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Yes, Santa Claus, There is A Virginia: ‘Recount’ And Potential ‘Contest’ Still Ahead In Virginia AG Race

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Election 2013 is but a memory — good or bad — for much of the nation. But, in Virginia, election officials, attorneys and partisans will still be as busy as elves throughout much of the holiday season, and potentially even beyond, determining the final results of the statewide November 5 attorney general election this year.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Virginia’s Republican AG candidate Mark Obenshain filed for a recount [PDF] of the incredibly close race at the Richmond Circuit Court. Two days prior, his Democratic challenger Mark Herring had been certified by the state as the winner by just 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million votes cast early last month.

Should those state-certified results hold, Herring would replace Republican Ken Cuccinelli as Virginia’s AG. Cuccinelli was unsuccessful in his own run for governor in November against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Along with the Democratic win in the lieutenant governor’s race as well, a Herring victory would result in the first time since 1969 that Democrats held all three statewide offices, and the first time in 20 years that Virginia will have a Democratic AG.

A “recount,” in Virginia, however — as we’ve documented previously (see the last section of this article) — amounts to much less than it may seem, given the technology used in the state and some of the ridiculous “recount” laws specified by the Virginia election code [PDF].

As bad as those “recount” statutes are, however, a margin of 165 votes could certainly be reversed, even in a state where most votes are currently recorded (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) by 100 percent unverifiable Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touchscreen) voting systems, and where the rest are tallied (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) by paper-ballot optical-scan tabulators that will be used once again to “recount” (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) most of the state’s paper ballots.

Yes, that’s right. Hundreds of thousands of 100 percent unverifiable electronic votes cast in the closest statewide race in VA state history cannot be “recounted” now in any meaningful way. For those votes, state election code specifies that, during the “recount,” election officials will merely recheck the voting machine computer printouts from Election Night to make sure the certified results match. Meanwhile — and short of a court order — votes that were cast on paper ballots will simply be run through the same optical-scan computers that tallied them the first time, after they’ve been reprogrammed to set aside all ballots which the scanner sees as an over-vote, an under-vote or a write-in vote in the AG’s race. Those set aside paper ballots, at least, will then be examined by hand, in public, by actual human beings.

As ridiculous as the VA “recount” statute is, the “contest” law — another procedure that the candidate who loses the “recount” may file thereafter — is even more ridiculous. But, depending on the results of the “recount,” that may be the only option Obenshain is left with… and it could result in a GOP “victory,” even with fewer recorded popular votes, presuming there are enough heavily partisan Republicans in the VA state legislature…

‘Winning’ by ‘Recount’

Given the unreliability of optical-scan paper ballot tabulation systems — they can offer inaccurate results for any number of reasons, including malfunction, purposeful manipulation and/or their inability to read certain marks on the ballot correctly — the odds of Obenshain overcoming his slim deficit in order to prevail over Herring are anyone’s guess. A single machine with a dirty optical-scan lens on Election Night — or one that fails in some fashion during the “recount” — could produce enough differing results to flip the election.

Moreover, according to the currently certified statewide results on the VA State Board of Elections (SBE) website, there were just over 28,000 more votes recorded in the gubernatorial race on November 5 than there were in the attorney general contest. That means, in theory, that there are at least 28,000 ballots that were previously recorded with no vote at all (either accurately or inaccurately, who knows?) in the AG race.

According to Reuters, Obenshain’s attorney Stephen Piepgrass says “as many as 25,000 to 50,000 under votes have yet to be counted.” That number seems very high, particularly as many of the known under-votes were recorded via DREs, on which under-votes can’t be rechecked for accuracy (at least short of a very lengthy and difficult forensic analysis of each voting system by computer scientists, a process not called for by state statute, one that is difficult, expensive and time consuming, not to mention generally opposed by the manufacturers of voting systems which historically consider such investigations an intrusion into what they consider to be their own proprietary hardware and software.)

Still, in what is said to be the closest statewide race in history, with just 165 votes — .007 percent of those cast — currently separating “loser” and “winner,” there are likely more than enough under-votes alone to give Republicans hope of flipping the results during the “recount.”

On the downside for the GOP, however, many of the jurisdictions that use paper ballots, versus unverifiable DREs, lean heavily Democratic. For example, the single largest jurisdiction in the state, Fairfax County, uses paper ballots, but the Democrat Herring reportedly defeated the Republican Obenshain there by a whopping 61 to 39 percent. With some 306,000 votes tallied in the gubernatorial race in Fairfax County, there are believed to be just over 3,000 ballots with no vote currently recorded in the AG race. Presuming they are correctly identified by the optical scanners, those under-vote ballots will be examined by hand during the “recount” process. They could, in that county alone, offer more than enough previously unrecorded votes for Obenshain to reverse the statewide results. They would, however, have to weigh heavily in Obenshain’s favor, which would seem unlikely given the currently recorded results. On the other hand, op-scan systems can fail for unpredictable — and sometimes, unknown — reasons, so who knows?

The last statewide “recount” was in 2005, also in the AG race that year. In that one, then-state delegate (currently governor) Bob McDonnell (R) was certified the winner over state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) by 323 votes before the “recount” began. McDonnell ended up picking up 37 more votes than Deeds in the “recount,” resulting in a final margin of just 360 votes. “Obenshain needs 5 times that swing, & in right direction!,” tweeted Daniel Nichanian, formerly of Campaign Diaries, recently.

This year, however, tweets D.C. election attorney Chris Ashby in response, “approx[imately] 100 times the number of paper ballots would be rescanned & hand counted vs. ’05 AG recount.”

Indeed, following the 2005 “recount,” the VA legislature passed a law disallowing the purchase of DRE voting machines. That means that the state has been slowly moving to paper ballot optical scanners over the past eight years as voting systems get replaced with newer ones by local jurisdictions. There will be much more to actually “recount” this year than in 2005, both by hand and by optical scan.

In Alexandria, according to the Washington Post, all paper ballots cast — there were 41,214 recorded votes in the gubernatorial race — will most likely need to be counted by hand. That, at least, is a victory for the voters in the city of Alexandria, who, unlike most jurisdictions across the state, will be able to have some assurance that their votes were ultimately counted as per their intent (presuming the chain of custody for paper ballots there has been secure from Election Day up through a public hand-count in mid-December).

There, the city uses optical-scan systems made by Austin-based Hart InterCivic which, according to their registrar Tom Parkins, cannot be reprogrammed for the “recount” as per state law, which requires that the machines be set to count only the race being “recounted,” and to set aside ballots otherwise not read as votes by the machine.

“Because of the technology we use, I don’t believe we can isolate the attorney general race,” Parkins is quoted by WaPo’s Patricia Sullivan. “If that’s the case, we’ll have to recount manually.” He said, however, he didn’t mind. “I think we actually prefer a manual recount because it’s speedier,” he said, explaining that the Hart scanner used in Alexandria is a precinct-based scanner that accepts just one ballot at a time, pausing as it tabulates each one separately.

The idea of allowing these systems to be reprogrammed at all at this point in such a close election is likely one that sends shudders up the spine of many e-voting system experts who understand the sensitivity of these systems and how easily they can be incorrectly — or nefariously — programmed.

“In 3 of 4 recounts w/ [a] certified margin [of less than] 300 [votes],” Ashby tweeted last week, citing this FairVote article, “the certified loser prevailed in the recount.” That could certainly be good news for Obenshain. “On the flip side,” Ashby continued, “in 6 of 7 recounts w/certified margin [greater than] 300 [votes], the certified winner prevailed in the recount.” Those data are based on statewide recounts across the country over the past century.

The statewide “recount” in Virginia is likely to begin in mid-December, after a date is set by a three-judge panel in Richmond that will oversee the process and make any determinations that local jurisdictions are unable to resolve on their own. Given the automated nature of VA “recounts,” officials in a number of jurisdictions have guessed that the process will take just a day or two in each location, barring any surprises.

The results of that “recount” are, ultimately, anyone’s guess. What happens beyond it could get even more bizarre…

‘Winning’ by ‘Contest’

Even if Obenshain is still declared the loser after a “recount,” he has still another option. So does Herring, for that matter, but it’s unlikely to be successful for him if he were the one to come out of the “recount” on the short end of the stick.

It’s being referred to by some as the Republicans’ “Nuclear Option”: an election contest. In most jurisdictions around the country, such post-recount contests — where a candidate would argue the election or the recount was carried out improperly, or the results of either were tainted by fraud — would happen in a court of law. In Virginia, however, election contests are decided by a majority vote of the 140-member state legislature. Rather than 165 votes out of more than 2.2 million cast, the AG election could be determined by a minimum vote of 71 members of the state legislature.

“They shouldn’t be too difficult for Obenshain to round up,” Jeff Schapiro of theRichmond Times-Dispatch explained last week. “There are 87 Republican legislators. Many of them don’t like one bit that their party could be completely shut out of statewide office.”

That’s right. Depending on the mood of the Republican-majority legislature, the results of the popular vote wouldn’t actually matter. It would be up to those partisans, in a joint session of the state’s Assembly and Senate, to vote on who should be the state’s next AG.

Such a move could be risky for Obenshain, Schapiro notes, but also potentially worth the risk. “Democrats would almost certainly accuse Obenshain of stealing the election, having overridden the popular vote in an increasingly blue state,” he wrote. “A contest also could be high reward. Obenshain would cement his status as his party’s titular leader and its likely gubernatorial nominee in 2017. But the big issue that year would probably be Obenshain’s scheming four years earlier.”

Short of something new revealing itself during the “recount,” which is certainly a possibility, or the margin narrowing even further during same, there seems little basis currently for Republicans to legitimately argue the election was not carried out properly. (Note: There are a number of points that Democrats could raise if they ultimately filed such a contest — such as the 40,000-voter purge carried out with the approval of Republican AG Cuccinelli just weeks before the election — but this article is long enough already, so we’ll hold those possible points for another day, as needed.)

Every electoral board across the state — in each county and major city — is currently run by two Republicans and one Democrat. (State law specifies one member from each of the two major parties on the three-person boards, plus one more member from the governor’s party. The current governor, until he’s replaced by the Democrat McAuliffe, is Republican McDonnell.) Those boards, as well as the Republican-majority State Board of Elections, oversaw, approved and certified the post-election canvass and the adjudication of provisional ballots.

While there were a small handful of counties (such as Dem-leaning Fairfax County detailed here and GOP-leaning Bedford County detailed here) that added a significant number of votes to the totals after Election Day during their normal canvassing procedure to double-check against human and, in some cases, computer error, for now, most of those changes have been publicly explained to little controversy.

The only jurisdiction to offer a hint of controversy in the post-election provisional ballot adjudication period was Fairfax. There, the county’s Republican-majority electoral board decided to allow several more days for provisional voters to come in and argue their case for their ballots to be included in the final tally. The board did so after a legal opinion was issued by the Republican-majority SBE declaring that attorneys could not argue on behalf of the inclusion of provisional ballots for voters who were not present to make the case, even if those voters had previously given their approval. The state’s edict was contrary to procedures Fairfax had previously used and which they had informed voters about again this year. Therefore, the county’s board decided to allow several more days — right up to the deadline for county certification — for voters to make their case in person.

In post-certification comments, Obenshain’s campaign has mentioned concerns about “uniformity” in vote counting across the state. “We owe it to the people of Virginia to make sure we get it right, and that every legitimate vote is counted and subject to uniform rules,” they said in a statement after counties and cities certified their canvassed results one week after the election.

That reference has clearly been meant to lay the potential groundwork for an Equal Protection argument during a contest, as UC Irvine election law professor Rick Hasen details here. If the final margin after the “recount” is less than the total number of votes gained by Herring via provisional ballots in Fairfax County, Republicans could make the argument that those votes should be removed entirely from the final tally.

Remember, of course, that court decisions, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore, which found that “uniformity” is required in vote counting (as ridiculous as that argument actually is, given the different ways that votes are tallied already, even within the same county where some are tabulated by DRE on Election Day, others on optical-scan for absentees and provisionals, etc.). Virginia’s election contest statute requires only that the partisan legislators be convinced during a contest. Actual legal precedent and case law sort of go out the window at that point. Partisan preferences may take over instead.

While some Democrats are already suggesting that such a “win” by “contest” for Obenshain would amount to “stealing the election,” some partisan Republicans are suggesting he contest Fairfax County’s provisional votes which, they argue, should be disqualified since the Republican-majority electoral board changed procedures to allow the possibility of more votes — by supporters of either party — actually being included in the official final tally.

