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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Obama Still Firmly in the Lead, Strategist Says


Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) addresses his supporters from San Antonio after Tuesday's primary election results filter in.

By Shailagh Murray
SAN ANTONIO -- As Sen. Barack Obama wrapped up a brief speech to his supporters, who had huddled outside for two hours on a chilly night here, chief strategist David Axelrod sought to set the record straight about what appeared to be a good night for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"When you've lost 12 in a row, any good news qualifies as a comeback," Axelrod said of Clinton's claim of resurgence. "The reality is, though, they promised to cut our delegate lead, and I don't think that's going to happen tonight. They set a test for themselves, which was to wipe out our lead in delegates in the Ohio and Texas primaries. I don't know if they're going to reduce our lead at all, and we may actually add to it by the end of the night."

He was just getting warmed up. "So, I think they have to spin this as best they can, but the reality is still the reality," Axelrod said. "We're in the lead. We've won 28 contests, they've won 13. We've won more popular votes. We've got somewhere in the neighborhood of a 160-delegate lead, and time is running out. And at some point, the party is going to coalesce around the nominee, and the nominee is going to be Barack Obama."

Original here

Revolution Revived! Ron Paul Survives Challenge

White House Contender Raised Millions, Sparked Debate, but Nearly Lost Day Job

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, used his firebrand libertarian bent to drum up support for his Republican bid for president. But then Paul faced an even bigger challenge — keeping his day job back home. (ABC News Illustration)

Ron Paul will live to fight another day.

The fiery Republican with a libertarian bent survived a strong challenge to his day job in Congress on Tuesday, besting a well-funded challenger.

Fall of Paul Nearly Meant Fall for Paul

Paul, the Texas congressman who distinguished himself as the only Republican presidential candidate opposing the Iraq war, gained a devoted following, harnessing the power of the Internet to raise more cash than more mainstream rivals.

But that same anti-war, libertarian bent that gave Paul national recognition nearly came back to bite him at home.

Paul, who ran for the White House as a libertarian in 1988 but gained more of a following this year as a Republican, did not suspend his presidential campaign, but was forced to scale back his national operation to focus on the race for his Congressional seat in Texas.

"I do think the presidential race has exposed some of his values and principles that are not in line with his district, and that exposure has done him harm at home," Republican primary challenger Chris Peden said of Paul.

But in the end, Peden fell short, allowing Paul to resume his presidential campaign, although Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., wrapped up the nomination with a sweep of wins in Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Paul's native Texas.

Challenger: 'Republican of Convenience'

Peden, Paul's challenger and a CPA and city councilman in Friendswood, Texas, said Paul's national campaign awakened voters in the 14th District to exactly how much of a firebrand Paul is.

"He's a lifelong libertarian," Peden said in a telephone interview prior to Tuesday's vote. "He is only a Republican of convenience, not a Republican of conviction. He's a libertarian who runs as a Republican because a libertarian can't get elected in this district."

Despite calls from his supporters, Paul insists he will not run for president as an independent. But he has pledged to continue his Republican presidential bid, knowing full well that the odds — and delegate math — are now firmly against him.

Peden attacked Paul for missing votes in the House while he campaigned for president, not spending enough time in the 14th District and most important, for choosing ideological high ground over doing the job of a congressman, which is enacting legislation.

But even his opponent — and, apparently, his constituents — still respect the job Paul is doing in Congress.

A year ago, Peden wrote a laudatory letter about Paul and his decision to run for president — a letter Paul read aloud at campaign events.

In a fundraising letter to supporters when he shifted gears from his presidential to Congressional race, Paul feared voters may reject his bid for reelection in favor of a more traditional conservative.

"The D.C. neocons think their old dream is about to come true," he wrote. "They think they can defeat me in the Republican congressional primary in Texas, March 4. And you know what? They may be right."

Fortunately for Paul — and his band of revolutionaries — they were not.

Original here

Hillary Clinton scores wins in Texas and Ohio

Hillary Clinton revitalized her campaign with wins Tuesday in Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island.

With her political back against the wall, Hillary Clinton pulled out game-changing wins in Ohio and Texas Tuesday night, giving new life to her comeback campaign.

With 88% of the precincts counted in Ohio, Clinton was trouncing Barack Obama 55% to 43%, a gap far larger than expected.

In Texas, with 76% of the vote counted, Clinton was edging Obama 51% to 47%. That was enough for networks to declare her the popular-vote winner of the primary - even as caucuses to choose a third of Lone Star State delegates were mired in delays.

In smaller contests, Obama won handily in Vermont, while Clinton sailed to victory in Rhode Island.

While hardly a knockout punch by Clinton - she lost 11 straight primaries heading into Tuesday night - her victories clearly halted Obama's momentum and suggested that Democrats aren't ready to anoint anyone.

"Boy, thank you, Ohio," she told giddy supporters in Columbus. "For everyone who has stumbled but stood right back up, and for everyone who works hard and never gives up - this one's for you!"

"You know what they say," she added, "as Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Well, this nation is coming back and so is this campaign!"

Before a throng of supporters in San Antonio, Obama later congratulated Clinton for running "a hard-fought race" in Tuesday's contests.

But he added his own spin, noting that even with Clinton's wins, he remains the leader among delegates, who ultimately choose the nominee.

"We know this: No matter what happens tonight, we have nearly the same delegate lead as we did this morning, and we are on our way to winning this nomination," he told supporters.

Clinton's victories assured her a healthy share of the day's delegates, although Obama was right - he is certain to remain the leader among delegates.

The nominee needs 2,025 delegates to win, and before the polls closed Tuesday night he was running 113 votes ahead, 1,389 to 1,276, an Associated Press tally showed.

But the reality is that neither Democrat can now amass enough delegates to win the nomination without help from the 278 superdelegates who remain uncommitted.

Superdelegates are the party big shots and elected officials who can pick a side regardless of the popular vote. The two camps wasted no time Tuesday night in rolling out their best pitches.

Obama strategist David Axelrod noted that as of today, Obama will have won nearly twice as many states.

"So I think those are the indices, sort of mileposts that you want to look at," he told reporters.

But Clinton spokesman Doug Hattaway noted that Clinton had won most of the big states needed to win a general election, and that Clinton had won in Ohio despite being heavily outspent by Obama.

"Some were ready to declare the race over, but the voters had something else in mind," Hattaway said.

The two sides fought tenaciously all night, seeming to play every angle.

Obama's team persuaded an Ohio judge to keep open 15 polling stations in Cleveland - home to many of the state's African-Americans - after bad weather buffeted the city.

But the maneuver seemed to net him little: Early returns showed Clinton battling Obama to a virtual tie there.

In recent days, Clinton's campaign has hammered Obama on national security credentials and trade - hits that some believe have stuck.

Exit polls Tuesday showed that among Texas Dems who made up their mind in the last few days, Clinton was winning 2 to 1.

Experts said that losses in both Texas and Ohio would likely have been fatal for Clinton.

Clinton made it abundantly clear Tuesday night that she is charging ahead to the April 22 primary in Pennsylvania, a position most Democrats apparently support.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll Tuesday found that two-thirds of party members think Clinton should keep fighting if she wins Ohio or Texas.

The Clinton camp argues that defeats anywhere would become a momentum stopper for Obama, but a trio of superdelegates still threw their support behind the Illinois lawmaker Tuesday.

It remains to be seen which way the superdelegate tide will flow now.

Original here

Washington Politicians Are Gutting America Like A Fish

George W. Bush has created the path for American fascism, he’s all but made the American Presidency and our Democratic system of governance a sham. He’s not alone, however. In addition to the neo-conservative movement, we’ve seen the rise of cowardice in Congress. Democrats and moderate Conservatives have failed to stand up for justice and the Constitution. In the view of Americans who actually give a damn, the two-party system has failed and Democrats and Republicans may as well be working together as they’ve allowed Bush to get away with murder, so-to-speak.

