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Sunday, October 31, 2010

E-voting: How secure is it?

More than half of all US states will allow some kind of internet voting this year. But security experts say it's a mistake.

By Joan Goodchild, CSO
Network World
October 28, 2010

Election fraud and vote tampering is as old as government. Before the American Revolution, most voting was done by voice. Voters would call out their pick for all to hear, which lead to intimidation and other nefarious tactics by those hoping to impact election results. The creation of the secret ballot was an improvement, but brought with it another host of possible modes of manipulation. In a quote that is now famous in American history, corrupt politician and Tammany Hall leader Boss Tweed often told constituents to 'vote early, and often.'

But surely, by 2010, with technology as sophisticated as it is and elections as regulated as they are, any voting system rolled out these days is no doubt fool-proof and iron-clad in terms of security, right? Not so, say some voting security experts. And, in fact, it's technology that makes new voting systems dangerous.

Back in 1999, David Jefferson, a computer scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and chairman of Verified Voting, an organization that monitors security of election systems, first began examining the issue of electronic voting, specifically internet voting, as technical chairman of a task force set up by the Secretary of State in California.

"The original idea was that internet voting was a fine idea, and the only question was how best to deliver this capability to the citizens of California," recalled Jefferson. "The vision was people would be able to vote from home with computers, in their pajamas, or they could vote on the road, from the hotel, or from an Internet café. At any time, from anywhere. But as we studied the issue more carefully, we realized that it was a hopelessly dangerous concept."

The result, said Jefferson, was a report authored by the group advising election officials not to proceed with internet voting, at least not for a very long time. And in the 10-plus years since the report was released, Jefferson says the concept of internet voting has become no more secure. Yet many states, in an effort to allow military and other overseas citizenry to vote, have opted to adopt it, much to Jefferson's amazement. According to the Verified Voting, more than 30 states will allow ballots to be cast by email, fax or online this year.

"This is a national security issue," said Jefferson, who vehemently opposes internet voting as much today as he did in 1999. "In elections, we are electing the President and the members of Congress who are going to make law and run the government of the United States. But we can expose the election infrastructure to cyber attacks by anybody in the world. That's what we do when we conduct online elections."

Case in point, according to Jefferson, is the recent demonstration by a team of students led by University of Michigan professor Alex Halderman. The group managed to easily hack into an internet-based system for overseas and military voters that the District of Columbia planned to test in the November election. Along the way, the team also found evidence the system had been penetrated by both Iranian and Chinese hackers.

"One of the great fears in an internet election is that you are exposing our votes to manipulation by foreign powers," said Jefferson. "I just consider this to be a major national security risk; a totally unnecessary, needless risk and it's shocking to me that election officials turn away from this. They don't want to hear it, and they certainly don't want to do anything about it."

"As we moved to mechanical voting machines a century ago we moved into the era of Dilbert's boss administering technology he didn't understand," said Douglas Jones, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Iowa and a scientific expert serving on the federal Election Assistance Commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee. "We're still there. We've advanced the technology and Dilbert's boss knows more now than he did a century ago. But he still doesn't know enough to master the system he's running."

Jones says elections officials in D.C. deserve a lot of credit for allowing the pilot system to be opened up to public test before actually using it in an election, even if it was done late and exposed serious problems. But he fears these kinds of precautions aren't being taken in smaller municipalities around the country with limited funds.

"The people in the D.C. election office who were administering the servers were people who have a lot of experience administering servers in the closed world of classical elections with no internet connections and no outsiders to deal with," said Jones."This is evidence that the election office wasn't anywhere near up to administering a machine that was connected to the public internet. And the Washington D.C. people actually have a staff of professionally-trained people who know what they're doing. You can't say that in your typical county. The large, urban counties have resources in their election offices that average county doesn't have."

On-site electronic voting machines also risky

Both security experts also point to electronic voting machines as security risks, too. Electronic machines that allow votes to be cast at precincts without paper became popular after the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, and the now famous "hanging chad" controversy. But even these machines, used in a closed-precinct environment, still make Jefferson uncomfortable because of the possibility of vote tampering.

"The paperless, electronic-voting machines, machines in which there is no paper trail, and no way of auditing those machines, are a major security risk. But there are many election officials, even entire states, that insist they can conduct elections strictly with electronic-voting machines and that there are no security risks with it."

