Friday, September 16, 2011

The NewsHour - Trainwrecking Obama's Jobs Proposal

A Cordial History of Disappointment and Complaining

Perhaps because MeanMesa is such an old geezer, certain habits, once settled in, just go on and on and on.  For years here at the MeanMesa Galactic Headquarters, 6:00, like clockwork, means that the PBS NewsHour is beginning its hour long "news in depth" reporting on the "news of the day."  

Just like most other things in the world, the NewsHour has gradually transformed as the months and years have passed.  For example, a decade ago one could expect such things as a fairly robust reportage of international events or an unapologetic line between news and opinion.  However, with the latest clutch of corporate sponsors, PBS NewsHour has taken a remarkable "turn for the worst."

Hell, let's spit out the chewing gum and get specific.

Awash with United Health, Chevron and Bank of America money, the old MacNeil-Lehrer show has careened into a grotesque "talking heads" cameo for quite an embarrassing batch of really, really stinky truth bending.  Amazingly, this just gets worse and worse.

It's all on video.

Perhaps the old NewsHour crowd has adopted the GOPCon "thick skin" habit of not paying any attention whatsoever to public opinion, polls or comments so long as the sweet corporate dollars keep arriving in the mail.  MeanMesa is dumbfounded that the thing still claims to receive public cash support from its viewers.

Well, all this geriatric whining would amount to nothing if there were not a pungent scratch of evidence to justify all the complaints.  Unhappily, as far as evidence goes, everything which was possibly necessary was delivered over the air waves this week.

Goolsbee and Feldstein on the President's Job Plan

A quick look at the players invited to the NewsHour for Judy's interview may be a good place to start.

Austan Goolsbee

Austan Goolsbee, Judy Woodruff's Democrat

Mr. Goolsbee is a Yale, MIT graduate economist who served as Chairman of Obama's Economic Advisers until he quit to return to return to teaching at the University of Chicago.  He may be a stellar economist, but for this interview he apparently attempted to swallow a hand full of marbles in the NewsHour green room.

Martin Feldstein

Martin Feldstein, Judy Woodruff's Republican

Mr. Feldstein is currently an economics professor at Harvard University.  He was Chairman of President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers.  His Wiki site characterizes him as a "deficit hawk," a position which put him at odds with his boss, Ronnie.

Now, it's time to listen to the interview.  It is 14 minutes long, and if you are in a hurry, the good parts begin at 3 minutes 40 seconds.

The "$200,000" Job -
Judy's Unchallenged Right Wing "Talking Point"

First, let's set our sights firmly on exactly what "both sides" of the interview are actually discussing.

The total price of the Jobs Plan is roughly $450 Bn.  The main components of the plan are infrastructure spending, unemployment benefits and middle class tax cuts.  Mr. Feldstein's comments during the interview are revealing.

Clearly, the portion of the $450 Bn which would fund infrastructure projects amounted to somewhere around $100 Bn.  This is the amount of money which would fund projects to repair roads, bridges and schools, etc.  More importantly, some portion of this money would wind up paying for the labor to do these jobs.

Of course, we know such construction projects will spend a lot more money on things other than labor -- materials, for instance.  The CBO estimate of how many people could wind up being employed for these projects is roughly 2 million.

In comes Harvard economist Feldstein.

After carefully calculating the "arithmetic" problem:

$450 Bn total program cost / 2 Mn workers getting pay checks = $225,000 per worker

Mr. Feldstein repeatedly states that "creating" a single job under the jobs plan would cost $200,000.  In fact, Feldstein not only derisively repeats this screw ball figure over and over in the interview, Goolsbee just sits there blithering.

This approach would imply that a project to build a $1 Bn dam across a river which employed 1,000 workers cost $1 Mn dollars per worker.  Wait a minute.  There's also the dam which was built, Mr. Feldstein!  A Harvard economist knows better than this.

This is crap.  Thank you, PBS NewsHour.

Is Obama going to lose the 2012 election to the media?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Why There Are No "Declarations of War" - A War Profiteering Primer

The Heady Memory of 1941

This was the last time that the United States Congress stood boldly enough to declare war.  This notable event occurred while the wreckage of the US Pacific Fleet was still smoldering in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

This is what it looks like. "Formal Action Quickly Follow's FDR's Message"
The World War which ensued quickly engulfed the European Axis powers with similar declarations of war on Germany and Italy.  Whether from movies or history, most Americans are familiar with the story from this point.  ("PNAC" is the acronym for "Project for the New American Century")

PNAC Statement of Principles - the "New Pearl Harbor"(Read Wiki Article here.)

Section V of Rebuilding America's Defenses, entitled "Creating Tomorrow's Dominant Force", includes the sentence: "Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor."

Just stay clear of an actual Declaration of War, whatever you do.

Because MeanMesa very thoughtfully included in this post's title the word  "primer,"  its extended length can be, somewhat, validated.  A major chunk of the massive national debt arising from the Bush Wars can be attributed to war profiteering, but that outrage can be stifled by a lack of both precedent and detail in the contemporary media's "word salad."

So, relax on a cool, high desert evening, make a nice cup of tea, settle into your Lazy Boy with a warm dog next to your feet and let's "drill down" a little to see what's at the bottom of this pit.

Harry Truman's Almost Forgotten Battle
  Against War Profiteering

Just as is the case with many aspects of 21st Century US social culture, war profiteering has matured since the coarser days the practice followed in the 1940's.  Not only have the mechanisms of such schemes become far more sophisticated, the "take" has grown an unsettling number of extra "zeroes," too.

FDR faced a Pacific threat almost without a Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor.  The nation was cast into a "results are everything" mode of military procurement where the predictable peccadillos of war profiteering had to be overlooked in favor of military production.

However, after Truman became President upon FDR's death, WWII was entering a more matured procurement phase, one which left egregious war profiteering with far less public cover compared to the period of desperation immediately after the Japanese attack.  

Here, MeanMesa will temporarily "relinquish the steering wheel" to present a short historical foundation with excerpts from another, very nicely written blog, Last Left Turn Before Hooterville - November, 2006. (Read the whole article here. Links remain enabled for further reading.)

Last Left Turn Before Hooterville

Outlaw War Profiteering!

