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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama slams Bush after Bush misstates his foreign policy positions


On FNS, George Bush, knowing full well that the conservative base is cracking apart over McCain—had this to say about Barack Obama:

Bush: “I certainly don’t know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he’s going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad.”

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Nice going, Chris. Way to clarify Obama’s position. And you wonder why this country is so screwed up. He doesn’t even have the decency to get the only things “he really knows” about Obama correct. It didn’t take long for Obama to respond to Bush’s falsehoods.

“Of course President Bush would attack the one candidate in this race who opposed his disastrous war in Iraq from the start. But Barack Obama doesn’t need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy decision in a generation,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

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Where's the Iraqi voice?

THE US occupying army in Iraq (euphemistically called the Multi-National Force-Iraq) carries out extensive studies of popular attitudes. Its December 2007 report of a study of focus groups was uncharacteristically upbeat.

The report concluded that the survey "provides very strong evidence" to refute the common view that "national reconciliation is neither anticipated nor possible". On the contrary, the survey found that a sense of "optimistic possibility permeated all focus groups ... and far more commonalities than differences are found among these seemingly diverse groups of Iraqis."

This discovery of "shared beliefs" among Iraqis throughout the country is "good news, according to a military analysis of the results", Karen deYoung reports in The Washington Post.

The "shared beliefs" were identified in the report. To quote deYoung, "Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of 'occupying forces' as the key to national reconciliation."

So, according to Iraqis, there is hope of national reconciliation if the invaders, responsible for the internal violence, withdraw and leave Iraq to Iraqis.

The report did not mention other good news: Iraqis appear to accept the highest values of Americans, as established at the Nuremberg Tribunal -- specifically, that aggression -- "invasion by its armed forces" by one state "of the territory of another state" -- is "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole". The chief US prosecutor at Nuremberg, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, forcefully insisted that the Tribunal would be mere farce if we do not apply its principles to ourselves.

Unlike Iraqis, the United States, indeed the West generally, rejects the lofty values professed at Nuremberg, an interesting indication of the substance of the famous "clash of civilisations".

More good news was reported by Gen David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker during the extravaganza staged on September 11, 2007. Only a cynic might imagine that the timing was intended to insinuate the Bush-Cheney claims of links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, so that by committing the "supreme international crime" they were defending the world against terror -- which increased sevenfold as a result of the invasion, according to an analysis last year by terrorism specialists Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank.

Petraeus and Crocker provided figures to show that the Iraqi government was greatly accelerating spending on reconstruction, reaching a quarter of the funding set aside for that purpose. Good news indeed, until it was investigated by the Government Accountability Office, which found that the actual figure was one-sixth of what Petraeus and Crocker reported, a 50 per cent decline from the preceding year.

More good news is the decline in sectarian violence, attributable in part to the success of the murderous ethnic cleansing that Iraqis blame on the invasion; there are fewer targets for sectarian killing. But it is also attributable to Washington's decision to support the tribal groups that had organised to drive out Iraqi Al Qaeda, and to an increase in US troops.

It is possible that Petraeus's strategy may approach the success of the Russians in Chechnya, where fighting is now "limited and sporadic, and Grozny is in the midst of a building boom" after having been reduced to rubble by the Russian attack, CJ Chivers reports in the New York Times last September.

Perhaps some day Baghdad and Fallujah too will enjoy "electricity restored in many neighbourhoods, new businesses opening and the city's main streets repaved", as in booming Grozny. Possible, but dubious, considering the likely consequence of creating warlord armies that may be the seeds of even greater sectarian violence, adding to the "accumulated evil" of the aggression. Iraqis are not alone in believing that national reconciliation is possible. A Canadian-run poll found that Afghans are hopeful about the future and favour the presence of Canadian and other foreign troops -- the "good news" that made the headlines.

The small print suggests some qualifications. Only 20 per cent "think the Taleban will prevail once foreign troops leave". Three-quarters support negotiations between the US-backed Karzai government and the Taleban, and over half favour a coalition government. The great majority therefore strongly disagree with the US-Canadian stance, and believe that peace is possible with a turn towards peaceful means. Though the question was not asked in the poll, it seems a reasonable surmise that the foreign presence is favoured for aid and reconstruction.