That said, according to the provisional ballot results carefully tracked by the Cook Political Report‘s Dave Wasserman, while 263 provisional votes were ultimately included in the Fairfax County AG totals, Herring increased his margin over Obenshain by just 57 with those votes. Thus, even if all of the Fairfax provisional ballots were to be tossed out of the final tally, Herring would still be the winner of Virginia’s 2013 attorney general race by 108 votes — unless, of course, the “recount” reduced the margin to fewer than 108 votes. Then, we may be left to watch the nukes fly in the VA state legislature.

During the last statewide “recount” in Virginia, the 2005 AG race, the final results were not determined until December 21 and that was without an election contest following the “recount.” So, yes, this one could potentially go until Christmas and even beyond. Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia — where they may still be fighting over the November 5 AG race, even on Christmas Day.

Reminder: Fox News And The Right Don’t Actually Care About ‘Big Government’ Intrusion

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Since the latest round of “Scandalmania” began, and long before it, we’ve been writing about how Fox “News” Republicans have been suddenly been pretending to care about “Big Government” overreach.

In truth, they’ve never given a damn about any of it, unless it seemed to be something they could use to hurt Barack Obama and Democrats in some way. But, even then, the fake outrage was extraordinarily selective.

With the revelation by Glenn Greenwald at the UK Guardian, exposing the Obama NSA’s secret FISA court order to obtain blanket access to months of records from “all telephone calls in [Verizon’s] systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries,” one might be dumb enough to think that Fox and the Republicans and, especially, U.S. House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Darrell Issa, would be in an absolute uproar upon learning of the president’s tyrannical Big Government overreach and invasion into the private lives of American citizens.

But, of course, we’re not that dumb.

Other than Sen. Rand Paul, apparently, few on the right could care less about any of it. That is, of course, because they never actually cared about Big Government or tyranny or invasions into the private lives of American citizens in the first place.

Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon explains it well, noting that between the time the story broke and about 2pm Eastern Time Thursday, Fox News and Fox Business, together, had mentioned the story only three times. “Two were quick straight news segments, while the third was a little riff from the Fox & Friends crew.” At the same time, he writes, “Fox and Fox Business have mentioned the nine-month-old Libya scandal over 25 times.”

This is why conservative scandalmongers cant have anything nice. When they’re handed a real scandal that should confirm all of their worst suspicions about government overreach, they fail to take the bait and fall back on a stale non-scandal that cable news has chewed over for months already. They know Benghazi is safe territory for them and that their viewers like it, but it’s too bad the most popular cable news network isn’t doing a better job of informing their viewers about legitimate Obama administration problems.

This afternoon, WorldNetDaily, the birther news website, blasted out an email to readers: “Mother of all scandals: Obama’s war on Christians.”

“This should be a litmus test for Republicans: either take action against this program, or never invoke liberty or limited government again,” Conor Friedersdorf  tweeted, regarding the NSA story.

And, of course, that was all before Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill’s arguably even more alarming story (also confirmed by the Washington Post) revealing a massive, previously undisclosed, confidential NSA program named PRISM, which now affords the agency “direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. internet giants, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Guardian.” The program, they report, allows “officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats.”

Fox and friends are, no doubt, scrambling, even now, to ignore that story as thoroughly and as quickly as possible as well. Because, ya know, Benghazi! Or something… Or, maybe it’s the fact that both programs were begun under George W. Bush, back when Fox and friends didn’t even pretend to give a damn about Big Government overreach —other than when they were calling for more of it.

Partial Answers Emerge In Florida’s Fraudulent Absentee Ballot Request Cyberhack Mysteries

Originally posted at The Brad Blog.

It seems we may now have at least a partial answer to the Miami-Dade absentee ballot request cyberhacking mystery we initially reported on in March.

As we detailed at that time, some 2,500 absentee ballots were fraudulently requested online for three different 2012 primary elections in Miami-Dade, FL. One race involved requests for Democratic absentee ballots in a U.S. House primary, the other two involved requests for Republican ballots in two different Florida State House primary races. All of the fraudulent “phantom” ballot requests are said to have been flagged as such at the Supervisor of Elections’ office and, therefore, never fulfilled.

Late last year, a grand jury and federal prosecutors [PDF] were unable to identify the person or persons behind the failed attempts, as well as why they were actually made, since the ballots, had the fraudulent requests not been flagged and prevented, were set to go to the actual addresses of real voters whose online identities had been fraudulently used to make the requests online.

One of the reasons that prosecutors were originally unable to identify those behind the attempted July, 2012 cyberhack was because the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used for most of the requests were masked by proxy IP addresses from overseas. Excellent investigative reporting from The Miami Herald discovered that a number of the requests came from IP addresses located in the Miami-Dade area. For reasons currently chalked up to administrative confusion, the Elections Division never gave those Miami-area IP addresses to the grand jury.

Armed with the new information offered by the Miami-Dade IP addresses, it now appears that prosecutors are closing in on suspects believed to be behind at least one of those sets of cyberhacks — the ones involving the Democratic U.S. House primary. Over the weekend the investigation led to the resignation of the Chief of Staff of the Democratic congressman who eventually won the primary in question, as well as last November’s general election.

The ‘Democratic’ part of the mystery

According to two separate reports over the weekend by Patricia Mazzei at The Miami Herald (she is the one who initially broke the news of the Miami-Dade IP addresses), Jeffrey Garcia, the chief of staff (no relation) for Rep. Joe Garcia (D-FL) “abruptly resigned” after being implicated in at least the failed absentee ballot scheme concerning last year’s Democratic primary for the newly created 26th congressional district.

Rep. Garcia claims to have been unaware of the scheme until late last week, telling The Miami Herald on Friday that he was “shocked and disappointed” and that he “had no earthly idea this was going on.”

The congressman says his chief of staff took responsibility for the plot after the homes of two other staffers — communications director Giancarlo Sopo and campaign manager John Estes — were raided by the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office in search of computers and other electronic devices thought to have been used in the phantom ballot requests. None of the three men, Jeffrey Garcia, Sopo or Estes, have offered public comment yet.

The Miami Herald reports that “466 of 472 phantom requests in congressional district 26 targeted Democrats. In House District 103, 864 of 871 requests targeted Republicans, as did 1,184 of 1,191 requests in House District 112.”

What was the point?

In the fraudulent requests for absentee ballots in all three races — in both the Democratic U.S. House race, as well as in the two Republican State House District primaries — the attempted requests were for the absentee ballots to be sent to the actual address of the legal voters being impersonated online, even though the online absentee ballot request system used by Miami-Dade allows for the requester to specify an alternate address where the ballot should be sent. (See screenshot at right.)

The point of the scheme, therefore, has been another mystery at the center of all of this, and largely still is.

At a press conference on Saturday, an “angry” Rep. Garcia described the plot as “ill-conceived,” but added: “I think it was a well-intentioned attempt to maximize voter turnout.”

Mazzei writes that “the hackers behind the scheme appear to have been trying to expand the number of absentee voters to target with fliers, phone calls and visits from campaign workers. Win the support of enough of them and that might swing a close election.”

However, no public evidence has yet emerged to support that particular explanation for the scheme. It seems an incredibly risky way to get absentee ballots in to the hands of voters who might otherwise legally be convinced to show up to the polls to vote.

Another possible explanation offered previously is that the plotters were hoping to try and steal the absentee ballots from the voters’ mailboxes. That scheme seems even more far-fetched, as it would have been both difficult to pull off and dangerous to accomplish without risking being discovered.

In our previous coverage of this story we discussed a third possible explanation, one offered by Election Integrity watchdog Bev Harris. She posited that third-party contractors responsible for actually mailing out absentee ballots to those who request them online might have been able to reroute specific ones to an alternate address, had they been working in cahoots with the “bad guys” who attempted to fraudulently request the absentee ballots online in the first place.

“If you have a few thousand strategically targeted extra ballots that you know are bogus, and you reroute the database to an off-the-public-record consultant during the print & mail phase, you can deliver those ballots anywhere you want. They can all be sent to the same address; no one would know,” she said, adding this troubling thought: “Whoever does the print & mail phase has both the absentee request database and total control over where absentee ballots go.”

It remains unknown if the allegations currently being attributed to Garcia’s campaign are related to the two separate Republican races where similar phantom requests for absentee ballots were made. It was Garcia’s race that was reportedly targeted by the domestic IP addresses in Miami. The failed attempts to request absentee ballots in the two Republican contests, reportedly, are said to have been masked by 12 different foreign IP addresses.

“The requests from domestic IP addresses in some cases used voters’ real email addresses,” the Miami Herald discovered during its analysis, noting a “key difference” in the online schemes on behalf of Republican voters versus that said to be used for Democratic voters. “The requests from foreign IP addresses were mostly formulaic and clearly fake. Political campaigns routinely compile voters’ email addresses.”

Were the requests made on behalf of Republican voters, from proxy IP addresses, carried out by the same crew in hopes of confusing investigators? Or were they also real attempts by the same or different crew to get absentee ballots either into the hands of actual voters or otherwise have them rerouted and intercepted by campaign officials? Those questions still remain a mystery at this time.

One more, perhaps, related mystery here is noted by the Herald: “A separate, federal corruption investigation stemming from last year’s congressional primary has been examining whether Republican David Rivera, the incumbent Garcia ultimately defeated, had ties to the illegally funded primary campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, one of Garcia’s primary opponents. Rivera has denied wrongdoing.”

‘The source of all voter fraud’

As we also detailed in our previous story on this scheme or schemes, The BRAD BLOG has long decried the many perils of absentee balloting and Vote-by-Mail (VBM) elections. The Florida cases underscore those concerns once again, and it seems the Florida prosecutor agrees with us.

As we have documented many times over the past decade, most recently here just last week, where there are concerns about actual “voter fraud” in elections (versus the gaming of entire elections via systemic fraud most easily carried out by insiders who have direct access to voter registration databases and computer result tabulation systems), it is almost always absentee ballots that are gamed in some way. That, despite purposely misleading information to the contrary offered by Republicans attempting to push for disenfranchising polling place Photo ID restrictions.

The Florida prosecutor working on the Florida absentee cyberhacks appears to agree with that assertion, according to comments offered to the Miami Herald.

“Historically, absentee voting is the source of all voter fraud,” Miami-Dade state attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said in an interview, during which she credited the paper for its crucial role in the ongoing investigation.

Republicans, their supporters in the right-wing media, as well as partisan RW organizations operating under false non-partisan tax-exempt status, often disingenuously cite absentee ballot fraud cases, such as those at the heart of this matter, in order to support their calls for polling place Photo ID restriction laws. Such laws, however, do nothing to combat the very real concerns of absentee fraud. Actual polling place voter fraud (versus absentee ballot fraud) that might be deterred by Photo ID restrictions is extraordinarily rare. A recent analysis by a non-partisan news consortium examining all election fraud cases in all 50 states dating back to 2000, for example, found just 10 cases of polling place impersonation — out of hundreds of millions of votes cast across the nation — that might have been deterred by such laws.

At the same time, however, the push by both Democrats and Republicans alike for more and more Vote-by-Mail elections continues to threaten democracy. As we recently reported just last month after the passage of a sweeping new election reform bill in Colorado, officials from both major parties are backing the new law that sends an absentee ballot to every single registered voter in the state, for every election, whether the voter wants one or not.

In Colorado, under the new law, there will be no need to hack the online absentee ballot request system, as was reportedly carried out in Florida. Everyone in the state will soon receive such a ballot. One can only wonder how long it will be before we see a Colorado story such as the one out of Oregon earlier this year (where elections are now carried out solely by mail), where a man pled guilty to offering $20 apiece for blank, Vote-by-Mail ballots.

At the same time, officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties are similarly pushing for Internet Voting schemes around the nation, which, as underscored by the cyberhack attempts in Florida and in other recent disturbing election hack stories, should become a “field day” for those election insiders and outsiders who wish to wreack havoc on our system of representative democracy.

Very Bad News From ABC, NBC And CBS

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Despite completely misreporting on administration emails related to the pretend Benghazi “scandal,” after they were misquoted (and/or fabricated) to him by a reportedly Republican source, ABC News and their White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl still refuse to properly correct and apologize for having lied about“obtaining” those emails.

