Free Press

FCC Leader Doing Trump's Dirty Work Against a Free Press

Journalists in Manila had very little time to cover Monday’s meeting between President Donald Trump and his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte. But it was enough to witness one aspect of the budding bromance between these two world leaders.

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10 Reasons Why John Kasich Is As Rabidly Right-Wing as the Rest of the GOP Presidential Candidate Pack

It’s not surprising that Ohio's twitchy Republican governor, John Kasich, who just announced his candidacy for president, was picked by Fox News for its primetime 2016 candidate debate. This is the man who went to Cleveland and told Browns football fans that he rooted for their arch-rival, the Steelers. But his real loyalty has always been to the rich and powerful. In the era of the Kent State shooting, he was one of Nixon’s Stepford-clone youth.

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Why Millions of American Children Will Not Have the Tools They Need to Succeed

The Internet is no longer a child. It was conceived by the defense department in the 1960s, nurtured by academics and engineers in the 1970s and adopted by billions of people in the years since.

Susan Crawford’s new book, Captive Audience, details a host of challenges for the Internet and its users as this network enters middle age.

Many of its recent growing pains come at the hands of network providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon that sell access to the global network.

While these companies don’t own the Internet, they often act like they do, and are pursuing polices to wrest control over Internet content away from its many users.

Crawford's basic argument is this: Internet users can no longer take the network for granted, or stand by as monopoly-minded companies encroach on our rights.

“Truly high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago,” Crawford writes, “but a limited number of Americans have access to it, many can’t afford it, and the country has handed control of it over to Comcast and a few other companies.”

Captive Audience illustrates how federal bureaucrats have allowed phone and cable companies to dictate Internet policy. FCC regulators who roll over for these powerful incumbents are often rewarded at the end of their tenure with plum jobs at these same companies.

The result is a corrupted system that puts profits before the public interest. For proof, just look at the international rankings for broadband access and services, which show the United States falling far behind other developed nations. The failures of American broadband are directly linked to policies that favored a handful of network providers.

The tendency among the many PR operatives who work for the likes of Comcast and AT&T (and who have been especially active this month denouncing Crawford’s book on Amazon and in other media) is to fault excessive regulations: If only we unchained the invisible hand of the marketplace, they argue, then the American Internet would be numero uno.

The truth, as Crawford points out, lies somewhere else. Lobbying powerhouses like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have flexed their financial muscle in Washington to ensure that the billion-dollar spoils of the Internet access business are shared among only a few corporations. The policies resulting from this largesse have destroyed a once-competitive marketplace.

Most Americans buying home Internet access today have just two choices: the local monopoly phone company or the local monopoly cable provider. AT&T and Verizon dominate the wireless Internet access market and also control the critical infrastructure that smaller and increasingly irrelevant competitors like Sprint need.

We have no choice but to do business with these dominant companies. If we think they're ripping us off, we can't vote with our feet — there's nowhere else to go.

This concentration of power among a handful of digital gatekeepers has very real — and very negative — consequences for the rest of us.

According to Crawford and other public advocates, including Free Press, cable and telecom giants are concerned only with maximizing their shareholders’ profits.  As a result Americans pay far more for far less than people in developed countries whose policymakers have promoted competition over dividends. Crawford rightly notes that it's time our leaders in Washington, D.C., did the same.

Market choice drives down prices while increasing options for consumers. The absence of affordable options is the main reason nearly 20 million people in the U.S., mostly in rural and low-income communities, lack access to affordable broadband service.

To remedy this, we need to confront the market power of phone and cable companies and open the way for alternatives, like the municipal broadband networks communities are trying to build across the country.

The good news is that in 2012 Internet users rose up en masse to protect their rights and keep the network open. When the entertainment industry tried to push an Internet-crippling copyright bill, more than 15 million people urged Congress to stop it. When governments used a U.N. telecommunications conference last December to propose new powers to censor the Web, Internet freedom advocates worldwide joined forces to scuttle the plan.

Politicians need to follow the lead of the netroots and people like Crawford — to stop listening only to corporate lobbyists and start representing Internet users.

Crawford says there will be dire consequences if we continue on the current path: Millions of children will not have the tools they need to succeed in the modern world. Tomorrow's innovative companies will set their roots in foreign soil, in countries whose leaders recognize the importance of public interest-driven Internet policies.

As our Internet grows up, we need to look to the future and figure out ways to make it better. There is a role for activism and advocacy, but also one for our government to promote the public interest by ensuring that every American can participate in a free and fair communications market.

Crawford's book is our call to action.

The Terror Faced by Arabs and Muslims in the Aftermath of 9/11

Editor's note: the following is an excerpt from A COUNTRY CALLED AMREEKA by Alia Malek. Copyright c 2009 by Alia Malek. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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The Google-Verizon Deal May Forever Change the Internet As We Know It

Editor's note: Sign AlterNet's petition urging Google to "not be evil" and stop their plans to undermine Net Neutrality.

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Is Obama Abandoning Net Neutrality?

Is the Obama FCC siding with the largest cable and phone companies, and against Net Neutrality and universal Internet access?

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Glenn Beck Sees a Communist Under Every Rock

FOX News' Glenn Beck makes it seem like everyone and everything is a communist, socialist or fascist. What happens when people go looking for them?  Free Press went to find out.

