Columbus, OH
The press continues to report that Obama and Biden are cruising towards victory, and the McCain-Palin ticket is being ripped to shreds from within. That may well be the case. Last minute interventions from above not withstanding, other means of McCain closing the gap, such as a mass shift amongst undecided voters, appears to be hugely unlikely.

So it goes.  But aside from the well publicized competition for president, activists on the ground are gearing up to perform a much more important service for the American people. Previous elections have seen state functionaries, predominantly linked to the GOP, as we all know, using their positions to warp the voting process. 2004’s debacle in Ohio and the Florida recount are only the tip of the iceberg in this regard.

Election fraud and voter suppression that we don’t know, or care to know, much about, has been a feature of all levels of American political life. Ohio is no exception. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most egregious example of the system at work.

This makes it all the more important for voting activists to put the Obama-McCain catfight aside and focus on the procedures of voting. Campaigns like Video the Vote, and Youtube’s own effort (which is seeing handheld cameras distributed gratis to local people) will be setting out to fix the machinery of representative democracy, regardless of the result.

Well, assuming the result is arrived at without striking voters from the rolls, flipping votes, jamming hundreds of voters into tiny school halls and illegally challenging them when they do get to vote.

It’s a nationwide effort to open up elections to scrutiny, and it’s long overdue. Since America’s birth, voting has been controlled by partisan officials, resulting in a continuous stream of dubious, or outright stolen elections. For many decades, it was the Democratic Party which led the way in such practices, quashing African-American voting in the post-war South and rigging both the voting and vote-counting in machine run cities such as Chicago and New York. This is all documented brilliantly by historian Tracy Campbell, whose book “Deliver the Vote” is well worth a read to put the current troubles in perspective.

It took a long time for Republicans to catch up which, of course, they did. As Civil Rights caught on, the thuggish mentality of Democrat nativists and segregationists (both of which fuelled ballot abuse) migrated to the GOP. The white, privileged, conservative imperative of keeping African Americans from realizing their goals through the ballot made the same political journey. The soul of George Wallace slipped wraith-like into the body of Karl Rove.

Whether through Democrats or Republicans, privilege has constantly sought to dominate the physical act of voting, and vote counting. Video the Vote doesn’t target the GOP. If it works out as intended, a well organized election monitoring campaign targets the two party system, and the establishment, the members of which have always held a decidedly double edged enthusiasm for voting.

Vote, by all means. But don’t vote in such large numbers. If 80 percent of people vote, then there is a danger that the policies they demand will begin to benefit 80 percent of the people. It’s not a rule. We shouldn’t be deluded by the machinery of representation. But such numbers ensure that the pressure on politicians at the center moves in the direction desired by the masses. It’s pressure, and it’s very vaguely articulated. But be sure that Washington will feel the push and pull of the queuing hordes.

Barack’s Big Film
That goes too for the Chosen One, Barack Obama himself, who went live coast to coast last night for a half hour schmaltzy spectacular. Costing $4 million, Obama’s “info-mercial” hit several emotional buttons, mostly related to the twin themes of economic distress and a failing healthcare system. The spine of his film took the form of several case studies showing “ordinary Americans” battling against job insecurity and hidden health care costs. Obama, of course, then posed as the solution to their problems, but with a major catch.

It was telling that Obama, while long on concern for struggling families, was also keen to stress his limitations, at one point averring that he “would not be a perfect president” and that a round of national belt tightening would be in order. How families on the bread line, with spiraling fuel bills, no jobs and chronic illness can tighten their belts was not really broached.

What was explained was that Obama would push his austerity package in the interests of national unity. His appeal was strictly nationalist, we should not forget. As he stated, his appeal is not to “liberal America” or to “conservative America” but to the “United States of America.”

A major theme was energy independence, for example, with a stress on biofuels. Where will the food grains come from to offset grain being processed for fuel? Which third world populations will suffer for this corporate boondoggle?

Another interesting inclusion was a commitment to exploit America’s domestic oil resources, as Obama borrowed some of Sarah Palin’s expensive clothes. There was, naturally, a promise to invest $15 billion per year in renewables, but is biofuel designated a “renewable”? “Clean Coal” too has been excoriated by environmentalists as a delusion. Where is the technology, and who will install it? We know where the coal is, and the bank accounts of the coal industry can be reasonably accurately pinned down, but not an account of how Obama’s love of the coal industry will fit with his environmental policy.