Had Karl’s error — compounded by his “cover-up” even more than his original “crime” — contained news that falsely appeared good for Democrats instead of for Republicans, he would have been hammered and forever discredited by the right until finally fired by ABC News. But, alas, his completely false report on Benghazi benefited Republicans rather than Democrats, so no biggie, it seems. He gets to keep his career!

ABC’s Karl, however, wasn’t the only top-tier network newsman who blew it big time, further tarnishing the profession over the past week. Not by a long shot.

Here’s how NBC’s Brian Williams opened — opened! — NBC Nightly News last Tuesday, the same day that the Treasury Department’s Inspector General report was released, offering zero evidence of White House involvement in the so-called IRS “scandal”

BRIAN WILLIAMS: “As a lot of American adults not so fondly remember, the last time the government was found looking into the phone calls of reporters and using the IRS for political purposes, it was the Nixon era, and while times have changed and circumstances are different, that subject came up at the Obama White House today as the administration now scrambles on several fronts.” (NBC Nightly News, May 14, 2013)

Odd. The “last time” we “not so fondly remember…the government…found looking into the phone calls of reporters and using the IRS for political purposes”, was during the George W. Bush era, not the Nixon era. Did Williams sleep through that decade? Seemingly so. Or, it’s safer to allude to the discredited Nixon than the off-scot-free Dubya. Or, Williams simply felt like lying to his audience. Either way, why has Williams also failed to correct or apologize for his grotesquely absurd, remarkably misleading and demonstrably inaccurate opening? And why has he seemingly faced little or no pressure to do so (unlike Karl) from others in the media?

Finally, the network Sunday news shows this week — what we were able to catch of them, anyway — proved to be the usual misinformative lockstep knee-jerkery that keeps us from even bothering to check in on them much anymore. From ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos (which, astonishingly failed to even mention Karl’s extraordinary journalistic lapse, but managed to end its broadcast nonetheless with the straight-faced voice-over: “ABC News: Accurate. Credible. Unmatched.”) to NBC’s Meet the Press to Fox “News” Sunday, they all pretended that last week’s week of “scandals” was on par with Watergate, Iran-Contra, Teapot Dome and other actual presidential scandals. That must be what they train for.

But the award for irresponsible knee-jerkery under the guise of seasoned journalistic commentary must certainly go to CBS’ Bob Schieffer, who, as seen on his Twitter account, appears quite proud of his breathless “dumb and dumber” finger-wagging on this week’s Face The Nation, despite its lack of tether to reality or verifiable facts…

So, ya didn’t even bother to read the IG’s report before describing the IRS scandal as “dumb and dumber”, did ya, Bob? We’ve sent that question to CBS and will update if we receive a response. But based on his commentary, it seems he clearly has not. Else, he could not have described the IRS as trying to “get away with” having “gone after the Tea Party” — not based on the currently existing evidence, anyway. Nor could he have made his completely irresponsible comparison to Watergate in the bargain.

So that’s a major fail, by the very highest echelons of each and every broadcast news outlet in a single week. And yet some dare to criticize us — a mere “blog” after all — for getting the story right, time and time again?! Seriously?!


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Recently related at The BRAD BLOG…

5/15/13“Republicans Suddenly Decide to Care About Big Government Overreach”
5/16/13“‘Misconduct’?: What’s NOT in the Inspector General’s Report on IRS Identifying ‘Tea Party’ Groups for Additional Tax-Exempt Scrutiny”
5/17/13“IRS ‘Scandal’ Appears Nearly as Phony as Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones, ACORN ‘Scandals'”

Republicans Decide To Care About Big Government Overreach

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Government officials and employees responsible for the allegedly inappropriate scrutiny of right-wing groups applying for non-profit, tax-exempt status as “social welfare organizations” (taxpayer subsidized, supposedly non-partisan 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups) should be investigated and, if appropriate, disciplined, fired and/or charged under criminal statutes.

Government officials and employees responsible for secretly subpoenaing the phone records of AP reporters ought to similarly be investigated and, if appropriate, disciplined, fired and/or charged under criminal statutes — though it is likely that the government has already given itself legal dispensation to carry out that sort of invasive, seemingly extra-Constitutional, certainly un-American intimidation of whistleblowers and journalists alike.

That said, it’s been predictably amusing over the past 24 hours or so, witnessing the outrage — outrage! — of right-wingers over the very things that they not only didn’t give a rat’s ass about when the same, and often much worse, was carried out by the Bush administration, but that they actively supported at the time.

“They say two wrongs don’t make a right, but ignoring one of those wrongs while vilifying the other is intellectually dishonest and violently hypocritical, among other things,” writes Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter, noting that “Democrats have almost universally condemned the actions of the IRS, as they’ve done when the congressional Republicans and, naturally, the Bush administration used the nearly unlimited might of the government to engage in similar investigations — or worse.”

“Republicans,” he writes, “spent eight years defending, applauding and enabling Bush abuses on this front, while subsequently cheerleading the congressional Republicans as they carry forward the politics of intimidation and government overreach into the Obama era.”

Cesca goes on to list “10 Examples of Bush and the Republicans Using Government Power to Target Critics”, beginning with the Republican-supported Big Government assaults on Planned Parenthood, ACORN (which succeeded in putting a four-decade-old community organization out of business), and on even the ability of perfectly legal American voters to simply cast a vote in their own elections. He also reminds us of the abuse of the Bush Dept. of Justice which, specifically, targeted Democrats for prosecution, and for the firing of U.S. Attorneys without cause, other than they were not partisan enough for the tastes of the Bush White House.

But while the Obama administration deserves appropriate scrutiny and investigation and accountability for whatever its part in both the developing IRS and DoJ/AP scandals, let us not forget some of these certainly-as-bad, arguably-worse scandals related to both the IRS and the DoJ — from during the Bush administration — that Republicans not only didn’t give a damn about, but often applauded for most of the past decade…

6. The Bush IRS Audited Greenpeace and the NAACP. Not only was the NAACP suspiciously audited during Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, but high-profile Republicans like Joe Scarborough had previously supported an audit of the organization even though he’s suddenly shocked by the current IRS audit story. Also in 2004, the Wall Street Journal reported that the IRS audited the hyper-liberal group Greenpeace at the request of Public Interest Watch, a group that’s funded by Exxon-Mobil.

7. The Bush IRS Collected Political Affiliation Data on Taxpayers. In 2006, a contractor hired by the IRS collected party affiliation via a search of voter registration roles in a laundry list of states: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. This begs the obvious question: why? Why would the IRS need voter registration and party affiliation information?

8. The Bush FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force Targeted Civil Rights / Anti-War Activists. In 2005, an ACLU investigation revealed that both the FBI and the JTTF surveilled and gathered intelligence about a variety of liberal groups including PETA and the Catholic Workers, along with other groups that it hyperbolically referred to as having “semi-communistic ideology.”

9. The Bush Pentagon Spied on Dozens of Anti-War Meetings. Also in 2005, the Department of Defense tracked 1,500 “suspicious incidents” and spied on four dozen meetings involving, for example, anti-war Quaker groups and the like. Yes, really. The Bush administration actually kept track of who was attending these meetings down to descriptions of the vehicles used by the attendees, calling to mind the pre-Watergate era when the government investigated 100,000 Americans during the Vietnam War.

10. The Bush FBI Targeted Journalists with the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yesterday, it was learned that a U.S. attorney, Ronald Machen, subpoenaed and confiscated phone records from the Associated Press as part of a leak investigation regarding an article about a CIA operation that took place in Yemen to thwart a terrorist attack on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. Well, this story pales in comparison with the Bush administration’s inquisition against the reporters who broke the story about the NSA wiretapping program. In fact, the Justice Department considered invoking the Espionage Act of 1917, the archaic sequel to the John Adams-era Alien and Sedition Acts. The Bush FBI seized phone records — without subpoena — from four American journalists, including Raymond Bonner and Jane Perlez. How do we know this for sure? Former FBI Director Robert Mueller apologized to the New York Times and the Washington Post.

I’m delighted, personally, that the Republican Party and its adherents have finally decided to be outraged about actual governmental abuses of power. I’m even more delighted that they may now be focusing some of that outrage on actual abuses (as opposed to all of the pretend “scandals” they’ve been pretending to be outraged about over the past four years). But it will be all too convenient if the only such abuses they ultimately concern themselves with are the ones that affected their own special-interest groups, rather than those that have illegally and/or unconstitutionally affected the interests of all Americans for at least the past decade and more.

It will be a shame if the result of all of this is that the 501(c)(4) and (c)(3) racket that exploded in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United atrocity goes unexamined and un-overturned. As is, the IRS was doing a dreadful job in cracking down on that particularly obvious scam, and it’s almost certain that all of this will only make the appalling taxpayer-subsidized abuse by purely political groups masquerading as non-partisan “social welfare organizations” even worse.

But it will be even more of a shame if the Big Government abuses of power under the Obama administration are dealt with as special cases that occurred in a vacuum. They did not. They have been happening for years, under the Bush administration and now under the Obama administration. (For that matter, the IRS abuses now in question happened while the agency was headed up by George W. Bush’s appointee.) All of those Big Government abuses deserve oversight and governmental action and legislation to ensure that none of them can ever happen again in the future.

Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen in a political atmosphere where one party (the Republicans) and its supporters have chosen “victimhood” as a personal political philosophy and a wartime footing against their perceived enemy (the Democratic Party) as a point of personal pride, rather than displaying any interest whatsoever in actually governing on behalf of the American people or in ending the opportunities for the very Big Government abuses they decry — but only when it affects them.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Absentee Ballot Cyberhack In Florida Offers Disturbing Lessons About Vote-by-Mail And Internet Voting

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

One month ago, The Miami Herald’s Patricia Mazzei unleashed an excellent investigative report on an attempted series of online cyberhacks of absentee ballot requests prior to last August’s primary election in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Mazzei’s article describes the mysterious attempt by someone to request more than 2,500 absentee ballots for elections in three different Miami-Dade districts using anonymous proxy Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from foreign countries to hide the real identity of the requester. A grand jury looked into the matter [PDF] of the “phantom” requests, but was hamstrung by the fact that they were not told — the article says it was due to administrative confusion — that the initial IP addresses used to make the absentee ballot requests were actually not from overseas, but local to Miami-Dade. Had prosecutors had that information, they might have been able to zero in on the culprits, rather than close the investigation late last year without identifying a suspect.

The case has now reportedly been reopened, but the length of time since the initial event may have allowed the trail run cold. Hopefully we will find out soon.

Last week, the story suddenly received a lot of fresh attention after it was picked up by NBC News’ Gil Aegerter, who describes what happened as the “first known case” of such a cyberattack on a U.S. election.

Setting aside, for now, the point as to whether this is the first such attack — I’ve reported quite a bit of evidence of several others over the years (the NBC report links to a number of stories I’ve broken on these matters, including one of my stories at ComputerWorld in 2007 describing a malicious virus that struck Sarasota’s contested 2006 special election for the U.S. House where some 18,000 votes ultimately disappeared from the touchscreen voting machines) — there are a few key points and lessons from this story that I’d like to underscore, despite the fact that the mainstream corporate coverage has been pretty decent here for a change.

Additionally, one of several key remaining mysteries in the story — one that I’ve been trying to make sense of over the past several weeks, since learning of the story — may now have an answer, or at least a new and troubling clue.

Potential Clue to One of the Story’s Central Mysteries

Aside from the identity of the failed “bad guy(s)” here, and why the prosecutors weren’t originally notified about the Miami-Dade IP addresses in the first place, there has been another major “unknown” in the story originally headlined by The Miami Herald as “The case of the phantom ballots: an electoral whodunit.”

That “unknown” has been how the scheme was supposed to have affected the elections in question, had it not been discovered and stopped. Since the absentee ballot requests were made on behalf of “infrequent voters” (who would otherwise be unlikely to show up to vote in person), and scheduled to be sent to their normal address, where they are registered, how would anybody then be able to use those ballots to game the elections with fraudulent votes?

“It doesn’t make any sense to me why someone would do that, because you’d still need the person to [vote for you],” said one of the NJ-based consultants for two of the candidates (brothers) involved in two of the races.

“Had the requests been filled,” the Miami Herald’s Mazzei goes on to suggest, “short of stealing the ballots from mailboxes, the campaigns would have been able to flood the targeted voters with phone calls, fliers and home visits to try to sway their vote.”

“Persuade enough of them,” she suggests, “and you might flip the race.”