November 17, 2006

As in World War II, we need to take a stand - make war profiteering illegal. President Roosevelt said, "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster". Harry Truman referred to war profiteering as 'treason'. And in 1953, at the height of the Cold War, President Dwight Eisenhower, a real war hero, said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

When he heard rumors of such profiteering, Truman got into his Dodge and, during a Congressional recess, drove 30,000 miles paying unannounced visits to corporate offices and worksites. The Senate committee he chaired launched aggressive investigations into shady wartime business practices and found "waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and profiteering," according to Truman, who argued that such behavior was unpatriotic. Urged on by Truman and others in Congress, President Roosevelt supported broad increases in the corporate income tax, raised the excess-profits tax to 90 percent and charged the Office of War Mobilization with the task of eliminating illegal profits. Truman, who became a national hero for his fight against the profiteers, was tapped to be FDR's running mate in 1944.

In 2003, United for a Fair Economy did a study of defense contractor CEO pay that is worth taking a look at. (Download the .pdf here.) There is a direct correlation between the size of campaign donations and the size of defense contracts. The study found that:
Median CEO pay at the 37 largest defense contractors rose 79 percent from 2001 to 2002, while overall CEO pay climbed only 6 percent, according to a new report from United for a Fair Economy, More Bucks for the Bang: CEO Pay at Top Defense Contractors, by Chris Hartman and David Martin.

Median pay was 45 percent higher in 2002 at defense contractors than at the 365 large companies surveyed by Business Week magazine. The typical U.S. CEO made $3.7 million in 2002, while the typical defense industry CEO got $5.4 million.

The jump in median defense contractor CEO pay far exceeded the increase in defense spending, which rose 14 percent from 2001 to 2002.

Compared with an army private’s pay of $19,585, the average CEO at a major defense contractor made 577 times as much in 2002, or $11,297,548. This is also more than 28 times as much as the Commander in Chief’s salary of $400,000.

The study also looked at the size of campaign contributions by the largest defense contractors and found a strong correlation between campaign contributions made by a company in the 2000 and 2002 election cycles and the value of defense contracts awarded to that company. Ninety percent of the difference in contract size can be accounted for by size of contributions. For example, top arms contractor Lockheed Martin was also the top campaign contributor among defense firms.

The 37 companies included in the CEO pay study were all the publicly-traded corporations with at least $1 billion in total defense contracts from 2000 through 2002. The list includes well-known defense contractors like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics, as well as some companies not usually associated with military spending, such as FedEx and Dell Computer. Compensation was defined as salary, bonus, “other compensation,” restricted stock awards, long-term incentive payouts, and the value realized from the exercise of stock options.

People, let's be real.

That's what's put us in Iraq, that's what's keeping us in Iraq. This is 'War A-Go-Go', as Country Joe said, and 'there's plenty good money to be made supplying the army with the tools of the trade'.

How ironic that the Kowboy Koward of Krawford is making his first trip to Vietnam right now. As we muddle and muck through this terrible quagmire, American soldiers' lives are still being traded for profits. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to get a law passed today against war profiteering, but I can guaran-damn-tee you that the contractors would be out of there so fast it would make your head spin.

And our kids could come home.

What if they gave a war and nobody came? 

As President, Truman "lowered the boom" on both these crooked military procurement industrialists and their Congressional cronies, accumulating some powerful political enemies along the way.  He openly characterized the practice as "treason," and supported moves to make it not only illegal, but also a crime with definite prison terms for those involved.

The important point here is not a simple re-hash of who was doing what during the Truman years, but instead, a description of the "pivot point" Truman used to trigger such prosecutions.  That pivot point was the fact that the United States had formally declared war on Japan.  This fact validated what might have otherwise been interpreted as a regulatory "incursion on the free market."

Later in Truman's Presidency, the United States found itself in the "UN police action" defending South Korea.  Much of the anti-profiteering law from WWII was, once again, challenged precisely because the conflict was an "undeclared war," and, just as one might expect, the profiteers had re-insinuated themselves into the military procurement business.  

In an effort to protect the scam, corporate money gushed into the project of making the "police action" as politically unpalatable as possible to the US public.  We need to also remember that the "foe" was, rather than a military opponent, characterized as an incendiary, collectivist, sub-human monster of Godless Communism.  

The following is excerpted from a 2006 post on Field Guide to US EconomyRead the entire article here.

Congress Fails to Investigate or Punish War Profiteering

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 by Center for Popular Economics  
The following post is the text of a radio commentary I (Mike Meeropol) delivered over WAMC radio in early October.

Did you know that the US Congress has rejected efforts to punish, investigate and criminalize war profiteering?

Yes, that's right. This past February, the House on a mostly party-line vote rejected an effort to forbid expenditures from going to any contractor, if the Defense contractor audit agency has determined that more than $100,000.000 of the contractor costs involving work in Iraq were unreasonable.

Meanwhile, the Senate on an equally party-line vote, rejected an amendment to an appropriation bill to prohibit profiteering and fraud relating to military action, relief and reconstruction.

What's going on here?

The key to understanding this issue is in attempting to define the term "war profiteering." Can we be precise or must we accept an "I know it when I see it"  position as did former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, about pornography?

Whenever a nation goes to war and buys supplies and equipment from private businesses, unless the government forces businesses to sell at a loss, the deal will lead to increased profits. But profiteering and merely profiting are different concepts. Profiteering implies that profits are too high. But how is that possible? How can a price voluntarily arrived at between two parties -- one party the US government --  be too high?

Well, one way is if the business fails to deliver the product promised. The business gets its money and the government gets little or nothing of what was promised. Anecdotal evidence abounds in any war.

This is clearly fraud and should be punished severely.

But what if the product paid for is actually delivered? How do we define war profiteering then? The only economic argument would be that the price charged and the profit earned is much higher than the price and profit that would have been high enough to induce the business to supply the particular product. In other words, if there were no war, the business would be satisfied to get, say, a 20 % profit,  but now they're getting 40%.

Why does a business gets such a great deal? Because there's little or no competition, and because the government is very anxious to get production started quickly. Because the stakes in wartime are so high, these extra costs don't seem to matter at the time.  But of course they do.

The House Bill proposed to allow the Pentagon's own internal audit agency to investigate whether any defense contractor was either padding costs in order to commit fraud or overcharging in other ways. Note that each contractor under that proposed bill would have $99 million in "wiggle room" — only "unreasonable" charges over $100 million would trigger sanctions.

During the Korean War Congress decided that all businesses were probably going to earn quite high profits and an excess profits tax was imposed. They didn't even bother to discriminate between unreasonably high profits and just high profits. That made some sense because it is difficult to prove that a specific cost charged is "unreasonable." Such an allegation would certainly be contested and the time it would take to settle the matter would be time wasted and remember there's a war on!

So there was an excess profits tax during the Korean War. By the way, this very high tax did not interfere with procurement -- there is no evidence that Korean War soldiers were short on equipment.

