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Editor, The Konformist
Voting Machine Owner Committed To Give Votes To Bush
By Julie Carr Smyth
Cleveland Plain Dealer Bureau
Columbus - The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in
Ohio told Republicans in a recent fund-raising letter that he is:
"committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the
president next year."
The Aug. 14 letter from Walden O'Dell, chief executive of Diebold
Inc. - who has become active in the re-election effort of President
Bush - prompted Democrats this week to question the propriety of
allowing O'Dell's company to calculate votes in the 2004 presidential
O'Dell attended a strategy pow-wow with wealthy Bush benefactors -
known as Rangers and Pioneers - at the president's Crawford, Texas,
ranch earlier this month. The next week, he penned invitations to a
$1,000-a-plate fund-raiser to benefit the Ohio Republican Party's
federal campaign fund - partially benefiting Bush - at his mansion in
the Columbus suburb of Upper Arlington.
The letter went out the day before Ohio Secretary of State Ken
Blackwell, also a Republican, was set to qualify Diebold as one of
three firms eligible to sell upgraded electronic voting machines to
Ohio counties in time for the 2004 election.
Blackwell's announcement is still in limbo because of a court
challenge over the fairness of the selection process by a
disqualified bidder, Sequoia Voting Systems.
In his invitation letter, O'Dell asked guests to consider donating or
raising up to $10,000 each for the federal account that the state GOP
will use to help Bush and other federal candidates - money that
legislative Democratic leaders charged could come back to benefit
They urged Blackwell to remove Diebold from the field of voting-
machine companies eligible to sell to Ohio counties.
This is the second such request in as many months. State Sen. Jeff
Jacobson, a Dayton-area Republican, asked Blackwell in July to
disqualify Diebold after security concerns arose over its equipment.
"Ordinary Ohioans may infer that Blackwell's office is looking past
Diebold's security issues because its CEO is seeking $10,000
donations for Blackwell's party - donations that could be made with
statewide elected officials right there in the same room," said
Diebold spokeswoman Michelle Griggy said O'Dell - who was unavailable
to comment personally - has held fund-raisers in his home for many
causes, including the Columbus Zoo, Op era Columbus, Catholic Social
Services and Ohio State University.
Ohio GOP spokesman Jason Mauk said the party approached O'Dell about
hosting the event at his home, the historic Cotswold Manor, and not
the other way around. Mauk said that under federal campaign finance
rules, the party cannot use any money from its federal account for
state- level candidates.
"To think that Diebold is somehow tainted because they have a couple
folks on their board who support the president is just unfair," Mauk
Griggy said in an e-mail statement that Diebold could not comment on
the political contributions of individual company employees.
Blackwell said Diebold is not the only company with political
connections - noting that lobbyists for voting-machine makers read
like a who's who of Columbus' powerful and politically connected.
"Let me put it to you this way: If there was one person uniquely
involved in the political process, that might be troubling," he
said. "But there's no one that hasn't used every legitimate avenue
and bit of leverage that they could legally use to get their product
looked at. Believe me, if there is a political lever to be pulled,
all of them have pulled it."
Blackwell said he stands by the process used for selecting voting
machine vendors as fair, thorough and impartial.
As of yesterday, however, that determination lay with Ohio Court of
Claims Judge Fred Shoemaker.
He heard closing arguments yesterday over whether Sequoia was
unfairly eliminated by Blackwell midway through the final phase of
negotiations. Shoemaker extended a temporary restraining order in the
case for 14 days, but said he hopes to issue his opinion sooner than
Harrison Ford blasts US Iraq policy
August 27, 2003
At a safe distance from his homeland, veteran Hollywood actor
Harrison Ford launched a broadside at US policy on Iraq, his
country's gun laws - and the film industry for producing "video
games" for teenagers.
"I'm very disturbed about the direction American foreign policy is
going," said Ford, with US post-war casualties having exceeded those
during the actual conflict.
"I think something needs to be done to help alleviate the conditions
which have created a disenfranchised and angry faction in the Middle
"I don't think military intervention is the correct solution. I
regret what we as a country have done so far," said Chicago-born
The veteran star is in Madrid to promote his latest release Hollywood
Homicide, a story of two moonlighting Los Angeles policemen, and
receive a commemorative pin from Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid,
city rivals of Real, the club having tied up a sponsorship agreement
with Colombia films.
