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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Diebold miscounts reported in first day of NH hand counts

Also: Diebold Memory Cards Unaccounted For; Public Record Request by Election Integrity Advocates on Ground Reveal 550+ Votes Read as Blank by Op-Scanner in Stratham...
Clinton, Kucinich Observers There, Nobody from Obama or Edwards, Says Election Attorney...

Blogged by Brad Friedman from on the road...

(As mentioned in previous items, I'm now on the road --- currently in Oakland for the Thursday night screening of the more-ironically-named-than-ever documentary, UNCOUNTED: The New Math of American Elections --- and doing my best to keep up while moving. So apologies for the terse reports for the moment, as I continue to roll and have limited time online.)

LATEST OUT OF NH: Disparities being found during hand-counts of ballots, in many wards, many candidates. Diebold op-scan memory cards unaccounted for at the moment, Secretary of State (SoS) doesn't track them after elections, doesn't track error reports during elections. LHS Associates (see below) handles all of it instead, according to reports on the ground. Public records request reveals hundreds of ballots in one area scanned as blank due to incorrect ink used on ballots, and other problems on LHS problem report forms.

* * *

Numbers are now being posted from both the Democratic and Republican hand-counts in the NH Primary Election contest. So far, only wards in Manchester (Hillsborough County) have been hand-counted, and disparities between the original counts from the Diebold optical-scan machine and the hand inspections seem to be occurring in many wards, and for many candidates.

Here is the SoS Recount page with the totals, that I haven't yet been able to review in full.

While sources on the ground at the counting today have told me that officials were not announcing the originally counted results at the counting room, the SoS web page lists what they claim are the original counts --- previously verified by nobody --- versus the recounted numbers.

The disparities, as I've quickly been able to review them, are small, but consistent, in ward after ward, across almost all of the candidates. I'm told that the manufacturers of the optical-scan machines (in this case, Diebold) have estimated an expected error rate of 1% on this type of tallying device which, as noted by one of our contacts in NH, is ridiculous, if you consider that most states and counties only kick in "automatic recounts" when the margin between the two leading candidates is less than .5% or so.

ADDITIONALLY...Public records requests are being made on the spot, for errors and malfunctions at various voting precincts. An early review of the error forms turned over from the public record request made by Election Integrity experts overseeing the counting, has revealed that in Stratham there were some 550 ballots that were not read by the op-scan at all. They were seen as blank ballots. Officials there noticed the problem, and then hand-counted some 3000 ballots after the error was discovered.

Apparently, as we've seen elsewhere, voters were given the wrong pen to use and the op-scanners did not "see" this particular type of ink.

Some of the election day error and incident reports, as read to me over the phone just now by Susan Pynchon of Florida Fair Elections Coalition and Paddy Shaffer of Ohio Election Justice Campaign, both of whom are on the ground in NH overseeing the counts, and assisting Republican contest candidate Albert Howard...
(Town of Stratham, 9:00pm)

PROBLEM: Printout indicated 550 "blank voted" ballots which indicated that bad pens were used.
SOLUTION: Went to Stratham to confirm that approximately 15 bad pens were used on election day. The town had, by that time, hand counted and announced those results as official.

PROBLEM: Too many blanks, used wrong marking pens
SOLUTION: Sent Gerry and Tina with lucid machines.

(Town of Lebanon, precinct #2, 9:00 (am or pm?))

PROBLEM: Corrupt Count.
SOLUTION: Shut off and back on. Count back to 155.

(Town of Manchester, 9:30pm)

PROBLEM: P/U 3rd Bad Machine per John S. (likely refers to John Silvestro, owner of LHS)

I spoke with Bev Harris of, who is also on the ground in NH, and she asks: "If it wasn't 550 ballots, but just 55 or so in some places, would they even have seen it and known to recount ALL of the ballots?"

She also noted that the error report came from LHS Associates, the private company (with the, um, less-than-reputable background) that is the sole Diebold vendor, programmer, operator and service provider in NH and most of the other New England states.

LHS, apparently, is the one responsible for tracking (or not) and reporting (or not) any such errors, rather than the Secretary of State or local election officials, it would seem. That tracks with previous BRAD BLOG reporting on LHS, and how they operate in Connecticut, where there are similar concerns for whether or not the SoS even knows what the error rates are for the system they use, since problem reports are given to LHS instead of to public officials.

The BRAD BLOG has reported within the past few days machine problems during the election in a number of towns. In fact, of the first four towns we called that used the Diebold machines, all four reported machine failures of one type or another.

FURTHER...Voting Rights attorney John Bonifaz, legal director of, was on the scene today, and just told me that he has great concerns about the transparency of both the initial election and the hand-count auditing process that got under way in earnest today.

"I'm very concerned that this is not a fully transparent process that is happening there," he told me.

The sensitive memory cards containing the programming and tabulation from the Diebold optical-scanners are apparently "missing in action" for the moment. Those cards, as viewers of HBO's Hacking Democracy know by now, may be used to hack an election, such that only a proper hand-count of the paper ballots afterwards will reveal the hack. (See the video of that hack for yourself right here. The same exact machine being hacked in that film was used across the state to count 80% of the ballots in NH in last week's primary.)

And yet, says Bonifaz who spent time today speaking with New Hampshire Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary of State and Deputy Attorney General, nobody seems to have any idea where those cards are and what has become of them.

He says he was told by Secretary of State William Gardner that his office doesn't get involved in tracking what happens to those memory cards. Some have reportedly been returned to LHS, and may have had their memory erased already.

"When you have a private company counting 80% of the votes, and you later learn that the memory cards are unaccounted for, you have a serious question about the transparency and accountability in that process," Bonifaz said.

He notes that federal law requires all materials from elections be preserved for 22 months after the election. So if those materials have already been lost, destroyed, or over-written, there are legal questions that must be addressed.

Bonifaz also noted that while representatives and observers for the Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich campaigns were on site, nobody at all seemed to be there from either the Barack Obama or John Edwards camps. (Incredibly enough, I might add!)

* * *

Our earlier report today had a number of important updates that you may wish to review. Including the fact that the Kucinich people have asked for more observers (with video cameras if you have them!) at the State Archives Bldg., 71 South Fruit Street, Concord, New Hampshire, to help oversee the 6 counting teams. Much more in that report as well...
For related coverage, please see our index of notable New Hampshire-related BRAD BLOG articles, since the '08 Primary. And please consider donating to our efforts to continue to report on issues of Election Integrity in NH and elsewhere, as what virtually nobody else in the media (MSM or blogosphere!) seems willing to do at this time.

