Many apologies for the brown-out here this week. I have not had internet access and am easily overwhelmed, now, by the dense text and long, repetitive columns of an old-fashioned newspaper. So I limited my news media interactions to talking back to television reporters on “Today” and “Good Morning America” as I go dressed, and I’ve been concentrating on learning my new job and getting the house ready for yesterday’s T-day gathering.

  • This is good news for those of us who are concerned about the election process, but probably the kiss of death for the GAO (Government Accountability Office): They have begun investigating the many reports of election day problems and irregularities. We can probably bet the farm on severe GAO budget cuts next year?

    WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress’ investigative agency, responding to complaints from around the country, has begun to look into the Nov. 2 vote count, including the handling of provisional ballots and malfunctions of voting machines.

    The presidential results won’t change, but the studies could lead to changes.

    The Government Accountability Office usually begins investigations in response to specific requests from Congress, but the agency’s head, Comptroller General David Walker, said the GAO acted on its own because of the many comments it received about ballot counting.

    GAO officials said the investigation was not triggered by a request from several House Democrats, who wrote the agency this month seeking an investigation. The effort, led by senior Judiciary Committee Democrat John Conyers of Michigan, was not joined by any Republicans.

    Walker said in a statement that some of the election work is under way. The probe will cover voter registration, voting machine problems and handling of provisional ballots, which were given to voters who said they were eligible to cast votes although their names were not on the rolls.

    He cautioned that the GAO cannot enforce the law if voting irregularities are found, noting that state officials regulate elections and the Justice Department prosecutes voting rights violations and election fraud.

    Conyers said in an interview Wednesday that several House Democrats “want the widest, most impartial investigation that can be had. Whether they (GAO investigators) want to go as far as we want to go, we’re not certain. We’re at first base. Where do we go from here?”

    The congressman said he plans to meet with Walker and key Republicans to see whether Congress should take action to improve election systems.

    He said he would like the investigation to include allegations that insufficient numbers of voting machines were sent to some Democratic areas.

    The study also should cover how election officials responded to problems they encountered, he said.

    Thousands of complaints have poured in to Congress and appeared on Internet sites about problems with the elections, the Democrats said.

    In make-or-break Ohio, where Bush won 20 electoral votes, voters cast 155,337 provisional ballots. They are under review by state elections officials, who count them if registration is confirmed. About 78 percent of the ballots counted so far have been deemed valid.

    Meanwhile, election officials in two Ohio counties have discovered possible cases of people voting twice in the presidential election, and a third county found about 2,600 ballots were double-counted.

    Groups checking election results have overwhelmed Ohio county boards of election with requests for information, and a statewide recount of the presidential vote appears inevitable after a pair of third-party candidates collected enough money to demand one.

    Other examples of problems cited by Conyers and other House Democrats:

    _In Columbus, Ohio, an electronic voting system gave President Bush nearly 4,000 extra votes.

    _An electronic count of a South Florida gambling ballot initiative failed to record thousands of votes.

    _In Guilford County, N.C., vote totals were so large that the tabulation computer didn’t count some votes, and a recount awarded an additional 22,000 votes to Democrat John Kerry.

    _In San Francisco, a glitch in voting machine software left votes uncounted.

    _In Youngstown, Ohio, voters who tried to cast ballots for Kerry on electronic machines saw their votes recorded for President Bush instead.

    _In Sarpy County, Neb., a computer problem added thousands of votes to the county total. It was not clear which presidential candidate benefited from the error in the overwhelmingly Republican state.

  • At dinner yesterday, one guest remarked that the US government could never be taken over by religious fundamentalists… Meet Phil Burress and reflect on his plans.
  • Congress is threatening to withhold aid to any country that refuses to grant US personnel immunity from war crimes tribunals.
  • Which reminds me… apparently anyone can grow up to be a torturer.
  • Granted, Mr. Bush’s plans to privatize social security and restructure the tax code (to provide even more relief to the very rich) weren’t the centerpieces of his stump speech – so even hardcore believers might have been surprised to learn that their top priorities were not actually his top priorities, but given this post-election poll, one really wonders what the hell those 59 million thought they were voting for.

    At a time when the White House has portrayed Mr. Bush’s 3.5-million-vote victory as a mandate, the poll found that Americans are at best ambivalent about Mr. Bush’s plans to reshape Social Security, rewrite the tax code, cut taxes and appoint conservative judges to the bench. There is continuing disapproval of Mr. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, with a plurality now saying it was a mistake to invade in the first ple.

  • Worldwide, the number of women infected with AIDS is now higher than men:

    (Excerpt)In every region of the world – including the US, where Aids is one of the biggest killers of African-American women, and Europe – it is the same story, said Kathleen Cravero, deputy executive director of UNAids, yesterday, and it means that a new strategy must be adopted.

    “The prevention strategies now in place are missing the point when it comes to women and girls,” she said. The ABC mantra favoured by the US – abstinence, be faithful and use a condom – is useless to women who do not have the power to refuse sex, sometimes from an older, sexually experienced husband who already has HIV.

    Social and cultural change is the only way to check the pandemic in countries where women have no status or power, UNAids says – although it accepts that revolution is not on the cards.

    “What we’re talking about is very specific actions that are do-able, moving to a situation where every woman gets to keep her house and her land and her furniture when her partner dies,” said Ms Cravero. “It doesn’t mean turning society on its head. It means getting the right laws in place and making them enforceable.

    “We have to work against the fatalistic idea that you can never change these things.”

    Folks, our delusional president and his Republican congress is not going to take the lead on this. (Unless you call withholding funds from agencies that provide family planning and birth control “leading.”) Here’s the UNAIDS site.

  • “Dead-checking” — that’s what marines call the actions of the young man who executed a wounded Iraqi in a mosque a couple weeks ago. A wounded Iraqi can still shoot you as you walk away. A dead one can’t. “What does the American public think happens when they tell us to assault a city?” one of them said. “Marines don’t shoot rainbows out of our asses. We fucking kill people.” Evan Wright’s column on the reality of war dead is pretty harrowing reading.

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