There are, of course, numerous questions about polls in countries under foreign military occupation, particularly in places like southern Afghanistan. But the results of the Iraq and Afghan studies conform to earlier ones, and should not be dismissed.

Recent polls in Pakistan also provide "good news" for Washington. Fully 5 per cent favour allowing US or other foreign troops to enter Pakistan "to pursue or capture Al Qaeda fighters". Nine per cent favour allowing US forces "to pursue and capture Taleban insurgents who have crossed over from Afghanistan".

Almost half favour allowing Pakistani troops to do so. And only a little more than 80 per cent regard the US military presence in Asia and Afghanistan as a threat to Pakistan, while an overwhelming majority believe that the United States is trying to harm the Islamic world. The good news is that these results are a considerable improvement over October 2001, when a Newsweek poll found that "eighty-three per cent of Pakistanis surveyed say they side with the Taleban, with a mere three per cent expressing support for the United States," and over 80 per cent described Osama bin Laden as a guerrilla and six per cent a terrorist.

Amid the outpouring of good news from across the region, there is now much earnest debate among political candidates, government officials and commentators concerning the options available to the US in Iraq. One voice is consistently missing: that of Iraqis. Their "shared beliefs" are well known, as in the past. But they cannot be permitted to choose their own path any more than young children can. Only the conquerors have that right.

Perhaps here too there are some lessons about the "clash of civilisations".

Noam Chomsky's most recent book is What We Say Goes: Conversations on US Power in a Changing World. Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

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Our Terrorist in Miami

On the streets of Miami, Luis Posada Carriles might look like just one of the dozens of nice, elderly Cuban gentlemen who gather outside the Versailles Restaurant for a strong cup of java. But there is nothing nice or gentle about Posada Carriles. For starters, he is responsible for the 1976 downing of a Cuban passenger plane with 73 people on board-the first act of aviation terrorism in the Western hemisphere. In 1997 he orchestrated the bombing of hotels in Havana that resulted in the death of Italian businessman Fabio Di Celmo. In 2000 he was arrested, and later convicted, in Panama for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro by blowing up an auditorium full of students.

On a recent trip to Venezuela, I learned of his sordid history of torturing and assassinating suspected leftists when he worked for the Venezuelan secret police. Jesus Marrero, a student leader in 1973, painfully recounted how Posada Carriles supervised his torture, including electrodes to his penis. Brenda Esquivel, captured when she was 8-months pregnant, says Posada ordered his men to “destroy the seed before it was born”–kicking her so brutally that the baby died in her womb. Her sister Marlene, who was imprisoned with her 20-day-old baby, was forced to watch as Posada’s agents burned her baby with cigarettes.

The U.S. Justice Department has called Posada “an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks. ” When he was being held in a U.S. immigration detention center in 2005 for having sneaked into the country with a false passport, the Department of Homeland Security said that due to his long history of criminal activity and violence, his release from detention would “pose a danger to both the community and the national security of the United States.”

So why, then, does Luis Posada Carriles live freely in Miami, eating lechón asado at the Versailles Restaurant, socializing at the Big Five Club, exhibiting his paintings at the Miami Art Museum? Why isn’t he behind bars?

That’s the question that was on our mind when six of us from the women’s peace group CODEPINK went to Miami on January 12 to launch a campaign calling for Posada’s arrest. Armed simply with postcards and a banner asking the FBI to put him on the most-wanted list, we were attacked by a violent mob of Posada supporters as our vehicle moved along Calle Ocho in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. The next day we were pelted with eggs and water bottles. Appearing on a Spanish-language TV program, I was told by fellow panelist Enrique Encinosa that I was “an enemy of the Cuban-American community” and that I shouldn’t be surprised if someone cracked my head open like a coconut.