Climate change was AWOL. In fact, a whole lot of enlightened policies were absent. The world should take note, and fast.

On foreign policy, for example, Obama made the ringing assertion that he would “curb Russian aggression.” We should be afraid, and not of the Kremlin. After all, Russia didn’t just invade Georgia out of a spirit of “aggression.” It did so because Georgia had attacked Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, and has now withdrawn, as it promised.

We should know, with men like Zbigniew Brzezinski on board, that Obama’s promise was code for “we will continue to project American power to curb Russian influence in Central Asia.” Brzezinski labels this area the “Eurasian balkans” and sees it as a key theater of influence.

It always bears repeating that Obama is committed to escalating U.S. Involvement in Pakistan (and has said nothing about the recent earthquake there which has left 15,000 homeless, yet continues to blast Pakistan’s government for failing to take on al-Qaeda). He is committed to the failing and murderous Afghan War. Despite the bleatings of Sarah Palin about Rashid Khalidi, Obama is a paid up AIPAC supporter and has said nothing to condemn Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Another troubling aspect of Obama’s message is also one of his most successful tropes. In appealing to unity against foreign threats, energy scarcity, economic collapse and generalized pessimism, Obama glosses over conflicts within society. Unless such conflicts are tackled, a common sense view may have it, surely the tensions within society which generate massive income inequality, hyper-patriotism, racism and war, will continue to fester unchecked.

Yet Obama made it very clear that he was “not worried about CEOs.” While he focused on the little guys, he was also making an implicit promise to the big guys not to attack the structures that insure their privileged position. On health care, for example, Obama will not attack the wasteful private health care industry. He has no principled opposition to the great arms peddlers. He seeks curbs on executive pay, but shows no will to force reform of top heavy, profit dominated banking giants.

In essence, this means that Obama is setting himself up to act as the steward of the poor on behalf of the very rich. He’ll keep them in line.

This is not quite the change that many people want, but I find it easy to “believe in.”

It’s all a bit reminiscent of the story of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. As the two portly schoolboys square up to fight over a broken rattle, one tells Alice that “I generally hit every thing I can see–when I get really excited.” The other tells her that, on the other hand, “I hit everything within reach, whether I can see it or not!”

When Alice replies that “You must hit the trees pretty often, I should think,” Tweedledum responds that “I don’t suppose there’ll be a tree left standing, for ever so far round, by the time we’ve finished!”

And that’s the two party system right there.

Congo-ing to Victory
A side note on Barack’s movie worth pondering. One of the Democrat’s key endorsements in the film came from a guy called Brigadier John Adams, ret. Now Adams was instrumental in organizing Operation Guardian Assistance in the aftermath of Rwanda’s genocide, back in the mid 1990s. You may know that recent investigations have enriched our understanding of the root causes of that violence. American involvement in fostering Paul Kagame’s RPF, is not a small part of its genesis.

Anyhow, Adams’ job was to run a survey of Rwanda’s border region with Zaire, as it then was, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Global Security puts it, Guardian Assistance, “provided critical overland surveillance data” which clinched the case for averting “the unnecessary deployment of a multinational force.”

What then happened was that Zaire collapsed, taking over 3 million people down with it, and mining firms linked to the Clinton adminstration made enormous profits from the carnage. Hutus kicked out of Rwanda, who were streaming across the border as Guardian Assistance made its assesment, became stateless. They developed an armed force, the FDLR which has clashed with Tutsis, local peoples, the UN and Congolese armed forces ever since.

By not dealing with the humanitarian crisis in 1995, Adams helped to ensure that the UN would need to deploy its largest peacekeeping force after millions had died and countless others had been mutilated and/or raped.

Now, the same region stands on the brink of another bout of genocidal violence. A Tutsi force, led by a client of the Rwandan government is poised to occupy Goma, in Kivu province. Thousands have fled. The UN is powerless (and has in any case been complicit  with the Tutsi leader Laurent Nkunda).

Kinshasha has been moving to regulate the DRC’s mining sector. It’s not a coincidence.

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