07 November 2004

A Lobotomy for Democracy

John Maxwell

"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery."
- Tom Paine
In the 1940s, I remember reading an American magazine which was trumpeting a new cure for anti-social behaviour. This now discredited surgical operation was called prefrontal lobotomy or leukotomy, in which the nerves connecting the frontal lobe to the higher centres of the brain were cut. The procedure, invented by a Portuguese surgeon, won him a Nobel Prize. Lots of supposedly anti-social people were 'cured' by this operation.

As it turned out, the operation destroyed the personality and left the victims emotional zombies. One woman said that after the operation her daughter was present physically but her soul was somewhere else.

Troublemakers among the rich and famous were often subjected to the operation. Rosemary Kennedy, sister of JFK, was given a lobotomy on the orders of her dad, Joseph Kennedy. The result was so awful that she was confined to a mental institution for the rest of her life. Frances Farmer, a famously beautiful actress, was thought by her parents to be too unruly.

"She was a radical political activist, communist sympathiser and of a rebellious and aggressive nature. After several squabbles with the authorities, in 1942 she was wrongfully declared 'mentally incompetent' and was committed by her parents to various asylums where all therapies failed to tame her into "normalcy".

In 1948, her parents ordered a lobotomy. "She was released in 1953 from the hospital, no longer a threat to society." - Renato ME Sabbatini, PhD, The History of Psychosurgery, Brain & Mind magazine, June 1997.

Prefrontal lobotomy cured lots of troublesome ailments, including "nymphomania", socialism and the insatiable thirst for freedom.

For me, the defining moment of last week's US Presidential Election came about an hour before midnight. All night the CNN anchor, General Blitzer, had been refusing to reveal the results of the exit polls; CNN didn't want to mislead people. But it was nevertheless becoming clear that John Kerry was going to be the next president of the United States. Robert Novak was a panellist on Blitzer's show. Wan, demoralised, and apparently near to complete collapse, Novak told Blitzer that he had just been in touch with his GOP cronies in Ohio who told him that all appeared to be lost.

What Novak did not know was that help was on the way in the shape of the Diebold company, makers of electronic voting machines. Within hours, Kerry was no longer winning but on the road to conceding the election to Mr G W Bush.
The Republicans had stolen the presidency of the United States for the second time in a row.

The most significant thing about the state of US politics is the compliant posture of the national press. They seem ready to believe anything. They appear to have been lobotomised, physically present but missing their souls.

Mark Twain got it right: "Do not fear the enemy, for your enemy can only take your life. It is far better that you fear the press, for they will steal your Honour. That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse"(Thanks to Tom at (http://www.informationclearinghouse).

Exit polls - asking people just after they voted who they voted for - are not precise indicators, because they are sample surveys. But they have always been more precise than the pre-election sampling. For years the networks have depended on them. Only in 2002, in Florida, was there any question of their reliability. And we soon found out why.

According to the US media on Tuesday night, the exit polls got it wrong. This, of course, can only mean that people who voted for Bush told the pollsters that they voted for Kerry. A most unlikely event.

And it would be interesting to discover why CNN and other news media changed their published exit poll data after Wednesday morning.

Jonathan Simon of Alliance for Democracy notes, "Statistical discrepancies were identified in key battleground states that exceeded the margin of error of the exit polls. In Ohio, for instance, a 'shift' of 3.1 per cent toward Bush converted a 52 per cent - 48 per cent exit poll "victory" for Kerry into a 51 per cent - 49 per cent electoral "victory" for Bush. In the group of 12 critical states selected for analysis, exit poll vs tabulated vote shifts exceeded the polls' margin of error in four cases, which, according to statistical analysis, [should] occur only 0.2 per cent (or one five-hundredth) of the time in the absence of significant mistabulation of votes."

Simon also notes that exit polling appears inexplicably to have been significantly more accurate in non-battleground states than in the states that were crucial to a Bush victory.

Citizens for a Legitimate Government (CLG) (www.legitgov.org) declares: "Rather than objectively exploring reasons for these identified discrepancies, the networks now glibly claim exit polling based on scientific methodology is completely unreliable, and have all but forgotten that there was a deep and widespread concern about the reliability and security of the vote tabulating apparatus leading up to this election."

CLG continues: "A statement by Wally O'Dell, the CEO of Diebold, providers of Ohio's electronic voting equipment in August 2003, may have foreshadowed the November 2 results, at least in Ohio. O'Dell, acting as a Republican fundraiser at the time wrote, "I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president" .George Bush seemed to take O'Dell's pledge at face value, hardly deigning to campaign in Ohio, which was a confusing strategy to many pundits given the state's cliffhanger closeness and critical importance."

