What Do They Have to Do to Lose Your Vote?

Ralph Nader‘s running mate, Matt Gonzalez, asks “What do they have to do to lose your vote?“.

Good question. What’s your breaking point? How much support for the death penalty, corporate welfare, corporate crime, saying one thing and voting differently, and silencing electoral competition will you continue to tolerate? How effectively can major-party candidates use fear to keep you from voting your interests?

I find it amazing that major-party candidate supporters ask everyone nationally to “do the math” (motivated by fear of the opposing major-party candidate, no doubt) and voters from electoral-college-insignificant counties (like all counties in Illinois except Cook county, where Chicago is) obey them concluding that they had better vote “defensively” for a Republican or Democrat. Millions of voters nationwide are in such positions and they apparently aren’t doing the math: their vote for US President is inconsequential because of the structure of the electoral college. It wouldn’t matter if nobody but Cook county Illinois voted for US President because Cook county basically dictates where all of Illinois’ electoral votes go. People apparently know that the way to speak out in such a rigged game is to not vote at all (and tell people you dislike all the ballot-qualified choices, and then organize politically for a binding “None of the Above” choice) or to vote for someone other than a major-party candidate. In counties with sufficient population to steer electoral votes, there is plenty of good reason to vote your values (which almost certainly aren’t well reflected by corporate-funded major-party candidates).

City, county, congressional, and state votes, on the other hand, matter a great deal because you have more power there. Unfortunately those elections are rigged in other ways (we couldn’t, for instance, have a 90%+ Congressional retention rate otherwise—everyone’s Congressperson is corrupt but yours, right?). The media is a major source of problems for any campaign who refuses to spout corporate-friendly views. Interviews are easily blacked out (consider how little air time third-party and independent candidates like Nader/Gonzalez get these days but how much time TV hosts like MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have to talk about the latest round of ads from McCain/Obama; Maddow’s segment with Ron Paul on October 30th was getting interesting when she abruptly ended the segment without any real discussion of the issues Paul raised). Media buys are horribly expensive (particularly for cash-strapped small campaigns) and TV debate coverage is prejudicial and unreliable. Sometimes TV debates are canceled when participants don’t meet capricious qualifications (like the New York anti-war candidate, Jonathan Tasini, who couldn’t debate Hilary Clinton for US Senate because he hadn’t raised enough money, or the CPD restrictions which are set to keep everyone but the two major-party candidates out). Or sometimes they’re canceled when media outlets don’t want to push for broadening the terms of allowable debate (like when Google recently canceled its debate because Sen. Obama refused to appear; probably because Google would have had him debate Ralph Nader).

Democracy Now! puts the corporate “debates” to shame

Today’s Democracy Now! program put to shame the corporate media and corporate-run so-called debates (run through the Commission on Public Debates) and did it in one hour (including breaks and headline news coverage).

Senators Obama and McCain get plenty of time for lame topics like negative campaigning but third-party and independent candidates get a virtual media blackout. McCain lamented that this “very tough” campaign “could have done at least ten [town hall meetings] by now” but it’s a safe bet that neither McCain nor Obama would have debated anyone but each other in order to narrow the terms of allowable debate. According to Ralph Nader, Google cancelled its debate (where it looked like Nader would have been included) when Obama pulled out. McCain/Obama ignore salient issues as well: discussion of the invasion and occupation of Iraq was scarce, the war in Afghanistan was unmentioned. These two wars are worth trillions of dollars that could have been better spent at home delivering exactly the kind of health care plan both corporate candidacies run from: single-payer universal health care (McCain tries to attack Obama from the left on this and Obama flees from identification with single-payer universal health care despite that’s what a majority of the US public wants). Meanwhile, both McCain and Obama are for giving $700B to corporations under the control of an unelected Goldman Sachs businessman who won’t so much as appear in a public hearing.

DN! invited Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr, Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin, Independent candidate Ralph Nader, and Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney to respond to the same questions put to the Democratic and Republican nominees. Barr and Baldwin couldn’t appear so we got to hear from Nader and McKinney.

I highly recommend watching or hearing what these candidates have to say (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript). These are the views you won’t get to hear on the mainstream corporate-led media.

Amy Goodman also announced that she’ll be moderating the third-party candidate debate from 7:00 to 9:00 on October 19th. I hope Nader will participate in that event and I look forward to learning more about the excluded candidates from their own words.

Which kind of pollution do you want: Ground water or air?

Sen. Obama (D-IL) can see to them both. Both corporate US presidential candidates have been upfront about their shared allegiance to so-called “clean coal” (one of many important points on which the two major party candidates agree) but the corporate press won’t tell you what that phrase really means. On 2008 October 7, Democracy Now! hosted a debate between Joe Lucas, a spokesperson for the “clean coal” campaign, and Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network and author of the new book Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal. (audio, high-quality audio, video, transcript).

