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Lawsuits, Machine Malfunctions and Missing Absentee Ballots Among Voting Rights Issues Facing Jittery Election

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With the election less than a week away, the battle is on for voting rights. Early voters across the country are reporting long lines and problems with electronic voting machines. Republicans, meanwhile, continue to file lawsuits that could stop thousands from voting. We speak to Harvey Wasserman of Free Press and Brad Friedman of the Brad Blog. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The election is less than a week away. The battle is on for voting rights. Early voters across the country are reporting long lines and problems with electronic voting machines, including vote flipping.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to file lawsuits that could stop thousands from voting because their registration information does not exactly match government databases. Legal rulings in Wisconsin, Nevada and Ohio have rejected these challenges, and the US Supreme Court also dismissed a case earlier this month relating to 200,000 new voters in the battleground state of Ohio. But last week, the White House got involved and asked the Department of Justice to investigate the integrity of these 200,000 new voter registration forms. Ohio Democratic leaders, as well as the ACLU, have sent letters to the Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, urging him not to intervene in the election dispute in Ohio.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, more than 11,000 voters in Denver have not received absentee ballots because of a mistake made by the company Sequoia Voting Systems. Sequoia was supposed to have delivered 21,000 ballots to a Denver mail processing facility on October 16, but the company only delivered about half the requested ballots.

I’m joined now by two guests who have been the watchdogs for voting rights. Harvey Wasserman is senior editor of the Ohio-based freepress.org, and he’s co-author of four books on voter rights. What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election and How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008 are among them. He joins me from Columbus, Ohio. We’re also joined via video stream from Los Angeles by independent journalist Brad Friedman. He’s the creator of “The Brad Blog” at bradblog.com and has reported extensively on vote rigging.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Harvey Wasserman, let’s begin with you. Talk about the latest around this issue of the 200,000 new voters’ new voter registration forms.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, the GOP is trying to disenfranchise these 200,000 people by challenging their right to vote, asking the Secretary of State here, Jennifer Brunner, to let the counties investigate and knock off the voter rolls, if they choose to, people who have minor discrepancies in their Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers. And the Secretary of State has rightfully showed that many of these mistakes come from typographical errors when the numbers are entered in at the agencies. And so, essentially, what the GOP is doing is asking to disenfranchise people because of a minor typographical error. We are supporting the Secretary of State in resisting this attempt.

The US Supreme Court has rejected this challenge to these 200,000 voters, but now the Bush administration has ordered or has asked the Attorney General, Mukasey, to get involved. This is reminiscent of the interjection in the 2006 election, when nine federal prosecutors were asked to get involved in alleged voter fraud, which turned out to be nonexistent.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain further what is happening around the White House urging Mukasey to get involved, the ACLU saying he shouldn’t get involved? And go back a little in time to, well, really why his predecessor, why the former Attorney General, Gonzales, actually was forced out of office, resigned.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yes. Attorney General Gonzales was forced out of office because he ordered nine federal prosecutors, nine federal employees, to prosecute voter fraud that didn’t exist. The idea was, on the part of the Bush administration, to disenfranchise as many people as possible by federal means in the 2006 election. And essentially, this is a replay here.

In Ohio, 200,000 votes exceeds substantially Bush’s alleged margin of victory in 2004. It’s a lot of votes out of 5.4 million that voted in 2004. So this is a very substantial attack on the ability — this is all about new voters, by the way, who have filed new forms. And it’s a very strong attempt to discourage new voters from coming into the place of voting and to affect the election. 200,000 votes thrown off the voter rolls here would be a very substantial chunk and could actually affect the outcome of the election.

AMY GOODMAN: There was another very important ruling that Bill O’Reilly of Fox was extremely upset about, and it’s the ruling by a federal judge that counties must allow homeless voters to list park benches and other locations that aren’t buildings as addresses.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah, well, these people are still citizens. Many of them, in fact, are veterans. And it’s quite ironic that the great patriot Bill O’Reilly would want to disenfranchise veterans.