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New House Bill Calls for Paper Ballots and an audit trail

A New Jersey congressman introduced a bill Thursday in the House that would offer $600 million to voting districts across the nation that convert to paper ballots or put in audit systems in time for the November presidential election.

The bill, dubbed the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act of 2008, seeks to fix what many critics fear is a potential problem with paperless electronic voting machines — a lack of voter-verified paper records.

The bill, to be introduced Thursday, would provide incentives for states to provide verified, audited balloting for the general election, but would not mandate standards for all states.

Voters in all or parts of 20 states, including New Jersey, now cast ballots electronically without backup paper verification, said New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt, who has sponsored the bill in the House.

"Millions of Americans will be voting on unreliable electronic machines without paper ballots. There will be questions that cannot be resolved because there is no way of determining a voter's intention. All you have is an electronic memory," said Holt, a Democrat.

Holt said he crafted the emergency bill because the House has not approved his earlier measure that mandated the use of backup paper ballots and audits in time for the presidential election.

There are no documented cases of election tampering involving electronic voting machines across the United States. But researchers in Ohio and Colorado found in tests that the machines could be corrupted with magnets or handheld electronic devices.

The New Jersey Legislature gave its Division of Elections until Jan. 1 to retrofit 10,000 electronic voting machines in the state with paper printers. But lab tests found flaws with the retrofitted printers, so the Attorney General declined to certify the newly configured machines and missed the deadline.

The Legislature then extended the deadline until June 3, meaning New Jerseyans will cast ballots in the Feb. 5 presidential primary without paper backup, and election officials won't be able to audit disputed election results.

Other states are also grappling with electronic voting.

In Ohio, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner wants counties that use electronic touch-screen machines to switch to an optical-scan system, where machines scan ballots filled out by voters.

In Colorado, lawmakers are discussing how to conduct November's election now that most of the state's electronic voting machines have been disqualified.

Source: AP News

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Obama's accomplishments more substantial than Clinton's

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - By some measures, Barack Obama has a thin record. He's a Senate newcomer who has never worked in the White House, governed a state or run a business.

click here

Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton points to his resume as evidence that Obama is not ready for the White House. "He was a part-time state senator for a few years, and then he came to the Senate and immediately started running for president," she says dismissively.

Obama's accomplishments are more substantial and varied than Clinton suggests. And he has a longer record in elected office than she does, as a second-term New York senator.

Obama was a community organizer and led a voter-registration effort in Chicago that added tens of thousands of people to the rolls. He was a civil rights attorney and taught at one of the nation's premier universities. He helped pass complicated measures in the Illinois legislature on the death penalty, racial profiling, health care and more. In Washington, he has worked with Republicans on nuclear proliferation, government waste and global warming, amassing a record that speaks to a fast start while lacking the heft of years of service.

The Illinois Democrat likes to quote something Bill Clinton once said: "The truth is, you can have the right kind of experience and the wrong kind of experience. Mine is rooted in the real lives of real people, and it will bring real results if we have the courage to change."

After college, Obama moved to Chicago for a low-paying job as a community organizer. He worked with poor families on the South Side to get improvements in public housing, particularly the removal of asbestos.

"Nobody else running for president has jumped off the career track for three or four years to help people," said Jerry Kellman, who first hired Obama as a community organizer.

Obama also fought for student summer jobs and a program to keep at-risk children from dropping out of school. More importantly, say those who worked with Obama, he showed people how to organize and confront powerful interests.

"He had to train residents to stand up for their own rights," said former organizer Loretta Augustine-Herron, who was part of Obama's Developing Communities Project.

Obama left that job to get a law degree. Afterward, he returned to Chicago and ran Project VOTE. The organization recruited hundreds of registrars to sign up new voters, particularly within the city's black population. Registration jumped nearly 15 points between the 1992 primary and the general election.

The registration wave was credited with making Carol Moseley Braun the first black female senator and helping Bill Clinton carry Illinois in his first presidential race. It also got insiders talking about Obama as a political candidate.

Obama then spent several years focusing on the law, both as an attorney at a small firm specializing in civil rights and as a lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago.

As an attorney, he was on the team that successfully sued the state of Illinois for failing to implement a federal voter-registration law. Obama also worked on case of a whistle-blower who lost her job after exposing waste and corruption in a medical research project. The whistle-blower ended up with a $5 million settlement.

Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate in 1996, when Democrats were in the minority. He proposed hundreds of new laws, including universal health care, tougher gun control and expanded welfare, but saw most of them spiked by Republican leadership.

He did have some successes, though — particularly in passing legislation sharply restricting the gifts that Illinois politicians could accept from lobbyists. Illinois has notoriously weak government ethics laws, and the Gift Ban Act was the first major new restriction since the Watergate era.

Obama also helped set up Illinois' "KidCare" program that provided health care to children in families that did not qualify for Medicaid.

John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, said Obama's work helped make the program more consumer-friendly. He also said Obama was often willing to give up credit for the legislation if that helped win Republican support.

"It tells you something that as a relatively junior member in the minority party, he was an important negotiator," Bouman said.

When Democrats gained a majority in the Senate, Obama's political mentor, Senate President Emil Jones, gave him high-profile assignments, including two contentious issues involving police — videotaped interrogations and racial profiling.

Police weren't happy about recording their interrogations of murder suspects or having to study racial bias in traffic stops. Initially, they opposed both pieces of legislation.

But Obama made clear that something was going to pass with or without their support. Ultimately, police groups endorsed both bills and they won unanimous approval in the Senate.

Obama was generally regarded as an effective and practical, although decidedly liberal, state lawmaker. One of his Republican colleagues was so wowed that he has appeared in an Obama campaign ad, but others aren't impressed by his legislative record.

"I would say it was run of the mill, honestly," said Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, who entered the legislature at the same time Obama did.

Obama was a part-time state senator in that he served in the Illinois legislature at the same time he practiced law. He became a state lawmaker in 1997, four years ahead of Hillary Clinton's entrance into elected office, as U.S. senator.

When Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, he said he wished to get things done rather than grab headlines, and cited Hillary Clinton as the sort of workhorse he wanted to be.

He teamed with Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., to study the dangers of nuclear proliferation and pass legislation meant to keep nuclear material from falling into the hands of terrorists.

Obama also joined with Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., after Hurricane Katrina to improve oversight of federal spending.

