I am a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. I use this blog try to promote critical thinking about mainstream media, establishment politics, and popular culture.
Friday, June 30, 2006
Freak Out! At Forty
July of 2006 is the 40th anniversary of the release of Freak Out! by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, one of the most influential rock albums ever recorded. The July Media Rants column celebrates the anniversary.
Check out the video below. It's Zappa on CNN's Crossfire from March 28, 1986 discussing music censorship. The other guest, John Lofton of the Washington Times, comes off as a first rate putz. There's even a point where Frank tells him to kiss his ass.
Roger Waters, founding member of Pink Floyd, is considered by most popular music aficionados to be a progressive rock genius. He wrote most of the songs for The Wall, a work that perhaps best exemplifies the "concept album."
Waters granted a rare interview to the London Times, in which he revealed some of his political interests (he claims he recently bought Neil Young's Living With War). As seen in the video below, he's also an activist against the Israel/Palestine wall.
On June 8th, Lt. Ehren Watada became the first commissioned officer of the US Army to refuse deployment to Iraq. He said, "My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders. I stand before you today because it is my job to serve and protect America's soldiers, its people, and innocent Iraqis who have no voice."
Earlier this week a rally on his behalf was held at Fort Lewis. Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith in The Nation explain the significance of Watada's actions, the seriousness of the legal claims against the war he has raised, and the consequences he will face.
You can sign a petition in support of Watada at the Thank You site.
The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice has now released online "The Machinery of Democracy," an in-depth examination of the security flaws existing within electronic voting machine systems. The press release can be found here, the executive summary here, and the full report here. Reading these materials makes it abundantly clear that electronic voting machines are not secure enough to warrant trust from the general public.
What's extraordinary and insane is that even though the report makes it clear that the security regime in place for electronic voting machines is sorely lacking, election boards and voting jurisdictions across the country persist in falling for the Diebold talking point: that the Help America Vote Act mandates these lemons be used at the polls.
Prediction: Within 20 years touch screen voting will disappear from all elections.
USA Today: Analysis finds e-voting machines vulnerable
Gannett's USA Today summarizes a Brennan Center for Justice report finding that "there are more than 120 security threats to the three most commonly purchased electronic voting systems." Sounds like Brennan is only confirming what the Washington Post reported back in March--that it is easier to rig an electronic voting machine than a Las Vegas slot machine.
According to the Oshkosh Northwestern, "distinguished visitor" Jack Pelton, CEO of CESSNA, will receive the annual EAA/City of Oshkosh "Key to the City" at this year's Airventure. Oshkosh is a university town; thousands of hard working students have earned legitimate degrees at UW Oshkosh. Jack Pelton does not deserve the key to our city.
In November of 2004, CBS' Sixty Minutes did a feature on "Diplomas for Sale." Reporter Vicki Mabrey reported on online diploma mills, focusing specifically on "Hamilton University." According to the story:
"How do you get a degree from Hamilton? You start by filling out a form on a site that claims to be an independent referral service. But it really was set up to funnel business to Hamilton. You’ll then be offered dozens of degrees. If you’re accepted, and chances are good you will be, it can take as little as a week or two to get a diploma. Your main assignments are to write a short paper and a big check." When Pelton became CESSNA CEO, his official bio stated:
"Pelton holds BS and MS degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Hamilton University. He is a resident of Wichita and currently serves on the board of directors for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and Wichita’s Habitat for Humanity. A commercial, instrument-rated pilot, he is Citation rated and flies regularly as pilot in command."
The Hamilton "degrees" have since been removed from Pelton's bio on the website of Textron, CESSNA's parent company. When hiring Pelton as CESSNA CEO in December of 2003, Textron's news release included the Hamiton "degree" credentials. After the Sixty Minutes story, CESSNA issued a statement sweeping Pelton's deception under the rug. To my knowledge Pelton has never offered a compelling explanation for why he obtained the Hamilton "degrees."
Pelton hails from Kansas. Students from that area attending Independence Community College and working hard for their diplomas said that Pelton's appointment as CEO should produce anger because: "Some of us actually work to obtain a degree. People like Pelton, who have not earned their credentials, should make us feel cheated. Some of us study hard to get through school; all he did was write a big check."
The city of Oshkosh and EAA should withdraw Pelton's receipt of the Key to the City Award. Allowing him to receive the award will represent a slap in the face to all the hard working students in our community. Our city government needs to establish the principle that the Key to the City can only go to citizens who have upheld the highest standards of honor and integrity in their professional, community, and civic lives. In trying to pass himself off as a degreed professional when all he did was purchase a piece of paper from a diploma mill, Jack Pelton did not uphold such standards.
Writing in the July issue of Madison's Progressive Magazine, Stephen Elliott provides this dose of hyperbole about Florida United States Senate candidate Katherine Harris: "She has more energy than a coke fiend with an uncut supply of Colombian."
Harris will need that energy in her race against incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. According to the Washington Post, Florida governor Jeb Bush says about Harris, "I just don't believe she can win."
Madison's Progressive Magazine has an excellent piece this month by Iraqi-American singer - songwriter Stephan Smith-Said. Reacting to Neil Young's claim that he (Young) had to make his protest album because the younger generation of musical artists were not getting it done, Smith-Said explains the censorship of protest music by MTV and the commercial music industry.
The video is for Stephan's "The Bell." Historian Howard Zinn says this about it:
"Stephan Smith's song THE BELL concentrates a world of meaning into its few lines. At the center of it is a child, which is perfectly fitting, because it is the children who are always the most heartbreaking victims of war, and who will be the victims of America's next war. The wisdom of the child stands in contrast to the platitudes uttered by the warmaker, "the man at his desk." The child sees through the false claim that to do to war means to love your country. The child sees through the Orwellian deceptions, in which lies are presented as truth. It is the child who challenges the call to war. And it is the child in the end who shows no fear, and it is the warmaker who must be afraid, because the courage of the child has a greater power than guns and bombs."