Given the Bush Administration's unwillingness to support any tax increase, the Korean War solution was never an option during this war. So why weren't the proposals aimed at punishing and investigating specific acts of war profiteering unanimously approved? Why were they defeated in partisan votes?

The answer lies in the difficulty of proving the existence of war profiteering. What Republicans probably feared was that efforts to punish war profiteers would degenerate into a partisan effort to make the President and his big business buddies look bad with lots of charges and no real resolution of the problem. An effort ostensibly to pursue war profiteers would, in the end, contribute to reducing the public's support for Bush's war.

I would guess that's why Republicans including NY State Republicans voted against it.

Corpses and Crimes With Different Values

When it was becoming clear that the US military adventure in Afghanistan was both losing its lustre as a domestic political tool and beginning to be a "cost to value over run" during the autocracy, stage one of the oil scheme had been realized.  The American electorate had become immured to carefully managed prospect of continuous political warfare, that is, "battle hardened"  in the civilian sense.

When the initial rampaging glee of the autocracy's memorable "one liners" and the 21st Century version of good old Spanish-American War yellow journalism had begun to die off in both conflicts, the full "cold steel" reality of being at war could still be avoided because of the number of contractors in the combat arena.

Well Financed Yellow Journalism As A Perpetual Cause For War (image source Wiki)

While military "war dead" presented the predictable public relations problem, dead contractors were relegated to a far less empathetic role.  After all, these participants had been receiving high compensation all along.  In the combat discipline sense, this disparity extended to widely varied degrees of  accountability where infractions to the prevailing rules of engagement had very different consequences. 

In this sense, "contractor war" became somewhat less hideous than exclusively "military war" as more and more of the damages could be conveniently placed in some service corporation's "chart of accounts" rather than Arlington National Cemetery.

From the Grocery Cart To Halliburton

There has always been a "ready to go" clutch of well connected war profiteers for every conflict the nation has encountered, however, few of them enjoyed the wide open check book available from having a convenient overlap between the Board of Directors and the Secretary of Defense. 

In fact, the most modern case enjoyed advantages beyond this simple, auspicious beginning.  That Secretary of Defense became the Vice President, and in the minds of many Americans, the acting President during the same period as the wars continued.  What passed as a Declaration of War emerged from the Congress as a "Authorization" to use military force, conveniently avoiding all the Truman statutory regulations against war profiteering.

From Smoking Mirrors Blogspot, August 2007.  (All links are enabled.  Visit the original site here.)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Dov Zakheim and the Missing Trillions.

What is the most outrageous piece of news that isn’t being discussed? I would venture to say it is the strange tale of Dov Zakheim and the missing trillions. I hear all kinds of numbers. I hear 2.3 trillion from Rumsfield and I hear about one trillion that Zakheim can’t explain. Still, you’ll need to check the dates of Zakheim’s days in the saddle as Pentagon Comptroller and then you can wonder to your hearts content. There’s no doubt the money is gone and there’s no doubt about who should know where it went but…what do I know? I know one trillion dollars is a lot of money. Isn’t one trillion dollars a million million? Zounds!!!

Has the cost of the entire Iraqi incursion come to a trillion dollars yet? It certainly isn’t anywhere near 2.3 trillion. Why isn’t this under discussion? Is it just too big a thing, too enormous to comprehend, that our minds go blank when we think about it? Hmmm...

There are a number of researched sources for all of the details you need to get a grasp of the situation. I’m not going to go into that kind of detail here. It’s been done better than I can manage at places like here

and here

this last link gives you many further links. You might want to read some of this before you continue here. And you should probably read this

by the author of the first link.

The man at the center of this sub rosa controversy is Dov Zakheim. Here is what is said about him. He’s a dual national Zionist and also a Rabbi. He’s the co-author of this PNAC gem

or, he isn’t the co-author but he signed off on it and it was really written by Kristol and Kagan. I read different things and, having been burned once, I’m in no mood for putting anything out that isn’t just as close to the truth as I can get. If you read the sources I have given and you extrapolate out to some degree you will find that Rabbi Zakheim is right there in the bed and under the covers snuggled up tight with all the other names that keep coming up. You’ll also find an alarming amount of connections to 9/11. WTF?

Here are a few salient features that struck me. He resigned in March 2005 when it was discovered that a trillion dollars was missing

On September 10th, 2001 (note this auspicious ‘night before Christmas date) Rumsfeld announced that 2.3 trillion was missing.

Now wait a minute... doesn’t this come to over 3 trillion dollars? Is Zakheim responsible for all of it or part of it? Is it a mere trillion for him and someone else lost the rest? I’m relying on you to square this away for me. This blog is interactive.

How can you not account for this amount of money in this day and age with computers?

Why has this, along with other news, (such as the WTC being near condemned status, prior to the attacks, because of billions in required refurbishments) with which we are familiar, disappeared from the landscape?

Most importantly, what was a dual nationality cat like Rabbi Zakheim doing in charge of the Pentagon’s money supply? Forget that, what is Chertoff, another dual nationality cat doing in charge of Homeland Security?

You might find a number of things in this article interesting, one of which is this, "Chertoff allowed scores of suspected Israeli terrorists and spies to quietly return to Israel . In several cases, Israeli suspects working for phony moving companies, such as Urban Moving Systems from Weehawken, N.J., were caught driving moving vans which tested positive for explosives. On September 14, Dominic Suter, the owner of the moving company, which was found to be a Mossad front company, fled to Israel after FBI agents requested a second interview.

One group of 5 Israelis was seen on the roof of Urban Moving Systems videotaping and celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center. These Israeli agents were returned to Israel on visa violations.

These Israeli suspects, and others, who had apparently transported explosives in the New York area, were allowed to return to Israel without being properly interrogated or their presence and activities in the United States having been vigorously investigated." (1)

Does it all sound like science fiction to you? Put “Chertoff dual nationality” into Google and see if you have enough time in your life to read the things you find.

Any time you start looking into the rabbit hole you run across the same names. There is this handful of people who constantly show up. Why are there continuous connections to Israel? As I have said before, I don’t enjoy having to reach these conclusions. There is no more heavyweight subject than Israeli involvement in 9/11. There is nothing that causes more screeching and name calling, slander and opprobrium. But... every time you look and everywhere you look, the same names, the same connections, the same events pop to the surface of the lake like a dead body and smell as bad.

Now, either this is the most fantastic, most outrageous set of coincidences of which there is no parallel in human history or... there is something to it.

What are so many members of one of the smallest groups of people in the world doing in so many sensitive areas of the American government? How come they have so many irrefutable connections to one of the biggest events in American history? Honestly, I just want some answers. I don’t know what to think and I don’t like having to think about and speak about things that can make me a target of powerful interests that seem to be in control of a whole lot of bad shit.

