Saturday, January 19, 2008

Supreme Court Denies Kucinich Bid to Get on Texas Ballot

The Supreme Court on Friday allowed Texas to print presidential primary ballots without Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich's name.

The court refused to step into a dispute between Kucinich and the Texas Democratic Party over a loyalty oath all candidates must sign to make the ballot.

Kucinich and singer-supporter Willie Nelson objected to the party oath that a presidential candidate must "fully support" the party's eventual nominee. Kucinich crossed out the oath when he filed for a spot on the primary ballot.

A federal judge in Austin ruled against Kucinich last week. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled the state party has the right to require the oath. Kucinich and Nelson argued it violated Kucinich's First Amendment right to free speech.

Texas said its deadline is Saturday to print absentee ballots so that they can reach overseas voters in time for the March 4 primary.

The Kucinich campaign said Friday it would return to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans next week to argue its case that the candidate should be on the March 4 ballot.

Source: AP News

read more | digg story

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Endorses Barack Obama

According to a recent Gallup poll, almost three out of four Americans are dissatisfied with how things are going in our country, with just 24 percent believing we're headed in the right direction. The deep discontent reflected in those numbers have made Democrats optimistic about their party's chances of electing one of their own to the White House in November.

However, the situation represents more than a mere opportunity; it imposes an obligation on the Democratic Party to offer the country a candidate who can inspire the American people, a candidate capable of addressing the many critical challenges, foreign and domestic, that will confront our next president and commander in chief.

The AJC editorial board will publish its endorsement in the Georgia Republican primary next Sunday.

At times of crisis, this country has always been blessed with strong, even visionary, leadership. But that has not been true for the last seven years. To the contrary, on almost every front we are suffering the consequences of slapdash, divisive leadership.

Economically, the country appears to be sliding into a recession; internationally, our reputation on the world stage has perhaps never been lower. Militarily, our men and women in uniform have been burdened with responsibilities that they lack the manpower to carry out over the long term, and with the aging of the Baby Boom generation and a soaring national debt, our financial obligations likewise threaten to overwhelm the resources we have committed to meet them.

In Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, the Democrats offer Georgia voters three candidates with the experience, leadership and character to begin to turn this country around. However, only two of those candidates now harbor realistic hopes for the nomination.

Edwards, a former senator from neighboring North Carolina, has used his campaign to voice the growing anxiety and fear of many in America's working and middle classes. It's an important message, as recent days have confirmed, and with economic troubles ahead, the issues that Edwards has highlighted could prove central in determining the outcome of the general election.

However, judging from the reaction of primary voters, Edwards' impassioned, crusading style may be better suited to a House or Senate race than a race for the presidency. He remains a distant third in most polls, and his hopes for the nomination no longer seem realistic.

That leaves Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. On questions of policy, not much separates the two. Their approaches toward health care, tax policy, foreign relations and the suppression of Islamic terrorism vary only at the margins.

(In fact, that similarity probably accounts for the dismaying pettiness of the disputes between the Obama and Clinton camps in recent days. Campaigns have to argue, and with little of real import separating them, they are now arguing over the little things and in some cases the imaginary things.)

The question, then, is which of the two candidates would be more able to implement the policies they agree upon.

Throughout the campaign, Clinton has argued that she has the better grasp of official Washington, which is probably true. Through hard work and intelligence, she has built an admirable record of success as a senator that has impressed even some Republican colleagues.

Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well — official Washington also has a better grasp on Clinton.

Perhaps burned by her experience in her husband's administration, she has too often chosen to play within the Washington system rather than dare to challenge its assumptions. And that's not the kind of leadership needed at the moment.

The prime example of that instinct was probably Clinton's vote last year in favor of naming Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. While that stance kept her in good standing in certain Washington circles, it also fed what at the time was a rising push toward military confrontation with Iran that was unnecessary and dangerous. Even voters willing to set aside Clinton's earlier vote giving President Bush authority to invade Iraq were taken aback when she seemed to have repeated that mistake.

