Rove/Griffin Implicated in “Caging” of US Soldiers in Iraq

This is just beyond nauseating — journalist Greg Palast has copies of emails sent by Tim Griffin (now appointed US Attorney for Arkansas), at the direction of Karl Rove, to get hundreds of thousands of voters removed from voting lists. They did this by an illegal process called “caging” — they sent address verification letters to primarily African-American voters, many of them soldiers serving in Iraq. Because they were in Iraq and planning to vote by absentee ballot, they were not home to reply to the verification letters. Then, when they sent in their absentee ballots, their votes were challenged and disqualified. From an interview with Greg Palast, in which Robert F. Kennedy is also quoted, denouncing the illegal behavior of the Republicans involved:

[…] AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Greg Palast, investigative journalist, author of Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans. Investigative journalist Murray Waas reported last week the Bush administration has withheld emails showing senior White House and Justice Department officials collaborated to conceal the role of White House strategist Karl Rove in installing his former deputy, Timothy Griffin as US attorney in Arkansas. The emails show that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s former chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, worked with White House officials on two letters that misled Congress on the appointment and also Rove’s role in that. Greg?

GREG PALAST: Well, yeah. They were covering up the fact that Tim Griffin was Rove’s right-hand man. And you have to understand, Rove, as the political director at the White House, was deeply involved in targeting and taking out the US attorneys who were recalcitrant and wouldn’t start handcuffing Hispanic voters on false voter charges. They also know that it’s a slippery slope, because they know that I have 500 of the so-called missing emails.

In fact, that’s one of the points that — in one of their internal emails, which was actually subpoenaed by the committee, they’re complaining about that guy, the British reporter — that’s Greg Palast. As you realize, Amy, I’m American. But, of course, my reports are exiled to BBC Britain, and then they come back here through Democracy Now!, bless you. But they’re saying that these reports about Griffin’s role have not been picked up in the US media, in the US national media. And they’re kind of right. I mean, this material has not come through the US media.

They don’t want Griffin’s role opened up, because once they have the role of Griffin in the firings opened up, they’ll ask why that happened. They will find and discover these emails, and, in fact, now that they’re public, will turn them over to the Conyers committee, and then they’ll find out that Griffin was deeply involved in the removal of legal voters. And now you’re getting into potential felony area. That’s a very serious business. So they want to stop the slippery slope of bringing in Griffin and revealing the entire chain of emails, not just his involvement in the firings, but what led up to it, and that brings us to the emails that you just saw on our report.

AMY GOODMAN: In this whole scandal, we keep hearing about voter fraud, voter fraud. But can you explain what is being talked about here with this aggressive effort to restrict, particularly people of color, voting in battleground states?

GREG PALAST: What happened is that the Republican Party was running a massive campaign directed by Karl Rove and, we know, Tim Griffin, from the written emails, to block voters’ votes or to challenge their votes. One way to challenge voters was to say that they were stealing someone else’s identity. Someone is voting for Amy Goodman. Well, they say, the solution is to create ID cards. The problem is we can’t find anyone anywhere who has committed this crime of stealing Amy Goodman’s name to vote. People are not willing to go to jail to vote in some school board election or even for the presidency.

What Griffin, Rove’s assistant, wanted Iglesias to do — they gave them 110 names. They wanted them, for example, to arrest some guy named, say, roughly, if I remember, like Juan Gonzalez, and say he voted twice, stealing someone’s ID. Well, in New Mexico there may be two guys named Juan Gonzalez. So Iglesias just thought this was absolute junk, absolute junk stuff, and he wouldn’t do it. So it’s all about trying to create a hysteria about fraudulent voting.

There are 120 million people that voted, and I can’t find an actual case out of 120 of a prosecution that — a real prosecution of any single voter for voter identity theft. There is like five cases in the country involving some minor offices. That’s it. So it’s a complete false prosecution set-up, kind of like the Soviet Union: just grab people, put them on show trials, maybe let them go later, maybe they languish in jail.

On the other side, they’re covering up their own program, programmatic challenge of voters, which is not covered in the US press. Three million people were challenged. By the way, this isn’t, you know, from the Democracy Now! black helicopter. This is from the raw data of the United States Election Assistance Commission: three million challenges. These votes were basically lost. Over a million votes were lost. Half a million absentee ballots were thrown out, and many, many of those were votes of African American and Hispanic soldiers that went to Iraq, got their ballots challenged under this Karl Rove-Tim Griffin scheme, and they lost their vote. And they didn’t even know that they lost their vote. So all of this is being covered up.

And so, they cannot now — they don’t want to open up the whole story of Tim Griffin, how he became US attorney, what his role was, because it goes all the way back. And what David Iglesias was saying, US attorney, now captain — by the way, he’s back in the military — Captain Iglesias was saying, if you can show this chain of intent, that it’s all about the voting and he’s being punished for not bringing these false prosecutions, he says, that’s an obstruction of justice charge that can be brought against Karl Rove.

