Is Bomb Plant top threat in US?

At a 1978 SC State House press conference organized by the Natural Guard (the SC Progressive Network’s predecessor), Dr. John Goffman, a nuclear scientist credited with the discovery of plutonium, stated that the Savannah River Bomb Plant was the nation’s greatest national security threat. In the ensuing 34 years, the threat has increased.

The Bomb Plant: America’s Three A.M. Nightmare

November 14, 2012

National Security News Service

Aiken, S.C. – Tons of weapons grade plutonium and other nuclear materials, a target for terrorists, are not being properly protected by the National Nuclear Security Administration at the Department of Energy’s sprawling Savannah River Site, according to security consultants and U.S. counterintelligence officials.

A secret security review underway at DOE and other government agencies after an elderly nun last summer breached a NNSA bomb-grade-uranium facility at the Oak Ridge Tennessee Y12 area reveals “harrowing problems in site management and control at other DOE sites,” said a Homeland Security official who requested anonymity. The official said that the Savannah River Site was of concern because “SRS does not have the staffing or the facilities to protect the huge amounts of plutonium that have been brought to SRS in recent years.”

Read more here.

Droning On and On

By Mary Sullivan
Hilton Head, SC

Now that we are all worshiping at the “Cathedral of St. Drone,” we actually no longer need the institution of war. We have been praying for peace and it is actually on our doorstep! War has most certainly now become a totally outmoded institution.

This new state is thanks to our growing arsenal of unmanned armed aerial vehicles known as “killer drones” (now more numerous than other types of military aircraft) and to a president, comfortable with weekly review of his “kill list” for ordering “targeted assassinations” of people in countries with which we are not at war. Even though we don’t know their names, “signature assassinations” of people who just look like they could become a problem are OK too.

Drone assassinations are now THE weapon of choice and the industry is growing mightily. Hurry up and buy stock in the weapons manufacturers. We shouldn’t miss the opportunity to cash in. It’s good on so many levels — jobs, profits and it’s just plain neater. All those deaths are “over there” and our boys remain OK.

Why maybe we can even close the over 700 US military bases in over 150 countries (not our own Parris Island, of course). Finally the planet will be rid of the scourge of war. Any killing needed by the government can be done with a press of a button from a computer terminal right here. And our kids are already trained to skillfully use the button with games like God of War 4, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, etc. Stock in XBOX 360 and Playstation should also soar.

Now that at least 30 police departments have been equipped with drones, I am also looking toward the day when we can cut our state and local police budgets, thus rescuing these financially ailing entities. What a wonderful world we have to look forward to! I imagine we will eventually get used to the constant buzzing over head and to the insect sized drones listening at our windows.

But I really cannot understand why have we not been celebrating the end of war and this new, cleaner, more sanitized means of just getting rid of anyone who might remotely be of some challenge to our empire–and their families and friends who are surely guilty by sheer association?

I just don’t understand it. Shouldn’t there be ticker tape parades down 5th Avenue in New York City and along the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and maybe along 278 on Hilton Head and in towns and cities across the country? What could possibly account for the fact that we are not celebrating this momentous change in the way we humans deal with conflict? Surely not because most citizens (polls say 62%% or more approve) or media pundits have any moral compunction about assassination as the new strategy.

So whatever could it be?

SC Election Day meltdown: a cautionary tale

By Brett Bursey
Director, SC Progressive Network

The Election Protection hotline started ringing shortly after the polls opened at 7. It didn’t stop all day. Ninety percent of the touch-screen voting machines in the county’s 118 precincts wouldn’t boot up. Some precincts didn’t have working machines until 5:30pm.

One campaign tried to get the court to extend voting hours, but failed. The SC Republican Party Chairman said, “There is always a backup in case there is an election machine malfunction.” But unfortunately for thousands of voters, there was no such backup.

This wasn’t Richland County on Nov. 6, 2012. It was in Horry County’s 2008 Republican presidential primary.

At the time, I thought this was the train wreck we needed to get out from under these unreliable voting machines and get our emergency ballot statute fixed. I was wrong.

Four years later, it was thousands of voters in Richland County standing in line for up to seven hours because there weren’t enough working machines and no emergency ballots.

These are the same machines that failed in Horry County in 2008. The same machines that gave the 2010 Democratic nomination for US Senate to the virtually unknown Alvin Green, a result deemed statistically impossible by the nation’s top computer voting experts. The same machines South Carolina bought between 2004 and 2006 – against our organization’s recommendation to the Election Commission. After studying the issue extensively and watching what was working in other states, we advocated simpler, paper-based voting devices.

This Election Day, machine failures didn’t happen in Richland County alone, but in at least seven other counties, according to reports to the Election Protection hotline. Callers from Spartanburg, Greenville, Charleston, Horry, Berkeley, Kershaw and Sumter counties all reported machine failures causing long lines.

In the 2008 Horry machine failure, State Election Commission spokesman Gary Baum said all precincts must have emergency paper ballots on hand, calling them “part of the election.”

SEC spokesman Chris Whitmire said voters could use almost anything – “a napkin, a paper towel” – to vote.

That afternoon, Whitmire called and said, “Brett, let’s read that statute together, out loud.” He was referring to State Code 7-13-430 that used to require each precinct to have enough paper emergency ballots on hand “as are equal to ten percent of the registered qualified voters at such voting place.”