Posada Carriles and his violent followers who impose their views in Miami through fear and intimidation are relics of the sordid history of U.S. policy in Latin America. Just as in the anti-Soviet efforts in Afghanistan where the U.S. government nurtured the Mujahadeen “freedom fighters” who fought the Soviets, so it trained, financed and provided shelter to those fighting left-leaning governments in this hemisphere, even democratically elected ones. Posada was trained by the U.S. Army and worked as an operative and asset of the CIA from 1960 to 1976. “The C.I.A. taught us everything. They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage, ” Mr. Posada told New York Times reporter Ann Louise Bardach in 1998. “Now they call it terrorism,” he added.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous remark about Nicaraguan dictator Somoza-”he may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”-seems to apply to Posada Carriles. Indeed, Posada Carriles may be “our terrorist,” but allowing him to live freely in Miami makes a mockery of the war on terror. On February 8-10, CODEPINK’s anti-terrorist team will return to Miami. We will distribute cards calling for Posada’s arrest, show a documentary film on this man’s violent history, and ask locally elected leaders to join us in calling for Posada to be extradited to Venezuela, where he is wanted on 73 counts of homicide, or detained and prosecuted here in the United States. Unlike our last visit when the Miami police failed to protect us, this time-having ample warning–we expect the police to guarantee our constitutional right to free speech and free assembly.

Vice President Dick Cheney said that “Any person or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent.” President Bush has repeatedly stated that “we will not rest until we eliminate the terrorists and rout them out.”

We understand that some members of Miami’s Cuban-American community consider Posada Carriles a hero for his anti-communist actions. But no cause is so noble that it justifies killing civilians. There is no such thing as good terrorism.

It is time for some moral consistency in this war on terror. Whether Osama bin Laden or Posada Carriles, we must bring all terrorists to justice.

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The Siege: Denzel's Anti Torture speech (1998)

Barbara Tells Hillary: "Drop It Already"

Barbara Walters weighed in on the David Shuster controversy, urging Hillary Clinton to "drop it already." Shuster has been suspended, though over the weekend Clinton hinted that she wanted further action taken. http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1412254020http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=1178199204
Barbara Walters was away last week when her co-hosts on "The View" started a media firestorm — mentioning that Chelsea Clinton called them on Super Tuesday, which eventually led to David Shuster's now-infamous "pimped out" comment and his subsequent suspension from NBC News.

Today, Barbara returned with a comment on Shuster's suspension and, specifically, the letter Hillary Clinton sent over the weekend to NBC News President Steve Capus:

It was as if she was advocating more than just his being suspended. Perhaps I feel this because of the years, and all of you, we are live, and sometimes you say something unfortunate. You apologize, he's getting suspended, he apologized, MSNBC apologized. Drop it already! It's OK. He made a mistake."


Watch:

Barbara Walters weighed in on the David Shuster controversy, urging Hillary Clinton to "drop it already." Shuster has been suspended, though over the weekend Clinton hinted that she wanted further action taken. http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1412254020http://www.brightcove.com/channel.jsp?channel=1178199204


From ABC, 2/11

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For Clinton, Bid Hinges on Texas and Ohio


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her advisers increasingly believe that, after a series of losses, she has been boxed into a must-win position in the Ohio and Texas primaries on March 4, and she has begun reassuring anxious donors and superdelegates that the nomination is not slipping away from her, aides said on Monday.

Mrs. Clinton held a buck-up-the-troops conference call on Monday with donors, superdelegates and other supporters; several said afterward that she had sounded tired and a little down, but determined about Ohio and Texas.

They also said that they had not been especially soothed, and that they believed she might be on a losing streak that could jeopardize her competitiveness in those states.

“She has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably, or she’s out,” said one superdelegate who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment. “The campaign is starting to come to terms with that.” Campaign advisers, also speaking privately in order to speak plainly, confirmed this view.

Several Clinton superdelegates, whose votes could help decide the nomination, said Monday that they were wavering in the face of Mr. Obama’s momentum after victories in Washington State, Nebraska, Louisiana and Maine last weekend.

Some said that they, like the hundreds of uncommitted superdelegates still at stake, might ultimately “go with the flow,” in the words of one, and support the candidate who appears to show the most strength in the primaries to come.

The Clinton team moved on Monday to shift the spotlight off the candidate’s short-term challenges and focus instead on “the long run,” in the words of her senior strategist, Mark Penn.

“She has consistently shown an electoral resiliency in difficult situations that have made her a winner,” Mr. Penn said. “Senator Obama has in fact never had a serious Republican challenger.”