About Whitehouser.com - Fred Soto

Since Bush was inaugurated, all of the problems with his administration have been under the microscope. The majority of the issues started as early as 2001 — illegal surveillance, international relations problems, above-the-law action. Other issues have arisen since then, including FEMA’s response to Katrina, politicization of the Justice Department, disenfranchising voters, and providing fat contracts to his friends in corporate America.

Despite the fact that many details of wrongdoing are coming to light, Democrats have been unable to do anything about the issues. Now it appears that they are going to cave on protecting American rights to defend themselves against invasive government and illegal corporate acts. Is there any good news to be had? Is the promise of hope and restoring faith in American government in our near future or is it all talk and no action as Hillary Clinton has said?

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

President Bush has on numerous occasions had the opportunity to explain clearly what his plan is in the middle east. He has been given ample opportunity to correct the U.S. international reputation that was damaged as a result of the Iraq invasion. The only arguments coming out of the White House and his supporters with respect to these glaring problems is “liberals have BSD” and “only liberals would care what terrorists think, they hate our country!”

Contrast the approach taken by Republicans on the issue of our declining reputation overseas. Barack Obama was recently asked what he would do if he were President and how he would handle the growing struggles and tension between Americans and Muslims throughout the world.

Barack Obama talks about U.S. relations, peace and world affairs

As president of the United States, I will directly address the people of the Muslim world to make it clear that the United States is not at war with Islam, that our enemy is al-Qaeda and its tactical and ideological affiliates, and that our struggle is shared. In this speech, I will make it clear that the United States rejects torture — without equivocation, and will close Guantanamo. I will make it clear that the United States stands ready to support those who reject violence with closer security cooperation; an agenda of hope — backed by increased foreign assistance — to support justice, development and democracy in the Muslim world; and a new program of outreach to strengthen ties between the American people and people in Muslim countries.

I will also make it clear that we will expect greater cooperation from Muslim countries; and that the United States will always stand for basic human rights — including the rights of women — and reject the scourge of anti-Semitism. Simply put, I will say that we are on the side of the aspirations of all peace-loving Muslims, and together we must build a new spirit of partnership to combat terrorists who threaten our common security.

In one breath, Barack Obama brought up the difference between Muslims and fundamentalist extremists, he rejected torture, and promised to close down Guantanamo. He also denounced violence, urged cooperation between nations of the world, promoted justice and wants to help mend the harm done to our relationship with the Muslim world under President Bush’s leadership. You can call it mere rhetoric or “all talk and no action” but it is effective in helping to quell problems that have arisen out of our poorly conceived attack on Iraq.

ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT FOR VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY

The anger over President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War has millions of Americans and people throughout the world praying for impeachment and removal of President Bush and Dick Cheney. Now, the latest news is that Dick Cheney’s articles of impeachment has more co-sponsors than Nixon’s impeachment ever did.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s resolution to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney now has more cosponsors signed onto it than any resolution to impeach President Richard Nixon ever had. But separate resolutions to impeach Nixon, some with a handful of cosponsors, many with no cosponsors at all, were filed by the dozens. Today, Kucinich’s resolution stands alone…

A group of citizen activists from around the country has been meeting with members of Congress and their staffers to argue a case for recreating what they are calling the Nixon flooding plan. If, they argue, just the 30 or 40 members who are currently pushing for Cheney’s impeachment were to file their own resolutions, the impact would be far greater than simply adding more names to Kucinich’s bill or to a Dear Colleague letter. All that is needed, in other words, to move impeachment forward in the House might be for those who already claim to support it to put their printers where their mouths are and crank out a couple of dozen new bills.

POLITICIZATION OF THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

While impeachment may have growing momentum behind it, we can’t get too excited just yet. Attorney General Mukasey’s recent shielding of the Executive against legislative accountability could be an issue, because again it appears that the Justice Department has become a political tool of the executive.

Mr. Mukasey said the chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and the former counsel, Harriet E. Miers, were right in refusing to provide Congress with White House documents or to testify about the firings of federal prosecutors.

“The department will not bring the Congressional contempt citations before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute Mr. Bolten or Ms. Miers,” Mr. Mukasey wrote to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Though, Nancy Pelosi is often under fire from Democrats over failure to impeach the President and Vice President, she is doing her part to insist that the legislature not be undermined by the Justice Department. She sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey, in part it read as follows:

There is no authority by which persons may wholly ignore a subpoena and fail to appear as directed because a President unilaterally instructs them to do so. Even if a subpoenaed witness intends to assert a privilege in response to questions, the witness is not at liberty to disregard the subpoena and fail to appear at the required time and place. Surely, your Department would not tolerate that type of action if the witness were subpoenaed to a federal grand jury. Short of a formal assertion of executive privilege, which cannot be made in this case, there is no authority that permits a President to advise anyone to ignore a duly issued congressional subpoena for documents.

ABOVE THE LAW MENTALITY

You can read the American Constitution Society’s blog on topic: “Mukasey orders attorney to ignore contempt citation.” The initial reaction of partisans is to argue that this is a PR stunt and insist that Democrats stop playing games, but Pelosi cited the law in support of her remarks, 2 U.S.C. § 194 governs in such instances. General Mukasey continued to defy the House Speaker, as Democrats thought would happen when they resisted appointing this man to the bench last fall. Here’s what he said:

“the contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an Executive Branch official who asserts the President’s claim of executive privilege.” The letter also cites Harriet Miers’s “constitutional immunity from compelled congressional testimony.”

And off to court we go! It is not surprising that a legal confrontation is imminent, but it is disappointing to see the executive continue to shield its interests over those of the people. House speaker Nancy Pelosi informed Attorney General Mukasey that his response was expected and legal action would be taken. Here are her words:

“Anticipating this response from the Administration, the House has already provided authority for the Judiciary Committee to file a civil enforcement action in federal district court and the House shall do so promptly. The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.

In case you’re not thoroughly disappointed and depressed at this point, let me help push you to the edge!

LOSING FAITH IN GOVERNMENT AND THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM

The Diebold corporation that has been in the media often for negative reasons is the target of a possible acquisition by a Defense contractor. Among the issues that are troubling include problems with voting machine security and malfunctioning as well as a lack of a paper trail to resolve disputes of fraud. You would think that the Diebold corporation should be in the gutter of corporate acquisitions, but instead they were offered a bid of $3 billion dollars. Apparently, the U.S. Defense contractor “United Technologies” felt it was necessary to secure the young voting corp. and I couldn’t think of worst suitor to safeguard the future of our U.S. Elections and combat voter fraud.

To make matters worse, some of our tax dollars are paying for this and somehow Diebold is having “accounting issues,” not to be confused with fraud and other illegal acts. The United Technology corporation that made the unsolicited offer for Diebold’s holdings, happens to be a frequent contractor for the Department of Defense. This should send the conspiracy theorists into a frenzy over motives behind this acquisition and it’ll at least make the more skeptical among us feel a little uncomfortable as we move forward.

SPYING OF AMERICAN CITIZENS - TELECOMMUNICATIONS IMMUNITY

Finally, FISA immunity may be back with a vengeance. After I gave positive marks to the House last week for standing up for justice and accountability at the highest levels of our government, it sounds like they are going to back down. The House, like the Senate, will no longer look after the interests of American citizens because for whatever reason it has become inconvenient to them to continue this fight.

The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), said on Sunday that a deal was in the works to pass a controversial extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, as early as this week. Speaking on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” Reyes said that the House is moving closer to approving a bipartisan Senate passed extension of the law, which contains immunity for telecommunications companies that have previously assisted the government in listening in on potential terrorists’ communications.

And with that final bit of news, perhaps I’ll go join you on the ledge, the United States is no longer “of the people” and “for the people.” Way to sell out our country, Democrats. I’d castigate the Republicans too, but they sold out long ago.

Original here

[UPDATE w/campaign response] Hillary's ad: debate footage doctored to make Obama blacker

Update x2: Hillary's campaign responded to this diary by lying about it. See the bottom of the diary.

