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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ted Belman and the anti-Obama Smear Machine

Right-wing pro-Israel blogger Ted Belman has recently embarrassed himself by joining the stampede of conservative Republicans so desperate to keep Senator Barack Obama out of the White House that they'll say just about anything to scare people out of voting for him.

Make no mistake, Belman and his ilk are scared. The smear tactics which worked so well against John Kerry in 2004 just don't seem to be working on Obama. So, what's an ideologue to do? The answer, apparently, is to take a gaggle of absurd accusations against Obama, combine them into a hastily written hodgepodge of rumor and innuendo, and throw them out into the blogosphere in the hope that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Here's what the smear-mongers want you to believe:

If you aren't right-wing, you're anti-Israel. You can't be pro-Israel if you believe that Palestinians are human beings, or that not all Palestinians are terrorists, or that talking to the Palestinians who aren't trying to kill Israelis might encourage the ones who are to stop. You can't be pro-Israel if you believe that the solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might just involve creating the Palestinian state promised by the same UN resolution which created Israel, or that expanding Israeli settlements in disputed territory might not be such a good idea. You can't be pro-Israel if you stand up for Israel's right to defend itself while at the same time regretting the suffering it inevitably inflicts on the Palestinians. You can't be pro-Israel if your even-handedness and willingness to listen to all sides has earned you the respect of people who aren't.

When it comes to Christian Zionists, Jews should take their money and "support" and try not to notice that they want us to bring on the Apocalypse and then spend eternity in hell. American Jews should support the Republican party because that's where the Christian Zionists are. The Christian Zionists have always been strong supporters of Israel. Never mind the fact that it's war, not peace, that they want for Israel. They pray for Israel to provoke its Arab neighbors into a climactic war that will trigger the Apocalypse and the Second Coming, when the Jews will be forced to choose between salvation through Jesus or eternity in hell.

It's better to judge a person through the words of others than through his own words and deeds. Forget about a distinguished career ranging from helping poor inner-city workers to unionize, to teaching Constitutional law at a prominent university. Forget about eight years on the record as a state and US Senator. Forget about detailed position statements and policy proposals for every issue of national importance. Forget about inspiring, best-selling, truthful memoirs. None of these matter if we can get your childhood milkman to declare, "I always knew there was something odd about him. He only drank skim milk!"

When it comes to Israel, Democrats mean something different even when they say and do the same thing as Republicans. McCain supports the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Not only does the current Republican administration support the two-state solution, it is the first administration to have made it official US policy. McCain and Bush are pro-Israel despite their support for the two-state solution, but Obama's support for the same official US policy makes him anti-Israel and anti-American.

Democrats are responsible for the views of their spiritual advisers, but Republicans aren't. Barack Obama should be held responsible for the offensive views of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, even though he has denounced them and it is clear from his record that he disagrees with them. In contrast, there's nothing wrong with John McCain's "spiritual guide," the Rev. Rod Parsley, declaring that America has been given a mission from God to destroy the "false religion" of Islam. It's safe to assume that McCain doesn't share his reverend's genocidal tendencies, even though McCain hasn't actually said so. Either that, or...

It's OK to preach genocide, as long as it's about people who belong to a religion everybody's afraid of. Demonizing a particular religion and convincing the populace that it is responsible for all the world's ills and must be eradicated shouldn't make Jews nervous at all. After all, it's not like we've ever seen anything like that before, is it?

You can't trust a terrorist, except when it comes to presidential elections. Terrorists can't be trusted to tell the truth or to keep their word. They are expert propagandists, effectively spreading their message of "Death to America!" through lies, sneakiness, and doublespeak. Their words are so dangerous that no right-minded person would consider talking with them. But when one of them makes an off-the cuff remark about the American presidential election, now that is something we should take seriously!

God only punishes America for the things that Republicans think are sins. According to the Rev. John Hagee, who endorsed John McCain's bid for the White House after McCain courted his endorsement, God caused Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans to prevent a scheduled gay parade. According to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, "pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and People For the American Way" helped cause 9/11. According to the Rev. Pat Robertson, tolerance for homosexuals at Disney World "will bring about the destruction of your nation, terrorist bombs, earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor." These views are perfectly reasonable. However, when the Rev. Jeremiah Wright suggested that perhaps God might disapprove of America for persecuting blacks for centuries and initiating wars that lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, now that was downright anti-American!

A whole lot of nothing adds up to something. If they take a whole bunch of easily disproven smears and glom them all together, with just a smidgen of true facts and a large measure of inflammatory, hateful speech thrown in to make them stick, you won't notice that "there is no there there."