"Oh where are you going?" said the man at his desk "I'm going to a new world," said the child and he stood And he stood, and he stood, and t'were well that he stood "I'm going to a new world," said the child and he stood
"Oh I'm sounding drums of war," said the man at his desk "Oh, I will not fight your war," said the child and he stood And he stood, and he stood, and t'were well that he stood "I will not fight your war," said the child and he stood
"Oh, but don't you love your country?" said the man at his desk "Yes, I do, but you don't," said the child and he stood And he stood, and he stood, and t'were well that he stood "I do but you don't," said the child and he stood
"Oh, but do you know the truth?" said the man at his desk "Yes, you lie and call it truth," said the child and he stood And he stood, and he stood, and t'were well that he stood "You lie and call it truth," said the child and he stood
"Oh, you must be scared to die," said the man at his desk "No, I'm prepared and you're scared," said the child and he stood And he stood, and he stood, and t'were well that he stood "I'm prepared and you're scared," said the child and he stood
"Oh, I think I hear a bell," said the man at his desk "Yes, it's ringing you to hell," said the child and he stood And he stood, and he stood, and t'were well that he stood "Yes, it's ringing you to hell," said the child and he stood
The WPR Week in Review with Marathon County GOP Kevin Hermening and I can be found here. This discussion got somewhat contentious in parts, especially on issues related to the Iraq War and nuclear proliferation.
Because Arizona is facing lawsuits trying to prevent the use of the Diebold TSx, the mainstream media there have done a fairly decent job of exposing the flaws with the machine. This piece in the Tuscon Citizen provides a good description of why the machine is facing so much opposition. An excerpt:
Mary Thompson, a retired computer programmer, went to a demonstration of the new machines in May at the county Administrative Building.
She tried voting "no" on a mock ballot measure and the vote came up "yes" on the screen because she didn't hit the "no" button dead center, she said.
"What it indicates is sloppy programming," Thompson said.
The new machines also could pose problems for the target users: disabled people. Edward Matthews has brain damage from a 1998 bus accident and he has problems with motor skills and short-term memory.
Matthews and others like him have a tough time precisely putting their fingers on a target.
"I could look at the screen and say, 'That's what I want to do,' but not be able to do it," he said. Moreover, the program moves "too fast" for people with short-term memory problems, Matthews said.
"You've got to fix this machine," he said. "People are just going to be turned off by this thing."
Diebold officials did not return phone calls this week, but Deputy Secretary of State Kevin Tyne called the system safe and secure.
Note: The cartoon is by the outstanding Matt Bors.
I listened to CHAMCO Executive Director Doug Pearson make the pitch for the archery grant during citizens' statements, and found his remarks unpersuasive. He said that Winneconne will no longer be able to develop in the traditional way that we think of industrial development, so that the Village must instead develop its tourism potential. All that is well and good, but there was little economic impact data presented to show how much revenue the county can be expected to see as a result of this grant, nor was/is it clear that the types of jobs that will be created justify this level of economic assistance. We could end up with another county race track on our hands - a taxpayer boondoggle if there ever was one.
The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors took the easy way out last night, voting 28-10 to accept grant money that will be used to place a Diebold TSx machine in each polling place. The 28 voted this way in spite of the fact that no one offered any evidence to counter these claims:
People with disabilities had not been meaningfully involved in the process, as stated passionately last Wednesday by Mike Huckaby of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin.
The Board ignored the wishes of two of its OWN committees, Judiciary and Information Systems, to hold a real public hearing with demonstrations of all State Elections Board approved technologies.
The Board never heard from an expert on voting equipment technology to gain an understanding of the security flaws inherent in the Diebold TSx.
The most disappointing Yes votes were Woody Weber, Claud Thompson, Ken Robl, and Nancy Barker. Each one of them knows better and, in the case of Thompson, Robl, and Barker, changed their votes from May 16th. This in spite of the fact that since May 16th the only pro-TSx stands have come from Diebold salespeople, clerks who are mostly concerned about efficiency and machine compatibility, and an unethical State Elections Board Director who responded to each question about the machine with Diebold talking points.
In my remarks I asked the Board to consider the fact that when each of them goes to vote and is faced with the choice of the optical scan machine or the TSx, they will all choose to vote with the optical scan. Why? Because the optical scan has a hard copy, voter marked ballot to return to in case of recount, and because of the doubts associated with the TSx. No one in their right mind, given the choice, would choose the TSx. So, if a non-disabled person wouldn't choose the TSx, why would they vote to dump it on people with disabilities? The 28 violated the 21st century election technology golden rule: "Vote on a technology for others as you would have have them vote for you."
See Babblemur's coverage of Supervisor Donna Lohry's courageous remarks at the meeting. Donna was the only supervisor to cut through the crap and chide the clerks for continuing to insist on the TSx in spite of the mountain of evidence suggeting it is a lemon not worth the risk.
Local voting rights activists now must decide whether to seek court action to prevent these machines from entering Winnebago County polling places. Stay tuned.
Kent Monte's blog today has a copy of a resolution sponsored by Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh to rescind the Five Rivers Term Sheet. If passed on June 27th, the resolution will put an end to the Five Rivers Project. Perhaps, if City Manager Dick Wollangk and Director of Community Development Jackson Kinney have it within them to do the right thing, they will sever the relationship with Five Rivers before the June 27th meeting and thus make the resolution irrelevant. Developer Doig wants a response to his letter when he returns on June 22. Kinney and Wollangk should simply:
*Tell Doig that they were very disappointed that he would present the city with an ultimatum and consider such boorish behavior to be a dealbreaker. *Tell Doig that at this point in the process there is NO WAY the conditions outlined in the letter can be met. *Tell Doig to Don't Worry, Be Happy, and Have Nice Day. (Notice Bobby McFerrin in the video holding up a newspaper that says "financial meltdown").
