Bob Fitrakis

On Saturday I marched with ten thousand people in downtown Detroit demanding “Good Jobs Now” as part of Rev. Jesse Jackson’s “Rebuild America” rally. I then visited my desolate boyhood westside Detroit neighborhood, Brightmoor, to remind myself what happens when an advanced nation foolishly refuses to have an industrial policy. Brightmoor was a thriving community in post-World War II society, when we actually manufactured things at home instead of outsourcing them to oppressive Third World regimes.

I visited the shell of my burned out childhood home at 12802 Stout and tried to recall the neighborhood when all the houses were occupied by autoworkers and those who worked in related industries like tool and die. My Dad worked just across the street from our house at O. Keller Tool and Die. Now in that 12-block radius, where I delivered the Detroit Shopping News, there are whole blocks without occupied houses. On Vaughn, a street where I used to deliver papers, there’s only four unoccupied houses where there used to be dozens. My old junior high school, Harding, looked like it had been shocked and awed in wartime as it lay half in rubble, being knocked down because no one lives in Brightmoor anymore.

They’re now talking of letting this thriving former working class neighborhood to overgrown meadows and orchards. This would be an improvement over the desperate poverty and gangs that remain in the area. The massive destruction of a working class neighborhood would not have been allowed in Canada, Japan, or western Europe. In Detroit, the complete devastation of one of the richest cities in the20th century is accepted. In my travels to the 9th ward in New Orleans, I saw stark devastation. On TV I see the ravages of natural disasters in Haiti and Pakistan. But the unprecedented destruction of Detroit is not caused by natural disasters. It was made by politicians – made in America – through policies of greed. The unnatural disaster in Detroit is little more than the result of patterns of disinvestment by transnational corporations and a misplaced mantra of “free trade” that found more profit in outsourcing jobs to authoritarian China than making things in the Motor City.

People need to see the destruction for themselves. In the case of a few of us who attended the Brightmoor reunion just outside the city in Hines Park, we actually remember what Detroit was like when we had a saner industrial policies in those forgotten pre-Reagan days. We know exactly what a neighborhood feels like and a community of people with actual jobs living in occupied houses. The Rebuild America rally says it all. As long as we spend 3 trillion dollars illegally attacking Iraq and hundreds of billions more fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan, there will be o rebirth of Detroit or America.

Glenn Beck can talk about America’s divine destiny, but if he was a righteous man, he would fight for the displaced workers of Detroit, not shill for the wealthy who destroyed it and ruined the American dream. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis fighting for better pay for sanitation workers. For Beck, who spends most of his time attacking any moderate attempts by the Obama administration to prop up the economy, to any way to associate himself with social justice, is an injustice and travesty. From Father Coughlin to Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck, the bribe tools of the corporate media structure, they will always blame those who are powerless and take the thirty pieces of silver from those who have the real power.

Free Press Free Film Night
Tuesday, August 24 at 7:30pm
Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Bexley
“People to People”
This is a 45-minute doocumentary film co-produced by the Cuban Film Institute and the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples. It tells the story of the USA/Cuba Friendshipments in which hundreds of caravaners from the United States and other countries have played a leading role in challenging the nearly 50-year-old USA blockade of Cuba, and in forceably demonstrating by means of their presence in Cuba, a trip they make in violation of USA law as specified by provisions for the blockade, that we are willing to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Cuba. The film will be followed by discussion led by Bill Lewis of the Columbus Pastors for Peace organization.

Sponsored by the Drexel Theater, the Free Press, and the Central Ohio Green Education Fund.

By Bob Fitrakis
Aug. 15, 2010

The teaser in Thursday, August 12th’s Dispatch proclaimed “Diebold deal helps counties.” It should have read “Diebold settles lawsuits by offering free and discounted shoddy election hardware and software.”

This is the equivalent of the Ford Motor Company settling the lawsuit against its incredible exploding Pintos by offering the dead driver’s family free leases and discounts to buy car that blows up.

So, Diebold gets caught not counting people’s votes – the solution: allow them to destroy democracy on a grander scale.

In the bizarre settlement, more than half of Ohio’s county boards of elections will receive free and discounted voting machines and software from Premier Election Solutions (formally Diebold). This is a result of an August 2008 lawsuit against Diebold by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. In the counterclaim filed by Brunner, she alleged that Diebold voting equipment “dropped votes in at least 11 counties.” The failure to count votes occurred when Diebold memory cards were uploaded to computer servers.