Clinton advisers have said that superdelegates should support the candidate who they believe would be the best nominee and the best president, while Obama advisers have argued that superdelegates should reflect the will of the voters and also take into account who they believe would be the best nominee. Superdelegates are Democratic party leaders and elected officials, and their votes could decide the nomination if neither candidate wins enough delegates to clinch a victory after the nominating contests end.

With primaries on Tuesday in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, Clinton advisers were pessimistic about her chances, though some held out hope for a surprise performance in Virginia.

And as polls show Mr. Obama gaining strength in Wisconsin and his native state, Hawaii, which vote next Tuesday, advisers, donors and superdelegates said they were resigned to a possible Obama sweep of the rest of February’s contests.

Some donors also expressed concern about a widening money imbalance between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton: Obama fund-raisers say he is taking in roughly $1 million a day, while Clinton fund-raisers say she is taking in about half of that, mostly online. Mrs. Clinton’s aides say that the campaign was virtually broke as of the Feb. 5 primaries, but that finances have stabilized.

Mr. Obama’s financial edge allowed him to begin running television advertisements in Ohio and Texas on Monday, while the Clinton campaign plans to begin advertising on Tuesday. Clinton advisers say that she will have advertisements running statewide in both Ohio and Texas, and that she will have advertisements in English and Spanish in Texas.

“I think that clearly things have not been going as great as they were with her victories on Super Tuesday, and we can’t wait to get to March 4,” said Alan Patricof, one of Mrs. Clinton’s national finance chairmen.

Mrs. Clinton will have “a major ad buy” through the next week in Wisconsin, a senior adviser said Monday, and spend a few days campaigning there. But this adviser and others said the bulk of her time would be devoted to campaigning in Ohio, Texas and a bit in Rhode Island. In a sign of Texas’s importance, she plans to fly there Tuesday, even though Wisconsin votes next week.

While Mrs. Clinton’s advisers and allies emphasize that she has the time and the financial resources to regroup, they say she will have to take more significant steps to shore up her candidacy beyond the staff shakeup she engineered on Sunday, when she replaced her campaign manager and longtime aide, Patti Solis Doyle, with another veteran adviser, Maggie Williams.

Campaign advisers said they expected Ms. Williams to bring new energy to both the campaign team and Mrs. Clinton, after a long year of campaigning, and to encourage her to show more spunk and determination on the campaign trail. They say they do not expect the candidate’s political message to change appreciably; she will increasingly focus on the concerns of working-class voters, a key demographic in Ohio, as well as of Hispanics, a significant population in Texas.

As she seeks to erect a fire wall for her candidacy in Ohio and Texas, Mrs. Clinton will deploy her husband, former President Bill Clinton, to campaign in both states, particularly in Ohio, where her advisers believe his popularity will help her with working-class voters, labor union members and black voters.

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Mr. Penn, who is also Mrs. Clinton’s pollster, played down some polls that showed strength for Mr. Obama and highlighted Mrs. Clinton’s abilities to beat the leading Republican candidate, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

“We believe that Hillary Clinton in the long run is better positioned to take on John McCain,” Mr. Penn said.

Yet some Clinton donors and superdelegates worry that the focus on Mr. McCain is premature, and that other strategic decisions by the campaign — like counting on Michigan and Florida delegates to be seated at the convention even though their status is in limbo — show faulty thinking that suggests the Clinton campaign does not have a short-term game plan against Mr. Obama.

“They are looking way too much at Florida, Michigan and McCain, because all three won’t matter if she doesn’t blow Obama away in Texas and Ohio,” said a Democrat who is both a Clinton superdelegate and major donor, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment of campaign strategy. “Obama has momentum that has to be stopped by March 4.”

Clinton advisers took issue with the notion that Mr. Obama’s momentum was significant, noting that his victory in the Iowa caucuses did not translate into winning the New Hampshire primary five days later, and his South Carolina victory did not prevent Mrs. Clinton from winning the biggest states on Feb. 5.

“There is no evidence that voters are voting based on momentum — in fact the evidence is to the contrary,” said Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton’s communications director.

Hassan Nemazee, another national finance chairman for Mrs. Clinton, said he was also telling his network of allies not to get caught up in the headlines about Obama

“I’m telling donors and supporters: Don’t be overly concerned about what goes on in the remainder of the month of February because these are not states teed up well for us,” Mr. Nemazee said.