Castle on Five Rivers: "It's getting damn close" to pulling plug
Today's paper quotes Oshkosh Mayor Bill Castle as saying "it's getting damn close" to pulling the plug on the Five Rivers development. Since Castle's views are typically a bellwether for what the shadowy golf course set that runs the city are thinking, this could mean the end for Five Rivers in Oshkosh.
In the same story, Dennis McHugh states the obvious: "The process has become an embarrassment." (Something that has been true at least since the "Valentine's Day Massacre of Open Goverment"--the February 14th closed meeting protested by the Five Rivers Five.).
Tom Doig and Ben Ganther can take solace in the fact that Councilor Meredith Scheuermann is still doing their bidding for them: "I don't think we should stay the course, but I don't think we should dig in our heels so far that we're not willing to be global on this piece until the end." Actually I have no idea what that statement means, but it doesn't sound like a firm commitment to vote against another term sheet extension or 180 degree shift in its conditions.
Kennedy plans to sue Diebold and other voting machine vendors
On his "Ring of Fire" radio program (audio not available), Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his guests said they will sue Diebold and other voting machine vendors in the coming weeks, seeking to "put some voting machine companies out of business." Kennedy claims the plaintiffs have whistle blowers from Diebold and other companies who will be involved in the Qui tam suits. According to Wikipedia: Qui tam is a provision under the False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 3729 et seq.), which allows for a private individual, or whistleblower with knowledge of past or present fraud on the federal government to bring suit on behalf of the government. Its name is an abbreviation of the phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro seipse,” meaning “he who sues for the king as well as for himself." This provision allows a private person, known as a “relator,” to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the United States, where the private person has information that the named defendant has knowingly submitted or caused the submission of false or fraudulent claims to the United States. The relator need not have been personally harmed by the defendant’s conduct.
A private [natural] person may not be able to commence a qui tam action "pro se", that is without representation by a lawyer, since, the private person is actually representing/filing the suit on behalf of the government and that may only be done by a lawyer.
More information about Qui tam suits can be found here.
Computer programmer Clinton Curtis in December of 2004 explained how Florida representative Tom Feeney asked him to create a vote rigging program. Curtis testified under oath, signed an affidavit and passed a lie detector test. A former Republican, Curtis this year is running for congress as a Democrat.
Five Rivers: Problem is Secrecy, not Weak Common Council
Surveying the catastrophe that has become the Five Rivers project, an editorial in today's Oshkosh Northwestern rips the Oshkosh Common Council: "The council has some deep operational issues. This council cannot handle tough projects and has turned its decision-making responsibility over to the hired hands. This council doesn't ask tough questions, doesn't demand accountability." I'm not really sure what they are talking about, as the only members of the present Council who have failed to ask tough questions in public about Five Rivers are Mayor Bill Castle and Shirley Mattox. Paul Esslinger has been asking tough questions from the beginning (in spite of being under the constraint of signing a confidentiality agreement with the developer), and at last Tuesday's meeting Bryan Bain, Burk Tower, and Dennis McHugh all in their questioning tried to cut through the obfuscation coming from the Department of Community Development. Even Meredith Scheuermann, who missed the last meeting and also signed a confidentiality agreement, at least had the decency to forward Cheryl Hentz's questions to Mr. Kinney.
No, the problem with the Five Rivers project from the beginning has not been a weak council that lacks critical thinking skills. The problem has been that THE PROJECT HAS BEEN SHROUDED IN SECRECY. The Council has gone into closed session to negotiate for "competitive and bargaining reasons" even though it has been clear for almost two years now that there was/is no competition. Indeed, Mr. Doig's meltdown letter suggests that competition has been the least of his worries. More openness would have revealed to the public a long time ago the shaky ground on which this project rests, and we would not have wasted all this time that could have been used to determine a strategy for developing the area in a more sensible way that the public could actually buy into.
Madison attorney Christa Westerberg has an outstanding essay in the most recent issue of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council's newsletter called "Secret Development Deals Flout Open Meetings Law." (in Microsoft word format). The Oshkosh Common Council is facing two open meetings complaints related to the Five Rivers development, and after about three months we have still heard nothing from the Attorney General's office. If the manner in which the Five Rivers negotiations have been conducted are consistent with the Open Meetings Law, then there is something horribly wrong with that law and it needs immediate revision.
Paul McCartney turns 64 (rock stars are not supposed to get old!) on June 18th. Yes, he says it's his birthday. The Beatles recorded "When I'm 64" almost 40 years ago, and the New York Times asks "Now What?"
P.T. Barnum Resort developer Tom Doig suffered a meltdown this week, sending a "Dear Jackson" letter to the City of Oshkosh. Kent Monte's astute take on Doig's "ultimatum" can be found here. Cheryl Hentz offers kudos (registration required) to the three council members (Esslinger, Bain, McHugh) who have been most vocal in demanding that the interests of the taxpayers be placed ahead of the interests of the developer. Oshkosh Northwestern coverage is here.
In the letter Doig says he's going to pull the development from Oshkosh if conditions set by his attorney are not met. How much more of this nonsense will the Common Council take before they finally pull the plug on this project?
Below are the lyrics to "Dear Jackson," fictitiously written from Doig to Kinney and sung to the tune of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence":
Dear Jackson, won’t you pay out to play Dear Jackson, greet the brand new direct pay The condo’s not up, C.D. Smith is blue TIFs are beautiful or so says you Dear Jackson won't you pay out to play
Dear Jackson open up your eyes Dear Jackson see the term sheet lies The Council is low the bloggers will sing that you are part of everything Dear Jackson won't you open up your eyes?
Let me break ground ground Let me breakground ground ground Let me break ground
Dear Jackson read my letter and get riled Dear Jackson I'm like a little child The banks will be a royal pain So let me see you get riled again Dear Jackson won't you let me see you riled?