The lack of auditing inherent in many types of these kinds of machines causes controversy regularly. In fact, a conservative watchdog group in Nevada is currently embroiled in an argument with voting machine technicians in one county that are represented by the union SEIU. The group, Americans for Limited Government, wants state officials to intervene and ensure SEIU workers who operate the machines don't skew the results in favor of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the union-endorsed candidate. Issues like this crop up every election season, noted Jefferson. Still, it's internet voting, and it's possible widespread adoption, that keeps him up at night.

"Internet voting is really this year's voting problem and I have to say it's about a thousand-times worse than the security risk of straight electronic voting machines in precincts," he said.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

It Should be Legalized

"Should Be Legalized" Eminem - Love The Way You Lie Parody by Steve Berke

The polls on Prop 19 to legalize pot in California show likely voters to be split down the middle (with a edge toward keeping it illegal). It would be a shame if this chance to end marijuana prohibition is, er, wasted.

Written and performed by Steve Berke. Featuring Charlotte Bruyn. Yes, that is actually her voice. Download the song on i-Tunes- its awesome thanks to Charlotte! -

Vote YES on Prop 19!!

Directed by Adam Mutchler. Starring Valerie White and Michael Malone. Special thanks to Adrian and Stian and our LA friends for helping!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UK announces 490,000 job cuts

Harshest austerity measures since second world war unveiled as public spending is slashed to deal with country's debts.
Oct 20, 2010

Britain will cut 490,000 public sector jobs over four years under austerity measures designed to reduce the country's record deficit.

George Osborne, the finance minister, told parliament on Wednesday that the job losses were "unavoidable when the country has run out of money".

"Today is the day that Britain steps back from the brink. It is a hard road but it leads to a better future," he said.

He said he had ordered $130bn in spending cuts by 2015, aiming to reduce Britain's deficit of 11 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to around two per cent within five years. The measures will also hit the welfare state, cutting child benefits and pushing the state pension to 66 by 2020.

The cuts come as figures reveal British public sector spending in September reached $25.5bn - a record high level for the month. Analysts had initially forecast a slight rise from September 2009's public net borrowing of $24.4bn.


Small protests against the cuts are already taking place with larger marches and rallies scheduled to take place in London, the capital, later on Wednesday.

Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent in London, said demonstrations so far were not matching the scale of anti-austerity protests seen previously in Europe.

"We're not seeing anything like the kind of protests we've seen in the streets of Paris in the last few days. People here are looking at this as a way of blaming the previous government of the Labour party for what has happened, rather than blaming the current coalition government."

But she added the move was a "big gamble" for the Conservative-Liberal Democrat alliance.

"If the economy doesn't start to grow, who knows what could happen here," she said.

'Double-dip' risk

Ruth Lea, a British economist, told Al Jazeera that Wednesday's cuts were needed to reduce the deficit.

"If we don't cut now the generations to come will have to pay for all this," she said.

Lea added that the prospect of a "double-dip" recession was unlikely, saying: "Even though we talk about these enormous cuts they only mean one per cent year-on-year," she said.

The International Monetary Fund has strongly backed plans for an aggressive reduction of Britain's record high public deficit, describing spending cuts as an "essential" weapon.

But some economists have warned that the measures will tip Britain back into recession.

Mervyn King, the central bank governor, painted a gloomy picture late on Tuesday, saying it would be a long while before Britain could recover from the 10 per cent drop in output seen in the last recession.
Alan Johnson, Labour's shadow finance minister, accused Osborne of 'economic masochism' [Reuters]

The opposition Labour Party, which the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government blames for running up Britain's massive debt when it was in power, has agreed there is a need for fiscal discipline.

But it says that the coalition are cutting too much too soon.

Alan Johnson, Labour's shadow finance minister, accused Osborne of "economic masochism", warning that his cuts would leave Britain trapped in a cycle of low growth and high unemployment for years.

Wednesday's measures will see spending cut across government departments, including the Foreign Office, which will lose 24 per cent from its budget, the police force, and the interior and justice departments.

The BBC is also being affected by the measures, with the government cutting funding to the World Service.

The plans are also extending to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, with royal household spending falling by 14 per cent in 2012 to 2013.

However the National Health Service, schools and overseas aid have been protected under the spending review. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research think tank has said it believes the government will only be able to push through half the planned cuts.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How Do You Take Your Tea?

With Heaping Spoonfuls of Irony, Of Course

by David Michael Green
The Smirking Chimp
October 10, 2010

It's so great that Americans are finally angry about the state of their country.

But it's beyond awful that all the wrong people are beside themselves for all the wrong reasons.

When I look at the tea party movement in America today, any number of words come to mind, most of which are not fit for print in a family newspaper. But, above all, I cannot help but be struck by the irony of it all.

