Opinion polls in Georgia on the eve of the 2002 general election showed Democratic incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes leading by 9-11 points and Sen. Max Cleland ahead of his Republican challenger by 2-5 points, so it was a shock on election night when the returns showed Barnes losing to Republican Sonny Perdue, 46 to 51 percent, a swing of as much as 16 points from the last opinion polls, and Cleland losing to Saxby Chambliss by 46 to 53 percent, a last-minute swing of 9-12 points. Pundits credited a surge of "angry white men" punishing Barnes for removing the Confederate symbol from the state flag, but the London Independent noted in a special investigative report on Oct. 14 that a demographic breakdown published by the Georgia Secretary of State showed no such surge of white men; the only subgroup showing a modest increase in turnout was black women.
There were also big, puzzling swings in different parts of the state, the Independent noted. In 58 counties, the vote was broadly in line with the primary election. In 27 counties in Republican-dominated north Georgia, however, Cleland unaccountably scored 14 points higher than he had in the primaries. And in 74 counties in the Democrat south, Saxby Chambliss garnered a whopping 22 points more for the Republicans than the party as a whole had won less than three months earlier.
The big difference was that in November 2002 Georgia was the first state in the country to conduct an election entirely with touchscreen voting machines, after lavishing $54 million on a new system that promised to deliver the most secure, most up-to-date, most voter-friendly election in the nation's history. The machines, however, were found to be poorly programmed, full of security holes and prone to tampering. With thousands of similar machines from different companies being introduced at high speed across the country, Andrew Gumbel wrote in the Independent, "computer voting may, in fact, be US democracy's own 21st-century nightmare."
In many Georgia counties last November, the machines froze up, causing long delays as technicians tried to reboot them. In heavily Democratic Fulton County, in downtown Atlanta, 67 memory cards from the voting machines went missing, delaying certification of the results there for 10 days. In neighboring DeKalb County, 10 memory cards were unaccounted for; they were later recovered from terminals that had supposedly broken down and been taken out of service.
"It is still unclear exactly how results from these missing cards were tabulated, or if they were counted at all," Gumbel wrote. "And we will probably never know, for a highly disturbing reason. The vote count was not conducted by state elections officials, but by the private company that sold Georgia the voting machines in the first place, under a strict trade-secrecy contract that made it not only difficult but actually illegal -- on pain of stiff criminal penalties -- for the state to touch the equipment or examine the proprietary software to ensure the machines worked properly. There was not even a paper trail to follow up."
Now a former worker in Diebold Election Systems' Georgia warehouse says the company installed software patches on its electronic voting machines before the state's 2002 general election that were never certified by independent testing authorities or cleared with Georgia election officials, Wired.com reported Oct. 13. If the charges are true , Diebold could be in violation of federal and state election certification rules. The charges also raise questions about the integrity of the Georgia election results, and any other election that uses patched Diebold systems that have not been re-certified.
According to Rob Behler, an engineer hired as a contractor to work in Diebold's Georgia warehouse last year, the Diebold systems had major functioning problems, as 25 to 30 percent of the machines in one shipment to the warehouse either crashed upon booting or had problems with their real-time clocks, causing the systems to register the date inaccurately then boot improperly or freeze up altogether. Diebold provided warehouse workers with at least three patches to apply to the systems before state officials began logic and accuracy testing on them, Behler reportedly said. One patch was applied to machines when he came to the warehouse in June, a second patch was applied in July and a third in August after he left the warehouse.
Bev Harris, who has spent a year investigating problems with electronic voting systems and is the author of a book on the technology, told Wired.com the practice of patching systems after they've been certified opens the possibility for anyone -- from Diebold employees to local election officials -- to install malicious code on a machine that could alter election results and then delete itself to avoid detection.
This scenario is particularly worrisome, she said, in light of what happened in the Georgia election. Harris acknowledged no proof exists that anyone rigged the election systems. "We'll never know exactly what happened in Georgia because there's no paper trail to verify the votes." Harris and other voting activists around the country are calling for states and certifying authorities to open the election process and electronic voting systems to public scrutiny to ensure public confidence in elections.
Diebold did not respond to Wired.com's calls for comment, but in an interview with Salon.com, company spokesman Joseph Richardson denied the company applied any patches to the Georgia machines. "We have analyzed that situation and have no indication of that happening at all," he said.
As for the possibilities of foul play, according to Rebecca Mercuri, a research fellow at Harvard's John F Kennedy School of Government and a specialist in voting systems, says they are virtually limitless. "There are literally hundreds of ways to do this," she told the Independent. Detecting one of these, Dr. Mercuri says, would be almost impossible unless the investigator knew in advance it was there and how to trigger it. Computer researcher Theresa Hommel, who is alarmed by touchscreen systems, has constructed a simulated voting machine in which the same candidate always wins, no matter what data you put in. She calls her model the Fraud-o-matic, and it is available online at www.wheresthepaper.org.