We discovered that, in 2000, the emergency ballot statute was amended to require “a number of ballots not to exceed ten percent of the registered qualified voters at the voting place.” The math we had learned in our minimally adequate schools allowed us to calculate that zero does not exceed 10 percent. So, while precincts are required to provide emergency ballots, they are not required to have any until after the emergency.

Sen. Phil Leventis requested an opinion from Attorney General Henry McMaster prior to the 2008 general election on the contradictory nature of the redrawn statute. McMaster agreed that while precincts were not required to have emergency ballots on hand, they are required to be available “without undue delay.”

In the 2008, deputy sheriffs waited for the county election office to print the various versions of ballots required by local races, and then drove paper ballots to the precincts. At 2pm, deputies were still delivering the first shipments of paper to some precincts.

Whether you consider it “undue delay” might depend on whether you were one of the thousands of Horry County voters who braved freezing rain only to be told to come back later.

In Richland County, with countywide reports of machine shortages and failures, only a few precincts considered offering emergency ballots. Our Election Protection Coalition provided emergency ballots for one precinct. Other precincts that requested them were told by county election officials they couldn’t use emergency ballots.

Richland County Election Board Chair Liz Crum said they were prohibited by law from using emergency ballots. It says “if no machine is available,” paper shall be provided. Most precincts had some machines working.

Clearly, the statute needs to be fixed to require an on-hand supply of paper ballots and specify the wait times at which point they may be used.

The requirement for emergency paper ballots to be on hand at precincts was written out of the law in 2000 at the insistence of the Association of Counties. At the time, counties were using lever machines, punch cards and mechanical devices that never failed county-wide. The counties argued that emergency paper ballots were an unnecessary expense.

In 2002, in the wake of the Florida “hanging chad” debacle, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which provided funding for states to update their voting systems. South Carolina was the first state to spend the money, and one of seven states not to seek an extension of the funding deadline pending the establishment of federal guidelines for the new generation of touch-screen voting computers.

The SC Progressive Network presented expert testimony to the state Election Commission about the devices’ shortcomings before the state spent $38 million to buy the iVotronic machines we still use. The “iVo’s” don’t produce a paper record that can be verified by the voter, or used to recount the vote, and have been de-certified in a number of states because they are unreliable.

Switching to a statewide, computer-based, paperless voting system should have caused the legislature to restore the requirement for emergency paper ballots at every precinct. The potential for county-wide machine failures is a proven liability of this kind of system.

While blame for the failure in Richland County is falling largely on election officials, ignoring the history of failed machines in this and other elections implies that only human ineptitude or malfeasance can cause such problems.

As these delicate and complicated devices reach the end of their lifespan, we should be concerned about future elections and our next generation of machines. Replacing the people that run the machines will not solve the core problem. We must learn from our past mistakes and acquire a more a reliable, rnon-proprietary, paper-based voting system.

Brett Bursey is SC Progressive Network Director and SC Election Protection Field Coordinator.

Speaker Harrell’s PAC donated $30,000 to members of House Republican Ethics Committee

The SC Progressive Network submitted these written comments to the Republican Caucus Ethics Committee, which met this morning.

Money — rather than good ideas — fuels South Carolina’s politics. Ninety percent of the candidates who spend the most money win. An incumbent who spends the most money has a 98 percent chance of being elected. While state ethics laws limit campaign contributions to House races at $1000, a proliferation of political action committees (PACs) allow deep-pocket donors to get around the limit.

Webster’s defines ethics as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” We urge this committee to consider that while the House rules of conduct, when followed, may be legal, they are not necessarily ethical.

For example, the Palmetto Leadership Council is a PAC headed by the SC House Speaker Bobby Harrell. Membership in his Leadership PAC cost $3,500. Harrell says on the PAC’s web site, “We are building a unique coalition between leaders in the private sector and those of us engaged in public service.”

While Harrell, or a corporation like AT&T, can only make a $1000 donation to a House candidate, AT&T can make a $3,500 donation to Harrell’s Leadership PAC, which can then make another $1,000 donation to the same candidate.

Harrell’s PAC has raised nearly $1 million since its founding in 2004, with 98.7 percent going to Republican candidates (79 percent incumbents). More than 89 percent of the candidates backed by Harrell’s PAC won election.

Harrell’s largest donations were $100,000 checks written to the state Republican Party. The party can then make a $5,000 contribution to the same candidate that received the $1,000 maximum from Harrell’s PAC.

It’s a way around campaign finance laws. It’s legal but ethically suspect. We urge the Committee to follow the Senate’s lead and eliminate leadership PAC’s that allow the “bundling” of campaign donations that violate the spirit of campaign finance laws.

Donations from Palmetto Leadership Council to members of the Republican Caucus Ethics Committee:

Chairman Murrell Smith, R-Sumter
(803) 734-3042
$5000 (2004-2012)

Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman
(803) 212-6788
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Derham Cole, R-Spartanburg
(803) 212-6790
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Joe Daning, R-Goose Creek
(803) 734-2951
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Phyllis Henderson, R-Greer
(803) 212-6883
$1000 (2012)

Rep. Jenny Horne, R-Dorchester
(803) 212-6871
$3000 (2008-2012)

Rep. Andy Patrick, R-Hilton Head
(803) 212-6928
$2000 (2010-2012)

Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York
(803) 212-6895
$2000 (2010-2012)

Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington
(803) 212-6897
$3000 (2004-2012)

Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville
(803) 734-3114
$5000 (2004-2012)

TOTAL: $30,000