It's ironic, to begin with, that the ones who are bitching loudest today are precisely the people who created the mess we're in.

We're actually in a whole heaping helping lot of messes, but I'm referring principally to the economic one. I suspect that the rabble ranks of the tea party movement are populated by people who have equally bad politics on social matters and foreign policy issues. But - for different reasons - they don't talk about those questions too much. Instead, they largely confine themselves to economic beefs, especially deficits.

These are conservatives, however - more properly labeled as regressives - and the astonishing irony here is that they've had their way with economic policy in this country for thirty years running. And, excuse me, but now they're pissed off at the results?

Think about it.

Economic policy can be divided into a handful of key domains, including taxes, trade, labor relations, regulation, privatization, the budget and the welfare state. In every single one of these areas - with one partial exception - regressive policy choices have entirely predominated over the last generation. Only in the latter case of welfare state spending has that not been true, but even there only partially so.

Taxes today are a mere hint of what they used to be, just as the right has insisted must be the case. For the rich especially, top marginal income taxes have come down from 91 percent to 35 percent. But, of course, even that doesn't include earnings on capital gains, a giant portion of their income, which is now at 15 percent.

Nor does it include the estate tax, which has now disappeared entirely. Nor does it include deductions and write-offs. Put this all together and you can see why Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the country, was moved to reveal that he paid a 17.7 percent tax rate on his $46 million of taxable income in 2006, while his employees paid an average of 32.9 percent, and his receptionist's tax rate was 30 percent.

On trade, previously existing barriers and protections for domestic industries have been eviscerated almost completely, so that for much of the world today, it's a single market for products and capital. Labor? Not so much. What a shock, then, that America's good jobs - especially in manufacturing - are now all located in Mexico. Or at least they were, until even those became too expensive and got moved to China and India and Vietnam.

Smug Republican white collar workers thought they were immune from wealthy corporate masters cutting their legs off from underneath them. Now, when it's too late, they stand in unemployment lines while someone in Bangalore does their job for a tenth of the pay. So how's that whole free-tradey thing workin' out for you now, people?

The story is the same in the domain of labor relations, where the playing field has been slanted massively in the direction of capital, starting with Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers. The upshot of these rule changes and enforcement laxity has been that the portion of union-protected jobs in America has shrunk from about 35 percent to about 7 percent, with precisely the results for workers that you'd expect.

With deregulation, too, we've seen massive changes as well over the same period, across industries far and wide, not least of which includes the repealing of Glass-Steagal and the unleashing of Wall Street. The right insisted - and still does - that this is great news for the economy. History begs to differ.

Similarly, America looks radically different today in terms of who performs the functions of government, with everything from prisons to the military to espionage having been privatized.  

With respect to the budget, conservatives say they believe in fiscal responsibility. When they come to power, however, nobody deficit spends like they do. Reagan wanted to triple the nation debt, so he did. Bush wanted to double it again, so he did.

Among all these economic policy domains, then, that leaves welfare state spending as the only one in which regressive policy choices have not been completely dominant, and there the story is somewhat mixed.

Spending on social programs dropped - just as regressives wanted it to - under Reagan and Bush, but especially under the conservative Clinton, who eviscerated welfare programs in America. On the other hand, welfare state spending increased dramatically under Bush because of his prescription drug bill, which cost twice as much as he told Congress it would (and he knew it).

Obama has, of course, added his health care plan too, but according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, it will not cost any additional revenue. So, in this one economic domain, the record is decidedly mixed.

The point is this: Add all this up and what you see is regressives winning essentially every economic policy fight of the last generation. Nearly every single one. And where they didn't, the biggest example was a policy advanced by George W. Bush.

The result, of course, has been economic devastation far and wide.

The rich have gotten massively richer, the rest of us are sinking, the federal debt has skyrocketed, our jobs have been exported to China and India, Wall Street has plunged the global economy into the toilet, corporations like BP do whatever they want without fear of consequence, and the United States is imploding as a great power.  

These are not coincidences, either. And now here comes the great irony: the same people who have been getting their way on the economy for thirty years now are just absolutely livid about what they themselves have created! They're just completely enraged at the product of their own politics.

Ah, but that's just the beginning. A second great irony is the extent to which the tea party bozos are being manipulated by elites like the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdoch and the likes of Dick Armey.
The very people who created the public's economic insecurity in order to get rich off of it, are now channeling the resulting rage into support for more of the same. And the folks on the street with their signs and their venom think they are manifesting some sort of spontaneous outpouring of patriotic rage, unaware of who is directing their efforts and who will benefit.