In case you needed yet another reason to despise Hillary Clinton and her vermin strategists, she's now running an ad blatantly lying about Obama's subcommittee. Her ad includes debate footage heavily doctored to make Obama blacker.

I guess this is the "fun part."

This was all pointed out (and links provided, and so on) in a comment by converse, but I haven't seen it diaried yet, so I wrote this one. (Update: jthomascronin apparently diaried this story yesterday, and seems to be the original person to point this out.)

In another comment, clonecone pointed out that Time got caught doing this a while back and posted this picture:

Here's Hillary's take on it:

Congrats, Troutnut, you hit the front page of Digg. Unfortunately, they linked to the version with comments, not the storyonly version. Comments disabled for now. -ct

I made this as a fancier version of the side-by-side graphic converse posted. My first thought when I saw the images was, Is this real? Converse provided the YouTube links to prove it:

Hillary's ad:

The actual debate footage (about 4:45 in):

In her ad, the colors are desaturated and the contrast is strongly increased to make Obama look much blacker. Poblano pointed out in the comments that they squished his face, too, and posted this image:

Make of that what you will. I think it's more likely to be incidental than the color changes: they squished it to fit in exactly one half of a wide screen. They could have just cropped it rather than distorting it, though, and they didn't.

I'm not accusing Hillary of technically being a racist. But she is cynically exploiting racism to further her personal ambition, and it's part of a pattern. She's doing it to a fellow Democrat who's virtually certain to be the nominee.

In the interest of fairness, I'll address a couple of the defenses for her that people have raised in the comments:

  1. Some have suggested it's an innocent artifact of the video editing, color profiles and such. This is highly unlikely. First, we can rule out a YouTube issue, because the tone is the same on the HillaryClinton.com version. Second, there is another clearly deliberate "mood" edit, the dark vignetting, so it's a stretch to suggest the other mood edits are accidental. Third, Hillary's positive ads about herself have not shown any strong darkening on account of encoding glitches, which you might expect if you blame this on an inept ad team. Add it all up and there is no doubt the color and tonality were intentionally changed.
  1. Others have suggested that darkening and desaturating the footage is normal for political attack ads trying to cast the target as sinister. That may be, but it's not an acceptable excuse. Even if you accept that as normal practice, it's still a dirty one, and it takes on a more charged meaning when you're using it to attack someone in your own party who's already fighting against a lot of racism in the false Muslim smears.

Millions of people have bought into those smears already, and there are some genuine undecideds who like what Obama's saying but worry about him because of those rumors. This kind of subtle trickery is not meant to appeal to anyone's intellect, but to subconsciously enhance distrust that some low-information voters may be feeling about Obama after hearing those rumors. That's true regardless of whether this is deliberate race-baiting or just standard attack ad scumbaggery. It's not the kind of thing any candidate should be doing to the likely nominee of their own party.

Also, whether you think this is race-baiting or not, the controversy should make Republican operatives think twice about using subtle visual tricks like this against Obama in the general election.

If nothing else, it would be great if Hillary were forced to defend this and say it's "standard operating procedure" to darken and desaturate footage in attack ads to make your opponent look sinister. Let her defend the details of the "fun part" in front of a camera. This is, at best, the worst of politics as usual.

Update: John Ararvosis of AmericaBlog took a closer look at debate footage from three different sources.:

I went and got the original footage from the Clinton ad, and then compared it to 3 different video clips of the same debate from 3 different sources. I did this so as to take into account any editing, or quality issues, that might have accounted for Obama having darker skin in any particular video. None of the 3 video sources I found showed Obama nearly as black as the Hillary ad does. Click the image above to see a larger version. Look at his lips. Look at his eyebrows. Look at how the red MSNBC background has turned more purple. Clearly the image was darkened. The question is "why."

The lie about the subcommittee

With all the attention to her race-baiting, people might overlook one other story here. She's blatantly lying about his subcommittee. Her ad says:

As chairman of the oversight committee charged with the force of fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan, he was too busy running for President to hold even one hearing.

That's a lie. Not one of these subcommittees is "charged with the force of fighting al Qaeda in Afghanistan" (Hillary seems to have the Senate confused with the Army) but the one with the most direct jurisdiction would be the Subcommittee on Near East and South and Central Asian Affairs, which is chaired by John Kerry. Obama is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs.

Furthermore, Obama's subcommittee didn't meet frequently before he the chair, either. I can't find a record of their meetings online anywhere, but I vaguely remember hearing on the news when this "story" first broke months ago that the subcommittee had often gone years without meeting. If anyone can find that story, I'd love to put up a source. The subcommittee didn't meet much because most important issues relating to NATO have been handled by the full Foreign Relations Committee. Obama has been an active participant in the full committee.

In the comments, jdmorg points out a good analysis of this by David Corn at MotherJones, including this:

But the full foreign relations committee, under the guidance of Senator Joe Biden, has held several hearings on Afghanistan that covered NATO's role there. It's not as if the foreign relations committee did nothing on Afghanistan because Obama did not take on the mission. Also, as happens with many committees, the chair of the full committee reserves the right to handle the big issues him- or herself, and Afghanistan counts as a big issue.

Clinton ought to be careful about hurling stones in this area. As she always tells campaign crowds, she is a member of the Senate armed services committee. In February the committee held two hearings on Afghanistan. On February 8, it focused on appropriations for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was a witness. Eight days later, the committee zeroed in on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, holding a two-part hearing examining recent reports on Afghanistan. Key witnesses included senior officials from the State Department and the Pentagon responsible for the administration's Afghanistan policy.

Clinton attended neither of these hearings. She was on the campaign trail.

So don't let Hillary's race-baiting distract completely from the fact that she's a lying hypocrite. We have very diverse reasons to work hard against her. Rec this up to shine a light on Hillary's dirty tricks.

Big Update and Lying Campaign Denial:

Apparently this got a little MSM attention. Hillary's campaign responded by blatantly lying about the source of the ad in this diary. Such dishonesty makes their denial of nefarious motives that much less plausible:

Despite the strong similarities between the ad on the DailyKos site and the original ad on Clinton’s Web site, Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said he spoke with the campaign’s chief ad maker, Mandy Grunwald, who said emphatically the ad on DailyKos "was not their ad."

"We don’t know what is up there, but it is not our ad," Carson said.

Original here

Bill Richardson Criticizes "3 AM" Ad, Praises Obama's Judgement

Yesterday Bill Richardson gave an interview that has gotten a bunch of attention already, because in it he said that Dems should coalesce behind the candidate with the "clear lead" after tomorrow's voting....

...He was outspoken in his criticism of Clinton's new "ringing phone" ad, which suggests that Obama is not ready to become commander in chief. "I happen to disagree with that ad that says that Senator Obama is not ready," he said. "He is ready. He has great judgment, an internationalist background."

Original here

Obama and Clinton neck and neck in Ohio, Texas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton and rival Barack Obama are running neck-and-neck in Ohio and Texas one day before their crucial Democratic presidential showdowns, according to a Reuters/C-SPAN/Houston Chronicle poll released on Monday.

Clinton, fighting to save her presidential bid after 11 straight wins by Obama, desperately needs victories in the big-state battles to keep her candidacy alive and face the Republican candidate in the November election.

Obama, an Illinois senator, has a slim advantage on Clinton in both states, although the leads are within the poll's margin of error of just under 4 percentage points.

Obama leads 47 percent to 44 percent in Texas, as Clinton gained 1 point overnight in the polling conducted by Zogby International. He leads 47 percent to 45 percent in Ohio, a turnaround from Clinton's 1-point advantage on Sunday.

Obama has wiped out big leads in the last two weeks in both states for Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, but in the final days of the race neither candidate has managed dramatic shifts.

"There are no big movements, no great swings, these are just very tight races," pollster John Zogby said. "At least for now it doesn't look like either one of them is going to be winning in a blow-out."

Republican front-runner McCain, however, appears headed to easy victories in both states. He has big double-digit leads over his last major rival, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

McCain, an Arizona senator, is moving closer to clinching the Republican presidential nomination and has built an insurmountable lead in delegates, who will choose the nominee at the party's September convention.

