Saturday, December 29, 2007

Texans Speak up for Dale Henry

McBlogger on Dale Henry

BlueDaze on Dale Henry

Hacking Democracy - HBO U Tube Videos

Hacking Democracy:

About This Video This cautionary documentary exposes the vulnera... (more)
Added: April 27, 2007
This cautionary documentary exposes the vulnerability of computers - which count approximately 80% of America's votes in county, state and federal elections - suggesting that if our votes aren't safe, then our democracy isn't safe either.
The documentary exposes the dangers of voting machines used during America's mid term and presidential elections. Electronic voting machines count approximately 90% of America's votes in county, state and federal elections. The technology is also increasingly being used across the world, including in Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe and Latin America. Filmed over three years this exposé follows the investigations of a team of citizen activists and hackers as they take on the electronic voting industry, targeting the Diebold corporation.

"Hacking Democracy" uncovers incendiary evidence from the trash cans of Texas to the ballot boxes of Ohio, exposing secrecy, votes in the trash, hackable software and election officials rigging the presidential recount.

Ultimately proving our votes can be stolen without a trace "Hacking Democracy" culminates in the famous 'Hursti Hack'; a duel between the Diebold voting machines and a computer hacker from Finland - with America's democracy at stake.
The two Ohio election staff who feature in "Hacking Democracy" were sentenced on March 13th 2007 for rigging the 2004 presidential recount. Incriminating footage from the documentary was used in their court case as evidence. (less) - By Anonimist2600


Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Part 7:

Part 8:

Part 9:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

One citizen can make a difference

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Dec. 20, 2007

When government fails to adhere to its own laws and regulations, Joe Citizen holds the trump card. In Texas, Bay area resident John Cobarruvias has succeeded in prodding the Texas Ethics Commission to provide better oversight of campaign finance through filing ethics complaints. Mr. Cobarruvias is careful not to file frivilous complaints. He researches the issues, verifies the facts, and submits succinct, factual complaints to the Ethics Commission. In an era where dollars seem to dominate politics, John Cobarruvias's efforts show that one person can influence the system. John Cobarruvias is not a "grandstander". He works in the background. Occasionally he blogs on an issues. He seems to prefer to put the spotlight on the issues rather than on himself. He looks at process and the law and how Texas lawmakers and regulatory agencies apply the law and follow the the process for the benefit of all Texans. He's made headlines this week:

Activist: State's campaign finance oversight out-of-focus
By Lee McGuire- KHOU Channel 11 News - Dec. 20, 2007
It’s a state agency that spends $2 million of your dollars every year, making sure that politicians are doing the right thing when it comes to campaign finance.

John Cobarruvias claims the Texas Ethics Commission is not earning its keep.

The Texas Ethics Commission was set up to help promote confidence in government, but one man thinks taxpayers aren’t getting their money’s worth. The rules say we’re supposed to know exactly what every member of the Texas Legislature buys with their campaign donations. But two years ago, it seems nearly half of our elected officials broke those rules.

Then, all of a sudden, nearly all that ended. Now, lawmakers appear to be following the campaign finance rules.

The reason has very little to do with the state agency set up as a $2 million-a-year guardian of legislative ethics — and everything to do with one man, with his home computer, in Clear Lake

AP - The Texas State Capitol

“I think the Ethics Commission is incompetent, completely incompetent,” John Cobarruvias said. “There is no other word to describe what they’re doing right now.”

He is something of an activist.

“You should have basic consumer protection,” he said.

In 2002, he was protesting the state’s oversight of homebuilders.

Now, he’s protesting the state’s oversight of the Legislature. And wondering whether the Texas Ethics Commission does anything at all. He looked at campaign finance records and found lawmakers spent about $1 million in campaign funds on their credit card bills. But nowhere did they say what they bought with those cards.

“Right,” Cobarruvias said. “You don’t know what he’s bought at all.”

It meant that tens of thousands of purchases that should have been disclosed were not. Did anyone at the Ethics Commission even notice?

“Oh, absolutely not,” Cobarruvias said. “The Ethics Commission has been absolutely worthless.”