GOP Computer Guru Controls Key Congressional Websites

In 2001, Michael L. Connell of GovTech Solutions, L.L.C., a notoriously partisan GOP operative and Bush family confidant, was selected to re-organize the Capitol Hill IT network.

Under the guise of selecting a female-owned IT company (Connell's wife Heather is listed as the owner), former Ohio Republican Congressman and convicted felon Bob Ney reportedly arranged for Connell to be the man behind the firewall for the U.S. House of Representatives. Connell's role and activities need to be investigated by putting Connell under oath and examining how arguably one of the country's most zealously partisan IT specialists managed to land the contract and be allowed access to this electronic communication system.

Initially, Connell's forays into partisan politics had very public ups and downs. Connell got his big break in 1987 as a staff member for former CIA Director and Vice President George H.W. Bush's successful campaign for president. He programmed and developed an advanced delegate tracking system for Republican National Convention in 1988. With no presidential campaign in 1990, Connell emerged in partisan politics, this time in a well-publicized scandal. On November 11, 1990, Senator Dan Coats, R-Ind., fired Connell for his role in a "push polling" scheme that Coats denounced as "clearly unethical." Next, Connell resurfaced as a congressional staffer and mouthpiece as U.S. Rep. Martin R. Hoke's, R-Ohio, Communication Director in 1993-94.

In 1996 election year, Connell resumed his partisan campaign IT activity. His newly formed New Media Communications began providing design makeovers and software for Republican candidates and organizations in Ohio and Illinois. Public records reflect that he specifically worked on implementing databases and web services for John Bohner's, R-Ohio, Freedom Project PAC, John Kasich's, R-Ohio, Pioneer PAC, and Dick Arney's, R-Texas, Majority Leaders Fund. Also during this period he did computer work for right-wing ideologue David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture and the website

Tom Brazatis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer described Connell as "an Internet consultant in 1998 for the winning campaigns of Republican Governors Bob Taft in Ohio and Jeb Bush in Florida." The article stated that Connell told the Plain Dealer that he had been hired to do "special internet projects" for George W. Bush. "Connell declined to be more specific," noted the Plain Dealer's 2000 article.

After Jeb Bush won the governor's office, Connell received various Florida IT contracts from the governor's office, Florida Department of Education and Community Affairs, and did computer work for the Florida Republican Party. A few months after Bush's 1998 Florida victory, New Media Communications merged with GOP lobbyist and operative Thomas J. Synhorst and formed DCI/New Media L.L.C. in Richfield, Ohio. Synhorst is listed as a co-founder of GovTech. Connell designed,, and during that election cycle.

"I'm loyal to my friends and I'm loyal to the Bush family·" read a Connell quote in Inside Business magazine, November 2, 1999.

Crain's Cleveland Business reported when Connell created GovTech Solutions in 2001 he told them he had "decided to roll out a separate company for its political work because government and corporations are Å’two animals different enough to have it make sense.'" Connell told Crain's that his "GovTech Solutions is the only private-sector company to gain permission from HIR [House Information Resources] to place its servers behind the firewall"

One has to wonder about the implications of the premier partisan campaign IT man, steadfastly loyal to the country's most well-known security-industrial complex and CIA family, serving as the man behind the U.S. Congress' firewall.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Connell's company New Media Communications received more than $800,000 from the Bush-Cheney Re-Election Campaign between January 2003 and October 2004. During the same period New Media Communications brought in $1.2 million in contracts from Republican congressional candidates, political parties, and the National Rifle Association, according to the Akron Beacon Journal on November 24, 2004.

The Man Behind The House's IT Firewall

SourceWatch notes that Connell developed the websites for the House Intelligence, Judiciary, Financial Services, Ways and Means, and Administration Committees. According to SourceWatch, Connell teamed up with R. Rebecca Donatelli, Chair of the D.C.-based Campaign Solutions, to form Connell Donatelli Inc. (CD Inc.) as a specialized online advertising agency in July 2004. One of CD, Inc.'s first activities was to become the registrant, administrator and tech organizer for the anti-Kerry group Swiftboat Veterans for Truth's website

Connell also handled the IT system work for the Bush-Cheney Re-election Campaign and worked for Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell in designing the system that allowed the real time outsourcing of Ohio's presidential vote count to a Chattanooga, Tennessee server site. The blog ePluribus Media deserves great credit for breaking this key story. The Tennessee servers at the old Pioneer Bank building was a massive repository of Republican and conservative websites.

An article about Connell's partisan IT activities in George W. Bush's hometown newspaper, the Crawford, Texas Lone Star Iconoclast, invokes the specter of the Watergate scandal. It notes that "There's Ohio in 2004 when his [Connell's] company (SmartTech) ran election results through his computers before releasing them to Ken Blackwell's Secretary of State office."

The Iconoclast pointed out in that December 18, 2007 article entitled "Plumbers 2.0" that top Bush operatives, including Karl Rove, emailed plans for dismissing eight U.S. attorneys using the accounts set up by Connell and As ePluribus Media put it, "In the virtual worlds of computer security, networking and email, the lines separating the inner workings of the current government in Washington D.C. and the outer world of partisan politics exist only in theory."

The IT cyberstructures created by Connell remain in place for the 2008 election. On February 22, 2008, the Akron Beacon Journal reported Connell's team helped develop the John McCain for President website, just as it helped create the website for the last two Bush presidential campaigns.