We are seeing this up and down the line here in Ohio. We had a sheriff in Greene County attempt to disenfranchise students, or at least make a move toward it. You know, there’s always a question whether a student votes at home or on campus, and in Greene County there are a number of colleges, and the sheriff there threatened 308 voters with prosecution based on where they registered to vote. He was forced to back off of that.

And we are having a pretty good counterattack by voting rights advocates in this state, unlike 2004, where the election was essentially stolen without people fighting for it. This time around, I think people are standing up, and it’s going to be, we hope, a very different outcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, who’s been challenged time and time again. Also, aren’t there a series of ads that the Republicans have begun running, many times a day, around the issue of voter fraud?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, this is a total red herring. The Cincinnati Enquirer, a conservative Republican paper in Cincinnati, has investigated prosecutions for voter fraud since the 1950s and found less than ten, a bare handful. It’s really a false issue. It is a felony to vote fraudulently, and people just don’t do it. I think the Times, the New York Times, has run a statistic of something like eighteen successful prosecutions of voting fraud throughout the United — voter fraud throughout the United States in the last four or five years. So, it’s really a nonexistent problem. But the Republicans have seized upon it in an attempt to essentially de-legitimize this election and to discourage people from voting. We’ve seen the whole flap with ACORN and other instances where the Republicans are charging that there are massive hordes of people coming in to vote fraudulently. This is just not happening.

But we see a concerted campaign here in Ohio by the Republicans to de-legitimize the Democratic Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, who we feel has been relatively even-handed. She is not like J. Kenneth Blackwell was in 2004, the co-chair — Blackwell then was the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign running the election. This year, Jennifer Brunner is not the co-chair of the Obama campaign, and we feel that she’s had a pretty good even-handed impact on the election. In fact, she attempted here to provide paper ballots for all who wanted them, who came to the polls and did not want to vote on electronic voting machines. And the Republicans, who control the legislature and the purse strings, screamed that this would cost too much money and have not allowed that to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Harvey, you have written four books on the subject of the elections and votes being stolen. What do you expect in these next — I mean, the election is, well, within a week, less than a week away.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, we expect a mix. We think it’s going to be much, much better than it was in 2004. A study in 2004 showed it took black voters in the state nearly an hour to vote, as opposed to white voters getting in in fifteen minutes or less. We don’t expect that to be rerun. We do expect some problems. We know in 2004 there was a selective shortchanging of black precincts on voting machines. We don’t expect that to happen again.

We will have thousands of observers at the polls, and we are urging everyone who’s interested to come out and be an election observer, come to the polls with a camera and make sure that if people are coming out of the polls with complaints, that they are recorded. And we will have hearings after the election to swear people in with affidavits so they can be used in court cases. In general, we — that their testimony can.

We generally expect a much smoother process this year, we hope, but we are still subject to electronic voting machines. As many as half of the people who vote at the polls on Election Day may be voting on electronic voting machines. We’re already seeing vote flipping from electronic voting machines in other states, as we saw in Ohio in Youngstown and Columbus in 2004. In both cases, people pushed John Kerry, and George Bush lit up. Now we’re seeing people pushing Barack Obama, and John McCain lighting up. We hope that that doesn’t happen again, and we’re going to have to fight that, because it’s very difficult to correct that on Election Day.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, Harvey Wasserman will stay with us, and we’ll be joined by Brad Friedman of Brad Blog. We’ll find out about the Sequoia Voting in Colorado. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re looking at voting around the country. Yes, early voting, millions of people are doing it. Harvey Wasserman with us, senior editor at the Ohio-based freepress.org. His book, How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008, among four books he’s written on voting. Brad Friedman with us, independent journalist with “Brad Blog” at bradblog.com. He has reported extensively on issues of vote rigging.

Talk about Sequoia and Colorado. Welcome, Brad, to the video stream.

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Amy. Great to be here.