And he shared billing with a Republican presidential hopeful when he joined Arizona Sen. John McCain in sponsoring legislation that called for sharp, mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The effort failed.

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NH Democratic Primary recount has officially begun

CONCORD — Teams of counters have started re-counting the Democratic ballots cast in last week's New Hampshire presidential primary.

They are looking first at ballots from Manchester.

Secretary of State William Gardner says his office has received $27,000 from Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich to pay for the start of the re-count. Gardner said observers from campaigns and fair elections groups have the right to see and approve every ballot.

Kucinich received less than 2 percent of the vote. He said he is suspicious of the results, although he doesn't expect a re-count to change his vote count much.

Kucinich can stop the re-count at any time and get a refund for the balance of the costs. To re-count the entire state would cost him about $70,000.

The Secretary of State's office received at $56,000 check on Wednesday from Republican Albert Howard of Michigan, who has asked for a re-count of the GOP primary. Gardner was not available to say when the Republican re-count would begin.

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Hilary's "Experience" Lie

When the 2008 presidential campaign began, I lacked strong feelings for or against Hillary Rodham Clinton. I knew, of course, that many people loathed the former first lady and that many other people adored her. But I'd never felt the large emotions she seemed to stir in others. New York's junior senator wants to be president? Fine, I thought. Let's hear her pitch. Because she was still a relative newcomer to government service, I assumed that, more than most presidential candidates, Clinton would recognize the need to give voters a reason to vote for her. I waited expectantly to discover what that reason might be.

I never dreamed the reason would be "experience." More astonishing still, the public seems to be buying it. According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll, 79 percent of all Democratic primary voters believe that Hillary Clinton has "prepared herself well enough for the job of President," compared with only 40 percent for Obama. "Experience Counts" declared the headline of a Jan. 9 editorial in the Boston Globe about the New Hampshire victories of Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "The results suggest that, at the least, New Hampshire voters put more stock in the length of a candidate's track record than Iowa voters did," the Globe said. But the paper never got around to explaining what, in Hillary's case, that experience consisted of.

Let's be clear. If you're a Democrat, experience isn't on this year's menu. The most experienced among the major candidates seeking the Democratic nomination were Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. They have now dropped out. The remaining major candidates—Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.—all lack lengthy records in government.

Edwards served a single term in the Senate. Obama served eight years in the Illinois state Senate and is halfway through his first term in the U.S. Senate. Clinton is about to begin her eighth year in the U.S. Senate. Going by years spent as an elective official, Obama's 11 years exceeds Clinton's seven, which in turn exceeds Edwards' six. But it's a silly calculus. They all come out about the same, even when you factor in Clinton's youthful work on the House judiciary committee's impeachment inquiry, her membership on the board of the Legal Services Corp., her chairmanship of the Arkansas Educational Standards committee, her crafting of an unsuccessful national health-care bill, and her sharing Bill Clinton's bed most nights while he was Arkansas governor and president of the United States.

In Slate's women's blog, the "XX Factor," various colleagues have argued (see here, here, and here) that Clinton has sufficient experience under her belt to be president. I agree, but that's not the right question. The more urgent question is: Where the hell does she come off claiming superior experience? Here Clinton is in the Jan. 14 Newsweek, comparing herself with Obama:

I wish it didn't have to be a choice. I think a lot of people who are torn between us feel that way. But it is a contest, and the contrasts have to be drawn and the questions have to be asked because, obviously, I wouldn't be in this race and working as hard as I am unless I thought I am uniquely qualified at this moment in our history to be the president we need starting in 2009 … I think it is informed by my deep experience over the last 35 years, my firsthand knowledge of what goes on inside a White House.

Oh, please. Thirty-five years takes you back to 1973, half of which Hillary spent in law school, for crying out loud. I don't mean to denigrate her professional experience. Clinton worked many years in corporate and public-interest law, performed advocacy work for the Children's Defense Fund and other groups, and was a university lecturer. She also devoted herself to raising a seemingly bright and loving daughter, which is no small feat, particularly given the public spotlight and some conspicuously bad behavior on the father's part.

But in government, Clinton's chief role over the years has been that of kibitzer. An important kibitzer, to be sure—what spouse isn't?—but not a direct participant. Clinton emphasizes in particular her profound experience in foreign policy. Here she is on Dec. 20:

It is tempting any time things seem quieter for a minute on the international front to think that we don't need a president who's up to speed on foreign affairs and military matters. Well, that's the kind of logic that got us George Bush in the first place. Experience in foreign affairs is critical for ending the war in Iraq, averting war in Iran, negotiating a Middle East peace and dealing with North Korea.

But a Dec. 26 New York Times story revealed that during her husband's two terms in office, Hillary Clinton did not hold a security clearance, did not attend meetings of the National Security Council, and was not given a copy of the president's daily intelligence briefing. During trips to Bosnia and Kosovo, she "acted as a spokeswoman for American interests rather than as a negotiator." On military affairs, most of her experience derives not from her White House years but from serving on the Senate armed services committee. In this capacity, William Kristol notes gleefully in the Jan. 14 New York Times, Clinton told Gen. David Petraeus this past September that his reports of military progress in Iraq—since shown to be undeniable—required "the willing suspension of disbelief." (What Kristol and Clinton both fail to say is that the surge's laudable military success has created a short-term opportunity that the Iraqi government and Bush himself are doing tragically little to seize. For example, a much-touted move by the Iraqi parliament to open government jobs to former members of the Baath party is, according to a Jan. 14 New York Times story, "riddled with loopholes and caveats to the point that some Sunni and Shiite officials say it could actually exclude more former Baathists than it lets back in.")

Clinton's claim to superior experience isn't merely dishonest. It's also potentially dangerous should she become the nominee. If Clinton continues to build her campaign on the dubious foundation of government experience, it shouldn't be very difficult for her GOP opponent to pull that edifice down. That's especially true if a certain white-haired senator now serving his 25th year in Congress (four in the House and 21 in the Senate) wins the nomination. McCain could easily make Hillary look like an absolute fraud who is no more truthful about her depth of government experience than she is about why her mother named her "Hillary." Dennis Kucinich has more government experience than Clinton. (He also has a better health-care plan, but we'll save that for another day.) If Clinton doesn't find a new theme soon, she won't just be cutting Obama's throat. She'll also be cutting her own.

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Bush Destroys American Credibility by Dismissing NIE Report

President George W. Bush hasn't accomplished much on his voyage to the Middle East, but he did take the time to inflict another wound on the entire U.S. intelligence community—and on the credibility of anything he might ever again say about the world.