While the Republicans tell us to pay no attention to the man behind the congressional firewall, that he's just another government contractor, Connell is thinking long-term. When asked by Campaign and Elections magazine in June 2004 what he wished to be doing in ten years, he replied that his goal was to be in a "senior position" in the campaign to elect Rick Santorum president of the United States. He also cited among his political heroes, Saint Paul because he " ... leveraged Roman citizenship to fuel the expansion of the early church" and he cited George W. Bush because he had "the courage to publicly share his faith."

The Dangerous Atheism of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris

The following is adapted from the new book by Chris Hedges, I Don't Believe in Atheists (Free Press, 2008).

I flew to Los Angeles in May of 2007 to debate Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, in UCLA's cavernous Royce Hall. I debated Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God is Not Great, two days later in San Francisco. I paid little attention, until these two public debates, to the positions of the new atheists, writers that also include Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet. Those are many people of great moral probity and courage who seek meaning outside of formal religious structures, who reject religious language and religious ritual and define themselves as atheists. There are also many religious figures that in the name of one god or another sanctify intolerance, repression and violence. There is nothing intrinsically moral about being a believer or a nonbeliever.

These New Atheists attack a form of religious belief many of us hate. I wrote a book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. I am no friend of Christian radicals. We dislike the same people. We do not dislike them for the same reason. This is not a small difference.

The New Atheists embrace a belief system as intolerant, chauvinistic and bigoted as that of religious fundamentalists. They propose a route to collective salvation and the moral advancement of the human species through science and reason. The utopian dream of a perfect society and a perfect human being, the idea that we are moving towards collective salvation, is one of the most dangerous legacies of the Christian faith and the Enlightenment. Those who believe in the possibility of this perfection often call for the silencing or eradication of human beings who are impediments to human progress. They turn their particular good into a universal good. They are blind to their own corruption and capacity for evil. They soon commit evil, not for evil's sake but to make a better world.

I started Harris' book when it was published but soon put it aside. His facile attack on a form of religious belief I detest, his childish simplicity and ignorance of world affairs, as well as his demonization of Muslims, made the book tedious, at its best, and often idiotic and racist. His assertion that the war in the former Yugoslavia, for example, was caused by religion was ridiculous. I was in the former Yugoslavia, including in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo when it was under siege, as the Balkan bureau chief for the New York Times. While religious institutions and their leaders enthusiastically signed on for the slaughter directed by ethnic nationalist leaders in Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo, religion had nothing to do with the war.

The war had far more to do with the economic collapse of Yugoslavia than religion or ancient ethnic hatreds. His assertion that Muslim parents welcome the death of children who die as suicide bombers -- or that suicide bombers are the logical result of a belief in Islam -- could have been written only by someone who never sat in the home of a grieving mother and father in Gaza who has just lost their child. I did not take Harris seriously. This was a mistake.

I was raised in a church where my father, a Presbyterian minister, spent his career speaking out, often at some personal cost, in support of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam anti-war movement and the gay rights movement. The religious figures I knew, and the ones I sought to emulate when I was a seminarian at Harvard Divinity School, included Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, the Rev. William Sloan Coffin, the Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and Father Daniel Berrigan. It was possible to admire these men and women and what they stood for, and hold in little regard institutional religion. It was possible to find in the Christian faith meaning and purpose while acknowledging the flaws in the Christian system and rejecting the morally indefensible passages in the Bible.

The institutional church has often used its power and religious authority to sanctify cruelty and exclusion. The self-righteous smugness and suffocating piety of religious leaders, along with the habit of speaking on behalf of people they never meet, are characteristic of many liberal and conservative churches. The church often likes the poor but doesn't like the smell of the poor. I graduated from seminary and decided, largely because of my distaste for the hypocrisy of the church, not to get ordained. I left the United States to report on the conflicts in Central America. I rarely go to church now, and when I do, often roll my eyes at the inanity of the sermons and the self-righteousness of many of the congregants, who appear to believe they are "honorary" sinners.

The liberal church, attacked by the atheists as an ineffectual "moderate" religion and by the fundamentalists as a "nominal" form of Christianity, is, as their critics point out, a largely vapid and irrelevant force. It may not support the violent projects of apocalyptic killing championed by atheists such as Harris or Hitchens and these Christian radicals, but it also does not understand how the world works or the seduction of evil. The liberal church is a largely middle class, bourgeoisie phenomenon, filled with many people who have profited from industrialization, the American empire and global capitalism. They often seem to think that if we can be nice and inclusive everything will work out.

There is nothing in human nature or human history to support the idea that we are morally advancing as a species or that we will overcome the flaws of human nature. We progress technologically and scientifically, but not morally. We use the newest instruments of technological and scientific progress to create more efficient forms of killing, repression and economic exploitation, and to accelerate environmental degradation. There is a good and a bad side to human progress. We are not moving towards a glorious utopia. We are not moving anywhere.

Religious institutions, however, should be separated from the religious values imparted to me by religious figures, including my father. Most of these men and women frequently ran afoul of their own religious authorities. Religion, real religion, was about fighting for justice, standing up for the voiceless and the weak, reaching out in acts of kindness and compassion to the stranger and the outcast, living a life of simplicity, finding empathy and defying the powerful. It was about caring for the other. Spirituality was not defined by "how it is with me," but the tougher spirituality of resistance, the spirituality born of struggle, of the fight with the world's evils. This spirituality, vastly different from the narcissism of modern spirituality movements, was eloquently articulated by Dr. King and the Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was imprisoned and put to death by the Nazis.

