Jefferson's democracy

Franklin Jefferson's thoughts on the world

Friday, March 16, 2007

Attorney General

What pisses me off about this news where the Department of Justice fired a bunch of US prosecutors is the lack of accountability. I don't know about the firings, politics, whether they were good prosecutors or what. What I do know is that they were fired by the Department of Justice, but the Attorney General-- the appointed head of the Department of Justice-- says he had nothing to do with it, he didn't know why they were fired, he wasn't involved.

What the heck??? Why are they paying him a salary if he claims he has nothing to do with running the Department?

What in the world is wrong with these guys? Everybody says that they don't know nothing about what's going on in their department, it's all underlings, they were out playing golf the whole time.

Republicans call for Gonzales Resignation
Murky on Firings

Fire the bunch of them.


Saturday, March 03, 2007


Well, my business had gotten busy the last few months, and I haven't had much time to sit and look at the news. In any case, I'm somewhat at sevens and nines to know what to think about the new congress; I'm not thrilled about Democrats in general, but I'm like the checks and balances that come from the fact that Congress is from a different party than the president. So I'll be waiting with some amount of interest to see if the inherent liberalness of the Democrats will win out, or whether the end result will be a nice balance. Speaking of balance, I'm baffled to see that, after six years of humongous deficit spending, the President has suddenly come out in favor of balancing the budget. Wow. You hypocrite, you had six years with your own party in control, why wasn't it ever an issue then? But it is nice to see that, now that he has some opposition that will keep hand out of the candy jar, he's all of a sudden waking up to core Republican principles that he had forgotten.

Of course, his idea is to put together a plan to balance the budget... not now, but in the future... like, just as soon as somebody else is in office in 2012 (or look here)


Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Marxism and Libertarianism

A thoughtfull blog-entry "On Marxism and Libertarianism" here:

I like the idea of a libertarian taking a good, unbiased look at Marxism, although I think he misses a little in not really noticing some of the absolutely loony conclusions that Marxism ends up at. In general, all of the worst excesses of the 20th century-- genocides, agressive wars, mass starvation, ethnic cleansing -- seem to stem from governments, not from corporations. Indeed, of almost any century! To the extent that evils are perpetrated by corporations, it tends to be when corporations are given a state-supported monopoly, or are given state protection or state exemption from laws.

But I think it's a good thing to think about. What do we want, and why, and what is the best way to actually defend our individual liberties?

(For what it's worth, I am not a libertarian of the libertarian-anarchist variety, who thinks that the best outcome would be no govenment at all-- it is not at all clear to me that a true anarchy does not devolve into a society of thugs, warlords, and thieves, where the closest thing to law is protection rackets-- as, say, has happened in Somalia. It seems to me that some government is needed to support the legal system that allows commerce to function. However, this government needs to be strictly and vigorously kept small and to the point; it's the government's job to maintain our liberty, not to take it away, or to tell us what to do.)

Why I love a divided government!

Ah, this is why I love a divided government!

For six years President Bush has been signing budgets without a single comment (much less ever vetoing a budget) about the fact that the Republican Congress has been stuffing into the budget as much pork-barrel spending as they could grab. With the undivided government, the Republican party turned into the spend-spend-spend party, and budget deficits have taken gargantuan proportions.

But now, the instant that a Democrat congress is about to take office, Bush comes out with a major statement condemning pork-barrel budgets!

I love it! Yes!

Bush is actually turning into a Republican!

Cut down pet projects in budgets, Bush says
Posted 12/16/2006 10:07 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush said Saturday that his administration will outline a series of changes that would clamp down on the common Capitol Hill practice of slipping pet projects into spending bills.

[Sure. And in the six years of Republican Congress, how is it he never hinted at any desire to clamp down on pork barrel spending?]

These projects, called earmarks, are spending provisions that often are put into bills at the last minute, so they never get debated or discussed, Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"It is not surprising that this often leads to unnecessary federal spending, such as a swimming pool or a teapot museum tucked into a big spending bill," he said.