Now, once again, either there is something to all of this or it is an unbelievable chain of coincidence that defies reason. What do we make of this?

This website

had to remove it due to Zakheim’s lawyers. There’s a lot of information from several sources here

...I don’t speak to the truth of the contents. I’d just appreciate it if you would READ, THINK, REFLECT and REASON. What I have placed before you is a small, small portion of what you can find which all speaks to the same thing. And speaking of outrageous coincidences, what is Zakheim doing as Corporate Vice President of System Planning Corporation? ...more freaking coincidences. I’ve got more coincidences than there are illegal immigrants.

Unfortunately for me, this has gone way past coincidence and the circumstantial. This is some unknown animal hiding in plain sight. I don’t know what to call it. It can’t be coincidence or circumstantial, there are enough grains of sand here to create your own beach. It blares at me through klaxons. It’s screaming from rooftops. It’s dancing with ten thousand Broadway revues surrounded by all the lights of Las Vegas. I have to conclude what I fear to conclude.

How do we come to empirical fact? We get there by repeating experiments, by observation and by weighing evidence to the point where doubt is removed from our conclusions. I’d really appreciate the readers weighing in with their thoughts and any further information they might have. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck and looks like a duck and you see it mating with other ducks and producing more ducks; what do you think it might be?

Halliburton continued to receive "emergency no-bid contracts," ordinarily reserved for pressing, unforseen necessities, year after dreary year.  A nice historical account of the news paper coverage this generated in the US is provided in a great compendium at Halliburton Watch.  Visit the site here. Although the entire body of this research could be a part time job for the winter, it is worth the time to "sniff around" to get a fuller picture. 

The outrage even continued in more formal settings. A Wartime Contracting Commission was established by Congress to track more of the missing contract dollars spent in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  That full report can be read here.

As the country is staggering under the relentless "money saving" and "spending cuts" of the current tea bag Congress, the scope of this scheme is curiously missing from the table.  However, MeanMesa visitors can "take it to the bank" that huge amounts of the "missing dollars" have ultimately found the pockets of corporatists like those who run Halliburton.

"Huge amounts?"  Yes. More than enough "missing money" to triple or quadruple the amounts recently cut from the Federal deficits during the spending cut fiascos which most recently jammed another stake through the entire global economy.  While contractors such as the well connected Halliburton are frolicking in cash tsunamis, the country's tax payers are being asked to slice and dice Social Security, let bridges collapse, public schools leak, levees fail and so on.

Don't Bother to Buy This Book

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Planting The Arab Spring's Justice Garden

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

It should be relatively easy to conclude that the uprisings of the Arab Spring originated with economic corruption.  It might be just as easy to conclude that the conditions which inspired the moves to freedom would not have occurred in societies enjoying representative democracy.

However, the exact mechanism in a democratic state which would have prevented such conditions is too often left out of the picture.  Of course, autocrats intent on extracting the economic life blood from such a country would hesitate if they had to face an election, but the actual "nuts and bolts" of defending an egalitarian system falls to a judicial system.

The track from the insults and outrages of the Arab dictators to the intentions of the people in the streets is a straight line.  If that line is to be redirected through a new more democratic government, elections alone will not provide the sole incentive to usher in better times.  In fact, given the nature of the past players, elections would not even survive very long without a justice system to defend the process.

So, the daunting task of, more or less, spontaneously generating a democracy is further complicated by the adjacent task of creating a justice system to defend it.  The creation of a modern constitution is, obviously, one of the primary objectives of those who have paid such a great price to reclaim their country.  The creation of a justice system which will function within that new constitutional apparatus may be even more complicated.

Although the countries of Western Europe and the United States are eager to assist in this process, we see some serious obstacles even before the offer is made.  These are the logical products of our past and present records.

1.  Citizens in Arab Spring countries have seen their dictatorial tormentors in the close company of US and Euro "free market businessmen" for far too long.  These "associates" to the autocracies had operated in such countries with a very durable immunity from "business practices" which would have never been allowed in their states of origin.

What passed as a local justice system in these "overseas markets" amounted to little more than a few very beholding toadies with judicial titles, and in no time at all, the local citizens found themselves utterly without recourse of any kind.  In fact, these old Arab autocracies exhibited little hesitation in the further employment of violent, brutal retribution to ordinary citizens who might foolishly seek "their day in court."

2.  Just as piquant a caution derived from the observations of the failing judicial systems in the very states who were now so altruistic in their willingness to "export justice" to the new democracies, especially the case with the United States.  Although distant and foreign, the new citizens of the Arab Spring states were not only careful observers of possible examples for their own new system but also very discerning about questionable judicial mechanisms which were too similar to the farces they had just deposed.

Finally, Addressing "Wouldn't It Be Nice"

To get things off "on the right foot," (open in a new tab) execute the following You Tube link:

Now, with the Beach Boys joyously advertising their teen age optimism in the background, we can continue.

Wouldn't it be nice if the United States could offer some direct, effective counsel to these new democracies as they endeavored to set up their justice systems?

What MeanMesa envisions here might be described as the antithesis to the long running Institute of Fascism we call the School of the Americas.  Now, this little jewel is no longer called by this title because of serious reputation for human rights problems.  It is now called the The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC or WHINSEC).  It was established years ago to train at least temporarily loyal military enforcers for South and Central American dictators. (more here - WIKI)

Ironically, the mission of WHISC turns out to be horribly similar to exactly what the new citizens of the Arab Spring states hated most in the conduct of their old governments.

However, the new, antithetical form of this would be an institution with a mission highly relevant to the immediate needs of the Arab Spring states.  Quite aside from the political specifics of each case, a fundamental, general component of the dissatisfaction can be traced to those in the local judicial who were bare faced cronies at the beginning of their careers or sold out at some opportune moment along the way.

Understandably, as each instance of this series of revolutions -- after reaching critical mass -- slows to face the task of legitimate rule, the deficiency of the current state of the legal system will emerge almost immediately.  Again ironically, the fate of the captured ex-dictators and their erstwhile minions may present the first hard evidence of this.

The irony arises when these old thugs begin to demand a "fair trial," hoping desperately that the "new version of a fair trial" is not too similar to their "old version of a fair trial."

The Justice School of the Hemispheres

We can use the term "hemispheres" quite comfortably, if for no other reason, because the destructive, anti-democratic products of the School of the Americas and institutions similar to it have cursed victim countries well beyond the boundaries of Central and South America.  The nations of the Arab Spring have not been excluded, and their citizens know it.