Counterpunch.org has the scoop on one of Obama’s other major campaign funders—Exelon:

In 2006 Obama took up the cause of Illinois residents who were angry with Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, for not having disclosed a leak at one of their nuclear plants in the state. Obama responded by quickly introducing a bill that would require nuclear facilities to immediately notify state and federal agencies of all leaks, large or small.

At first it seemed Obama was intent on making a change in the reporting protocol, even demonizing Exelon’s inaction in the press. But Obama could only go so far, as Exelon executives, including Chairman John W. Rowe who serves as a key lobbyist for the Nuclear Energy Lobby, have long been campaign backers, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars dating back to Obama’s days in the Illinois State Legislature.

Despite his initial push to advance the legislation, Obama’s office eventually rewrote the bill, producing a version that was palatable to Exelon and the rest of the nuclear industry. “Senator Obama’s staff was sending us copies of the bill to review, we could see it weakening with each successive draft,” said Joe Cosgrove, a park district director in Will County, Illinois, where the nuclear leaks had polluted local ground water. “The teeth were just taken out of it.”

Inevitably the bill died a slow death in the Senate. And like an experienced political operative, Obama came out of the battle as a martyr for both sides of the cause. His constituents back in Illinois thought he fought a good fight while industry insiders knew the Obama machine was worth investing in.

Obama’s campaign wallet, while rich with millions from small online donations, is also bulging from $227,000 in contributions given by employees of Exelon. Two of Obama’s largest campaign fundraisers include Frank M. Clark and John W. Rogers Jr., both top Exelon officials. Even Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, has done consulting work for the company.

During a Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works hearing in 2005, Obama, who serves on the committee, asserted that since Congress was debating the negative impact of CO2 emissions “on the global ecosystem, it is reasonable — and realistic — for nuclear power to remain on the table for consideration.” Shortly thereafter, Nuclear Notes, the industry’s top trade publication, praised the senator. “Back during his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004, [Obama] said that he rejected both liberal and conservative labels in favor of ‘common sense solutions’. And when it comes to nuclear energy, it seems like the Senator is keeping an open mind.”

The rising star of the Democratic Party’s ties to the nuclear industry run deep indeed, but Obama may not only be loyal to Exelon and friends.

Exelon is also a major backer of Rep. Timothy V. Johnson (R-IL) campaign.

Money can’t buy love, but apparently money buys litigation.

Finance Sector Gave 51 Percent More to House Bailout Backers

The Center for Responsive Politics is reporting members of the House of Representatives who supported bailing out the financial sector have received 51 percent more in campaign contributions from the finance, insurance and real estate sector in their congressional careers than those who opposed the emergency legislation.

Democracy Now! headlines from September 30, 2008

Immunity-Backing Dems Netted Higher Share of Telecom Donations

[A] new analysis shows Democratic Congress members who changed their vote to support immunizing telecom companies in last week’s FISA bill have on average received thousands more from phone companies than those Democrats who have voted consistently against immunity. Ninety-four Democrats voted against immunity as recently as March but changed their votes to support it last week. According to MAPlight.org, these Democrats have received an average $8,000 in telecom contributions over the last three years. The 116 Democrats who remain opposed to immunity received on average nearly $5,000.

Democracy Now! headlines from June 25, 2008

OpenSecrets.org also has analysis on “FISA Flipfloppers”.

Links to relevant research has been added.

Real debates need more candidates and more views

Lawrence Lessig calls for “Open Debates”:

  1. The presidential debates are for the benefit of the public. Therefore, the right to speak about the debates ought to be “owned” by the public, not controlled by the media.
  2. “Town hall” Internet questions should be chosen by the people, not solely by the media.

and expands on these principles in his letter signed by 23 people.

A much better Open Debates is found online at opendebates.org. Lessig’s call to action is timid and doesn’t address the most salient problem with the Commission on Presidential Debates (or CPD) “debates”—the slim distance between the only two participants allowed on the floor makes for a very narrow discussion. Allowing any candidate who has enough ballot access to theoretically win the presidency would change the debates from a predictable snoozefest to being something worth watching.

The CPD “debates” were designed to only allow in the Democratic and Republican nominees. Under the CPD’s leadership the candidates never face questions outside the range of allowable debate:

  • pro-war—whom shall we bomb or invade instead of whether we go to war; if you’re poor and your children are headed to the military to try and get a government-funded college education, these two candidates are asking you where you want your children to die: Iraq (McCain), Afghanistan (Obama), or Iran (McCain/Obama). If Obama gets his way, Pakistan may be on the list as well.
  • anti-universal single-payer health insurance—McCain’s comment in the first CPD “debate” (“I want to make sure we’re not handing the health care system over to the federal government which is basically what would ultimately happen with Senator Obama’s health care plan.”) was intended to be a dig at Obama but it fell flat because Obama is just as much against single-payer universal health insurance as McCain. This despite recent CBS and CNN polls that 60-64% of Americans want “guarantee[d] health insurance for all”.
  • pro-corporate bailout—neither candidate needs to explain clearly why it’s the American public’s job to take on the loans the lending institutions don’t want to carry, nor any clear guarantee of responsibilities should we bail them out. Instead viewers get more talk along the lines of how quickly we must engage what is called the “rescue” legislation. Should this not work, will the Democrats come to the corporation’s rescue again and call off any talk of investigation or trial like they rescued Pres. G. W. Bush by taking impeachment “off the table”?
  • Expressing outrage at Russia for an illegal invasion without acknowledging recent illegal American invasions.

