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Friday, April 18, 2008

Catholic Priest Rips Fox News a New One

Looks like Fox News thought they were going to embarass Obama supporter Father Michael Pfleger, by sending out one of their henchmen to ambush him over his ties to and support of Barack Obama. Instead they got their tiny, little bigoted and ignorant heads handed to them.

Beautiful. Simply beautiful.

................

"Did Bill O'Rielly serve in the marines?" Oh man, that was choice.

Talk about someone speaking truth to power. Right on, Father Michael.

God Bless.

Original here

Clinton Slams Democratic Activists At Private Fundraiser

At a small closed-door fundraiser after Super Tuesday, Sen. Hillary Clinton blamed what she called the "activist base" of the Democratic Party -- and MoveOn.org in particular -- for many of her electoral defeats, saying activists had "flooded" state caucuses and "intimidated" her supporters, according to an audio recording of the event obtained by The Huffington Post.

"Moveon.org endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] -- which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down," Clinton said to a meeting of donors. "We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."

Listen to the audio below:

Clinton's remarks depart radically from the traditional position of presidential candidates, who in the past have celebrated high levels of turnout by party activists and partisans as a harbinger for their own party's success -- regardless of who is the eventual nominee -- in the general election showdown.

The comments also contradict Clinton's previous statements praising this year's elevated Democratic turnout in primaries and caucuses, and appear to blame her caucus defeats on newly energized grassroots voter groups that she has lauded in the past as "lively participants" in American democracy.

"You've been asking the tough questions," Clinton said in April of last year at a MoveOn-sponsored town hall event. "You've been refusing to back down when any of us who are in political leadership are not living up to the standards that we should set for ourselves... I think you have helped to change the face of American politics for the better... both online, and in the corridors of power."

Clinton's criticism followed MoveOn's endorsement of Obama in early February. The group was initially established in 1999 to oppose the Republican-led effort to impeach President Bill Clinton, and now claims 3.2 million members.

In a statement to The Huffington Post, MoveOn's Executive Director Eli Pariser reacted strongly to Clinton's remarks: "Senator Clinton has her facts wrong again. MoveOn never opposed the war in Afghanistan, and we set the record straight years ago when Karl Rove made the same claim. Senator Clinton's attack on our members is divisive at a time when Democrats will soon need to unify to beat Senator McCain. MoveOn is 3.2 million reliable voters and volunteers who are an important part of any winning Democratic coalition in November. They deserve better than to be dismissed using Republican talking points."

Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign, verified the authenticity of the audio, and elaborated on Clinton's charge that these same party activists were engaged in acts of intimidation against her supporters: "There have been well documented instances of intimidation in the Nevada and the Texas caucuses, and it is a fact that while we have won 4 of the 5 largest primaries, where participation is greatest, Senator Obama has done better in caucuses than we have." About Clinton's remarks suggesting dismay over high Democratic activist turnout, Wolfson said, "I'll let my statement stand as is."

In fact, the Nevada caucuses occurred prior to MoveOn's endorsement of Obama, and when Clinton made her remarks, the Texas caucuses had yet to take place.

The disclosure of Clinton's statement disparaging the prominence of party activists in the caucus process comes after she repeatedly suggested that Obama's electability had been compromised because he had allegedly offended other key Democratic constituencies.

This story was developed in cooperation with OffTheBus to which reporter Celeste Fremon is a regular contributor.

Original here

Ongoing nomination fight hurting Clinton more than Obama

By CHARLES BABINGTON and TREVOR TOMPSON, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a dramatic reversal, an Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll found that a clear majority of Democratic voters now say Sen. Barack Obama has a better chance of defeating Republican Sen. John McCain in November than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

While Obama and Clinton are both sustaining dents and dings from their lengthy presidential fight, the former first lady is clearly suffering more. Democratic voters no longer see her as the party's strongest contender for the White House.

Voters of all types have gotten a better sense of Obama, who was an obscure Illinois legislator just four years ago. As more people moved from the "I don't know him" category in the AP-Yahoo! News poll, more rated Obama as inexperienced, unethical and dishonest. And 15 percent erroneously think he's a Muslim, thanks in part to disinformation widely spread on the Internet.

But Obama's positive ratings have climbed as well, while Clinton — widely known since the early 1990s — has been less able to change people's views of her. And when those views have shifted, it has hurt her more than helped.

The New York senator's ratings for being honest, likable, ethical and refreshing have fallen since January, and Obama scores higher than she does in all those categories.

Gains and Losses. Who has the best chance to win?

In late January, before Obama scored 11 straight primary and caucus victories, 56 percent of Democrats saw Clinton as the stronger nominee, compared to 33 percent for Obama. Now, Obama leads on that question, 56 to 43 percent.

Still, the poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks, contains some worrisome signs for the first-term senator. Those rating him as "not at all honest," for example, jumped from 18 percent last fall to 27 percent in April. It came as he was put on the defensive over incendiary comments by his former pastor. But many holding such views are Republicans or conservative independents, who would be unlikely to vote in a Democratic primary or support a Democrat in the fall, anyway.

The most encouraging sign for Obama is that many Democrats who previously saw Clinton as their party's best hope now give him that role. About one-third of them still prefer Clinton, but they have lost confidence in her electability.

"I would love to vote for Hillary," said Nancy Costello of Bellevue, Ky., one of the more than 1,800 randomly selected adults whose opinions are rechecked every few months. "I'm 67, and I'll probably never get another chance to vote for a woman."

But Obama now appears to be the stronger candidate, she said, and electing a Democrat in November is paramount. If McCain wins and continues many of President Bush's economic and foreign policies, Costello said, "I think I would just sit down and cry."

By tracking the same group throughout the campaign, the AP-Yahoo! News poll can gauge how individual views change. It suggests that Clinton has paid a price for hammering Obama since early February on several issues as she tries to overcome his lead in delegates and the popular vote. Among those Democrats who no longer consider her the more electable of the two, most now see her as less likable, decisive, strong, honest, experienced and ethical than they did in January.

Meanwhile, those same voters are more likely to see Obama as strong, honest and refreshing than before.

Beulah Barton of Leesburg, Fla., said she initially backed Clinton, partly because she liked Bill Clinton's record as president.

"But the more I hear her talk, and the more I hear him talk, the more put off I am," said Barton, 69. "I think she's brash, I think she's rude. I get the feeling that she feels she deserves to be president" and doesn't need "to earn it."

Barton said she likes Obama, and ignores e-mails suggesting that he refuses to salute the flag or is somehow threatening "because of his name."

"People try to make him look like a traitor," she said. "I think he has risen above most of that stuff."

Some misinformation sticks, however. The great majority of the poll's participants said this month they did not know the religious affiliation of Clinton (a Methodist) or Obama (United Church of Christ). But 15 percent ventured that Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is a Muslim.

That group includes more Democrats than Republicans, and it doesn't necessarily worry them.

Randi Estes, a Democrat from Ada, Okla., said she prefers Clinton but feels Obama is likely to win the nomination. "He's gotten very strong media coverage, and Bill Clinton's not helping her a bit," said Estes, 36, who has four children under the age of 6.

Speaking of Obama, she said, "I have a sense he's a Muslim."