So, if you find yourself unexpectedly burdened with handling the details of your country's journey to its new democracy, the prospect of enlisting some judicial appointments may prove daunting.  Wouldn't it be nice to recruit a few honorable new judicial appointments and send them away to learn all about it in the United States?

That educational service would not be non-controversial, either.  Not only the most sought after ideal aspects of the local justice system but also the sometimes unfamiliar responsibility of being objective in the rule of law would be necessary parts of the curriculum.  In any event, the graduates of such an institution must be prepared to return to their home countries bearing the cloak of a real judicial rather than another well paid hack serving only the dictator.

Building Legitimate Justice Systems

As we consider this aspect of what confronts both the United States as a "reparative" challenge and what confronts the new nations of the Arab Spring as a "first time" challenge, we see that Americans have an advantage.  Here, we have a cultural memory of a US justice system which, at one point in the past, seemed to function.

This idea of cultural memory is an important one.  For example, MeanMesa presumes to have an eye to current US economic events somewhat more resolved than younger folk because of the memory of participating in the incredibly more successful US economy and culture before the Reagan years.  Yet, we still have to ask ourselves if we remember a pre-Reagan justice system which functioned notably better than the current train wreck.

In the new nations of the Arab Spring, the population has no particular memory of a functional justice system, of police who might actually aid a complainant, of judges who made decisions based on settled law or powerful oligarchs who showed any "reluctance" when it came to snow barrelling over what was passing as the law whenever it was convenient or profitable.

Two Arab Spring examples of this are in the domestic "news" right now.  In Egypt, quite aside from all the oligarchic looting Mubarak enjoyed for decades, the issue at his trial is his complicity in the murders of Egyptian citizens.  In Syria, the clear stumbling block in Assad's intransigence is based on fear of the same outcome.

Further, in both cases the dilapidated state of the local justice system is horribly suspect whether it is the shattered remnants of what was there before or the extremely shaky infancy of what has replaced it.  The first of the two states presently describes the current condition of the domestic system.

There is a "tipping point" which emerges in a failed justice system, and it is starkly reflected in its credibility.  Once reached, the complaints stop, expectations plummet, interest lags and trust becomes a "ghost of the past."  The cloud of un-prosecuted domestic examples run the gambit: war crimes, corruption, insider trading, war profiteering,  influence peddling and political dirty tricks galore, all frosted, finally, with insults such as the Citizen United decision.

At one time -- perhaps in better days -- citizens' voices would have publicly and reasonably demanded convictions.  Now, stoic, disheartened citizens purposefully make themselves "too busy" to even be bothered by the absence of hearings and investigation.  So much for the crime fighting "G-Men" of the country's more believable justice systems of the past.

We see this state of affairs in contemporary American justice, and the citizens of the Arab Spring see it as one which began much earlier.  The same questions arise in both places. When did we begin our national habit of tolerating such things?  When will we end it?

This is a chilling similarity when we compare it to the conditions which inspired the Arab Spring, and that chill is not missed by the US domestic equivalent of the oligarchs who now find themselves in the dock in Arab courts.  Bad behavior either has consequences or it doesn't.  Reviewing history, MeanMesa suspects it almost always does have such consequences in the long haul.

Because wealth inequality is, ultimately, a consistent measure of "justice inequality," we can return to the chart of American wealth presented in MeanMesa's last posting. (An American Oligarch Watches the Arab Spring)
Wealth Inequality - Does It Also Measure "Justice Inequality?" (chart source)
When we strip away all the labels concerning wealth and replace them with corresponding labels measuring "justice equality," we see the chilling similarity.  Although direct examples of the US justice system simply "turning over" liquid cash based on this inequality are still infrequent, direct examples of widely varied "degrees of accountability" are not.

Naturally, when accountability falls prey to unequal justice, the possibilities for rapacious business practices which should have, otherwise, carried with them swift and powerful justice have become far more attractive.  The examples are like the topics of nightmares for American -- and Arab Spring -- oligarchs: the cost of criminal defense, the artificial limits of damages in class actions, the price of procuring judicial remedy beyond the possible resources of complainants.

Justice, No Longer An American Export

Returning to our "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" idea, the citizens of the new Arab Spring states probably already know more than enough about current American Justice to view graduates of such an institute as promising, much less even acceptable.  It seems that they know more about the failing American system than we do.

Their "oceans didn't protect them" from the US system.

The basic concept of an Institute might still be attractive to those in the new nations faced with constructing a justice system from scratch, but the ideals taught there will not be anything remotely similar to what one might find in practice here.

Such an Institute, if even possible, would offer a valuable educational opportunity to us just as it would to them.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

An American Oligarch Watches the Arab Spring

When American Idealism Becomes Too Complicated
and Too Expensive

Recently, even the otherwise corporately saturated PBS NewsHour has dared to comment on the extreme state of domestic wealth inequality.  A few others in the commercial media have also, apparently, received authorization to mention the story, even if only in passing. 

"Received authorization?"  Yes.  There is very little reason to presume that the well paid "news" industry would have wandered into such an incendiary topic solely on their own initiative.  The oligarchs in charge have understood that the story will be most manageable if delicately "touched on" before the "reporting focus" moves back to more soporific "news" and relentless propaganda.

In America, things like this happen when the "elephant in the living room" misses the "cat box."

One early victim of the nearly completed, domestic wealth redistribution is seen in the American justice system.  It's not surprising that oligarchs regard the subversion and domination of the traditional "rule of law" idea to be foundational for the remainder of their scheme.  For this posting, MeanMesa wants to consider this not with any sort of lamentation comparing it to the "good old days" here so much as one comparing it to what is happening abroad, in this case, the Arab Spring.

Once "boiled down to the bones," domestic wealth redistribution to the top percentiles enjoys -- at least in the corporate media -- a uniquely different "label" than its Arab Spring counterpart.  Importantly, that difference seems to be primarily one of sophistication.  Domestic wealth redistribution, hosted by the now dysfunctional justice system, can be masqueraded as not only legal, but reassuringly consistent with very poorly defined, unexamined economic and political ideals.

In the countries of the Arab Spring, the meat handed "redistribution" of vast wealth to the old crony driven oligarchies had been blatantly corrupt.  The powerful became rich while everyone else simply endured it.  Only a few fleeting, superficial efforts were made to imply that the process was, somehow, consistent with minor complications such as local, "theoretical" Constitutions or traditional, national, cultural ideals.

Before the Arab Spring in these Arab states, a casual interview with a man on the streets would have produced a quiet, yet firmly stoic depiction of state of the local system as "just one of those things that we have to live with" or else.  Few of the locals would have bothered to consider them "legal" or "not legal" because such judgements would have meant very little.  On the other hand, the "or else" part could be quite violent, immediate and compelling.