But that seems a fairly sloggy way to try and have an effect on election results. On Friday,’s Bev Harris offers up a more reasonable (and disturbing) scheme that could have been planned here, had the operation not been interrupted before it fully played out.

She points out that the printing and mailing of absentee ballots is generally jobbed out to third-party contractors by election officials. The third parties are given the database of voters who have requested absentee ballots and then they take care of the job from there. Often, the company hired for this job is publicly known and vetted, but that contractor sometimes then hires yet another outfit to do the actual work of printing ballot envelopes and mailing them out to voters.

“If you have a few thousand strategically targeted extra ballots that you know are bogus, and you reroute the database to an off-the-public-record consultant during the print-and-mail phase, you can deliver those ballots anywhere you want,” Harris writes. “They can all be sent to the same address; no one would know.”

“I’m not sure what vendor Miami-Dade County is using to print and mail ballots; some Florida counties use Runbeck, out of Arizona by way of Tampa. But regardless of who they use, it isn’t the Miami-Dade elections people who actually do the mailing. Whoever does the print-and-mail phase has both the absentee request database and total control over where absentee ballots go.”

The scheme, as Harris envisions it, then would require a “bad guy” to make the absentee ballot requests and an accomplice either at the final print-and-mail outfit — or somewhere else along the chain of custody of the absentee ballot database — to change the addresses where those illegitimately requested ballots were to be sent. As prosecutors are said to be looking into this case again, they may want to ask some questions of whoever might have received access to that absentee ballot request database.

See the BBV article for a bit more background on some of the shady players who can be found in the absentee ballot print-and-mailing business, as well as a few more details on potential suspects in the FL case revealed by common threads between the three elections in question.

The several other points that I wanted to flag here are as follows:

Vote-by-Mail is a Terrible Idea

—We have long decried the many perils of absentee balloting and Vote-by-Mail (VBM) elections. This latest FL hack points out just another reason why VBM is always troubling and, far and away, the most frequent place where ballot fraud is known to occur. Republicans love to suggest that (Democratic) voters are committing fraud by misrepresenting themselves at the polling place — thus, draconian, disenfranchising polling place photo ID restrictions are needed, they pretend. But they know they are lying. That type of fraud is incredibly rare. They know that most of this type of chicanery, where it exists, is done via absentee balloting, which polling place photo ID restrictions that Republicans are pushing in state after state, does absolutely nothing to deter.

Adding in the points raised by Harris about how absentee ballot databases are often processed outside of public oversight, and you’ve got another reason to be concerned. Such ballots, she notes, “need never be mailed at all,” if a bad operator decides to game an election in this way.

You Call That a “Safeguard”?!

—The Miami Herald story offered one disturbing revelation that I haven’t seen commented upon elsewhere. Moreover, it’s reported as a “feature,” as opposed to a “bug” in the Miami-Dade online absentee ballot request system.

“There are other safeguards, too,” Mazzei notes in describing how the attack was stymied when the software flagged the suspicious activity as coming from several single IP addresses. “When a voter submits an absentee request online, Miami-Dade doesn’t automatically send a ballot. The request is reviewed by an elections department staffer, who must manually sign off on sending it.”

That is considered a “safeguard”?! I’d consider that very troubling, frankly. It means that one election official can determine whether or not any number of voters actually receive the absentee ballot they’ve requested. It sounds like a great way for a “bad guy” election insider to suppress the votes of just about anybody they may choose.

The Most Disturbing Aspect: The Menace of Internet Voting

—The real message in this story is not about the perils of online registration and absentee ballot requests systems, even though that has, understandably, been at the center of most of the coverage. The real message here is about the dangers of using the internet for voting! The push for online voting has, insanely, been increasing over the past year or so. We’ve taken to describing it as the Internet Voting Virus as it spreads to places like California, where even Democrats are ignoring virtually every world-class computer science and security expert in order to push for this horrible idea.

In the NBC report, a number of the experts we’ve turned to over the years in our own stories and interviews here are quoted trying to offer those same warnings again, in the wake of what happened in the case of the failed online absentee ballot requests.

J. Alex Halderman, the University of MI computer science professor behind the successful remote hack of a mock Internet Voting system, which had been set to be used in a real election in Washington D.C. the following month in 2010, and the hack of a touchscreen voting machine that turned it, literally, into a game of Pac Man, tries to warn that the failed cyberattack in Florida was just the tip of the iceberg.

He explained to NBC’s Aegerter that “an attack somewhat more sophisticated than the one in Florida, completely within the norm for computer fraud these days, would likely be able to circumvent the checks.”

David Jefferson of Livermore National Laboratory, and a member of the Board of Directors at Verified Voting, once again warns, as he has many times here in the past, that the security of electronic voting and registration systems currently in use, as well as the insane schemes currently being used and planned for internet voting, are serious threats to national security. “The legitimacy of government depends on it being impossible for single parties to change the results of elections,” he told Aegerter.

“Whoever did this is clearly capable of engaging in online registration fraud (in states such as Maryland and Washington with weak authentication),” Jefferson told me via email some weeks ago, “or online vote fraud.”

Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International, warns about the perils of internet voting in the NBC story as well. “The overwhelming consensus of the computer science community is don’t do it, it’s a bad idea.”

And, finally, Cleveland State University’s election integrity expert and law professor Candice Hoke cut right to the chase, warning that while politicians may see internet voting as a way to increase turnout for their voters and election officials may see such schemes as a way to save money on polling sites, ballot printing costs and manual labor, the real costs to democracy ultimately outweigh everything else.

“It’s cheap,” she said, “if you don’t care whether elections are stolen.”

Hannah Giles Paid $50,000 To Fired San Diego ACORN Worker In Settlement Last July

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Pretend journalist and Republican activist Hannah Giles agreed to pay $50,000 to former San Diego ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera as a part of a legal settlement struck last summer in response to an invasion of privacy lawsuit filed against her and her former partner James O’Keefe, Vera’s attorney Eugene Iredale has confirmed to The BRAD BLOG.

Last week, in a scoop on Wonkette, it was disclosed that O’Keefe, a federal criminal and professional liar, agreed to pay $100,000 in his own legal settlement with the same former ACORN employee, after heading up the scheme to secretly videotape him in violation of California’s Invasion of Privacy Act (Cal. Penal Code § 632).

O’Keefe and Giles’ illicit taping of Vera was carried out as part of the deceptively edited series of hit videos released by the pair in 2009. The tapes were published, and paid for, by the late conman Andrew Breitbart. Vera had been portrayed in the misleading video as having been willing to help the pair smuggle underage prostitutes into the United States across the Mexican border. In fact, Vera had played along with the duo’s ridiculous proposed scheme only long enough to collect information from O’Keefe and Giles (and take their photographs), before contacting law enforcement immediately after the secretly videotaped meeting.

Giles played the role of a prostitute in the ACORN “pimp” hoax videos. O’Keefe played her boyfriend. O’Keefe did not play the part of a “pimp,” as he had knowingly misrepresented in both the videos and to the public, and as repeatedly misreported by the bulk of the mainstream media at the time, and even still today.

During the course of Vera’s lawsuit, it was revealed that Breitbart, who died in March of 2012, had paid the pair some $125,000 for their hoax tapes, with O’Keefe collecting $65,000 to Giles’ $60,000, most of which she has now been forced to turn over to Vera.

Despite the real facts of the Vera case being known since at least April of 2010 — when a criminal investigation by the California attorney general found “no criminality” by Vera or any of the other ACORN employees seen in the videos — the original stories on the hoax videos remain published on the Breitbart website without correction, as we noted in our detailed report on O’Keefe’s settlement with Vera last week.

As we reported once again at the time, every official law enforcement investigation on the matter — including those by the former MA Attorney General [PDF], by the Kings County, NY District Attorney, and by the CA attorney general — determined that there were no violations of law committed by any ACORN worker as seen in any of the surreptitiously taped videos. Each official investigation found that the tapes were “highly” and “deceptively” edited to present a false case against ACORN.

O’Keefe had attempted to fight for dismissal of Vera’s July 2010 lawsuit but lost in court on every attempt to do so. While it took O’Keefe until this past week to see the writing on the wall and finally agree to settle with Vera, Giles was smart enough to settle her own part of the lawsuit with Vera last summer. Giles’ settlement agreement had been reported by Dave Maass of the San Diego City Beat at the time, but the conditions of that settlement and Giles’ agreement to pay out $50,000 to the former ACORN worker had not been known.

Asked during his sworn deposition why he didn’t attempt to confirm the false story given to him by Vera before publishing his videotapes, O’Keefe, who still pretends to be a “journalist,” explained: “I did want to follow up. I just didn’t end up following up.”

After those revelations, it appeared likely that Breitbart might have been pulled into Vera’s lawsuit and named as a defendant as well. Moreover, he might have even faced criminal liability in the matter.

For their part, O’Keefe and Giles received criminal immunity from the CA attorney general in exchange for providing the office with the previously unreleased, unedited versions of the videotapes. The AG’s probe found no violations of the law by ACORN workers, but the report did note that the secret recordings appeared to be in violation of CA’s Privacy Act. While the immunity deal spared the duo from criminal prosecution for violation of that law in the state, it did not protect them against civil enforcement of the act, such as that brought by Vera. Nor did it protect Breitbart, who, it was discovered through depositions from O’Keefe and Giles in the lawsuit, had prior knowledge of the illicit videotaping at several ACORN offices in California. He could have been charged with a criminal violation of CA law, as well as being named as a defendant in Vera’s suit.

Vera says that the videotapes, widely promoted by right-wing outlets such as Fox “News” (and many non-right-wing outlets as well) without any fact-checking whatsoever, resulted in tarnishing his reputation. He says he has had difficulty finding work ever since.

“My reputation was in the garbage,” he told MSNBC’s Ed Schultz last week in broken English, adding that while the settlement could be seen as a victory, he felt “sad” because ACORN, who had “very good programs,” was put out of business after the O’Keefe/Giles/Breitbart campaign.

ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, had been a four-decades-old nationwide nonprofit group dedicated to fighting against predatory lending practices and assisting millions of low- and middle-income American families in obtaining housing loans, as well as participate in their democracy by legally registering to vote. Vera was just one of tens of thousands of employees who lost their jobs as a result of the right-wing political hit job on the organization, which was forced to shut its doors in the wake of the manufactured scandal.

Since news of O’Keefe’s settlement with Vera broke last week, the right-wing grifter has taken to his website and Twitter in an attempt to claim his innocence, despite the settlement.

He described media coverage of the settlement agreement as “lies and lies and more lies from journafascists” and attempted to taunt the media to “have the guts” to allow him to tell his side of the story. We took him up on that offer and invited him to appear on our KPFK/Pacifica Radio show this Wednesday. O’Keefe has yet to “have the guts” to even respond to our invitation.

Fired ACORN Worker Wins $100K Settlement From Republican Con Artist James O’Keefe

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Former San Diego ACORN worker Juan Carlos Vera will receive $100,000 in a settlement from federal criminal and professional liar James O’Keefe, after being secretly videotaped in violation of California law by the right-wing propagandist. The tape was just one in a series of similar videos, all deceptively edited as part of his 2009 ACORN “pimp” hoax series.

The story of the settlement was originally broken by Wonkette, which published the three-page settlement document [PDF], yesterday.

Several official investigations, including those by the former MA attorney general [PDF], the Kings County, NY district attorney, and the CA attorney general all determined that there were no violations of law by any ACORN worker seen in the surreptitiously taped videos. The officials found the tapes were “highly” and “deceptively” edited.

The videos were published originally by the late Republican con-man Andrew Breitbart, who, before he died of heart failure just over a year ago, was likely to have been pulled into the civil case as well, after disclosures that he had paid O’Keefe for the videos and had advance knowledge of the scheme to secretly videotape workers in violation of CA’s Invasion of Privacy Act.

After Breitbart’s publication, the edited tapes were widely covered, without fact-checking, in both the right-wing media such as Fox “News” and non-right-wing media such as the New York Times. The Times was eventually forced to issue partial corrections for their inaccurate reporting after a six-month effort by The BRAD BLOG to point out how they’d been duped by O’Keefe, who had lied about appearing as a 70s-era “Blaxploitation”-style pimp in the offices of ACORN.