If Obama wins the nomination, the poll indicates he will need to mend his image a bit as he battles McCain for independents and soft Republicans. His favorability rating among all voters has declined, with those ranking him as "very unfavorable" growing from 17 percent in January to 25 percent in April. Most of them are Republicans and independents.

In January, 30 percent of Republicans rated Obama very unfavorably. That grew to 43 percent in April. Among the coveted independents, 12 percent had a very unfavorable view of Obama in January. That has nearly doubled to 23 percent.

Obama would be the first black president, and the survey detected some evidence of racial discomfort in voters' minds. It found that about 8 percent of whites would be uncomfortable voting for a black for president. It produced an estimate of about 13 percent of Republicans who would feel that way, but suggested very few if any Democrats would now be uncomfortable. In November, about 5 percent of Democrats indicated discomfort at voting for a black person for president.

For Allen Lovell, a moderate Democrat in Everett, Wash., race is unimportant, but replacing Bush with a Democrat is vital. And lately he has concluded that Obama probably has the better chance of beating McCain.

"I am leaning towards him, not because he's black — because I'm white — but because we definitely need a change," said Lovell, 50.

He said the Democratic campaign has lasted too long, but there is one topic he'd like to hear more about. Lovell, who guessed that Obama is "either Christian or Muslim," said: "I don't think we're getting enough information on religion" from the candidates.

The survey of 1,844 adults was conducted April 2-14 and had an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. Included were interviews with 863 Democrats, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.3 points, and 668 Republicans, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.8 points.

The poll was conducted over the Internet by Knowledge Networks. It initially contacted people using traditional telephone polling methods, and followed with online interviews. People chosen for the study who had no Internet access were given it for free.

— AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Original here

Howard Dean: SuperDelegates need to decide now

If this isn't a reaction to last night's debate debacle, I don't know what is.

An increasingly firm Howard Dean told CNN again Thursday that he needs superdelegates to say who they’re for – and “I need them to say who they’re for starting now.”

“We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time,” the Democratic National Committee Chairman told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We’ve got to know who our nominee is.”
Dean clearly wasn't happy with what he saw last night. It's no longer just Hillary using right-wing talking points in an effort to destroy the guy who will be running against McCain in the fall, now the mainstream media has bought into the "let's destroy Obama" game. As Ben Smith notes, this is the first time the mainstream media has delved into the William Ayers issue, one of the many below-the-belt zingers that Hillary has been trying to throw at Obama:
Barack Obama took his first public grilling on his relationship with Bill Ayers last night, and between the moderators' pressing and Clinton's follow-up, it had exactly the effect the Clinton campaign hoped: finally injecting the issue into the public discussion.

At the moment, "Ayers" is the fifth most searched term on Google, according to Google Trends; "Ayers Obama" is 15th. "William Ayers" is 26th.
ABC, with Hillary's help, has now made yet another right-wing talking point a legitimate point of public debate about Obama. If this keeps up, every Swift Boat style attack against Obama will be considered a serious issue by the media, all because Hillary made it so. Dean has, in my opinion, had enough. He's watching Hillary's kamikaze attack on Obama metastasize into a media feeding frenzy against the guy who won our nomination two months ago. Hillary isn't going to win, Dean knows it, we all know it. The only question is whether she's going to take all of us down with her. Howard Dean is apparently now, finally, belatedly, saying "no."

Get ready for the Hillary donors to once again threaten to destroy our majority in the Congress, and help John McCain become president, if Hillary's divine right of kings isn't honored.

ABC may have just ended Hillary's run for the presidency.

Original here

Heilemann: Robert Reich to Endorse Obama


Secretary of Labor Robert Reich with Hillary Clinton at an education event in Washington, 1994.Photo: Corbis

If the Democratic presidential race were a poker game, by now you'd have to suspect that Barack Obama's campaign is dealing from the bottom of the deck: Rarely a day goes by when it doesn't slap another ace down on the table. The aces in this (possibly strained) metaphor are endorsements, and it often seems as if the Obama operation has an inexhaustible supply at its disposal. In the past week alone, it has announced the support of congressmen from North Carolina and Indiana; the Utah state party chair; the Oklahoma state party's chief fundraiser; 25 South Dakota state legislators; the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers; and, not least, The Boss. Some of these endorsers are superdelegates, and thus of no small consequence to the outcome of the race. Others are simply window-dressing, deployed to create a sense of ineluctable momentum in Obama's direction. But none have the particular resonance of the endorsement that's coming — unbeknownst to the campaign — a little later today.

The endorsement in question is that of Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Labor and a friend of both the former president and his wife for four decades. Around 1 p.m. EST, Reich informs me, he intends formally to declare his support for Obama on his blog.

Now, in one sense, the Reich endorsement comes as no great surprise. For some time, it's been clear to anyone paying attention that Reich favors Obama. Back in December, in a blog post titled "Why is HRC Stooping So Low?," Reich loudly and sharply criticized Clinton's conduct in Iowa and defended Obama's proposals for health-care and Social Security reform. Two days before the race-charged South Carolina primary, he assailed Bill Clinton's "ill-tempered and ill-founded attacks" on Obama, arguing that they were "doing no credit to the former president, his legacy, or his wife's campaign." And all throughout the primary season, he has spoken and written of Obama's candidacy with evident admiration and enthusiasm.

But Reich insists that the endorsement does indeed come as a surprise — to him. As we chatted in Washington, where Reich had come from Berkeley, where he teaches, to give a speech and meet with some Democrats on Capitol Hill, he explained that, despite the criticisms he's made of the Clintons ("I call it as I see it"), he had planned to refrain from offering an official backing for Obama out of respect for Hillary. "She's an old friend," Reich said. "I've known her 40 years. I was absolutely dead set against getting into the whole endorsement thing. I've struggled with it. I've not wanted to do it. Out of loyalty to her, I just felt it would be inappropriate."

So what's changed? I asked Reich.

"I saw the ads" — the negative man-on-street commercials that the Clinton campaign put up in Pennsylvania in the wake of Obama's bitter/cling comments a week ago — "and I was appalled, frankly. I thought it represented the nadir of mean-spirited, negative politics. And also of the politics of distraction, of gotcha politics. It's the worst of all worlds. We have three terrible traditions that we've developed in American campaigns. One is outright meanness and negativity. The second is taking out of context something your opponent said, maybe inartfully, and blowing it up into something your opponent doesn't possibly believe and doesn't possibly represent. And third is a kind of tradition of distraction, of getting off the big subject with sideshows that have nothing to do with what matters. And these three aspects of the old politics I've seen growing in Hillary's campaign. And I've come to the point, after seeing those ads, where I can't in good conscience not say out loud what I believe about who should be president. Those ads are nothing but Republicanism. They're lending legitimacy to a Republican message that's wrong to begin with, and they harken back to the past twenty years of demagoguery on guns and religion. It's old politics at its worst — and old Republican politics, not even old Democratic politics. It's just so deeply cynical."

The Clinton campaign will, no doubt, shrug off the Reich endorsement of Obama. (And hey, who knows, maybe James Carville will get into the act and declare Reich a Benedict Arnold!) They will say that it's unlikely to move any votes, and that, since Reich is not a superdelegate, it does nothing tangible to move Obama even one inch closer to the nomination.