COALITIONS STABLE

Both Democratic candidates have maintained the voter coalitions in Ohio and Texas that fueled them in earlier contests, with Clinton winning women, older voters, traditional Democrats and Hispanics while Obama attracts men, young voters, blacks and independents.

In Texas, Clinton continues to hold a big lead among the state's sizable bloc of Hispanics and has an edge in the state's heavily Hispanic south and conservative west. Obama is strong in the cities, but the two have battled back-and-forth in east Texas and now run even there.

"It really is looking like east Texas is the place to watch in the popular vote, whoever wins there could have the edge in the state," Zogby said.

Clinton moved ahead slightly in Ohio among voters who made their decision in the last few days -- a possible sign Obama's momentum could be slowing after days of Clinton attacks on his readiness to become U.S. commander-in-chief.

In Ohio and Texas, 6 percent of Democrats are still undecided on the day before the primary.

In the Republican race, McCain leads Huckabee 61 percent to 28 percent in Ohio and 53 percent to 33 percent in Texas. The other remaining Republican candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, had 6 percent in Texas and 5 percent in Ohio.

McCain leads handily in nearly every voter category and in all regions of both states. He even leads in Ohio among those who call themselves very conservative, although Huckabee leads in that category in Texas.

McCain has faced a revolt among some conservatives unhappy with his past stances on immigration, tax cuts and campaign finance reform, although it has done little to slow his march to the nomination.

The rolling poll was conducted Friday through Sunday. It surveyed 761 likely Democratic voters in Ohio with a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points, and 748 in Texas with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

The poll of 675 likely Republican voters in Ohio had a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points. The survey of 628 voters in Texas had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

In a rolling poll, the most recent day's results are added and the oldest day's results are dropped to track changing momentum. The poll will continue one more day.

Original here

UPDATE 1-Canada defends Obama over NAFTA flap

OTTAWA(Reuters) - Canada defended Democratic front-runner Barack Obama Monday over accusations from rival Hillary Clinton that he is secretly at ease with a hemispheric trade accord which he publicly blames for losing U.S. jobs.

Clinton's criticism, on the eve of make-or-break presidential nomination contests for her in Ohio and Texas, stemmed from a report by Canadian television station CTV that an Obama economic adviser told Canadian officials the candidate was not seriously considering disrupting the trade accord.

But the Canadian Embassy in Washington released a statement essentially backing up the Obama camp's version of the meeting between adviser Austan Goolsbee and officials at the Canadian consulate in Chicago.

"There was no intention to convey, in any way, that Senator Obama and his campaign team were taking a different position in public from views expressed in private, including about NAFTA," the embassy statement said. "We deeply regret any inference that may have been drawn to that effect."

The consulate's written report of the meeting had left the suggestion that Obama's words on NAFTA were designed for a political audience and should not be taken too seriously, prompting an angry denial from the Obama campaign.

Clinton, a New York senator, has made an issue of what she says is Obama's support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed in 1994 but which is now under heavy election-year criticism from her and Obama.

On Monday, Clinton challenged Obama's credibility on the trade issue ahead of the nomination contest in Ohio, where concern over the NAFTA trade agreement has become a key issue.

"It raises questions about Senator Obama coming to Ohio and giving speeches about NAFTA and having his chief economic adviser tell the Canadian government that it was just political rhetoric," she said at an early morning news conference in Ohio.

Both candidates fighting for the Democratic nomination to face the Republicans' choice in the November election have threatened to pull the United States out of NAFTA unless it is renegotiated.

They said the accord has hurt the manufacturing base in such states as economically hard-hit Ohio, which along with Texas votes on Tuesday.

CANADA PM DENIES INTERFERENCE

Some U.S. Democrats accused Canada's right-leaning Conservative government of trying to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

That charge led Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take the unusual step of denying that Canada was trying to stir up trouble in the election process of its powerful southern neighbor.

"I certainly deny any allegation that this government has attempted to interfere in the American election," he told the country's parliament.

"The American people will make the decision as to their next president and I am confident that whoever that person is ... (they) will continue the strong alliance, friendship and partnership that we enjoy with the United States."

Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States and would be badly hurt if Washington pulled out of NAFTA.

The U.S. Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank, has blamed NAFTA for more than 1 million U.S. job losses, most of them in manufacturing, since 1994. However, others put the tally much lower than that.

Obama, an Illinois senator, acknowledged that a meeting did take place between Goolsbee and the Canadian consulate officials but added, "He said exactly what I've been saying on the campaign trail."

In San Antonio, Texas, Obama said, "This notion that Senator Clinton is peddling that somehow there's contradictions or winks and nods has been disputed by all parties involved." (Additional reporting by Caren Bohan and Ellen Wulfhorst; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Original here

Clinton Says She and McCain Offer Experience, Obama Offers Speeches

(CBS)

From CBS News' Fernando Suarez:

FORT WORTH, TEXAS -- Hillary Clinton told reporters that both she and the presumtive Republican nominee John McCain offer the experience to be ready to tackle any crisis facing the country under their watch, but Barack Obama simply offers more rhetoric. “I think you'll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say,” she said. “He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.” Clinton was referring to Obama’s anti-war speech he delivered in Chicago before entering the United States Senate.

Criticism has been leveled towards Clinton as well, though, especially her claim that she is ready to be the commander-in-chief on "day one." When asked at the press conference if she could name a particular instance in her past that equips her to deal with a national security crisis, Clinton balked, saying, “Well, I was involved in a lot of the decisions that were made. Again, you are looking at it from the wrong perspective,” Clinton said. “You know, no one who hasn’t been president has done that, so that’s not the right question. The question is, what have you done over the course of that lifetime to equip you for that moment?”

Texas voters will go the polls on Tuesday to give her the answer.

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Humanity Lobotomy - Second Draft

Humanity Lobotomy - Second Draft
This is a video response to Save the Internet!

The $2 Trillion Nightmare

We’ve been hearing a lot about “Saturday Night Live” and the fun it has been having with the presidential race. But hardly a whisper has been heard about a Congressional hearing in Washington last week on a topic that could have been drawn, in all its tragic monstrosity, from the theater of the absurd.

The war in Iraq will ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers not hundreds of billions of dollars, but an astonishing $2 trillion, and perhaps more. There has been very little in the way of public conversation, even in the presidential campaigns, about the consequences of these costs, which are like a cancer inside the American economy.

On Thursday, the Joint Economic Committee, chaired by Senator Chuck Schumer, conducted a public examination of the costs of the war. The witnesses included the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz (who believes the overall costs of the war — not just the cost to taxpayers — will reach $3 trillion), and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

Both men talked about large opportunities lost because of the money poured into the war. “For a fraction of the cost of this war,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more.”

Mr. Hormats mentioned Social Security and Medicare, saying that both could have been put “on a more sustainable basis.” And he cited the committee’s own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the war each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year, or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.

What we’re getting instead is the stuff of nightmares. Mr. Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia, has been working with a colleague at Harvard, Linda Bilmes, to document, among other things, some of the less obvious costs of the war. These include the obligation to provide health care and disability benefits for returning veterans. Those costs will be with us for decades.

Mr. Stiglitz noted that nearly 40 percent of the 700,000 troops from the first gulf war, which lasted just a month, have become eligible for disability benefits. The current war is approaching five years in duration.

“Imagine then,” said Mr. Stiglitz, “what a war — that will almost surely involve more than 2 million troops and will almost surely last more than six or seven years — will cost. Already we are seeing large numbers of returning veterans showing up at V.A. hospitals for treatment, large numbers applying for disability and large numbers with severe psychological problems.”

The Bush administration has tried its best to conceal the horrendous costs of the war. It has bypassed the normal budgetary process, financing the war almost entirely through “emergency” appropriations that get far less scrutiny.