Economic systems prior to the uprisings were, simply put, corrupt, and everyone knew it.  In lucid moments of honesty, neither the "captive population" nor the prospering oligarchs would have disputed this conclusion.  Further, the same "captive population" would have wasted not a single minute imagining that the "local justice system," for obvious reasons, was ever going to do anything whatsoever to ever rectify the situation, that is, level the playing field.

Prior to the Arab Spring, "national justice systems" were primarily charged with maintaining the both the incessant wealth extraction and the passivity and suppression of the "extractees" for the benefit of the "extractors."  Here in the US, although the outcome was direly similar, the process was more complex because it had to be more or less "legal" all along the way.

"Breaking the Camel's Back" - It Can't Happen Here

Set conveniently -- although also suspiciously -- aside from the "main list" of causes which are reported to have initiated the Arab Spring, raw, savage, economic corruption played an inescapably large part in triggering the uprising.  Americans found the alternative explanations of ideology, politics and culture more palatable than sheer corruption, but MeanMesa has to conclude that "hungry bellies" were the factor which finally tipped the scale from calm to change.

The decades of wealth extraction had simply left the populations so stressed that while these other, more intellectual forms of torment offered equally intellectual explanations, the "trigger finger" sat firmly on what could appear on the dinner table.  There seemed to be plenty to go around, but it was clearly not "going around."  It was. specifically, not going around to the people on the streets.

Domestically, along with the decrepit Arab oligarchic thugs, our US oligarchs were also drawing a few troubled breaths of their own -- apparently enough to authorize a re-framed domestic news reporting in an unquestionably, yet understandably, suspicious way.  Their own historical extraction schemes had created a domestic wealth inequality far too comparable to the ones which had instigated the Arab Spring so they authorized the media to report on the matter, but, just a little.

The US "Land of Opportunity" - Think of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria (chart source)

One important point is that the outrages represented in the chart above could have only been made possible with a sufficient "cover" from the US justice system.  Of course, all sorts of "looting schemes" and political machinations were directly involved, but all through the course of the scheme's execution, judicial challenges had to be subverted for its success.

At this point, the "Bottom 90%" noted in the chart of US population and the corresponding "Bottom 90%" in the countries of the Arab Spring are sharing the same "life jacket."  Somewhat reassuringly, the respective "Top 1%" and "Next Richest 9%" of both the US and the countries of the Arab Spring are also sharing the "same life jacket," even though for both of them, these traditional "life jackets""not particularly buoyant" gold, and jewels.

Both parties -- that is, both those at the top and at the bottom -- of the US "condition" have seen the violent, bloody remedy unfolding in the Arab countries, and, no matter how hard one tries to avoid it, sooner or later the similarities begin to map themselves into the domestic frame.

What has previously been "unthinkable" has begun to be "thinkable."

The wealth of the thuggish dictators who have fallen in the Arab Spring enjoyed -- even so recently as a week before they were dragged from their palaces -- a passive image of acceptability and legitimacy for their purloined riches.  In the domestic case we find a strikingly similar situation.

There may be a few carefully orchestrated lamentations about the rapacious wealth redistribution in the United States, but underlying such stories is the lingering presumption that either "nothing can be done" or that "these oligarchs deserve to keep what they have."  That is, although the situation is deplorable, it must be corrected by precisely the same deplorable system which made it possible in the first place.

This idea has at least as much merit as Syrian dictator Assad's most recent promises for "reform."

The Syrian case is a good example.  So far, while relaxing on his journey to oblivion, Assad has not been caught in a moment of sincere terror which led him to rip out the gold plated faucets in his private coach and hurl them to the starving masses trying to stop his train.  His intransigent oligarchic counterparts in the US have taken an equally self-destructive decision.

Oh, What An Unexpected Difference
a Week Can Make

The weeks just keep on coming -- both in sunny pre-Arab Spring spots such as Syria and in the United States as well.  The troubling questions now sprout like dandelions in the pumpkin patch.

Can the wealth of the United States be, once again, redistributed -- this time downward -- in time to avoid our own Arab Spring?  Is there a point where the parties simply quit negotiating in favor of far more direct action?

Right away we're back to the "unthinkable" versus "thinkable" solution sets.

MeanMesa intends to continue postings on this subject until "all the bases are covered."  History clearly has no intention of simply stopping before new text books must be written.

Friday, September 2, 2011

How the Republicans Intend to Win in 2012

The Old Scheme Dies Slowly

The GOPCons have always employed the tried and tested "information bias" approach to swaying electorates since the days of Senator McCarthy.  Notables such as William Randolph Hearst (Hearst Mansion and Patty Hearst, veteran of the Stockholm Syndrome, a love affair with the Symbionese Liberation Army and a few bank robberies) was one of the country's most famous war mongers and war profiteers decades before military contracting was invented.

Patty Hearst, SLA bank robber (image source Wiki)
Hearst, along with others of his ilk, especially contemporary media moguls (can anyone remember Rupert Murdoch after all this time has passed?) have traditionally lent their "Fourth Estate" assets to starting wars, suppressing scandals and other incendiary efforts.  The latest culprits have assumed a slightly more sophisticated, technocratic mask, but neither their anti-democratic (or, openly fascistic) mission nor sinister leadership technique has changed much in its more modern version.

When it comes to influencing elections in the past few decades (since Reagan -- MeanMesa voted for Reagan twice), what used to be cigar chomping old newspaper barons have morphed into equally soiled network moguls receiving orders from their phones in back rooms.  The wreckage left in their trail has degraded what used to be American optimism to a state of junk yard cynicism.

Far to many Americans have, from time to time, been faced with the embarrassment of staring at their own voting history after one of the cataclysmic misinformation onslaughts subsides, revealing the gut wrenching truth of what they had previously supported.  The examples are plentiful:  the VietNam War, Iraq, Afghanistan, the PATRIOT Act and the War on Terror.  The most recent escapades have to include the neo-con efforts to permanently divide the country, ruinous tax cuts to "job creators" and the antithetical promotion of spending cuts as a means for economic recovery.

Don't confuse the time line.  For the last two years, the "interested parties" have been investing a million dollars per week to uproot ObamaCare, and a large part of this money has gone toward injecting "death panels" and "Washington Bureaucrats between you and your doctor" (if you are fortunate enough to actually have a doctor) into the hearts and minds of media consumers.

The point is that the same media twisting process continues in full swing, in fact, even fuller swing since the toadies on the Supreme Court delivered the patently anti-democratic Citizens United decision.  The "war on democracy" remains at a massive, national, psychopathic level.  Just follow the money.