It is not just touchscreens which are at risk from error or malicious intrusion. Any computer system used to tabulate votes is vulnerable. An optical scan of ballots in Scurry County, Texas, last November erroneously declared a landslide victory for the Republican candidate for county commissioner; a subsequent hand recount showed that the Democrat had in fact won. In Comal County, Texas, a computerized optical scan found that three different candidates had won their races with exactly 18,181 votes. There was no recount or investigation, even though the coincidence, with those recurring 1s and 8s, looked highly suspicious. In heavily Democrat Broward County, Florida -- which had switched to touchscreens in the wake of the hanging chad furor -- more than 100,000 votes were found to have gone "missing" on election day. The votes were reinstated, but the glitch was not adequately explained. One local official blamed it on a "minor software thing".
Most suspect of all, Gumbel wrote, was the governor's race in Alabama, where the incumbent Democrat, Don Siegelman, was initially declared the winner. Sometime after midnight, when polling station observers and most staff had gone home, the probate judge responsible for elections in rural Baldwin County suddenly "discovered" that Siegelman had been awarded 7,000 votes too many. In a tight election, the change was enough to hand victory to his Republican challenger, Bob Riley. County officials talked vaguely of a computer tabulation error, or a lightning strike messing up the machines, but the real reason was never ascertained because the state's Republican attorney general refused to authorize a recount or any independent ballot inspection. (See links to the Independent's "All the President's Votes" and Wired.com's "Did E-Vote Firm Patch Election?" at www.populist.com/voting.html.)
SCHWARZENEGGER TO SETTLE CAL ENERGY SUITS. Some thought Greg Palast was a bit alarmist when, on the eve of the California recall election, he wrote about Arnold Schwarzenegger's May 2001 meeting with Enron executive Ken Lay and suggested that the movie star was part of a plan to let energy companies off the hook for their gouging of California ratepayers in 2000-2001. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, headed by Lay's friends, has proposed to settle for 2 cents on the dollar the $9 billion the Texas power suppliers fraudulently overcharged California ratepayers but Davis would not accept the settlement and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante filed a lawsuit under the state's "Unfair Business Practices Act" to force the power companies to reimburse ratepayers. Palast suggested that Gov. Arnold could bless the FERC settlement and undercut Bustamante's lawsuit. Then on Oct. 15 Palast noted that journalist Katherine Yurica (yuricareport.com) was reporting that only three days after Schwarzenegger won the race for governor to succeed the recalled Gray Davis, an aide announced that the governor-elect intends to settle pending energy fraud lawsuits, including the suit filed Bustamante. According to talk show host Bernie Ward of KGO radio in San Francisco, who reported the story Oct. 10, Schwarzenegger's aide stated that the governor-elect's administration did not want to be saddled with someone else's lawsuits. Yurica wrote that Schwarzenegger also wants to further deregulate the energy markets and rewrite the law that makes the companies liable to repay their illegal profits.
POLL SUPPORTS HEALTH CARE FOR ALL. The public's growing unease with the current health care system has built support for a universal health care for all Americans. By almost a 2-1 margin in the poll, 62% to 32%, Americans said they preferred a system that would provide coverage to everyone under a government program, as opposed to the current employer-based system. That support drops significantly, however, if universal coverage would mean a limited choice of doctors or longer waits for nonemergency treatment. Of course, that is what people now get with the rationed care of health maintenance organizations. So why is Dennis Kucinich the only Democratic presidential candidate seeking a single-payer universal health care program?
A sizable majority, 70%, said it should be legal for Americans to buy prescription drugs outside the United States, according to the ABC News-Washington Post poll published Oct. 19. More than half of Americans, 54%, are dissatisfied with the overall quality of health care in the US while 44% are satisfied. That dissatisfaction is 10 percentage points higher than in 2000 and higher than it has been in the past decade when compared with earlier surveys. The poll found that six in 10 people surveyed say they are worried about being able to afford health insurance in the future. More than one in six said they have no insurance. The government says there were 43.6 million uninsured US residents at some point during 2002, accounting for 15.2% of the population.
The poll also found that 80% said it is more important to provide health care coverage for all Americans even if it means higher taxes, than to hold down taxes but leave some people uncovered. Almost one-third of those who make less than $20,000 a year were uninsured, compared with 8% of those who make more than $50,000 a year. The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Oct. 9-13.