In the latest Newsweek, Michael Hirsh reports that, during a private conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush "all but disowned" the agencies' Dec. 3 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. A "senior administration official who accompanied Bush" on the trip confided to Hirsh that Bush "told the Israelis that he can't control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE's] conclusions don't reflect his own views."

The NIE—which was signed by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies—concluded "with high confidence" that Iran had "halted its nuclear weapons program" back in the fall of 2003. The estimate, released to the public in sanitized form, seriously undercut efforts by the Bush-Cheney White House to portray Iran's nuclear ambitions as an imminent threat—and left the world either relieved or (especially in Israel's case) alarmed that the option of a U.S. airstrike on Iran was pretty much off the table.

There were some odd and regrettable things about the NIE's phrasing and presentation (a point made by not only champions but several critics of Bush's policies, including me). However, the estimate's basic findings—its facts—are not in dispute. For the president of the United States to wave away the whole document—which, in its classified form, is more than 140 pages and has nearly 1,500 source notes, according to an enlightening story in today's Wall Street Journal—is gratuitous and self-destructive.

Then again, such behavior is of a piece with the pattern of relations between President Bush and his intelligence agencies. In September 2004, when he was asked about a pessimistic CIA report on the course of the occupation in Iraq, Bush replied that the agency was "just guessing."

This remark "was a death knell," Tim Weiner wrote in Legacy of Ashes, his award-winning history of the CIA. Weiner then quoted a line from a speech that former CIA director Richard Helms gave before the Council on Foreign Relations in 1967: "If we are not believed, we have no purpose." The CIA reprinted that speech on the occasion of Helms' death in October 2002, around the time that the agency was having a battle of credibility with the White House and the Pentagon over its doubts that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or an alliance with al-Qaida.

And therein lies the irony of the present situation. In decades past, the CIA has often lost credibility as a result of its own failures and scandals. Now President Bush is splashing doubt not just on the CIA, but on all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, simply because their judgments are out of synch with his policies.

There are two further ironies. First, this NIE is the product of reforms that President Bush himself signed into law—the creation of a director of national intelligence and various other procedural changes—designed to keep intelligence analysis free of political interference.

Second, the NIE contains plenty of passages that could legitimately justify a less-than-optimistic appraisal of Iran's intentions and capabilities. For instance, the estimate found that Iran is still enriching uranium and that it "has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decided to do so." The authors allowed that they "do not know" whether Iran might want to resume its nuclear-weapons program in the future. Finally, they concluded that Iran stopped the program "primarily in response to increasing international security and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work." Therefore, Bush could have argued, the pressure needs to be kept up—or else Iran will rev up its clandestine program once again.

Secretary of Defense (and former CIA Director) Robert Gates has taken this approach when talking about the NIE to international audiences. Gates has said Iran and the rest of the world shouldn't cherry-pick the findings—that if they buy the agency's conclusion that Iran has stopped its nuclear-weapons program, they should buy the less-rosy conclusions, too. For a while, Bush displayed the opposite tendency: He played up the NIE's more sobering conclusions while dismissing the main finding. Now, in a private conversation with Israel's prime minister, he's rejected the whole package and says its conclusions "don't reflect his own views" (wherever he gets them from).

This remark has three baleful consequences. First, it can't help but demoralize the intelligence community. NIEs are meant, ultimately, for only one reader, the president; and here's the president telling another world leader that he doesn't believe it because, well, he doesn't agree with it.

Second, it reinforces the widespread view that the president views intelligence strictly as a political tool: When it backs up his policies, it's as good as gold; when it doesn't, it's "just guessing." This result is that all intelligence is degraded and devalued, at home and abroad. Let's say that six months from now Bush publicizes an NIE concluding that Iran has resumed its nuclear-weapons program or that, say, North Korea is reprocessing more plutonium. Given that he pooh-poohed an NIE that rubbed against his own views, why should anyone take him seriously for embracing an NIE that confirms them?

Third, by telling Olmert that it's all right to ignore the NIE, Bush is in effect telling him that Israel should go ahead and behave as if its findings had never been published. Hirsh reports that, when Olmert was asked whether he felt reassured by Bush's words, he replied, "I am very happy." ABC News reported Monday that, at a closed hearing of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, Olmert testified, "All options that prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities are legitimate within the context of how to grapple with this matter."

It is increasingly unlikely, for many reasons, that the United States will bomb Iran before the year is out. But, wittingly or not, did Bush just flash a green light to Olmert?

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A Wiki Turning Legal Language Into Plain English

Wikipedia For Laws.
This is a wiki dedicated to explaining Congressional legislation in plain English. You can help:

  • Get inspired. Find out how unreadable laws are hurting our country.
  • Sign up! (you don't have to, but you'll get more out of this site by doing so)
  • Choose a bill below that interests you. Contribute to the Bill Text or Analysis.
  • Tell us what you think.

Featured Bill: Free Flow of Information Act of 2007

American journalists are often pressured by law enforcement to name their sources, and recently, some have been imprisoned for refusing to do so. This bill would protect journalists from imprisonment, but the Bush Administration claims it will endanger national security. The bill has been passed by the House of Representatives. The White House has announced the president will veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Analysis | Plain-language Text


Several Internet regulation bills seek to make the Web safer for kids.

  • The SAFE Act of 2007 expands requirements upon Internet services to monitor and report child pornography. Analysis | Plain-language Text
  • The Deleting Online Predators Act of 2007 would restrict access to social networking sites and chat rooms from schools and libraries. Analysis | Plain-language Text
  • The Cyber Safety for Kids Act of 2007 would require websites to label content deemed unsuitable for minors, or face civil fines. It would also require websites that contain adult content to register their status with ICANN. Analysis | Plain-language Text

Video Games

Two bills are trying to further regulate the standard video game rating process.

  • The Truth in Video Game Rating Act would require the ESRB and game manufacturers to fully disclose the entirety of video games' content and review such content when rating such games. Analysis | Plain-language Text
  • The Video Game Decency Act of 2007 would make it a crime to withhold information about a video game in order to acquire a less restrictive rating from the ESRB, and to ship that game across state lines. Analysis | Plain-language Text


The new Democratic Senate is attempting to pass more lenient stem cell bills into law.