Another pretty serious irony is that the tea partiers are likely about to gain some substantial power, but have no solutions to the problems they perceive. Or problem. So much of this seems to be about government spending. And fair enough - it's a good point. Spending is out of control. I've got some ideas for solutions. It's just that they don't.

Unless, of course, they're prepared to slash Social Security and Medicare spending. Which they're not. When the New York Times ran a poll on tea partiers back in April, it found that they tend to favor the generic idea of cutting government programs. Just not the only ones that really matter. Some were unable to reconcile the competing concepts: "'That's a conundrum, isn't it?' asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. 'I don't know what to say. Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.' She added, 'I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind.'"

Welcome back to sanity, Jodine. But that's a bit of a problem. A Paul Krugman column recently reported why: "Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has done the math. As he points out, the only way to balance the budget by 2020, while simultaneously (a) making the Bush tax cuts permanent and (b) protecting all the programs Republicans say they won't cut, is to completely abolish the rest of the federal government: 'No more national parks, no more Small Business Administration loans, no more export subsidies, no more N.I.H. No more Medicaid (one-third of its budget pays for long-term care for our parents and others with disabilities). No more child health or child nutrition programs. No more highway construction. No more homeland security. Oh, and no more Congress.'"

I kinda like that last part. Maybe tea partiers do too. But I don't think they're really contemplating a shut down of the federal government when they insist on slashing spending. More likely they'd have the same reaction to creating the Frankenstein they're policies call for as Jodine did when she found out what the implications of her own tea party rants would be for her nice gubmint bennies.

I notice that nobody running for Congress this year is specifying just how they'd kill the deficit. They want to cut spending, and they say they can, but they can't see any rush in specifying how they'll do it. That can wait til after the election. Republican duplicity and hypocrisy - what a shock, eh? Call it irony number four.

Number five is that those who bitch most about the oppressive federal government in America tend almost always to be the ones who benefit most from it. 

According to Eric Scigliano, writing in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "In 2003, the top subsidy-sucking state, in percentage terms, was red-lite New Mexico, which received $1.99 in federal money for every dollar it sent to Washington, D.C. All the next eight net recipients of federal spending were redder yet: Kentucky, Virginia, Montana, Alabama, North Dakota, West Virginia, Mississippi and Alaska, which received $1.60 to $1.89 back for each tax dollar. The list of net losers in the state-federal exchange, by contrast, reads like a Who's Who of Blue. Two of the top 14 were traditionally red Western states that are starting to turn purple, Colorado and Nevada. The other 12 are all blue: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Wisconsin and the biggest chump of all, New Jersey, where the federal government spends just $.57 for every dollar it collects. ... Only five blue states were net recipients of federal subsidies. Only two red states were net payers of federal taxes."

No wonder Sarah Plain and her protege, Joe Miller (did I mention that he took federal farm subsidies at one time?) join others in Alaska in getting so upset about the tyranny of the federal government. According to the Tax Foundation, Alaska was number one nationally in federal spending per capita in 18 of the 25 years ending in 2005, pulling in nearly two of your and my tax dollars for every one they sent to Washington.

Now that's some serious oppression, people! I for one am sick at heart to think that my tax dollars are being used to brutalize crackers from Alabama to Alaska, bludgeoning them over the head with fat federal subsidies. This must stop! From this moment forward let the word go forth: I am willing to sacrifice having taxes taken out of my paycheck in order to support their brave "Don't tread on me!" campaign to end the oppression of having to receive my money. I know, I know - it's a bold statement. But somebody has to take a stand!

A sixth irony is that tea partiers are better off individually than the rest of us are. They are more likely to be college educated (oh god, I need a new career) and to have a higher income than the rest of the population. They are also older and considerably more likely to be retired. I'm pretty sure that also means that they're sucking up those fat government pay-outs in far greater proportion than the rest of us too, unless they've bravely waived their Social Security and Medicare benefits in the interest of reducing government spending.

Call me crazy, but somehow I don't think so.

Seventh, solving the problem that most animates the tea party crowd will do nothing to solve the problems that America faces today. Federal debt is a serious matter, but it is not pinching us in any way right now. In fact, it is probably keeping us (barely) afloat by stimulating some small degree of demand in our wrecked economy.

It's absolutely true that this is an issue for the future, and that it must be dealt with. But any fool who really believes that slashing spending is going to make things better now is in for a rude shock. It would almost certainly make things worse in the short term, and potentially in the long term as well.