DISCONTENT IN THE RANKS? One third of US troops surveyed in Iraq said their morale was low and half said they are unlikely to stay in the armed forces, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported. The newspaper's poll of 2,000 troops was not a scientific sampling, but the findings forecast trouble at re-enlistment time and appear to contradict Bush administration portrayals of morale as high among occupation forces, which are trying to stabilize violent resistance from remnants of Saddam Hussein's fallen regime as well as restart the economy and government, the Associated Press reported Oct. 16. In a companion piece to its story, the government-funded Stars and Stripes said the commander in Iraq challenged the poll results. "There is no morale problem," Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez told the paper.
GOP SKIMPS ON GI'S. Just couple of months ago, President Bush was lecturing the rest of the country about how "we can never take our military for granted," The American Prospect's Nick Confessore noted at www.prospect.org/weblog. "I'd suggest he send copies of his speech to Republican members of the House, nearly all of whom voted against an amendment (Oct. 17) to increase the basic rate of pay to all military services by $265 million, which would be enough to provide an extra $1,500 to every American soldier serving in Iraq or Afghanistan this year. As the Center for American Progress notes, this isn't that much more money than the administration stands accused of overcharging taxpayers for -- in the words of the Newhouse News Service -- 'the purchase and importation of petroleum products.' If the White House wants Congress to appropriate $87 billion more for Iraq, it's going to have to do a better job accounting for the money it's already been given."
PROFITEERING IN IRAQ? David Wood of Newhouse News Service reported that profits earned by US companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar reconstruction of Iraq are being kept secret from taxpayers and Congress, raising questions of potential waste. Dozens of US corporations in Iraq are being paid under "cost-plus" contracts that reimburse them for their expenses while also awarding fees and bonuses, but the secrecy thwarts congressional oversight of the massive spending program, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Cal., said in a scorching letter Oct. 6 to White House Budget Director Joshua Bolten.
Meanwhile, a congressional report obtained by AP Oct. 16 indicates that the administration's Iraq reconstruction plan overcharges taxpayers some $200 million for the purchase and importation of petroleum products. The White House seeks $900.6 million for propane, gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuel during the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The products could be bought and delivered for $704 million, Congressional Research Service reported.
Waxman and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., contended in an Oct. 15 letter to the White House that "Halliburton seems to be inflating gasoline prices at a great cost to American taxpayers," in what one expert told them was "highway robbery." According to the two Democrats, Halliburton charged the government $1.62 to $1.70 a gallon for gasoline that could be bought wholesale in the Persian Gulf region for about 71 cents and transported to Iraq for no more than 25 cents. The fuel was sold in Iraq for 4 cents to 15 cents a gallon, the letter said, meaning that American taxpayers are footing an inflated bill for bringing oil into Iraq.
BUSH FAMILY'S NAZI TIES REVEALED. Sixty years after the fact, newly-uncovered documents in the National Archives reveal that George W. Bush's grandfather was a director of a bank seized by the federal government because of its ties to a German industrialist who helped bankroll Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Prescott Bush was one of seven directors of Union Banking Corp., a New York investment bank owned by a bank controlled by the Thyssen family, according to recently declassified National Archives documents reviewed by the Associated Press. Reports of Prescott Bush's involvement with the seized bank have been circulating on the Internet for years, but the newly declassified documents, first reported by John Buchanan in The New Hampshire Gazette (www.nhgazette.com), provide additional details about the Union Banking-Thyssen connection, the AP reported Oct. 17.
Union Banking was owned by a Dutch bank, Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaardt N.V., which was "closely affiliated" with the German conglomerate United Steel Works, according to an Oct. 5, 1942, report from the federal Office of Alien Property Custodian. The Dutch bank and the steel firm were part of the business and financial empire of Fritz Thyssen and his brother, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the report said. Fritz Thyssen was an early financial supporter of Hitler, whose Nazi party Thyssen believed was preferable to communism. Union Banking was seized by the government in October 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Fritz Thyssen broke with the Nazis in 1938 over their persecution of Catholics and Jews, and fled to Switzerland. He later was arrested and spent 1941 to 1945 in a Nazi prison. His brother lived in Switzerland from 1932 to 1947 but continued to operate businesses in Germany.
The 4,000 Union Banking shares owned by the Dutch bank were registered in the names of the seven US directors, according a document signed by Homer Jones, chief of the division of investigation and research of the Office of Alien Property Custodian, a World War II-era agency that no longer exists. E. Roland Harriman, the bank chairman and brother of former New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman, held 3,991 shares. Bush had one share. Both Harrimans and Bush were partners in the New York investment firm of Brown Brothers, Harriman and Co., which handled the financial transactions of the bank as well as other financial dealings with other companies linked to Bank voor Handel that were confiscated by the US government during WW II.