Yeah, well, Sequoia is one of the big four voting machine companies. Of course, they have failed in state after state. Their most recent failure here — and it’s hard to keep up with them, when it comes to Sequoia — is the 11,000 ballots that they were — absentee ballots that they were supposed to print out and send. They didn’t. They lied about it. And hopefully, once they got caught, now they’ll hopefully be sending them out this week, and hopefully voters will be getting them.

But, to me, by far, the greater concern is these electronic touch-screen machines all over the country, which are beginning to fail in state after state. And officials are claiming it’s a recalibration issue; if they recalibrate the screen, that will take care of it. And I’ve got to say that advising anyone to touch these machines, to insert memory cartridges in them, which is needed for recalibration, while they’re programmed is absolutely insane. And the fact that the Democratic Party is doing little or nothing and allowing these machines to continue to be used, instead of pulling them and requiring folks to vote on paper ballots, is to their shame, and it’s somewhat maddening at this point this many years into this, knowing what we know about these systems.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about vote flipping and touch screens in West Virginia, what’s happening there with early voting.

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Sure. And it’s not just — it’s West Virginia, it’s Tennessee, it’s Texas, Missouri, Nevada. Generally, what seems to happen here is people go in and vote for a Democratic straight party ticket or for Barack Obama, and the vote flips to a Republican or some other candidate. We’ve got video of that at bradblog.com that folks can take a look at, see it for themselves. And we’ve actually got an election official showing a machine with one of these problems, showing — suggesting that it’s a calibration — a screen calibration issue, showing how when you vote for one candidate, it flips to another. And then he says, “Look, here we’re recalibrating it now so it will now work fine,” and we actually see that it still doesn’t work fine even after he’s recalibrated it. He tries to make a straight party vote, and it ends up selecting Ralph Nader for president.

These machines need to be pulled out, because even when they work, the problem is that there is absolutely no way to ever verify that any vote ever cast on a touch-screen machine like this has been recorded as per the voter’s intent. It’s strictly impossible, even with a so-called paper trial. And that Democrats aren’t raising holy hell about it is maddening, frustrating and, frankly, to their shame at this point, knowing what we know.

AMY GOODMAN: Brad, let’s turn to some of the problems that have been reported with the electronic voting machines, as you were pointing out. Virginia Methaney from Jackson County, West Virginia, was one of the first people to report a problem with vote flipping last week after her attempt to vote Democrat was flipped to Republican. Videothevote.org spoke to Virginia Methaney about her experience.

    VIRGINIA METHANEY: When I pressed to enter my vote for the Democrat, the checkmark jumped to the one above, to the Republican. Well, I pressed the Democrat again, and it jumped up again. So I asked a poll worker. I said, “Well, why would this machine not allow me to vote for my candidate?” She said, “Well” — she said, “It’s got a sensitive screen.” She said, “You’re touching it too hard.” She said, “Just barely use the tip of your fingernail to touch it,” which I did. Then I went to the next candidate, it did the same thing. I voted for the Democrat, it jumped up to the Republican. Well, then she told me, she said, “Just keep pressing the one that you want to vote for, and it will finally take.” Well, I did, and it did stay there, but I proceeded to have problems through — all through the ballot.

    After I had the problem voting, I filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State’s office. And her deputy investigator called me to ask me what happened. I told him. He said, “Well, it sounded like the machines need to be recalibrated, that when they’re moved, sometimes it messes them up.”

AMY GOODMAN: Videothevote.org also spoke to Jackson County, West Virginia county clerk Jeff Waybright about the vote flips on the iVotronic machines.

    JEFF WAYBRIGHT: If the poll worker got to a machine and it was out of calibration, this is what would happen. I’m going to touch Barack Obama there, but notice, it jumped clear down to Chuck Baldwin, because the machine is out of calibration. Now it sent me to a screen to vote a write-in ballot. When I hit Barack Obama — the machine is out of calibration — it did not jump up to the Republican candidate, it did not vote a straight Republican ticket, and it did — it jumped down to Chuck Baldwin.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Brad Friedman of “Brad Blog,” what should people do? I mean, we heard from Virginia in West Virginia, and she did file a complaint. How do you know when it takes or if it hasn’t taken? And this whole issue of a receipt for voting, like we get when you get money from an ATM, is there a receipt anywhere in the country?