Dear Jackson, won’t you pay out to play Dear Jackson, greet the brand new direct pay The condo’s not up, C.D. Smith is blue TIFs are beautiful or so says you Dear Jackson won't you pay out to play
Five Rivers: Frightening Bait and Switch in the Works
Today a front page, above the fold story in the Oshkosh Northwestern starts off with this ominous sentence: "Oshkosh officials may be steering toward a 180-degree course change in the taxpayer-protection guidelines for the deal launching $60 million Five Rivers Resort." City officials have insisted on a "financing first, agreement next" strategy designed to offer at least some protection to city taxpayers.
But now C.D. Smith Construction, the main financier of the project, calls that strategy a "dealbreaker." They claim it's not possible to sell condo units without a developer's agreement in hand. Miles Maguire explains the problem with the "new" strategy here.
To me this looks like a classic bait and switch: the developer gets a "letter of commitment" from a lucrative construction firm, the city officials claim that it looks as if the term sheet financing requirements have been met, but then we find out that the lucrative construction firm will only go forward if we have a 180 degree turn in strategy. What a charade.
At least the consultants are making out okay: over $50,000 in fees reported so far. Not bad for a project that has little to no public support or confidence behind it.
You probably missed this in the news, since it's about as bold as a 90-pound weakling on Muscle Beach, but the Democrats this week unveiled "A New Direction For America." According to the Boston Post (registration required), "Though House Democrats bristle at comparisons to the Republicans' 1994 'Contract With America,' the wide range of domestic proposals represent an answer to the GOP's oft-repeated charge that the Democrats lack ideas for governing."
And what are the "range of domestic proposals" that Dems will be running on this year? Get ready for these shockers: make health care more affordable, lower gas prices and achieve energy independence, help working families, cut college costs, ensure dignified retirement, require fiscal responsibility.
Russ Feingold warned Wisconsin Democrats at last week's state convention that even though the Republicans are down in the polls and in disarray, the Democrats could not take back the majority in the House or Senate by merely "running out the clock." Yet the "New Direction" is so trite and tepid that it is obvious the party leadership plans on doing just that.
Besides being trite and tepid, there's nothing in the New Direction that is actually new. Dems have been mouthing these non-threatening platitudes for years. Here are some examples of what would really be a new direction for the Dems:
*Instead of making health care more affordable, call for a single-payer, national health care policy. *Instead of calling for lower gas prices, call for a reform of the auto centered, inefficient sprawl culture that got us in the energy mess in the first place. *Instead of helping working families by calling for a rise in the minimum wage, call for making the minimum wage a living wage for all full-time workers. *Instead of merely cutting college costs, call for free tuition for anyone who can make the grades.
What becomes clear when reading the "New Direction" is that the Dems are clearly part of the "culture of corruption" they have been lambasting for the last two years. To call for a real new direction would be to offend those wealthy interests that are financing both major parties. As a result the New Direction is only the Same Old Story. If the New Direction is the best Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership could come up with, and if Russ Feingold is correct in his assessment of the run out the clock strategy, 2006 could end up being a Dem Disaster.
Winnebago County District 20 Supervisor Mike Norton emailed the letter below to the Oshkosh Common Council. He copied me on it. I applaud Mike for having the courage and common sense to stand up for voters with disabilities by saying NO to inferior technology.
Dear City Council person :
As you all know I am a member of the Winnebago County Board, and we are considering an application for a grant to cover the costs of voting machines to comply with HAVA.
I am not against a grant that covers the whole county; I support that idea. I do oppose the machines the clerks chose--Diebolt machines. I voted against the grant in May and expect to do the same next week as well.
I find these machines very unsecured when securing an individual's vote, plus the handicapped at the meeting had problems with the voting device. I also question whether the clerks in Winnebago County did consider the handicapped themselves, for they did not bring them in to evaluate the machines when deciding what to purchase.
I like ESS (which the city of Appleton uses) which I saw demonstrated online which is less cumbersome and I believe it gives a paper ballot to the voter who then handles and puts it into the counter. I also like Vote Pad which cannot be used with optical scan machines at the present time. I wonder if a municipality appealed to the SEB to allow them to use it with optical scan machines they would change their mind?
I believe that no matter what the County Board does next Tuesday the decision on what to purchase will be decided by you. I hope that you question the security of this machine as well as what is best for the handicapped voters in the city of Oshkosh. I do ask that you vote in favor of another machine or voting system - check out the other systems yourself or invite them to your meeting before the vote. In Outagamie County two of the other voting systems are used.
Any questions feel free to contact me.
MIKE NORTON 1029- B SOUTH MAIN STREET OSHKOSH, WI 54902 920-426-1051
Michael Berg, The Greens, and Pacifism: Twisted???
Like Cindy Sheehan, Michael Berg has the wingnuts in a tizzy. Michael is the father of Nick Berg, the independent American contractor brutally murdered in Iraq. Michael Berg is now a Green Party candidate for Congress in Delaware. In an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, Berg refused to rejoice in the death of al-Zarqawi, argued that his death will ignite more violence in Iraq, and said that Saddam Hussein was no worse than George Bush.
Right wing talk radio host Dennis Prager used the interview and other statements made by Berg as an opportunity to trash not only him, but also Cindy Sheehan, pacifism, and the Green Party. He writes that "the attention paid to Michael Berg has been very helpful in enabling many more people to understand the thinking and values of the Green Party -- and those on the left sympathetic to the Greens -- and of pacifism. Thinking and values that are, in a word, twisted."
According to Prager, "pacifists are often personally sweet and endearing people who advocate 'peace,' and therefore their doctrine is usually spared the moral contempt it merits. Among its many moral and intellectual weaknesses, pacifism ensures that cruelty will prevail on earth."
Ah ha! So it is Michael Berg and others of his ilk who are responsible for the prevalence of cruelty on earth. At least he is in good company. Here is a partial list of others who, at least according to Dennis Prager I assume, have been responsible for global cruelty:
I think when people like Prager criticize pacifism, they are thinking of it as "passive," the idea that one should do literally nothing in the face of evil. Ward Churchill on the left shares that view, referring to pacifism as a "pathology." Pacifism is in fact a philosophy of action; it merely rejects war and violence as solutions to conflict. So deeply ingrained is the ideology of violence in the world that, as John Lennon would have said, we cannot even "imagine" a world without it.