Employees of the Ethics Commission don’t do interviews. Their chief counsel said they do audit campaign finance reports, and in the last fiscal year, the commission issued $700,000 in penalties.

Of that $700,000 total — roughly $678,000 were penalties for filing late. In other words, it often didn’t matter what was in the report, as long as it was filed on time.

“The system is very confusing and very complex,” Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said.

Sen. Dan Patrick doesn’t think the Ethics Commission needs more power.
He would like them to do a better job explaining the rules to candidates and officeholders. And he thinks it shouldn’t have taken a man in Clear Lake to uncover the million-dollar credit card problem.

“The Ethics Commission should have caught this,” Sen. Patrick said.

“It’s such a glaring problem to say you shouldn’t do this; it’s not the way it should be done.”

“This is what we want to see,” Cobarruvias said.

Since Cobarruvias raised the issue -- most lawmakers have now filed “corrected reports,” explaining what they bought with those credit cards. And most of it was run-of-the-mill: bottled water, gasoline, campaign signs.

“And I think that is just absolutely great,” Cobarruvias said. “That is what we’re looking for.”

But in some cases, he filed formal complaints with the Ethics Commission.

Since then, the Commission has fined eight lawmakers over issues he’s raised.

To put that in perspective, the Ethics Commission has only fined seven other lawmakers for any other issue in the last five years.

“They’re a database, and they collect this information and that’s about it,” Cobarruvias said.

It’s a paper trail that uncovered a problem in government — for both the people you elect and the ones you do not.

On his Bay Area Houston blog, activist John Cobarruvias responded to Senator Patrick's comments:

KHOU TV of Houston Texas had a great story (with video) on the Texas Ethics Commission:
Texas Ethics Commission called "incompetent".
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2007
“I think the Ethics Commission is incompetent, completely incompetent,” John Cobarruvias said. “There is no other word to describe what they’re doing right now.”
Yep. that is me being blunt and to the point. To be fair, the staff of the TEC has been very helpful and easy to work with. On many occasions they have provided advice and answered all our questions. And I was not the Lone Ranger. Thanks to those anonymous individuals for their help.

The problems with the lack of preventative measures is apparent when you review "Spending Campaign Cash. The Series.". Over a 2 year period almost $1Million of campaign expenditures were hidden behind credit cards and another $2Million in expenditures hidden by reimbursements to the office holder or staff.

Senator Dan Patrick, the self proclaimed champion of ethics reform, repeated the same old argument:

Sen. Dan Patrick doesn’t think the Ethics Commission needs more power. He would like them to do a better job explaining the rules to candidates and officeholders. And he thinks it shouldn’t have taken a man in Clear Lake to uncover the million-dollar credit card problem.

“The Ethics Commission should have caught this,” Sen. Patrick said. “It’s such a glaring problem to say you shouldn’t do this; it’s not the way it should be done.”
By the way, Patrick has over $73,000 in undisclosed expenditures for the last two years. This includes over $59,000 to Court Koenning Consulting for "Reimbursement". Yep, the Ethics Commission should have caught this.

And actually that is the point. The TEC has the authority to perform audits that could prevent all these problem.

§ 571.069. Review of Statements and Reports; Audits

(a) The commission shall review for facial compliance randomly selected statements and reports filed with the commission and may review any available documents. The commission shall return for resubmission with corrections or additional documentation a statement or report that does not, in the opinion of the commission, comply with the law requiring the statement or report.
But they haven't done them. The audits for all of our elected officials could easily be automated or could be accomplished with a few hours of work. It just isn't that hard. Instead the TEC recommends citizens who have performed these audits for them to file formal complaints.

This shouldn't be the process used to clean this problem up. Unfortunately the TEC claims it doesn't have the man power to perform the audits so it relies on citizens to file complaints to further stress the limited resources of the TEC.

And if this is what they want, this is what they will get come Jan 16, the day after campaign finance reports are due.

Read more on Bay Area Houston blog.