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Well, and that tape, by the way, of West Virginia of Waybright, as that tape continues, he shows what happens after they recalibrate the system, and the problems still occur. So, to recalibrate in the middle of an election is insane. That’s the most vulnerable point for these systems, where you can insert malicious software and anything else.

As to receipts, no, you don’t get them. You shouldn’t get them, because the fact is, we don’t want people leaving the polls and being able to buy and sell, you know, their vote. That’s why it’s so important to have transparency, to get it right in the first place. And any so-called receipt should be a paper ballot, hand-marked, that we all can go in — every citizen in the country can go in and take a look at after the election and assure that it was in fact counted correctly as per the voter’s intent. That is strictly impossible with any direct-recording electronic — these are usually touch-screen voting machines. It is strictly impossible, no matter what it says on the screen, to know, in fact, that that vote was counted as per the voter’s intent. That’s why these machines are so damn dangerous.

And I was on the air last week in Reno, Nevada with Harry Reid, who actually came on the air and said, “Well, we’re lucky here in Nevada, because we have a paper trail for all of our votes.” Fact is, in Reno, Nevada, they use illegally certified touch-screen machines, yes, with a paper trail, but 100 percent unverifiable as far as whether they’re recording the voter’s intent.

So you’ve got to fight for a paper ballot, you’ve got to ask for one where you’re allowed to have one, and, yes, please, bring a video camera, videotape your vote, put it out there on the web, videothevote.org, end up on YouTube. This time we’ve got to make a lot of noise about what happens. I promise you, if this happens to Republicans, they’ll be making noise. I’m disappointed that the Democratic Party and Barack Obama is not making the noise that they should be and demanding that these machines be removed and voters given paper ballots.

AMY GOODMAN: Brad Friedman, in the case of this West Virginia voter, the woman who described what happened, she’s sitting there with the poll worker showing her what’s happening. So, I mean, this ends privacy in voting. You’ve got to bring in the poll worker and show them who you’re trying to vote for?

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Yeah, that’s — unfortunately, that’s what has to happen, because if you don’t, A, they can’t help you with these machines — they’re very complicated to use — and B, nobody’s going to believe you that this problem occurred in the first place. They probably won’t believe you, even if you do have a poll worker over there. That’s why we’re suggesting people bring their cell phone, their video camera — cell phone video cameras and videotape this experience that they have when a vote jumps from one candidate to another.

But yeah, these are the hoops that we’ve been forced to jump through in order to try to cast our vote, to try and get it counted and to try and get it counted accurately. And after all of these years of, you know, folks like Harvey and myself running around with our hair on fire trying to warn people about this, it’s disappointing, to say the least, to see this going on now in state after state after state. It’s not just West Virginia, I promise you that.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, Brad of “Brad Blog” is joining us by video stream from California. This issue of the emergency declared by Governor Crist in Florida and allowing the lines — allowing the polling places to be extended to twelve hours, Brad, can you talk about this, these extremely long lines in Florida for early voting?

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Yeah, I can. And frankly, this is to Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican — it’s to his effort, especially in the midst of this all-out Republican war on democracy that we’re seeing all across the country. So I’m going to give Governor Crist credit there for trying to ease the lines. In fact, the Republican legislature had shortened the early voting hours some time ago. And they’re seeing all kinds of problems, all kinds of lines.

The bottlenecks, unfortunately, are tending to be at the registration check-in process. Once again, these computers that are used to check people in to register to vote, that seems to be the bottleneck, because, in fact, the state of Florida has moved to paper ballots. And I’ve seen some of these election registrars — supervisors of election down there in Florida ordering more optical scan machines into the polling places, when that’s not the holdup. The opscan process is done at the end of voting. The holdup is checking people in. The bottleneck is the computers, the voter registration computers.