The president said his administration's proposal would make earmarks more transparent, make lawmakers more accountable for the earmarks they propose, and help reduce the overall number of earmarks.

Many lawmakers claim they are better suited than others in government to know what their states need. Bush said the use of earmarks has exploded, and pointed to a Congressional Research Service report that the number of earmarks has increased from about 3,000 in 1996 [i.e., under Democrats] to 13,000 this year [under Republicans].

"I respect Congress' authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce the number of earmarks," Bush said.

Democrats, who will take control of Congress on Jan. 4, already announced their plan to wipe out billions of dollars in lawmakers' home-state projects in unfinished spending bills. On Monday, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees announced that they would eliminate earmarks from the nine unfinished spending bills for the budget year that began Oct. 1.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., said they would restore earmarking in the upcoming 2008 budget cycle, but only after implementing changes. Obey said he was pleased that the president supports their plan.

"But it should be noted that all of the earmarks combined don't begin to match the increase in the deficit caused by the president wasting $50 billion in supersized tax cuts for those making more than $1 million a year while other Americans sleep on the streets," Obey said.

This summer, Republicans announced changes to require spending bills to carry lists of earmarks and their sponsors.
[The author neglected to note here that this "change" enacted did not apply to this year's spending, only to next year]
That's a good start, Bush said, but more needs to be done by both parties.

"Republicans and Democrats alike have an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to spending restraint and good government by making earmark reform a top priority for the next Congress," Bush said. "When it comes to spending your money, you expect us to rise above party labels."

Byrd said any effort to change the way business gets done in Washington cannot begin and end with the appropriations process.

"We also must address earmarks in the tax codes which have resulted in huge loopholes for corporate America while middle-class America is left holding the bag," Byrd said.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Do-nothing congress

"...Congress will convene Tuesday for what some fear will be the lamest of lame-duck sessions, and GOP leaders have decided to take a minimalist approach before turning over the reins of power to the Democrats. Rather than a final surge of activity, Congress will probably wrap up things after a single, short week of work. They have even decided to punt decisions on annual government spending measures to the Democrats next year.

"Before the midterm elections, GOP leaders had dismissed the Democrats'"do nothing" label for the 109th Congress as political posturing, promising that a robust post-election session would put the accusation to rest. Instead, Republican lawmakers will have met for one week in November, devoted almost exclusively to leadership elections, and one week in December, largely to pick committee assignments, move offices and pass a measure to keep the government operating through February.

"That will mean this Congress will have spent the least time in session of any in at least half a century, according to Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, congressional historians and the authors of The Broken Branch, a critical look at recent Congresses. In the time they did meet, lawmakers will have failed to approve a budget resolution or pass at least eight of the 11 annual spending bills.

"Other significant pieces of legislation will be hard to find. Bush's push for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws produced a partially funded measure to build a border fence. "

--of course, there are those of us who think that doing nothing is the best thing that any Congress can do.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Transparency in government... not

Here's a great one, from USA Today.

The Republican Congress passed a new rule in 2006 that would identify which congressman added each "pork" spending earmark to a budget bill.

... the rule exempts the 2007 spending bill (the bill being worked on when the rule was passed)

...and the rule expires at the end of the year!

So the Republicans made a rule that is in effect only for the 2007 budget, which exempts the 2007 budget from the bill... they made a rule that did NOTHING WHATSOEVER!!

Isn't that the epitome of politics? They wrote a bill that would allow them to crow about how it increased transparency of government, which actually doesn't do anything at all. You gotta admire that.

Friday, November 10, 2006

In our name

A couple of days ago I posted a note here expressing my distaste for a government that argued that a political prisoner shouldn't be able to talk to a lawyer because he might tell the lawyer what techniques were used to question him.

Much to my amazement, I've heard from some people who seem to think that this is ok. We shouldn't worry if the government says that some people who have been picked up by the CIA and questioned for three years in secret should be prevented from ever talking to a lawyer, since they might "disclose the techniques used to question them."