Twice-married Ford, who sidestepped questions about his relationship
with actress Calista Flockhart, also slammed the film industry for in
his view relying on hi-tech wizardry at the expense of thrilling
plots - though he himself was involved in the early days of the trend
with Star Wars in the 1970s.
"I think American films right now are suffering from an excess of
scale. Lots of movies we're seeing now are more akin to video games
than stories about human life and relationships," said Ford, while
noting "12- to 20-year-olds are maybe the largest economic force in
the US movie business".
Asked if his feelings were linked to his veteran status and a longing
for the 'good old days', Ford countered: "I'm not a very nostalgic
person - but I enjoy a good story".
He admitted that many recent releases, without specifying any in
particular, were "not my cup of tea".
"It seems everybody is only going for the big hit, for the most
return," said Ford.
However, he used the opportunity to announce he will shortly be back
in a big hit of his own in revealing that Indiana Jones IV is now
scheduled to hit screens in 2005 - despite reports of problems with
"There is a script in preparation for Indiana Jones IV. It's come a
long way. if we can get to be happy with the progress of the script
we'll start shooting in the summer of 2004.
"I'm delighted to get back to that character and work with (director)
Steven Spielberg again. I'm delighted to revisit Indiana Jones."
Although on screen Ford has starred in many action-packed, gun-toting
thrillers - his Hollywood Homicide alongside 25-year-old Josh
Hartnett is, in fact, more designed as a comedy - Ford abhors liberal
US gun laws.
"I'm very troubled by the proliferation of arms, at the fact so many
people in the United States carry guns. It obviously contributes
greatly to the crime problems we have. I'm sure gun laws should be
strengthened in the United States. I just don't know the correct
Citing 'National Emergency', Bush Limits Pay Increases For Many
By John King
CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- Citing the "national emergency" created by
the September 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush Wednesday exercised
his authority to limit the pay increase for many federal workers next
January to 2 percent -- well below the 15 percent some employees
would have been entitled to receive.
The president exercised the same authority last year, as have other
presidents in the past. In this case, Bush said the country could not
afford to give civilian federal employees who are covered by what is
known as the General Schedule the full raises they would get had he
not invoked his authority.
Those raises would have included a 2.7 percent increase to cover
inflation as set by the government's Employment Cost Index.
Some federal employees also are eligible for -- but not guaranteed --
locality pay increases that are determined based on inflation and
other factors, including housing costs. In some cases, the raises for
employees covered by the locality system could have been as high as
In a letter to congressional leaders, the president said he was
invoking his authority to implement an alternative pay plan if he
came to the conclusion that allowing the full raises to go into
effect would be inappropriate due to "national emergency or serious
economic conditions affecting the general welfare."
Explaining his decision to limit raises to a total of 2 percent, Bush
said granting the full increases would "interfere with our nation's
ability to pursue the war on terrorism."
He said allowing the maximum raises to take effect would cost the
Treasury Department about $13 billion in fiscal year 2004 -- $11
billion more than his call for 2 percent overall raises.
"Such cost increases would threaten our efforts against terrorism or
force deep cuts in discretionary spending or federal employment to
stay within the budget," the president's letter said. "Neither
outcome is acceptable."
Los Angeles Daily News
Employees, residents defraud county for as much as $1 billion a year
By Troy Anderson
Sunday, August 24, 2003 - Los Angeles County government loses huge
sums of money -- perhaps as much as $1 billion a year, according to
one statistical model -- because of fraud, waste and corruption, and
officials concede they are making scant progress against the problem.
As massive budget cuts this year forced the county to release jail
inmates early and close hospitals and health clinics, critics say the
county could have avoided the deepest cuts by cracking down on fraud
which ranges from welfare cheaters to county employees running
private businesses or working a second job during office hours.
"It sounds to me like they are just scratching the surface, given the
size of the ($16.7 billion) county budget," said Jon Coupal,
president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. "I think it's
far more widespread than people realize."
The county's 189 welfare fraud investigators detect between $14
million to $19 million a year in overpayments and fraud.