A 2010 investigation by the CA attorney general determined there was “no criminality” by ACORN workers seen in any of the raw videotapes. O’Keefe and his partner Hannah Giles agreed to turn over the unedited tapes in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution in the state. “The evidence illustrates that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality,” California’s then AG Jerry Brown said in a statement accompanying the release of his office’s investigation, which “involved attorneys from all three legal divisions – criminal law, public rights, and civil law – as well as special agents from the department’s Bureau of Investigation and Intelligence.”

“Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor,” he added.

While the deal left the AG’s office unable to prosecute the duo, the criminal investigation found that O’Keefe and Giles likely violated the civil provisions of CA’s Privacy Act and could be sued under those provisions “for recording a confidential conversation without consent.” Vera, who, after his odd meeting with O’Keefe and Giles had the wherewithal to contact the police, sued both of them in July of 2010 for violations of the act.

Giles had the common sense to settle with Vera last summer after a string of losses in court. O’Keefe, on the other hand, attempted to argue a First Amendment privilege as a “journalist” to secretly videotape Vera. Judge M. James Lorenz soundly rejected the argument in May of 2011, but O’Keefe persisted in his unsuccessful defense.

O’Keefe now finally faces at least some accountability in the settlement, which, in addition to agreeing to pay $100,000 to the former ACORN employee, notes that he “regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family.”

Thousands of ACORN workers were left unemployed by the O’Keefe/Giles/Breitbart stunt after the U.S. Congress also fell for it. In 2010 they passed legislation, signed by President Obama, that federally defunded the four-decades-old community organization that advocated to end predatory lending practices and helped millions of low- and middle-income Americans obtain housing loans and legally register to vote. The group was forced to shut its doors in the wake of the manufactured scandal.

While O’Keefe, Giles and Breitbart helped perpetrate the long-held GOP lie that ACORN was involved in voter fraud, there is not one piece of known evidence to demonstrate that even one illegal vote was ever cast thanks to an improper registration by any of the organization’s tens of thousands of voter-registration workers.

The only question now: Will any of those other ACORN workers who were improperly fired due to O’Keefe’s illegal, secret videotapes file suit against him as well?

UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf’s coverage of the Vera/O’Keefe settlement over at The Atlantic points out that, to this day, Breitbart’s “news” site, where the fake ACORN stories were originally published, still has the original inaccurate story sliming Vera — published as is, with no correction, even though it was long ago debunked as nonsense, and even since O’Keefe has agreed to apologize and pay him $100,000 in the settlement as described above. Read more here.

New York City Considers Move Back To Lever Voting Machines For September Elections

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

We have yet another potential mess concerning elections in New York City on the new optical-scan computer tabulation systems, which recently replaced the mechanical lever machines used by the city for decades.

This time, the problem relates to the upcoming citywide elections in September. If no candidate wins more than 40 percent in any of the primary races, a runoff will be required by state law — just two weeks later.

This is now a huge problem for the city, since there is concern that it could be all but impossible to re-prepare and fully re-test the computer optical-scan systems in the short time between the primary and the runoff . It has left some, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the NYC Board of Elections, seemingly regretting the move away from lever machines and considering bringing them out of mothballs for this year’s runoffs.

“The computers just can’t be programmed and readied in time for a runoff,” WABC7’s Dave Evans notes in his video report on Monday (posted below). “The old machines can be.”

Further adding to the problems, says State Board of Elections Commissioner Doug Kellner “If there is a very close primary election, it may not be possible to determine the candidates in the runoff election in the time frame available.”

Since New York was the last state in the nation to “upgrade” their voting systems from the old lever systems to new proprietary computer optical-scan systems over the last several years, the move has caused nothing but headaches in New York City and across the state.

For example, back in 2008, as the new systems began to arrive, just 15 percent of the new $11,000-apiece electronic Ballot Marking Devices (BMDs) for disabled voters actually arrived in working order in Nassau County. All the others were “unusable or…require[d] major repairs,” according to the county attorney at the time.

During the 2009 special election to fill the NY-23 U.S. House seat vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand after she was named to fill the U.S. Senate seat of then newly appointed Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, unsubstantiated rumors of a “virus” in the new optical-scan systems, used for the very first time in the district during that race, sullied confidence in the computer-reported results. [We covered the story extensively at the time for the right-leaning Gouverneur Times, which is now, unfortunately, out of business.]

In late 2010, the state court ordered that a manual “recount” of paper ballots had to be stopped and that unverified computer tallies were to be used as “official” in a New York state Senate race where just 451 votes, out of some 84,000 ballots cast, separated the top two candidates. The election would result in Republicans gaining the majority in that body that year.

Last year, after a public records request, the New York Daily News discovered that during the 2010 statewide September primary elections, some op-scan systems in the South Bronx experienced a failure rate of 70 percent. In the November general election that year, the failure rate was found to be 54 percent. Thousands of valid votes went uncounted entirely.

When the new op-scan systems rolled out in New York City itself in 2010, long lines, “reports of broken and missing scanners,” and computer “system errors” resulted in what Mayor Bloomberg at the time described as a “royal mess.”

All of those royal messes might have been avoided, had the state simply listened to the Election Integrity advocates at the time, who were attempting to persuade the state to stick with their old tried-and-true mechanical lever voting machines, rather than move to secret vote counts by computer tabulators. The advocates had tried to warn the state to ignore a wholly inaccurate “legal advisory” issued in 2005 by the woefully compromised U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC), which had incorrectly advised that mechanical lever voting machines did not meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002.

Even today, some elections official in New York refuse to certify races tabulated on the new, unreliable electronic systems, insisting on a hand-count before they will sign off on official results.

Which brings us to the latest royal mess in New York City surrounding their upcoming September elections, which has led Bloomberg to pine for the old lever machines. In fact, using those systems has been presented as one of the possibilities examined by the NYC Board of Elections as a solution to the latest woes, as explained in WABC7’s Monday night report below:

“We used to be able to get, within a couple of hours, a count. Now you can’t get it within a couple of months,” Bloomberg complains in the report above. “This is ridiculous.”

The old lever machines, still stored in a Brooklyn warehouse, “could easily be called up for a runoff this fall because they’re uncomplicated, easy to use,” reports WABC7’s Evans. “The new computers aren’t.”

In response, Dick Dadey, executive director of NY good-government group Citizens Union, calls the lever machines “unreliable.” He goes on to argue that they “haven’t been used in three or four years, do not count votes correctly [and] would cause more problems than they would solve.”

While there are various problems that can crop up with the old lever machines, they are very rare, and limited in scope only to the single precinct where the problem occurred. Unlike the secret-vote-counting computer systems that Dadey seems to be arguing for, the suggestion that they “do not count votes correctly,” is simply wrong.

In WABC7’s report, Frederic Umane, chief of the NYC Board of Elections, calls for simply “getting rid of the runoff” entirely.

As usual, here we have a case of technology driving the democracy, rather than the other way around.

Other proposed solutions for the problem have included calls for the state legislature to move the September primary up to an earlier date (Republicans would like it in August, Democrats prefer June before folks go out of town for the summer), to allow time to reprogram the systems between the two elections if a runoff becomes necessary.

Still others have called for the horrible and incredibly confusing idea of an instant runoff, using a process known as Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) which requires voters to select first and second choices, with the votes of losing first-choice candidates being shifted to others until one candidate finally reaches the required percentage to be declared the winner. Schemes like that — in a country where we have enough trouble adding 1 + 1 + 1 in a way that the citizenry can know votes have been tabulated correctly — have been tried and failed all over the country. They can also be gamed and lead to candidates “winning” even though they’ve received less than a majority — even less than a plurality — of the vote. (Here is an excellent YouTube video channel with a bunch of great videos explaining the many problems with instant runoff voting and RCV.) Think NYC has problems with its elections now? Try adding RCV to the mix.

All of those “solutions,” however, would call for legislative action by the state, which is believed to be unlikely.

So, yesterday, here’s how the NYC Board of Elections decided to handle the problem for now, according to WNYC:

The city BOE had narrowed its choice down to four options. One involved using the old lever machines, two of the others relied on all paper ballots and differing types of manual counts. Each of these scenarios required some change to state law. Since the BOE’s ideal solution was for state lawmakers to move the primary date entirely, and Albany remained resistant, commissioners raised concerns about any scenario that relied on legislative action. Ultimately the board opted to forge ahead with optical scanners by a vote of 8 to 1, because that option only required the state BOE to approve the city’s plan for reduced testing between the primary and runoff.

Yes, that’s right. The “solution” settled on, for now, by the BOE, is to do less testing of the oft-failed, easily-hacked, computer tabulation systems already in use, rather than move to a simpler, cheaper, overseeable option like the tried-and-true lever machines, or, better yet, simply hand-counting results as per “Democracy’s Gold Standard.”

And, as if all of that wasn’t dumb enough, there was this closing note from WYNC: “A primary generally costs the city around $20 million, according to Board officials. Using the scanner option, the runoff will cost that much, plus an additional $8.5 million.”

Brilliant. The September elections in NYC should be fun. What could possibly go wrong?

Photo: Center for American Progress/

Can The Papal Election Be Hacked? Not Likely: They Use Publicly Hand-Counted Paper Ballots

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

With another papal election coming up, one might wonder how the papal elections, since 1059 or so, have managed to remain secure and unchallenged.

As security technologist Bruce Schneier details at CNN, the trick is what we have long referred to here as “Democracy’s Gold Standard”: publicly hand-counted paper ballots.

Here at The BRAD BLOG we’ve been calling for the same thing for U.S. elections for some time. Granted, it hasn’t been 1,000 years, it’s only beginning to feel like it. We were even recently immortalized for that effort.

Schneier’s breakdown of the voting process at papal enclaves is absolutely fascinating, particularly as the process they’ve developed over centuries mirrors much of what the process would look like if our nation ditched its secret, oft-failed, easily manipulated, unoverseeable vote-tallying computers and modeled our tabulation process on the open, public, and very rarely challenged process used by the citizens in some 40 percent of New Hampshire towns. It’s almost identical, in many ways, to the one used to select new popes.

As Schneier notes, when a new pope is elected, “Every step of the election process is observed by everyone.”

“The ballot is entirely paper-based,” he explains, “and all ballot counting is done by hand. Votes are secret, but everything else is open”

Talk about your “Holy See“?! It’s hand-counted PAPAL ballots!

“Nine election officials are randomly selected from the cardinals: three ‘scrutineers,’ who count the votes; three ‘revisers,’ who verify the results of the scrutineers; and three ‘infirmarii,’ who collect the votes from those too sick to be in the chapel.”

If that sounds remarkably familiar, then you may be one of the few who understand how “Democracy’s Gold Standard,” — publicly-overseen precinct-based hand-counting — actually works. While there are different techniques for it, one that is often used includes counting teams of four, with two people both agreeing on which candidate has been selected by the voter on each ballot (“scrutineers,” as they are known at the Vatican) and two others who write down the running count, with both agreeing that it has been recorded correctly (the “revisers”).

For papal elections, the entire counting process is transparent and happens immediately after all votes are cast, with all of the assembled Cardinals observing and authenticating the tally in the very same place where votes were cast, inside the Sistine Chapel.

In precinct-based hand-counted elections in the U.S., it all happens just after the close of polls at the very same precinct where the votes were cast, with the public, video cameras and representatives from all political parties observing and authenticating the tally as accurate. The results are publicly posted at the precinct before ballots are moved anywhere. They can also be verified for accuracy again later if there are any questions.

At the Vatican, the ballots are burned right after the vote to make sure they remain secret to the rest of the world for all time — though not before everyone who took part in the election has been able to oversee its tabulation. In our case, by law, we do not “burn the ballots” until 22 months after federal elections, and often far sooner after non-federal elections. In any case, burning the ballots immediately after they are tabulated is something we are wise to not model after the cardinals.

Their system, however, is far more secure than the one we use in almost every election jurisdiction in our country. As Schneier notes in his assessment of how difficult it would be to hack a papal election: “The system is entirely manual, making it immune to the sorts of technological attacks that make modern voting systems so risky.”

He says that while it’s feasible a “scrutineer” could modify a vote, it would not be easy. “The counting is conducted in public, and there are multiple people checking every step.”

And that, of course, is the point, and exactly why a similar process used in the U.S. — albeit adapted for use in a large, modern election with many precincts — would be very difficult to game, at least without being detected. Contrast the papal system with the computerized systems we use now in the majority of every state. They are easily gamed by a “conspiracy” as small as one person who can modify the computer-tabulated results in any number of ways, in a matter of seconds, with almost no possibility of detection. Those concerns are precisely what we have been documenting and warning about here at The BRAD BLOG for almost 1,000 years.