Asked if that message was sinking in, he pointed to the campaign’s announcement that Mrs. Clinton had raised $10 million online so far this month, and was on pace to raise more than $25 million in February.

“I predict for you we will have our best single fund-raising month in February, and that’s significant,” he said.

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Obama Leads in Delegates, States, and Margins

The current delegate count according to the Results Center on Barack Obama's website had him ahead by 87 delegates, heading into the Potomac primaries this Tuesday. The total count is 1031 for Obama to Clinton's 944. Perhaps more stunning however is the number of states that each candidate has won.

Out of 31 states that have held their contests so far, Obama has defeated Clinton in 20 of those states. The margins of victory in each contest seems to differ by candidate.

The Fresh Political has done its own thorough analysis of each state based upon CNN statistics. This is what we have found:

Average Vote Share By Candidate (%)
Data Analysis
Data Analysis

According to this data, Obama's victories are both greater in number, and magnitude than Clinton's victories. The Median percentage in all contests as of Monday shows Obama performing much better on average. Obama's median percentage is 48.5% to Clinton's 32%. The disparity reflects Clinton's inability to perform well in smaller states, especially those holding caucuses. The average margin of victory in caucus states is even greater for Obama.

The Clinton campaign has recently been saying that their strategy is to do well in the fewer, more populous contests ahead. This includes Texas and Pennsylvania. If Clinton can pull off a win in these big states, it could potentially be viewed as an upset that might propel her to the nomination. However, this seems unlikely considering Obama's powerful performance in smaller states.

It is also important to note that Obama's average vote share is not only high due to his strong performance in caucus states. He has also shown the ability to eat away at Clinton's lead in states that she was expected to dominate. For example, her margin of victory in her home state of New York and neighboring New Jersey was half that of Obama's margin in his own home state of Illinois.

The averages seem to reflect that the tide is changing. Even in states where Clinton had a huge homefield advantage, Obama has demonstrated his ability to give Clinton a run for her money. Combine this with the momentum gained from his sweep this weekend, and it appears that Obama is leaving Clinton in the dust.

New national polls seem to reflect this changing tide. A USA Today poll today showed Obama leading Clinton by 3 points for the first time in any national poll.

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Political Cartoon - Obama v. Billary


















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For proof Obama can manage, look at his campaign

Be Our Guest

Perhaps the most telling critique leveled by Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign against Sen. Barack Obama, to my mind, is that he lacks executive experience. Clinton considers this a potent contrast. She misses no opportunity to remind us that she is the roll-up-her-sleeves, detail-oriented manager, while he's the academic orator with the messy desk (Of course, as far as executive experience goes, Clinton's record is nearly as slight as Obama's, if you don't count the First Lady period, when she insists her husband was the President.)

I understand how effective the critique can be, particularly if Obama should make it into a general election. Despite all their failures, Republicans miraculously still manage to project some can-do competence to many voters.

And so, last year, I asked Obama directly why a voter should back someone who has never run anything bigger than a legislative office. He responded by pointing to his nascent campaign. He observed that he was up against the full Clinton establishment, all the chits she and her husband had acquired over the years, and the apparatus they had constructed within the party. He had to build a national campaign from scratch, raise money, staff an extremely complex electoral map, and make key decisions on spending and travel. He asked me to judge his executive skills by observing how he was managing a campaign.

By that standard, who isn't impressed? A first-term senator - a black urban liberal - raised more money, and continues to raise much more money, than Sen. Clinton. More to the point, the money he has raised has not come from the well-connected fat cats who do things like donate to the Clinton library. His base is much wider, broader and Internet-based than hers. It has many more small donors.

Now look at the strategy he laid out last year, as he explained it to me and others. Iowa was the key. If he didn't win Iowa, it was over. But if he could win Iowa, he would prove the principle that a black man could transcend the racial issue, helping in New Hampshire, and then also helping him peel off what was then majority black support for the Clintons in South Carolina.

Then his strategy was meticulous organization - and you saw that in Iowa, as well as Tuesday's caucus states. Everything he told me has been followed through. And the attention to detail - from the Alaska caucus to the Nevada cooks - has been striking.

