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Voting With Eyes Wide Open

It was not until the night of the first presidential debate that I fully understood the degree to which these absurd chest thumping, facts optional charades of democracy have been corrupted.  It frankly never occurred to me that the commission that runs the debates was a private entity.  But as Amy Goodman reported that evening on Democracy Now, they are orchestrated by a “commission” that in reality is a small group of lawyers, corporations and lobbyists with very vested interests. As Lee Fang writes in The Nation, the Democratic co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, Mike McCurry, is,

…a former White House press secretary for President Clinton, works as a Partner at Public Strategies Washington, a Beltway lobbying firm.

McCurry doesn’t disclose all of his clients, but his website lists a number of corporations, including Bain Capital, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Lockheed Martin Corporation, the US Chamber of Commerce and Anheuser-Busch…McCurry’s company is also currently being paid over $132,026 to lobby for the Mexican government on issues relating to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations. Wonder why none of the debates have covered the TPP—which could have huge implications for the economy?

Frank Fahrenkopf Jr, the Republican co-chair, is the head of a lobbying coalition of major casinos and related gambling industries. Fahrenkopf—who was paid $1,920,561 in 2010, according to IRS records—represents major firms like Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts International, Morgan Stanley, KPMG and Goldman Sachs.

The light begins to dawn.

There is no transparency in how the debates are structured. The format of the debates is agreed to by the candidates in secret memorandums that are so absurd that the one for this year’s vice-presidential debate specified that Vice President Biden could not address Paul Ryan as “Congressman Ryan”.  Really.

But what is even worse is that it is all but given that third party and independent candidates will not be allowed to speak at these forums.  While it is unfortunate that she waited until the last debate to do so, Green Party candidate Jill Stein filed a lawsuit challenging her exclusion from the debates and we can only hope that this leads to a thorough examination of the blatant exclusion of important voices in the political discussion.  Serious candidates such as Stein deserve to be heard and it is to our detriment as a country that we are refused that opportunity.  As the lawsuit points out,

Due to the fact that Dr. Stein is on the ballot in all of the largest states in the country and nearly all of the mid-size states, her name will appear on 85% or more of all ballots cast. As such, 85% or more of the American populace is currently eligible to vote for Dr. Stein in the upcoming Presidential election…

…Dr. Stein has reached a level of support among the American populace such that her campaign has qualified to receive matching funds from the federal government to seek the Presidency…

…Further, and most decisively, due to the cumulative allocation of Electoral College votes designated to those states in which Dr. Stein is on the ballot,[1] she has a “mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2012 general election”, a current prerequisite to participate in the Presidential debates under the current system.  [See Exhibit A: Commission on Presidential Debates 2012 Candidate Selection Criteria: Evidence of Ballot Access]…

…On October 16th, 2012, less than one week ago, the United States Presidential Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, and her Vice-Presidential running mate, Ms. Cheri Honkala, were arrested for being on the grounds of the site of the Presidential debate which was scheduled to take place approximately seven hours later…

Dr. Stein arrived on the grounds of Hofstra University at approximately 2:00pm in order to speak with defendant Commission for Presidential Debates to request that she and other “third party” candidates be allowed to participate in that evening’s Presidential debate. Fifteen minutes after making that request to a representative of defendant Commission, Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala were approached by local police and the Secret Service, at which time they were handcuffed, taken to a remote detention facility/wharehouse/ especially set up to house “protestors”, where they were forced to remain for over eight hours while tightly handcuffed to metal chairs until such time as the debate between the only two candidates “invited” to participate in the debate was over…

When Dr. Stein and Ms. Honkala were finally “un-hancuffed” from the metal chairs and released, they were sent out into the cold night in a remote location with no notice to their lawyers or staff of their release…

Dr. Stein’s comments concerning her arrest, handcuffing, and incarceration are, in essence, the basis for this injunction. Upon her release, Dr. Stein stated: “It was painful but symbolic to be handcuffed for all those hours, because that’s what the Commission on Presidential Debates has essentially done to American democracy.”

…On October 3, 1988, the League of Women Voters withdrew its sponsorship of the Presidential debates for the very reason articulated by Dr. Stein almost a quarter of a century later. As reason for its withdrawal, the head of the League stated as follows: “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter…The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people.”

Unfortunately, we are indeed being hoodwinked, or to be a tad less polite, lied to and sold a bunch of bunkum.  It is beyond understanding how we could have made it through four debates without any discussion of climate change which Dr. Stein would most assuredly have addressed, including the dangers of nuclear energy and the sham that is “clean coal” and it is a sure bet that she would have challenged both Romney and Obama on their stands on the use of drones and insisted on discussing the role of big banks in the foreclosure crisis and on and on.

That Dr. Stein was excluded speaks to the mockery of democracy that our two party system has become.  Yes of course Democrats want to exclude her because they rightly fear she will draw votes from Obama, but right leaning candidates have been excluded by this private commission as well and the real truth is that neither party dares let us lay bare the corporate purse strings that dictate their positions.  George Farrah has detailed the story of the debate commission in his book, “No Debate”.  It’s worth a read.

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But the exclusion of legitimate political contenders is only part of the electoral nightmare.  This year we are facing highly orchestrated well funded efforts to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters.  And we are once again facing the counting of our votes by machines that have been proven time and time again to be vulnerable to hackers and manipulation.  The problems with electronic voting machines have been known since the 2000 election and there have been problems with them in every election since and yet our politicians stupifyingly refuse to mandate a verifiable paper trail.

In recent days, mainstream media pundits like NBC’s Chuck Todd have said the idea of electronic voter fraud is a conspiracy theory.  But it isn’t.  As people like Brad Friedman, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman have painstakingly documented, it is entirely possible. And it is very scary that the votes cast on these machines are tallied by private corporations run by strong Republican allies.  That the Romney family has investments in these companies is an arrogance so supreme that it should erase any doubt as to the corruptability of these machines.

Not so many years ago, my grandparents, Ida and Herbert Besser volunteered to work at the polls every election day.  And when the votes were finally cast and the polling places closed, the votes were counted by government officials and citizens, not by machines and corporations.  Yes there was always corruption, but the level of fraud that is possible now would have boggled Ida and Herb’s minds.

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Which leads me to this.  Yes I will vote for Barack Obama, but I am tired up the wazoo with being confronted with having to chose between the lesser of two evils.  Yes, Obama has done some excellent things when it comes to women’s rights, an issue dear to my heart.  But make no mistake, nevermind his Nobel Peace Prize to the contrary, this is a war president, not a peace president.  And his lack of leadership on environmental issues can only be explained by looking at the huge political donations that he receives from energy companies.  And there is no doubt that banking and other large corporate contributions were significant factors in shaping his economic policies.  That is not the kind of leadership we need, but there is little doubt that a Romney presidency would be far worse.

Regardless of what happens election day, the American people are the losers.  And before another 4 years go by, we need to bring an end to the horror that Citizens United has brought.  We need to get rid of the antiquated electoral college system and we need to demand a verifiable vote count and we need to reclaim the debates and allow candidates outside the two party system to be heard.

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