The last irony that really slays me concerns the timing of the tea party outrage.

There's a graphic I've seen online recently that shows a smirking George W. Bush saying, "I fucked you all, but thanks for blaming it on the black guy", and I can't help thinking of that as I survey the indignant outrage on the right these days. Never mind that the tea party crowd is whiter, older and more male than the general population, and never mind the obscene posters they bring to rallies, such as ones saying, "Hitler gave great speeches too", or "Undocumented worker" (under a picture of Obama), or "Acts Muslim, Talks Muslim Equals Mosque" (with a picture of Obama in Taliban style garb and beard), or "By ballot or bullet restoration is coming". Maybe those are just "bad" tea partiers who are unrepresentative of the wider movement. Perhaps they haven't quite hit that sweet spot of just the proper amount of permitted outrage toward the democratically elected government chosen by the American people - you know: more than the already crazed GOP average, but less (for now at least) than a white-robed lynch mob.

But even leaving all that aside, those of us barely hanging on here in the still sentient part of the universe really kinda hafta wonder why all the outrage now? 

After all, it was Ronald Reagan who massively increased the debt of the country, with enormous help from George W. Bush, who took the largest surplus in American history and turned it instantly into the largest deficit. And did so principally to give the rich massive tax breaks and fund an incredibly expensive war based on lies. And, please correct my calendar math if I'm wrong, but wasn't that just two years ago?

But now they're outraged? Now? What, because Obama has been deficit spending even more than Bush?

Well, wait a sec here. You know, I'm not the slightest fan of Barack Obama, but I am a very big fan of telling the truth, something which will get you in a lot of trouble in tea party America, that's for sure. And the truth looks like this: If you take away from Obama's budgets Bush's wars, Bush's tax cuts, Bush's prescription drug plan, and the interest on the debt borrowed by Reagan and Bush, and about all you're left with is two things.

First, the stimulus and bailout spending, which only exists at all to deal with Bush's recession. And, second, Obama's health care bill, which the CBO has determined comes at no additional cost whatsoever to the taxpayer, and in any case doesn't even kick in until 2014. Not to mention that Bush had his own stimulus bill and that the hated TARP program came on his watch.

But, somehow, the rage of the white male retired guys only appears when "the black guy" is in office. Somehow, the shrill screams about "taking our country back" only show up when the dark-skinned guy who is only nine-tenths beholden to the oligarchy is the president.

What would it look like if Obama didn't have to pay for Bush's wars based on lies, didn't have to pay for Bush's prescription drug plan, didn't have to pay for Bush's tax cuts, didn't have to pay for stimulus funds to rescue the country from Bush's Great Recession, and didn't have to pay interest (one of the biggest items in the federal budget) on the money that Bush and Reagan borrowed previously?

Most likely, it would look like it did on January 20, 2001, the day that Bush came to office, and the United States was running the greatest surplus ever in its history.

So here we stand. The people who created endless disaster as far as the eye can see are now completely beside themselves in outrage that someone is spending a few dollars to clean up the mess these same folks have made by convincing America to follow their policies over the last thirty years. They want big changes, right now, even though they can't quite specify what they want - other than changes that won't hurt them, personally - and even though these changes would do absolutely nothing to solve the current problems facing the country, and would in fact probably exacerbate those.

They are absolutely fuming! How dare Obama do that?! They've come to take back our country, and most likely they will have great success in the election next month.

What do you call that?

Well, ironic, for sure.

But don't forget tragic, too.

Oh, and massively stupid.


Friday, October 15, 2010

To my hypocritical American brethren: You can’t have your cake and eat mine too

by Stephen VanDyke
Hammer of Truth
October 11, 2010

America let me tell you something,

We seem have a sort of schizophrenic view in this country towards what government is supposed to do, according to a recent poll covered at the Washington Post:

Most of those who see the country as headed off-course put “a great deal” of blame on the government. Overall, 55 percent of Americans say the government is not paying attention to the biggest issues. Similar percentages say the government does not use tax money wisely, is out of sync with their values and has not helped their families.

Half say the government has a big effect on their daily lives – up significantly from 10 years ago – but most of those say the impact is a negative one.

Nearly six in 10 say they want their congressional representatives to fight for additional government spending in their districts to spur job creation; fewer (39 percent) want their member of Congress to cut spending, even if that means not as many local jobs. This is a turnabout from September 1994, when 53 percent said they wanted their representative to battle against spending and 42 percent were on the other side.