Now consider the psychological and emotional challenges of this campaign. It has been brutal. It has included many highly emotional moments - and occasions when racism and sexism and all sorts of hot-button issues have emerged. Then there was the extraordinary spectacle of a former President and spouse bringing the full weight of the Democratic establishment and the full prestige of two terms in the White House to dismiss some of Obama's arguments as a "fairy tale" and dismiss him as another Jesse Jackson.

How did the candidates deal with this? The vastly more experienced and nerves-of-steel Clinton clearly went through some wild mood swings. Obama gave an appearance at least of preternatural coolness under fire, a steady message that others came to mimic, and a level of oratory that still stuns this longtime debater.

In the middle of this very hot zone, he exhibited, and continues to exhibit, a coolness and steeliness that is a mark of presidential timber. He played tough - but he didn't play nasty. Keeping the high road in a contest like this, without ever playing the race card or the victim card, is an achievement.

Building a movement on top of that is more impressive still. So far, he has combined Mitt Romney's money with Clinton's organizational skills and Ron Paul's grass-roots enthusiasm.

No other campaign has brought so many dimensions into play.

And, lest we forget: He won Missouri.

Sullivan is author of the book "The Conservative Soul." A version of this Op-Ed ran on his blog, andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com.

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Who Is Maggie Williams?

Fallen Angels In Clinton's Rogues' Gallery

November 17, 1997

One of the most distressing features of our current political system and the Clinton White House in particular, is the way they turn otherwise honest, caring, idealistic individuals into spinning, rationalizing, truth-twisting defendants desperately trying to stay out of jail. Last week, we saw the results of this transformation in Hillary Clinton's former Chief of Staff Maggie Williams and in Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, whose testimony to Congress is now under investigation by the Justice Department.

Maggie Williams' case is particularly poignant. Last week, she testified at the House Government Oversight Committee hearings about her relationship with serial donor Johnny Chung. After spending the afternoon mesmerized by her contortionist testimony, I watched an actress in Anna Deavere Smith's new play "House Arrest" portray Williams and express her hopes that she would really make a difference in the lives of children and those in need. And I have no doubt that is what Williams originally believed her tenure at the White House would be about. Instead, it turned out to be about lie detector tests, racking up over $300,000 in legal bills, and spinning -- the committee, the press and perhaps even herself.

You can see at once the toll this has taken on her. I remember meeting Williams at the start of the first Clinton term and being impressed by her presence, her passion and her sense of humor. And here she is now, having chosen to leave the White House to live in Paris, looking tired, heavy -- defeated.

Ever since her days as a student at a parochial school in Kansas City, loyalty has been a Williams trademark. The French nuns at her school divided the class into groups with their own distinct dress colors. "We all learned to develop this incredible loyalty to our color," Williams once explained. This loyalty was transferred to her bosses. The Washington Post described her working motto as "let them set the mission, let me get it done." But at some moment during Clinton's first term, the mission shifted from saving the country to saving the first couple.

For an idealist like Maggie Williams, maybe the first lady was the embodiment of the mission, the only means at hand through which the ends she believed in could be achieved. But one thing led to another. And allegations that she removed Vince Foster's files were followed by allegations that she sold access to Johnny Chung -- until this past week, she found herself trying to jerry-fit her fund-raising involvement into the nobility of her once-worthy hopes. Back in 1993, Williams said: "Everybody hates the big injustices. ... But I hate even the little injustices, even the way a sales clerk treats somebody who is shabbily dressed and happens to go into a nice store."

What made last week's testimony sad and laughable at the same time is her pretense that that same hatred of injustice toward the little guy explains her relentlessly solicitous behavior toward Chung. "As an African American," she told the committee, "I know what it means to be different in politics in America and be on the outside of things and struggle mightily for insider status and recognition, and so I perhaps had an especially high tolerance for Mr. Chung."

Williams wants us to believe that she helped Chung get what he asked for in his typed wish list because he was "not given overall the kind of respect" extended in the White House to white males. "We are going to treat him as well as we would treat any other irritable jerk who would show up," Williams explained in her deposition last May. Tired of seeing white, rich, irritable jerks being the only ones allowed to subvert the democratic process, Williams had a dream that, one day, all rich, irritable jerks would be equally allowed to subvert the democratic process.