Many of these atheists, like the Christian fundamentalists, support the imperialist projects and preemptive wars of the United States as a necessity in the battle against terrorism and irrational religion. They divide the world into superior and inferior races, those who are enlightened by reason and knowledge and those who are governed by irrational and dangerous religious beliefs. Hitchens and Harris describe the Muslim world, where I spent seven years, most of them as the Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, in language that is as racist, crude and intolerant as that used by Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell. They are a secular version of the religious right. They misuse Darwin and evolutionary biology, just as the Christian fundamentalists misuse the Bible, by trying to argue that we can evolve morally -- something Darwin never asserted. They are as anti-intellectual as the Christian Right.

And while the atheists do not have much power and are not a threat to the democratic state, they engage in the same chauvinism and call for the same violent utopianism of the radical Christian Right. They sell this under secular banners, but this does not excuse it. They believe, like the Christian Right, that we are moving forward to a paradise, a state of human perfection made possible by science and reason. They argue, like these Christian radicals, that some human beings, maybe many human beings, have to be eradicated to achieve this better world.

Harris, echoing the blood lust of Hitchens, calls, in his book The End of Faith, for a nuclear first strike against the Islamic world. He defends torture as a logical form of interrogation. He, like all utopians, has reduced millions of human beings and cultures he knows nothing about to primitive impediments to his vision of a better world.

"What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry?" Harris asks. "If history is any guide, we will not be sure about where the offending warheads are or what their state of readiness is, and so we will be unable to rely on targeted, conventional weapons to destroy them. In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own.

Needless to say, this would be an unthinkable crime -- as it would kill tens of millions of innocent civilians in a single day -- but it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe." Harris reduces a fifth of the world's population to a vast, primitive enemy. He blithely accepts that we may have to murder "tens of millions of people in a single day." His bigotry, and the bigotry of all who dehumanize others, sets the stage for indiscriminate slaughter and atrocity. The people to be killed, we are told, are not really distinct individuals. They do not have hopes and aspirations. They only appear human. They must be destroyed because of what they represent, what lurks beneath the surface of their human form. This dehumanization, especially by those who live in a society with the technological capacity to carry out acts of massive industrial slaughter, is terrifying. The new atheists see only one truth -- their truth. Human beings must become like them, think like them and adopt their values, which they insist are universal, or be banished from civilized society. All other values, which they never investigate or examine, are dismissed as inferior.

We live in an age of faith. We are assured we are advancing as a species towards a world that will be made perfect by reason, technology, science or the second coming of Jesus Christ. Evil can be eradicated. War has been declared on nebulous forces or cultures that stand as impediments to progress. Religion, if you are secular, is blamed for genocide, injustice, persecution, backwardness and intellectual and sexual repression. Secular humanism, if you are born again, is branded as a tool of Satan.

The folly of humankind, however, is pervasive. It infects all human endeavors. It has not exempted itself from institutional religion or the cult of science and reason. The greatest danger that besets us does not come from believers or atheists. It comes from those who, under the guise of religion, science or reason, imagine that we can free ourselves from the limitations of human nature and perfect the human species. Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is nothing in science or human history to support this idea. Human individuals can make moral advances, as can human societies, but they also make moral reverses. Our personal and collective histories are not linear.

This belief in inevitable moral progress, whether it comes in secular or religious form, is magical thinking. The secular version of this myth peddles fables no less fantastic, and no less delusional, than those preached from church pulpits. The battle under way in America is not a battle between religion and science. It is a battle between religious and secular fundamentalists. It is a battle between two groups intoxicated with the utopian and magical belief that humankind can protect itself and master its destiny.

These New Atheists, like all religious fundamentalists, fail to grasp the dark reality of human nature, our own capacity for evil and the morally neutral universe we inhabit. There is nothing in human nature or human history to support the idea that we are morally advancing as a species or that we will overcome the flaws of human nature. We progress technologically and scientifically, but not morally. We use the newest instruments of technological and scientific progress to create more efficient forms of killing, repression, economic exploitation and to accelerate environmental degradation as well as to nurture and sustain life. There is a good and a bad side to human progress. We are not moving towards a glorious utopia. We are not moving anywhere.

The New Atheists misuse Darwin and evolutionary biology as egregiously as the Christian fundamentalists misuse the Bible. Darwinism, which pays homage to the final and complete mastery of our animal natures, never posits that human beings can transcend their natures and create a human paradise. It argues the opposite. The illusion of human progress, in the name of evolutionary biology, is actually anti-Darwinian. And in this the New Atheists are neither honest about science or Darwin. Science is used by them to supplant religion to provide meaning and hope. It is used to assuage these innate religious yearnings. Since scientific knowledge is cumulative, albeit morally neutral, it gives the illusion that human history and human progress is also cumulative. And in many ways science has simply replaced the faith our pre-modern ancestors had in God.