(the previous post had links to the original story, among them this one:

The prisoner under discussion, Khan, was picked up in Pakistan along with his brother, wife, and one-year-old son. The others were released without being charged, and for the last three years, they have been told that he would be released "soon" as long as they didn't complain:

"Periodically, he [the brother] said, people who identified themselves as Pakistani officials contacted Mohammad Khan and assured him that his brother would soon be released and that they should not contact a lawyer or speak to the media. "We had no way of knowing who had him or where he was," his brother said from his home outside Baltimore, Maryland. He said they complied with the requests because they believed anything else could delay his brother's release."

Right here I'm already not happy. So the CIA claimed to be Pakistani officials, and told this guy that his brother might be killed if he contacted a lawyer or contacted the media. I don't like intimidation and extortion anyway, and a "free press" isn't quite exactly free if people are threatened by the CIA if they talk to the press.

Once the government has affirmed the right to take prisoners secretly, keep them for years without charges, and deny them the right to talk to a lawyer, or anybody else (they don't even get the traditional one phone call), why do you think that this power will be used only on guilty people, exactly, and never used, say, to cover up the fact that they abducted and tortured the wrong guy?

I don't trust the government to take people to secret jails and question them for three years. I don't want to give the government secret powers with no accountability.

We should live by the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, free speech, and the rule of law; we should serve as an example to the world, and I mean a good example here, not an example of the things we tell the rest of the world they shouldn't do. We believe in fair trials, not in putting people in prison for years with no trial and no charges. We should not let our fears scare us into giving away our liberties. We should not be sure that that if we give secret branches of the government unrestricted power, that this power will never be used on political opposition or innocent civilians.

I don't agree that a prisoner should be held incommunicado, with no right to ever talk to a lawyer, simply because he might disclose the methods used to question him. Actually, I think we ought to know the methods used to question prisoners. These methods are being used in our name, and I want to know what is being done in my name.

This is really an absolute; you can't be a libertarian of any kind ("neo" or other) and still accept secret prisons, people being taken away and held without being charged, and "questioning" of prisoners by techniques that cannot be disclosed and with no accountability. Libertarians use words like "Soviet" and "Fascist" to describe these kinds of actions, and the words are not less appropriate when the secret police are using Fascist techniques "for our own protection." Actually, that's just what the Fascists said.

I subscribe to the principles of the United States of America, that means freedom, decency, and we don't torture people and we don't have secret police or secret prisons or political prisoners who are held without trial. I do not want people violating every single one of my principles and then tell me that they're doing it for my own good because "they're useful to us as prisoners."

I don't want secret prisons, secret police, or suspension of civil liberty as the price of "using oil."

The word "liberty" is at the root of the word "libertarian"

For the argument "Jihadis don't have civil liberties, and don't want civil liberties."

We're not them; we don't want to be them; we don't want to be like them; and most particularly, we don't want to become like them, in the name of defeating them.

We're Americans. We believe in liberty and justice. This is what America is about.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What is it that they don't want us to find out?

Houston Chronicle: "U.S. Fights Detainee Access to Attorney"

(also Forbes,

I have to say that this one gives me a very sick feeling.

They haven't charged this guy with a crime... now they're saying he
can't even talk to an attorney, because he might tell the attorney the
techniques to questioned him.

It's not merely that I am rather queasy at the fact that they are
trying to keep us from finding out what they did (although I am). What
I find even worse is the fact that, before any kind of trial, they are
saying that they intend to never let him free, since they claim that
they can't allow him to talk to anybody ever.

What are they trying to hide? What is it that they are afraid we might
find out about about how he was questioned for the last three years?
How did it happen that United States government has secret prisons and
a secret police, and the USA turned into a country that says people
don't have a right to an attorney, or a trial, or even a right to be
charged with a crime before being imprisoned?

Is this what we wanted, when we call America the land of the free?

