Monday, March 07, 2005

Doris and friends

It is some deep quality of humans that we keep at life; we keep coming back, even when hope is barely remembered. Like the jungle villagers of the South Pacific who, after the Second World War, built bamboo airplaines along the abandoned runways, hoping to lure back the big birds that had brought them such wonders. So, while the memory of a better nation lingers, we do our citizen rituals and we hope that some majik may intervene to make the rituals effective. Keeping on is what we are doing now. If there is hope, and there always is, perhaps it is the Far Right's overreach in key areas, most especially Social Security, that may yet wake our neighbors to the takeover afoot. It is up to us to reelectrify the third rail with our own energy.

Speaking of energy, Doris "Granny D" Haddock, one of our inspirations, is resting at home (actually next door at her son's home) in Dublin, New Hampshire. She still has a plastic tube in her neck, but she can speak without too much difficulty and is expecting to have some further repairs made that will get he back on Democracy Road. She may take some time to get around to all the thanks for cards and flowers. Her hospital room was a clearing house for bouquets. After she admired each new arrival, she had the nurses find someone in the hospital who had not received any. The entire wing was soon bursting in bloom. She extends her thanks for the love and encouragement. She received a nice bouquet from her Senate competitor, Sen. Judd Gregg, and another from Governor Lynch. She sent that one home to sit beside her daughter's ashes.

Her friends in her town, and the towns around--many of whom were active in her Senate campaign--quickly organized a visiting nurse committee to make it possible for Doris to spring from the hospital and recover at home.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Trouper Granny D

For those who follow the adventures of 95 year-old progressive activist Doris Granny D Haddock, yes, she is in a New Hampshire hospital and, yes, they did think her throat surgery last Friday would cost her the future use of her legendary voice. We visited her yesterday and today, and, though she is reduced to scribbling on a note pad to communicate, she assured us she is not through speaking out. "I will speak on Monday," one of her notes claimed. That's when the doctors will fit her with a new tracheotomy tube that will allow her a better chance to vocalize. She says she will be rid of even that device in a couple of weeks so she can get back on the trail to support political reforms around the U.S.
"She's just amazing!" one of the nurses told us in the hall. We knew that.

--Dennis Burke

Friday, January 28, 2005

Puttin' on the Ritz in DC

Thank you, Dear Readers, for helping to send us to DC to cover the inaugural protests. In this issue, you'll see Judy Hanna's review of the trip, photos by our cub reporter, and several photo albums and video clips that will give you a sense of the moment. You can watch the photos in a slide show by selecting "slides" at the top of the photo. I especially love the photos of Granny D; it was a great honor to spend some time with her. My pictures.

If you have broadband, or are a dialup user with patience, I think you'll enjoy "Puttin' on the Ritz" a video from a sidewalk where real inaugural ball attendees mixed with barb-happy Billionaires for Bush.

Other DC videos snippits, to give you a sense of the zaniness that took some of the pain out of the weekend, include a quick bit by performance poet Chris Chandler, and one typist's sidewalk stenography activism.

Our new page - http://democracyweek.org/mambo/ is dedicated to current news delivered in audio and video formats only. You'll find some of your favorite news sources, as well as a few new ones. If you have ideas of other audio and video news feeds to add, please let us know.

There are articles in this week's issue by Dennis Burke, Judy Hanna, David Swanson and Mike McNeely.

Karen Kilroy
DemocracyWeek Co-Editor/Webmaster

Friday, January 14, 2005

Setttle Back for the Long Ride

From 1968's Easy Rider (screenplay by the late Terry Southern):

George (Jack Nicholson): You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it.

Billy (Dennis Hopper): Huh. Man, everybody got chicken, that's what happened, man. Hey, we can't even get into like, uh, second-rate hotel, I mean, a second-rate motel. You dig? They think we're gonna cut their throat or something, man. They're scared, man.

George: Oh, they're not scared of you. They're scared of what you represent to 'em.