Diebold voting machine malfunctioned during the 2008 primary election prompted Cuyahoga County election officials to accuse the company of breach of contract, negligence and fraud. Diebold filed the original suit against Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) in May 2008 seeking payment and claiming that it had satisfied its contractual obligations in providing touchscreen voting.

Brunner intervened by filing a counterclaim in Franklin County, the state capitol, arguing breach of contract, warranty violations, and misrepresentation by Diebold representatives.

Brunner was elected as an election reformer after the debacle of the 2004 Ohio presidential election. In that election, the then-CEO of Diebold Walden “Wally” O’Dell, pledged to deliver Ohio’s electoral votes to George W. Bush. O’Dell was a major donor to the Bush campaign and a visitor to the president’s Crawford ranch.

In Lucas County, Diebold optiscan machines malfunctioned in the mostly Democratic inner city wards during the 2004 presidential election. Thousands of ballots that were rejected by the Diebold voting machines were never counted.

The settlement that affects 47 counties offers less than half a million dollars in payments, but Diebold is eager to give away and discount its software and hardware. Diebold’s General Election Management Software (GEMS) has come under attack for being designed in a way that allows for two sets of databases independent of each other. Diebold has agreed to give up to $2.4 million of free software licensing to Ohio counties over the next two years.

Along with the suspect Diebold software, the company will give away nearly 3,000 free voting machines in Ohio, up to 15% of a county’s total.

In the 2004 election, Diebold, Election Systems & Software (ES&S) and Triad all were criticized for partisan IT maintenance of election software and hardware. Specific charges made by voting rights activists were that maintenance workers helped rig the recount in Ohio. A Hocking County election official sent an affidavit to U.S. Rep. John Conyers noting that a Triad company worker had installed a new hard drive and had visited several other counties prior to the recount.

An ES&S worker, Sam Hogsett, was also accused of inappropriate behavior during the recount.

Diebold is discounting its maintenance fee by 50% if the counties continue to allow them to service their equipment. Diebold is now owned by the Nebraska-based ES&S and the two companies are estimated to be involved in the counting of 80% of the nation’s ballots using their secret proprietary software.

If counties no longer trust the non-transparent touchscreen Premier machines, the company is offering a 50% discount on new optiscan voting machines. The Free Press documented election tampering in the 2004 election in Miami County (Ohio) involving optiscan machines.

The net effect is that the notorious malfunctioning Diebold machines will be able to drop even more Ohio voters. County board of elections have 75 days to decide to accept Diebold’s partisan hardware and software. Since Diebold’s equipment has historically purged Democratic voters including its infamous purging of nearly 10,000 voters in Cleveland just prior to the 2004 election, you can county on most rural Republican-dominated counties to accept Diebold’s offer.

12th Avenue freezeout
by Bob Fitrakis

An age-old question on government abuse asks: “Who watches the watchers?” In Columbus, the answer is easy, it’s Copwatch.

Active and visible in the OSU campus area since the May 17, 1996 confrontation between Columbus police officers and 12th Avenue partiers, their slogan is “Refuse to be Abused”; their logo depicts an eyeball for the “O” in the word Cop. A pamphlet they’ve handed out every weekend this fall states: “We have cameras. We have lawyers. We have people who can be seen, and people who can’t. We are watching cops right now in the OSU area.”

And all of it’s true.

Like many seemingly subversive and radical ideas and innovations, the Copwatch concept originated in Berkeley. It is a direct linear descendant of perhaps America’s most well-known militant Copwatchers-the Oakland-based Black Panther Party and the Berkeley-based student liberation movement that brought us the student Free Speech Movement and clashed with the police over Peoples Park in the ’60s.

Like its Bay-Area predecessors, Copwatch was first organized in February 1990 on the south side of Berkeley in response to “police brutality,” according to Berkeley’s Copwatch handbook. The ongoing struggle between the University of California at Berkeley administration and campus-area residents over the removal of the Peoples Cafe from Peoples Park once again brought “people together out of a mutual understanding that this violence, which is targeted at the poor, street people, people of color, activists and hippies is a direct result of pressure from the university, many Telegraph Avenue merchants and landlords to gentrify the area,” the handbook explains.

In its initial manifesto proclaiming “Who is Copwatch?” the organization asserted: “We have come to feel that the very people who are supposed to safeguard our persons and property have actually come to represent a major threat to us.” They weren’t alone and their idea began to spread across the country.

In 1994, the Minneapolis Anti-Racist Action chapter, an organization whose national headquarters is in Columbus’s north campus area, started its own version of Copwatch. One of the Minneapolis founders, Justine-Copwatchers are generally reluctant to use their full name for fear of police harassment-conceded that “Our philosophy is a little different than Berkeley’s.