On June 7, the House passed S.5, a bill that would widely expand stem cell research funding. It will now go to the White House, where President Bush is expected to veto it. There are two other active stem cell bills in Congress right now. Find out about all the bills here:


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How Religion's Stranglehold on America Harms Democracy

It's a presidential campaign like no other. The candidates have been falling all over each other in their rush to declare the depth and sincerity of their religious faith. The pundits have been just as eager to raise questions that seem obvious and important: Should we let religious beliefs influence the making of law and public policy? If so, in what way and to what extent? Those questions, however, assume that candidates bring the subject of faith into the political arena largely to justify -- or turn up the heat under -- their policy positions. In fact, faith talk often has little to do with candidates' stands on the issues. There's something else going on here.

Look at the TV ad that brought Mike Huckabee out of obscurity in Iowa, the one that identified him as a "Christian Leader" who proclaims: "Faith doesn't just influence me. It really defines me." That ad did indeed mention a couple of actual political issues -- the usual suspects, abortion and gay marriage -- but only in passing. Then Huckabee followed up with a red sweater-themed Christmas ad that actively encouraged voters to ignore the issues. We're all tired of politics, the kindly pastor indicated. Let's just drop all the policy stuff and talk about Christmas -- and Christ.

Ads like his aren't meant to argue policy. They aim to create an image -- in this case, of a good Christian with a steady moral compass who sticks to his principles. At a deeper level, faith-talk ads work hard to turn the candidate -- whatever candidate -- into a bulwark of solidity, a symbol of certainty; their goal is to offer assurance that the basic rules for living remain fixed, objective truths, as true as religion.

In a time when the world seems like a shaky place -- whether you have a child in Iraq, a mortgage you may not be able to meet, a pension threatening to head south, a job evaporating under you, a loved one battling drug or alcohol addiction, an ex who just came out as gay or born-again, or a president you just can't trust -- you may begin to wonder whether there is any moral order in the universe. Are the very foundations of society so shaky that they might not hold up for long? Words about faith -- nearly any words -- speak reassuringly to such fears, which haunt millions of Americans.

These fears and the religious responses to them have been a key to the political success of the religious right in recent decades. Randall Balmer, a leading scholar of evangelical Christianity, points out that it's offered not so much "issues" to mobilize around as "an unambiguous morality in an age of moral and ethical uncertainty."

Mitt Romney was courting the evangelical-swinging-toward-Huckabee vote when he, too, went out of his way to link religion with moral absolutes in his big Iowa speech on faith. Our "common creed of moral convictions? the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet" turned out, utterly unsurprisingly, to be none other than religious soil: "We believe that every single human being is a child of God? liberty is a gift of God." No doubts allowed here.

American politicians have regularly wielded religious language and symbolism in their moments of need, and such faith talk has always helped provide a sense of moral certainty in a shape-shifting world. But in the better years of the previous century, candidates used religion mostly as an adjunct to the real meat of the political process, a tool to whip up support for policies.

How times have changed. Think of it, perhaps, as a way to measure the powerful sense of unsettledness that has taken a firm hold on American society. Candidates increasingly keep their talk about religion separate from specific campaign issues. They promote faith as something important and valuable in and of itself in the election process. They invariably avow the deep roots of their religious faith and link it not with issues, but with certitude itself.

Sometimes it seems that Democrats do this with even more grim regularity than Republicans. John Edwards, for example, reassured the nation that "the hand of God today is in every step of what happens with me and every human being that exists on this planet." In the same forum, Hillary Clinton proclaimed that she "had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought. And that's all one can expect or hope for."

When religious language enters the political arena in this way, as an end in itself, it always sends the same symbolic message: Yes, Virginia (or Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina) there are absolute values, universal truths that can never change. You are not adrift in a sea of moral chaos. Elect me and you're sure to have a fixed mooring to hold you and your community fast forever.

That message does its work in cultural depths that arguments about the separation of church and state can never touch. Even if the candidates themselves don't always understand what their words are doing, this is the biggest, most overlooked piece in today's faith and politics puzzle -- and once you start looking for it, you find it nearly everywhere on the political landscape.

The Threat to Democracy

So, when it comes to religion and politics, here's the most critical question: Should we turn the political arena into a stage to dramatize our quest for moral certainty? The simple answer is no -- for lots of reasons.

For starters, it's a direct threat to democracy. The essence of our system is that we, the people, get to choose our values. We don't discover them inscribed in the cosmos. So everything must be open to question, to debate, and therefore to change. In a democracy, there should be no fixed truth except that everyone has the right to offer a new view -- and to change his or her mind. It's a process whose outcome should never be predictable, a process without end. A claim to absolute truth -- any absolute truth -- stops that process.

For those of us who see the political arena as the place where the whole community gathers to work for a better world, it's even more important to insist that politics must be about large-scale change. The politics of moral absolutes sends just the opposite message: Don't worry, whatever small changes are necessary, it's only in order to resist the fundamental crumbling that frightens so many. Nothing really important can ever change.

Many liberals and progressives hear that profoundly conservative message even when it's hidden beneath all the reasonable arguments about church and state. That's one big reason they are often so quick to sound a shrill alarm at every sign of faith-based politics.

They also know how easy it is to go from "there is a fixed truth" to "I have that fixed truth." And they've seen that the fixed truth in question is all too often about personal behaviors that ought to be matters of free choice in a democracy.

Which brings us to the next danger: Words alone are rarely enough to reassure the uncertain. In fact, the more people rely on faith talk to pursue certainty, the more they may actually reinforce both anxiety and uncertainty. It's a small step indeed to move beyond the issue of individual self-control to controlling others through the passage of laws.

Campaigns to put the government's hands on our bodies are not usually missionary efforts meant to make us accept someone else's religion. They are much more often campaigns to stage symbolic dramas about self-control and moral reassurance.

Controlling the Passions

American culture has always put a spotlight on the question: Can you control your impulses and desires -- especially sexual desires -- enough to live up to the moral rules? As historian of religion John F. Wilson tells us, the quest for surety has typically focused on a "control of self" that "through discipline" finally becomes self-control. In the 2008 presidential campaign, this still remains true. Listen, for example, to Barack Obama: "My Bible tells me that if we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it. So I think faith and guidance can help fortify? a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy."

Mitt Romney fit snugly into the same mold. He started his widely-heralded statement on religion by talking about a time when "our nation faced its greatest peril," a threat to "the survival of a free land." Was he talking about terrorism? No. He immediately went on to warn that the real danger comes from "human passions unbridled." Only morality and religion can do the necessary bridling, he argued, quoting John Adams to make his case: "Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people" -- in other words, people who can control themselves. That's why "freedom requires religion."