All of which is true enough, as far as it goes. But beyond the bald fact of Reich's support for Obama, the Clinton campaign should pay heed to the reasoning behind it. In his disgust with Hillary's increasingly harsh tactics, Reich is hardly alone. Indeed, the feeling seems to be spreading more broadly in the party with every passing day. It's been clear for some time that Hillary's attacks on Obama were driving up her negatives. You could certainly argue this might be a price worth paying if those attacks were amping up doubts about him. But it's hard to see any logic — or even sanity — in the tactic if the result is to drive even people who once regarded Hillary dearly into Obama's arms. — John Heilemann

Related: Superdelegates Making Howard Dean Just Want to Scream [NYM]
Gibson and Stephanopoulus Criticized After Debate [NYM]
How Barack Obama Lost The Debate — And Whether It Matters [NYM]
Is John McCain Bob Dole? [NYM]
Hillary Clinton and the Feminist Reawakening [NYM]

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.

Original here

Clinton Bashes Obama's Weathermen Connection, But What About Her Own?

"I wish you could conduct a campaign on policy and policy differentiation," Howard Wolfson, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign communications director, said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday morning. He added that Clinton "would like nothing more."

This was moments after Wolfson and Phil Singer, another top Clinton aide, had hammered Barack Obama for having held a fundraiser during his first state senate campaign in Illinois at the home of William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois and a former aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who was a member of the radical Weather Underground Organization, which was responsible for several bombings in the early 1970s. Ayers was never arrested for his activities. But in 2001, he did say, "I don't regret setting bombs." The issue had come up during the previous night's debate. Responding to a question about Ayers, Obama had said, "the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense." Wolfson, this morning after, insisted that Obama had "to be more forthcoming about that issue" and state clearly whether it had been "appropriate" to attend a fundraiser at Ayers' home.

When it came time for questions for Wolfson, I asked an obvious one: Did Hillary Clinton believe that it had been appropriate in 2001 for President Bill Clinton to have pardoned two members of the Weather Underground as he left office? The two recipients of Clinton's munificence were Linda Evans, who was sentenced to five years in prison for her participation in a string of 1980s bombings, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with participating in a bank robbery that left one guard and two police officers dead. And, I continued, has Senator Clinton ever criticized this decision? Has she ever said anything publicly about it? Rosenberg, I noted, had been apprehended with 740 pounds of explosives in her possession.

Wolfson replied, "I am not aware of Linda Evans or Susan Rosenberg...hosting a political event for Senator Clinton."

I interrupted to note that I had not asked whether they had. I had asked whether Clinton had supported or opposed her husband's pardons for these two women. (I resisted the urge to throw in Marc Rich.)

Wolfson responded that while I have the right to ask questions the way I see fit, he has the right to answer them in the manner he chooses--and then I can evaluate his reply. (Given that the Clinton aides do take many questions from all comers, I could not argue with him on that.) Wolfson went on to accuse the Obama campaign of trying to conflate the pardons and the Ayers issues. And indeed it is. The Obama campaign did disseminate email about the Weather Underground radicals pardoned by Bill Clinton. Wolfson then maintained the critical difference here is that Ayers had been a "key supporter" of Obama.

I tried again: the question is whether Senator Clinton believes the pardons for Rosenberg and Evans were appropriate. Wolfson replied "I am not an expert on the pardons....I don't know what she said" about them.

Could he find out and get back to us? Yes, he said.

During the call, Wolfson said, "voters deserve as much information about the candidates as possible." And Clinton's view of the Weather Underground pardons, given her campaign's effort to pump up the volume of the Ayers matter, certainly meets that standard.

By the way, Wolfson added that neither Linda Evans or Susan Rosenberg had ever hosted an event for Senator Clinton--just in case any of the reporters had missed that point. He added that Clinton had not raised the issue at the debate on Wednesday night. True, but now her campaign had--and it was signalling it would keep doing so, as part of an effort to tie Obama to a "terrorist." The ploy was a clear one. In this instance, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

Original here

What If ABC Held a Debate, but Forgot to Show Up?

All night long, every time I'd think about the ABC "debate" (sic), three reactions rose up - 1) grind my teeth to an angry pulp, 2) let my head explode, or 3) type something to let the steam out.

This morning, I still can't believe I was able to make it through 45 minutes of the broadcast.

This was topflight journalism at its worst. This was ABC's old, flimsy history with threadbare sizzle packaged as news. It was a tabloid debate with tabloid questions. Matt Drudge come to life on a respectable stage. From what I subsequently discovered, they actually, eventually got around to real issues -- after over an hour. But watching it for a mere 45 minutes made me feel almost seedy. I wanted to shower to get the smarm off. I love news, I admire professional journalists, I cherish the Mainstream Media, even when they flounder, because it is the core of democracy. But this was embarrassing. This was pathetic. This was just a cheesy press conference with cheesy questions.

Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos should be ashamed. I'm sure they have all of their reasons wrapped nicely with a bow, explaining why they asked what they asked and why it was proper and good and noble. Sorry, it wasn't. They put this on in prime time across the nation, and turned it into a slimy, Fox Network reality show. A cross between Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? and Temptation Island. Something like, So, You Want to Be President?!

This was a disservice to America.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are running for President of the United States. It's a job that really, seriously matters. There are critically important issues facing the nation, right now. Last week, 81% of Americans said that they felt that the country had pretty seriously gotten off-track. There's the five-year Iraq War with 4,000 Americans dead and trillions spent. A national deficit pushing the country to recession. The G8 nations have expressed their tottering concern about the dollar. Global warming has put the entire globe at risk. The president and his top cabinet advisor are discovered in a memo to have discussed how to allow torture.

And for the first hour, the very first things these moderators could think of asking the two people in line to become the most powerful person in the world was -- what one of their pastors said? Who else also sat on a community board with him? Whether he used the best syntax in describing anger in America?

This was shameless. Hurtful.

And for all the post-debate commentators saying how "on the defensive" Barack Obama was -- most of them should be ashamed, as well, not pointing out how ghastly the questions were. They failed, as well.

What I saw during the "debate" (sic) made me completely agree with Senator Obama saying repeatedly that these questions are about things that don't matter in the lives of Americans. He wasn't "defensive." He was right. There's a difference. He answered the questions - same as he'd answered the questions before. But --

What his pastor said...Does Not Matter.

Who he served on a community board with...Does Not Matter.

Whether he is elitist for using the word "bitter"...Does Not Matter.

What matters is that there are angry people in Pennsylvania, and in America. What matters is what issues Barack Obama was dealing with on that community board he was a member of. What matters is what Barack Obama himself says.

What matters is the Iraq War. Torture. The Economy. Education. The price of gas. Domestic spying on Americans. Global warming. National security.

If Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos felt so-deeply compelled to toss in some of their Questions Lite -- even though they'd been asked and addressed repeatedly through the past weeks -- that's fine, ask them, at least the ones that dance on the edge of substance. But have the decency to hold them to later, after you've established the gravitas of the debate. Because otherwise, when you start by throwing out chum for the first hour, what you establish is that these are the things that "matter." And what comes later, nah, that's just afterthought.

Republican pundits do themselves no good pushing these empty topics, which they do only because they have no platform to run on. And Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos bought into it.