The New Scheme - Going Way Out on the Limb

We may assume that the successes of the old scheme have now delivered just about all the electoral "low hanging fruit" possible.  The Republicans now find that they have brutally caricatured themselves with a flurry of new incendiaries which have fallen sorely short of the mark even as entreaties to their bigot and hill billy base.

Dorian Gray in The Mirror of the Yellow Press/Ulrike Ottinger (image source)

Disclaimers of witchcraft, testimonies that corporations are people, desperate efforts to protect Christmas from Sharia Law and photo shopped portraits of the President as a Kenyan tribesman have all but decimated the old "fire in the hole" voter loyalty which was so reliable in the past.  Countenancing these meat handed disasters, even old war mongering William Randolph Hearst would be turning over in his grave.

Stepping to the current day, the "heartbreak of defeat" becomes tragically sanguine indeed.  Perched precariously in a clutch of state capitols, modern tea bags find themselves in the company of a modern equivalent of Cleopatra and her asp.  The lurching, adolescent politics of 2010 are now little more than afternoon dreams of better days.

Banging on the front door are the local victims of the faux-austerity, wounded, cranky voters, bandaged and bleeding, carrying copies of the latest state budget with all their favorite stuff crossed out, but still plummeting further into the red.

Lurking ominously at the back door, the tiny election margins which delivered the miscreants to power are stumbling around uninterested in hearing more of the propaganda which worked last time and unwilling to passively remain in the fetid dream, devoid of facts, which constituted the false promise of fiscal maturity, whatever that was.

So, what's to be done?

Naturally, the state governing tea bags revert instantly to their traditional response to such desperate situations.  Election fraud.  After Wisconsin's favorite, seasonal ballot shredder muddied the water which used to conceal the mischief, outright miscounts have become too dangerous.  Granted, there has never been a voting machine that GOPCons didn't love, but the situation has become too threatening for anything really big, that is, big enough to swing an election in the old Alabama or Blackwell style.

Worse, the old approach of simply force feeding the electorate more misinformation has also been "grounded on the rocks." Not even the straw chewing hill billies are buying the road weary pitch to "blame both parties." The governors know that their political careers, not to mention their tenuous grip on the 2010 power grab, could die in an instant if the elections were tomorrow.

In such dire straits, the cowering state legislators release the last ogre in the basement, voter suppression. If enough voters in Democratic demographies can be prevented from casting a ballot, they may still have a chance.

For the remainder of this post, MeanMesa transfers the burden squarely to the shoulders of a trusted navigator in such affairs, The Rolling Stone. Please take a few minutes to read the following article.

From ROLLING STONE/POLITICS (original article here)

The GOP War on Voting

By Ari Berman
August 30, 2011 7:40 PM ET

As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. "What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century," says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.

Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. "I don't want everybody to vote," the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. "As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP's effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.

All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.

Taken together, such measures could significantly dampen the Democratic turnout next year – perhaps enough to shift the outcome in favor of the GOP. "One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time," Bill Clinton told a group of student activists in July. "Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate" – a reference to the dominance of the Tea Party last year, compared to the millions of students and minorities who turned out for Obama. "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."

To hear Republicans tell it, they are waging a virtuous campaign to crack down on rampant voter fraud – a curious position for a party that managed to seize control of the White House in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. After taking power, the Bush administration declared war on voter fraud, making it a "top priority" for federal prosecutors. In 2006, the Justice Department fired two U.S. attorneys who refused to pursue trumped-up cases of voter fraud in New Mexico and Washington, and Karl Rove called illegal voting "an enormous and growing problem." In parts of America, he told the Republican National Lawyers Association, "we are beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses." According to the GOP, community organizers like ACORN were actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.

Even at the time, there was no evidence to back up such outlandish claims. A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud. "Our democracy is under siege from an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere," joked Stephen Colbert. A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a leading advocate for voting rights at the New York University School of Law, quantified the problem in stark terms. "It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning," the report calculated, "than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls."

GOP outcries over the phantom menace of voter fraud escalated after 2008, when Obama's candidacy attracted historic numbers of first-time voters. In the 29 states that record party affiliation, roughly two-thirds of new voters registered as Democrats in 2007 and 2008 – and Obama won nearly 70 percent of their votes. In Florida alone, Democrats added more than 600,000 new voters in the run-up to the 2008 election, and those who went to the polls favored Obama over John McCain by 19 points. "This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top," says Tova Wang, an elections-reform expert at Demos, a progressive think tank.

No one has done more to stir up fears about the manufactured threat of voter fraud than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a top adviser in the Bush Justice Department who has become a rising star in the GOP. "We need a Kris Kobach in every state," declared Michelle Malkin, the conservative pundit. This year, Kobach successfully fought for a law requiring every Kansan to show proof of citizenship in order to vote – even though the state prosecuted only one case of voter fraud in the past five years. The new restriction fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. "In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive," Kobach claimed, offering no substantiating evidence.

Kobach also asserted that dead people were casting ballots, singling out a deceased Kansan named Alfred K. Brewer as one such zombie voter. There was only one problem: Brewer was still very much alive. The Wichita Eagle found him working in his front yard. "I don't think this is heaven," Brewer told the paper. "Not when I'm raking leaves."

obach might be the gop's most outspoken crusader working to prevent citizens from voting, but he's far from the only one. "Voting rights are under attack in America," Rep. John Lewis, who was brutally beaten in Alabama while marching during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, observed during an impassioned speech on the House floor in July. "There's a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process."

The Republican effort, coordinated and funded at the national level, has focused on disenfranchising voters in four key areas:

Barriers to Registration Since January, six states have introduced legislation to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters. In May, the GOP-controlled legislature in Florida passed a law requiring anyone who signs up new voters to hand in registration forms to the state board of elections within 48 hours of collecting them, and to comply with a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements. Those found to have submitted late forms would face a $1,000 fine, as well as possible felony prosecution.

As a result, the law threatens to turn civic-minded volunteers into inadvertent criminals. Denouncing the legislation as "good old-fashioned voter suppression," the League of Women Voters announced that it was ending its registration efforts in Florida, where it has been signing up new voters for the past 70 years. Rock the Vote, which helped 2.5 million voters to register in 2008, could soon follow suit. "We're hoping not to shut down," says Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, "but I can't say with any certainty that we'll be able to continue the work we're doing."

The registration law took effect one day after it passed, under an emergency statute designed for "an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare." In reality, though, there's no evidence that registering fake voters is a significant problem in the state. Over the past three years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received just 31 cases of suspected voter fraud, resulting in only three arrests statewide. "No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about," said Mike Fasano, a Republican state senator who bucked his party and voted against the registration law. What's more, the law serves no useful purpose: Under the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002, all new voters must show identity before registering to vote.