Spending Campaign Cash. The Series.
By John Coby - Bay Area Houston Blog - Monday, June 04, 2007
Over the last few months in 2006 and 2007 I have been researching campaign finance reports from Texas State Officials, concentrating on spending habits. This was a direct result of the research on State Representative John Davis (R-Houston).

Base upon this research, it is clear from the number of elected officials who have violations in their reports the Texas Ethics Commission is either incompetent, or not interested in adequately monitoring, preventing, training, or taking corrective action against those who have violated the trust of the citizens of Texas.

The TEC has a motto "Promoting Public Confidence in Government", but instead is nothing more than a repository for campaign finance information that provides little if any confidence to the public. It is near worthless.

See full article. He recaps campaign finance coverage in the Dallas Morning News and Houston Chronicle and gives links to "Spending Campaign Cash for State Wide Officers, State Senators and Senators Elect Houston Bay/Area State Representatives.

In the DFW area, DFW Regional Concerned Citizens has been monitoring local governments websites and evaluating adherence to Local Government Chapter 176. We are concerned that the legislation passed to give citizens access to information about relationships between decision makers and those who are paid for services/contracts by government is not being followed. One of the biggest obstacles to compliance is the attitude of TXDOT. The TxDOT attorney for the Dallas region told Faith Chatham that since TxDOT is a state agency it does not have to adhere to the Local Government Code. DFWRCC's position is that TxDOT receives bids and administers contracts which require recommendations and votes by city, county and COG officials. These contracts include payments of local tax dollars. Local and regional officials are required by law (Chapter 176) to disclose their relationships with people or businesses which seek or receive payment by tax dollars and /or selected/rejected through their recommendations or vote. Since TXDOT receives and administers the bids, the failure of TxDOT to comply with Chapter 176 hinders disclosure by local and regional officials who play roles in decision making during the planning process for major infrastructure projects.

Complaints on most Texas Ethics violations goes to the Texas Ethics Commission, however, the Legislature voted to require complaints about violations of Chapter 176 to go to the local District Attorney. Since County Commissioner's Courts and Councils of Government appropriate funds and grants for law enforcement and the District Attorney's office, requiring that the complaints be filed through the local District Attorney creates a buffer of retience and self preservation. Few sane District Attorney's will eagerly pursue misdemeanor complaints against the officials who must vote to fund the District Attorney's office and law enforcement programs! We haven't filed a complaint yet. In 2008 one of our members may follow Mr. Cobarruvias' example and utilize the ethics complaint process to bring more officials and agencies into compliance with Texas Ethics Laws.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Eyes on: Media Consolidation

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Dec. 17, 2007

I grew up in a one newspaper "Market". There were two radio stations in my hometown and we received the broadcasts of three television stations in a neighboring city. The television stations were located in another state so it had to be a big breaking story for news from my hometown to get air time.

My first job was writing for the teen page at the hometown newspaper. I also did odd jobs (pulling ads mats, running copy, pulling tears for reporters and advertisers). During the next 20 years I'd work for four major newspaper chains and several marketing/advertising agencies/creative shops. I learned some things at that first publication which seemed to remain the same over the years. Our hometown newspaper was owned by a large national media chain. I returned to work there while in college and immediately following graduation. When the paper published endorsements of political candidates, I remember there was always rumbling and an uproar in the news room. Folks would mutter: "I don't support him! Do you? Absolutely not!" The hum would continue throughout the building. The people who worked at the paper overwhelmingly supported different candidates that those endorsed by the newspaper. Endorsements were determined by the owners. Owners didn't work in our building. They didn't live in our town. We weren't important enough to have an "owner" on our staff. The "brass" rarely came to our town or passed through our building. In the 1960ies and 1970ies the influence of media owners over news coverage of elections and the endorsements of the publication was a fact noted by reporters and politicans.

The two radio stations in my hometown were owned and managed by men who frequently disagreed with each other. There were diverse veiwpoints on civic and political issues which were determined by these two long-time residents of our town. They managed the station, reported the news and directed the news staff. Even competitive newspaper staffers listened to their broadcasts because some issues just weren't covered by our publication. It was refreshing that the news they carried was not dictated by absentee corporate owners.