But more ominously, the New Atheists ignore the wisdom of Original Sin, as well as studies in cognitive behavior, that illustrate that human nature is often irrational and flawed. We are all governed, even in our moments of greatest lucidity, by unconscious forces. This understanding, whether achieved through Augustine or Freud, has been our most potent check on schemes of human perfectibility and utopian visions. But the New Atheists, like all believers in myth, refuse to listen. They peddle the alluring and enticing fantasy of inevitable moral and material progress. This vision is not based on science, history or reason. It is an act of faith. It is a form of the occult. It is no more scientific legitimacy than alchemy.

These New Atheists and Christian radicals have built squalid little belief systems that are in the service of themselves and their own power. They urge us forward into a nonreality-based world, one where force and violence, where self-exaltation and blind nationalism are an unquestioned good. They seek to make us afraid of what we do not know or understand. They use this fear to justify cruelty and war. They ask us to kneel before little idols that look and act like them, telling us that one day, if we trust enough in God or reason, we will have everything we desire.

I Don't Believe in Atheists is a call to reject simplistic and utopian visions. It is a call to accept the severe limitations of being human. It is a call to face reality, a reality which in the coming decades is going to be bleak and difficult. Those who are blinded by utopian visions inevitably turn to force to make their impossible dreams and their noble ideals real. They believe the ends, no matter how barbaric, justify the means. Utopian ideologues, armed with the technology and mechanisms of industrial slaughter, have killed tens of millions of people over the last century. They ask us to inflict suffering and death in the name of virtue and truth. The New Atheists, in the end, offer us a new version of an old and dangerous faith. It is one we have seen before. It is one we must fight.

Election Theft Goes Global

From Ohio and California to Scotland and France, the disputes surrounding electronic voting machines have gone truly global.

E-voting machines have already been extensively studied and condemned by a wide range of expert committees, commissions and colleges, including the General Accountability Office, the Carter-Baker Commission, Johns Hopkins University, Princeton University, Stanford University and others. Rigging of a recount in Cleveland has resulted in two felony convictions. The failures of e-voting machines have been the subject of numerous documentary films, including the aptly titled HBO special "Hacking Democracy."

Now the secretaries of state in Ohio and California are subjecting e-voting to still more official review. Ohio's Jennifer Brunner has announced she'll seek bids to conduct independent studies of both touch-screen machines, which record votes electronically, and optical scanners, which tabulate paper ballots electronically.

Brunner has already removed the entire board of elections of Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) in part because of a major fiasco caused by new electronic machines in the state's 2006 primary election. Voting rights activists vehemently opposed the $20 million purchase, but it was rammed through by Board Chair Robert Bennett and Executive Director Michael Vu.

The machines then caused long reporting delays. Vu resigned under pressure from the board. Bennett then resigned---along with the rest of the board---under pressure from Brunner. Bennett chairs the Ohio Republican Party, works closely with White House advisor Karl Rove, and was instrumental in delivering Ohio's decisive votes to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election. Two felony convictions have so far arisen from what prosecutors call a "rigged" recount that occurred that year in Cleveland, under Bennett's supervision.

The specifics of Brunner's investigation, which she wants done by September, are not yet public. But the newly elected Democrat says she intends to "fill in the gaps" on studies of Diebold, ES&S and Hart InterCivic machines whose vote tallies were key to giving Bush a second term. The conservative Columbus Dispatch has already predicted that the results of the investigation "likely will disappoint conspiracy theorists."

California's new Secretary of State Deborah Bowen will begin her study May 14, and wants it done by late July. An interagency agreement with the University of California will use three "top-to-bottom review teams" with about seven people each to inspect documents, previous studies, computer source code and a penetration attack to test system security. Cost is estimated at $1.8 million to be covered by system vendors and the Help America Vote Act. Systems from Diebold, ES&S, HartIntercivic, Sequoia and InkaVote of Los Angeles will be examined.

Other states are also re-evaluating their electronic voting systems, and fierce controversy is raging nationwide over a federal bill from Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) which institutes certain voting reforms but allows the use of electronic machines to continue.

Now the issue has spread worldwide. Widespread cries of theft and fraud erupted in Ukraine, just before the US 2004 election. A forced re-vote ousted the "official" winner.

In Mexico, leftists contend the recent presidential election there was stolen just as Bush did it in the US, with some of the same personnel pulling it off.

Now similar cries are coming from Scotland and France. May 3 elections in Scotland using new electronic counting systems resulted in as many as 100,000 votes being classed as "spoilt papers." (About 90,000 such ballots from Ohio 2004 remain uncounted to this day).

Complex methods of tabulating and weighting the Scottish votes yielded "chaos." Several vote counts were suspended. In some races the tally of rejected ballots was greater than some candidates' winning margin. "This is a temporary interruption to one small aspect of the overall process," says a spokeswoman for DRS, the company responsible for the vote counting technology.

The language in France has not been so polite. A watershed presidential election has just been won by Nicolas Sarkozy, a blunt right-wing Reagan-Bush-style extremist over the socialist Segolene Royal. Sarkozy is a hard-edged authoritarian whose intense anti-immigrant rhetoric matches his support for the American war in Iraq and his avowed intent to slash France's social service system, including a public health program widely considered among the best in the world.

Like the balloting in Ukraine, the US, Scotland and Mexico, Sarkozy's victory was marred by angry, widespread complaints about dubious vote counts whose discrepancies always seem to favor the rightist candidate. Throughout France, the cry has arisen that the conservatives have done to Segolene Royal what Bush/Rove did to John Kerry.

