2006/11/06

FLY POL BUZZ

During these troubling political times, it has been especially gratifying to be at a University that sprung from the idealism of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. The world was looking bleak before F.D.R. replaced Herbert Hoover and his nattering neigh-bobs of negativity. F.D.R. would have none of that, and soon gave his famous speech on reducing and eliminating fear and replacing it with hope and optimism. Now we seem to have the two front-runners for the 2008 Democrats, Hillary and Obama, as the hopes for righting our ship before we hit the melting iceberg. People are already anointing the junior Senator from Illinois as the savior of the party and I’m sure Hillary is taken aback by this neophyte’s star power. But never underestimate the power of the Clintons when they are on political ground. I am struggling with the choice myself after having met them both and being in the convention hall in Boston when Obama became an overnight sensation with his uplifting speech to the delegates and the nation. Being a pragmatist, I find that I am leaning towards Hillary, because of the Bill factor. Just as Bill said that if we elect him we would be getting 2 for the price of one, the same is true the other way around. After 8 years of fear and war and stealing from the middle class, people are longing to go back to blue dresses and bimbos. This column will drop the day before the elections, and as I pointed out a few weeks back, the issues may not matter at all in many races. According to a report by a non-partisan watchdog group, electionline.org, as many as ten states face serious problems with this election. "Machine failures, database delays and foul-ups, inconsistent procedures, new rules and new equipment have some predicting chaos at the polls", the report says. Also widely reported recently in the media, many precincts have the election workers taking home the Diebold voting machines, because they don’t have the resources to store them. People are signing up with zero background checks, and being handed the voting machines to take home and store until the election. Even more troubling is a new report that the Feds are investigating the takeover last year of a leading American manufacturer of electronic voting systems by a small software company that has been linked to the government of President Chávez of Venezuela.


The federal inquiry is focusing on the Venezuelan owners of the software company
Smartmatic Corporation, and is being conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the same agency that reviewed the Dubai ports deal earlier this year. According to the Miami Herald, "Smartmatic was a little-known firm with no experience in voting technology before it was chosen by the Venezuelan authorities to replace the country's elections machinery ahead of a contentious referendum that confirmed Mr. Chávez as president in August 2004. With the $120 million from its initial contracts with Venezuela, Smartmatic then bought the much larger and more established Sequoia Voting Systems, which now has voting equipment installed in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The role of the young Venezuelan engineers who founded Smartmatic have become less visible in public documents as the company has been restructured into an elaborate web of offshore companies and foreign trusts. "The government should know who owns our voting machines - that is a national-security concern," said Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, who asked the Bush administration in May to review the Sequoia takeover. "There seems to have been an obvious effort to obscure the ownership of the company," Ms. Maloney said. Since the political fallout over the Dubai ports deal, members of Congress from both parties have sought to strengthen CFIUS reviews to include other national security issues. Opposition members of Venezuela's electoral council said they were excluded from the bidding process, which concluded in February 2004 with the selection of Smartmatic and a partner, Bizta, over companies with ample experience to replace a system built by another American firm, Election Systems and Software. At the time, Smartmatic was a technology start-up that operated in the United States from a small house in Boca Raton, Florida, in a one-room office. Its chief officers were two 30-year-old Venezuelan engineers, Antonio Mugica and Alfredo Anzola. Company documents first reported in 2004 by The Miami Herald show that Bizta, which was then virtually a shell company, had received $200,000 from an investment fund controlled by the Venezuelan Finance Ministry in return for 3 million shares in the firm. More recent corporate documents show that before and after Smartmatic's purchase of Sequoia from a British-owned firm, the company was reorganized in an array of holding companies based in Delaware, the Netherlands, and Curaçao. The firm's ownership was further shielded in two Curaçao trusts. After a municipal primary election in Chicago in March, in which Sequoia voting machines were blamed for delays and irregularities, Smartmatic's new president, Jack A. Blaine, acknowledged in a public hearing that Smartmatic workers had been flown up from Venezuela to help with the vote. Some problems with the election were later blamed on a software component that was developed in Venezuela to transmit the results of voting to a central computer system.
So this is what it’s come down to: our voting process and therefore our democracy has been reduced to a hackable, take-home, Venezuelan manipulated joke. Look for there to be several congressional voting debacles that lead to total re-votes instead of recounts, due to the Republican led (see Bob Ney) mandate that there be no paper trail to these machines. What would Eleanor and Franklin think of all of this vote manipulation and suppression of the last five years? We have nothing to fear except those who would steal our liberty, and stealing it they are.