Michael Berg will not vote for any more invasions; he will not stay silent while lives are expended to satisfy the world order fantasies of whomever happens to be sitting in the White House or the Pentagon. Perhaps if we start electing "twisted" people like Michael Berg to congress, we might begin to develop a nation and world worth leaving behind to the next generation.
After a lengthy meeting featuring a Diebold TSX demonstration, citizen statements, an extremely disappointing presentation by State Elections Board Director Kevin Kennedy, and supervisor questions, the county board voted to bring the resolution to approve acceptance of a grant to purchase new voting machines up for a vote at the June 20th meeting.
None of the people with disabilities who attended the meeting and tried the Diebold machine appeared to be all that thrilled with it. One man expressed concern about the quality of the audio, another said he had trouble voting straight ticket, another said the quality of the machine was less important than the fact that people with disabilities had not been involved meaningfully in any part of the selection process to this point.
Many citizens spoke, almost all of them in opposition to the Diebold TSX. Kathleen Propp told the board that the League of Women Voters stands in opposition to the Diebold touch screen. John Lemberger said that the board had reached a "fork in the road" with one way leading to what is legally correct, the other leading to what is morally correct. He argued that rejecting an unreliable machine was the morally correct thing to do. Ann Frisch called for a citizens' commission empowered to explore methods of ensuring accessibility and to make recommendations, and she also laid out some of the costs involved with the Diebold TSX. Ron Hardy talked about Diebold and the outsourcing of our elections. Several speakers discussed the lack of trust in the Diebold TSX even if the security of the machine was less of a concern. Others said that the county needed to take time to make the right decision by investigating all the approved machines, and to have a real public hearing at which an independent security expert would be invited to speak. Several city and town clerks spoke, and their interest appeared to be mostly in efficiency and compatibility issues more than anything else. Indeed, citizen Drew Mueske followed the clerks and reminded everyone that the issue is access for people with disabilities, not efficiency and compatibility. UW Oshkosh computer scientist Bruce Hungerford explained some of the technical issues involved with vote hacking. Dianna Smith was there to represent Vote-PAD, but was not allowed to demonstrate the equipment.
By far the most disappointing part of the evening was the presentation by State Elections Board Director Kevin Kennedy. Sounding more like a Diebold spokesman than an objective state employee, he shamelessly minimized all the alleged security problems of the TSX as being "academic." He insisted that all the potential problems with the machine can be taken care of by poll workers following the SEB's security recommendations. Most appalling, he accused elections officials around the country who have done their own independent testing of the machines of "breaking the law." He did not mention their names, but he was clearly talking about Bruce Funk of Utah and Ion Sancho of Florida, election officials of the highest integrity who not only did not break the law, but were fired (in the case of Funk) and harassed (in the case of Sancho) merely for trying to uphold the integrity of elections in their counties. These "election whistleblowers" are heroes in the best sense.
It was difficult to tell what impact Mr. Kennedy's dissembling, obfuscation, and smoke and mirrors was having on the board. Some seem to want to "wash their hands" of the situation and simply drop everything on the laps of the clerks. Kennedy's presentation and responses to questions strongly implied that that is what they should do.
The most responsible action for the board to take on Tuesday would be the following: delay the vote again, establish a real public hearing with demonstrations of all SEB approved machines (a computer security expert should be invited to the hearing), and solicit a recommendation from local disability rights activists. Only if it follows this or a similar procedure can the board say that it acted conscientiously on this issue of vital importance to the integrity of our democracy.
File this one in the "you can't make up shit like this" category. 87-yearl old Ted Junker has built a $200,000 shrine to Adolph Hitler next to his home in Walworth County, claiming that the fuhrer was "misunderstood." If someone built a shrine to Osama, or Saddam, or Mahmoud A., how long do you think it would take for it and the house to get torched?
Drew Mueske of the Winnebago Peace and Justice Center has made these posters for the Diebold rally to be held at 4:15 p.m. today (before the special Winnebago County Board meeting). The TSX on the posters refers to the Diebold TSX machine the county is proposing to purchase.
During discussion of the Five Rivers Update at Tuesday's Oshkosh Common Council meeting, new councilor Dennis McHugh said that he doesn't understand why city staff is still negotiating with Five Rivers' management since they did not meet the conditions of the "term sheet" by the May 31st deadline. McHugh's no-nonsense approach on Five Rivers was exactly what citizens who voted for him expected. It was nice to hear him deliver.
Councilor Bryan Bain expressed frustration at the fact that the Council approved a term sheet that apparently, according to city staff, does not require the Council to vote on a developer agreement. In fairnes to the Council, EVERYONE who has followed this issue closely took it as a given that the Council would vote on the developer agreement. Indeed, during the spring election cycle candidates were repeatedly asked their views on Five Rivers issues with the full expectation being that the 2006-2007 Council would have the opportunity to pull the plug on the project.
In my citizen statement I argued that if the Council cannot vote on the developer agreement, then (a) someone who voted for the term sheet in March should make a motion to rescind it or (b) in the likely event the Council is asked to give the developer another extension, they should vote it down.
While doing some research for a paper, I came across an excellent website, The American Presidency Project. A political junkie's dream, the site includes a wealth of public documents including the platforms of all parties receiving electoral votes from 1840-2004. Look at what the Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party Platform of 1912 says about the "Old Parties," and ask yourself if the donkey and the elephant have changed one bit in almost 100 years:
Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people.
From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.
To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
The deliberate betrayal of its trust by the Republican party, the fatal incapacity of the Democratic party to deal with the new issues of the new time, have compelled the people to forge a new instrument of government through which to give effect to their will in laws and institutions.