The county also has nine "fraud cops" who catch some of the county's
85,000 employees and county contractors costing $3 million to $4
million a year through various forms of fraud and theft -- from
timecard forgery, kickbacks and taking bribes to stealing county
funds and computers, nepotism and employees who drive county vehicles
At the same time, the District Attorney's workers' compensation fraud
division, with 14 prosecutors and investigators, collected $2.1
million in restitution last year and arrested six county employees.
Marion Romeis, chief investigator in the Auditor-Controller's special
investigation office, said the $3 million to $4 million a year in
fraud identified by her unit does not include "substantial" losses
resulting from lost productivity, including serious time abuse,
employees viewing pornography or gambling on the Internet and other
abuses of county work hours and equipment.
"When you look at nationwide figures, white-collar crime involves
hundreds of billions of dollars," Romeis said. "Southern California
is the white-collar crime capital of the world, and there is no
reason to assume county government is any different than the private
Based on a survey last year of 663 certified fraud examiners in
business and government, the
Austin, Texas-based Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
estimated that 6 percent of the nation's revenues were lost due to
occupational fraud and abuse.
John Warren, associate general counsel of the association, said that,
based on the county's $16.7 billion budget, it was reasonable to
assume the county loses $1 billion a year to fraud, waste and similar
"I think it's fair to draw that conclusion," Warren said. "This is
just an opinion of fraud examiners. But their opinion does carry
weight because they are experts in fraud detection. I would say it's
safe to assume if (county officials) are catching $3 (million) to $4
million a year in fraud, there is a significantly larger amount that
they are not catching."
The association has 28,000 members, including certified fraud
examiners, auditors, accountants, investigators, lawyers and loss-
County Auditor-Controller Tyler McCauley said his 400-plus employees,
including 75 auditors, are not able to detect all the abuse and waste
of county funds by contractors and employees.
"A billion dollars appeared to me to be a high estimate," McCauley
said. "However, we are aware, based on statistics, that the incidence
of fraud and abuse is larger than we are able to identify, and we're
doing our best effort through our hot line and other means to keep it
down. ... We do know that we are not catching it all."
The California Taxpayers Association recently reviewed published
articles and government audits, and the group's president said that
the review revealed $10 billion in waste, fraud, questionable
spending and contract overruns in schools and local and state
government agencies statewide.
CTA chief Larry McCarthy said the county should probably have more
than nine fraud investigators.
"Los Angeles County and other agencies are distinguishing themselves
with high levels of fraud and misspending," McCarthy said. "The
county and other public agencies would do well to strategically focus
on stopping this assault on taxpayers.
"Sound financial management demands that the county work to stop the
rip-off before it takes place. Managers must tighten up the processes
and improve financial management so that tax dollars are used
efficiently to fund essential services. Finding the fraud after it
happens is a fall-back objective after failing to get the dollars
where they are intended and needed."
Luther Evans, director of the Welfare Fraud Prevention and
Investigations Section at the county Department of Public Social
Services, said his 189 investigators detected about $15 million in
welfare and food-stamp overpayments in the fiscal year that ended
June 30, down from $19.3 million in the previous year.
Romeis' team of nine "fraud cops" opened 1,089 investigations since
2000 based on tips to the county's fraud hot line -- (800) 544-6861 --
or referrals from county departments.
"It's anything you can think of -- improper promotions, misuse of
equipment, computer thefts, contractor overbillings and theft,
copyright violations and identity theft," Romeis said.
Still, only seven employees were sentenced to jail or prison and six
placed on probation since 2000. In addition, 37 employees were
dismissed, 22 resigned, 24 were suspended, 8 transferred, 11
reprimanded or given written warnings and 34 were counseled.
Romeis said a half-dozen cases involving county employees and
contractors were recently referred for prosecution.
"Since its inception, we have detected millions of dollars in
overpayments in welfare and other types of fraud," said Supervisor
Michael D. Antonovich, who sponsored the motion creating the hot
line. "When you consider the large number of employees we have and
the total number that have been exposed, it's a small element that
"I would say that's a credit to our work force, but we need to do a
better analysis of those who were apprehended to ensure our hiring
practices only get the best employees who are honest, with integrity
and good character."