So as part of her outreach to overlooked minorities, she gave Chung, among other things, signed photographs with the first lady, the privilege to eat on her tab at the White House Mess as often as he wanted, and access to the president's radio address for him and his "little guy" friends -- the head of China's petrochemical monopoly among them. Perhaps next time, Williams should launch a broader outreach to include minorities who have not given $366,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Or maybe she should just join a Big Sister program.

Chung ended up visiting the White House 51 times, many of these visits taking place after the National Security Council had described him as a "hustler" who should be treated with "suspicion." But to hear Maggie Williams tell it, Johnny Chung was a poor, innocent waif, a sort of diamond in the rough, an Eliza Doolittle grossly in need of expert counseling in the finer points of fund-raising etiquette from Mrs. Clinton's staff -- who, after all, are responsible for the social niceties at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "A prime example of his ... misguided behavior," Williams testified, "was his persistent request to give money directly to Mrs. Clinton. On more than one occasion, I told Mr. Chung this was not possible, although his offer was much appreciated."

At the same time, Williams' aide, Evan Ryan, was telling Chung -- according to both Chung and Ryan -- that the DNC owed the White House $80,000 for a Christmas party and that any contribution would help pay off the debt. So it's no wonder that despite his charming cluelessness about fund-raising protocol, Chung was pretty clued in to how the White House worked: "The White House is like a subway -- you have to put in coins to open the gates."

Maggie Williams' story is a "Pilgrim's Progress" in reverse. She started out trying to do good and has ended up in the City of Destruction, trying to spin her way out of the rogues' gallery.

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Campaigning in the State of Denial?

By Anne E. Kornblut
MANASSAS, Va. -- After watching her rival win by dramatic margins in four contests on Saturday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made no mention of the defeats during her appearance at a Democratic Party dinner in Richmond on Saturday night.

And she ignored the results again here on Sunday. During a campaign appearance at a middle school, Clinton took questions, made a forceful case against the Republican front-runner -- and said not a word about her rival's successes.

"I look forward to making it clear that I have big differences with my friend Senator McCain," Clinton said, of Republican front-runner John McCain. Her aides said she might mention the contests later on in the day; the results of caucuses on Sunday in Maine will be known sometime after 7 p.m.

Typically, a losing candidate calls the winner in a gracious gesture of concession. But with so many different races on the line at so many points in the Democratic race, protocol seems to have somewhat fallen away. Clinton did not stay in South Carolina on the night of the primary there, instead flying on to Tennessee, which she won on Feb. 5. This time, her campaign has barely acknowledged that the races in Nebraska, Louisiana, Washington state and the U.S. Virgin Islands -- all of which went resoundingly for Sen. Barack Obama -- took place at all, except to note that Obama had long said he would triumph.

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Why Can't America Vote Right?


Democracy in America is in trouble. For some reason we can't figure out how to cast votes and count them without blunders, inaccuracy and stupidity.

In the past few decades, the simple act of voting in the United States has been characterized by malfunctioning voting machines, hanging chads, damaged, unreadable or lost ballots and gross ineptitude.

In the Super Tuesday election cycle, the sheer quantity of news reports about ballot problems prove a widespread but multifaceted crisis.

Worst of all, a consensus seems to be forming that computers or electronic ballots are to blame, and that the solution is paper-based voting.

The Myth of Paper Voting

All votes are counted, processed and stored by computers. There's no such thing as paper-based elections anymore. The questions are: 1) how are the votes are entered into the computers; and 2) is a record left behind that can be read by a human in cases where you need to re-check or prove the vote?

We retain the illusion of paper balloting because the input device is a piece of paper. We record binary data (Hillary Clinton yes-or-no) on dead tree pulp, then hand it over to amateur volunteers. After we've left the polling station, machines scan these cards into computers, where the numbers are transmitted electronically to other computers, which tabulate and store the data.

The only "paper" part of this process is that we use paper cards to input the data into computers, rather than letting voters do it directly.

How Computers Can Save Democracy

Nearly all criticism of electronic ballots are really about the bad decisions made in the creation of these system -- not about the use of computerized ballots in principle.