Unhampered by tradition, uncorrupted by power, undismayed by the magnitude of the task, the new party offers itself as the instrument of the people to sweep away old abuses, to build a new and nobler commonwealth.
Teddy Roosevelt ran for president as the Progressive Party candidate after he failed to earn the Republican Party nomination. He received 88 electoral votes (to only 8 for the Republican incumbent William Howard Taft). Wisconsin went for the Democrat and winner that year, Woodrow Wilson.
According to Jef Hall's County Board Blog, a representative from Vote-PAD will be at the June 14th meeting. For unstated and unexplained reasons, Chairman David Albrecht would not place Vote-PAD on the agenda to demonstrate their equipment. How are supervisors supposed to make an informed judgement if they are not able to see all State Elections Board approved equipment demonstrated?
On Friday in this blog I argued that the "Five Rivers Update" scheduled to be delivered during the "Whatever else is pertinent or for the good of the city" portion of the June 13th Oshkosh Common Council meeting should be moved up in the agenda so as to give citizens a chance to comment on it. Councilors Meredith Scheuermann and Bryan Bain said that they would try to help get the item moved in the agenda. Mr. Bain just posted this message in the blog linked above:
"Mayor Castle has agreed with my request to move 'Whatever Else is Pertinent or for the Good of the City,' which will be an update on Five Rivers, to before 'Citizen Statements' so that citizens will have an opportunity to speak on the issue and comment on the update. He will announce this at the beginning of tomorrow's meeting." -Bryan
Many thanks to Bryan Bain for his efforts in trying to ensure citizens have the opportunity to participate meaningfully on Five Rivers.
Meanwhile the Northwestern on Tuesday presents even more evidence that the developer did not even come close to doing what he was supposed to do by May 31st.
While hurricane season threatens once again to wreak havoc in Florida, come July 1 that state's children will be blown away by new Orwellian education standards fit for life in a totalitarian society. Specifically, Governor Jeb Bush last week signed a 160-page Education Omnibus Bill, part of which bans the teaching of "revisionist history" in the schools. Check out some of the Bill language:
"The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth."
“American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Teachers are charged with teaching “the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy.”
Florida is the home of the Seminole tribe, the "unconquered people" who never surrendered to the US government, yet Indians receive no mention in the new history standards. According to Historian Bruce Craig: "Special provisions mandate the teaching of the history of the Holocaust, the history of African Americans, and Hispanic 'contributions' to the United States. The role that Native Americans played in American history escapes mention."
Craig says further: "While the goal of the bill’s designers is 'to raise historical literacy' concerning the documents, people, and events that shaped the nation, some history educators question the emphasis on teaching only 'facts.' State Representative Shelley Vana, who also serves as the West Palm Beach teachers union president wonders 'whose facts would they be, Christopher Columbus’s or the Indians?'"
Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.
The result was a flurry of new interpretations, casting doubt on the entire past as we had previously understood it. Because one theory was as good as another, then nothing could be true or false. God, nation, family and school: It was all up for grabs.
There's just one problem with this history-of-our-history: It's wrong.
Hardly a brainchild of the flower-power '60s, the concept of historical interpretation has been at the heart of our profession from the 1920s onward. Before that time, to be sure, some historians believed that they could render a purely factual and objective account of the past. But most of them had given up on what historian Charles Beard called the "noble dream" by the interwar period, when scholars came to realize that the very selection of facts was an act of interpretation.
George Orwell's 1984 contains this lesson: "He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past." Jeb Bush and the majority of the Florida legislature have learned the Orwellian lesson well.
A special Winnebago County Board meeting has been called and will discuss and vote on a motion to accept the Diebold voting machines. Please consider asking your county board representative to vote "no" on the motion and wait to study how we can best serve the needs of people with disabilities without jeopardizing their votes with a Diebold machine that lacks accuracy, reliability and security.
Here is the information on the hearing, how to reach your county board member. At the bottom are "Myths and Facts" about the Diebold voting machines.
Please forward to democracy-friendly people and ask them to do the same.
Wednesday June 14, 4:30 p.m. Winnebago County Court House, 415 Jackson, corner of Algoma and Jackson, Oshkosh. "Public hearing" (actually a special board meeting on Diebold touch screen machines for Winnebago County). Please come to voice your opposition to the Diebold machines and support democracy-friendly alternatives. We will have some signs for you. Please stay for the "show and tell" by Diebold at 5, and the public hearing /county board
MYTH: The Help America Vote Act requires that each polling place have a Diebold touch screen voting machine available to assist disabled voters.
FACT: Section 301(3)(A) of HAVA says that each polling place must have "one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilities."
MYTH: The electronic Diebold TSX system that county officials propose to purchase is a reliable and secure piece of equipment.
FACT: Prominent computer scientists have discovered major security flaws in the Diebold technology, resulting in lawsuits in several states to prevent its use, emergency security alerts before recent elections in California and Pennsylvania, and a vote in the Maryland assembly of 137 - 0 to stop using touch screen machines.
MYTH: It's okay if a voting machine is insecure as long as it is accessible for disabled voters
FACT: Disabled voters have the right to have their votes counted accurately as much as any other voter.
MYTH: Even though there are problems with the Diebold TSx, there are no other options available to Winnebago County.
FACT: The voting machines of five vendors have met the Wisconsin State Elections Board's (SEB) accessibility requirements. When the SEB approved the Diebold TSX, they also approved five security recommendations to go along with it. Diebold is the only machine that comes with security recommendations in addition to those provided by the vendor.
MYTH: The federal government will level stiff fines against any states and counties that do not have touch screen voting technology in place by the September primaries.
FACT: A growing number of states and counties are refusing to undermine their elections with shoddy voting equipment, making it unclear how the federal government will respond. "We're currently evaluating each state and each county, and the results of that evaluation will determine what actions we take," said Eric Holland, spokesman for the United States Department of Justice.
MYTH: We should just accept that there will be some glitches in the electronic, touch screen machines and move on.