Billy: Hey man. All we represent to them, man, is somebody needs a haircut.

George: Oh no. What you represent to them is freedom.

Billy: What the hell's wrong with freedom, man? That's what it's all about.

George: Oh yeah, that's right, that's what it's all about, all right. But talkin' about it and bein' it - that's two different things. I mean, it's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. 'Course, don't ever tell anybody that they're not free 'cause then they're gonna get real busy killin' and maimin' to prove to you that they are. Oh yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.

Billy: Mmmm, well, that don't make 'em runnin' scared.

George: No, it makes 'em dangerous.

-------------------

The film came out in 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were killed. The Vietnam War was in high gear. We tend to think the hell-in-a-handbasket direction of our country is very recent, when in fact we have been invading the wrong countries and voting the wrong way for quite a few years now. Doris Granny D Haddock's 95th birthday speech, printed in the current edition of Democracy Week, lays out the long term cure for a long term illness. It's worth a read: http://DemocracyWeek.org

The idea of romancing the American protest movement as a Velvet Revolution, American-style, seems to gaining purchase, as you'll read in her remarks. Blogger Brad Friedman (http://BradBlog.com) has joined forces with several other blogger and indy news sources to create http://velvetrevolution.us, which seems to be taking names and preparing for what they hope to be a grand collaboration between protest elements.

The Left is remarkably difficult to organize, however. Its anti-authoritarian bent makes it distrust its own leaders, always looking for fatal imperfections.

Mr. Friedman agrees but sees hope: "There are factions within [the Left] that do (and should!) resist. But I'm quite certain that there is a hunger now for such leadership. Even if there will be spats, disagreements, and if the process of truly organizing gets a bit unruly, as I mentioned, revolutions are messy," he told us.

"It's not quite as easy for the Left to snap into perfect marching form. But, if anything, that's what the movement is about. Freedom," he continued.

"What we have learned (or at least I have) over the past two months or so, is that leadership is desperately sought right now. Our ad hoc groups made tremendous progress over the past weeks. Accomplishing the invocation of an arcane Constitutional provision for only the second time in well over one hundred years [the objection to the Electoral votes cast from Ohio in Congress] was nothing short of miraculous, given the disparate nature of all the folks working on these issues," Mr. Friedman said.

He expanded: "Imagine what we could do if we all came together! At least with an umbrella organization set up to *support* all of the disparate efforts. Not to drive them, or create them, or to force them on anybody. But rather to be able to turn on a dime and funnel people and resources and attention and money to those small groups...or even those single citizens who are doing something so important for democracy, but need the power of the people behind them. That's what I hope Velvet Revolution will be able to do."

Why is he pursuing this new approach?

"Bloggers like myself, at least for now, aren't privileged to receive a paycheck. We do what we do -- or at least I do what I do -- not because I want to, but because I feel as if I have no choice. Believe me, I would rather be doing *anything* but what I find myself doing (via both BRAD BLOG and Velvet Revolution), but I truly feel that if I don't do these things, they won't get done. Unfortunately, I feel that our democracy demands that they get done."

Democracy Week has signed up to help.

--Dennis

Monday, January 03, 2005

No Freedom without a Free Press

The broad-daylight theft and repression of votes in the 2004 election goes largely unreported for reasons that are easy to understand if you simply imagine Columbus' Free Press news journal--nearly the sole open eye on the problems in Ohio--being purchased by a major corporate media chain. The first reporters to go, or to be assigned to write movie reviews, would be Harvey Wasserman, Steve Rosenfeld and Bob Fitrakis. (See their reports at http://freepress.org)

Locally owned news organizations are as vital to our democracy as our Constitution itself. Very few of today's political problems would be with us if the major newspapers and broadcast news organizations were run by the crusty editors of even a generation ago. That is a depressing fact, but it is also encouraging to know that, if we can fix this one problem, we fix many other problems with it.