And Hillary Clinton did herself no good either by repeating that these things matter -- saying that "the Republicans will bring them up." News Flash: the Republicans will bring up just as much about her. And those won't substantively matter either. Or even necessarily be true.

Hillary Clinton has much good in her abilities. She has qualities that could make her an excellent president. But we are watching a person disintegrate before our eyes, throwing out the quality of her past and risking her future.

But this isn't about Hillary Clinton. This is about Charles Gibson, George Stephanopoulos and ABC "News." They were given a high responsibility to broadcast in the public interest. Instead, they spent the time in the empty gutter.

For the network of Lost and Desperate, they were both.

Original here

Joe Scarborough Walks Off MSNBC's "Race To The White House" After Exchange With Rachel Maddow

Update from MSNBC spokesman Jeremy Gaines to Huffington Post:
"Joe didn't walk off. He chose not to participate in the final couple of minutes of the discussion because he felt the conversation didn't fit his role as a political analyst."

Previously:

Did Joe Scarborough walk out of David Gregory's show "Race to the White House" Thursday night on MSNBC? It seems that way by the video below. Joe was a panelist on the show along with Air America's Rachel Maddow, CNBC's John Harwood and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.

The panel was discussing the effect of Sen. Obama's personal and professional relationships on his campaign when Rachel and Joe disagreed. Joe started to challenge Rachel's argument that relationships only become an issue when a political opponent makes them an issue, but she cut him off, "Let me make my point and then you can dismiss me." She then finished with an example of a McCain campaign co-chair in Florida's bathroom activities.

After a commercial break, Joe prefaced his rebuttal to Rachel's point by saying "I don't engage in Crossfire-type debates and certainly I don't want to talk about what people do in bathrooms." When he finished speaking, and after David Gregory had shut Joe vs. Rachel down, John Harrow came on camera. Then, viewers can hear Joe taking off his microphone (2:47 into the below video). When the panel picture came back, no Joe.

Watch Rachel and Joe make their points, hear Joe unplug, and then (after a jump) see the panel after Joe has gone:

Pictures of before and after:
Original here

What is Really Means to 'Support Our Troops' [PIC]

Original here

Pentagon institute calls Iraq war 'a major debacle' with outcome 'in doubt'

US soldiers patrol the village of Mullah Eid, 8 kms south of Baquba, as the sun rises in February 2008. About 300,000 US military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan currently suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, an independent study released Thursday estimates.(AFP/File/Patrick Baz)
AFP/File Photo: US soldiers patrol the village of Mullah Eid, 8 kms south of Baquba, as the...

WASHINGTON — The war in Iraq has become "a major debacle" and the outcome "is in doubt" despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon's premier military educational institute.

The report released by the National Defense University raises fresh doubts about President Bush 's projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions.

The report carries considerable weight because it was written by Joseph Collins , a former senior Pentagon official, and was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.

It was published by the university's National Institute for Strategic Studies , a Defense Department research center.

"Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle," says the report's opening line.

At the time the report was written last fall, more than 4,000 U.S. and foreign troops, more than 7,500 Iraqi security forces and as many as 82,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed and tens of thousands of others wounded, while the cost of the war since March 2003 was estimated at $450 billion .

"No one as yet has calculated the costs of long-term veterans' benefits or the total impact on service personnel and materiel," wrote Collins, who was involved in planning post-invasion humanitarian operations.

The report said that the United States has suffered serious political costs, with its standing in the world seriously diminished. Moreover, operations in Iraq have diverted "manpower, materiel and the attention of decision-makers" from "all other efforts in the war on terror" and severely strained the U.S. armed forces.

"Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there (in Iraq ) were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East ," the report continued.

The addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to Iraq last year to halt the country's descent into all-out civil war has improved security, but not enough to ensure that the country emerges as a stable democracy at peace with its neighbors, the report said.

"Despite impressive progress in security, the outcome of the war is in doubt," said the report. "Strong majorities of both Iraqis and Americans favor some sort of U.S. withdrawal. Intelligence analysts, however, remind us that the only thing worse than an Iraq with an American army may be an Iraq after a rapid withdrawal of that army."

"For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a 'must win,' but for many others, despite obvious progress under General David Petraeus and the surge, it now looks like a 'can't win.'"

The report lays much of the blame for what went wrong in Iraq after the initial U.S. victory at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld . It says that in November 2001 , before the war in Afghanistan was over, President Bush asked Rumsfeld "to begin planning in secret for potential military operations against Iraq ."

Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney , bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became "the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders."

" . . . the aggressive, hands-on Rumsfeld," it continues, "cajoled and pushed his way toward a small force and a lightning fast operation." Later, he shut down the military's computerized deployment system, "questioning, delaying or deleting units on the numerous deployment orders that came across his desk."

In part because "long, costly, manpower-intensive post-combat operations were anathema to Rumsfeld," the report says, the U.S. was unprepared to fight what Collins calls "War B," the battle against insurgents and sectarian violence that began in mid-2003, shortly after "War A," the fight against Saddam Hussein's forces, ended.

Compounding the problem was a series of faulty assumptions made by Bush's top aides, among them an expectation fed by Iraqi exiles that Iraqis would be grateful to America for liberating them from Saddam's dictatorship. The administration also expected that " Iraq without Saddam could manage and fund its own reconstruction."

The report also singles out the Bush administration's national security apparatus and implicitly President Bush and both of his national security advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley , saying that "senior national security officials exhibited in many instances an imperious attitude, exerting power and pressure where diplomacy and bargaining might have had a better effect."

Collins ends his report by quoting Winston Churchill , who said: "Let us learn our lessons. Never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. . . . Always remember, however sure you are that you can easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think that he also had a chance."

Original here


Stephanopoulos Once Criticized The Tactics He Put To Use In Debate

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos can continue to defend his decision to lead off his debate with an hour's worth of questions that mined the electoral sideshow (Lapel Pins, Tuzla, Weather Underground) for material at the expense of informative questions that cut to the needs of real Americans, but the facts are these: Back when the shoe was on the other foot, and Stephanopoulos' job was that of a campaign insider, he insisted that the media hold itself to a higher standard, as this clip from The War Room demonstrates.

[WATCH.]

STEPHANOPOULOS: What he's going to do in this campaign is focus on what's important to the American people, on the jobs and the education. That's what the American people care about. They want to move into the future. They don't want to be diverted by side issues, and they're not going to let the Republican attack machine divert them

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Congressman introduces bill to decriminalize personal marijuana use

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has made good on his promise to introduce what he called the "Make Room for the Serious Criminals Bill" on a March 21, 2008 appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Co-sponsoring the bill are Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA).

Text of Thursday's press release, from Rep. Frank's Congressional website, follows.

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Congressman, 4th District, Massachusetts 2252 Rayburn Building · Washington, D.C. 20515 · (202) 225-5931


FRANK INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO REMOVE FEDERAL PENALTIES ON PERSONAL MARIJUANA USE

Congressman Also Files Bill Permitting Medical Use of Marijuana in States that Choose to Allow it with Doctor’s Recommendation

Congressman Barney Frank today introduced bi-partisan legislation aimed at removing federal restrictions on the individual use of marijuana. One bill would remove federal penalties for the personal use of marijuana, and the other – versions of which Frank has filed in several preceding sessions of Congress – would allow the medical use of marijuana in states that have chosen to make its use for medical purposes legal with a doctor’s recommendation. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) joined Frank as a cosponsor of the federal penalties bill. The cosponsors of the medical marijuana bill are Rep. Paul, along with Reps. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Sam Farr (D-CA).