A lot of people don’t grasp that when someone says they are going to give you everything you want, they are usually asking you to check your brain at the door. Personally I’m sickened of the hypocrisy of many of my fellow Americans who think it’s cool to put their hand in my pocket under the guise of “the greater good” when they are also the ones saying that government can’t be trusted… we simply can’t have it be both ways.

This kind of attitude strays across party lines as we all pretty much know. It’s the simple view that someone else will pay for what’s owed to me (and my neighbors, who are good people), but the hell with who foots the bill or any kind of higher level accounting for costs of letting the government run such programs.

Social Security is the big elephant in the room, but there’s a shit ton of entitlement programs that are propping people and corporations up in this country, and with each dollar comes a poison pill of a government agent to hand it out.

To close… If I see another fat motherfucker in the Tea Party show up to a rally in a scooter paid for with medicare or some other bullshit government subsidy, I’m kicking that shit over. Start LITERALLY walking the walk, hypocrites… some of us are on to these intellectually damaged, bullshit arguments.

If you’re not one of these people, by all means sound off.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The US offshore wind energy technology conundrum

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Chamber Of Commerce Campaign Fund Bankrolled By Foreign Donors

Foreign-Funded ‘U.S.’ Chamber Of Commerce Running Partisan Attack Ads

Oct. 5, 2010

The largest attack campaign against Democrats this fall is being waged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a trade association organized as a 501(c)(6) that can raise and spend unlimited funds without ever disclosing any of its donors. The Chamber has promised to spend an unprecedented $75 million to defeat candidates like Jack Conway, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jerry Brown, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA). As of Sept. 15th, the Chamber had aired more than 8,000 ads on behalf of GOP Senate candidates alone, according to a study from the Wesleyan Media Project. The Chamber’s spending has dwarfed every other issue group and most political party candidate committee spending. A ThinkProgress investigation has found that the Chamber funds its political attack campaign out of its general account, which solicits foreign funding. And while the Chamber will likely assert it has internal controls, foreign money is fungible, permitting the Chamber to run its unprecedented attack campaign. According to legal experts consulted by ThinkProgress, the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law that bans the involvement of foreign corporations in American elections.

In recent years, the Chamber has become very aggressive with its fundraising, opening offices abroad and helping to found foreign chapters (known as Business Councils or “AmChams”). While many of these foreign operations include American businesses with interests overseas, the Chamber has also spearheaded an effort to raise money from foreign corporations, including ones controlled by foreign governments. These foreign members of the Chamber send money either directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or the foreign members fund their local Chamber, which in turn, transfers dues payments back to the Chamber’s H Street office in Washington DC. These funds are commingled to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account which is the vehicle for the attack ads:

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a large presence in the small, oil-rich country of Bahrain. In 2006, the Chamber created a local affiliate called the “U.S.-Bahrain Business Council” (USBBC), an organization to help businesses in Bahrain take advantage of the Chamber’s “network of government and business relationships in the US and worldwide.” As the USBBC’s bylaws state, it is not an actual separate entity, rather it is simply an office of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 501(c)(6) trade association. Many of the USBBC’s board members are Bahrainian, including Aluminum Bahrain, Gulf Air, Midal Cables, the Nass Group, Bahrain Maritime & Mercantile International, the Bahrain Petroleum Company (state-owned), Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company, and First Leasing Bank. With each of these foreign board members to the USBBC contributing at least $10,000 annually, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce raises well over $100,000 a year in money from foreign businesses through its operation in Bahrain. Notably, the membership form provided by the USBBC directs applicants to send or wire their money directly to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The membership form also explicitly states that the foreign-owned firms are welcomed.
  • Like the Chamber’s involvement in Bahrain, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce operates in India through a group called “U.S.-India Business Council” (USIBC), which has offices around the world but is headquartered in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Dozens of Indian businesses, including some of India’s largest corporations like the State Bank of India (state-run) and ICICI Bank, are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce through the USIBC. Annual membership dues range from $7,500 to $15,000 or more, and the money is given directly into the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) bank account. Like the USBBC, the USIBC generates well over $200,000 a year in dues for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from foreign businesses. On the USIBC website, many of the groups lobbying goals advocate changing American policy to help businesses in India. Under the manufacturing policy goal, USIBC boasts that it “can play a helpful role in guiding U.S. companies to India, while supporting various policy initiatives that will enhance India’s reputation as a major manufacturing and investment hub.”
  • Many foreign “AmChams” or Business Councils operate outside the direct sphere of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce but nonetheless send dues money back to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. For instance, the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt is a separate entity based in Cairo that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars from both Egyptian firms and American businesses. However, the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt calls itself “the most active affiliates of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the” Middle East. Another foreign chamber, like the Abu Dhabi AmCham, which includes American firms and Esnaad, a subsidiary of the state-run Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, claims that it is a a “dues paying member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and part of the global network of American Chambers of Commerce.” In Russia, the relationship between the American Chamber of Commerce there and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here is opaque. This might be because many of the dues-paying members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia are Russian state-run companies, like VTB Bank, and controlled by the Russian government. Asked by ThinkProgress if the Russian Chambers pay dues back to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Ksenia Forsheneva, the membership development manager at the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, replied, “Unfortunately the information that you require is closed for the public.”
Previously, it has been reported that foreign firms like BP, Shell Oil, and Siemens are active members of the Chamber. But on a larger scale, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce appears to rely heavily on fundraising from firms all over the world, including China, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Russia, and many other places. Of course, because the Chamber successfully lobbied to kill campaign finance reforms aimed at establishing transparency, the Chamber does not have to reveal any of the funding for its ad campaigns. Dues-paying members of the Chamber could potentially be sending additional funds this year to help air more attack ads against Democrats.