The fact is, many of the stories being missed are good stories that would sell newspapers and boost broadcast audiences. "Bush linked to bin Laden family; arranges kin's speedy exit," would have been a headline guaranteed to make the newspaper vending machines slam and jingle. We could think of dozens of such opportunities during the last four years. Newsrooms, however, have become career battlegrounds where journalistic zeal has taken a back seat to creative lurking. The easiest way to deflect a story that could put you even one inch out on the limb is to label it a conspiracy theory.

The profit motive is the second problem. Newspapers used to be happy to return a 5% profit to their mostly local investors. Major newspapers now must produce 20% to 40% operating profits to keep the far-away CEO happy. How do you do that? It is cheaper to plant a reporter and a truck at the Scott Peterson trial for two months than to chase a dozen hard stories--especially stories that may require days or even weeks of work before an iffy payoff.

The third problem is that media conglomerates are run by the brand of CEO forged in the Reagan Administration's reign of corporate-raiding terror. Those highly-paid princes justified their pay by turning around companies soaked in debt from hostile takeovers or from self-inflicted overborrowing to stave off takeover. Those CEOs thrived on layoffs and outsourcing, factory closures and union-busting. The bigger the jerk, the more money commanded. They tended, in short, toward the Republican side of life. They are now in charge of much of our dwindling economy, and they write memos to editors who let leftie articles find their way into print or broadcast. They are not into benign neglect, because, if for no other reason, they hate it when Karl Rove calls about a story.

Forms of corporate torture, most notably the performance review, wherein the detainee it invited to list his or her own crimes and shortcomings, have taken over what used to be a mentored brotherhood and sisterhood of the news. Unpaid or low-paid interns now compete with young reporters, keeping entry wages low and making each promotion or performance review a critical emergency for the family budget.

I know people at major broadcast networks who have to clear all their stories with the top brass, and they are often asked to rewrite them from a more conservative point of view. It is soul-deadening to work for such organizations.

We have to save these folks--these dedicated reporters and editors who dearly wish they could be journalists again.

That will be one of our missions in the next few years. It must be, if we're to have a democracy.

Please see http://DemocracyWeek.org for this week's unreported big story: Ohio.

--Dennis

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Ohio Suspicions Continue

A third sighting of Triad representatives "adjusting" election machines before the Ohio recount has been documented. The following is the latest--an email from an election observer:

"I am in the process of collecting information from all the Wisconsin volunteers, but would like to share what I personally experienced in Mercer County. Mercer only had one table, so we designated two volunteers to be the actual witnesses for the G/Lib Parties and three more of us observed from outside the counting room. Mercer had the recount set up in the BOE office. When you enter the office there is a space approximately 6 X 10 ft. between the door and a high counter with a narrow opening in it. Behind this counter are the desks of the employees, and behind them is a door to a small back office. That's where the recount was to take place. One table was set with four chairs. We were told that the punch card ballots would be examined by one Democrat and one Republican, and that the results would be tabulated by another team consisting of a Democrat and a Republican. Only one problem: the Democratic tabulator had called in sick and there was no replacement for him. In addition, the county attorney (a Democrat) was present and a woman from Blackwell's office. She was seated on a stool inside the door. Everyone else was forced to stand up during the entire recount process, which seemed to be a needless inconvenience that could easily have been resolved.

"Observers outside the room included two men who stated that they were Republicans, two Wisconsin volunteers, a local woman who was our contact person, and an attorney who identified himself as representing the Republican Party. When the recount was about to begin, the Republican attorney was invited to stand in the doorway to take down all the names of those in attendance. I asked that one of us be allowed the same courtesy, and that's why I know how the room was laid out and who was in there. We had been kept waiting initially in a reception room until just after the appointed time, and all the personnel were already in place before we were admitted to the office.

"The Deputy Director of the Mercer County BOE was delegated the task of explaining the procedures to those of us who were observing outside the room. She came out to show us the header card and explain the rotation of candidates, and in the course of this she mentioned that because Nader had been disqualified, any votes for him were not counted. I remembered our discussion during the training about the need to get the tally of ballots for which no presidential votes were recorded, and started wondering how many of these were actually Nader votes. I asked our local contact person if Nader's name had been covered on the actual punch card units at the polls and she replied that they had not been and that this had been controversial.