Even the most basic wartime information is difficult to come by. Mr. Stiglitz, who has written a new book with Ms. Bilmes called “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” said they had to go to veterans’ groups, who in turn had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act, just to find out how many Americans had been injured in Iraq.

Mr. Stiglitz and Mr. Hormats both addressed the foolhardiness of waging war at the same time that the government is cutting taxes and sharply increasing non-war-related expenditures.

Mr. Hormats told the committee:

“Normally, when America goes to war, nonessential spending programs are reduced to make room in the budget for the higher costs of the war. Individual programs that benefit specific constituencies are sacrificed for the common good ... And taxes have never been cut during a major American war. For example, President Eisenhower adamantly resisted pressure from Senate Republicans for a tax cut during the Korean War.”

Said Mr. Stiglitz: “Because the administration actually cut taxes as we went to war, when we were already running huge deficits, this war has, effectively, been entirely financed by deficits. The national debt has increased by some $2.5 trillion since the beginning of the war, and of this, almost $1 trillion is due directly to the war itself ... By 2017, we estimate that the national debt will have increased, just because of the war, by some $2 trillion.”

Some former presidents — Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower — were quoted at the hearing on the need for accountability and shared sacrifice during wartime. But this is the 21st century. That ancient rhetoric can hardly be expected to compete for media attention, even in a time of war, with the giddy fun of S.N.L.

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Bush: Americans ‘Ought To Say Thank You’ To Telecoms For ‘Performing A Patriotic Service’

The Bush administration has launched an aggressive campaign to pressure the House into passing retroactive immunity for telecoms that participated in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Because they complied in illegally wiretapping their customers, telecoms currently face around 40 lawsuits. Yesterday in a speech to the National Association of Attorneys General, Bush sharply criticized Americans who are suing the telecoms:

Now the question is, should these lawsuits be allowed to proceed, or should any company that may have helped save American lives be thanked for performing a patriotic service; should those who stepped forward to say we’re going to help defend America have to go to the courthouse to defend themselves, or should the Congress and the President say thank you for doing your patriotic duty? I believe we ought to say thank you.

Watch it:

Bush is implying that Americans who oppose telecom immunity are unpatriotic. But the American people don’t owe the telecoms any gratitude. These corporations chose to break the law and profited greatly from doing so. (At least one company refused to comply with the Bush administration’s request because it knew the actions were illegal.)

Last week in a letter to Congress, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) — which represents groups such as Google and Microsoft — said that it “strongly” opposes retroactive immunity: “To imply that our industry would refuse assistance under established law is an affront to the civic integrity of businesses that have consistently cooperated unquestioningly with legal requests for information.”

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Am I a Torturer?

The prisons in Iraq stink. Ask any guard or interrogator and they'll tell you it's a smell they'll never forget: sweat, fear, and rot. On the base where Ben Allbright served from May to September 2003, a small outfit named Tiger in western Iraq, water was especially scarce; Ben would rig a hose to a water bottle in a feeble attempt to shower. He and the other Army reservists tried mopping the floors, but the cheap solvents only added a chemical note to the stench. During the day, when the temperature was in the triple digits, the smell fermented.

It got even hotter in the Conex container, the kind you see on top of 18-wheelers, where Ben kept his prisoners. Not uncommonly the thermometer inside read 135, even 145 degrees. The Conex box was the first stop for all prisoners brought to the base, most of them Iraqis swept up during mass raids. Ben kept them blindfolded, their hands bound behind their backs with plastic zip ties, without food or sleep, for up to 48 hours at a time. He made them stand in awkward positions, so that they could not rest their heads against the wall. Sometimes he blared loud music, such as Ozzy or AC/DC, blew air horns, banged on the container, or shouted. "Whatever it took to make sure they'd stay awake," he explains.

Ben was not a "bad apple," and he didn't make up these treatments. He was following standard operating procedure as ordered by military-intelligence officers. The MI guys didn't make up the techniques either; they have a long international history as effective torture methods. Though generally referred to by circumlocutions such as "harsh techniques," "softening up," and "enhanced interrogation," they have been medically shown to have the same effects as other forms of torture. Forced standing, for example, causes ankles to swell to twice their size within 24 hours, making walking excruciating and potentially causing kidney failure.

Ben says he never saw anything like that. The detainees didn't faint or go insane, as people have been known to do under similar conditions, but they also "weren't exactly lucid." And, he notes, "I was hardly getting any sleep myself."

When I first set off to interview the rank-and-file guards and interrogators tasked with implementing the administration's torture guidelines, I thought they'd never talk openly. They would be embarrassed, wracked by guilt, living in silent shame in communities that would ostracize them if they knew of their histories. What I found instead were young men hiding their regrets from neighbors who wanted to celebrate them as war heroes. They seemed relieved to talk with me about things no one else wanted to hear—not just about the acts themselves, but also about the guilt, pain, and anger they felt along with pride and righteousness about their service. They struggled with these things, wanted to make sense of them—even as the nation seemed determined to dismiss the whole matter and move on.

This, perhaps, is the real scandal of Abu Ghraib: In survey after survey, as many as two-thirds of Americans say torture is justified when it's used to get information from terrorists. In an abc/Washington Post poll in the wake of the 2004 scandal, 60 percent of respondents classified what happened at Abu Ghraib as mere abuse, not torture. And as recently as last year, 68 percent of Americans told Pew Research pollsters that they consider torture an acceptable option when dealing with terrorists.

Critics of the administration's interrogation policies warn that the ramifications will be felt across the globe, including by Americans unlucky enough to be imprisoned abroad. Foreign-policy scholars fear the fallout from Abu Ghraib has already weakened the U.S. military's anti-terrorism capabilities. Lawyers warn about war-crime tribunals. But hardly anyone is discussing the repercussions already being felt here at home. It's the soldiers tying the sandbags around Iraqis' necks and blaring the foghorns through the night who are experiencing the effects most acutely. And the communities they're returning to are reeling as a result.

When i went to visit Ben in Little Rock, Ark., I wanted to know why this charming, intelligent, and overly polite 27-year-old had done what he'd done. For 10 days we rode around in his beat-up maroon 1970s Mercedes—running errands, picking up job applications, meeting his girlfriend for lunch. Ben wore pink shirts, hipster blazers, and color-coordinated Campers; he used hair products, which to his friends meant being a metrosexual; he listened to indie rock, watched The Daily Show, and wrote attitude-filled blogs on veterans rights, which meant being a liberal. He refereed football games, worshipped novelist Dave Eggers, and placed special orders at McDonald's so his meals would be fresh.

He was unemployed, fired from his latest job as a bank teller the day before I arrived. Ben had worked there for four months—the longest he'd held down a full-time job since coming home from Iraq. He'd tried tutoring high schoolers, bagging groceries, and doing IT support for Best Buy. Part of the problem, he said, was the lack of good jobs in the area, part of it his own "flailing and procrastinating." He had toyed with the idea of law school and scored a near-perfect 178 on the lsat entrance test, but then turned down offers from schools such as nyu. While I was in town he picked up an application for a job at his corner liquor store. In high school he was one of two students voted most likely to become famous. "The other kid became a doctor," Ben confessed, "and I, well, yeah..."

As a kid, Ben was a sort of Doogie Howser, blowing through school, asking teachers for more work, until his mom, fearing the classes weren't challenging enough, pulled him out in the fourth grade in order to home­school him. His parents finally bought a TV set when Ben was in eighth grade. Ben says his dad was an original member of Pat Robertson's 700 Club. He was an executive for American Airlines, a job that moved the family around a lot: St. Louis, Kansas City, Nashville. After they lost their nest egg in the 1987 stock market crash, the family moved from Chicago's lakeshore suburbs to the South Side. Finally, when Ben was a teenager, they settled in Lonoke, outside Little Rock.

Ben took me to the town, 4,300 people and 22 churches. Tractors dotted the fields that hadn't yet been grabbed by developers. He noted a "Free Greens" sign advertising leftovers from someone's garden and the customary wave from passing cars. His condescension about the "bumblefuck" town cracked when he showed me a plot of land, near one that his buddy had just bought, that he saw as a potential home for a future family.

