Maybe you're a cheat, maybe you're a liar, maybe you have lost your mind ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I've got a new Think Again column here, called "Campaign 2008: The 'Story' vs. the Stories," about election coverage.

This is a really useful story from today's Times about the Republican campaign on "voter fraud." Voter fraud is one of those issues where it is almost impossible to have a sensible conversation about the topic. The problem is one of perspective. Nobody's in favor of voter fraud. Everybody thinks it should be rooted out. The question is, at what cost? How significant is the problem actually, and what are the trade-offs involved in trying to reduce it? I was on a Creative Coalition panel a couple of years ago with John Fund, and he had just written a whole book on the problem. People in the audience were complaining that it was just a right-wing stalking horse to keep black people from voting in Florida and Ohio and the like, and I kept my mouth shut because I kind of like Fund, and I had no data upon which to rely and he did.

Well, it turns out it's not really a problem. It is, in fact, what we suspected: a means of Republican election theft.

Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year.

Most of those charged have been Democrats, voting records show. Many of those charged by the Justice Department appear to have mistakenly filled out registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, a review of court records and interviews with prosecutors and defense lawyers show.

[...]

Previously, charges were generally brought just against conspiracies to corrupt the election process, not against individual offenders, Craig Donsanto, head of the elections crimes branch, told a panel investigating voter fraud last year. For deterrence, Mr. Donsanto said, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales authorized prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against individuals.

Some of those cases have baffled federal judges.

"I find this whole prosecution mysterious," Judge Diane P. Wood of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, said at a hearing in Ms. Prude's case. "I don't know whether the Eastern District of Wisconsin goes after every felon who accidentally votes. It is not like she voted five times. She cast one vote."

The Justice Department stand is backed by Republican Party and White House officials, including Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser. The White House has acknowledged that he relayed Republican complaints to President Bush and the Justice Department that some prosecutors were not attacking voter fraud vigorously. In speeches, Mr. Rove often mentions fraud accusations and warns of tainted elections.

Another lesson of this episode is that you really cannot go wrong in assuming the worst about any and all Bush administration behavior when it comes to core players. If there is an ideological, moral, legal line they will not cross in pursuit of their own power, I've yet to discover it. Sadly, the same is true of many of its defenders.

Speaking of Jews, and we always are, they invented punk, and they like to fight with one another in a most vociferous fashion. (And speaking of Dershowitz, he once accused me of admitting to him that "I lied," even though he was making up the quote and our conversation took place as I held a tape recorder in his face. Made pretty good copy at the gossip columns in its day ...)

From TomDispatch:

Like a giant piece in an intricate, if ugly, jigsaw puzzle, the aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, and its strike group are now sailing toward the Persian Gulf. On arrival, they will join the strike groups of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS John C. Stennis patrolling the region, as startling an example of "gunship diplomacy" as we've seen in our lifetimes. I think it's a fair guess that, like most Americans, few, if any, of the Nimitz strike group's 6,000 sailors and Marines, who may become part of a massive Bush administration air assault on Iranian nuclear and other facilities, know a lot about modern Iranian history. Most may be unaware of the CIA/British coup d'etat in Iran, in 1953, that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, ushering in the long, contentious relationship between the two countries -- with all the "unintended consequences" that may end, whether through miscalculation or cold calculation, in a devastating war.

Not making historical connections is a great American talent. As it happens, it's not an Iranian one. When the covert "operations" that occur happen at your expense, you tend to remember -- for a long, long time. Fortunately, Behzad Yaghmaian, author of Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West, has written a remarkable memoir, posted at Tomdispatch.com, of a life lived in, and between, two worlds, Iranian and American.

Born just after the 1953 coup, he has seen the ensuing half-century-plus from both Iran and the United States (where he is now a citizen). He tells of a childhood in an Iran dominated by the U.S.-backed Shah's brutal American-trained secret police and of the students who protested the Shah's rule; of college friends who disappeared from his classrooms in an atmosphere of silence; of how the Khomeini revolution of 1979 that overthrew the Shah packed his jails and torture chambers with those same protestors (now called "agents of America"); of life for an Iranian in an America whose president called Iranians "barbarians" and in which fellow students at an American university could hang a banner reading, "Save Oil, Burn Iranians."

He tells of a night in an Iranian prison in 1999, of his flight from the Islamic Republic just ahead of the security forces, and of his fears today that the Bush administration may bomb Iran, that his mother's neighborhood might be reduced to rubble, that another 50 years of bitterness might ensue.