For reasons largely outside her control, Clinton is also one of the more reviled figures in American politics. That sentiment is unfair and irrational, and she has done little to deserve it. But it exists nonetheless, and it would limit the amount of public support she would be able to rally as president.

Obama, on the other hand, has demonstrated an appeal across many of the lines that have divided America. That is a critically important attribute, because the scale of changes that must be made to correct America's course cannot be accomplished with majorities of 50 percent plus one.

Different moments in history require different types of leaders, and part of the art of picking a president is matching the person to the challenge and to the time. So while both Clinton and Obama would make very good presidents, Obama is the person; this is his time.

Jay Bookman and Cynthia Tucker for the editorial board

read more | digg story

Barack Obama WINS Nevada caucuses!

Barack Obama may have won the most delegates in Saturday's Nevada Caucus, even though Hillary Clinton bested his statewide turnout by about six points.

A source with knowledge of the Nevada Democratic Party's projections told The Nation that under the arcane weighting system, Obama would win 13 national convention delegates and Clinton would win 12 delegates. The state party has not released an official count yet.

Barack Obama released an official statement celebrating a delegate victory. "We came from over twenty-five points behind to win more national convention delegates than Hillary Clinton because we performed well all across the state, including rural areas where Democrats have traditionally struggled," he said.

A current estimate of the national convention delegate count is below, though not all precincts have fully reported.

District 1 Clinton 3, Obama 3

District 2 (Washoe) Clinton 1, Obama 2

District 2 (Rural) Clinton 0, Obama 1

District 2 (Clark) Clinton 1, Obama 1

District 3 (Clark) Clinton 2, Obama 2

At-Large Clinton 2, Obama 1

PLEO Clinton 3, Obama 3

UPDATE: The Obama Campaign is now pushing hard to promote this delegate victory. The campaign is convening a post-caucus conference call for reporters -- something that only winning campaigns usually do -- and circulating numerous Clinton quotes about how delegates are the only thing that matter. From the new press release:

Senator Obama was awarded 13 delegates to Senator Clinton's 12. As Clinton Communications Director Howard Wolfson said, "This is a race for delegates…It is not a battle for individual states. As David knows, we are well past the time when any state will have a disproportionate influence on the nominating process." [Washington Post, 1/16/08]
read more | digg story

When Attacked, Obama's Now Hitting Back

Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 19, 2008; Page A01

RENO, Nev., Jan. 18 -- The hundreds of people who turned out at the University of Nevada on Friday heard Sen. Barack Obama deliver a lofty stump speech about bridging the nation's divides and creating a groundswell for change. But they also witnessed him engage in the more mundane task of rebutting attacks from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on his positions on Social Security taxes and on the proposed nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

"When Senator Clinton implied that I'm for Yucca when I've never been for it, that's a problem. That erodes people's confidence in our politics," Obama said.

It was a sign of a lesson learned the hard way: Let no attack go unanswered.

After his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Obama arrived in New Hampshire more as the head of a movement than as a candidate, greeted by huge crowds that lined up for hours to hear a speech that could have been delivered at a suburban megachurch, all empowerment and inspiration.

While the Democratic senator from Illinois was holding his rallies, though, Clinton's campaign sent out a mailing accusing him of being soft in his support for abortion rights, organized 24 prominent New Hampshire women to send an e-mail echoing that charge and distributed a flier accusing him of seeking a big tax increase on working families. The charges were debatable, but Obama's only response was a hastily arranged automated phone call decrying the abortion attack. Clinton won the primary with strong support from the mailings' target audiences -- women and working-class voters.

Locked in a close race with Clinton that could continue well beyond the Feb. 5 primaries once seen as the campaign's decisive moment, the Obama team is determined not to make the same mistake. Much of the feel-good imagery was ditched in the New England snow, and it has been replaced by a more traditional campaign that rebuts and prebuts, brags about endorsements, and engages with -- rather than floats above -- the competition.

In Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday, the campaign has reverted to "town hall" meetings built around audience questions, rather than the rousing standalone speeches Obama gave in New Hampshire.

