...so long as it's not in our backyard!
In a story that slid under the radar last week, American officials convinced the Iraqi Provisional Authority to change the Iraqi flag, removing the words "God is Great".
Saddam Hussein added the words "God is Great" during the Iraq-Iran War to prove to the world that his secular nation was in fact a theocratic nation after all. There's a similar tale in US History.
During the Cold War, Eisenhower had a similar idea. If only godly Americans would put "under God" in our pledge and "In God we Trust" on our currency, then we could easily distinguish ourselves from the evil atheist secularists of the Soviet Union! When Michael Newdow recently questioned the Constitutionality of this action before the 9th Circuit and the US Supreme Court, Democrats and Republicans alike united in an unprecedented show of solidarity... against secularism and freedom of religion. Will the US government see the irony in imposing secularism abroad while mandating theocratic oaths within our borders? I would say only God knows, but I think we all know that's a lie.
For those who’d like to impress friends with their knowledge of campaign finance, but can’t tell a 501(c)4 from a 501 (c)3, Robert Bauer’s site, www.softmoneyhardlaw.com provides the latest news on how money is flowing. His language can be dense and technical, but on the whole he explains the issues clearly, including what the 527 debate is all about.
Named after their tax-designation, 527 organizations are groups operating independently of any candidates or political parties. This year, many 527s have been raising and spending large sums of money in support of candidates. Federal campaign finance rules say 527s can’t have any contact with the candidates, but also that their spending is unlimited (the lack of limits means they deal in “soft money”). As a professor at the journalism school first noticed, 527s operate as “shadow parties” to the national parties. The Media Fund, which is campaigning against President Bush, is a 527.
The President and his campaign were worried about the growth of liberal 527s, so they took the issue to the Federal Elections Commission. The 527s, they say, are acting outside of recent campaign finance legislation. The FEC has heard testimony from just about everyone in the country and is drafting rules on the groups.
One of the rules under consideration is designating a 527 as a “political committee,” subject to spending limits, if its major purpose is supporting a candidate. It doesn’t sound too controversial, but Bauer points out that the term “major purpose” is vague. He also shows something more unnerving: this new rule can give incumbents a definite spending advantage. In his post, 527 Rules and the Incumbent Effect: Looking at a Recent Example, he shows how a candidate in office can use taxpayer money to make claims, but outside groups cannot spend money to refute those claims. Why? If a group buys an ad criticizing the claims, then it will appear to be criticizing the candidate. And, if it’s criticizing a candidate, then it must be supporting the candidate’s opponent. If it’s supporting the candidate’s opponent, it’s a political committee subject to regulation. Got that? Bauer explains it better here(you may have to scroll down).
Forbes reported yesterday that Warren Buffett will be an economic advisor on John Kerry’s campaign (the story).
"I personally think our election will be a referendum on George W. Bush," Buffett told the magazine. "The Kerry campaign is much less important than how people feel about Bush."
Back that bus up. This is Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the world; the captain of his own fortune; the Arnold Shwarzenegger supporter.
Just a few months ago, Buffett joined the team that made Schwarzenegger governor. At first, Shwarzenegger put him in center ring. Then, Buffett suggested repealing a California law limiting property taxes (which would mean raising taxes) and Schwarzenegger yanked him out. Still, Buffett and Schwarzenegger are good buds.
According to the San Diego Tribune, Buffett offered the governor advice during the state legislature’s battle over workers’ compensation reform last month. Schwarzenegger had begun to agree with Democrats that reforms should include regulating insurers’ rates, but Buffett “turned him against regulation. Buffett apparently told Schwarzenegger that he wouldn't recommend that insurers come to California if the state regulates workers' compensation because regulation would create too much uncertainty.”
The San Francisco Chronicle, reported that Buffett was by Schwarzenegger’s side on Wall Street to sell Proposition 57. The proposition, which passed in March, authorized the sale of $15 billion worth of bonds to finance California. “Buffett gave a glowing testimonial to Schwarzenegger,” the Chronicle reported, “comparing the California governor's first 100 days in office to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's successful effort during his first 100 days in office to rally a dispirited nation during the Great Depression.”
Then, there was Buffett’s shareholders’ meeting of his Berkshire Hathway Incorporated last week, where Schwarzenegger was featured in a videotaped skit.
Many said Schwarzenegger’s election proved a Republican could win the state in the presidential contest. After all, a Republican had won California’s governorship. But now an economic advisor to this Republican governor has landed in Kerry-land. What will die-hard Democrats think of Buffett’s presence? How does a man who trumpeted looser regulation of workers’ comp insurers now talk to the party of labor unions? The populist rhetoric coming from Democrats is that George Bush gives to the rich with his tax plan and Iraq contracts while stealing from the poor. So, then, what is it about this election that gets the richest people in the world so riled?
California’s Secretary of State Kevin Shelley stabbed sharply at electronic voting, and then twisted the knife. Yesterday, he decertified all electronic voting machines in the state, meaning they can’t be used in November’s election. Then, he allowed 10 out of the 14 counties that own vote-by-touching-the-screen machines to apply for re-certification, once their machines provide printed copies of ballots cast and are proven to be disconnected from the Internet (among other requirements). The other four counties won’t have that option because their machines were made by Diebold and, Shelley said, Diebold is a liar.
Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle sucked up the drama, providing pretty extensive coverage. Rick Hasen’s weblog gives a good round-up of the issues.
Basically, there are two types of electronic voting systems in the state: the Diebold AccuVote-TSx system and Hart InterCivic. Both sound like uncomfortable medical procedures, and both performed poorly in California’s last election. Hart InterCivic machines forced Orange County residents to vote in the wrong races. San Diego County’s polling stations opened late because their Diebolds failed.
Diebold, though, gets more attention because it’s supposedly tied to the president (try putting “Diebold Voting” into Google and see what accusations of conspiracy pop up). And now, Secretary Shelley has stated that Diebold misrepresented itself. It lied, he said, when it told the state it was near winning federal approval for AccuVote-TSx. It wasn’t. So, he barred the system from the state and is calling on the state’s attorney general to open a legal investigation.
Finally, someone has introduced caution into the gathering momentum of electronic voting. Yes, we’re evolving toward using these machines. But, evolution is a mix of gradual changed punctuated by periods of rapid activity. Think of a child growing up. That kid is growing every day, but on some days, he shoots up another inch or adds a few pounds more quickly than usual. When considering how voting is changing, the Florida election debacle is like one of those growth spurts. That situation riled the nation to action and sped up the urgency of reform.
But the spurt is over, and we should carefully consider what happens next. The right to vote is an important Constitutional one and, therefore, should be executed with accuracy. It’s a strange day when malfunctioning gizmos, and not authoritarian leaders or bloody war, silence voters’ voices.
Just as importantly, changing voting systems is expensive. Look at the numbers in the L.A. Times article for how much counties spent on machines they’ll now throw out. Careful planning prevents counties from buying machines for millions, finding out those machines don’t pass Shelley’s muster, and then having to invest more millions into another system.
During the Florida recount, the office where I worked turned into a coop of election craziness. Each day my boss squawked the latest numbers, decisions and lawsuits to me over the cubicle wall. The impatience and anxiety was so high that I put on earphones and did nothing but data-entry for two days straight. Everyone wanted something to happen; for a real, solid remedy to break through. The nation’s impatience born in that month has grown over the last four years. But where are the other reforms that should have come out of Florida? Like laws providing old people, the largest voter group, with ballots they can read? Or ones ensuring that black men eligible to vote can vote? Too bad all that fervor has only been focused on building better machines. Perhaps Shelley's pause will give us a chance to think over the larger scope of reform.