Congressman Frank released the following statement explaining the legislation.

“I think it is poor law enforcement to keep on the books legislation that establishes as a crime something which in fact society does not seriously wish to prosecute. In my view, having federal law enforcement agents engaged in the prosecution of people who are personally using marijuana is a waste of scarce resources better used for serious crimes. In fact, this type of prosecution often meets with public disapproval. The most frequent recent examples have been federal prosecutions of individuals using marijuana for medical purposes in states that have voted – usually by public referenda – to allow such use. Because current federal law has been interpreted as superseding state law in this area, most states that have made medical use of marijuana legal have been unable to actually implement their laws.

"When doctors recommend the use of marijuana for their patients and states are willing to permit it, I think it’s wrong for the federal government to subject either the doctors or the patients to criminal prosecution. More broadly speaking, the norm in America is for the states to decide whether particular behaviors should be made criminal. To make the smoking of marijuana, whether for medical purposes or not, one of those extremely rare instances of federal crime – literally, to make a ‘federal case’ out of it – is wholly disproportionate to the activity involved. We do not have federal criminal prohibitions against drinking alcoholic beverages, and there are generally no criminal penalties for the use of tobacco at the state and federal levels for adults. There is no rational argument for treating marijuana so differently from these other substances.”

To those who say that the government should not be encouraging the smoking of marijuana, my response is that I completely agree. But it is a great mistake to divide all human activity into two categories: those that are criminally prohibited, and those that are encouraged. In a free society, there must be a very considerable zone of activity between those two poles in which people are allowed to make their own choices as long as they are not impinging on the rights, freedom, or property of others. I believe it is important with regard to tobacco, marijuana and alcohol, among other things, that we strictly regulate the age at which people may use these substances. And, enforcement of age restrictions should be firm. But, criminalizing choices that adults make because we think they are unwise ones, when the choices involved have no negative effect on the rights of others, is not appropriate in a free society.”

“If the laws I am proposing pass, states will still be free to treat marijuana as they wish. But I do not believe that the federal government should treat adults who choose to smoke marijuana as criminals. Federal law enforcement is a serious business, and we should be concentrating our efforts in this regard on measures that truly protect the public.”

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Clintons' Terror Pardons

It was nearly 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve, 1982. Two officers on New York Police Department's elite bomb squad rushed to headquarters at One Police Plaza, where minutes earlier an explosion had destroyed the entrance to the building. Lying amid the carnage was Police Officer Rocco Pascarella, his lower leg blasted off.

"He was ripped up like someone took a box cutter and shredded his face," remembered Detective Anthony Senft, one of the bomb-squad officers who answered the call 25 years ago. "We really didn't even know that he was a uniformed man until we found his weapon, that's how badly he was injured."

[The Clintons' Terror Pardons]

About 20 minutes later, Mr. Senft and his partner, Richard Pastorella, were blown 15 feet in the air as they knelt in protective gear to defuse another bomb. Detective Senft was blinded in one eye, his facial bones shattered, his hip severely fractured. Mr. Pastorella was blinded in both eyes and lost all the fingers of his right hand. A total of four bombs exploded in a single hour on that night, including at FBI headquarters in Manhattan and the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

The perpetrators were members of Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN (the Spanish acronym), a clandestine terrorist group devoted to bringing about independence for Puerto Rico through violent means. Its members waged war on America with bombings, arson, kidnappings, prison escapes, threats and intimidation. The most gruesome attack was the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in Lower Manhattan. Timed to go off during the lunch-hour rush, the explosion decapitated one of the four people killed and injured another 60.

[The Clintons' Terror Pardon]

FALN bragged about the bloodbath, calling the victims "reactionary corporate executives" and threatening: "You have unleashed a storm from which you comfortable Yankees can't escape." By 1996, the FBI had linked FALN to 146 bombings and a string of armed robberies -- a reign of terror that resulted in nine deaths and hundreds of injured victims.

On Aug. 7, 1999, the one-year anniversary of the U.S. African embassy bombings that killed 257 people and injured 5,000, President Bill Clinton reaffirmed his commitment to the victims of terrorism, vowing that he "will not rest until justice is done." Four days later, while Congress was on summer recess, the White House quietly issued a press release announcing that the president was granting clemency to 16 imprisoned members of FALN. What began as a simple paragraph on the AP wire exploded into a major controversy.

Mr. Clinton justified the clemencies by asserting that the sentences were disproportionate to the crimes. None of the petitioners, he stated, had been directly involved in crimes that caused bodily harm to anyone. "For me," the president concluded, "the question, therefore, was whether their continuing incarceration served any meaningful purpose."

His comments, including the astonishing claim that the FALN prisoners were being unfairly punished because of "guilt by association," were widely condemned as a concession to terrorists. Further, they were seen as an outrageous slap in the face of the victims and a bitter betrayal of the cops and federal law enforcement officers who had put their lives on the line to protect the public and who had invested years of their careers to put these people behind bars. The U.S. Sentencing Commission affirmed a pre-existing Justice Department assessment that the sentences, ranging from 30 to 90 years, were "in line with sentences imposed in other cases for similar terrorist activity."

The prisoners were convicted on a variety of charges that included conspiracy, sedition, violation of the Hobbes Act (extortion by force, violence or fear), armed robbery and illegal possession of weapons and explosives -- including large quantities of C-4 plastic explosive, dynamite and huge caches of ammunition. Mr. Clinton's action was opposed by the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. attorney offices that prosecuted the cases and the victims whose lives had been shattered. In contravention of standard procedures, none of these agencies, victims or families of victims were consulted or notified prior to the president's announcement.

"I know the chilling evidence that convicted the petitioners," wrote Deborah Devaney, one of the federal prosecutors who spent years on the cases. "The conspirators made every effort to murder and maim. . . . A few dedicated federal agents are the only people who stood in their way."

Observed Judge George Layton, who sentenced four FALN defendants for their conspiracy to use military-grade explosives to break an FALN leader from Ft. Leavenworth Penitentiary and detonate bombs at other public buildings, "[T]his case . . . represents one of the finest examples of preventive law enforcement that has ever come to this court's attention in the 20-odd years it has been a judge and in the 20 years before that as a practicing lawyer in criminal cases."

The FBI cracked the cases with the discovery of an FALN safe house and bomb factory. Video surveillance showed two of those on the clemency list firing weapons and building bombs intended for an imminent attack at a U.S. military installation. FBI agents obtained a warrant and entered the premises, surreptitiously disarming the bombs whose components bore the unmistakable FALN signature. They found 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false IDs and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

A total of six safe houses were ultimately uncovered. Seven hundred hours of surveillance video were recorded, resulting in a mountain of evidence connecting the 16 prisoners to multiple FALN operations past and present.

Federal law enforcement agencies considered these individuals so dangerous, extraordinary security precautions were taken at their numerous trials. Courthouse elevators were restricted and no one, including the court officers, was permitted to carry a firearm in the courtroom.