Ben pointed out the Grace Baptist Church, which he attends because he's friends with the pastor and his son, "not because I agree with their fundamentalist views." As an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, Ben explored Buddhism and Taoism, but he returned to Christianity as a way to make sense of the world, even though sometimes it's "awkward reconciling my religion and military profession."

Ben was still in high school when he enlisted as a reservist; his friend Brandon had asked Ben to accompany him to the recruiter's office as a "bullshit detector." In the end, he enrolled along with Brandon, applying twice before he finally bulked up enough to meet the weight requirement. He saw it as a chance to get out from under his parents' thumb and learn about computers. But mainly it was his idealistic sense of duty—right out of Starship Troopers, the 1959 Robert Heinlein novel that is now a cult hit in military circles. "Like in the book, there's the idea that to be a full citizen you have to contribute."

Ben was called up to go to Iraq in February 2003. His father told him the invasion seemed like a mistake, but they didn't have time to discuss the subject much; he died of cancer a month later. Half an hour after the funeral, Ben was on his way to Kuwait.

In iraq, ben was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division; since there was no computer work for him to do, he was made a prison guard.

Things on the Tiger base were pretty "ad hoc," Ben recalls. Some orders, like the mandate that the heavy Kevlar helmets be fastened at the chin at all times, were clearly posted on the wall. Others were left to word-of-mouth, including instructions about detainee handling. Military-intelligence officers issued various orders; then there were the anonymous ogas, a.k.a. other government agencies, code for either private contractors or cia officers with civilian clothes, long beards, and fake names like Joe Stallone and Frank Norris. The chain of command was chaotic.

Ben was soon promoted to warden and made small changes on his shift: Guards had to limit stress positions, and detainee rations were increased from crackers and peanut butter to whole Meals Ready to Eat, which were served three times, not two times, a day. He enforced a ban on cameras to discourage the degrading treatment that usually came when soldiers posed with prisoners for trophy photos. "But I could only do so much," he admits.

When he was first ordered to soften up detainees, "it didn't seem so weird," Ben says; nothing in the war zone was normal. "You don't think about what you're doing until later." He was asked to stand in on dozens of interrogations, to help intimidate the subject: one more body, one more gun. The small room was usually crowded with guards, military-intelligence officers, and ogas. They were told to wear T-shirts, not uniforms that would signal their rank. Under the single bulb, the interrogator would loom above a prisoner seated in a child-size chair. Sometimes the room suddenly went dark and strobe lights flashed on. Other times the soldiers would bang pots and pans in the detainee's face, blare loud music, blast air horns and sirens. The sounds were meant to disorient, but also to mask the screams. More than half the time, even if they were cooperative the detainees were beaten, kicked out of their chairs, punched in the windpipe or gut, pulled by the ears—blows that wouldn't leave lasting marks. Occasionally things got out of hand, but with their medical training, the military-intelligence officers could stitch up or bandage injuries, avoiding a call to the medics and an entry in the logbooks that the Red Cross could read.

The first time Ben saw a detainee get beaten, he took the lead interrogator aside afterward to ask, "Was this stuff really allowed? Didn't it violate the Geneva Conventions?"

"These aren't pows; they're detainees," he was told. "Those rules are antiquated and don't apply. You can't get any information without breaking that stuff." Ben asked other officers, but "it was basically like, 'Dude, you're actually worried about how we're treating them? They wouldn't afford you the same respect.'"

If there is anything Ben hates, it's not having all the information. Like most, he hadn't listened when the Geneva Conventionswere covered in basic training. But as it happened, when first arriving in country he'd asked a military lawyer for a cd-rom of various documents, just to have on hand. Now, scrolling through the text on his laptop, Ben saw what anyone could: All prisoners—civilians and combatants—are protected against violence. There is no separate category for unlawful combatants. "Outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment" are prohibited. Abuses like those at the Tiger base were "grave breaches." War crimes.

Ben made a verbal complaint to his platoon leader and later to his platoon leader's boss, asking for an investigation. The officers seemed surprised. "They said they'd look into it and tell their superiors," Ben recalls. "But it didn't seem like a priority." Nothing happened.

"I'm not one of those hardcore 'Duty! Honor! Country!' guys," explains Ben. "But I had signed a contract with rules and obligations. I figured that I did the responsible thing by notifying people. I felt helpless not being able to do more. But at least I'd covered my end." He tried quizzing the guards under him about the Geneva Conventions, but they "just wanted to fuck with people." He developed a reputation as a softy.

In the summer of 2003, the interrogators threw a detainee against a concrete wall, punched him in the neck and gut, kicked him in the knees, threw him outside, and dragged him back in by his hair. For the entire two-hour ordeal, the prisoner wouldn't talk; Ben later found out he spoke Farsi and couldn't understand the interrogators' English and Arabic. Afterward, Ben hid behind a building and cried for the first time since his dad's death. "It was like a loss of humanity. Like we were trading one dictator in for another. I had to weigh my integrity against my duty. Why couldn't I stand up more? Why was I hesitant?"

Ben told me this as we were sitting in his bedroom back home in Little Rock; by the end of the story he had climbed into bed and pulled blankets up around him and was hugging a pillow. There were tears in his eyes, and he apologized for being so "weird about this stuff." Ben writes poetry, and he's fiercely loyal to his Army buddies. But now, for the briefest moment, I saw rage in his eyes.

War, ben was discovering, is "not like what you see on TV. It's insanely boring and depressing." His trip home at Thanksgiving in 2003 lasted just long enough for him to discover that his girlfriend had a new man. Back at Tiger, he joined a group of grunts watching a Michael Moore dvd. It struck a chord with them. "I was never political before I went to Iraq. But I was already disgruntled and fed up just being in Iraq. The movie made me angrier."

It wasn't Fahrenheit 9/11 that so resonated with the soldiers; it was Roger & Me, a documentary that follows the decline of Flint, Michigan, after the General Motors plants closed down. Ben saw "connections between U.S. policies away and at home, how the administration is willing to sacrifice regular people. They were throwing people out of their homes in Flint just like we were taking people out of their homes in Iraq. We got all misty-eyed. It was emotional and had a lingering effect on us."

Ben began to think about what was behind the abuses he'd seen. Soldiers were sent off to war with the promise that they'd be heroes. They had been trained to kill bad guys, not baby-sit detainees. "You need to think that you're there for a reason, that there is some purpose," Ben says. But now people at home were saying the war was a mistake; body counts were mere blips in the news. When Ben first arrived in Iraq, he played soccer with locals; a few months later Iraqis wouldn't even set foot on the base. More and more, the soldiers turned their anger on the prisoners. They poked them with rifles, called them "towel heads" and "sand niggers." Guards would let other soldiers "snag a guy to fuck with or whatever, as long as it didn't leave a mark."

About a month after Ben left Tiger for good, an insurgency leader detained there, Maj. General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, was suffocated in a sleeping bag—a technique that, like waterboarding, Ben had heard was used but had never seen. The General, as he was known, was one of the 160-plus detainees who have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, according to aclu attorney Hina Shamsi. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, the man accused of murdering Mowhoush, claimed he'd been following orders. In 2006, he was convicted of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty and sentenced to 60 days of barracks confinement, the equivalent of house arrest.

After ben came home in March 2004, he was treated warmly. "I was at Applebee's one night and a guy overheard that I had just come back from Iraq," he recalls, "so he bought me a Jack and Coke." He was offered discounts on cell phones and cars. "I finally felt appreciated after feeling used for so long."

But the welcomes couldn't silence the questions that kept him up at night. Ben loves to debate, perhaps because he usually wins, but now he was endlessly, fruitlessly arguing with himself. "Every human being instinctively knows right from wrong. There is never a justification for torture." But then again, "Is softening people up wrong on some levels? I don't know. It wasn't beneficial to them, but it was presented as necessary." He had seen a side of himself he didn't know existed, and now he had to live with that. "In combat you question your mortality," he told me. "In these prisons you question your morality."