In the not-so-distant past, other elections were engineered by George H.W. Bush, head of the Central Intelligence Agency and father of the current White House resident. During the Reagan-Bush presidencies, in the Philippines, Nicaragua, El Salvador and other key third world nations, expected leftist triumphs somehow morphed into rightist coups. "CIA destabilizations are nothing new," said former CIA station chief and Medal of Merit winner John Stockwell in 1987. "Guatemala in 1954, Brazil, Ghana, Chile, the Congo, Iran, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay -- the CIA organized the overthrow of constitutional democracy."

The recent trend to privatizing vote counts, with corporations claiming "proprietary rights" to keep their hardware and software covert, has added a new dimension to an old tradition. The recent "e-victories" in the US and France have significantly tipped to the right the global balance among the major powers. So while Ohio and California conduct their studies of electronic voting, the whole world will be watching.

The End of Democracy in Ohio?

A law that will make democracy all but moot in Ohio is about to pass the state legislature and to be signed by its Republican governor. Despite massive corruption scandals besieging the Ohio GOP, any hope that the Democratic party could win this most crucial swing state in future presidential elections, or carry its pivotal U.S. Senate seat in 2006, are about to end.

House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is about to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate, probably before the holiday recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature thanks to a heavily gerrymandered crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a moribund Ohio Democratic party. The GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but obliterate any possible future Democratic revival. Opposition from the Ohio Democratic Party, where it exists at all, is diffuse and ineffectual.

HB3's most publicized provision will require positive identification before casting a vote. But it also opens voter registration activists to partisan prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from public scrutiny, quintuples the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts and makes it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count or, indeed, any federal election result in Ohio. When added to the recently passed HB1, which allows campaign financing to be dominated by the wealthy and by corporations, and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP attacks on the ballot box, democracy in Ohio could be all but over.

The GOP is ramming similar bills through state legislatures around the U.S., starting with Georgia and Indiana. The ID requirements in particular have provoked widespread opposition from newspapers such as the New York Times. The Times, among others, argues that the ID requirements and the costs associated with them, constitute an unconstitutional discriminatory poll tax.

But despite significant court challenges, the Republicans are forcing changes in long-standing election laws that have allowed citizens to vote based on their signature alone. Across the U.S., GOP Jim Crow laws will eliminate millions of Democratic voters from the registration rolls. In swing states like Ohio, such ballots are almost certain to be crucial.

The proposed Ohio law will demand a valid photo ID or a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck or a government document with a current address. Thousands of Ohio citizens who are elderly, homeless, unemployed or who do not drive will be effectively disenfranchised. Many citizens, for example, rent apartments where the utilities are paid by landlords. In such cases, the number of people living in utilities-included apartment rentals could actually determine an election.

During the 2004 presidential election, Ohio's Republican Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, also issued statewide threats against ex-felons and people whose names resembled those of ex-felons. Thousands of such threats were delivered to registered voters who were never convicted of anything, or who were eligible to vote after being released from prison. In 2004 a "Mighty Texas Strike Force" came to Columbus with a specific mandate to threaten ex-felons with arrest if they dared to vote.

It is legal for ex-felons in Ohio to vote, even if they are in half-way houses or on parole. But HB3's identification requirement, combined with the confusion Blackwell has introduced into the process, will intimidate such Ohioans from voting in 2006 and beyond.

HB3 will also reduce voter rolls by ordering county boards of elections to send cards to registered voters every two years. If a card comes back as undelivered, the voter must rely on a provisional ballot. But tens of thousands of provisional ballots were arbitrarily discarded in 2004, and some 16,000 are known to remain uncounted to this day.

HB3 also imposes severe restrictions on voter registration drives. It allows the state attorney-general and local prosecutors wide powers to prosecute vaguely defined charges of fraud against those working to sign up voters. The restrictions are clearly meant to chill the kind of Democratic registration drives that brought hundreds of thousands of new voters to the polls in 2004 (even though many were turned away in Democratic wards due to a lack of voting machines).

Those electronic machines will also be exempted from recounts by random sampling, even in close, disputed elections like those of 2000 and 2004.

In 2004, scores of Ohio voters reported, under oath, that they had pressed John Kerry's name on touchscreen machines, only to see George W. Bush's name light up. A board of elections technician in Mahoning County (Youngstown) has admitted that at least 18 machines there suffered such problems. Sworn testimony in Columbus indicates that votes for Kerry faded off the screen on touchscreen machines there. Other charges of mis-programming, re-programming, recalibrating, mishandling and manipulation of electronic voting software, hardware and memory cards have since arisen throughout Ohio 2004.

For the 2005 election, some 41 additional Ohio counties (of 88) were switched to Diebold touchscreen machines. Despite polls showing overwhelming voter approval, two electoral reform issues went down improbable defeat. Issue Two, meant to make voting easier, and Issue Three, on campaign finance reform, were shown by highly reliable Columbus Dispatch polls to be passing handily.

The Dispatch was within 0.5% on Issue One, a bond issue, and has rarely been significantly wrong in its many decades of Ohio polling. Even opponents of Issues Two and Three conceded that they were highly likely to pass.