Alter-review:

I saw Lily Allen at Irving Plaza last night, which, as of last night, was renamed "The Fillmore at Irving Plaza." (It's not exactly the Fillmore, by the way. I'm listening to the Dead's February 1969 Fillmore East show right now, featuring, as Sal notes, the worst version of "Hey Jude" evah, and that's a pretty different place -- across town for one thing, but more than that.) Anyway, I've been having a lot of trouble liking new singers and bands, try as I might, but lately, there've been a bunch of chick singers that, happily, are breaking through. My favorite is Amy Winehouse, whom Sal reviewed earlier this week. My next fave is this Lilly Allen woman, who, like Winehouse, is a really bad role model but a lot of fun. Her music is catchy, original, smart, and ironic, and feminist in a post-feminist way. Check her out here. She was fun last night, cute and in-command at the same time. But what was really fun was seeing all these young women relating to her, and her relating back, and people discovering a voice for their generation. Allen is on the cusp of something big, and it will be fun to see if, like Winehouse, she improves with age. I also like this woman named Gina Villalobos, here, who's got a kind of Lucinda Williams thing going. And Sal likes Mary Weiss.

Correspondence Corner

Name: jordanweltman
Hometown: seattle

Eric,

You are spot on with regard to McCain. I have been absolutely certain for years that he had cut a deal with Bush. How could he take the crap that Bush dealt out in the 2000 campaign, write it off as no big deal and "spend the next seven years -- literally hugging and kissing the guy" unless there were a quid pro quo. My conviction was that he had assurances that if he sold his soul, Bush would support him in 2008. The Republican Party, being good at taking orders, would fall in line with Bush's anointed candidate just as they fell in line with an incompetent non-entity in 2000. So now, with McCain imploding, I am left to ponder. Has Bush reneged on his deal? Could McCain have acted the toady all these years, even to the point of "going so far as to sign onto a torture regime he knows to be illegal," without ever having the bargain with the devil that I have been convinced has been in place since 2001? For McCain's sake, I hope it's the former, because if not, I have lost whatever tiny shred of respect I still had for the man. To take what he took in the 2000 campaign, and be Bush's number one supporter ever since, without the existence of some back room deal, is unbelievable.

Name: Leon
Hometown: Wallington, NJ

When are we going to see some other radio and TV commentators like Rush Limbaugh and his other fellow conservative commentators face suspensions or removal for similar comments as Don Imus' sexist and racist ones?

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric,

In the process of reading a compilation of James Madison's writings, I came across a veto he issued in 1811.

Congress had passed a bill allowing for the incorporation of an Episcopal church in Alexandria (at that time in the District of Columbia). As one might imagine, Madison quickly put paid to the idea that such a bill could be constitutional -- breaking the church's rules would have also been a violation of local civil law. Probably only Dominion Christians would in this day and age believe such a bill should be allowed to stand.

What struck me was his second reason for vetoing the bill:

"Because the Bill vests in the said incorporated Church, an authority to provide for the support of the poor, and the education of poor children of the same; an authority, which being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a [sic] precident for giving to religious Societies as such, a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty."

Wow. The "father of the Constitution" seems to have been pretty clear on how thorough the separation of Church and State was to be. Can any reader identify how we got from there, where one who knew better than anyone else what the Constitution was to mean, to the point where the ilk of Scalia, Thomas, et.al. (ad nauseam!) can hold that they know better?

Whatever the history of SCOTUS decisions since then on this matter, we would need to simply hold them to have been incorrect if they lead to The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

P.S. The book is "James Madison, Writings" edited by Rakove and published by The Library of America.

Name: Mark Shotzberger
Hometown: Dover, De

Why does Bush need a "War Czar?" If he, as he claims, is a War President and A Decider, then he would not need a "War Czar?"

I feel he's looking for some "Political Cover" to get out of Iraq before he and his party are handed their respective behinds in the next election. By placing the decision to withdraw from Iraq on a "Czar", he can save face by not having to crawl to the Joint Chiefs asking for help therefore having to admit he/they were wrong and screwed up the entire operation from Day 1.

Then the GOP and Bushies can point the finger at "the Czar" for drawing down the troop level. Which also might explain why no sane Military Person will take the job.

Besides, if the Military Command System was working as it was designed to, a "Czar" would not be needed at all. Of course if the Military Command System was working as it was supposed to, we would have either not gone in at all, or at least done the job with the proper troop levels and planning.

Name: Richard
Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Thanks for the link re: Quote of the day from Rick Warren.

I am a Southern Baptist who attends church weekly. I generally vote Democrat. Gasp! Thank goodness someone is finally questioning whether the likes of Pat Robertson and James Dobson actually speak for us. The last time I looked, my Lord and Saviour commanded us to help the poor and those in need and not spend our time serving "Mammon."

You have a great site and keep up the good work.

Name: Mark
Hometown: Portland, OR

The Imus show will be done, I would wager, but Imus will be around. He'll sulk for a while, then he'll show up in emeritus mode. He'll be on Larry King, Matthews, Russert, et al, doing an endless scrub on his image. His ego is far too large for him to retire gracefully and admit it's over. Anyone who ever listened to his show knows that it's 90% recycled and unpalatable material about the I-man himself. The I-moi show. It's dead. Good riddance.

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