“We have more of a critique of the state, and what the police work to do, to uphold racist laws and a class-based society and suppress the poor,” she explained. Unlike Berkeley, the Minneapolis Copwatch focuses mainly on the downtown areas where they claim that African-American youth are routinely harassed on Friday and Saturday nights. Justine said that, “Curfews are strictly enforced on black youth and we didn’t see that being done in other areas, so it provided us with a way to have a greater public presence” by monitoring the police.

The instructions in the Minneapolis Copwatch handbook call for much more aggressive action than Berkeley’s. Their teams of four “intervenors” are told that, “It’s your job to find out what’s going on, be a witness, and prevent false arrest and harassment.” The more Gandi-ist Berkeley chapter says, “Treat everyone you come in contact with in a friendly and polite manner”; the Minnesota chapter advises, “Don’t get into philosophical debates with pigs, it’s pointless.” The Minneapolis Copwatch literature proclaims: “We don’t talk to cops!” They instruct their members: “They are our oppressors and you are committed to fighting oppression.” They define one of the notetaker’s tasks in the handbook as recording “Stupid or fucked-up quotes from the cops.”

Despite their more militant tactics and rhetoric, Justine said that only four Copwatch members have been arrested in its two years of existence, all misdemeanors involving interference with official police business.

On the other hand, the fledgling and much less confrontational Columbus Copwatch had four of its members arrested in a two-week period between October 13 and 27, and are adding a different element, the lawsuit. Attorney Jim McNamara said he plans to file suit on Wednesday, November 27 in the Franklin County Common Pleas Court against the city of Columbus and Columbus Police Officer David J. Dennison and, as yet, unnamed John and Jane Doe officers. The suit, filed on behalf of plaintiffs Shammas Jones, Chris Wisniewski, and Walter Leake alleges “assault and battery,” “false arrest,” and “malicious prosecution” against the officers and the city.

The lawsuit stems from the Columbus Police Department’s actions in the south campus area on the evening of May 17, 1996. It also led to the founding of Copwatch in Columbus. Jones, then a third-year Criminology student, stood behind the police and videotaped them as they charged down 12th Avenue firing tear gas and wooden bullets and making random arrests.

The reason for the confrontation between a couple hundred police and throng of 12th Avenue party-goers remains a mystery. The lawsuit states: “This large police presence was not in response to any emergency situation or civil disobedience. Rather, it was a pre-planned action.” McNamara claims that testimony in the Shammas Jones criminal trial-where a jury unanimously acquitted of all criminal charges-demonstrated that the police planned the confrontation with the partiers “up to 10 days earlier.”

McNamara contends that Jones merely “observed, videotaped, and then turned to walk away” when “he was attacked from behind by the police, Maced in the face, knocked to the ground, pushed and struck violently and repeatedly.” The suit alleges that the police attacked Jones “because he had videotaped improper police actions.” Jones asserts that the portion of his tape that showed the police misconduct was erased while in police custody.

“I don’t have any knowledge of that,” said Commander Steven Gammil, the CPD officer in charge of the situation on the OSU campus the night Jones, Wisniewski and Leake was arrested.

So outraged was Jones by the police action he refused an offer by the city of Columbus to dismiss all criminal charges against him, including disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, if he signed an agreement promising not to sue the city and the officers.

Co-plaintiff Chris Wisniewski, a member of Anti-Racist Action (ARA), was shocked by the police assault on Jones, an African-American, and “paused and made a critical comment on the police action,” according to McNamara. Wisniewski, the suit claims, was also “attacked from behind” and arrested.

Co-plaintiff Leake was Maced “in a police show of force to clear the area quickly,” says the suit. Neither Wisniewski nor Leake were charged with criminal conduct. “Look, there’s three steps here. First, the police hurt you physically if you attempt to witness their actions. Then they arrest you, and finally, they charge you if you happen to catch them on videotape,” McNamara asserts.

Within a week, ARA activists aware of the Copwatch in Minneapolis, took to the streets. On May 31, a dozen Copwatchers demonstrated on the corner of 12th and High with a banner asking a simple question: “Is South Campus a Student Neighborhood or a Penal Colony!?” Diverting from the Minneapolis model, Columbus Copwatchers emphasize not only non-confrontational observing of south campus police activity, but educating area residents of their Constitutional rights. Every weekend night on campus they hand out literature containing “Practical tips in dealing with the police.” One tip advises, “Do not ‘bad mouth’ the police or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable.”