And, by the way, one little sidelight on that is that Captain Iglesias, one of the excuses that they try to give for firing him, Amy, was that he was absent for too many days from office. They didn’t mention that he was absent because he was on active duty in the US Naval Reserve. He is now, by the way, bringing the very first claim ever. You cannot fire someone for doing their duty in the US Naval Reserve. He’s now filing a charge against the commander-in-chief, George Bush, for attempting to fire him for simply showing up for active duty. […] [full text and video of interview]

So while a large number of soldiers, primarily African-American, were in Iraq, serving their country, risking life and limb, Karl Rove was scheming with Timothy Griffin to disqualify them from their constitutional right to vote. How’s that for supporting the troops?

Some days it might seem like — this whole attorney firing thing — perhaps we should let it go and focus on dealing with the looming energy crisis or fixing the broken health care policies — things that will have more of a day-to-day impact on the lives of Americans. And then I see something like the interview referenced above, and I realize that the attorney firings are about the day-to-day lives of Americans — particularly the right to vote. More needs to be done to uncover the potentially illegal actions of the Bush-Rove White House in the attorney firings, so that we can restore some sense of integrity to the idea of participatory democracy in this country.

Why Do We Need Banks (Again) for Student Loans?

The white collars at Sallie Mae are starting to get a little sweaty. First, the House of Representatives passed the new student loan legislation to reduce interest rates. Now Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis) has introduced the The STAR Act (link here) which will help steer students toward Direct Lending as opposed to Sallie Mae. This is going to be a serious battle. As my source says, “Private lenders (Sallie Mae) are going send out their lobby in force. The industry is prepared to die on the hill. ”

The STAR act would also increase funding for Pell Grants, which is much needed. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) are cosponsoring companion legislation in the Senate.

So why do we need banks for student loans? Well that’s just it: we don’t. And now that this boondoggle is being exposed, private lenders are going to be scrambling for position in the political landscape.

Adding to the Woes of Publicly-Financed Elections

Tombstone for Public Financing of Elections

Today, both the Washington Post and the New York Times observed the untimely demise of the system by which election campaigns are publicly funded. Interestingly, they both seemed to point the finger at Hillary Clinton for having, in effect, pulled the plug on the ailing system. Here is, in part, what the Post had to say:

The public financing system designed to clean up presidential campaigns in the wake of the Watergate scandal may have died on Saturday when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced her bid for the White House.

Little noticed amid the announcement rollout was a page on her Web site in which she asked potential contributors to give her campaign checks of up to $4,200. That figure signaled not only that she plans to forgo public funds for primary season but also that, if she becomes the nominee, she will not take public money for the general election.

By opting out of the system, Clinton will be able to spend as much money as she can raise, both for the primaries and for the general election, rather than being forced to abide by strict spending limits imposed by the Federal Election Commission on candidates who accept public financing.

Others have opted out of public financing for the nomination campaigns, but Clinton is the first since the current structure was created in 1974 to declare she will forgo public financing in the general election as well.

Clinton’s decision will put pressure on other candidates in both parties to follow suit, and if they do, the 2008 campaign will complete what has been the rapid disintegration of a system designed to rein in unlimited spending in presidential campaigns. [full text]

The article goes on to say that “the system has broken down for several reasons, including the growing length of campaigns and escalating costs, especially for television advertising.” According to the Campaign Legal Center, “during the 2006 elections, the nation’s television stations took in an estimated $2.25 billion for campaign television ads.” In a letter to the Senate last month, the organization expressed concern about the skyrocketing cost of running a major political campaign and recommended support for a communications voucher system:

The growing spending on TV ads by candidates running for public office vastly increases the amount of time candidates and parties must devote to fundraising to communicate with voters. Broadcasters take in staggering sums renting time to candidates to communicate with the public over the publicly-owed airwaves. It is a system which enriches broadcasters but diminishes our democracy.

There is a better way. In past Congresses, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Representatives Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA) have proposed the Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act, which would provide candidates, who demonstrate a reasonable level of public support, access to the airwaves if they are able to raise small-donor money which is matched by a communication voucher. Candidates who wish to advertise can then “buy” airtime on broadcast TV stations with those vouchers. No government mandates, no government censorship, and, most importantly, a reduction in pressure to raise money to buy airtime. [full text]

There seems little question that the huge sums of money required to run for elected office have created—or, at least, reinforced—a system that excludes the vast majority of Americans from participation. Television advertising has factored into such. Of perhaps equal concern is the fact that TV ads have also furthered an environment in which the most conspicuous and dominant information about political candidates is typically the least substantive and accurate. Like any of their more commercial kin on the airwaves, political ads are largely intended to market and sell a product: the candidate. As such, the content of these ads is apt to tell potential consumers more about the packaging than the product. And, when all is said and done and the final results are tallied, the question that will have been answered is not necessarily who was the better candidate but who was better packaged and sold. And who had the resources to afford such. The sad truth, of course, is that none of us can really afford such.