FACT When other systems fail the poll workers have a voter marked ballot to examine to determine voter intent. With the Diebold machine, there is no ballot to examine.
MYTH: Adopting the Diebold touch screen machines will save us money.
FACT: No cost estimates have been done to include court suits, replacement machines, replacement batteries, increased number of poll workers, etc.
Watch the Chicks do "Not Ready to Make Nice" from the Letterman show. Natalie sings it with great passion, especially these lines:
I made by bed, and I sleep like a baby, With no regrets and I don't mind saying, It's a sad sad story That a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger. And how in the world Can the words that I said Send somebody so over the edge That they'd write me a letter Saying that I better shut up and sing Or my life will be over
The words that she said, of course, were delivered in 2003: "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
According to the Sunday Northwestern coverage of the continuing P.T. Barnum Resort saga, "city staff is backing off initial pronouncements that [developer Tom] Doig met the city's demand for financing documentation and that the project could move forward with the vote of the council." City manager Dick Wollangk does not believe that a September 20th groundbreaking is likely, and he says that the council would have to vote to extend the deadline.
If such a vote takes place, it would take place in the context of the council having knowledge that:
The choice of "direct pay" (more taxpayer risk) vs. the "pay as you go" (less taxpayer risk) subsidy options is at the discretion of the developer who, not surprisingly, wants direct pay.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a lodging analyst who called condo-hotels "a complicated and risk filled asset class that lack a long-term track record." (You would hope that Oshkosh elected officials would want to see a track record of success for such developments before going forward--otherwise we risk being "guinea pigs for this guy.")
City staff apparently interprets the "term sheet" as not giving the council a vote on the yet to be inked developer agreement. (How could any elected official continue to support a project in which he or she has effectively been disenfranchised?)
Given all of the above, it is difficult to imagine how any member of the council could vote for another extension. They should vote NO on any proposed extension and finally pull the plug on this project.
Victory for animal rights as Ralph Lauren shuns fur
The London Independent tells the story here. According to PETA, Ralph Lauren apparently made the decision to eliminate fur after viewing this shocking video from inside a Chinese fur factory (warning: the video is extremely disturbing).
President Bush's former speechwriter Matthew Scully has become a leading advocate of ethical treatment for animals, which he calls genuine compassionate conservatism. My Radio Commentary interview with Scully can be found here.
"Five Rivers Update" Should Be In City Manager's Report
According to the agenda for the for the June 13th Oshkosh Common Council meeting, there will be a "Five Rivers Update" under "Whatever Else Is Pertinent Or For The Good Of The City." Having the update during that part of the meeting provides citizens with no opportunity to comment on it.
The Five Rivers Update belongs in the Report of the City Manager. Placing the update there would allow citizens the opportunity to comment on it. Five Rivers is a major project which will make use of huge public subsidies, yet the public has had little formal opportunity for comment.
If the Council will not move the Five Rivers Update to the Report of the City Manager section of the meeting, they should at least allow citizens the opportunity to make comments after the Update is delivered during the "Whatever Else Is Pertinent . . ." section.
Contact the Council and ask them to move to revise the agenda so that the Five Rivers Update is placed in the Report of the City Manager. Tell them that if the Five Rivers Update remains in the "Whatever Else Is Pertinent . . ." section, then citizens should be given an opportunity to comment after the Update is delivered.
Continuing the Doyle Administration era trend of making public higher education more expensive and less accessible for children of middle class and poor families, the Board of Regents yesterday raised tuition another 6.8%. UW System tuition has now been raised more than 50%(!) in the last four years.
Regent Jesus Salas of Milwaukee questioned the level to which institutions were able to meet the Board’s intent to protect student instruction as they reduced budgets. He noted that many of the cuts came from budgets for instruction, institutional support, student services and academic support. He particularly noted cuts in UW-Madison’s English-as-a-Second-Language Program, and the reduction of an affirmative action officer position at UW-Oshkosh.
UW-Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells explained that the campus’s long-time affirmative-action officer has taken another position in human resources on campus, but with help from another staffer, continues to fulfill the duties of the position in order to manage budget cuts. Wells said he intends to refill the full-time position in 2007-08.
“You’re looking at real life on campus,” Wells said of the cuts, noting that tough decisions had to be made, but that the campus continued to serve the same number of students, and even added positions in advising and career services. “We stayed committed to the access mission.”
With all due respect to Regent Salas, who is actually the most conscientious member of the Board, the reduction of the affirmative action officer has been one of the more painless cost saving measures on our campus. Last year's letter from the Faculty Senate to Governor Doyle described the real impacts the cuts have had on our educational mission:
The increasing numbers of students taught by each of our decreasing number of faculty has caused a shift to more part-time instructors, fewer essay examinations, fewer writing assignments, and less individual teacher-student interaction. We have been forced to decrease the student support services that are most important for less well-prepared students, and to delay or ignore preventative maintenance of our physical facilities and replacement of obsolete laboratory and computer equipment. Further, some major and minor programs have been eliminated, and forced internal reallocations have decreased the quality of those programs that remain.
The June 14th Winnebago County Board of Supervisors Special Meeting Agenda has been released. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. and includes a reconsideration of the resolution to accept a grant to purchase electronic voting machines.
The Board should not vote to reconsider on the 14th for two main reasons. First, the June 14th meeting from the beginning was supposed to be a public hearing. It has now degenerated into a forum for Diebold reps to perform a touch screen show and tell, a presentation by State Elections Board director Kevin Kennedy, and a motion to reconsider the resolution. It's also not clear from the agenda where citizen statements fit. Before Diebold and Kennedy? After? Will citizens have the opportunity to question Diebold and Kennedy?
Second, disabled people and their representatives are owed a demonstration of all voting equipment approved by the State Elections Board. From the agenda it is not clear that all vendors have been invited. It is unacceptable for only Diebold reps to have the opportunity to demonstrate their equipment, especially when advocates for the disabled have expressed frustration that they "have had little say in which kind of equipment Winnebago County chooses, let alone if it's the most usable choice for the disabled population." (from the Oshkosh Northwestern).