Media chains began to "diversify" by buying radio, television and newspapers in the same market. Laws were passed to help insure that one large corporation would not be able to control all of the media in any market. Over the years, enforcement of some of these protective rules has become more lax. The current Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, Kevin Martin, has announced that he favors media consolidation in major markets.

In 2006, many populist Democratic candidates found that they got fairer news coverage in rural Texas media than they received in the larger media markets. Most of these candidates were vehmently critical of the proposed Trans Texas Corridor. Spanish and Australian toll operators were courted by Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation for participating in this lucrative mega infrastructure project. Shortly after election day in 2006 many of the small town rural newspapers which were critical of the Trans Texas Corridor were bought by one Australian media corporation. Many of these communities are one newspaper markets. The impact of foreign ownership on these publications on local, state and national political campaign news coverage is yet to be determined.

Ownership of media influences programming and civic and political news coverage. Cutting staff to cut cost influences programming and news coverage. Filling time and space with syndicated programming eliminates local coverage.

As cable television has grown and delivery of programming has increased through the internet, some argue that there is less necessity for regulations restricting ownership of multiple media in the same market. These arguments are based on the flawed premise that citizens have access to cable and the internet. If radio, television and newspapers in the same market are controlled by the same owner, those who cannot afford cable or a computer and the internet are restricted to receiving only the news chosen by one owners.

It is important that we keep our eyes on discussion of media ownership consolidation in Congress and in the FCC.

At last week's hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee on media consolidation FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's proposed rules changes for media ownership led to discussions of exercise of legislative financial checks on the FCC through appropriations and funding.

Obama, Kerry Threaten FCC Funding Over Ownership Vote

WASHINGTON -- December 17, 2007: The heat has been turned up even higher on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and his plan to have the commission vote Tuesday on his proposed changes to the FCC's media-ownership rules as Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL, pictured) and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) have said they will ask the Senate Appropriations Committee to deny funding to implement the new rules if Martin goes ahead with the vote.

Last week Martin testified before the Senate Commerce Committee -- after a contentious exchange with Kerry -- that he planned to proceed with the vote on his proposal to partly relax the long-standing newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban by allowing cross-ownership in the top 20 markets if certain conditions are met.

Obama and Kerry's letter to Martin, dated December 14, says "the intent of the Senate Commerce Committee was made clear" when it passed the Media Ownership Act.

The Media Ownership Act was introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Trent Lott (R-MS) a few days before Martin's proposal was made public. It would, among other things, require the FCC to establish an independent panel on female and minority ownership and await that panel's recommendations before voting on any changes to the ownership rules. The Senate Commerce Committee passed that bill on December 4.

The letter to Martin continues, "We understand that for a variety of reasons you are being asked to postpone the vote to permit more time for the commission to fully understand how a relaxation in the cross-ownership rules will impact other important issues such as localism." A localism proceeding and study are also required by the Media Ownership Act.

"It is our hope that the sum of these objections will convince you to delay this vote until a time following the commission's consideration of other pressing matters," Obama and Kerry write. "Specifically, we believe that moving forward with this change will have a direct and detrimental impact on the state of media diversity."

The letter concludes by warning Martin, "Should you decide to move forward with this vote against the expressed bipartisan, bicameral intent of Congress, we will approach Appropriations Chairman Byrd with a request that funds be denied for the implementation of this rule."
Read more in Radio Ink

Other coverage of the exchange between Martin and members of the Senate Commerce Committee:
Commerce's FCC Hearing Gets Heated
By Radio Ink - Dec. 17, 2007
WASHINGTON -- December 13, 2007: At Thursday morning's Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing with the FCC, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), after asking the other FCC Commissioners a few questions, said to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, "Sen. [Trent] Lott, Sen. [Ted] Stevens, Sen. [Daniel] Inouye, others on the committee, with long experience on this committee, editorial comment across the country, countless organizations, countless numbers of witnesses, have all objected to the way the FCC is about to proceed" -- that is, by holding a vote on December 18 on Martin's controversial revision to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.