The biggest criticism is that electronic ballots don't "leave a paper trail." Another is that they're insecure and can be tampered with.

The problem with these criticisms is that computers can easily print paper, and can easily be made more secure and tamper-proof than our current punch-it-and-scan-it system.

Here's my proposal:

• Each ballot booth should contain an integrated touch-screen voting system that has two completely redundant functioning machines, so that if one fails the other takes over.

• The machine should not be able to store "user data" (vote choices).

• As soon as the voter makes his or her choices, the result should be printed out on a card, both clearly human-readable and also machine-readable (with something like a barcode). The electronic ballot machine should ask the voter if the card is correct.

• If the voter presses "yes," the data for their vote is transmitted instantly, securely and with uncrackable encryption off the machine, to the state's central system if possible or to a secure storage unit onsite. Once that transmission of data is verified, the machine should purge and overwrite the data locally, then ask the voter to fold the paper printout in half and drop it in a secure box outside the booth.

• If the voter presses "no" (saying the printed card is incorrect), the machine should ask the voter to insert the card, where it is verified, then shredded. The voter gets a do-over.

• The ballots and onsite recording servers should be plugged in during use, but should contain batteries in the event of power failure.

• It should be required by law that every polling station have twice as many machines as needed, so in the event of problems, malfunctioning machines can be swapped out for good ones without any requirement for a technical person.

The Case For Electronic Ballots

The advantages of computerized ballot boxes are overwhelming. Computers can better serve the site-impaired, the disabled and those who speak other languages other than English far better than current systems. They're more accurate if you design them correctly, and much faster.

Best of all, the system I've proposed provides all the benefits of computerized voting with all the benefits of so-called paper voting. And voters can verify the felicity of their "paper trail" before leaving the voting station. It eliminates the ambiguity of "hanging chads" and other weird problems associated with Victorian-era technologies. Votes can be tabulated instantly, because there's no additional scanning process to get data into the computer systems. It's all verifiable by machine scanning recounts or, if necessary, ballot-by-ballot manual counting, using the very pieces of paper approved by the voters.

Our current warm-and-fuzzy feeling about "paper voting" is based on delusion. Current systems -- whether paper or electronic -- are deeply flawed. Let's stop messing around with our democracy and use the best tools at our disposal to fix this disgusting mess.
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ONCE JOHN WINS, HE'LL MAKE A LEFT

But if history is any guide, the McCain we've seen of late on the campaign trail is the most conservative McCain we'll ever see.

He has taken a commanding lead in the GOP primary by packaging himself as the "true conservative" committed to limited government, to slashed federal spending and to an avowedly conservative Supreme Court.

He claims the mantle of Ronald Reagan. He even claims the mantle of Barry Goldwater, conservatism's crack version of Reagan. But as McCain clinches the GOP nomination, he will begin his usual leftward lurch.

He will return to his lifelong positions as soft on illegal immigration, skeptical of tax cuts and favoring strong federal control over things like campaign financing.

McCain's appeal to independents and even the left is what makes him such a powerhouse in the general election.

It is also precisely what has so many in the Republican base so wildly fearful of handing him the keys to the kingdom.

If the Republican Party expands "because we have a candidate who's going out trying to attract liberals by being like them, then the party's going to be around but you won't recognize it," thundered radio king Rush Limbaugh.

The Republican Party will "be over as it exists now," he warns.

To understand just how McCain has managed to limp to the front of the GOP field, look no further than the outcome of yesterday's West Virginia Republican Convention.

At the outset, victory was in the air for Mitt Romney, the flip-flopping former Massachusetts governor.

He is universally loathed by all the other GOP candidates, who banded together to give all their votes to Mike Huckabee - simply to deny Romney a win.

The depressing GOP field that has paved a path to victory for McCain also gave surprising wins last night to Huckabee in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, as well as in his home state of Arkansas.

Still, McCain has so radicalized key conservatives that some have vowed to turn themselves into suicide voters next November by pulling the lever for Hillary Rodham Clinton over him.

This last-minute blitz against McCain by Limbaugh and others, however, comes far too late.

But if those conservatives sit out the general election, they will help Democrats make history by electing either the first black president or the first female president next November.

churt@nypost.com

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