Given all this, why would Bill Clinton, who had ignored the 3,226 clemency petitions that had piled up on his desk over the years, suddenly reach into the stack and pluck out these 16 meritless cases? (The New York Times ran a column with the headline, "Bill's Little Gift.")

Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the midst of her state-wide "listening tour" in anticipation of her run for the U.S. Senate in New York, a state which included 1.3 million Hispanics. Three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- Luis V. Gutierrez (D., Ill.), Jose E. Serrano, (D., N.Y.) and Nydia M. Velazquez, (D., N.Y.) -- along with local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights advocates, had been agitating for years on behalf of the FALN cases directly to the White House and first lady.

Initial reports stated that Mrs. Clinton supported the clemencies, but when public reaction went negative she changed course, issuing a short statement three weeks after the clemencies were announced. The prisoners' delay in refusing to renounce violence "speaks volumes," she said.

The Clintons were caught in an awkward predicament of their own making. The president had ignored federal guidelines for commutation of sentences, including the most fundamental: The prisoners hadn't actually asked for clemency.

To push the deal through, signed statements renouncing violence and expressing remorse were required by the Justice Department. The FALN prisoners, surely relishing the embarrassment and discomfiture they were causing the president and his wife, had previously declined to accept these conditions. Committed and unrepentant militants who did not accept the authority of the United States, they refused to apologize for activities they were proud of in order to obtain a clemency they never requested.

So desperate was the White House to get the deal finalized and out of the news, an unprecedented 16-way conference call was set up for the "petitioners" who were locked up in 11 different federal facilities so that they could strategize a response to the president's offer. Two eventually refused to renounce their cause, preferring to serve out their lengthy sentences rather than follow the White House script.

Mr. Clinton's fecklessness in the handling of these cases was demonstrated by the fact that none of the prisoners were required, as a standard condition of release, to cooperate in ongoing investigations of countless unsolved FALN bombing cases and other crimes. Mrs. Clinton's so-called disagreement with her husband on the matter made no mention of that fact. The risk of demanding such a requirement, of course, was that the prisoners might have proudly implicated themselves, causing the entire enterprise to implode, with maximum damage to the president and potentially sinking Hillary Clinton's Senate chances.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rican politicians in New York who'd been crowing to their constituents about the impending release of these "freedom fighters" were enraged and insulted at Hillary Clinton's withdrawal of support. "It was a horrible blunder," said State Sen. Olga A. Mendez. "She needs to learn the rules."

The first lady called her failure to consult the Puerto Rican political establishment before assessing the entire issue a mistake "that will never happen again" -- even as the cops who had been maimed and disfigured by FALN operations continued to be ignored. Tom and Joe Connor, two brothers who were little boys when their 33-year-old father, Frank, was killed in the Fraunces Tavern attack, were dumbstruck to learn that White House staffers referred to the FALN militants as "political prisoners" and were planning a meeting with their children to humanize their plight.

Members of Congress viewed the clemencies as a dangerous abuse of presidential power that could not go unchallenged. Resolutions condemning the president's action were passed with a vote of 95-2 in the Senate, 311-41 in the House. It was the most they could do; the president's pardon power, conferred by the Constitution, is absolute. The House launched an investigation, subpoenaing records from the White House and Justice in an effort to determine whether proper procedure had been followed. President Clinton promptly invoked executive privilege, putting Justice Department lawyers in the impossible position of admitting that they had sent the White House a recommendation on the issue, but barred from disclosing what it was.

Twenty-four hours before a scheduled Senate committee hearing, the DOJ withheld the FBI's written statement about the history of the FALN and an assessment of its current terrorist capability. "They pulled the plug on us," said an unnamed FBI official in a news report, referring to the Justice Department decision to prevent FBI testimony.

The investigation revealed that the White House was driving the effort to release the prisoners, rather than the other way around. White House aides created talking points and strategies for a public campaign on the prisoners' behalf included asking prominent individuals for letters supporting clemency.

Jeffrey Farrow, a key adviser on the White House Interagency Working Group for Puerto Rico recommended meetings with the president and the three leading members of Congressional Hispanic Caucus who were pushing the effort, stating in a March 6, 1999 email, "This is Gutierrez's [sic] top priority as well as of high constituent importance to Serrano and Velazquez." The next day, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste sent an email to White House Counsel Charles Ruff, who was handling the clemency issue, supporting Mr. Farrow's view, saying, "Chuck -- Jeff's right about this -- very hot issue." Another adviser in the Working Group, Mayra Martinez-Fernandez, noted that releasing the prisoners would be "fairly easy to accomplish and will have a positive impact among strategic communities in the U.S. (read, voters)."

And there you have it. Votes.

While the pardon scandals that marked Bill and Hillary Clinton's final days in office are remembered as transactions involving cronies, criminals and campaign contributors, the FALN clemencies of 1999 should be remembered in the context of the increasing threat of domestic and transnational terrorism that was ramping up during the Clinton years of alleged peace and prosperity. To wit, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Tokyo subway Sarin attack, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1995 "Bojinka" conspiracy to hijack airplanes and crash them into buildings, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing, Osama bin Laden's 1996 and 1998 "Declarations of War" on America, the 1998 East African embassy bombings, the 2000 USS Sullivans bombing attempt, the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and the 2000 Millennium bombing plot.

It was within that context that the FBI gave its position on the FALN clemencies -- which the White House succeeded in keeping out of news coverage but ultimately failed to suppress -- stating that "the release of these individuals will psychologically and operationally enhance the ongoing violent and criminal activities of terrorist groups, not only in Puerto Rico, but throughout the world." The White House spun the clemencies as a sign of the president's universal commitment to "peace and reconciliation" just one year after Osama bin Laden told his followers that the United States is a "paper tiger" that can be attacked with impunity.

It would be a mistake to dismiss as "old news" the story of how and why these terrorists were released in light of the fact that it took place during the precise period when Bill Clinton now claims he was avidly engaged, even "obsessed," with efforts to protect the public from clandestine terrorist attacks. If Bill and Hillary Clinton were willing to pander to the demands of local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights activists defending bomb-makers convicted of seditious conspiracy, how might they stand up to pressure from other interest groups working in less obvious ways against U.S. interests in a post-9/11 world?

Radical Islamists are a sophisticated and determined enemy who understand that violence alone will not achieve their goals. Islamist front groups, representing themselves as rights organizations, are attempting to get a foothold here as they have already in parts of Western Europe by deftly exploiting ethnic and racial politics, agitating under the banner of civil liberties even as they are clamoring for the imposition of special Shariah law privileges in the public domain. They believe that the road to America's ultimate defeat is through the back door of policy and law and they are aggressively using money, influence and retail politics to achieve their goal.

On the campaign trail, the Clintons like to say that Bill is merely supportive and enthusiastic, "just like all the other candidates' spouses." Nothing could be further from the truth. Returning Bill and Hillary Clinton to the White House would present the country with the unprecedented situation of a former and current president simultaneously occupying the White House, the practical implications of which have yet to be fully explored.

The FALN clemencies provide a disturbing example of how the abuse or misuse of presidential prerogative, under the guise of policy, can be put in service of the personal and private activities of the president's spouse -- and beyond the reach of meaningful congressional oversight.

Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

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AUDIO: Hannity Feeds Stephanopoulos Debate Question On Weather Underground»

Last night’s ABC News Democratic presidential candidates debate was co-moderated by George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson, but the unseen influence of Fox News’ Sean Hannity was also on stage.

Hannity, who for months has been aggressively pushing a story about Barack Obama’s connections to a former member of a radical anti-Vietnam 1970s organization called the Weather Underground, interviewed Stephanopoulos on his radio show on Tuesday, where he pressed the ABC host to ask Obama about this:

HANNITY: There are two questions that I don’t think anybody has asked Barack Obama, and I don’t know if this is going to be on your list tomorrow. One is – the only time he’s ever been asked about his association with Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist from the Weather Underground who on 9/11 of all days in the New York Times was saying “I don’t regret setting bombs. I don’t think we did enough.” When asked about it by the Politico, David Axelrod said that they have a friendly relationship, and that they had done a number of speeches together and that they sat on a board together. Is that a question you might ask?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I’m taking notes right now.

HANNITY: September 11, 2001 of all days, there was an article in the New York Times. And there are a number of quotes about Bill Ayers. The Politico had in there the comments from David Axelrod.

Listen here:

In the debate last night, Stephanopoulos asked a question that mirrored almost word-for-word what Hannity pressed him to ask:

STEPHANOPOULOS: A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He’s never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, “I don’t regret setting bombs; I feel we didn’t do enough.”

An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?

Watch it:

The Washington Post’s Tom Shales writes today, “ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.” The debate moderators were heckled after the debate, prompting Gibson to react. “Oh…” he declared, hands raised in defense. “The crowd is turning on me, the crowd is turning on me.”

Not everyone was upset about the debate. The New York Times’ David Brooks writes, “I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent.” So does Hannity.

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Texas prison inmate cons way onto Idaho primary ballot

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A federal prison inmate got himself listed on the ballot for Idaho's May 27 primary as a Democratic presidential candidate, the state's top election official said.

Keith Russell Judd is serving time at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Texas for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999. He's scheduled for release in 2013.

Judd, 49, qualified for the ballot by submitting a notarized form and paying the required $1,000 fee, state Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said. As a result, Democratic voters will be able to choose between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Judd.

"We got conned," Ysursa told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.

It's Judd's second presidential bid in Idaho, the newspaper said Wednesday. In 2004 he declared as a write-in candidate for president, which requires only the submission of a declaration, and didn't get any votes.

No matter how many votes he gets this time, he won't get any national convention delegates. Idaho's delegates are chosen at party caucuses.

"The good thing is the Democratic presidential primary has absolutely no legal significance," Ysursa said.

Prison officials told the state elections office that Judd sent out about 14 checks to states seeking to get on the presidential election ballot and about half had been returned. He qualified as a write-in candidate in Kentucky, California, Indiana and Florida, but Idaho apparently is the only state where his name will appear on the ballot.

"It's a mockery of the system, and it's too bad that this kind of thing can happen," said Chuck Oxley, a state Democratic Party spokesman.

Party leaders are especially annoyed because Ysursa, a Republican, barred a Democratic state senate candidate, Matt Yost, from the ballot after determining that Yost was registered to vote in a different district.

"We have this really good candidate who can't get on the ballot, and this yahoo prisoner in Texas who coughs up a thousand bucks can," Oxley complained.

Judd paid his fee with a U.S. Treasury check drawn on his prison account, Ysursa said.

In his declaration, Judd listed as a campaign office telephone number the city desk news tip line at the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper in Texas. On a ProjectVoteSmart profile, he gave an Internal Revenue Service line in Ohio for the number of his campaign coordinator telephone.

"We did some checking," Ysursa said. "There was nothing legally to keep him off."

A key reason Judd was able to make the ballot was a recent change in state election law that eliminated a requirement under which he would have had to get signatures from more than 3,000 Idaho citizens.

"We may rethink how we get on our presidential ballot next time," Ysursa said. "We'll take a look at it. We've got four years to think about it."

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Breaking News: Thomas Backs Obama

You heard it here first. Council member and newly elected superdelegate Harry Thomas Jr., initially a supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is announcing in minutes that he will cast his vote at the Democratic National Convention in Denver for Sen. Barack Obama.

Thomas received more than 100 phone calls and e-mails from constituents who feared that he would use his power as a superdelegate to vote for Clinton despite the city's overwhelming support of Obama in the Potomac Primary.

"After meeting with the candidates and listening to my constituents, I have to honor the 83 percent who support Barack Obama," he said in an interview, referring to the results of the Democratic primary.

Thomas will make the announcement at 10 p.m. at a debate watch party.

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Barack Obama: Democrats deserve a nominee for change

On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians will have the unusual luxury of voting in a Democratic presidential primary that promises to be truly relevant. Like two opposing armies marching to a new Gettysburg, the forces of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton come to this latest battlefield symbolizing two views of America -- one of the past, one of the future. Pennsylvania Democrats need to rise to the historic moment.

For us it is the candidates' vision and character that loom as the decisive factors in this race. For as dissimilar as they are, the two share much in common. It starts with their mold-breaking candidacies. Whoever wins the nomination will vie for a special place in U.S. history -- to be either the first African-American or the first female commander in chief.

Although their backgrounds are different, they have come to the same conclusion, one now shared by many Americans, that the Bush administration has taken the nation on a profoundly wrong course both at home and abroad. The excitement that has animated this primary season -- the surge of new voters, the change of party registrations -- is an expression of the nation's hunger for change.

For as hard as they have run against each other, both candidates are united in running vehemently against President Bush and all his works -- another common theme that came out in their visits to the Post-Gazette editorial board on successive days this week. Sen. Clinton was the more explicit in her disdain: George W. Bush "is one of the worst, if not the worst, president we have ever had."

Not surprisingly, the policies they advocate have much in common and are generally the polar opposites of those espoused by the current administration.

On the domestic front, the prescriptions they offer on issues such as health care, the environment and education declare that government must be an agent of change to benefit the lives of ordinary Americans, not a power that shrinks from regulating or directing for fear of offending a core ideology.

In their expansive plans, Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton do have their own emphases and differences -- Sen. Clinton's health-care plan, for example, would cover more Americans than Sen. Obama's, but both would be a vast improvement on the status quo that leaves 47 million Americans uninsured and continues to soar in expense.

On foreign policy, both are united in their desire to bring the troops home from Iraq while improving the strategic situation in Afghanistan, the place of unfinished business where the al-Qaida spiders first spun their deadly web for 9/11 and are coming back thanks to the Iraq diversion.

On Iraq, for those inclined to remember, Sen. Clinton carries more baggage, for she voted to approve the war in the first place. For those inclined to forgive, she would seek to repair relations with allies strained by the Iraq misadventure, as Sen. Obama also would.

There is one last common ground for these candidates: They are both uncommonly smart, thoughtful and very well-versed in the issues. They care about people and they care about the workings of government. They are prepared.

Their strengths promise, in short, the one thing that the Bush administration has so shockingly lacked: competency. There will be no intellectually lazy president in the White House if either succeeded to it, no outsourced thinking to the vice president or the secretary of defense, no cheerfully shallow praise for unqualified political appointments, no enduring cause for embarrassment by the American people.