All too often, though, the faith-talk view of freedom ends up taking away freedom. When Romney said he'd be "delighted" to sign "a federal ban on all abortions," only a minority of Americans approved of that position (if we can believe the polls), but it was a sizeable minority. For them, fear of unbridled passion is stronger than any commitment to personal freedom.

In the end, it may be mostly their own passions that they fear. But since the effort to control oneself is frustrating, it can easily turn into a quest for "control over other selves," to quote historian Wilson again, "with essentially bipolar frameworks for conceiving of the world: good versus bad, us versus them" -- "them" being liberals, secular humanists, wild kids, or whatever label the moment calls for.

The upholders of virtue want to convince each other that their values are absolutely true. So they stick together and stand firm against those who walk in error. As Romney put it, "Any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty has a friend and ally in me."

That's the main dynamic driving the movements to ban abortion and gay marriage. But they're just the latest in a long line of such movements, including those aimed at prohibiting or restricting alcohol, drugs, gambling, birth control, crime, and other behaviors that are, in a given period, styled as immoral.

Since it's always about getting "them" to control their passions, the target is usually personal behavior. But it doesn't have to be. Just about any law or policy can become a symbol of eternal moral truth -- even foreign policy, one area where liberals, embarked on their own faith-talk campaigns, are more likely to join conservatives.

The bipartisan war on terror has, for instance, been a symbolic drama of "us versus them," acting out a tale of moral truth. Rudolph Giuliani made the connection clear shortly after the 9/11 attack when he went to the United Nations to whip up support for that "war." "The era of moral relativism? must end," he demanded. "Moral relativism does not have a place in this discussion and debate."

Nor does it have a place in the current campaign debate about foreign policy. Candidate Huckabee, for example, has no hesitation about linking war abroad to the state of morality here at home. He wants to continue fighting in Iraq, he says, because "our way of life, our economic and moral strength, our civilization is at stake? I am determined to look this evil in the eye, confront it, defeat it." As his anti-gay marriage statement asks, "What's the point of keeping the terrorists at bay in the Middle East, if we can't keep decline and decadence at bay here at home?"

On the liberal side, the theme is more muted but still there. Barack Obama, for instance, has affirmed that the U.S. must "lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good. I still believe that America is the last, best hope of Earth." Apparently that's why we need to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely. Clinton calls for "a bipartisan consensus to ensure our interests, increase our security and advance our values," acting out "our deeply-held desire to remake the world as it ought to be." Apparently that's why, in her words, "we cannot take any option off the table in sending a clear message to the current leadership of Iran."

When words and policies become symbols of moral absolutes, they are usually about preventing some "evil" deed or turning things back to the way they (supposedly) used to be. So they are likely to have a conservative impact, even when they come from liberals.

The Future of Faith Talk

In itself, faith in politics poses no great danger to democracy as long as the debates are really about policies -- and religious values are translated into political values, articulated in ways that can be rationally debated by people who don't share them. The challenge is not to get religion out of politics. It's to get the quest for certitude out of politics.

The first step is to ask why that quest seems increasingly central to our politics today. It's not simply because a right-wing cabal wants to impose its religion on us. The cabal exists, but it's not powerful enough to shape the political scene on its own. That power lies with millions of voters across the political spectrum. Candidates talk about faith because they want to win votes.

Voters reward faith talk because they want candidates to offer them symbols of immutable moral order. The root of the problem lies in the underlying insecurities of voters, in a sense of powerlessness that makes change seem so frightening, and control -- especially of others -- so necessary.

The only way to alter that condition is to transform our society so that voters will feel empowered enough to take the risks, and tolerate the freedom that democracy requires. That would be genuine change. It's a political problem with a political solution. Until that solution begins to emerge, there is no way to take the conservative symbolic message of faith talk out of American politics.

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Who’s Really Sick? Tell Us

Anyone can get health care in the United States. Just ask George W. Bush. Last year in Cleveland, he had this to say to the 47 million Americans without health care coverage:

I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room.

With emergency rooms serving as the Bush administration's solution to the nation's health care crisis, so many people are cramming into them, patient care now is at risk, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School.

But let's be fair. Bush isn't the only Republican leader who doesn't get—or doesn't care—that while the United States pays the most for per person health care coverage than any similar nation, we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries.

Here's what former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a recent debate:

The reason health care isn’t working like a market right now is you have 47 million people that are saying, “I’m not going to play. I’m just going to get free care paid for by everybody else.” That doesn’t work.

Bad-mouthing uninsured Americans as "slackers" is not what the union movement, the progressive community, or just about anybody with an ounce of compassion supports.

So, to help candidates running for office this year understand what's at stake, we've just launched an online survey. The 2008 Health Care for America Survey, jointly sponsored by us at the AFL-CIO and our community partner, Working America, runs through February and we will give the results to candidates at the state, congressional and presidential levels to ensure they understand what working families are experiencing. (You can read the stories here and vote on those you think make the most impact.)

Along with specific questions on affordability and quality, experiences with insurance companies, hospitals and doctors and suggested remedies, the survey also gives you the chance to tell your own story.

People are hungry to tell their experiences. The survey has been public only a couple days, and already more than 4,600 people have filled it out, while another 1,400 have taken time to write often heart-felt descriptions of their own experiences or of those close to them. Richard, a Machinists union member in Kansas, writes:

I'm a volunteer delivering low-cost hot meals to senior citizens and the disabled. I have an elderly lady who had to stop the meal program because she had to pay for her medications and couldn't afford both. She said her prescriptions costs are over $500 per month because she's in the "donut hole" allowed by Medicare.

That donut hole—the amount not covered by Medicare prescription drug benefit—is compliments of the Republican-led Congress, who strong-armed lawmakers into passing the hugely flawed Medicare prescription drug bill in 2006.

In South Dakota, Kim's writes that his brother, Kent, hadn't seen a doctor in years because he couldn't afford health insurance and certainly couldn't pay the doctor's bill out of his own pocket. By the time his bladder cancer was diagnosed in 2003, it was too late. Kent died less than two years later.

The stories are more than about individual pain. They say a lot about the values of those who run this nation. Kelly, in Rhode Island, says she has the following options to obtain health care coverage she and her family can't afford:

A few months ago we were notified that we make "too much money" to continue to the state shared-cost health insurance. I discussed options with my employer. Finding out that my share of the cost would be $865/month, I re-contacted the carrier dropping us to see if there was anything that we could do. We were told the following options:

I could divorce my husband and he could apply for himself and the children; since he is disabled with very little income he would qualify. Next option was to work less. I was told straight out that if I were to work less—bring home less money—I would qualify for the health insurance and possibly welfare and food stamp. The last option given to me (just cruel!) was to transfer legal guardianship of my children to my parents who would then be able to place the children under their health care plan at a more reasonable cost.

