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Online Voter Registration

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Ah, progress!

I’m not exactly a model citizen for the technologically advanced, Internet-connected world we inhabit. For example, I don’t have a doorbell at my house. Yet while I’m something of a Luddite, I do have a Web site, and I couldn’t do what I do without it: www.jimhightower.com.

In the bigger picture, I’m impressed—excited even—by the (little-d) democratic possibilities that the Internet can add to our political system. Take something as basic as voter registration: America proudly asserts that everyone has a civic duty to vote, yet most jurisdictions make registration a cumbersome and costly process. Why not offer sign-ups online? Millions of Americans pay bills online, bank online, book flights online, and so forth—so let’s use the technology to ease the democratic process as well.

The good folks in Oregon are doing just that. Led by young voters working through such first-rate grassroots groups as the Oregon Bus Project, the legislature and governor recently approved an electronic registration system that will be in place for next year’s elections. It’s a simple and inexpensive way to get more people involved—especially young people who practically live online.

Anyone with a valid driver’s license already has her essential information and signature on file at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Using the Internet, voters can now direct that agency to transfer their signatures to election officials and—bingo!—they’re registered to vote. Arizona and Washington state have already implemented this process with great success. Why not Texas or any other state? For information, connect with the Oregon Bus Project: www.busproject.org.

All the Wine That’s Fit to Drink

Newspapers are dead, we’re told: dinosaurs in a Twittering world.

Try telling that to The New York Times. The brontosaurus of American journalism, one of the largest newspapers in the land, is still alive and intends to thrive.

Never mind that the paper’s ad revenues have plummeted, that it has put some of its prime assets up for sale, and that its cash-flow situation is so dire that it sold a big chunk of itself this year to a Mexican billionaire known for shady dealings. Times are tough, even for the Times, but the company’s leaders have come up with a business plan they say will return the financial luster to the gem of journalism. To make ends meet, the Times is going into wine.

Wine? You might presume the executives have taken to guzzling wine to give the paper’s future a rosy look, but come on, these are serious businesspeople. They have announced a new, revenue-enhancing venture called “The New York Times Wine Club.” For about $180 a month, the club will ship wine to your door.

At first blush, journalism and wine might seem an odd pairing. But the Times is already in the home-delivery business, so … the head of “strategic planning” says a wine club is a way for the paper to “delve further into our audience and bring them products and services that basically enhance the bond with The New York Times.” Whatever the hell that means.

Maybe it’ll take odd jobs to keep the presses running. Actually, I think they’re onto something with that home-delivery theme. Why not add “The New York Times Maid Service?” This would make the Times a company that could do it all for you in one stop: deliver your paper, clean your house, and leave a nice bottle of wine. There is a future in journalism!

Obama Continues Bush Rendition Policy

The worst job in the circus, I’m told, is cleaning up after the elephants.

Poor Barrack Obama. Coming into the White House after the Bush-Cheney circus means he’s the custodian-in-chief tidying up the human rights messes left by that herd of pachyderms. So many piles, so little time.

How’s the cleanup coming? Only so-so. On the plus side, Obama recently stripped the CIA of its lead role in what the Bush-its called “enhanced interrogations.” Torture is what it was. The FBI (a somewhat gentler agency in the interrogation field) now takes the lead role, using stricter rules and getting more oversight.

But the same day Obama announced this, he made his own mess of sanitizing a disgusting mess known as “extraordinary rendition.” In last year’s presidential race, Obama pledged to end this practice of, as he put it, “sending away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries.”

Instead of ending rendition, Obama is extending it—though he promises a more spic-and-span version. U.S.-held prisoners can still be zipped away to God-knows-where in the dead of night to be interrogated by foreign agents, but Obama says he will seek “diplomatic assurances” from those governments that they will not torture our prisoners.

Isn’t that sweet? He might ask Maher Arar how effective these little diplomatic niceties really are. In 2002, the U.S. dispatched this Canadian citizen to Syria. Syria promised no abuse. Officials nodded, smiled, winked—and Syrian agents proceeded to beat Mr. Arar with electric cables.

You don’t clean up a nasty mess like extraordinary rendition by just stirring the pile. It has to be removed.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work—and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown—visit www.jimhightower.com.