So forget all the primary skirmishing. Sen. Obama is every bit as prepared to answer the ring of the 3 a.m. phone as Sen. Clinton. Forget this idea that Sen. Obama is all inspiration and no substance. He has detailed positions on the major issues. When the occasion demands it, he can marshal eloquence in the service of making challenging arguments, which he did to great effect in his now-famous speech putting his pastor's remarks in the greater context of race relations in America.

Nor is he any sort of elitist. As he said yesterday in effectively refuting this ridiculous charge in a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, "my life's work has been to get everybody a fair shake."

This editorial began by observing that one candidate is of the past and one of the future. The litany of criticisms heaped on Sen. Obama by the Clinton camp, simultaneously doing the work of the Republicans, is as illustrative as anything of which one is which. These are the cynical responses of the old politics to the new.

Sen. Obama has captured much of the nation's imagination for a reason. He offers real change, a vision of an America that can move past not only racial tensions but also the political partisanship that has so bedeviled it.

To be sure, Sen. Clinton carries the aspirations of women in particular, but even in this she is something of a throwback, a woman whose identity and public position are indelibly linked to her husband, her own considerable talents notwithstanding. It does not help that the Clinton brand is seen by many in the country as suspect and shifty, bearing the grimy stamp of political calculation counting as much as principle.

Pennsylvania -- this encrusted, change-averse commonwealth where a state liquor monopoly holds on against all reason and where municipal fiefdoms shrink from sensible consolidation -- needs to take a strong look at the new face and the new hope in this race. Because political business-as-usual is more likely to bring the usual disappointment for the Democrats this fall, the Post-Gazette endorses the nomination of Barack Obama, who has brought an excitement and an electricity to American politics not seen since the days of John F. Kennedy.

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An open letter to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanapoulos

Dear Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos,

It's hard to know where to begin with this, less than an hour after you signed off from your Democratic presidential debate here in my hometown of Philadelphia, a televised train wreck that my friend and colleague Greg Mitchell has already called, quite accurately, "a shameful night for the U.S. media." It's hard because -- like many other Americans -- I am still angry at what I just witnessed, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking. Look, I know that "media criticism" -- especially when it's one journalist speaking to another -- tends to be a genteel, collegial thing, but there's no genteel way to say this.

With your performance tonight -- your focus on issues that were at best trivial wastes of valuable airtime and at worst restatements of right-wing falsehoods, punctuated by inane "issue" questions that in no way resembled the real world concerns of American voters -- you disgraced my profession of journalism, and, by association, me and a lot of hard-working colleagues who do still try to ferret out the truth, rather than worry about who can give us the best deal on our capital gains taxes. But it's even worse than that. By so badly botching arguably the most critical debate of such an important election, in a time of both war and economic misery, you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself. Indeed, if I were a citizen of one of those nations where America is seeking to "export democracy," and I had watched the debate, I probably would have said, "no thank you." Because that was no way to promote democracy.

You implied throughout the broadcast that you wanted to reflect the concerns of voters in Pennsylvania. Well, I'm a Pennsylvanian voter, and so are my neighbors and most of my friends and co-workers. You asked virtually nothing that reflected our everyday issues -- trying to fill our gas tanks and save for college at the same time, our crumbling bridges and inadequate mass transit, or the root causes of crime here in Philadelphia. In fact, there almost isn't enough space -- and this is cyberspace, where room is unlimited -- to list all the things you could have asked about but did not, from health care to climate change to alternative energy to our policy toward China to the deterioration of Afghanistan to veterans' benefits to improving education. You ignored virtually everything that just happened in what most historians agree is one of the worst presidencies in American history, including the condoning of torture and the trashing of the Constitution, although to be fair you also ignored the policy concerns of people on the right, like immigration issues.

You asked about gun control -- phrased to try for a "gotcha" in a state where that's such a divisive issue -- but not about what we really care about, which is how to reduce crime. You pressed and pressed on those capital gains taxes, but Senators Clinton and Obama were forced to bring up the housing crisis on their own initiative.

Instead, you wasted more than half of the debate -- a full hour -- on tabloid trivia that for the most part wasn't even that interesting, because most of it was infertile ground that has already been covered again and again and again. I'm not saying that Rev. Wright and Bosnia sniper fire and "bitter" were never newsworthy -- I myself wrote about all of these for the Philadelphia Daily News or my Attytood blog, back when they were more relevant -- but the questions were stale yet clearly intended to gin up controversy (they didn't, by the way, other than the controversy over you.) The final questions of that section, asking Obama whether he thought Rev. Wright "loved America" and then suggesting that Obama himself is somehow a hater of the American flag, or worse, were flat-out repulsive.

Are you even thinking when simply echo some of the vilest talking points from far-right talk radio? What are actually getting at -- do you honestly believe that someone with a solid track record as a lawmaker in a Heartland state which elected him to the U.S. Senate, who is now seeking to make some positive American history as our first black president, is somehow un-American, or unpatriotic? Does that even make any sense? Question his policies, or question his leadership. because that is your job as a journalist. But don't insult our intelligence by questioning his patriotism.

Here's a question for you, George. Is it true that yesterday you appeared on the radio with conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity, and that you said you were "taking notes" when he urged you to ask a question about Obama's supposed ties to a former member of the Weather Underground -- which in fact you did? With all the fabulous resources of ABC News at your disposal, is that an appropriate way for a supposed journalist to come up with debate questions - by pandering to divisive radio shows?

And Charlie...could you be any more out of touch with your viewers? Most people aren't millionaires like you, and if Pennsylvanians are losing sleep over economic matters, it is not over whether the capital gains tax will go back up again. I was a little shocked when you pressed and pressed on that back-burner issue and left almost no time for high gas prices, but then I learned tonight that you did the same thing in the last debate, that you fretted over that middle-class family that made $200,000 a year. Charlie, the nicest way that I can put this is that you need to get out more.

But I'm not ready to make nice. What I just watched was an outrage. As a journalist, you appeared to confirm all of the worst qualities that cause people to hold our profession in such low esteem, especially your obsession with cornering the candidates with lame "trick" questions and your complete lack of interest or concern about substance -- or about the American people, or the state of our nation. You embarassed some good people who work at ABC News -- for example, the journalists who worked hard to break this story just last week -- and you embarassed yourselves. The millions of people who watched the debate were embarassed, too -- at the state of our political discourse, and what it has finally become, at long last.

Quickly, a word to any and all of my fellow journalists who happen to read this open letter: This. Must. Stop. Tonight, if possible. I thought that we had hit rock bottom in March 2003, when we failed to ask the tough questions in the run-up to the Iraq war. But this feels even lower. We need to pick ourselves up, right now, and start doing our job -- to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what voters really need to know, and how we get there, that's it's not all horse-race and "gotcha." Although, to be blunt, I would also urge the major candidates in 2012 to agree only to debates that are organized by the League of Women Voters, with citizen moderators and questioners. Because we have proven without a doubt in 2008 that working journalists don't deserve to be the debate "deciders."

Charlie, I'm going to sign off this letter the way that you always sign off the news, that "I hope you had a great day."

Because America just had a horrible night.

Original here