Here’s how it works. Regular dues from American firms to the Chamber can range from $500 to $300,000 or more, depending on their size and industry, and can be used for any purpose deemed necessary by the Chamber leadership. For example, the health insurance giant Aetna has reported that it paid $100,000 in annual dues to the Chamber in the past. But for specific advocacy or advertising campaigns, corporations can hide behind the label of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and give additional money. Last year, alongside their regular dues, health insurance companies like Aetna secretly funneled up to $20 million to the Chamber for attack ads aimed at killing health reform (publicly, health insurance executives claimed they supported reform). Last week, Politico reported that News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, gave an extra $1 million to the Chamber for its election season attack campaign.

There are many reasons foreign corporations are seeking to defeat Democratic candidates this November. The Chamber has repeatedly sent out issue alerts attacking Democratic efforts to encourage businesses to hire locally rather than outsource to foreign counties. The Chamber has also bitterly fought Democrats for opposing unfettered free trade deals. To galvanize foreign businesses, the Chamber has commissioned former Ambassador Frank Lavin — who served as the McCain-Palin Asia campaign director and has appeared on television multiple times recently saying a Democratic Congress is bad for business — to speak before various foreign Chamber affiliates to talk about the stakes for the 2010 midterm elections.

Because campaign finance laws prohibit foreign entities from contributing to political races here in America, we asked the Chamber to defend the legality of its fundraising operation. We have yet to receive a response. But as word of our investigation began to leak out yesterday, the Chamber informed Politico’s Mike Allen that it is now “preparing a response.”

Update The US Chamber of Commerce has responded to this post in a statement to the Politico's Ben Smith. The Chamber's Tita Freeman did not dispute that the Chamber's 501(c)(6) organization running attack ads receives foreign funds, and simply claimed, "We have a system in place" to prevent foreign funding for the Chamber's "political activities."

The Chamber Responds:

Regarding the latest whopper about the Chamber that is making the rounds - started by John Podesta's Center for American Progress and carelessly repeated by others -  these accusations are completely erroneous. Make no mistake, this is a partisan effort to attack and silence the voice of business and free enterprise. But a few facts are worth remembering:
  • AmChams are independent organizations that do not fund political programs in the United States. 
  • We have a system in place for ensuring that they are not government-controlled entities. 
  • The Chamber is proud to have global companies among our vast membership of large and small members.
  • We're careful to ensure that we comply with all applicable laws.
  • No foreign money is used to fund political activities. All allegations to the contrary are totally and completely false.
Let's hope this clears it up. This is the political season after all when facts are sacrificed to political expediency. We just hope that cooler heads will prevail and that responsible journalists and bloggers will stop to get the facts before joining in a feeding frenzy based on fiction.



Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Mormon Prophecy Behind Glenn Beck's Message

Dana Milbank
Huffington Post
Washington Post
October 5, 2010

In one of his first appearances on Fox News, Glenn Beck sent a coded message to the nation's six million Mormons -- or at least those Mormons who believe in what the Latter-day Saints call "the White Horse Prophecy."

"We are at the place where the Constitution hangs in the balance," Beck told Bill O'Reilly on November 14, 2008, just after President Obama's election. "I feel the Constitution is hanging in the balance right now, hanging by a thread unless the good Americans wake up."