"The county's attorney came out during the counting and I asked him about the Nader votes. I specifically asked him if it was possible for us to get a number on those, after we discussed the fact that Nader's name was not covered, which could have caused confusion among voters. He told me that signs had been posted in every poll, but that he would see if we could get a count. He returned to say that the only way we could get this number would be to request and pay for a complete hand recount because the company that provides the tabulating equipment and computer software had come in before the election and reprogrammed everything to simply ignore the Nader votes. I asked who the vendor was, and he replied Triad Systems. I then asked if they had been back to service the equipment at any time since November 2, 2004. He replied that, as a matter of fact, they had been at the Mercer County BOE the day prior to the recount. He further stated that he was told that there was some problem with the tabulator, and that the technician had replaced a switch. I asked him to clarify that the tabulator being used in the recount had been disassembled by this Triad technician, and altered in that process within the past day, and he reiterated that was the case. Then he pointed to the hallway outside the office and stated that the technician who had done the work was still on the premises, waiting in the hall should he be needed for any reason.

"I went outside and called our coordinator who requested that we get the name of the technician and any information he was willing to provide as to what he had done to the machine. One of our volunteers returned to the building and engaged him in a conversation. It turned out he had actually disassembled the tabulator at 7:30 that morning. He said he'd replaced a box containing a switch, and then made a remark to the effect that he didn't have anything to do with the software, that he's just a hardware technician. We have his name and more details on this conversation which will be sent along to our coordinator.

"I then had a conversation with our local contact person and she told me that the woman representing Blackwell had until recently been the Director of the Mercer County BOE. She still has her office in the county, but now works directly for Blackwell in some capacity which is unclear. Evidently she travels from county to county in the area doing, well, who knows what?

"Our group had prepared a checklist of items to be covered/information requested at the recount by the observers in the room. One item concerned whether any of the counting equipment had been serviced. I have only verbal confirmation so far that the question was asked, and that the officials denied that this had occurred. Apparently not all participants in Mercer County are reading off the same page in the playbook.

"It seems to us that the tampering with the vote counting equipment demands greater scrutiny of the Mercer County results. In addition to this activity, which is on its face suspicious, we were denied access to the poll registry and the 3% of ballots to be recounted were already selected in advance. To give an appearance of randomness, two precincts with vote totals closest to the 3% required were preselected, and then a coin was tossed to choose which one to recount. This was a meaningless sham of course.

"Unlike other counties at which the Wisconsin volunteers were present, our volunteers did not have the opportunity to see what happened when the data was transferred from the tabulator machine to the computer compiling the votes. The officials present did claim, however, that this computer is not networked to any other. I would not accept this on its face since they were not honest about the equipment being serviced the day of the recount. Surely they all knew this had occurred.

"As soon as everyone has had a chance to write up their notes on the details of the count, I will post the information and send it along with further details.

--Joanne Roush

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Ohio Focus

We scrapped our lighter stories this week to focus on the Ohio recount. As with so many stories of the last four years, the bright spot was the patriotic energy of the volunteers, who camped around the clock to guard buildings, drove through snow, and even suffered harassment--one volunteer was stalked by two identical SUV's that ran her into a ditch. Also like other stories of this era, the week was marred by officialdom's rudeness and disrespect for the law.

It is likely that the mainstream press will pronounce "Ohio Recount Fizzles," in that no warehouses full of miscounted votes were found. If they exist, however, not much was done this week to find them. As with the voter registration phase and election day itself, villainy along Democracy Road in our time doesn't express itself in a single shot from a high window, but in a deep roll of muffled puffs from every knoll.

We owe a special thanks this week to Karen Kilroy, our Ohio-based webmaster, who braved many a snowy night this week to get the story and to take some of the only video of the counting process itself.

--Dennis