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Take Back America 2007 and Me

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The Take Back America Conference and Me

I have just returned from Campaign for America's Future: Take Back America 2007 in our nation's capital. It's hard to imagine that this forum hasn't been happening forever. In just six years, this baby of Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey has morphed from Very Modest to Major League. This year, there were more than 3,000 conferees. All of the major Democratic contenders were there, as well as Speaker of the House Pelosi and Howard Dean. The conference was extremely well-run and full of interesting sessions, often at the same time. I struggled to be in more than one place at the same time. The only glitch was that Michael Moore's flight was cancelled due to bad weather conditions. So he missed his session on health care with clips from his new movie "Sicko". We were pretty universally disappointed about that.

I stayed with my friend Diane Perlman again and made the trek from Dupont Circle every morning, returning late at night. Each time I got to the corner of Connecticut and Florida, I was greeted by a street sign saying: 2000 Florida. It resonated for me, symbolizing just when everything started to go wrong. Every time I passed that darn sign, it gave me another jolt. I have felt for a long time that each of us can make a difference, can make the world a better place. This is a perfect example of the flip side of that equation. W has succeeded in changing the political landscape and it will take us a very long time to undo all the damage he has done. It began with Jeb and Katherine Harris instituting voter purging in Florida, prior to the election. According to Greg Palast, author of Armed Madhouse, of the 94,000 'felons' purged, "at least 91,000 were innocent legal voters, but the vast majority of these were guilty of nothing more than being Black, Democrats or both." (p. 40). Then, there was the networks' premature pronouncement (kicked off by a Bush cousin) and the Supreme Court's interference in the state recount. It's been downhill ever since. Whereas a few years ago, I might have been more reticent about saying that, much of the public has pretty much caught up with my assessment by now.

I'd like to touch briefly on two of the sessions I attended. The plenary on Media Reform: Building a Bigger Tent, was moderated by Josh Silver of Free Press. In his opening remarks, he spoke about how it's impossible to ignore the failings of the corporate press. He was referring to the war in Iraq, but of course, I was busy extrapolating to the long-time virtual media blackout on the subject of election fraud. Thank goodness for bloggers! Otherwise, what would any of us know about anything? I am proud to be a part of that effort to get the word out through OpEdNews. At the Gala Dinner on Tuesday night, progressive bloggers were honored with the Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award for their contribution to keeping honest journalism alive and Rob Kall, Mr. OpEdNews, was up there on stage with them.

Silver pointed out that while media reform is necessary and urgent, it is only one part of a broken system that reaches beyond party lines. What's needed is a revitalization of journalistic integrity, but it must be accompanied by campaign finance reform - to create a level playing field, and election reform - to make sure that votes are counted accurately. It's part of a package and we need to reframe the issue to include each of these components. Achieving (or making progress on) one without the others has limited value. I had long thought the same thing and was happy to have my take on this validated.

Michelle Ciccarelli, who represents workers, consumers and shareholders, gave a powerful presentation on "Curbing Corporate Crime and Conservative Corruption." Her accompanying slideshow made the repercussions of present policies all too apparent. This is the most pro-Big Business Administration ever and corporate power controls all three branches of government as well as the mainstream media. In a brazen move, Bush recently asked the Supreme Court to protect Enron from its stockholders. Talk about chutzpah! Even Alan Greenspan is alarmed about the level of fraud on Wall Street. The long sought rollback of regulation has resulted in unprecedented corruption, fraud, phony stock reports, bloated executive salaries and bonuses for those who fire the most employees, gutted retirement plans for workers and the disappearance of investor protection. According to a recent CFO magazine survey, 66% of executives admitted being pressured to falsify numbers for a financial report; more than 50% felt unable to say 'no'.

Ben Bernacke and The Wall St. Journal point to a robust economy that seems to benefit only those at the top. The better it is for that magic upper crust 1%, the worse it is for everyone else. As someone at the conference pointed out, if you do income averaging between Bill Gates and a 'regular' working person, you'd get the misleading impression that both of them were doing very well, indeed. The disparity between the salaries of top execs and those at the bottom is way out of control. In 1991, an executive's pay was 140 times more than that of his employees. By 2004, it was 500 times greater. To give a little perspective, if the minimum wage had increased as much as executive pay, it would now be $23.03! A great quote to conclude her session: "Until crime in the suites is treated the same as crime in the streets, there will be no justice."

It seems to me that public opinion has moved a lot since last year. Ending the war is a given. The candidates bent over backwards to outdo one another on their positions. Calls for universal health insurance are heard from every corner. I'm sure that Moore's presentation would have generated even more energy for it.

Like last year, there was one session on election reform. There were several informal sessions organized by attendees. That was a nice addition. Unfortunately, the sessions were not well publicized and they were held in far corners of the Exhibit Hall where it was noisy, so it was difficult to hear or be heard. For one of the sessions, I was the only one in the audience. It was hard not to feel like Cinderella minus the fairy godmother.

The candidates did their song and dance. Some of them were pretty impressive. But, I was left with the awful feeling that despite what continues to emerge as clear evidence of widespread election fraud and voter suppression, we are no more prepared to deal with it then we were before. And 2008 is looming. How will this time be any different from 2004? Or 2000? In that case, what difference does the candidate, the platform, the energy and the effort make?

Legislation that entrenches secret vote counting without citizen oversight or checks and balances is not what I'm looking for. Neither is turning over permanent control to four White House appointees (the Election Assistance Commission). It's simply anti-democratic to outsource our elections to private, for-profit corporations with secret, proprietary software. Look closely at what happened in Alaska in 2004. When it was discovered that there was a gigantic 100,000 vote discrepancy, state officials stalled before admitting that the election data 'belonged' to Diebold. It took over two years of lawsuits to get the data released and by that time, the voters discovered that the records had been accessed and altered. That's simply unacceptable. Our votes should not be held hostage by corporations which hide our votes from us inside opaque computerized voting machines and laugh all the way to the bank with billions of our tax dollars. That's not what our founding fathers had in mind, I assure you.

Call me naïve but here's what I want. It's not complicated: that each eligible voter be able to easily exercise the constitutional right to vote and be confident that his/her vote is counted as cast. That's it. "Vote in secret on a paper ballot and count it in public with citizen oversight". What do you think? Is that asking too much? The future health of our country may very well depend on the answer to that question.
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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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