The shift in both tone and substance was apparent in a debate Tuesday in Las Vegas. Gone was the sense of easy confidence that Obama carried into the last debate before the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary. This time he was all business on issues such as energy, the mortgage crisis and Iraq.

"We came into New Hampshire on a high," said David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser. "The iconic rallies, combined with the polling, conveyed a sense that we were taking it for granted. She [Clinton] looked like she was working for it, scraping for it." He added, "This is a long process, and this is how you learn."

But the new, more aggressive strategy also poses a challenge for Obama: The more time he spends rebutting Clinton attacks, the more difficult it is for him to focus on the broader themes and uplifting rhetoric that have been drawing voters to him. While Obama may have the facts on his side -- at least in several instances -- engaging with the senator from New York may seem to many voters to be a wearying and obscure show of tit-for-tats that distracts from his overarching offer of a "new kind of politics."

But the need for such a rapid response is heightened by Obama's tendency to say things that his rival's campaign can seize on as fodder for attacks. On Friday, the Clinton campaign organized a conference call with several congressmen to lambaste Obama's remarks, in an editorial board interview in Nevada, about the transformative nature of Ronald Reagan, who, Obama said, "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it." The Obama campaign quickly arranged its own call with congressmen, arguing that the remarks were a historical observation, not an endorsement of Reagan's politics.

On Friday night there was another attack, a radio ad from the Clinton campaign in which basketball star and Clinton friend Earvin "Magic" Johnson calls Obama a "rookie." The Obama campaign immediately produced a rebuttal noting that Johnson in his rookie year won the MVP award in the National Basketball Association finals.

Clinton's charge questioning Obama's credentials on abortion rights surfaced a month before the Iowa caucuses; she cited Obama's votes of "present," rather than "yes" or "no," on some abortion bills in the Illinois Senate as proof that he is shaky on the issue. The Illinois chapter of the National Organization for Women had criticized the votes, but the Obama campaign pointed to statements by Pam Sutherland, the head of the Illinois Planned Parenthood Council, saying the "present" votes were part of a strategy to protect legislators in vulnerable districts. Obama has 100 percent ratings from abortion rights groups.

But the mailing in New Hampshire, which stated in bold that Obama was "unwilling to take a stand on choice," arrived much closer to the vote there than in Iowa. His campaign rushed out an automated phone call two days before primary day, but on the final day of the campaign, volunteers reported with dismay that many voters were asking about Obama's stance on abortion rights.

This week, the campaign took a more combative approach. Last Saturday, Obama staffers called Sutherland to ask her to publicly explain the "present" votes. "The facts are the facts -- he helped us with a winning strategy," she said in a conference call with reporters the next day.

Clinton also attacked Obama's position on Social Security in a mailing that went to voters in New Hampshire and Nevada, accusing him of seeking a "trillion dollar tax increase on America's hardworking families." It was a reference to his statements that he would consider addressing Social Security's deficit by raising the $97,500 limit on salaries subject to payroll tax. At times, he has suggested a "doughnut hole" of untaxed salary above the current limit and taxing everything above $200,000.

Obama let the charge go unanswered in New Hampshire. But in Nevada he has offered a defense to his audiences, saying that raising the cap, particularly if limited to those earning more than $200,000, would make the tax more fair to working-class Americans, and noting that Clinton told a voter a few months ago that she was open to the idea. Her principal proposal for addressing Social Security is to restore "fiscal responsibility" and to appoint a study commission.

On Thursday came another Clinton broadside, a radio ad airing in Nevada that charged that Obama is "hip-deep in financial ties" to Chicago-based Exelon, a nuclear plant operator that supports the Yucca Mountain waste site, which is hugely unpopular in this state. Obama got Nevada supporters on the phone to assure reporters of his opposition to the Yucca site, and he rehashed it in his appearances.