As a side note, it is worth mentioning that the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards were revealed today. Imagine if a great many members of the Academy were to vote for these prestigious awards on the basis of a viewing or two of the movie trailers rather than the movies themselves. It would not seem quite right. Nor is it right that a great many members of this republic vote for political candidates on the basis of a viewing or two (or ten thousand) of their television ads. A better system is needed, and the Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act might represent a good start.

C2C — Congrats to the Double-Time Congress

+Press Statement+

Countdown to Change Concludes Monitoring First 100 Hours in Record Time

The Countdown to Change project has now concluded monitoring the First 100 Hours of the Democratic Congress. In just under 43 hours, the new House leadership, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, moved swiftly to enact a series of proposals that address the top domestic concerns of most Americans. We are pleased to report that our efforts helped to provide coverage to Rhode Islanders on these watershed shifts our government is making to be more responsive to its citizens. We are also glad to hear Democrats saying that this is only the beginning of the changes that can be made to bring about a more healthy, safe and productive world.

The Countdown to Change project divided up coverage of each of the following issues on the respective blogs of, and

Lobbyist, Ethics and Fiscal Responsibility Reform (Draining the Swamp) – Pat Crowley provided extensive coverage of this legislation which was passed by a vote of 280 to 152. 48 Republicans approved the reforms along with 232 Democrats.

Enact 9/11 Commission Recommendations – RI Future monitored the this legislation which passed by a margin of 299 to 128.

Increase Minimum Wage – Pat Crowley reported on this issue, (with help from Peter Asen). The minimum wage hike was passed by a huge margin of 315 to 116.

Expand Stem Cell Research– This legislation passed by a margin of 253 to 174 (not enough for an override), RI reported on this issue.

Negotiate for Lower Prescription Drug Prices – Kmareka reported on this legislation, which passed by a margin of 255 to 170.

Cut Interest Rates on Student Loans – Kmareka reported on this legislation, which passed by a margin of 356 to 71, with the highest number of Republicans joining Democrats to pass this bill.

End Subsidies for Big Oil and Invest In Renewable Energy – RI Future reported on this legislation which passed by a margin of 264-163.

Kiersten Marek of said: “The joke is that this is what you get when you put a woman in charge: 100 hours worth of work done in 43 hours. The truth is that even working double-time, our leaders have a great deal of challenges ahead of them. The need for collaboration, for people of all backgrounds to find common ground, has never been greater. We are thankful for these first efforts and look forward to reporting on the bigger changes as they come.�

Matt Jerzyk of said: “Rhode Island was a key state in ensuring that Democrats took control of Congress and I think Rhode Islanders are seeing that their investment was justified. Important investments in stem cell research and renewable energy were promptly debated and passed and the nation should feel more secure with the full passage of the 9/11 recommendations. It was truly informative and educational to witness and blog the laborious process that each bill must travel before passing and I hope to continue to provide more comprehensive coverage of Congress with the rise to power of Rhode Island Democrats in Congress.�

Pat Crowley of said, “More and more American’s are getting their political news from the Internet. What the Countdown to Change project did was allow people not just to read about the news on Capitol Hill, but actually take part in ways that they can’t do with traditional media. “

Interview with Senator Jack Reed

Good news, everyone! Senator Reed’s office contacted me today and they are interested in having me sit down with the Senator for an interview. Here’s where you do your part and help me plan the topics for this interview. Comment away all you several hundred people out there who are coming to this place every week!

One idea that David suggested was approaching the interview from a social work perspective and talking about the number of walking wounded returning to the US from Iraq. Another thought of David’s was to ask Senator Reed had any regrets about votes he has made in the past while. Also, David suggested trying to elicit his forward-thinking vision for the Iraq war.

On a more personal note, I am looking forward to congratulating the Senator personally on the birth of his daughter. This is a great occasion in his life.

Medicare Prescription Drug Reforms Pass

Medicare Prescription Drug Reforms Pass the House but face trouble in the Senate and a possible Presidential veto, according to this article in the SF Gate.

The article also tallies up the passed bills and provides the forward-looking schedule for next week:

Implement Sept. 11 commission recommendations — passed.

Raise federal minimum wage — passed.

Expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research — passed.

Order Medicare to negotiate discount prices for its prescription drugs — passed Friday.

Cut interest rates on student loans — scheduled for a vote Wednesday.

End about $20 billion in oil and gas industry tax breaks — scheduled for a vote Thursday.

Time elapsed: 23 hours, 34 minutes of the 100 hours after Friday’s vote.