Remember, as Schneier explains, in papal elections “every step of the election process is observed by everyone.” That is the key. And neither touchscreen votes, nor paper ballots tallied secretly by optical-scan computers, meet that test.

There are a few places where Schneier sees a possibility for chicanery in the papal system, but it would be difficult. And, if used in the U.S., the same chicanery would have to occur at many different precincts without being detected at any of them before it was likely to have an adverse effect on any particular race or ballot initiative.

But while no system is perfect, publicly hand-counted paper ballots remain “Democracy’s Gold Standard.” When there is a close election and we really, really, really need to know who won, what do we do? We publicly hand-count the ballots.

We’ve long argued that in every race, we, the people, deserve to know who really, really, really won. And, in this case, the system worked out by the cardinals seem to have served them pretty well for many centuries.

“When an election process is left to develop over the course of a couple of thousand years,” Schneier concludes, “you end up with something surprisingly good.”

Imagine that. Please don’t make us keep at this for another thousand years. Thanks.

[Mitre-tip to Steve Heller.]

Photo by Andreas Solberg/Flickr

Powell’s Chief Of Staff: Iraq Intel Was ‘Outright Lies’, But Powell Didn’t ‘Knowingly Lie’ At UN

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

[Now UPDATED with a response from 27-year CIA analyst Ray McGovern at bottom of article.]

In a response to a charge cited by The BRAD BLOG on Tuesday that then-Sec. of State Colin Powell “knowingly lied” during his infamous February 5, 2003 presentation of false intelligence to the UN Security Council about the need to attack Iraq, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s Chief of Staff at the time, characterizes the allegation as unfair.

He says points made in support of that claim are “misleading and even spurious” and “not supported in the surrounding narrative.”

“I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated,” says Wilkerson in his reply today, sent in response to our request for comment. “But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and — I am increasingly convinced, outright lies — to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.”

David Swanson, who authored the charges in question, as cited earlier this week by The BRAD BLOG, disputes Wilkerson’s response. The full remarks by both men are posted in full at the end of this article.

On Tuesday, we ran Swanson’s critique of Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, a new NBC News documentary based on the book of a similar name by journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff. (You can watch the entire film online here.)

While Swanson lauded the project for helping to “prolong Americans’ awareness of the lies that destroyed Iraq,” he offered a number of worthy criticisms as well, including the fact that MSNBC, which aired the documentary, failed to acknowledge its own participation in propagating many of those same lies to the American people.

Featured in the film are several new pieces of information and commentary that have come to light since the original publication of Corn and Isikoff’s 2007 book.

Some of those revelations come by way of Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and, more to the point, Powell’s Chief of Staff at the time of his February 5, 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council on the supposed chemical, biological and nuclear threats posed by Saddam Hussein. That presentation by perhaps the most well-regarded official in the Bush Administration at the time is widely credited with turning the tide of public opinion in favor of the invasion of Iraq, which would commence just weeks later, 10 years ago next month.

Unfortunately, virtually every piece of evidence presented by Powell at the UN. said to have been culled from various intelligence agencies, turned out to be completely false. Some years later, Powell would describe the speech as a “painful” “blot” on his career. As Hubris details, Powell’s evidence was not only wrong, but known to be wrong by many in the intelligence community by the time it was presented to the public as fact by the well-respected Secretary of State.

“Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied,” says Wilkerson in the film, “we did participate in a hoax.”

Swanson’s critique, however, takes that point further, charging that “The Hubris version of Colin Powell’s lies at the United Nations is misleadingly undertold.”

“Powell was not a victim. He ‘knowingly lied,'” wrote Swanson, including a link to his own 2011 op-ed at Consortium News headlined “Colin Powell’s Disgraceful Lies.”

Given the serious nature of the charges cited by Swanson as detailed in his 2011 piece — all well-documented with direct quotes from the State Department’s own January 31, 2003 Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) assessment repeatedly describing most of the claims Powell would offer the following week at the UN as “weak” at best, and “implausible” in many cases — it seemed appropriate to give Wilkerson the opportunity to respond to the direct allegation that Powell was outright lying during his UN presentation.

In his response, Wilkerson draws a line in the sand, if you will, against the contention that his former boss “knowingly lied.”

He says he believes that Swanson’s “use of INR’s assessment of ‘weak’ repeatedly, is weak itself.”

“INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the U.S. intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel, France, the U.K., Jordan, Germany, et al., and of course you get even more),” writes Wilkerson. “INR’s assessments were often viewed — indeed still are — as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by [the CIA’s Director of Intelligence] George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR’s insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] with regard to its doubts about Saddam’s having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet.)”

“In truth,” Wilkerson continues, “INR itself concurred in the overall NIE’s finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell’s 5 Feb. presentation).”

Swanson contests Wilkerson’s response. He says in reply that “Powell’s own staff, the INR…told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.”

He notes that Hubris highlights the fact that even claims that had been rejected by Powell and Wilkerson as “bullshit” about flimsy claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda “were put back in” the speech, after insistence from the CIA.

“That is a moment to resign in protest,” Swanson notes in his reply, “not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department’s own experts, as ‘maverick.'”

“When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department’s job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is ‘maverick,'” Swanson contends.

In their dueling replies, the two also exchange thoughts on the use of intelligence that came from “Curveball,” the codename given to Iraqi defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan Al-Janabi, who later admitted to blatantly lying to Germany’s intelligence agency about the existence of mobile bioweapons labs used by Saddam.

Wilkerson says Powell was never warned about the dubious nature of “Curveball” and, “in fact quite the opposite.” He says that while the now-discredited anti-Saddam operative was Tenet’s “strongest weapon” in pushing the case for war internally, “the title ‘Curveball’ was never heard until well after the 5 Feb. presentation.”

Finally, for all his admissions, Wilkerson still seems to allow room for both himself and Powell off the biggest hook. “One must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the president would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn’t relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.”

“I don’t believe blame works that way,” replies Swanson. “Blaming Bush more doesn’t blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more.”

In his last thought in reply to Swanson, Wilkerson is generous, even while acknowledging that he, Swanson and other anti-war voices like former CIA analyst Ray McGovern “will never reach accord on this I’m certain.”

“But I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you [Swanson and McGovern] should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure.”

* * *
The full responses from both Wilkerson and Swanson follow below. We sought a response from McGovern as well, since he is invoked by Wilkerson, but we have yet to hear back. UPDATE: McGovern’s response is now also included below…

Wilkerson’s complete Wednesday, 2/20/13 response:


Several misleading and even spurious bullets and headlines that make strong claims that are not supported in the surrounding narrative. For example, no one ever DID warn Powell about Curveball, in fact quite the opposite. This particular source — billed as an Iraqi engineer who had defected — was George Tenet’s — the DCI’s — strongest weapon. And incidentally, the title “Curveball” was never heard until well after the 5 Feb presentation.

Your use of INR’s assessment of “weak” repeatedly, is weak itself. INR was at the time one of 15 intelligence entities in the US intelligence architecture at the federal level. (Add Israel France, the UK, Jordan, Germany, et al, and of course you get even more). INR’s assessments were often viewed — indeed still are — as maverick within that group (and were particularly so viewed by George Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin. Indeed, INR’s insistence on putting a footnote in the October 2002 NIE with regard to its doubts about Saddam’s having an active nuclear weapons program was only grudgingly acknowledged and allowed by Tenet. And in truth, INR itself concurred in the overall NIE’s finding that chems and bios existed (and the NIE was the root document of Powell’s 5 Feb presentation).

I have admitted what a hoax we perpetrated. But it actually spoils or desecrates a fair condemnation of what is already a bad enough set of misstatements, very poor intelligence analysis, and — I am increasingly convinced, outright lies — to take the matter to absurdity with one man, in this case Powell.

To see my point dramatically, one must realize that whether Powell had given his presentation or not, the President would have gone to war with Iraq. That doesn’t relieve Powell or me or any of us who participated in preparing Powell of responsibility; it simply places the bulk of that responsibility squarely where it should rest.

You, Ray McGovern, and I will never reach accord on this I’m certain; but I must say that just as I may have biases from my long association with Powell, I believe both of you should examine your biases with regard to the man. Just as it was very difficult for me to face the fact I had participated in a hoax, it probably is just as difficult that you two admit you may be too aggressively critical of Powell. Both our conditions are recognizably human and yours more forgiveable than mine to be sure. lw

Swanson’s complete, same-day reply in turn:


Thanks for this response. I’m CCing Brad Blog which posted my commentary and might want to post your reply. Here’s my reply to your reply (also available to publish) :-)

Whether or not anyone told Powell of Curveball’s reputation, Powell’s own staff, the INR, told him the claims were weak, the claims that came from Curveball and from numerous other sources. The INR told him the claims were weak and questionable and even implausible.

Powell used fabricated dialogue. He used evidence from a source who had admitted all the weapons had been destroyed years ago, but failed to mention that bit. Again, here is the catalog of bogus claims:

You yourself in Hubris state that claims you’d rejected were put back in. That is a moment to resign in protest, not to move forward and dismiss the INR, the State Department’s own experts, as “maverick.”

When the Pentagon and the White House build a transparently fraudulent case for war, rejected by countless experts, many nations, and much of the public, the State Department’s job is to support fact-based analysis regardless of whether it is “maverick.”

You recently accused Norman Solomon on DemocracyNow! and all other truth tellers of that time of having failed to warn you — as if we weren’t shouting into every available microphone. If word had slipped through to you, it seems you would have rejected it as “maverick.”

This is highly discouraging. If analysis within our government consciously engages in groupthink, where will we find the whistleblowers necessary to prevent the next war?

Please do not imagine that any of us suppose the President wasn’t intent on going to war at all costs. It was the transparency of that intention that created the largest public protest in world history. But to suggest that Powell and you did no harm by supporting a war that might have gone ahead even if you’d resisted is a complete breakdown in morality.

I don’t believe blame works that way. Blaming Bush more doesn’t blame Powell or you less. It just blames Bush more. Blame is not a finite quantity born of a drive for vengeance and distributable to a limited number of people. Blame is what we each deserve when we fail to take the best actions available, as explained here.

UPDATE: Ray McGovern, 27-year CIA analyst turned staunch anti-war activist following his years personally delivering the CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefings to Presidents George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, replied to our request for comment in response to Wilkerson’s response with the following:

thanks brad —

There are very few people still around with the kind of integrity that leads me to give them virtually implicit trust (allowing for the fact that all of us are nonetheless human). One such person is Larry Wilkerson.

It seems to me that a lot hinges on whether Powell and Wilkerson could bring themselves to believe that Tenet and McLaughlin would lie to their faces about Curveball. Tenet is the mother of all con men, and one can argue that Powell and Wilkerson should have been quite aware of that.

Still, I can readily believe that Powell and Wilkerson found it difficult to conclude that Tenet was making stuff up on such a critical issue — that, assured of backing by Cheney, Tenet and McLaughlin would feel free to let Powell dangle softly in the wind….for the greater cause, of course.

Sizing up Powell, Tenet and McLaughlin might well have concluded that, as long as Cheney was around to protect them (and that he would badmouth Powell to the President if Powell stepped out of line), Powell would not dare accuse them of outright lying. If that was part of their calculation, they appear to have been right.

What incredible fear Cheney inspires — still! Let’s see what Powell says if Cheney ever dies!

I looked into all this at some length earlier this month. For what it’s worth, this is how I came out: “Colin Powell: Conned or Con-Man?”

feel free to share my comments, if you wish.

Best regards,


‘We Did Participate In A Hoax’: New Documentary Reveals How Bush Administration Lied Us Into Iraq War

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

David Corn at Mother Jones offers a preview of some of the new information coming Monday night in Hubris: Selling the Iraq War, an MSNBC documentary based on the book of a similar name by Corn and Michael Isikoff.

Narrated by Rachel Maddow, the film, like the book, will detail the inside story of how America and the world were knowingly scammed by the Bush administration into invading Iraq 10 years ago next month, leading to, as Corn describes it, “a nine-year war resulting in 4,486 dead American troops, 32,226 servicemembers wounded, and over 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians.”

“The tab for the war topped $3 trillion,” he adds, even though “it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction and no significant operational ties between Saddam’s regime and al Qaeda. That is, the two main assertions used by Bush and his crew to justify the war were not true.”