WASHINGTON Nov 4, 2006 (AP)- A suspected terrorist who spent years in
a secret CIA prison should not be allowed to speak to a civilian
attorney, the Bush administration argues, because he could reveal the
agency's closely guarded interrogation techniques.

Human rights groups have questioned the CIA's methods for questioning
suspects, especially following the passage of a bill last month that
authorized the use of harsh but undefined interrogation tactics.

In recently filed court documents, the Justice Department said those
methods, along with the locations of the CIA's network of prisons, are
among the nation's most sensitive secrets. Prisoners who spent time in
those prisons should not be allowed to disclose that information, even
to a lawyer, the government said.

"Improper disclosure of other operational details, such as
interrogation methods, could also enable terrorist organizations and
operatives to adapt their training to counter such methods, thereby
obstructing the CIA's ability to obtain vital intelligence that could
disrupt future planned terrorist attacks," the Justice Department

The documents, which were first reported by The Washington Post, were
filed in opposition to a request that terror suspect Majid Khan should
be given access to an attorney. Khan, 26, immigrated from Pakistan and
graduated high school in Maryland.

According to documents filed on his behalf by the Center for
Constitutional Rights, Khan was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. During
more than three years in CIA custody, Khan was subjected to
interrogation techniques that defense attorneys suggest amounted to

President Bush acknowledged the existence of the CIA system in
September and transferred Khan and 13 other prisoners designated as
"terrorist leaders" to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Under a law passed last month, they are to be tried before special
military commissions and may not have access to civilian courts.

(also reported at ABC News,
and Voice of America:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Words from the American Conservative magazine

GOP Must Go

Next week Americans will vote for candidates who have spent much of their campaigns addressing state and local issues. But no future historian will linger over the ideas put forth for improving schools or directing funds to highway projects.

The meaning of this election will be interpreted in one of two ways: the American people endorsed the Bush presidency or they did what they could to repudiate it. Such an interpretation will be simplistic, even unfairly so. Nevertheless, the fact that will matter is the raw number of Republicans and Democrats elected to the House and Senate.

It should surprise few readers that we think a vote that is seen—in America and the world at large—as a decisive “No” vote on the Bush presidency is the best outcome. We need not dwell on George W. Bush’s failed effort to jam a poorly disguised amnesty for illegal aliens through Congress or the assaults on the Constitution carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism or his administration’s endorsement of torture. Faced on Sept. 11, 2001 with a great challenge, President Bush made little effort to understand who had attacked us and why—thus ignoring the prerequisite for crafting an effective response. He seemingly did not want to find out, and he had staffed his national-security team with people who either did not want to know or were committed to a prefabricated answer.

As a consequence, he rushed America into a war against Iraq, a war we are now losing and cannot win, one that has done far more to strengthen Islamist terrorists than anything they could possibly have done for themselves. Bush’s decision to seize Iraq will almost surely leave behind a broken state divided into warring ethnic enclaves, with hundreds of thousands killed and maimed and thousands more thirsting for revenge against the country that crossed the ocean to attack them. The invasion failed at every level: if securing Israel was part of the administration’s calculation—as the record suggests it was for several of his top aides—the result is also clear: the strengthening of Iran’s hand in the Persian Gulf, with a reach up to Israel’s northern border, and the elimination of the most powerful Arab state that might stem Iranian regional hegemony.

The war will continue as long as Bush is in office, for no other reason than the feckless president can’t face the embarrassment of admitting defeat. The chain of events is not complete: Bush, having learned little from his mistakes, may yet seek to embroil America in new wars against Iran and Syria.

Meanwhile, America’s image in the world, its capacity to persuade others that its interests are common interests, is lower than it has been in memory. All over the world people look at Bush and yearn for this country—which once symbolized hope and justice—to be humbled. The professionals in the Bush administration (and there are some) realize the damage his presidency has done to American prestige and diplomacy. But there is not much they can do.

There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country’s reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen—in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur—as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq.