The summer months weren’t much of a test as to the police’s receptiveness to the Copwatch tactics. News coverage on NBC4 showing police brutality, with video depicting an officer repeatedly punching an arrested student, helped create a friendly environment for Copwatch activity.

Autumn quarter at OSU became the real challenge. It started well enough with Shammas Jones being acquitted on September 23. But then things got ugly. After OSU’s victory over Notre Dame, police provided little or no law enforcement as a small but determined group of celebrators vandalized and overturned cars on 12th Avenue. Public sympathy for south campus residents quickly vanished. With great fanfare, OSU President Gordon Gee disposed of due process and suspended several students suspected of taking part in the vandalism, which occurred off-campus and not under the university’s jurisdiction.

Copwatch members claimed that the Columbus Police Department let the vandalism get out of control to punish 12th Avenue residents critical of their May 17 actions and to manipulate public opinion. It worked. With elected officials and the public at large decrying student vandalism, the police were virtually given carte blanche to control the south campus area.

Liquor control agents posing as store clerks and pizza delivery men invaded the south campus area to crack down on underage drinking. They routinely enter area residences that host weekend parties, checking I.D.’s, making arrests and confiscating kegs. And the mainstream media began to report routinely the number of campus arrests each weekend along with the Buckeye football score. OSU student Anthony Tarantino commented that the police “are taking away all our freedoms. They’re watching us all the time. It’s like we live in a police state.” Another student, Donald Cox, said “The cops are screwing everything up. We need gas masks to party. It sucks.”

The emboldened police immediately cracked down on Copwatchers. On October 13, a Copwatch member was arrested for videotaping police arrests. The tape he shot clearly shows that he was complying with police orders. Columbus Alive viewed a video provided by McNamara that shows the police ordering the Copwatch videographer to the sidewalk, a safe distance away from the arrest. The police later push the videographer into a crowd of students and arrest him after he asks them if they want to “get macho for the camera.”

“What Copwatch was doing is perfectly legal,” argues McNamara.

On October 19, Copwatch organized a rally, in conjunction with ARA’s national convention, of some 300 people to march against police brutality in the south campus area. Police squad cars followed the peaceful demonstration and waded into the crowd at Blake Avenue and High Street to arrest a marcher for walking in the street. In making the arrest, they Maced several demonstrators, including this Columbus Alive reporter. Police later denied using Mace to the media.

Copwatch members and police clashed again on October 27. Both Josh Klein and Ann Pussel were arrested while peacefully videotaping an arrest near 12th and High. And fellow watcher Patricia Sikora was ticketed when she followed the police cruiser to the Franklin County jail to bail them out. Columbus Alive obtained a tape of the incident that is strikingly at odds with the police arrest report submitted by Lieutenant Rich Mann. In Mann’s report, “Mr. Klein then walked right up to the officer’s face, pushing his camcorder into their faces. He was again ordered to leave the area. Mr. Klein then walked to the sidewalk taunting and crying at officers.”

The tape tells a different tale. Officers indeed ordered Klein a safe distance away to the sidewalk. At that point, a male companion of the man being arrested says to the Copwatchers, “That’s fucked up. It takes a whole precinct to arrest him.” Police officers, clearly not in any danger with their man arrested and in the cruiser, take offense to the companion’s remark and walk up to the camera. When they put their hands on Klein, he says “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.” In Mann’s version-not substantiated by the tape-Klein says “I don’t have to leave. Don’t you fucking touch me.” Upon arrest, fearing that his tape would meet the same fate as that of Shammas Jones, Klein passed his camera off to Ann Pussel, who was immediately arrested for interfering with police business.

McNamara vows to produce, in addition to the tape, at least three eyewitnesses who support Copwatch’s version. On October 31, the U.S. Justice Department announced an investigation of evidence of patterned discrimination by Columbus Police officers giving Copwatch members some hope that their arrests have not been in vain.

Doug Browell, chief labor attorney for the city of Columbus, commented Tuesday, “We don’t try our cases in the press. So I really have no comment on [the investigation.] What I can say is that the city is cooperating with the investigation as much as possible.”

Ron Zeller, owner of the south campus restaurant Street Scene and self-professed “Copwatch Watcher,” has strong opinions on Copwatch tactics. “Copwatch serves some good purposes, but they’ve overstepped their bounds a little bit.” While he supports the police and criticizes the Copwatchers for interfering, he concedes that the crux of the problem is the government’s policy that tries “to legislate moral and social problems.” He said that out of the 29 altercations he’s had at Street Scene, 27 involved non-college students. “Just today I had a 28-year-old who wanted to throw a beer bottle at the TV set because the Buckeyes lost to Michigan. He’s not a student. There’s too much Section 8 housing in the area. Too much density in the 12th Avenue area and that’s the landlord’s fault, not the students.” He frankly admits that he believes there’s “discriminatory enforcement of the liquor laws in the campus area.”