Cuts to Early Voting After the recount debacle in Florida in 2000, allowing voters to cast their ballots early emerged as a popular bipartisan reform. Early voting not only meant shorter lines on Election Day, it has helped boost turnout in a number of states – the true measure of a successful democracy. "I think it's great," Jeb Bush said in 2004. "It's another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we're going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that's wonderful."

But Republican support for early voting vanished after Obama utilized it as a key part of his strategy in 2008. Nearly 30 percent of the electorate voted early that year, and they favored Obama over McCain by 10 points. The strategy proved especially effective in Florida, where blacks outnumbered whites by two to one among early voters, and in Ohio, where Obama received fewer votes than McCain on Election Day but ended up winning by 263,000 ballots, thanks to his advantage among early voters in urban areas like Cleveland and Columbus.

That may explain why both Florida and Ohio – which now have conservative Republican governors – have dramatically curtailed early voting for 2012. Next year, early voting will be cut from 14 to eight days in Florida and from 35 to 11 days in Ohio, with limited hours on weekends. In addition, both states banned voting on the Sunday before the election – a day when black churches historically mobilize their constituents. Once again, there appears to be nothing to justify the changes other than pure politics. "There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud," reports the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College.

Photo IDs By far the biggest change in election rules for 2012 is the number of states requiring a government-issued photo ID, the most important tactic in the Republican war on voting. In April 2008, the Supreme Court upheld a photo-ID law in Indiana, even though state GOP officials couldn't provide a single instance of a voter committing the type of fraud the new ID law was supposed to stop. Emboldened by the ruling, Republicans launched a nationwide effort to implement similar barriers to voting in dozens of states.

The campaign was coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provided GOP legislators with draft legislation based on Indiana's ID requirement. In five states that passed such laws in the past year – Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – the measures were sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC. "We're seeing the same legislation being proposed state by state by state," says Smith of Rock the Vote. "And they're not being shy in any of these places about clearly and blatantly targeting specific demographic groups, including students."

In Texas, under "emergency" legislation passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, a concealed-weapon permit is considered an acceptable ID but a student ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin, meanwhile, mandated that students can only vote if their IDs include a current address, birth date, signature and two-year expiration date – requirements that no college or university ID in the state currently meets. As a result, 242,000 students in Wisconsin may lack the documentation required to vote next year. "It's like creating a second class of citizens in terms of who gets to vote," says Analiese Eicher, a Dane County board supervisor.

The barriers erected in Texas and Wisconsin go beyond what the Supreme Court upheld in Indiana, where 99 percent of state voters possess the requisite IDs and can turn to full-time DMVs in every county to obtain the proper documentation. By contrast, roughly half of all black and Hispanic residents in Wisconsin do not have a driver's license, and the state staffs barely half as many DMVs as Indiana – a quarter of which are open less than one day a month. To make matters worse, Gov. Scott Walker tried to shut down 16 more DMVs – many of them located in Democratic-leaning areas. In one case, Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown.

Although new ID laws have been approved in seven states, the battle over such barriers to voting has been far more widespread. Since January, Democratic governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina have all vetoed ID laws. Voters in Mississippi and Missouri are slated to consider ballot initiatives requiring voter IDs, and legislation is currently pending in Pennsylvania.

One of the most restrictive laws requiring voter IDs was passed in South Carolina. To obtain the free state ID now required to vote, the 178,000 South Carolinians who currently lack one must pay for a passport or a birth certificate. "It's the stepsister of the poll tax," says Browne-Dianis of the Advancement Project. Under the new law, many elderly black residents – who were born at home in the segregated South and never had a birth certificate – must now go to family court to prove their identity. Given that obtaining fake birth certificates is one of the country's biggest sources of fraud, the new law may actually prompt some voters to illegally procure a birth certificate in order to legally vote – all in the name of combating voter fraud.

For those voters who manage to get a legitimate birth certificate, obtaining a voter ID from the DMV is likely to be hellishly time-consuming. A reporter for the Tri-State Defender in Memphis, Tennessee – another state now mandating voter IDs – recently waited for four hours on a sweltering July day just to see a DMV clerk. The paper found that the longest lines occur in urban precincts, a clear violation of the Voting Rights Act, which bars states from erecting hurdles to voting in minority jurisdictions.

Disenfranchising Ex-Felons The most sweeping tactic in the GOP campaign against voting is simply to make it illegal for certain voters to cast ballots in any election. As the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist restored the voting rights of 154,000 former prisoners who had been convicted of nonviolent crimes. But in March, after only 30 minutes of public debate, Gov. Rick Scott overturned his predecessor's decision, instantly disenfranchising 97,491 ex-felons and prohibiting another 1.1 million prisoners from being allowed to vote after serving their time.

"Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they've paid their price?" Bill Clinton asked during his speech in July. "Because most of them in Florida were African-Americans and Hispanics and would tend to vote for Democrats – that's why."

A similar reversal by a Republican governor recently took place in Iowa, where Gov. Terry Branstad overturned his predecessor's decision to restore voting rights to 100,000 ex-felons. The move threatens to return Iowa to the recent past, when more than five percent of all residents were denied the right to vote – including a third of the state's black residents. In addition, Florida and Iowa join Kentucky and Virginia as the only states that require all former felons to apply for the right to vote after finishing their prison sentences.
In response to the GOP campaign, voting-rights advocates are scrambling to blunt the impact of the new barriers to voting. The ACLU and other groups are challenging the new laws in court, and congressional Democrats have asked the Justice Department to use its authority to block or modify any of the measures that discriminate against minority voters. "The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act," says Rep. Lewis.

But beyond waging battles at the state and federal level, voting-rights advocates must figure out how to reframe the broader debate. The real problem in American elections is not the myth of voter fraud, but how few people actually participate. Even in 2008, which saw the highest voter turnout in four decades, fewer than two-thirds of eligible voters went to the polls. And according to a study by MIT, 9 million voters were denied an opportunity to cast ballots that year because of problems with their voter registration (13 percent), long lines at the polls (11 percent), uncertainty about the location of their polling place (nine percent) or lack of proper ID (seven percent).

Come Election Day 2012, such problems will only be exacerbated by the flood of new laws implemented by Republicans. Instead of a single fiasco in Florida, experts warn, there could be chaos in a dozen states as voters find themselves barred from the polls. "Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of and for the people," says Browne-Dianis. "It doesn't matter how much money you have, what race you are or where you live in the country – we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people."

This story is from the September 15, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.