We have no illusions that a Democratic majority would be able to reverse Bush’s policies, even if they had a plan to. We are aware that on a host of issues the Democrats are further from TAC’s positions than the Republicans are. The House members who blocked the Bush amnesty initiative are overwhelmingly Republican. But immigration has not played out in an entirely partisan manner this electoral season: in many races the Democrat has been more conservative than the open-borders, Big Business Republican. A Democratic House and Senate is, in our view, a risk immigration reformers should be willing to take. We can’t conceive of a newly elected Democrat in a swing district who would immediately alienate his constituency by voting for amnesty. We simply don’t believe a Democratic majority would give the Republicans such an easy route to return to power. Indeed, we anticipate that Democratic office holders will follow the polls on immigration just as Republicans have, and all the popular momentum is towards greater border enforcement.

On Nov. 7, the world will be watching as we go to the polls, seeking to ascertain whether the American people have the wisdom to try to correct a disastrous course. Posterity will note too if their collective decision is one that captured the attention of historians—that of a people voting, again and again, to endorse a leader taking a country in a catastrophic direction. The choice is in our hands.

November 20, 2006 Issue

Where the GOP right went wrong

From the Houston Chronicle, Dick Armey (who was the Republican leader, back in in the "Republican Revolution" days) asks "How did GOP right get it so wrong?":

His answer, in essence, is that when the Republican politicians got in power, they stopped being conservative, and became the party of big-spending, big government, and debt to special interest groups.

He says:

Now spending is out of control. Rather than rolling back government, we have a new $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription drug benefit, and non-defense discretionary spending is growing twice as fast as it had in the Clinton administration. Meanwhile, Social Security is collapsing while rogue nations are going nuclear and the Middle East is more combustible than ever. Yet Republican lawmakers have taken up such issues as flag burning, Terri Schiavo and same-sex marriage.

They're fooling only themselves.

Getting power changes people, and not for the better. The best thing that could happen for conservatism would be for the current batch of politicians to leave office, so candidates who actually have a clue about what "conservative" means might be able to run in 2008.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The mainstream gathers to where I already was


In many ways the Bush administration and Republican Congress have abandoned principled conservatism and deserve to be punished by conservatives more than liberals. When they took over in 2000, the long-term fiscal liability of the federal government was $20 trillion. It now stands at $43 trillion. They have increased government spending at a faster rate than any Democratic Congress since the 1930s. They have generated deficits after four years of strong growth.

This kind of spending has made sleaze and de facto bribery inevitable. The number of lobbyists in Washington has doubled in five years. As for pork barrel spending, a simple comparison tells the tale. In 1985, Ronald Reagan vetoed a motorway-construction bill because lawmakers had stuffed into it 150 pet projects for their constituencies. Reagan thought that was unconservative. Last year George W Bush eagerly signed a similar bill with 6,000 such projects. In plain English, they are bribing the voters with the public purse.

For years, it seemed like I was the only conservative in America who though George Bush was harming America. It feels very very odd to hear a chorus of conservative voices now saying the the Bush administration and Republican Congress have abandoned conservatism. Yes, I agree-- I'd said that long ago.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why I hate Democrats, too

An interesting essay at

"...perhaps explaining the strange absence of any real response to the Iraq war and its unbelievable mistakes and losses, a study by Ohio State University found that many voters were becoming timid and apprehensive about participating publicly because of the polarization of politics.

"Politics has become the arena for screamers," Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs says of the trend. "It's understandable that people withdraw when 50 activist groups are yelling about their single pet issue. Ordinary people don't want to get caught in partisan crossfire."

Another element that comes soberly into play in elections, as well as everyday life, is the effect of out-of-control "diversity," pushed avidly by the Democratic Party in the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Harvard's influential political scientist Robert Putnam's recent research shows that the more diverse a community is, the less likely its inhabitants are to trust anyone.

"They don't trust the local mayor," Putnam said recently, "they don't trust the local paper, they don't trust other people, and they don't trust institutions. The only thing there's more of is protest marches and TV watching."