I’m for placing the raw footage in the public domain but increased access to these recordings won’t address any of the more important life and death/big money issues above. And to Lessig’s second principle: it’s trivially easy for the CPD to game that system with shills who won’t ask questions outside the allowable range of debate. Other candidates in real debates would bring up issues and views that the corporate-funded candidates don’t want to answer and offer the American public better perspectives on important issues of the day.

Update (2008-10-12): Amy Goodman’s column focuses on this issue as well providing more background on the CPD (audio, transcript).

Job-based health insurance premiums double while speculators profit

Democracy Now! has the scoop: (link added)

In healthcare news, a new study says job-based health insurance premiums have doubled in the last decade. The Kaiser Family Foundation says the increase far out-paces the accompanying rise in inflation over the same period.

Read the full report (PDF, local copy of PDF, HTML)

Keep that in mind when you hear the President tell us

The government’s top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic, and a distressing scenario would unfold. More banks could fail, including some in your community. The stock market would drop even more, which would reduce the value of your retirement account. The value of your home could plummet. Foreclosures would rise dramatically. And if you own a business or a farm, you would find it harder and more expensive to get credit. More businesses would close their doors, and millions of Americans could lose their jobs. Even if you have good credit history, it would be more difficult for you to get the loans you need to buy a car or send your children to college. And ultimately, our country could experience a long and painful recession. Fellow citizens, we must not let this happen.

and corporatists from the Democrats and Republicans tell us the same.
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…but do we have the will to preserve our software freedom?

Bruce Byfield is writing good sense about free software, and he asks a good question: do we have the will to pursue our freedom or will we settle for something less than full control of our computers? We should want freedom not just because it gives us all sorts of practical advantages but because we can treat other people with the respect they deserve too. We can share with friends, even if we’re not terribly technical users (that’s what aggravates proprietary software developers, or so we’re told). One can’t ethically defend constraining another’s freedom to share and modify even if one has no interest in doing so.

When AIG funds campaigns who benefits?

According to OpenSecrets.org, AIG was happy to fund Democrats and Republicans:

Of all the companies making headlines this week, AIG has been the most nonpartisan in its contributions, splitting evenly the $9.7 million it has contributed over time. Sen. Chris Dodd, chair of the Senate banking committee, has racked up the most from AIG, with a total of $281,400, while Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of both the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, takes second with $116,400. Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama collected $103,000 and $82,600 from AIG, respectively.

So now you know where some of AIG’s money went. Maybe now that a majority of AIG is nationalized (see, socialism is okay now! It all depends on who the beneficiaries are!) their campaign contributions will change.

Probably not.

Nader: I predicted Fannie/Freddie bailout 8 years ago

“Nader Rips Mae and Mac,” declared the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal on June 16, 2000. “Ralph Nader, warning of a potential taxpayer bailout similar to the savings and loan crisis, urged lawmakers to cut government benefits to mortgage-market giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – which he called ‘poster children for corporate welfare.'”

This year Nader, who is also running for president as an independent, is getting credit for his prescience.

“Give one presidential candidate credit for identifying the problem and getting the policy right – and doing so before the twin government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went into the tank in mid-July,” wrote Lou Dubose in The Washington Spectator on Aug. 1. Dubose went on to quote Nader’s June 15, 2000 Congressional testimony about HR 3703, a bill that would have reigned in some of the most dangerous tendencies of GSE’s, had it passed.


Be sure to read Nader’s “10-point plan to cool off the financial markets meltdown”

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Ralph Nader remembers Peter Miguel Camejo

Ralph Nader remembers a champion of social justice and former running-mate Peter Miguel Camejo. Camejo died this past Saturday, as his gubernatorial website put it, “due to the aggressiveness of his cancer and the strength of the drugs used to combat his disease”.

I remember seeing Peter Camejo on TV in 2003 debate to become California’s governor in the recall election. I was impressed: He spoke with concision and eloquence, made Progressive arguments for social ills—not surprisingly the same list of ideas Ralph Nader defends in his current presidential campaign. I also remember laughing as Arianna Huffington referred to Camejo as a “spoiler” in a televised debate while they were competing against hundreds of other candidates, some of whom were invited to be part of that debate. In late September 2003 I enjoyed a small bit of schadenfreude when she dropped out and he continued his candidacy to the end of the race. I’m glad I voted for him for US Vice President.