In engaging more directly, the Obama campaign has mostly refrained from using its own radio ads or mailings to attack Clinton's record or proposals. A union backing him began running a harshly worded Spanish-language radio ad this week accusing Clinton of suppressing working-class voters because some of her supporters filed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging caucus sites at Las Vegas casinos.

But, as the Clinton campaign points out, that does not mean that Obama has avoided attacks altogether -- he weaves them into his comments on the stump and in interviews, where his barbs have grown sharper. In Reno on Friday, he ridiculed an answer Clinton gave during the Las Vegas debate about her support for a 2001 Senate bankruptcy bill that was backed by credit-card companies and strongly opposed by consumer groups. Clinton said she was glad the measure never became law. "Think about that," Obama said. "She voted for it even though she hoped it wouldn't pass."

The crowd favorite was Obama's reenactment of how Clinton and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) responded during the debate to a question about their biggest weaknesses. Obama recalled his own answer -- that he is disorganized. "And Senator Edwards says, 'I'm just so passionate about poor people. And helping them.' And then Hillary says, 'My biggest weakness is I'm so impatient about bringing about real change to America.' "

Smiling, Obama added: "This is what I mean. This is political speak. This is what you learn in Washington, from all those years of experience."

Watching the new course Obama has taken, some campaign insiders like to think the New Hampshire loss was not the worst outcome for a candidate who is relatively new to the national stage, compared with Clinton, and followed a relatively easy path to the Senate. Had Obama won in New Hampshire, said one prominent Democrat, he might have become the prohibitive favorite for the nomination, "but he wouldn't be ready for the general election, he wouldn't be ready for the White House."

MacGillis reported from Washington.

read more | digg story

Faux News: Whose election is it anyway?

read more | digg story

What About John Edwards?

God love him, John Edwards smacks the media who insist on making the Democratic presidential race a two person one and treating him as if he doesn’t exist:

You go, John!

In related news, Edwards had taken jabs at Obama and Clinton (maybe then the press will mention him, you think?) but set his most pointed comments to Bill “There are no homeless vets” O’Reilly:

Tonight, 200,000 brave veterans will be homeless, and they will sleep in shelters, on the streets, under bridges, and on grates - and Bill O’Reilly doesn’t think there is a problem. For someone who spends a lot of time shouting about patriotism, you would think he would be outraged by the treatment of our homeless veterans. How many more will it take before we wake up and solve this crisis?

While George Bush and Bill O’Reilly continue to ignore our homeless veterans, the American people, whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, must speak out and stand up for those who have stood up for us. We must do everything we can to solve this terrible problem - and we must begin by reaching out to these men and women who are suffering - not pretending they do not exist. After our veterans have served our country honorably, isn’t one homeless veteran one too many?

Paul Rieckhoff from IAVA wants you to know that Edwards got it right and Billo is just plain wrong. He has an open letter/petition that we’d like for you to sign telling O’Reilly to learn more about this serious issue. Kudos to Edwards for leading this awareness.

read more | digg story

Former JAG lawyer: Only America 'parses' torture

The United States has lost so much of its credibility and prestige on the world stage because of its heavy-handed interrogation tactics that President Bush's insistence that US interrogators don't torture holds as much water as "Iran denying it has a nuclear weapons program," a retired Navy lawyer says.

There is a growing perception around the globe that the CIA's alleged use of tactics such as waterboarding puts the US alongside some of the very regimes it is fighting in ignoring fundamental human rights. The latest valley of US credibility came this week when a Canadian government document put the US on a watch list of countries where prisoners could be tortured. Others on the list included Iran, Syria, China and Afghanistan.

Navy Lt. Cmdr Charles Swift, who defended Guantanamo Bay detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, said the Canadian document demonstrates the extent to which even the US's closest allies are wary of its stance in the war on terror. He cited warnings from former Secretary of State Colin Powell and others that Guantanamo Bay needed to be closed to improve foreign relations.

"When they go into a diplomatic meeting ... it's the first thing on the agenda," Swift said. "It starts to jeopardizes cooperation in intelligence gathering, police work, and ultimately potentially extradition and other issues."