On the Sunday before the Tuesday 2005 election, the Dispatch predicted Issue Two would pass by a vote of 59% to 33%, with about 8% undecided. But Tuesday's official vote count showed Issue Two failing with just 36.5% in favor and 63.5% opposed. For that to have happened, the Dispatch had to have been wrong on Issue Two's support by more than 20 points. Nearly half those who said they would support Issue Two would have had to vote against it, along with all the undecideds.

The numbers on Issue Three are equally startling. The Dispatch showed it winning with 61%, to just 25% opposed and some 14% undecided. Instead just 33% of the votes were counted in its favor, with 67% opposed, an almost inconceivable weekend turnaround.

No other numbers were comparable on November 8, 2005, or elsewhere in the recent history of Dispatch polling. The startling outcome has thus raised even more suspicion and doubt about the use of electronic voting and tabulating machines in Ohio, which account for virtually 100% of the state's vote count.

The federal General Accountability Office (GAO) has recently issued a major report confirming that tampering with and manipulating such machines can be easily done by a very small number of people. Charges are widespread that this is precisely what gave George W. Bush Ohio's electoral votes, and thus the presidency, in 2004, not to mention the suspicious referenda outcomes in 2005.

HB3 will make it virtually impossible for any challenge to be mounted involving any votes cast or counted on electronic machines or tabulators -- meaning virtually every vote cast in Ohio.

Indeed, HB3 will raise the cost of mounting a recount from $10 per precinct to $50 per precinct. In 2004, Secretary of State Blackwell forced citizen groups to raise private funds for a recount, which he proceeded to sabotage. The process, which became a futile electronic charade, cost donors committed to democracy more than $100,000. Three partial, meaningless faux recounts resulted. To date more than 100,000 votes cast in Ohio remain uncounted, including some 93,000 easily-read machine-rejected ballots. .

During the 2004 election process Blackwell, manipulated the number of precincts in Ohio, and issued inaccurate information about their location and boundaries, making a meaningful precise number hard to come by. But with more than 10,000 precincts still in existence, HB3 would make funding an attempt at another recount in 2006 or 2008 cost more than $500,000.

Such an effort might also result in official retaliation. In 2004, Blackwell and Ohio Attorney-General Jim Petro -- both of whom are now Republican candidates for governor -- tried to impose stiff financial sanctions against attorneys who filed a legal challenge to the seating of the Ohio electors who gave George W. Bush the presidency. The Ohio Supreme Court disallowed the sanctions after the challenge was withdrawn. But HB3 would make such a federal election challenge illegal altogether.

With the electoral process in Ohio all but disemboweled, those hoping for a change of party in upcoming state and national elections are probably kidding themselves.

The 2004 election in the Buckeye state was riddled with deception, fraud, intimidation, manipulation and outright theft, all of which were essential to the triumph of George W. Bush. In 2005, four electoral reform ballot initiatives were allegedly defeated despite huge poll margins showing the almost certain passage of two of them. The most credible explanation for their defeat lies in electronic manipulation of voting machines, tabulators and memory cards which the GAO confirms have no credible security safeguards.

With campaign finance, voter registration, electronic voting, public recounts, district gerrymandering and overall electoral administration now firmly in the pocket of the GOP, and with Democratic opposition that is virtually non-existent on the issue of vote fraud and election manipulation, there is little reason to believe the Republican grip on Ohio will be loosened at any point in the near future.

In traditional terms, the scandal-ridden Ohio GOP would appear to be more vulnerable than ever. Governor Robert Taft has become the only Ohio governor to be convicted of a crime while in office. With an astonishing 7% approval rating, he has been compared to Homer Simpson by the state's leading Republican newspaper. Republican US Senator Mike DeWine appears highly vulnerable. The GOP has never won the White House without winning the Buckeye State.

But HB3 will solidify the GOP's iron grip on the electronic voting process and all that surrounds it. Unless they break that grip, Democrats who believe they can carry any part of Ohio in 2006 or 2008 are kidding themselves.

When it comes to 2008, can you say "Jeb Bush"?

Making Sense of Payola

Ever get the sinking feeling that the same terrible Celine Dion song is on the radio every time you turn it on? It's not your imagination. Local radio stations everywhere have been swallowed up by a handful of giant corporations, playlists have shrunk, and local and independent acts have been drowned out, as Big Radio soaks listeners in a mind-numbing mix of bland commercial acts.

The rapid concentration of radio ownership has also ushered in a new age of "payola." Major recording labels now shower radio station owners with money and prizes to plug and play their most bankable stars, securing spins of Dion, Ricky Martin, J. Lo, Jessica Simpson and even major label indie kids Franz Ferdinand at the expense of struggling local acts.

There's the catch: Payola is against the law. The New York Attorney General's Office, Federal Communications Commission and members of Congress are investigating radio industry corruption. There's no better time than now for music lovers to protect the radio airwaves from insatiable corporate greed and end payola once and for all.

1. What is radio payola?

For decades, radio payola has been an unpleasant fact of American music. Radio stations hold valuable broadcast licenses and are the main drivers of sales for the record industry. More than 75 percent of music buyers say their CD purchases are influenced by songs heard on the radio. All a record executive has to do is convince popular DJs to put their artists in heavy rotation. Money has long proved the elixir of persuasion. In 1960, disc jockey Alan Freed was indicted under commercial bribery laws for accepting $2,500 to play certain songs; he claimed the money was a "token of gratitude" that did not affect airplay. But the FCC disagreed, passing regulations that ban payola in broadcasting. The playing of music or other programming in exchange for payments is now illegal, punishable by as much as $10,000 in fines and a year in prison. To date, no one has served a day in jail on payola charges.