I asked Ben point-blank if he considered himself a torturer. It was a hard question to ask, a harder one to answer. He said he didn't know. He asked me how other soldiers in his situation had responded. Most, I told him, didn't even brook use of the word "torture" instead of "harsh interrogation." He finally said he guessed he didn't want to have to think of himself that way, and that it was time to go meet his girlfriend.

When he first got back from Iraq, Ben had nightmares and couldn't remember things; this was infuriating, since he'd always prided himself on his perfect memory. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with ptsd, but he refused medication. Instead he blew $14,000 on bar tabs his first four months home. "I drank every night. I'd wake up next to a stranger at around 4 p.m. and head off to the strip club again." He traveled some, because "you can reinvent yourself when you're out of town." He also reenlisted; he'll be on active duty until 2013, which means that once a month he has to cut his perfectly messy hair and show up at the local base. He thinks the military needs people like him, "people who can see both sides of things."

When Ben first started speaking out about torture, posting to blogs and testifying for a human rights group, he didn't use his real name. Then, gradually, he grew bolder. Brandon, his high school friend, Army buddy, and now roommate, encouraged him, so long as he wasn't trying to become famous. He got the occasional blog flame—"un-American commie bastard"—but there was none of the reprisal from the Army that he'd feared. Nor, for that matter, any call from the various military investigators looking into human rights abuses. No one seemed to care.

People cared when Specialist Joseph Darby spoke out, though not always in the way he would have wanted them to. Darby is the Army reservist who turned in the Abu Ghraib photos. He hates the term "whistleblower," which is understandable, since it's earned him others like "rat" and "traitor." He's gotten death threats, from phone calls and emails to just whispers around his hometown of Cumberland, Maryland. His sister-in-law's house was vandalized; his wife was verbally harassed and the police refused to help.

I met with Darby at a Starbucks in a strip mall along a busy four-lane route. He is still in a sort of witness-protection program the military put him in after his role in the scandal was revealed. He didn't want me to detail his appearance, which has changed somewhat from the recognizable round face that appeared in magazines and on television. This, he said, was his last interview before he put Abu Ghraib behind him forever.

He said being in hiding wasn't so tough; he'd always kept to himself. His marriage was rocky while he was in Iraq, and seclusion had forced the couple back together. Whenever our conversation got difficult, he fiddled with his wedding ring.

Darby joined the Army Reserves for tuition money when he was 17, but he never did end up going to college. Instead, after returning from a deployment in Bosnia in June 2002, he found construction work off the books. Eight months later, he was called up again to go to Iraq. When his unit was assigned to guard prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Darby asked for a job where he wouldn't have too much contact with the detainees; with his temper, he didn't trust himself around the Iraqis. He became the guy you called to get a mop, garbage bags, or meals brought up to the tiers.

Unlike Ben, Darby didn't witness any abuse; he came across the torture photos by accident. The desert heat had warped his own snapshots, so he asked Corporal Charles Graner for some pictures, hoping for images of camels and tanks. Scrolling through the CD, he laughed when he saw the pyramid of naked Iraqis. Then he got to the simulated-fellatio pictures.

He insists he's not a goody-two-shoes tattletale or a saint by any stretch. "I'm as crooked as the next MP," he explains. "I've bent laws and I've broke laws." Months earlier, Graner (who is now serving a 10-year sentence) had shown him a photo of a prisoner tied up in a stress position and said, "The Christian in me knows this is wrong, but the corrections officer in me can't help but love to make a grown man piss himself." Darby says he was too tired to think much about it.

It took him three weeks of soul-searching to decide whether he should turn in the photos. He finally took them not to his superior officers but to the Army investigation office, where soldiers can report everything from sexual harassment to theft—a breach of the chain of command that many would later hold against him. Four months later, Darby was sitting in the Abu Ghraib mess hall; cnn was on, showing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's congressional testimony on prisoner abuse. Darby had no idea his tip—which military investigators had assured him would remain anonymous—had led to a national scandal. He heard Rumsfeld name various people who'd provided information—"first the soldier, Specialist Joseph Darby, who alerted the appropriate authorities...My thanks and appreciation to him for his courage and his values."

Darby dropped his fork midbite. Oh shit. He felt 400 pairs of eyes on him. Seymour Hersh had already published his name, but as Darby says, "Who reads the damn New Yorker?"

His mom was dying of cancer; now, the compassionate-leave request he had filed a week before was rushed through. When his plane touched down stateside, officers were there with his wife. They escorted the couple to an undisclosed location, where they lived with around-the-clock security for the next six months. He didn't get the formal thank-you he'd expected from the Army, though a personal letter from Rumsfeld arrived at one point—asking him to stop talking about how he'd been outed.

When the Abu Ghraib photos splashed on television sets, people in Cumberland watched, hoping their loved ones weren't involved. Not all were so lucky. Kenneth England saw the pictures of his daughter, Lynndie, as did the welders and machinists who work with him at the csx railroad. They supported him as best they knew how: by not mentioning it. While Pentagon flacks spun the scandal as the work of a few bad apples from Appalachia, people in the area hung yellow ribbons and "hometown hero" posters for the accused MPs. Reservists' wives organized candlelight vigils.

"Everybody needs his time over there to mean or count for something," Sergeant Ken Davis, a teetotaler nicknamed Preacher Man by the other MPs at Abu Ghraib, told me. "It has to be right in the greater scheme of things. But if the U.S. government was truly at the helm, ordering the abuse, then it actually means nothing. And now we live with ghosts and demons that will haunt us for the rest of our lives."

Davis, who has a clean, bleachy smell to him and says "dang" a lot, was in some of the photos, and he says he reported the abuse to his superior. For that, people at the police department near Cumberland where he worked call him a narc. He's become an Abu Ghraib junkie, attending the trials, testifying at some, collecting photos and evidence, corresponding with the accused. It's a way, he says, to get closure. "A lot of soldiers, when we come back, are lost. You don't belong anymore. It's especially true for a unit accused of abuse, when you hear lies about what happened and people deny what you saw." At 37, he's particularly worried about the younger soldiers he served with. "They were put in situations where they had to do things they didn't agree with just to survive," he says. "All they know about being an adult is the military. We've got a lost generation on our hands."

Military recruiters always had it easy in Cumberland. Beyond honor, responsibility, and meaning, they pitched a paycheck and a ticket out. It was on the steps of Cumberland's City Hall that Lyndon B. Johnson first announced his War on Poverty back in 1964, but neither the coal mining industry, the railway, nor a series of short-lived manufacturing booms could win that battle. Of the big factories in the area, only the paper mill is still open. One in five residents live below the poverty line, a third more than the national average. A food bank operates out of a former bread factory. In February 2007, a high school football player shot himself during a game of Russian roulette.

I often asked people in town what they thought about the war, but conversation inevitably turned to jobs. Supporting the troops was akin to union solidarity—a pact among the people doing the country's grunt work. As one ex-Marine told me, "Sometimes you just have to do what you can to get by. And you have to be able to believe in the validity of what you're doing."

People told me the threat against Darby was exaggerated. The university's chaplain had been harassed for hosting an anti-war event, the newspaper's columnist threatened for advocating gun control, but no harm had come to either of them. Colin Engelbach, the commander of the local vfw post—who called Darby a "borderline traitor" on national television—said that by "get him," people just meant they would make Darby's life hell.

Engelbach is a small guy whose eyes had trouble meeting mine. He spent ten years in the National Guard and four on active duty, though he didn't see combat. Now he works double shifts making depleted-uranium munitions at Alliant Tech. For several months after our interview, he called me with "dirt" on Darby; the overall message was that Darby had put himself before his comrades, that he was not a real American.

"People aren't pissed because I turned someone in for abuse," Darby told me. "People are pissed because I turned in an American soldier for abusing an Iraqi. They don't care about right and wrong."