So, what is one to make of all of this? One could easily take the negative position that nothing will change after Nov. 7, because, as military analyst William Lind says cynically, "In reality, both parties are one party, the party of successful career politicians."

One could worry, as I do, that America has lost faith in, or even knowledge of, the central core principles, unifying ideas and noble virtues of citizenship that inspired our formation -- and that today there is little to hold us together except the coarseness of popular culture and our imperial wars."

I can agree with a lot of that. Why has America become a nation of screamers, and of divisiveness?

This is why, in essence, I hate Democrats as much as the current batch of Republicans. Dump them all!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Another Conservative Voice

Here's Christopher Buckley-- you know, the son of William F. Buckley; former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush.

Who knew, in 2000, that “compassionate conservatism” meant bigger government, unrestricted government spending, government intrusion in personal matters, government ineptitude, and cronyism in disaster relief? Who knew, in 2000, that the only bill the president would veto, six years later, would be one on funding stem-cell research? A more accurate term for Mr. Bush’s political philosophy might be incontinent conservatism.

Holding my nose and voting

Interesting article, Holding my nose and voting Republican, by Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez writes
I'm angry at Republicans for abandoning their principles. This Republican president, aided and abetted by Congress, has increased federal spending at a reckless rate, even when the costs of the war in Iraq are taken out of the equation. I'm embarrassed by the scandals that have plagued some Republicans and by the abject failure of the leadership to do anything meaningful on lobbying reform.

I'm sickened by the cronyism that protected former Congressman Mark Foley and put children at risk. I'm disappointed that after years of claiming to be the party of colorblind equal opportunity, Republicans have actually expanded racial preferences in federal programs. I'm disheartened by the demagoguery on immigration and the refusal to do the one thing guaranteed to stop illegal immigration, namely, enact a broad guest worker program.

I have to admit agreeing to many of the points, but doing exactly the opposite: I'm holding my nose and voting Democrat. I don't actually like most of the platform of the Democrat party (and for most of the same reasons), but at the moment they look like the least-worst choice.

I do, however, disagree with this sentence of hers:
Democratic control of Congress also worries me when it comes to the economy.

Republican control of Congress has turned out to be far worse a disaster, since the Republicans are spending taxpayer money like drunken millionaries on an expense account and racking up trillion-dollar debts. This is simply because the Republican president won't rein in Republican spending bills. The country desperately needs to get out of this situation we're in where the presidency, house of representatives, and senate are all from the same party, which has eliminated all semblanace of checks and balance, and all restraint on spending.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Voting machines need paper trail

Not just a paper trail, but also software that is verifiable-- the software that counts the votes and reports the results should not be secret.

This shouldn't be a partisan issue-- both sides should be concerned that elections need to be open, and verifiable. Once the election is over, there should be no grounds for one party to claim that the results were fraud; it is in everybody's best interest to make sure that this does not happen, by making sure that the vote counting-- and the vote counting software-- is completely open and above-board.


Voting machines need paper trail
September's primary illustrates the problems with new voting technology

fter two consecutive presidential elections ended in contention - most dramatically the 2000 election, because of ballot irregularities - many states and cities have switched to new voting technology to help ensure "hanging chads" never again enter American political discourse. But, in doing so, many have rushed ill-prepared into a system without fail-safes to guarantee that every vote is counted properly.

The primaries in Ohio, Arkansas, Illinois and Maryland reported serious malfunctions in the new machines. Some rebooted for no apparent reason, others recorded votes for a candidate different than they were cast.

A study by Princeton University discovered that AccuVote, a product of Diebold Election Systems - on which as many as 5 percent of Americans will vote this fall - was easily broken into and contaminated with a virus that would manipulate vote totals.

Representatives of Diebold have tried to silence these reports with legal action and have refused to submit their products to additional testing, but by now it is clear their products are deplorably inadequate and don't come close to the security guarantee that is necessary to justify their use.