One crucial statistic made me quite sure that the election was stolen. It is a well-recorded phenomenon that after an election result is known, more people will claim to have voted for the winner than actually did.

After this election, is a remarkable fact that only 51 per cent of the US electorate said they were happy Mr Bush had been elected. The post-election bandwagon effect is well documented.

"Response error tied to over-estimation of voting is one of the oldest and most persistent types of response error to be documented. [Stanley Presser] reports that such response errors tend to range between 12 and 16 per cent. with the error tending to be larger the closer a survey was done to the election". (Robert H Prisuta, A post-election Bandwagon Effect 1992 and Stanley Presser: Can Context Changes Reduce Vote Over-reporting?; Public Opinion Quarterly, Wier 1990)

In this case, and as far as I can discover, only in this case does the percentage claiming to have voted for the winner fall below the percentage actually voting for him.

The US press in its cocoon of fantasy, pretends to believe that this result is possible and accurate. No one can - without his consent - be deprived of his rights. It says so even in Third World constitutions.

Shortly after he returned from Venezuela in August, former President Carter warned that the voting arrangements in the United States for the Presidential Election could not be considered satisfactory, fair and above board. This was in contrast to Venezuela, where they also used voting machines, made in the USA, but those machines had a paper trail.

Many people foresaw the theft of the election. In an article for The Nation earlier in the year, ('How They Could Steal the Election This Time') Ronnie Dagger revealed that five out of every six US voters would be casting votes in machines which could easily be programmed to produce the wrong result. She predicted: "The result could be the failure of an American presidential election and its collapse into suspicions, accusations and a civic fury that will make Florida 2000 seem like a family spat in the kitchen."

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's labour secretary, has written, "Automated voting machines will be easily rigged, with no paper trails to document abuses". Senator John Kerry told Florida Democrats last March, "I don't think we ought to have any vote cast in America that cannot be traced and properly recounted". Pointing out in a recent speech at the NAACP convention that "a million African-Americans were disenfranchised in the last election", Kerry says his campaign was readying 2,000 lawyers to "challenge any place in America where you cannot trace the vote and count the votes" [www.thenation.com/ Greg Palast, "Vanishing Votes", May 17, 2004].

The probability that the election was stolen becomes even more likely when it is recalled that GOP majority leader in the House, Tom DeLay, and the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, have for two years prevented a vote on a bill requiring that all electronic voting machines should have an auditable paper trail. Congressman Rush Holt introduced the bill requiring all electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper ballot. The bill was co-sponsored by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives - GOP and Democrat.

There were serious anomalies in the reported Florida vote. According to the results, there were 1,392,639 new voters. There were 7,355,296 votes cast in this election as against 5,963,657 in 2000 when, according to the official results, Bush got 2,912,790 in 2004 to Gore's 2,912,253 a difference of less than 600.

The split in 2000 was approximately 50/50. In this election Kerry got 3,459,293 or 47 per cent, while 3,836,216 or 53 per cent voted for Bush. Despite the Democrats outperforming the GOP 60/40 in registering new voters, Kerry got half-a-million more, while Bush got twice as many. Unbelievable.

We must believe, contrary to all the known facts, that there was a swing to Bush of eight per cent! Bush got 32 per cent more in 2004 than four years before, while Kerry increased Bush's total by only 19 per cent.

But there was no swing. According to one exit pollster, both candidates retained 90 per cent of their party's 2000 voters. So the swing came in the computers. In Florida people complained that their votes were recorded for Bush although they had voted for Kerry.

Republicans were so worried about their failure in signing up new voters that they set out to intimidate and disqualify as many voters as possible. Can anyone, even including the US press, believe that these figures are anything but bogus?

The real problem is that many people cannot believe that the Republicans could be so arrogant and barefaced to do what it is obvious that they must have done. On KLAS-FM on Wednesday morning, the two presenters initially thought I was being funny when I said the election had been stolen. But it isn't funny, and forecasts horrendous consequences as we shall see in Fallujah shortly, and perhaps Haiti.

After the 2000 election I predicted that we were in for a hard time. I didn't think it was going to be this bad. I had no idea that democracy itself and its handmaiden, the press, were scheduled for prefrontal lobotomies.

The ultimate irony, of course, was provided by the American media which solemnly pronounced that Bush won the election on moral values, despite Enron, Halliburton, Iraq WMDs, Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act and the host of other scandals.

If that represents morality, perhaps we should all get prefrontal lobotomies. We need to remember though, that nothing is ever over until we give up.


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