I should give up my husband, give up my children, give up my home ( I won't be able to afford it very soon) or take the state for all I can?…Someone needs to take a stand and something needs to be done! Please, for all Americans, not just my family, make sure that you vote!

I hope you get a chance to take the survey, vote on stories you think make the most impact and pass around the survey. Lawmakers need to know.

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ABC News: Huckabee's Son Arrested With Handgun

In this booking photo released by the Pulaski County Sheriff's office, David Huckabee, 26, a son of former Arkansas Gov, and Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, is shown in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, April 26, 2007. David Huckabee was arrested at Little Rock's airport Thursday after a federal X-ray technician detected a loaded Glock pistol in his carry-on luggage. (AP Photo/Pulaski County Sheriff)

David Huckabee, a son of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was arrested at an Arkansas airport Thursday after a federal X-ray technician detected a loaded Glock pistol in his carry-on luggage.

"I removed the bag and asked Mr. Huckabee if he knew what he had in the bag," Little Rock police officer Arthur Nugent wrote in a report after being summoned to a security checkpoint. "He replied he did now."

Huckabee, 26, later pleaded guilty in Little Rock District Court after being charged with a misdemeanor count of possessing a weapon in a prohibited place.

"It was a silly mistake," Huckabee told reporters as he left the Pulaski County Jail. When asked whether it would affect his father's presidential campaign, Huckabee responded, "It shouldn't."

District Judge Lee Munson gave Huckabee a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered him into 10 days of community service which Huckabee can avoid by paying $100. Huckabee will be on probation for a year. Fines and costs totaled $855.

The son of the former Arkansas governor held a concealed weapons permit at the time of the incident but state police are taking steps to revoke it. The elder Huckabee, who said last week that Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho perhaps could have been stopped if a teacher or student had also been armed, also has a concealed weapons permit.

"My wife and I love our son. What he did was irresponsible but not intentional," Mike Huckabee said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Nugent said David Huckabee had a .40-caliber Glock pistol in his black carry-on bag. Eight live rounds were in the gun none in the chamber and a nine-round clip was also in the bag. The weapon and ammunition were detained by Little Rock police while David Huckabee's gun permit was seized and given to the Arkansas State Police.

Mike Huckabee said his son grabbed the bag on the way to the airport and didn't realize the gun was inside.

"It's one of those stupid things," Mike Huckabee said. "He knows better."

NEW YORK (AP) Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney likened Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler in a speech on Thursday to Jewish university students.

Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a myth and said that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

"We are faced with the horrific proposition that those who speak of genocide are developing the capability to carry it out," Romney, referring to the Islamic jihad movement, said in a dinner speech for the business school of Yeshiva University.

The former Massachusetts governor said Iran and its leader are threats to Israel and that Ahmadinejad has "gone beyond the boundary of outrage."

"His purpose is not only to deny the Holocaust; it is to deny Israel," Romney said. "He is doing as another evil man did before him: conditioning minds to acquiesce to the elimination of a nation."

Associated Press writers Liz Sidoti in Boston and Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Punishing Thought Crime: Would New Bill Make YOU a Terrorist

According to Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., House Resolution 1955, otherwise known as the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, is a much-needed piece of national security legislation subject to unnecessary paranoia and fear. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the resolution, which Harman sponsored, is one step too close to an Orwellian nightmare, especially for the Democrats who concocted it.

The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. But first, let's back up and check the facts.

House Resolution 1955 was introduced without fanfare in April 2007 by Harman and passed with little disagreement in October 2007. In fact, more House politicians missed the vote than voted against it, and if that isn't unanimity as far as American politics go, I don't know what is. Considering the resolution engages three charged terms in succession -- "violent," "radical," "terrorism" -- it's hard to believe that it wasn't designed to scare the living daylights out of every representative who showed up to vote that day. It also might explain why it garnered 404 yeas and barely enough nays -- six, to be exact -- to count on one hand. And while 22 representatives declined to show up for the vote, those who felt that H.R. 1955 was a terrible waste of time and tax funds had no chance at voting it down anyway.

In any case, it's the Senate's headache now.

"Legislation such as this demands heavy-handed governmental action against American citizens where no crime has been committed," Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul complained to the House in December, after missing the vote while campaigning. "It is yet another attack on our constitutionally protected civil liberties. It is my sincere hope that we will reject such approaches to security, which will fail at their stated goal at a great cost to our way of life."

The initial text of H.R. 1955 states its aim clearly enough before falling into obfuscation -- "to prevent homegrown terrorism, and for other purposes" -- a characteristic that could be argued to be its defining template. Speaking of definitions (or the lack thereof), H.R. 1955 defines "homegrown terrorism" and "violent radicalization" nebulously; the former is merely "the use, planned use or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives," while the latter means "the process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change." Ideologically based violence, in turn, is defined as "the use, planned use or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious or social beliefs."

Sounds fair enough, until you start crunching the language and come to the realization that practically anyone, on any given day, could fit the description. Which is vague on purpose, as one realizes the farther one digs.

H.R. 1955 also aims to establish not just a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, but also a university-related Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States, two new bureaucracies sure to attract the type of conceptualists that brought you everything from the lame-duck Meese Commission on the alleged link between pornographers and organized crime to the Project for the New American century's invasion and occupation of Iraq in the first place. In the case of the national commission, its supposedly nonpartisan membership is to be hand-picked by not just majority and minority leaders in the Senate and House, among others, but also the president -- which means George W. Bush until further notice. And if you think there is comfort to be found in the fact that both the House and the Senate are controlled by Democrats, think again.

"The problem lies not so much in who selects them," explained Mike German, ACLU National Security Policy Counsel, "but in the expertise the bill requires commission members to have and in the requirement that they be eligible for, and receive, security clearances. This requirement will make it far more likely government insiders are selected for the commission, which will of course effect the recommendations they later make."