The facts of how the nation was conned into going to war, Maddow has argued over the past week while promoting and previewing the new film, are important to understand in order to avoid the same thing happening again. “If what we went through 10 years ago did not change us as a nation — if we do not understand what happened and adapt to resist it — then history says we are doomed to repeat it,” she warns.

Maddow says the documentary will likely ruffle many political feathers, and Corn offers a few of the nuggets of new information on the scam that have been revealed since the publication of his and Isikoff’s 2007 book, and that will be presented in the MSNBC film. Among them…

—Retired general Anthony Zinni, former commander in chief of U.S. Central Command, explains his reaction to then-VP Dick Cheney’s infamous declaration that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” Zinni, who was sitting on the stage with Cheney during that 2002 speech to the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, says,”It was a shock. It was a total shock. I couldn’t believe the vice president was saying this, you know? In doing work with the CIA on Iraq WMD, through all the briefings I heard at Langley, I never saw one piece of credible evidence that there was an ongoing program.”

—A November 2001 briefing memo declassified two years ago and used by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a meeting with General Tommy Franks, details how the administration hoped to trigger a justification for going to war in Iraq. One of those triggers, the memo suggests, was to be a “dispute over WMD inspections,” akin to the one which was eventually, and very publicly, manufactured to help fuel the phony case for war.

—According to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell was skeptical of the entire case for war, but hid that from the public, even as he was used by the administration to sell the war to the UN Security Council and the American public. “Powell walked into my office,” on the day Congress passed its resolution giving authority to Bush to attack Iraq, Wilkerson explains in the film, “and without so much as a fare-thee-well, he walked over to the window and he said, ‘I wonder what’ll happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing?’ And he turned around and walked back in his office. And I — I wrote that down on my calendar — as close…to verbatim as I could, because I thought that was a profound statement coming from the secretary of state, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.”

Wilkerson goes on to add that, in truth, Powell — who now regards his UN speech as a “painful” “blot” on his career — had no clue whether the intelligence he cited to the UN was actually legitimate. “Though neither Powell nor anyone else from the State Department team intentionally lied,” says Wilkerson, “we did participate in a hoax.”

* * *
Maddow’s own preview of the film from her show on Friday 2/15/13 — and how the fight over the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of the Iraq War is still playing out right now in the battle over former senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)’s nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense — follows below:

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NEWSFLASH: Federal Criminal James O’Keefe Is A Liar

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

You’ll be shocked — shocked — to learn (once again) that right-wing political propagandist and operative James O’Keefe, a federal criminal, is also a professional liar.

From O’Keefe’s “Project Veritas Investigates: Voter Fraud” racket on January 11, 2012:


That was the lie. Here’s the truth. From TPM’s report on the dropped criminal investigation of a congressman’s son today:

Police in Arlington County, VA have dropped an investigation into Patrick Moran, the son of Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), stemming from an election-season “voter fraud” hidden-camera video released by conservative activist James O’Keefe.

Police told a local Patch reporter that both Morans had cooperated with the investigation, but that O’Keefe had not complied with several requests for the full, unedited video in his possession, along with the identity of the videographer.

“We want the full version. That’s our job, to do a thorough investigation. And that’s a huge piece of the process right there,” [police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck told Patch.]

Of course, we’ve highlighted O’Keefe’s lies about releasing full, unedited videos, from which he creates his doctored and deceptively edited video propaganda, many times.

For example, despite his fundraising pleas to the contrary, it took a deal for criminal immunity from the California attorney general in 2010 before O’Keefe finally agreed to turn over the raw, unedited videos from his phony 2009 ACORN “pimp” hoax to law enforcement. (The AG’s investigation determined that the only violations of criminal law seen on the tapes were O’Keefe’s.)

The screenshot from his dishonest fundraising plea at the top of this article was published after he and his co-conspirators trumped up secretly videotaped “voter fraud” incidents during last year’s New Hampshire primary.

As we reported in great detail at the time, even while attempting to raise money on his fake “voter fraud investigation” — which led to the Republican mayor of Manchester calling for O’Keefe and his gang to be “arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law” — O’Keefe lied about the release of what he claimed were the full, unedited tapes from that particular scam. They weren’t. James O’Keefe had lied then, just as he did about the ACORN tapes, just as he has done, according to law enforcement, in the Virginia case.

James O’Keefe is a professional liar. That’s how he makes a living. Alert the media.

Double-Voting Republican In Nevada Pleads Guilty; New Mexico Counterpart Still Faces Felony

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Last year we spent quite a bit of time detailing what what we described, with much justification, as The Year of GOP Election Fraud.

From the three felony voter fraud convictions of Indiana Sec. of State Charlie White (R), to the admitted ballot petition fraud of the campaign of Newt Gingrich (R) and of the staff of U.S. House Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R) to the attempted voter fraud by right-wing propagandist James O’Keefe’s co-conspirators, to the registration fraud allegedly committed by employees of the firm hired by the RNC to carry out voter registration in seven key swing states, to the actual apparent voter fraud of the GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and beyond, it was another year in which the Republican Party pretended there was a massive Democratic voter fraud epidemic in order to institute new polling place voter suppression laws, even while carrying out their own crime spree, which largely went ignored by the very same media covering the GOP attempts to enact polling place photo ID restrictions.

But it wasn’t only the GOP superstars named above who attempted to game the system. Some of their gullible followers, who were distracted and conned into buying into the pretend “Democratic voter fraud” panic, decided to take matters into the their own hands by attempting to double-vote, claiming they were simply “testing the system.”

Two such cases in two different states led to voter fraud felony arrests last November. One of the cases, in Nevada, has now been settled with a guilty plea. The other appears to still be pending in New Mexico against a man who claims he thought his job as a Republican precinct challenger was to challenge the system itself.

Guilty Plea in Nevada

Last week, Roxanne Rubin, a 56-year-old casino worker from Las Vegas, pled guilty to attempting to vote twice. She agreed to pay nearly $2,500 in restitution to the state, to take an “impulse control counseling class”, perform 100 hours of community service and otherwise stay out of trouble for six months.

If all goes well for her, the felony charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct conviction.

Rubin, a Republican who appears to watch too much Fox “News,” told FBI investigators after her arrest that she simply “wanted to make a point” about the need for polling place Photo ID restrictions by testing the system. She voted once in Henderson, NV during early voting, and then attempted to do so later that same day at another early voting site. When she did, she was told she had already voted. She denied that she had, claiming that the database was wrong.

It wasn’t. Rubin says she was stunned when she was arrested by the FBI some days later at the Riviera hotel-casino where she worked.

She was “willing to risk the penalty in order to expose what she perceived as a weakness in the voting process,” according to investigators, because she “was unhappy with the process; specifically in that her identification was not checked.”

“If Ms. Rubin was trying to demonstrate how easy it is to commit voter fraud, she clearly failed and proved just the opposite,” Nevada’s Democratic Sec. of State Ross Miller said after Rubin’s guilty plea last week.

Jeffrey Segal, the deputy state attorney general who prosecuted the case, said that he knew of no other voters arrested in Nevada or nationally on a similar charge during the 2012 election.

Segal must not be a very good investigator…

Felony Charge in New Mexico

In early December, in one of the same stories in which we covered Rubin’s arrest, we also covered the arrest of a New Mexico man — another Republican — who hadn’t been named at the time, but who also claimed to have been “testing” the system in order to prove how easy it was to double-vote in that state.

He too was wrong.

We now know the man was 40-year-old Marshall Fischer of Silver City. He too watches too much Fox “News.” He says he was drafted as a Republican poll challenger, but somehow came up with the notion that he was supposed to challenge the system itself.

Fischer is now facing a fourth-degree felony count of fraudulent and double-voting after he voted once at the Grant County Convention Center on Election Day before then attempting to vote once again at the National Guard Armory in Santa Clara.

When he gave his name in order to try and vote again after standing in line, he was told that he had already voted and would have to vote with a provisional ballot if he wanted to cast another ballot.

“I never intended to vote again and I did not say I wanted to vote again.” Fischer now claims. “I never touched the provisional ballot. It would be different if I took the ballot and tried to vote, but I didn’t do that. If I had intended on voting twice I would have done that.”

If true, it’s interesting that Fischer did, essentially, what Republican scam artist James O’Keefe’s compatriots were seen doing on videotape when attempting to prove they could commit voter fraud in New Hampshire last year during that state’s First-in-the-Nation primary.

In that case, O’Keefe’s co-conspirators, who were secretly videotaping themselves as they were hoping to show how they could receive ballots in other people’s names, didn’t actually ask for a ballot, or even touch it when it was offered to them (at least in most cases that O’Keefe bothered to release on video). Rather, they would say something to the poll workers like “is there a Joe Smith on the ballot?” After which, when they were offered a ballot, they would claim to have left their photo ID in the car — even though one is not needed to vote in NH — and subsequently leave the polling place.

However, the excuse that he did not touch the ballot may or may not work for Fischer. The Las Cruces Sun-News notes that according to New Mexico Statute 1-12-9, Conduct of election; fraudulent and double voting, “every person not entitled to vote who fraudulently votes, and every person who votes or offers to vote more than once at any one election, is guilty of a fourth-degree felony.”

Other than those two Republican double-voting cases, however, we’ll just have to wait for the promised report of Republican “voter fraud” fraudster organization True the Vote. As The BRAD BLOG detailed in early December, the group, which had offered dozens of fraudulent and misleading claims of “voter fraud” on their website (and still does), had also claimed to be “busily analyzing the mountain of data that came from all around the country about fraud and irregularities at the polls” during the 2012 election.

Their “report” on all that fraud would be forthcoming, their website promised then as it still does. And yet, it’s almost three full months after the 2012 election and there is still no report from the group on all the “fraud and irregularities at the polls” this year. Could it be because what little “voter fraud” there was this year was actually performed by their fellow Republicans? If we’re going by actual evidence — something that Republicans scammed by the GOP and Fox “News” claims of “voter fraud” may not be familiar with — the answer is likely “yes.”

‘Tea Party’ Brand Now A Liability To ‘Tea Party’…And Republicans

Originally posted at The Brad Blog

Palm Beach Post’s George Bennet wrote last week about how so-called “Tea Party” groups seem to be running away from the “Tea Party” name in places like Florida.

The South Florida Tea Party, for example — the one that helped launch the national career of Sen. Marco Rubio and hosted Donald Trump while he was initially pretending to think about running for president — is changing its name to the National Liberty Federation.

“As Tea Party groups go,” observes Steven Benen at MaddowBlog, “the South Florida Tea Party was one of the bigger and better-organized outfits.”

But it’s little wonder these folks are running from the name. Their popularity, and their name brand, is now plummeting along with the fortunes of the congressional Republican Party. As Bennet notes, even right-wing pollsters like Rasmussen are finding that support for the Tea Party movement is absolutely cratering.

Rasmussen, a favorite polling firm of conservatives, found in a survey this month that only 8 percent of voters identify themselves as Tea Party members, down from a high of 24 percent shortly after passage of the federal health care law in 2010. The poll found 30 percent of voters had a favorable view of the Tea Party and 49 percent had a negative view.An October Rasmussen poll found 44 percent of voters considered “Tea Party” a negative label, eclipsing “liberal” as the most potent negative adjective.

And, again, he’s the Republican pollster. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds, according to Benen, that attitudes about the Tea Party are “abysmal.” “Just 9% have a ‘very positive’ impression of the so-called movement — an all-time low,” he writes, “while 32% have a ‘very negative’ impression — an all-time high. All told, the Tea Party’s favorability rating is down to just 23%, which is even lower than the GOP’s support and that of the NRA.”

“If the ‘movement’ still exists,” Benen argues, “it’s gasping for air — and relevance.”

But the problems for the Republican Party itself are much deeper than simply their association with the tainted Tea Party. Benen explains, for example, that “After discovering that there aren’t any Republicans left in the center,” the Republican Main Street Partnership, a D.C. outfit promoting moderate GOP lawmakers and policies, “dropped the ‘R’ word and became simply the Main Street Partnership.”

Little wonder about that. either. Democratic strategist Karen Finney noted yesterday at The Hill [emphasis added]…

As the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll indicated, 49 percent of Americans view the GOP negatively, compared to only 26 percent positively; additionally, a plurality says it will blame the GOP if [debt ceiling] talks fail. According to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll, 47 percent of Americans blame congressional Republicans [more] for the difficulties of the “fiscal cliff” deal than they do President Obama (31 percent); only 30 percent of Republicans approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing, with 65 percent opposed, versus 59 percent of Democrats who approve of the job of congressional Democrats are doing, with 31 percent opposed.