About 40 percent of registered voters will use some kind of electronic voting system this fall. Some states, Minnesota included, require voting machines to create a paper trail, to provide assurance against fraud or failure. There is no good reason not to institute such a policy nationwide. Physical records of votes would be invaluable in a contested election.

Updating voting technology to reduce irregularities is necessary, as proved by the 2000 and 2004 elections. Indeed, electronic voting can generate results faster and more accurately than previous systems. But this paperless electronic system isn't good enough, especially considering the fundamental flaws of some machines that have been exposed in this year's primaries. We shouldn't substitute one bad system for another.

Some attribute this quote to Josef Stalin: "He who votes decides nothing; he who counts the votes decides everything." Let's be sure we count correctly.

see also

"Electronic Voting Machines Could Skew Elections."

Oct. 22, 2006 — Cheryl Kagan, a former Maryland Democratic legislator, was shocked when she opened her mail Wednesday morning.

Inside, she discovered three computer discs. With them was an anonymous letter saying the discs contained the secret source code for vote-counting that could be used to alter the votes cast through Maryland's new electronic voting machines.

"My understanding is that with these disks a malicious person could skew the outcome of an election," Kagan said.

Diebold, the company that makes the voting machines, told ABC News, "These discs do not alter the security of the Diebold touch-screen system in any way," because election workers can set their own passwords.

But ABC News has obtained an independent report commissioned by the state of Maryland and conducted by Science Applications International Corporation revealing that the original Diebold factory passwords are still being used on many voting machines.

The SAIC study also shows myriad other security flaws, including administrative over-ride passwords that cannot be changed by local officials but can be used by hackers or those who have seen the discs.

The report further states that one of the high risks to the system comes if operating code discs are lost, stolen or seen by unauthorized parties — precisely what seems to have occurred with the discs sent to Kagan, who worries that the incident indicates the secret source code is not that difficult to obtain.

"Certainly, just tweaking a few votes in a couple of states could radically change the outcome of our policies for the coming year," she said.

Worry That Elections Could Be Hacked

Computer experts and government officials have voiced serious concerns that if these machines malfunction, no paper record will exist for a recount. Even worse is the fear that an election could be hacked.

Princeton University researchers using an Accuvote TS — a touch screen version of the Diebold machine — showed how easy it would be to deploy a virus that would, in seconds, flip the vote of any election.

"We're taking the vote-counting process and we're handing it over to these companies — and we don't know what happens inside these machines," said Edward Felten, a professor and a researcher at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, which ran the study.

Diebold called the Princeton study "unrealistic and inaccurate."

But many computer scientists, including cyber-security expert Stephen Spoonamore, disagree, pointing out that the Accuvote TS was used in the 2004 presidential election and is still used in at least four states — including all machines in Georgia and Maryland. Spoonamore said the hack attacked the operating system layer of software and would affect any touch screen machine built by Diebold.

Diebold argues that the software from the 2004 elections has been updated to fix any possible security problems. But Spoonamore is not convinced, saying Diebold's "system is utterly unsecured. The entire cyber-security community is begging them to come back to reality and secure our nation's voting."

There is also the matter of computer glitches. In primary elections and test runs this year, there were glitches with electronic voting machines from Diebold and other companies.

Machines malfunctioned in Texas, where 100,000 votes were added.

In California, directions for voters with vision problems came out in Vietnamese.

And in Maryland, screens froze and memory cards went missing.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican running for reelection, advised residents to vote by absentee ballot because he had no confidence in the machines.

"I don't care if we paid half a billion dollars or $1 billion," Ehrlich said. "If it's going to put the election at risk, there's no price tag for a phony election or a fraudulent election."

Many are concerned about how the confusing technical issues will be handled by poll workers, who tend to be senior citizens and who are not necessarily tech-savvy.

Electronic voting machines were supposed to be the solution to the paper ballot problems from the 2000 presidential election. But to many critics, America's voting system has gone out of the frying pan and into the fire.