And this comes back to some of the same draconian processes that, in fact, Charlie Crist did allow to be used, this “no match, no vote” process, where, you know, if I’m registered as “Brad Friedman” but my driver’s license says “Bradley Friedman,” I might be disallowed from voting. That’s the holdup down there. In either case, extending the voting hours each day to something like twelve hours is a very good idea. I give him credit for that. And, boy, I hope folks will take advantage of getting in there and casting their vote, come hell or high water.

AMY GOODMAN: This doesn’t bode well for Election Day. I mean, it does that he extended the time of the polling places, but this is still early voting. This is before November 4th.

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Yeah. And I’ll tell you, I’ve been calling this the November surprise for some time. I’m quite concerned that on Election Day, not only will the crowds be enormous, but that we are again going to see bottlenecks at that check-in procedure, where thousands, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of voters around the country, state to state, find that they are suddenly no longer on the voting rolls. And I’ve been speaking with people within the last week who are saying, “Hey, Brad, you were right. I didn’t bother to check my registration. I voted in the primary. And suddenly, I’m no longer on the rolls.” That’s going to be a bottleneck at the check-in.

Republicans are going to be challenging voters in state after state, again, making what is going to be an extraordinarily huge turnout even worse, by simply challenging people at the polls. That’s going to lead to even longer lines. And, of course, Election Day is a work day, so a lot of folks can’t afford to stand around for three, four, eight, ten hours to cast their vote. We’ve got to do something about this mess.

But I want people to hang in there, to fight for their vote, help other people vote. Bring chairs, bring water, bring food. Help your neighbors. This is a time for courage and for people to step forward and fight for that right to cast that vote that so many have fought and died for over decades in this country. This is what democracy is about. It’s not a spectator sport. It’s a participatory democracy. We’re going to have to get in there and fight for each and every one of our votes this year, I’m afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Brad Friedman of bradblog.com. Harvey Wasserman, also with us in Ohio, a battleground state. Harvey Wasserman, in Pennsylvania, John Bonifaz and all the voting rights groups filed suit to ensure that there be paper ballots not just when all the polling booths in a polling place are shut down, but if even one is shut down, because, of course, it will mean much longer lines. What do you expect to come of this?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, it’s very important that we have paper ballots wherever possible. We want paper ballots available to people who show up and are confronted with a voting machine, an electronic voting machine, and would prefer to vote on a paper ballot. We’re also urging — here in Ohio, you can vote early and get a paper ballot. And we’re — as Brad has mentioned and my co-author Bob Fitrakis has often pointed out, it’s much better to vote on a paper ballot and to do it early.

There will be huge lines on Election Day, which is to the credit of the American people. But we expect, here in Ohio and in Pennsylvania, and especially in the key states, Florida, as well, that the Republicans will be in there challenging every voter, every little number in your Social Security number or your driver’s license, middle initials that show up on driver’s licenses but not on voter registration forms. These will all be at issue on Election Day. The Republicans have made it clear that they will challenge every vote that they possibly can and to introduce as much chaos as they possibly can into the election process.

We want people also, if you have a problem voting, to find a lawyer and give a sworn affidavit. I am a plaintiff in the King Lincoln Bronzeville civil rights suit. This suit has had an enormous impact. You know, Jennifer Brunner is getting a lot of justifiable credit here in Ohio for cleaning up the election process, but it’s been moved along by the fact that we’ve had a very effective federal lawsuit. Any discrepancies, any problems that people have voting, they should be accounted for with an affidavit, sworn testimony, so that these can be used in lawsuits in the post-election process.

AMY GOODMAN: Does that have to happen right at the point of voting? I mean, who is going to bring a lawyer to the polling place?

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, that’s the point. We want lawyers at the polling places. We want — as Brad has pointed out and as Bob has pointed out, we want everything videoed, and we also want lawyers available, so that people can have guidance. A lot of people are not clear on what the process is, and a lot of people have been intimidated by the Republicans, both in 2004, we saw it in 2006. We’re certainly going to see it in 2008 at the voting stations. The only way the GOP is going to win this election is to intimidate voters and knock as many of them off the voter rolls as they possibly can.