Five miles down from Cumberland, Cresaptown, home to the 372nd Military Police Company's headquarters, is little more than the junction of U.S. Highway 220 and Route 53. There's no town hall, the civic improvement center is shuttered, and old toys sit forgotten on the front porches of houses behind low wire fences. It's only a few steps from Pete's Tavern to the Big Claw bar and the Eagles Club, which a few years back launched a minor scandal by admitting a black man. ("He may be a nigger, but he's also a cop," one Pete's regular told me, "so they had to let him in.")

Driving down the hill into Cresaptown, the first thing you notice is the sweeping expanse of glimmering barbed wire and corrugated metal buildings that house the roughly 1,700 inmates and 500 employees of the Western Correctional Institution. The 161-acre property used to be the Celanese factory, where you could swim in the public pool for a quarter. Next door is the brand new $24.8 million prison, built by out-of-state contractors and lauded as a state-of-the-art maximum-security facility. The 372nd's inconspicuous brick building is down the road, past the Liberty Christian Fellowship, the technical high school (whose sign declares "teamwork" the word of the month), and the Boy Scout building.

On most afternoons you'll find John Kershner, a sergeant with the 372nd, sitting at the Big Claw smoking his usa brand menthols with his change lined up on the bar, ready for his next dollar-fifty Miller Lite. The night I was there "Sarge" was talking more than he had in a while, he admitted. He was polite in an old-time kind of way, making a point of taking off his well-worn Eagles Club hat indoors, revealing a balding shaved head. His light blue eyes were shielded behind his thick glasses. Sarge knows Darby well; he was the guy who hired him to work off the books at his self-storage-construction company after the two served together in Bosnia—though it was Darby who told me about this later, not Kershner. "People here feel more hurt by this whole thing than anything," Sarge whispered into my ear. "I just wish Darby would shut his mouth and let the rest of us move on."

Sarge had to sell his construction business when he deployed to Iraq. Now employers tell him he's either overqualified or, at a war-weathered 56, too old. He's been filing for his veterans benefits for two years now but continues to get the runaround. He knows what most everyone in the bar does for a living—he's a roofer, he's a pharmacist, she's a beautician. "I'm not saying that the photos were correct," one of the other patrons, his work boots still muddy, told me. "But our people had their heads cut off."

"Other countries can torture our men to death and it's okay, but if we drop one decimal dip below our standards, you have guys paying the price," Sarge said. "Now you need permission to even shoot back when you're under attack. You let them win there, and we'll be fighting here next."

There is a peace group in Cumberland. It's spearheaded by Larry Neumark, the Protestant chaplain at local Frostburg State University whose cardigan sweaters and soft voice conjure up Mr. Rogers. Early on in the war, the group—mostly composed of faculty from Frostburg and nearby community colleges, who clung to each other as a "lifeline"—struggled for attention. "You'll be accused of being unpatriotic and un-American if you speak up," said Neumark. A local college has rejected courses with "peace" in the title as unpatriotic. "But in the last six to seven months people have been more willing to talk."

When I first visited Cumberland in December 2006, Neumark told me that he had caught hell for inviting Ray McGovern, a retired cia officer, to speak on campus against the war. By last spring, he was having a hard time filling the pro-war slot on a panel discussion he was setting up. Torture, though, was another story. Neumark had proposed a discussion about the topic, but people were "very on edge" about it, as Daniel Hull, a member of the group, told me. Even the activists were split on whether they should "go in that direction."

Eventually Neumark did pull together his panel, featuring a man who had been tortured in the Philippines during the Marcos regime. About 100 students, many of them earning class credits, listened to him recall mock executions and solitary confinement. One student argued that the Geneva Conventions were outdated. "Has fear been used to effectively deaden our critical senses?" Neumark asked. An audience member stomped out. In the back someone snoozed. "Torture is a form of terrorism," offered Neumark. "Why do you think people aren't speaking out about this?" No one had an answer.

In ben's two-bedroom apartment in a suburban complex, the shades are always down and the lights are dimmed. An Ikea rug covers the cheap wall-to-wall carpeting, Yellow Tail wine bottles line the mantle, Aristotle and Dostoevsky serve as toilet reading, and a large-screen TV with a PlayStation 2 dominates the living room. Ben shares the place with Brandon, who circumvented the postwar job problem by taking a civilian job at the nearby Army base. He seems more stereotypically military than Ben, with wide biceps, close-cropped hair, and a closetful of Army T-shirts. But he writes poetry and acoustic songs about things such as post-traumatic stress and how he almost reflexively hit his girlfriend one day and never regained her trust.

One afternoon, with a sitcom on TV and his dog skidding around the sofa, I grilled Ben about torture. After returning from Iraq, he studied the philosophical theories surrounding the issue to prepare for just these kinds of conversations—particularly in case he ever got to talk to Senator John McCain, to whom he'd written during the drafting of the Detainee Treatment Act. We discussed the ticking-time-bomb argument—the hypothetical challenge arguing the morality of torturing someone who knows where a bomb is hidden—which Ben called "total bullshit" since "we aren't living in some fantasy 24 kind of world where those sorts of situations occur." Besides, he said, torture will induce false confessions. And most of the detainees at Tiger didn't even have anything to confess; like 70 to 90 percent of those jailed across Iraq, according to a 2004 Red Cross report, they'd been arrested by mistake.

When the Abu Ghraib photos came out, Ben was on a trip around Europe. He pretended to be Canadian, and the whole thing pained him—because he's a patriot, and because the images brought back memories. "It was like a bad nostalgia," he said. "But it was also embarrassing. I just didn't want to be associated with it."

When I asked Ben if Brandon judged him for what he did in Iraq, he said they don't really talk about it. "It's two separate parts of our lives and we keep it that way," Ben explained. "It's like, 'Iraq sucked. Now get on with it.'" He said he doesn't talk about it to anyone close to him—he'd tell his mom, he said, but she has never asked and he doesn't want to bother her.

His girlfriend, Gretchen, flat out doesn't want to know. Gretchen trained Ben as a teller at the bank. She's gorgeous, with long dark hair and tall leather boots. Within a week, they were making out; six months later, she's sure he's the one. They seemed too young to be talking about marriage, until I saw their friends with kids, mortgages, and ex-spouses.

I asked Gretchen if we could have coffee. "It's not like I know anything about what happened over there," she said. "I probably should, but he doesn't talk about it, and I don't want to think about it." Gretchen blushed when she asked me what Abu Ghraib was. ("She doesn't know much about politics," commented Ben, "and that's to put it nicely.") "I realize I'm naive," she said. "I get upset about stuff that's sad on TV." She didn't have a "real opinion about the war. I figure the people in charge know more, so I trust them."

But Gretchen did know how Ben would "tear up" sometimes, like when he was fired from the bank, even though he said it was no big deal, or how he only stayed for five minutes when he visited his dad's grave, or how he used to wake up in the middle of the night shouting. She thought Ben liked her not being political because she didn't argue with him. I thought he liked the escape.

When i was in Little Rock in January 2007, Ben was chastising himself for not having spoken out more about the war. He had just bought a new Web domain, WaitingToPanic.net, to consolidate his blogs and had big plans for building his veterans site, Operation Comeback, into a full-on grassroots movement. Human Rights Watch had encouraged him to work for them, and he thought that was a great idea. But he was also excited about cheap properties in the area, and when he got upset by our conversations about Iraq, he told me he'd been trying to "block it out a little bit."

A year later, when I checked in with him again, he had bought a brand new three-bedroom house in Lonoke, the town where he'd grown up. Gretchen had moved in with him. He was working with the military as a communications expert—the "resident computer geek," as he put it—at the local base. He was up for a promotion to Warrant Officer candidate. His new website was blank and he hadn't posted on his blogs in months. And Senator McCain had never called.

"I'm told that I'm courageous for speaking out," he said. "But I wonder if I get blamed enough for the bad things I've done. Did I stand up enough? Using a situation to justify it, like I did, doesn't make it right. It's the sense of being helpless that still weighs heavily on my soul."

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