The Canadian training manual that warned of potential US torture mentioned Guantanamo Bay and invoked US interrogation practices such as "forced nudity, isolation and sleep deprivation," although Canada's foreign minister said the documents conclusions do not represent official government policy.

Swift said there were credible reports that those practices as well as waterboarding have been used by US interrogators, which is part of the reason the US has so little credibility.

"In the world community, it's ... like Iran denying they have a nuclear weapons program," he said. "The question always is, 'Well let us inspect it. Let us take a look at it.' The country replies, 'No no, that's national security; we're not going to do that.' And people become suspect."

Swift compared the US to other countries, "We may parse it legally, they are not in Europe or Canada or Great Britain. They call it for what it is, torture. This debate, which for us, continues politically in Congress is over in Europe. It's over in Canada. We're losing it there, it's done."

read more | digg story

Montana Calls for Real ID Rebellion; Dares DHS to Reject IDs

Montana governor Brian Schweitzer (D) declared independence Friday from federal identification rules and called on governors of 17 other states to join him in forcing a showdown with the federal government which says it will not accept the driver's licenses of rebel states' citizens starting May 11.

If that showdown comes to pass, a resident of a non-complying state could not use a driver's license to enter a federal courthouse or a Social Security Administration building nor could he board a plane without undergoing a pat-down search, possibly creating massive backlogs at the nation's airports and almost certainly leading to a flurry of federal lawsuits.

States have until May 11 to request extensions to the Real ID rules that were released last Friday. They require states to make all current identification holders under the age of 50 to apply again with certified birth and marriage certificates. The rules also standardize license formats, require states to interlink their DMV databases and require DMV employee to undergo background checks.

Extensions push back the 2008 deadline for compliance as far as out 2014 if states apply and promise to start work on making the necessary changes, which will cost cash-strapped states billions with only a pittance in federal funding to offset the costs.

Last year Montana passed a law saying it would not comply, citing privacy, states' rights and fiscal issues.

In his letter (.pdf) to other governors, Schweitzer makes clear he's not going to ask for an extension.

"Today, I am asking you to join with me in resisting the DHS coercion to comply with the provisions of REAL ID, " Schweitzer wrote. "If we stand together either DHS will blink or Congress will have to act to avoid havoc at our nation's airports and federal courthouses."

But Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner says DHS has no intention of blinking.

"That will mean real consequences for their citizens starting in may if their leadership chooses not to comply," Keehner said. "That includes getting on an airplane or entering a federal building, so they will need to get passports."

Keehner says DHS's policy won't change even if Georgia -- one of the 17 states that has signaled strong opposition to the rules -- declines to apply for an extension.

If that scenario came to pass, every Georgian who flies out through the nation's busiest airport -- Atlanta-Hartsfield International -- would have to be patted down by Homeland Security agents and have his carry-on bag hand-screened, likely resulting in massive delays.

Keehner also suggests that patted-down citizens will turn their wrath not on the feds but on their state government.

For his part, Schweitzer wants Congress to step up and pass alternative legislation that would stop Real ID and re-instate a commission that was working on driver's license rules before the REAL ID Act was slipped into must-pass defense legislation in 2005. That legislation assigned DHS the task of setting the rules single-handedly.

Keehner is adamant that the rules will make the country safer and that the price tag is not too high.

"The ability to get false identification must end, and Real ID is that step," Keehner said.

Privacy groups counter that the rules create a de-facto national identification card and won't stop terrorism or identity theft.

For his part, Schweitzer struck back at DHS statements he obviously considers arrogant.

"I take great offense at this notion we should all simply 'grow up'," Schweitzer wrote, referring to Thursday remarks from DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff about border rules regarding Canada. Schweitzer says those remarks "reflect DHS (sic) continued disrespect for the serious and legitimate concerns of our citizens."

A DHS policy maker suggested earlier this week that Real IDs could also be required to buy cold medicine and to prove employment eligibility.