Kerry noted that the committee has asked the FCC to complete localism and diversity proceedings before allowing more media consolidation, then began what became the hearing's most contentious exchange by saying, "Who is it that created the FCC, Mr. Chairman?" Martin replied, "Congress created the FCC." To which Kerry said, "And Congress created the FCC for what purpose?" "To regulate the telecommunications and media areas," said Martin.

"In the interest of the American people," Kerry responded. "In the public interest, yes," said Martin.

Kerry continued, "The Congress has expressed its will here with respect to this potential action, has it not?"

"This committee has passed a bill out of the committee that said there should be a process in place for media-ownership reviews," Martin replied. But he added that Congress also expressed its will with the Telecom Act in 1996, which mandated periodic reviews of the media-ownership rules.

Martin had begun his earlier, prepared testimony with remarks on the uncertain financial future of the newspaper industry, and, in response to that, Kerry said, "Nowhere in the FCC rules, either in 1934 or in 1996, is there anything that suggests you have a rationale or a motivation to save newspapers."

Martin replied, "I think we have an obligation to understand what the impact that some of our rules have on the industries that we regulate" -- including the impact on newspapers of the 1975 newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban.

"The purpose of that was not with respect to the regulation of newspapers," Kerry said. "The purpose of that was with respect to the consolidation of power in the dissemination of information."

'No Absolutely Understandable Rationale'

Later, Kerry said, "You're in the middle of an analysis of diversity and localism, and, notwithstanding that your responsibility is to the public, to make sure that diversity and localism are well served, you're about to make a decision, for no absolutely understandable rationale and against the will of Congress and most of the witnesses, to actually increase the concentration, which will make worse the localism and diversity issues, without even having completed those studies."

Kerry asked Martin if he'd agree to postpone the localism vote until the studies are completed, but didn't wait for a reply.

Moving on to the waiver process for the cross-ownership rules in smaller markets, Kerry said to Martin, "It will allow you to make any kind of political decision you want with respect to the waiver." Martin pointed out that the commission has always had a waiver process and said that, with its presumption against public interest for waivers in smaller markets, his proposal is "actually tightening it."

Kerry asked FCC Commissioner Michael Copps if he agreed, and Copps replied, "I don't think we even have anything that would qualify as a waiver." The waiver conditions are, he said, "so porous as to be, I think, meaningless."

After another exchange about the newspaper industry, Kerry asked Martin about the rules vote, "Why do you choose to swim against the tide in something so important?" He went on, "It disturbs me greatly that you're so headstrong about this, with even your own commission split. Why not try to get a unanimous commission?"

Though Martin said it would be "great" if there were a consensus and said he's discussed what could lead to a unanimous approach with his fellow Commissioners, he said, "I'm not convinced that there's much prospect [of a consensus]."

With regard to the waiver process, he said he's willing to work with the other Commissioners on "what they're characterizing as loopholes." He went on, "But that would mean they'd actually have to engage in the process, not merely demand additional process and additional time over the next six to nine months."

'A Braver Man Than I Am'

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referred in her remarks to two unreleased FCC studies that, were, she said, "shoved in a drawer because their conclusions ran counter to certain interests." The FCC Inspector General found no evidence of wrongdoing in its investigation of the disposition of those studies, but Boxer, after noting that the FCC appointed the Inspector General, said, "Well, I just want to say that this is the fox guarding the chicken coop."

Boxer said she intends to introduce legislation to have an independent Inspector General appointed for the agency. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked Martin if there are any circumstances under which he'd delay a vote on the ownership rules, to which Martin said it's possible, but added, "At this point, I would anticipate that we will be moving forward, and at this point, that's my plan."

After another tense exchange, with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) concerning the release of 1,400 pages of FCC records -- Martin responded that the papers in question were either copyrighted material or "deliberative process" material that the agency is not required to release -- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) addressed her concerns about transparency at the agency and got the agreement of each Commissioner in turn that they would not object to having all their votes made public. McCaskill ended by saying to Martin, "I will tell you, you are a remarkable public leader, if, in light of public opposition and the bipartisan opposition that you have heard today, to what you are about to do on December 18 -- if you move ahead and do it, you're a braver man than I am."