Most Americans would have heard this as just another bit of overblown commentary and thought nothing more of it. But to those familiar with the White Horse Prophecy, it was an unmistakable signal.

The phrase is often attributed to the Prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon Church. Smith is believed to have said in 1840 that when the Constitution hangs by a thread, elders of the Mormon Church will step in -- on the proverbial white horse -- to save the country.

"When the Constitution of the United States hangs, as it were, upon a single thread, they will have to call for the 'Mormon' Elders to save it from utter destruction; and they will step forth and do it," Brigham Young, Smith's successor as head of the church, wrote in 1855.

Was it just a coincidence in wording, or was Beck, a 1999 Mormon convert, speaking in coded language about the need to fulfill the Mormon prophecy? A conversation on Beck's radio show ten days earlier would seem to rule out coincidence. Beck was interviewing Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, also a Mormon, when he said: "I heard Barack Obama talk about the Constitution and I thought, we are at the point or we are very near the point where our Constitution is hanging by a thread."

"Well, let me tell you something," Hatch responded. "I believe the Constitution is hanging by a thread."

Days after Beck's Fox show started in January 2009, he had Hatch on, and again prompted him: "I believe our Constitution hangs by a thread."

Large numbers of Mormons watch Beck, but likely an even larger number of his viewers and radio listeners are evangelical Protestants who have no idea that Beck is preaching to them an obscure prophecy of the Latter-day Saints -- a faith many conservative Christians malign as a cult. In addition to the coded allusions to the White Horse Prophecy, he often brings Mormon theology into his broadcasts (he touts the thinking of late church president Ezra Taft Benson and he frequently promotes the work Mormon conspiracy theorist Cleon Skousen) but without identifying them with the LDS church.

Before the Mormons went west, Smith traveled to Washington seeking help for his oppressed followers and received nothing but frustration. Rather than turning on the government, however, "They considered themselves the last Real Americans, the legitimate heirs of the pilgrims and Founding Fathers," Pat Bagley wrote in the Salt Lake Tribune. "And, they believed, the very survival of the Constitution depended on the Saints. From Smith on, LDS leaders prophesied the Constitution would one day hang by a thread, only to be saved by Mormons."

A compilation of church leaders' statements over the years by the journal BYU Studies shows this strain of thinking. Though there are doubts about whether Smith actually wrote the phrase "hang by a thread," his successors left no doubt about the theology behind it. Orson Hyde, a Smith contemporary, wrote that Smith believed that "the time would come when the Constitution and the country would be in danger of an overthrow; and said [Smith]: 'If the Constitution be saved at all, it will be by the elders of this Church.'"

The church's fifth leader, Charles Nibley, believed that "the day would come when there would be so much of disorder, of secret combinations taking the law into their own hands, tramping upon Constitutional rights and the liberties of the people, that the Constitution would hang as by a thread. Yes, but it will still hang, and there will be enough of good people, many who may not belong to our Church at all, people who have respect for law and for order, and for Constitutional rights, who will rally around with us and save the Constitution."

The prophecy was renewed with each generation of church leadership. "The prophet Joseph Smith said the time will come when, through secret organizations taking the law into their own hands . . . the Constitution of the United States would be so torn and rent asunder, and life and property and peace and security would be held of so little value, that the Constitution would, as it were, hang by a thread," church apostle Melvin Ballard said in 1928. "This Constitution will be preserved, but it will be preserved very largely in consequence of what the Lord has revealed and what this people, through listening to the Lord and being obedient, will help to bring about, to stabilize and give permanency and effect to the Constitution itself. That also is our mission."

And now it is Beck's mission. Secret organizations? Tramping on liberties? Breakdown of law and order? Shredding the Constitution? Betraying the Founders? This is the core of Beck's message, in his own words: "Some people in the government seem to have a problem, you know, shredding the Constitution." And: "You're trying to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, friends. It's in trouble." And: "He" -- that would be Obama -- "is going to bring us to the verge of shredding the Constitution, of massive socialism."

But there is a Beckian twist in his version of the prophecy. Unlike the church leaders' versions, Beck's vision carries the possibility of a bloody end. On the night of Feb. 24, 2009, Beck outlined this prospect for his viewers. People who "don't trust the government," he said, would "see the government as violating the Constitution, and they will see themselves as defenders of the Constitution. Not a good mix. Then they take matters into their own hands."

It was Glenn Beck in a nutshell: White Horse Prophecy meets horsemen of the apocalypse.

Adapted from Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America, released October 5, 2010 by Doubleday.