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Vol.   13     No.   28

A better informed electorate  

I read with interest your article, “Facts Machine” [“How a MT firm gets candidates to do the right thing,” June 20–27, 2002]. Like Vote-Smart.org, our company, Issues2002.org, is based in Montana and provides an issues-oriented Web site.

Issues2002 doesn’t have a beautiful ranch in the mountains—we’re run by a couple of policy wonks from our kitchens. Vote-Smart is, as your headline captures, a “facts machine.” Issues2002 is a “knowledge machine,” intended to help voters decide who to vote for, rather than providing research tools.

Let’s look first at what Montana voters might be looking for in the 2002 races. Max Baucus is up for reelection for the Senate. Look him up on Issues2002—you get a list of his voting record for the last several years, plus some notes about his congressional caucus affiliations, plus a summary describing his stances on key issues facing the Senate. Now try Vote-Smart—you’ll get a message saying, “The 2002 National Political Awareness Test will be sent to those candidates who file with their State Board of Elections.” Do voters really care if he hasn’t filed yet?

Vote-Smart does provide Baucus’ voting record, so let’s take a look. The first category is abortion; the first vote is Baucus’ “No” on a “motion to table [kill] an amendment that would repeal the ban on privately funded abortions at overseas military facilities.” A voter might ask, “Does that mean he’s pro-life or pro-choice?” Vote-Smart fails to answer that question. Let’s see how Issues2002 does.

Issues2002’s “SenateMatch” table outlines Baucus’ views on abortion. It describes that same vote as “NO on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions.” And Issues2002 labels Baucus’ vote that it “Favors” the statement “Abortion is a woman’s right.”

What if you don’t know the name of your representatives? Vote-Smart requires that you put in your zip code plus four digits to find them. Issues2002 forgives you. Click on the map for Montana, and a link to Baucus’ page pops up, along with Conrad Burns’ page. If you’d like to peruse races from other states, they’re all there, whether you know the zip-plus-four or not.

Voters want to know, “Who should I vote for?” Both Vote-Smart and Issues2002 attempt to provide an answer based on issues stances. Issues2002’s “SenateMatch” quiz collects your answers to 20 questions, and then ranks how well you match against the candidates in your state. Picking Montana brings up a chart comparing your answers with Conrad Burns, (the Republican incumbent), Brian Schweitzer’s (his 2000 Democratic challenger), and Sam Rankin’s (his Reform challenger). By August, Issues2002 will have the same SenateMatch quiz for the 2002 candidates. Vote-Smart promises the same schedule, but doesn’t let you check out previous candidates—if they’re not elected, off they go! Al Gore and Ralph Nader are nowhere to be found on Vote-Smart. Issues2002 has all their issues stances, and includes them in a Celebrity quiz.

Issues2002’s quizzes have been described as “the best half-hour I ever spent online” by one of our 1.5 million quiz-takers. For Vote-Smart’s quiz, you’d better allocate two hours—you must answer every single question, or you don’t get a candidate comparison. Issues2002 has 20 questions, and we let you skip the ones that you’re not sure about. We recognize that voters often aren’t so sure, and our quiz makes do with whatever answers you provide. Not Vote-Smart—you either do it their way, or not at all.

Vote-Smart spends enormous resources on getting candidates to reply to their NPAT quiz—here’s how they describe George W. Bush’s response: “On 31 separate occasions 17 national leaders...contacted Bush over an 11-week period, each requesting that Bush do the right and honorable thing by providing citizens with this critical information in the national interest...On each occasion Bush declined.” They had their “Sanctimonious Statement” in place for EVERY major presidential candidate, and many senators, in the 2000 election. On the Issues2002 web site, we somehow figure out their answers to our quiz anyway.

How do we do that? Let’s let Vote-Smart describe it: “However, Project Vote Smart...has conducted exhaustive research on Bush through his public speeches, campaign literature, public interviews and from information made available to the public by Bush.” Vote-Smart did that only for Bush and Gore. Issues2002 does that for EVERY candidate—as long as a candidate has an issue stance, we will find it.

If we had half the money that Vote-Smart has, we’d do twice as good a job. If you’d like to help, we’re a non-profit corporation which entitles you to a tax-deductible contribution. If we raise enough funds to cover the Montana races from this article, we’ll cover them. And in a few years, we’ll rejuvenate democracy, whether the candidates “do the right thing” or not.
Jesse   Gordon
Boston, Mass.  - Dr. Naomi Lichtenberg 

The war on diplomacy  

The Bush administration is considering military action against as many as 40 countries suspected of harboring terrorists in this War on Terrorism. President Bush has lumped Iran and North Korea with Iraq in his “Axis of Evil” and has rebuked gestures of diplomacy extended by these nations. Iraq remains the prime target. In the last 11 years, the U.S. has led a devastating economic and air assault on that country in an effort to weaken Saddam Hussein. This war has killed 1 million people! The U.S. rationalizes escalation of the war against Iraq as part of a general war on terrorism, although there are no links to the Sept. 11 attack, nor are there likely to be any. Iraq is willing to let weapons inspectors return if the bombing and economic sanctions are lifted (Iraqi Ambassador to UN al-Douri, BBC, 11-29-01) and is willing to resume talks with the United Nations without any preconditions (Arab League Secretary General Mousa, quoted in a syndicated column of Helen Thomas, 2-15-02)—both solutions that would promote international security and the welfare of the Iraqi people.

I wanted to discuss the fetish the U.S. has with Iraq. Iraq and Saddam Hussein have been easy targets, the scapegoat. But we need to remember the Iraqi situation. Iraq is run by 10 percent of the people, basically the family and friends of Saddam Hussein. This 10 percent has been suppressing the rest of the country through terror. Genocide and outright murder have kept his government in power. The people of his country are starving and suppressed. Many people are afraid that if Saddam were killed, his son would reign, and his son is considered to be much worse. Who are we hurting when we continue to strike at Iraq? We are not weakening Saddam’s grasp on the country, we are weakening the people who he has already weakened. We are helping to starve the Iraqi people with our economic sanctions. How far must we go before we damage forever the possibility of some form of diplomatic resolution?

Just as we do not want the countries in the Middle East to look at the U.S. and think only of capitalism and greed instead of a human face, we need to look at Iraq and see it as it is: the poverty, suppression, the human face of someone who needs our help.

I hope I have not offended anyone, but I also hope that people will think about what we are really trying to do with this War on Terrorism. The three main countries, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, all are begging the Bush administration to find a diplomatic, effective way to promote international security. Perhaps it is time that we told the Bush administration the same thing.
Wendy   Dickman

Week of  7/11/2002

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