Read more on Radio Ink

Coverage of Martin's proposed rule changes:
WASHINGTON -- November 13, 2007: FCC Chairman Kevin Martin "believes that any further relaxation in the radio or television broadcast markets should not be allowed," says an FCC announcement released Tuesday morning. "He therefore proposes to make no changes to the local television 'duopoly' rule, the local radio ownership rule, and the local radio-television cross ownership rule currently in force."

What Martin is asking for is an end to the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban, but only in the top 20 Nielsen markets and only if certain conditions are met.

The conditions: A transaction must involve a major newspaper and only one TV or radio station. If it's a TV station, there must be at least eight independently owned and operating major media voices (defined as including major newspapers and full-power commercial TV stations) in the DMA after the transaction, and the TV station must not be among the top four ranked stations in the DMA.

"All other proposed newspaper-broadcast transactions would continue to be presumed not in the public interest," says the FCC.

The FCC would also consider the level of media concentration in the market, evidence that the combined entity would increase the amount of local news in the market, commitments by the newspaper and broadcast outlet to continue to exercise independent news judgment, and the financial condition of the newspaper. In the case of a newspaper in financial distress, the commission would look into the owner's commitment to investing in newsroom operations.

The change is designed primarily to aid a newspaper industry that's struggling with the explosion of new media outlets.

In a New York Times op-ed, published Tuesday and distributed with the FCC announcement, Martin writes, "At least 300 daily papers have stopped publishing over the past 30 years. Those newspapers that have survived are struggling financially."

After citing some statistics on declining newspaper circulation and the rise of other media, Martin says, "If we don’t act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die."

Martin goes on to describe his proposal, then continues, "This relatively minor loosening of the ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations in markets where there are many voices and sufficient competition to allow for new entrants would help strike a balance between ensuring the quality of local news while guarding against too much concentration."

The FCC is inviting public comment on Martin's proposal; comments are due by December 11.

Most immediately affected by Martin's proposed rules change would be Tribune Co., which is in the process of going private in a sale to Chicago real estate entrepreneur Sam Zell. Tribune has grandfathered exemptions to the newspaper-broadcast ban in several markets, which, under the old rules, would not be passed on to Zell without special waivers.

Under Martin's proposal, Tribune's new owner could be able to hang on to its newspaper and broadcast properties in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Miami -- but not in Hartford, which, as Hartford-New Haven, is Nielsen market 29.

Read more in Radio Ink

Thursday, December 6, 2007

ACTION ALERT: Comments for Sunset Review of TxDOT due by Jan. 7, 2008

December 5, 2007
Dear Recipient:

The Sunset Advisory Commission would like your help in reviewing and improving the State’s transportation system. The Legislature, through the Texas Sunset Act, has charged our Commission with reviewing the mission and performance of the Texas Department of Transportation.

In general, the Sunset Commission periodically evaluates state agencies to determine if the agency is needed, if it is operating effectively, and if state funds are well spent. Based on the recommendations of the Sunset Commission, the Texas Legislature ultimately decides whether an agency continues to operate into the future. Additional information on the Sunset Commission can be found on our website.

As part of this agency’s review, we seek the input of organizations and individuals who have an interest in the agency. Please take some time to comment on the attached preliminary issues identified by the Sunset Commission staff as potential research areas. Also, let us know of other issues of interest to you or your organization. Feel free to share copies of this e-mail and the attachment with any others who may have an interest in the Texas Department of Transportation. To help ensure the free flow of information, anything submitted to Sunset staff during the review until the staff report is released is confidential, and will not be shared with anyone outside of Sunset staff.

To give the staff time to consider your information during our review of the Texas Department of Transportation, we request you send your response by Monday, January 7, 2008. Please mail, e-mail, or fax your comments to the address or fax number provided in the attached Preliminary Issue List. Also, if you need more information or have questions about our process, please contact Jennifer Jones at (512) 463-1300. We greatly appreciate your assistance and look forward to hearing your ideas.


Ken Levine
Deputy Director
Sunset Advisory Commission