Troy Anderson can be reached at (213) 974-8985 and
The Great Oil Gouge -
Burning Up That Tax Rebate
By David Lindorff
Remember that $400 family credit that you got from the IRS (assuming
you weren't one of those 8 million poor families that the Republicans
and the president decided didn't deserve a tax rebate)?
Well, if your family has the typical two cars and two drivers, and
you each drive the typical 15,000 miles a year and get the typical 20
miles per gallon, that windfall will be more than eaten up by New
Years by what might be called the Bush/Cheney oil price surcharge,
which has seen gas prices soar in recent weeks to the high they
reached last March on the eve of the war against Iraq. And that's not
counting the even more additional money you'll be forking over for
heating oil this winter, which for a typical home in the Northeast or
Midwest, could be $450-500 (not to mention your higher electric
bills, since a lot of U.S. electricity is generated by oil-fired
plants, besides which coal and natural gas prices rise in tandem with
Think back a bit to when oil prices were surging last March. The oil
industry at the time blamed those record high prices on the unusually
cold winter, which had depleted crude oil reserves, and on concern
over threats to the Middle Eastern oil supply as a result of the
coming war--concerns which caused oil traders to bid up the per-
barrel price of crude oil.
Of course, the war never did produce any delays in Middle Eastern oil
deliveries, and in fact, some Iraqi oil is now being added to the
world market, which should be bringing prices down, not up. And there
certainly hasn't been any unusual demand placed upon supplies.
So why the record increase, which the Lundberg Survey says over the
past two weeks has been the largest price hike on record since the
outfit began keeping records 50 years ago? According to the oil
industry, the problem this time was temporary refinery shutdowns
caused by the East Coast blackout, and by a break in a pipeline in
Does anyone really believe this malarky? The blackout lasted a couple
of days, and was not nationwide. Indeed, it was in an area--the
Northeast--not particularly known as a center of oil drilling and
refining. There was no blackout in California, or in Texas, or even
in the Southeast--all areas with far more refinery activity. And as
for that pipeline in Arizona, it is not that crucial to U.S. oil
supplies except in Arizona and New Mexico.
What's really going on here is collusive price gouging by an industry
with a history of such behavior, and one that in this current
political environment has become almost synonymous with the national
In recent years, the number of oil firms in the country, and the
world, has been dramatically reduced, with the mergers of Exxon and
Mobil, of Amoco and Arco and British Petroleum, and of Texaco and
Chevron. That means a lot fewer companies competing.
In addition, the oil industry long ago learned how to collude on
pricing without having to technically violate the anti-trust laws by
sitting together in a single room or chatting on a single phone hook-
up. Because these companies share refineries, share tank farm storage
facilities, and share pipelines, it's easy for each company to know
all the details of its "competitors'" production plans, reserves,
distribution and pricing. There are few if any secrets among them.
That's about all you need to have collusion in an industry where the
main product is a commodity, priced the same the world over. And
collusion clearly works far better in this industry's interest than
Everyone has seen how collusion works at the retail level. In my own
community, I have three gas stations all within a block of each other-
-an Exxon station, a Sunoco station and a Texaco station. Every time
one garage raises its price by a penny, the other two follow suit
with a speed that makes your head spin. Rarely are any of them out of
line by more than a penny.
The other thing you've probably noticed is that whenever some
incident happens in the news that might logically be construed as
crimping oil production or delivery--say a pipeline break or a
blackout--prices at the retail pumps jump.
Yet the gas in the tanks underground was put there days ago, and was
refined weeks, or even months ago.
Notice what happens when the pipeline gets fixed or the lights come
back on though.
Did the pump price drop right back down?
No. That takes weeks, if it happens at all.
That is not the behavior of a competitive market.
And at the producer level, the situation is even more corrupt and non-
We Americans, who live and die by the automobile and by the oil that
fuels it, are quick to condemn the slightest increase in our taxes
(and to praise any politician who reduces our tax bill by even a tiny
amount). Yet so indoctrinated are we with "free market" ideology,
that we accept without a word of protest any increase in our fuel
prices as a natural disaster over which we have no power or say.
Not that this Administration, whose key members almost all hail from
the oil patch, would ever order an anti-trust investigation of the
oil industry, even if we did start rebelling.
- Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into
the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff's
stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html