Which is to say that the commission will likely be staffed by those already on board with H.R. 1955's suspicious xenophobia. Given the fact that its definitions of homegrown terrorism and violent radicalization are so wide-ranging to be practically indefinite, it is striking that Islam and Islam alone is the only major religion or belief system specifically mentioned in the bill. Which is no accident: In Jane Harman's prepared statement for H.R. 1955's related House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment hearing in November, ominously entitled "Using the Web as a Weapon: the Internet as a Tool for Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism," she had nothing to say about terrorists of any other kind. Instead, she mentions three Muslims, one a Jewish convert, who sympathize with al Qaeda or post YouTube videos showing how build bombs out of toy boats, before concluding that "These people no longer need to travel to foreign countries or isolated backwoods compounds to become indoctrinated by extremists and to learn how to kill their neighbors."

And while the text of H.R. 1955 takes some pains to back-door its way out of any anti-Islam imperatives -- with what could only be regarded as a footnote buried in Section 899F, subsection 7, that reads "individuals should not be targeted based solely on race, ethnicity or religion" -- almost all of the examples cited in the resolution itself as well as prepared statements by its sponsor and co-sponsors take pains to only mention Muslims.

But it's not just race and religion: The perception of H.R. 1955 is so bad that Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security Bennie Thompson actually had to post a fact sheet in December arguing, among other hilarious things, that the resolution "does not legislate thought or protected political expression and free speech. There are no provisions seeking to change the criminal code or set up a 'Big Brother' regime to put Americans under surveillance."

Methinks the pol doth protest too much.

But the behavioral aims of the National Commission and its Center of Excellence are irrelevant to the matter at hand, which is the generation of revenue and jobs for its friends in the national security sector. Harman's district alone encompasses defense industry giants, which is reflected in her list of top contributors like Boeing (extraordinary rendition!), Raytheon (the pain ray!) and more. And while Harman told In These Times in November that "We're not looking for political cronies," it would be a crime against credulity to claim that members of both the Commission and the Center will feature anyone she hasn't already known yet, directly or otherwise.

"It will no doubt prove to be another bureaucracy that artificially inflates problems so as to guarantee its future existence and funding," Paul predicted in his House speech. "But it may do so at great further expense to our civil liberties." It is, he concluded, an "unwise and dangerous solution in search of a real problem."

The most pressing liberty Ron Paul, the ACLU, Dennis Kucinich and pretty much most left- and right-leaning organizations fear outright is a restriction on the right of internet access, since the House Subcommittee hearings and text of the resolution seized upon it with almost draconian intent. "The Web as a Weapon?" The question begs another: How do you disarm that weapon?

"I agree that focusing a commission to study how Americans 'adopt' belief systems is problematic," said German, "but focusing the Commission on the Internet as an aid to, or facilitator of violent radicalization, will likely result in a recommendation to censor the internet in some manner, which would obviously be a violation of the First Amendment."

Kucinich, who was one of the scant few to vote against the resolution, was equally suspicious. But as usual, he's a bit more dystopian about such measures in his outlook, calling it the "thought crime bill" during a speech to supporters in December.

"If you understand what his bill does, it really sets the stage for further criminalization of protest," Kucinich said. "This is the way our democracy, little by little, is being stripped away from us."

"It only creates a commission," reminded German. "It does not create any new criminal laws or impose any penalties." But that's the bright side. The dark side is as Orwellian as Paul and Kucinich believe.

"The concern," German added, "is that what the commission might recommend to Congress will have great weight. And as we saw with the Patriot Act and the 9/11 Commission recommendations, in a crisis, Congress might just take something off the shelf to create new legislation rather than make its own determination of what truly needs to be done."

If you need a refresher on what that means, rewind your clocks about a decade. Travel back to a time when terrorism was defined as other people, those with a specific or nebulous grievance, including a great many reasonable ones, against the interests of what H.R. 1955 calls the "political and social objectives" of the United States. Long before America inflated its carbon emissions during a global warming crisis, or invaded a sovereign but nevertheless oil-rich nation without cause and killed upwards of hundreds of thousands of its people. Long before the age of Hummers, hedge funds and horror-porn flying in the face of resource wars started over tsunamis, famines and floods. Now fast-forward to the present, look into the mirror, and identify yourself as the terrorist you already may be.

If you had a good reason, that is. But that's not for you to decide. It's up to the National Commission and the Center for Excellence. And their top contributors.

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House prepares to file contempt charges against Bush aides

Activists wonder whether move will work

Well-rested and back at work after a monthlong vacation, Congressional Democrats are preparing for a move in the House to approve criminal contempt citations against two Bush administration figures.

Democratic aides tell RAW STORY that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is preparing to bring the contempt citations passed by the Judiciary Committee to the full House for a vote.

Pelosi has not determined a date for a vote but is "pretty certain" to push forward the contempt charges against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former counsel Harriet Miers, a leadership aide said. Bolten and Miers refused to respond to Congressional subpoenas last year requesting their testimony and documents related to the federal prosecutor purge scandal that resulted in Alberto Gonzales stepping down as Attorney General.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the contempt charges in July and Pelosi and Committee Chairman John Conyers believed there were enough votes for the measure to pass the House in October.

Judiciary Committee Republicans on Wednesday sent a letter to Pelosi asking her not to pursue the criminal charges, arguing the attorney firing investigation so far has failed to demonstrate any malfeasance by the administration.

"Rather than conclude the investigation, Democrats now plan to take this meaningless pursuit one step further," read the letter co-signed by ranking member Lamar Smith and nine other GOP judiciary panel members. "Bringing contempt charges against Ms. Miers and Mr. Bolten is a waste of valuable time and would force a constitutional confrontation that is unwarranted."

Activists who have been following the case are wary about whether the contempt citations would compel White House compliance with the congressional probe. The Justice Department, under Gonzales, indicated it would not prosecute contempt charges against administration figures. President Bush has invoked executive privilege in justifying his administration's lack of cooperation.

"I would be surprised if [new Attorney General Michael] Mukasey would take a different position ... since the Bush White House seems to be directing this," Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told RAW STORY.

Sloan said the latest step from Congress may just be an opportunity to force current White House counsel Fred Fielding to moderate the administration's position.

"When these things have happened in the past, people have eventually caved," Sloan said, "and they've worked it out."

Democratic aides have previously said they don't expect any Republicans to cross the aisle in voting for the contempt charges to be filed.

Sloan lamented that this issue seems to have become more focused on partisan politics than institutional prerogatives. Regardless of political party, Congress need to be able to exercise its constitutional oversight, she said, and that includes calling on administration figures to testify.

"This is why everyone in Congress is so short-sighted. ... What if it is a president of a different party?" she said. "You really think if we had Hillary Clinton as president and this was the situation, Republicans wouldn't be screaming? Of course they would."

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