Schweitzer's letter went out to the governors of Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arizona, Hawaii, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington.

read more | digg story

Huckabee gave speech to white supremacists

As South Carolina's Republican primary election draws nearer, Mike Huckabee has ratcheted up his appeals to the racial nationalism of white evangelicals. "You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," the former Arkansas governor told a Myrtle Beach crowd on January 17, referring to the Confederate flag. "If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do."

Making coded appeals to white racism is nothing new for Huckabee. Indeed, well before he was a nationally known political star, Huckabee nurtured a relationship with America's largest white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens. The extent of Huckabee's interaction with the racist group is unclear, but this much is known: he accepted an invitation to speak at the group's annual conference in 1993 and ultimately delivered a videotaped address that was "extremely well received by the audience."

Descended from the White Citizens Councils that battled integration in the Jim Crow South, including at Arkansas' Little Rock High School, the Council (or CofCC) has been designated a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In its "Statement of Principles," the CofCC declares, "We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called "affirmative action" and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races."

The CofCC has hosted several conservative Republican legislators at its conferences, including former Representative Bob Barr of Georgia and Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi. But mostly it has been a source of embarrassment to Republicans hoping to move their party beyond its race-baiting image. Former Reagan speechwriter and conservative pundit Peggy Noonan pithily declared that anyone involved with the CofCC "does not deserve to be in a leadership position in America."

During a lengthy phone conversation in 2006, CofCC founder and former White Citizens Council organizer Gordon Lee Baum detailed for me Huckabee's dalliances with his group. Baum told me that Huckabee eagerly accepted his invitation to speak at the CofCC's 1993 national convention in Memphis, Tennessee.

Huckabee's plan was complicated, however, when Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker journeyed out of state and appointed a state senator to preside over the governorship. The Arkansas state legislature passed a resolution forbidding the lieutenant governor from leaving Arkansas until Tucker returned, thus preventing Huckabee from attending the CofCC's conference.

In lieu of his appearance, according to Baum, Huckabee "sent an audio/video presentation saying 'I can't be with you but I'd like to be speaker next time.'" (The CofCC promptly replaced Huckabee with Michael Ramirez, a right-wing cartoonist whose work is currently syndicated to 400 newspapers by the Copley News Service.)

Baum's account of Huckabee's videotaped message was confirmed by a CofCC newsletter obtained by Edward Sebesta, a veteran observer of the neo-Confederate movement. "Ark. Lt. Governor Mike Huckabee, unable to leave Arkansas by law because the Governor was absent from the state, sent a terrific videotape speech, which was viewed and extremely well received by the audience," the 1993 newsletter (Vol. 24, No. 3) reported.

The following year, in 1994, the CofCC held its national conference in Little Rock, Arkansas to accommodate Huckabee. According to Baum, Huckabee initially agreed to speak before his group, but became apprehensive when the Arkansas media reported that he would be joined on the CofCC's podium by Kirk Lyons, a white nationalist legal activist who has hailed Hitler as "probably the most misunderstood man in German history."

"He didn't know anything about Kirk Lyons or anyone else," Baum said of Huckabee. "He said he would show up if we took Lyons off."

But Baum refused to remove his friend Lyons from the bill. Huckabee, who was more concerned about receiving bad publicity than by the racist underpinnings of the CofCC, withdrew his promise to speak. The CofCC replaced him this time with former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson, a White Citizens Council founder who organized the mob that rioted against the integration of Little Rock High School and later served as the star narrator of Rev. Jerry Falwell's discredited film, "The Clinton Chronicles."

In the end, Huckabee's aborted relationship with the CofCC benefited the group. "We had the biggest crowd in our history because of the publicity" surrounding Huckabee's planned appearance, Baum said of his 1994 conference.

The CofCC has since rebuked Huckabee for his insufficiently intolerant political behavior. Unfortunately, Huckabee has never rebuked the CofCC. Instead he embraced the group, ignoring its well known legacy of promoting racism and only severing ties when his political ambitions were threatened by bad publicity.

Cross posted at The Nation and The Huffington Post.

read more | digg story