And remember, that the 30 percent of Republicans who approve of the job congressional Republicans are doing is based on those who self-identify as Republicans. Many of those folks long ago left the party to become either “independents” and/or hardcore Tea Partiers. So those are really some abysmal numbers for the GOP.

So with Tea Party approval at an all-time low, and the Republican Party’s approval numbers in the toilet — even among Republicans — along with them, why would the GOP be dumb enough to continue allying itself with this “movement”? To paraphrase Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, they “got nowhere else to go!”

Thanks to the GOP co-opting the label of the legitimate Tea Party movement (the one that really was anti-establishment, anti-big government, pro-civil rights and anti-war, as begun by Ron Paul supporters as early as 2007 and rejected by establishment GOPers from the get-go) and replacing it with little more than a corporate, pro-Republican, money-raising racket which stood for little more than opposing anything and anybody with a “D” next to their name, they had no real principles to stand on, other than electing people who weren’t Democrats, as well as defeating anybody who dared even work with anybody who happened to be a Democrat.

The opportunistic Republican Party which — either out of fear of primary defeats or short-term self-delusion that any opposition, no matter how bereft of principle, was somehow good opposition — latched on to the moniker and the gullible Fox “News” groupies that came with it.

In the meantime, while they might otherwise have carved out some ground with some real differences with mainstream Democrats, as the Paul supporters did, the co-opted “Tea Party” moved ever further to deluded right, allowing the Democratic Party to suck up everything, and all of the “reasonable” positions, in “the middle.” (Which is why these developments aren’t great for real progressives either, by the way. With the Democratic Party, filling “the center” vacuum, they now have no real need to cater to their progressive base.) In turn, with a Democratic Party now owning the mainstream, Republicans find themselves grappling for a foothold with “nowhere else to go” but still farther to the right as their own, self-created, self-defeating feedback loop continues.

With the loss of the American mainstream to Democrats, and the partitioning of “red/blue” districts with GOP gerrymandering, the only really competitive elections left are now Republican primaries. They can be won with a minority of a minority, otherwise known as the “Tea Party,” the folks who actually bother to show up for primaries — no matter how unpopular that brand name has become.

In lieu of the emergence of a nationally appealing and “reasonable” Republican to change the balance of the game — and it is likely to change very quickly if and when that happens — all of this is likely to continue getting far worse for the GOP, and the country along with it, before any of it gets better.

Top 8 Dumbest Responses To The Mass Shooting in Newtown


Originally posted at Brad Blog

In no particular order of dumbness…

1) “20 schoolchildren stabbed in China on the same day proves nothing can be done to stop crazy people!”

Nope. Though it does prove that even without access to guns, crazy people may still try to kill people. But, unlike all of the 20 schoolchildren in Newton, CT, who were shot several times each in a matter of minutes with a legally purchased and registered semi-automatic rifle equipped with high-capacity magazines, none of the 20 kids stabbed in the China incident actually died. No wonder the NRA stooges stopped referring to that story within about 24 hours of the Newtown shootings, but it was “fun” while it lasted (and before the wingnuts bothered to read beyond the China story’s headline).

2) “More guns would have stopped it!”

Nope. Despite NRA Con-Man-in-Chief Wayne LaPierre’s embarrassing argument that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” armed guards didn’t stop the Columbine mass shooting or the Virginia Tech mass shooting (the worst in the nation’s shameful history of mass shootings) or even the assassination attempt on President Reagan. But, more to the point, this 2009 ABC News video just destroys the absurd notion that “more guns would have stopped it!”

3) “You just want to take away my guns!”

Nope. But we do, at the very least, agree with the vast majority of NRA members (if not their terrorist-enablingcon-men leadership) who strongly support new gun safety regulations, such as mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, bans on concealed-carry permits for violent misdemeanants and domestic abusers, gun safety training requirements for gun owners, and barring those on the “terror watchlist” from purchasing weapons, just to name a few. Why does the NRA oppose all of those things despite the overwhelming support of them by their own members? Because they don’t care about their members, the 2nd Amendment or gun safety, they care only about their real bosses: the U.S. arms industry. Period.

4) “More people die in automobiles, so you must want to ban them too!”

Nope (and we don’t want to “ban” all guns, either.) But we’d have no problem with severe safety regulations and oversight on the manufacture, purchase and use of guns, just as those in effect for the manufacture, purchase and use of automobiles. Seatbelt requirements don’t prevent everyone from dying in cars, but we still require they are built into every car and used by every driver. The result: the prevention of thousands of deaths and injuries each year. We also have serious licensing requirements for the use of cars, including proficiency tests before anybody is allowed to legally operate one on their own. We have universal speed limit laws, stop lights, and laws that bar drunk driving (which can be enforced before someone gets killed.) We also require that everyone purchase insurance before operating a motor vehicle. Yet few, if any (and certainly not the industry’s top promoter, the AAA), cry “Liberty! Freedom!” in response to all of those sensible safety regulations. And, it should be noted, all of those safety regulations are in place for a “tool” that is not designed to kill people, unlike semi-assault rifles and high-capacity magazines which, when used as designed, are meant to kill as many people as possible and as quickly as possible.

5) “Guns are just a ‘tool’! Mental illness is the real problem!”

Nope. There are insane people everywhere, but almost no developed countries with the insanely high rates of gun violence that are found in the U.S. Nonetheless, it’s clear that many people involved in violent gun crimes are mentally ill. So, what would you like to do about mental illness then? Spend more federal government money on health care? Sounds good. Require the “jackbooted thugs” of the federal government to create “lunatic panels” to judge who is and isn’t mentally equipped to operate a firearm before they are allowed to buy one? Would you like publicly available lists of who the Big Government believes to be insane? Or lists of which families have someone judged by the government to be mentally ill living in their households? You “Obamacare” opponents ought to love all of the above! Doesn’t sound intrusive at all!

Of course, this is just a new spin on the old “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” yarn which even folks on the right don’t actually believe. If they did, as Lee Fang recently pointed out, they wouldn’t be so upset about the pretend “Fast and Furious” scandal.

6) “If not mental illness, it’s videogames and Hollywood movies that are the problem!”

Nope. If that was the case, the gun violence rates would be just as high in places like Canada, Great Britain and everywhere else in the world where they enjoy the same videogames and Hollywood movies that we do here in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” But it’s darling that you want to protect the bastardized version of what you believe the 2nd Amendment says and what the founders created it for, even while not seeming to give a damn about undermining the 1st in the bargain.

7) “‘Gun Control’ is just another excuse to take away my ‘civil liberties’!”

Nope. Oh, and what “civil liberties”? Which ones? Where does the U.S. Constitution guarantee the “civil liberty” of the unlimited purchase and use of semi-automatic assault rifles, ammunition and high-capacity magazines? Even extreme right-wing Justice Antonin Scalia has no problem with the 1934 ban on machine guns. But, regarding that quaint “2nd Amendment Protects Us From Tyranny!” argument, how’d that work out in preventing the very real tyranny of the PATRIOT Act and all of the other civil liberties outrages that followed? Or, were you, like the NRA, one of the folks who didn’t seem to care about that type of very real government tyranny, as it swept across our nation, with little or no complaint from folks like you, over the past decade or so?

Of course, if the founders had hoped that guns would be used by the citizenry to rebel against the federal government, one wonders why they expressly barred treason in the Constitution. It almost seems as if the argument that the 2nd Amendment was meant to allow the people to rebel against the federal government was made up long after the fact in order to dishonestly justify unlimited gun ownership with no regulation whatsoever. And, of course, it was.

Any other really dumb responses to Newtown that we missed? Tell us in the comments section.

VIDEO: 2009 ABC News Experiment Demonstrates More Guns Unlikely to Stop Mass Shootings

[Update: During a disastrous post-Newtown press conference on Friday, exactly one week after the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, the NRA’s CEO and Executive Vice President (and chief liar) Wayne LaPierre said: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” More on that presser now here, but the following article, published prior to the NRA debacle, goes a long way towards pre-bunking LaPierre’s main contention.]

Originally posted at Brad Blog

There have been a lot of absurd claims by the folks scammed by the NRA racket into believing that nothing can be done to decrease gun violence following last week’s horrific mass shooting in Newtown, CT.

(Our personal favorite was the one that failed the quickest: The claim that the stabbing of 20 schoolchildren in China on the very same day as the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre proves that putting responsible limitations on gun and high-capacity magazine ownership won’t help stop these types of tragedies. The reason that response failed so quickly? The wingnuts using it apparently failed to read the actual story to learn that none of the children were actually killed in that attack.)

The excuse for taking no action in the wake of Newtown that has had the longest shelf life to date seems to be the notion that if only someone in the school — or in the movie theater, or in the shopping mall, or in the Sikh temple, etc. — had been armed, the tragedy would have been averted.

BRAD BLOG commenter “JPack80” recently proffered the same silly notion:

If more law abiding responsible people had concealed carry permits and were able and willing to use their firearms when necessary, how many of you anti-gun nuts really believe he would have gotten off more than one or two shots in a school?

Setting aside his obvious strawman — folks like us are no more “anti-gun nuts” than the vast majority of NRA members (if not their con-man leadership) who agree we should have increased gun safety regulations — JPack80’s thin argument, and that of the millions of other wingnuts making the same weak case, is quickly debunked by a few fairly easy to understand points. (There are many more, but we’ll stick to two for the moment, since some folks making this case may have trouble counting higher than that.)

First, how many shots did the Fort Hood shooter get off when he opened fire — killing 13 and wounding 29 others — in the middle of a U.S. Army base, filled with people carrying loaded weapons and many more with easy access to them? (Answer: About 200 rounds, which also included shootouts with two armed officers, the first of which was hit three times before she went down. But, see update below for additional thoughts on this.)

It is also true that both Columbine and Virginia Tech had armed security officers on campus, as little good as that did anybody, during the mass shootings there. Let’s also not forget the trained New York City police who attempted to stop a gunman at the Empire State Building over the summer. They ended up shooting nine (9) innocent bystanders in the bargain.

And, during Friday’s ridiculous news conference by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, where he called for “a police officer in every single school” because “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the Brady Campaign’s Sarah Brady, wife of Ronald Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, who was almost killed during the 1981 assassination attempt on the president, took to Twitter to respond to LaPierre’s point by noting: “Wayne, a gun in the hands of Secret Service didn’t stop Hinkley from wounding Pres. Reagan and 3 others including my husband.” Our coverage of that bizarre presser now here…]

But the more damning response to the foolish point that “more people with guns are the best way to stop mass shootings” is found in this 2009 ABC video showing how people with guns, and training, actually react when confronted by something like a sudden, surprise shooting. Watch the results of the experiment — using some folks with relatively little gun training as well as some who are trained marksmen — to see how well that whole “if only someone was armed during these shootings they could have stopped the shooter!” argument holds up…




So, what’s your next, dumb, non-solution for these problems, wingnuts?


* * *

UPDATE: Several commenters written to take issue with our description of the Fort Hood shootings having taken place “in the middle of a U.S. Army base, filled with people carrying loaded weapons and many more with easy access to them.”

They have noted that personnel on base, other than security officers, are not allowed to carry loaded weapons. Their point seems to be, apparently, that it would be easier for an elementary school principal to hear about a shooting on campus, run to her office (if she happened to be there that day), unlock her weapon, retrieve it, and respond to a mass shooting with at least as much speed and effectiveness as U.S. Army personnel were able to radio or call for military police to respond at the scene of the Fort Hood shootings where, by the way, the first armed officer to arrive was felled after being hit by the assailant three times. The second armed respondent, a trained member of the Dept. of Army Civilian Police, was finally able to take down the shooter and take him into custody.

We believe our original point still stands, and that a secured U.S. Army base is ultimately as capable of responding, if not more so, to such a shooting — or in the case of Fort Hood, not capable of responding to it quickly enough to prevent mass casualties — as an elementary school principal, or someone in a darkened, tear gas-filled, sold-out movie theater would be. But we’re happy to note that there are those who, apparently, see it differently somehow.

We’ve also updated the article above to cite the incidents where armed security officers similarly failed to prevent the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan, the mass shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, and to note the nine innocent bystanders randomly shot by NYC police officers during their attempt to apprehend a gunman at the Empire State building in the summer of 2012.