In anticipation of an OSU victory over Michigan, 400 riot police moved into the south campus area last weekend. No major confrontations or arrests of Copwatch members were reported.

Now comes the winter of Copwatch’s discontent and litigation. It’s not quite as exciting as Huey Newton brandishing a gun and a copy of the Constitution and facing down the Oakland Police in the 1960s, but it may be as equally important in our current climate of rough-’em-up police tactics and prison-building that the police know that they’re accountable to the communities they’re sworn to protect and serve.

It is fitting on the fifth anniversary of the death of Bill Moss, lead plaintiff in the legendary Moss v. Bush 2004 lawsuit in Ohio, that the Associated Press is admitting the easy hackability of Diebold machines.

“A hacker has discovered a way to force ATMs to disgorge their cash by hijacking the computers inside them,” reads the AP lead.

The AP goes on to warn that, “The attacks demonstrated last week targeted stand-alone ATMs. But they could potentially could be used against the ATMs operated by mainstream banks.”

What the Associated Press and corporate for-profit media fail to report is that Diebold, one of the world’s leading ATM hardware and sofware providers, also manufactures electronic voting machines with similar problems.

The similarities between hacking a Diebold ATM and a Diebold/Premier election machine are startling. For example, the hacker, Barnaby Jack, Director of Security Testing for Seattle based IOActive, Inc., stated “Every ATM I’ve looked at, I’ve been able to find a flaw in. It’s a scary thing.”

It’s even scarier that all major studies of electronic voting machines have found the same flaws.

The AP tells us that “Jack found that the physical keys that came with his machines were the same for all ATMs of that type made by that manufacturer.” This has long been reported by election protection activists concerning voting machines.

Jack found that you could hack the ATM machines over the internet. The same accusations were made of voting machines in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio is 2004 after election results fell significantly outside the exit poll margins of error.

This is coupled with recent revelations by Diebold that their machines were physically attacked and illegal software was installed on them in Russia. Here’s the quote from Diebold’s website:

“Criminals broke into a number of ATMs in Russia and installed illegal software. This crime required an aggressive, physical break-in with high-tech expertise once the inside of the ATM was accessed.”

The assurance from Diebold as to the reliability of their ATMs and, by inference, Premier voting machines, amounts to a confession of vulnerability: “It is important to stress that Diebold ATMs with properly configured operating systems, firewalls, passwords and other physical and logical security measures are not at risk for most software exploits.”

Note the key operative word here for Diebold ATMs and voting machines is that “most” hacking attempts will not be successful, but what about the others?

All evidence suggests that some have hacked into election results in Florida in 2000, Georgia in 2002, Ohio in 2004, and in other elections worldwide.

The use of mainstream computers to hack elections was pioneered by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. “Our man Marcos” in the Philippines desperately manipulated mainframe computers to rig his re-election, which failed because of the Corzaon Aquino and the people power movement who refused to accept the illegally programmed results.

Why is it, on this anniversary of Bill Moss’ passing, that we can readily accept people are hacking into ATM machines, but ignore the fact that people are also hacking Diebold, ES&S and other electronic voting machines and stealing more than money. They are stealing our democratic legacy.

Here in Ohio for the 2010 election, 54 out of 88 counties used DRE machines (electronic voting machines) with 34 others using computerized optical scanning voting machines which are also easily hackable.

Also, highly partisan Republican-connected election machine service companies with a long history of activism in the Right to Life movement, now maintain virtually all of the computerized electronic voting machines outside the major cities in Ohio. According to data from the Ohio Secretary of State’s website, Triad is now servicing electronic and computerized voting machines in 50 counties, up from 48 in 2008 and significantly grew from the 44 they serviced in 2004.

Recall that allegations were made before Congress that Tried often arrived unannounced prior to the Ohio recount in 2004, inserted patches and reprogrammed computers.

If we were to honor the memory of Bill Moss, we would take a stand for democracy and demand that private, for-profit vendors with their secret proprietary software codes would be forever banned from U.S. elections.

America has the know-how and technology to make sure nobody hacks our elections. Like other democracies in the world that have figured it out, it is called “paper and pen.” Fully transparent, hand-counted paper ballots.

FightBack Talk Radio July 23, AG Shutsdown Fed Attny Firing Investigation