Brad also mentioned, people who may think they are registered to vote may come in for a nasty surprise when they get to the polls, and the time to check that is now. If you think you’re registered to vote or if you know people who think they’re registered to vote, check with your board of election now and make sure that things are in order, because if you turn up on Election Day and have a problem, you’re going to be part of the problem and not part of the solution.


BRAD FRIEDMAN: Yeah, if I could add, in Pennsylvania, I’m really troubled about what’s going on there, because, in fact, we saw during the primary elections where voting machines were simply breaking down all over the state. Now — and they use touch screens almost everywhere out there. Now, never mind, you know, the hacking, the error, the fact that they don’t count correctly. The fact is, when they don’t start up, voters can’t vote.

And incredibly, the Democratic Secretary of State out there decreed that, as you said, no paper ballots need to be given out unless every machine breaks down in a precinct. Harvey can tell you what happened in Ohio when just one machine broke down in many of those precincts in 2004. And the fact that the Democrats aren’t raising holy hell about it and that, in fact, John Bonifaz and the NAACP had to be the one to file suit there and say, “Oh, please, give us paper ballots if a majority of machines break down” — the fact is, the state law already allows paper ballots to be given out if just one machine breaks down.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, we don’t think —-

BRAD FRIEDMAN: But I’m afraid they’re not even going to have enough paper ballots out there. And, you know, we have a history. We know what has happened in Pennsylvania and all of the other states. And I can’t understand why Democrats aren’t demanding that there be enough paper ballots in every polling place for every voter this year, because I guarantee we’re going to be running out of them real quick.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: Brad is absolutely right. You know, and this term he used earlier, “recalibration,” when you hear the term “recalibration,” you have to think stolen election, because recalibration is a cover for re-rigging electronic voting machines. And we know that this went on in Ohio 2004. It’s how George Bush got his second term. And recalibration means, essentially, that they’re rigging up the voting machine’s memory cards and general mechanisms to allow the theft of an election.

It is absolutely absurd that the Democratic Party has not stepped forward and demanded universal paper ballots everywhere. It should not depend on the breakdown of a voting machine to have universal paper ballots. To her credit, Jennifer Brunner here in Ohio requested that, did her very best to get it. We think she has to fight far harder to get universal paper ballots everywhere, whether the voting machines break down or not. And that’s an issue that the Democratic Party and Barack Obama really needs to take up now. As he said, one week. We’re really down to the wire. There need to be paper ballots everywhere, or this election could go the way of 2000 and 2004.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, are you talking to them in the Democratic Party? Why do you think -— Brad has raised this over and over in this interview, that he feels that the Democrats are not pursuing this half as strenuously as Republicans are pursuing their issues.

HARVEY WASSERMAN: We have — I have absolutely no idea why the Democratic Party has fallen down. They fell down in 2000. They fell down in 2004. And they’re now — and we are in danger here. People are getting a little comfortable with Barack Obama’s apparent lead in the polls. That could disappear with the pulling of a plug or the recalibration of a machine. This is a very serious situation. The only solution is hand-counted paper ballots, which are observed by the media and by both parties when they’re counted. And there’s no other way to guarantee a free and fair election.

AMY GOODMAN: Harvey Wasserman and Brad Friedman, we will leave it there for now, but, of course, we’ll continue to pursue this. In fact, Democracy Now! will be broadcasting live for five hours, beginning 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday night in a Democracy Now! election special for every television and radio station to take around the country. And on the morning after, we’ll be expanding our broadcast to two hours, beginning 8:00 Eastern Standard Time in the morning. And we will be talking with people all over the country election night, and we want people reporting in problems that they are having or actually successes they’ve had in voting. You can go to our website at democracynow.org, where we’ll also be video streaming the broadcast in the evening and the morning after. You can call your stations and ask them what time they’ll be broadcasting Democracy Now!

Harvey Wasserman, thanks so much for joining us —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- of freepress.org. And Brad Friedman of bradblog.com, thanks for joining us by the DN! video stream.

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