Contact your supervisor NOW and let him or her know that a vote to reconsider at the 14th meeting is premature will not allow enough time to examine alternatives to the Diebold TSX. Also tell them to read this important report by professor Doug Jones.
"Only natural persons possess civil and political rights. Corporations are creations of state law and possess no legitimate civil or political rights . . . . The people of Humboldt County make the affirmative legislative finding that corporate contributions in elections are imminently undermining our democratic processes, and are denigrating rather than protecting First Amendment interests . . . . "
John Nichols explores the significance of the vote in this online piece for The Nation. He says:
The "Yes on T" campaign was rooted in regard for the American experiment, from its slogan "Vote Yes for Local Control of Our Democracy," to the references to Tuesday's election as a modern-day "Boston Tea Party," to the quote from Thomas Jefferson that was highlighted in election materials: "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
George Clooney's "Las Ramblas" condo-hotel development in Vegas has failed, sold to Edge Resorts. Well, not really "failed": Clooney and his partners purchased the land for $75 million and sold it for $202 million.
This raises an interesting question for Oshkosh. If the $60 million Five Rivers Resort fails, which is a distinct possibility given the fact that the developer comes in with a construction company backed financing package 2 minutes after a deadline, is there an Edge Resorts out there ready to take the behemoth off our hands? Not likely, which is why our ace planning department is coming up with the mother of all "risk mitigators" to minimize the [likely] outcome in which the behemoth gets dumped on taxpayers.
Hold on to your wallet, we're in for quite a ride. The city government ain't Clooney, but maybe just a little Looney.
Mississippi Meltdown + Dobbs on Threat to Democracy
Well, it's already starting: reports of malfunctioning touch screen voting machines in states holding primaries today. In Mississippi, problems are "surfacing across the state." The spokesman for the Secretary of State echoed a common theme among election administrators in all states stuck with these electronic lemons: "We expect some bumps in the road." My question is, why? Why should there be ANY bumps in the road when we are talking about voting? Can't we at least secure our voting machines as well as we secure the slots? The "bump in the road" canard is an embarrassing way to rationalize the purchase of flawed, unreliable equipment. Shame on election officials who lobby for the purchase of the equipment even when they have full knowledge of the well documented problems.
Top-40 radio might be tolerable if they still made songs like "Nothing From Nothing" (I'm pretty sure this was the first song and Preston was the first musical artist ever to perform on "Saturday Night Live," although Janis Ian was on the first SNL too and she may have performed first.).
Jackson Kinney's response to questions posed about the Five Rivers financing package can be found here. The answers are somewhat horrifying: Kinney claims that the choice of a "direct pay" vs. "pay as you go" development assistance option is a decision to be made by the developer! Nothing to worry about though, because "various security/guarantee measures will be built into the development agreement to protect the city/RDA's interests." Well that settles that.
It's difficult to read Kinney's statements without coming to the conclusion that the almost total lack of public oversight of the Five Rivers project to this point has now landed us in a very precarious, quite possibly catastrophic situation. If the project goes forward under these conditions, it ought to be called the P.T. Barnum Resort since we would have been taken for suckers.
The troops in Iraq face daily threats from IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Turns out that here in the States you can be victimized by another kind of IED: "Intermittent Explosive Disorder," which is the technical name for outbursts like Road Rage. According to CNN, up to 16 million Americans suffer from IED.
Can you imagine anything more absurd than a $60 million condo/hotel development with a huge public subsidy taking place when the citizens of the community, the elected officials, and probably the city manager--are completely clueless as to the details and viability of the developers' financing scheme? Can you imagine having to get questions answered not in a public forum, but via email exchanges with the planning department? Can you imagine the elected officials not standing up to demand a vote on the developer agreement? Does all this nonsense solidify Oshkosh's reputation--when it comes to development anyway--as a banana republic, or what?
On its website, C.D. Smith construction offers as a "service" what they call a "Design, Build, Lease" (DBL) option. They say that, "With the financial resources of C.D. Smith, we have the ability to build and then lease the building back to the client." Is this the service that Five Rivers developer Tom Doig has solicited from C.D. Smith? We don't know.
Miles Maguire of Oshkosh News wondered yesterday what the Northwestern would say, and ended up with a very charitable take on an editorial that actually said this: "A company the size and reputation of Smith isn't going to become involved in a project with doubts." There, doesn't that inspire confidence?
Pima County, Arizona supervisors have twice rejected resolutions calling for the purchase of Diebold touch screen machines. See this story (can click "proceed to story" to avoid filling out survey) for a textbook case of how the supervisors have had to deal with bogus threats of federal penalties, election officials who assume that only touch screen machines meet the disability access requirements of the Help America Vote Act (a FALSE assumption), and Diebold pressure tactics.
Here in Winnebago County, we have been told that the feds will throw fines at us if we are not compliant with the Help America Vote Act by the September primaries. Yet in the story linked above, a Department of Justice spokesman is cited as saying that the feds have not decided yet how they will handle noncompliance. "We're currently evaluating each state and each county, and the results of that evaluation will determine what actions we take," said Eric Holland, the Justice spokesman.
A disturbing part of the story deals with why Pima County cannot use the ESS AutoMark system, a voting system looked on favorably by disability advocates. Pima County, like Winnebago County, currently uses the Diebold optical scan machines. But check this out:
". . . Diebold will not allow its equipment to be tested with competitors' equipment. That means Pima County could not buy AutoMark voting machines to use with Diebold optical scanners, [Deputy Secretary of State Kevin] Tyne said."
Is this the case in Winnebago County? Will Diebold not allow its equipment to be tested with competitors' equipment? Is this why the Board chair has to this point only allowed only one vendor--Diebold--to speak at the June 14th hearing?