The documents also show that Bush and his colleagues, according to reports from the US Department of the Treasury and FBI, tried to conceal their financial alliance with Fritz Thyssen, Buchanan reported. The records also show Bush and his associates continued their dealings with the German industrial baron for nearly eight months after the US entered the war.
The Bush-Harriman-Thyssen enterprises, all of which operated out of the same suite of offices at 39 Broadway under the supervision of Prescott Bush, began with a July 30, 1942, New York Herald-Tribune story that reported on Thyssen's role as Hitler's original patron, but the Herald-Tribune article did not identify Bush or Harriman as executives of UBC, or Brown Brothers Harriman, in which they were partners, as UBC's private banker. A confidential FBI memo from that period suggested, without naming the Bush and Harriman families, that politically prominent individuals were about to come under official US government scrutiny.
After the "Hitler's Angel" article was published Bush and Harriman tried to conceal the true nature and ownership of their various businesses, particularly after the US entered the war, Buchanan wrote. On Oct. 20, 1942, under authority of the Trading with the Enemy Act, the US government seized UBC and liquidated its assets after the war. Following the seizures of UBC and the other four Bush-Harriman-Thyssen enterprises, the New York Times reported on Dec. 16, 1944, in a brief story on page 25, that UBC had "received authority to change its principal place of business to 120 Broadway." The Times story did not report that UBC had been seized by the US government or that the new address was the US Office of the Alien Property Custodian. The story also neglected to mention that the other UBC-related businesses had also been seized by the feds.
Since then, the story has been neglected by US news media and major Bush biographies. It was covered in George H.W. Bush: The Unauthorized Biography, by Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin. Chaitkin's father served as an attorney in the 1940s for some of the victims of the Bush-Harriman-Thyssen businesses.
In 1952, Prescott Bush was elected to the US Senate, with no press accounts about his well-concealed Nazi past, according to Buchanan. There is no record of any US press coverage of the Bush-Nazi connection during any political campaigns conducted by George Herbert Walker Bush, Jeb Bush, or George W. Bush, with the exception brief mentions in the Sarasota Herald Tribune in November 2000 and the Boston Globe in 2001.
. Newsweek Polska, the magazine's Polish edition, published a short piece on the "Bush Nazi past" in its March 5, 2003, edition, which reported that "the Bush family reaped rewards from the forced-labor prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp," according to an English-language translation from Scoop Media (www.scoop.co.nz). The story also reported the seizure of the various Bush-Harriman-Thyssen businesses, but US media still were not interested, Buchanan noted.
FACT CHECKING ON AG SUBSIDIES. It has been said that the governments of rich nations give $300 billion a year in agricultural subsidies to their farmers. The Center for Economic and Policy Research is offering $1,000 to anyone who can detail where that money comes from. "If true, it should be a simple matter to add up the subsidies, country by country, to show how it totals to $300 billion a year. CEPR will give $1,000 to the first person who sends an accurate list of government agricultural subsidies that adds to $300 billion. Pick any year you like!" For a discussion on the issues, see "False Promises on Trade" by Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot, July 24, 2003, at www.cepr.net. Send your lists to email@example.com.
MONSANTO QUITS EUROPE. Monsanto, the huge US biotech company that has pioneered genetically modified crops, is withdrawing from many of its European operations and laying off up to two thirds of its British workers on the eve of the publication of the British government's crop trials, which showed that two out of three genetically modified crops in the tests may damage the environment. The European Union has placed a moratorium on commercial growing of GM crops and the British government is under pressure to limit, or scrap, further development of GM crops in the face of public opposition. A survey in Britain in September found that 86% were unhappy with the idea of eating GM food, 91% said GM crops had a potentially negative effect on the countryside and 93% said GM was being driven by profit rather than public interest. An industry insider told the London Independent the international biotechnology business was becoming disillusioned with Europe's anti-GM stance. "If there's no market for something, you go elsewhere," he said. "The big companies are looking to China, South-east Asia and South America." Zac Goldsmith, editor of Ecologist magazine, wrote in the Oct. 19 London Observer that GM crops in North America have resulted in the appearance of "superweeds" that require more virulent pesticides while the promised higher yields, lower costs and greater profits have not materialized. "That is why the US and Canadian National Farmer's Unions, the American Corn Growers Association, the Canadian Wheat Board and two hundred other agricultural organizations, many of which were once enthusiastic supporters of GM, have signed a petition calling for a moratorium on the next generation of GM crops, wheat," Goldsmith wrote. He also noted that questions are being raised in the US over a possible link between GM soy-based infant formula, which exhibits heightened levels of estrogen, and new figures showing that girls are reaching puberty frighteningly early. Also, incidences of food-related illness in the US have doubled since GM was first introduced. "Could there be a link? We don't know because the regulators haven't bothered to find out."