2. Is payola still a problem?

In many ways, it's worse. Shadowy independent promoters are hired by the recording industry to launder hundreds of millions in cash and prizes each year, lining the pockets of big radio broadcasters who agree to add label "hits" to playlists nationwide. Last summer, Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting -- America 's two largest radio owners, controlling 42 percent of listeners -- were implicated with other major radio owners in a multi-million dollar payola scheme. Investigators called this single payola case the "tip of the iceberg."

3. How does payola work?

Payola involves the flow of money and other perks from music labels to radio stations, and, through resulting record sales, back to the labels themselves. It's a closed loop that shuns local talent, artistic merit and listener preferences. Once involving envelopes stuffed with cash and even drugs, payola in 2005 has taken on new forms, including back stage passes to Michael Jackson concerts, first-class tickets to Miami, Las Vegas hotel rooms and even Adidas sneakers. (Use Free Press' interactive map to find stations near you suspected of accepting payola). By law, radio disc jockeys must fully disclose to their listeners whether airplay of a chosen song was paid for by promoters. They never do.

4. Do the big media companies really control what gets played on commercial radio?

The 1996 Telecommunications Act eliminated national limits on station ownership. Prior to 1996, no one radio owner held more than 65 stations; now, radio colossus Clear Channel boasts some 1,200 stations. More than 75 percent of radio market share nationwide is controlled by companies owning more than 40 radio stations. In a consolidated radio marketplace, recording labels have fewer palms to grease to get their acts on the air, even if listeners don't want to hear them.

5. Does radio play really affect sales?

These conglomerates use redundant playlists to air a limited choice of artists, even in the same markets. Commercial airwaves are flooded by only those artists that are acceptable to the corporations that profit from their sales. And more than 80 percent of the $12 billion in annual music sales are controlled by the four largest labels - Sony BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner Music Group. When consolidated radio and recording labels control the music industry, musical diversity is threatened.

6. Doesn't payola help musicians?

On average, performers on major labels see only $1 out of the $16 retail price paid by consumers for a CD. The bulk of sales revenue returns to the record labels, and through them to the promoters and big radio. This closed loop feeds the insatiable appetites of greedy recording labels and radio broadcasters. Big label artists see little of these profits. Independent musicians are even worse off. The corporate control of promotion, sales and airplay almost entirely prevents local artists from competing in the mainstream.

7. Aren't big radio companies and labels just giving listeners what they want?

In a 2002 survey by the Future of Music Coalition, 78 percent of listeners said they want more variety on the air. More than half of survey respondents (51 percent) said that, at most, they only occasionally hear the music they enjoy the most when listening to the radio. Yet the radio behemoths continue to force feed listeners a mind-numbing stew of focus-group tested "urban," "classic rock" and "easy listening" formats.

8. Don't stations have a right to play whatever they want - even if it's monotonous corporate tunes?

The airwaves belong to the public, not to the media companies with the fattest wallets. The vitality of radio is sapped when music is selected based on bribes rather than merit. Big media owe it to the American public - and especially the music lovers and creative artists who are hurt most by payola - to end this deception. Radio stations receive free licenses to broadcast on public airwaves in exchange for an agreement to serve their communities' best interests. They are supposed to put the public's needs before their bottom line. Unfortunately, none do.

9. How can payola be stopped?

While anti-payola statutes have been in place for 40 years, recent developments offer the best chance in years to throw the book at payola once and for all.

• In July, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer reached a multi-million-dollar payola settlement against Sony BMG. Spitzer's office is now investigating reported payola deals between other large recording labels (including EMI Group, Vivendi, Warner Music and Universal) and the nation's biggest radio station chains (including Infinity Broadcasting, Clear Channel Communications, Emmis Communications and Cox Radio).

• In August, the FCC launched an investigation into payola allegations involving stations owned by Clear Channel, Infinity and other radio giants. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein has called for an overhaul of toothless payola rules.

• Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) is planning to attach an amendment to an appropriations bill that would require the FCC to report to Congress on what can be done to counter the negative fallout of media consolidation, especially payola.

10. How can I make a difference?

The campaign to scrub payola from our airwaves now hinges on the public's ability to force stronger accountability and enforcement across a radio industry dominated by conglomerates. A coalition of activists, public advocates, independent musicians and recording labels are joining together to protect the public's airwaves. Concerned Americans can take action in several ways:

• Act locally against the hundreds of conglomerate-owned stations that were implicated in New York State Attorney General Spitzer's investigation. Use Free Press' interactive map to find implicated stations near you and contact them with your concerns.

• Support homegrown acts and independent radio stations by buying CDs from the local bin at your independent music store, checking out independent music sellers, going to local performances and encouraging your favorite stations to add these artists to their playlists.

• Urge the FCC to launch federal investigations, review payola abuses by local broadcasters and impose harsher penalties.

• Support any new congressional legislation that presses for stronger enforcement of payola laws.

Learn More:

Free Press
Youth Media Council
The Future of Music Coalition
Media Alliance

Get Active:

Tell the FCC to fight payola

Join the Free Press Action Squad to meet up with other media activists in your community.

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