by hand (how old-fashioned! how resistant to tampering!), it is sometimes hard to remember that American voters almost all vote by pushing a button, a touchscreen, or other electronic device. After the 2000 election, President Bush mandated electronic voting by the 2004 election. Not surprisingly, the head of Diebold wrote a fund-raising letter promising to deliver Ohio's votes to the President.

(Strangely enough, Ohio is the state which had the most serious voting irregularities in the 2004 elections, and, as promised, it was won by the Republicans. Must be one of those coincidences. There sure are an awful lot of them.)

There are three major suppliers of electronic voting machines in the U.S., Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia, and all three have very close political and financial ties to Bush and other conservatives. Diebold, as well as ES&S, have been financed by tycoon Howard Ahmanson, who is a member of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which openly calls for a theocracy in America. The movement calls for the death penalty for homosexuals, slavery for debtors, stoning for sinners and stripping nonbelievers of citizenship. Ahmanson himself has publically stated he "no longer" considers the stoning of homosexuals to be "essential".

Possibly he thinks that the electric chair would be just as good.

Similarly Sequoia, which is owned by a partner of the shadowy Carlyle Group, the investment firm with deep ties to the Bush family. In another of those coincidences, a recent audit of votes from just a single Florida county, found Sequoia's machines made 100,000 "mistakes" in the 2004 election.

Back in 2002, there was a joke going around that went something like this:

    Q: What's the difference between presidents Saddam Hussein and George Bush Jr?
    A: Saddam Hussein actually was voted for by a majority.

Saddam was greedy and stupid: he banned other political parties, refused to allow any competitors for the post of President, and claimed an unbelievable 99.9% of the vote. Bush, or rather the puppet-masters like Karl Rove behind Bush, might be greedy, but they aren't stupid. They know it makes no difference whether they win the election with 99.9% of the vote, or 50.1% of the vote -- what's important is that they win. And they will do whatever it takes to win, even if it goes against the will of the voters. (Voters -- what do they know? Most of them aren't even millionaires.) Why make the sheeple uneasy by rubbing their noses in the fact that the elections are fixed, like Saddam did? Give them their comforting illusion of democracy.

It won't matter who runs in 2008, or who votes, or even how unpopular the Bush government becomes. The U.S.A.'s electoral process has been hijacked, and the American media will make excuses after the event for any results, no matter how implausible.

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