You're too stupid to notice they're lying to you. Debunking all the lies the smear-mongers tell is too monumental a task to tackle all at once, but here are two examples from Belman's recent screed:

LIE: "Obama said 'Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.'"

TRUTH: In Obama's own words: "Well, keep in mind what the remark actually, if you had the whole thing, said. And what I said is nobody has suffered more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel, to renounce violence, and to get serious about negotiating peace and security for the region. Israel is the linchpin of much of our efforts in the Middle East."

LIE: "Obama has been in bed with Jew haters and Islamic jihad for years."

TRUTH: Obama has been friendly with Jews and supportive of Israel throughout his career. There have always been pro-Israel Jews among his closest advisers. Early in his political career, Obama faced accusations from Chicago's black community of being closer to the city's Jews than to its blacks. Obama lives across the street from one of Chicago's largest synagogues, and its rabbi and virtually the entire congregation supports his presidential bid.

Thinking for yourself is overrated. Why should you take the time to educate yourself about the issues and make an informed decision? It's much easier to let other people tell you what to believe. It's not like helping to choose the next leader of the free world is a big deal. After all, you only get one vote, right?

If you think that's not right, then...

Here's what you can do to help restore civility to the political debate:
Take the time to do your own research. Learn the real facts about our presidential candidates and the real distinctions between them. Whether you decide to vote for Barack Obama or John McCain, your decision should be based on the truth rather than on the warped delusions of people who fear it.

The smear-mongers represent the worst of American political thought. Spend some time reading, instead, George F. Will, David Brooks, and other conservative commentators who present cogent arguments and understand that people can disagree without being disagreeable. For the liberal point of view, Thomas L. Friedman and Bob Herbert are a good place to start.

Visit and and learn about the candidates' views, stances and policies in their own words. Obama's stance on Israel is clearly laid out on his site (McCain's doesn't seem to be, for some reason).

Jewish, pro-Israel supporters of Barack Obama have spent many hours examining Obama's background, experience, qualifications, record, and policy proposals. They deeply believe that Obama is the right leader for America. Read what they have to say.

Most importantly, don't be party to the dumbing down of our political process. Don't pass on the smears. Tell the people who send them to you that you expect better. Stand up for the Jewish value (even if you're not Jewish — this is a good one!) which regards lashon hara ("evil speech") as a grave sin, one which harms not only its target but also those who repeat it and those who hear it.

Join with other well-intentioned people as we reclaim our legacy as the world's oldest democracy and live up to the democratic ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers over 200 years ago. We are on the cusp of a new era of civility and engagement in American politics. Be a part of it!

Original here

Racism alarms Obama's backers

Keys to Obama winning the general
May 12: A Race for the White House panel debates: Where can Sen. Barack Obama turn a red state blue?

Race for the White House

WASHINGTON - Danielle Ross was alone in an empty room at the Obama campaign headquarters in Kokomo, Ind., a cellphone in one hand, a voter call list in the other. She was stretched out on the carpeted floor wearing laceless sky-blue Converses, stories from the trail on her mind. It was the day before Indiana's primary, and she had just been chased by dogs while canvassing in a Kokomo suburb. But that was not the worst thing to occur since she postponed her sophomore year at Middle Tennessee State University, in part to hopscotch America stumping for Barack Obama.

Here's the worst: In Muncie, a factory town in the east-central part of Indiana, Ross and her cohorts were soliciting support for Obama at malls, on street corners and in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and they ran into "a horrible response," as Ross put it, a level of anti-black sentiment that none of them had anticipated.

"The first person I encountered was like, 'I'll never vote for a black person,' " recalled Ross, who is white and just turned 20. "People just weren't receptive."

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed -- and unreported -- this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight.

Meeting cruel reaction
Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"

Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."

Obama campaign officials say such incidents are isolated, that the experience of most volunteers and staffers has been overwhelmingly positive.

The campaign released this statement in response to questions about encounters with racism: "After campaigning for 15 months in nearly all 50 states, Barack Obama and our entire campaign have been nothing but impressed and encouraged by the core decency, kindness, and generosity of Americans from all walks of life. The last year has only reinforced Senator Obama's view that this country is not as divided as our politics suggest."

Campaign field work can be an exercise in confronting the fears, anxieties and prejudices of voters. Veterans of the civil rights movement know what this feels like, as do those who have been involved in battles over busing, immigration or abortion. But through the Obama campaign, some young people are having their first experience joining a cause and meeting cruel reaction.

On Election Day in Kokomo, a group of black high school students were holding up Obama signs along U.S. 31, a major thoroughfare. As drivers cruised by, a number of them rolled down their windows and yelled out a common racial slur for African Americans, according to Obama campaign staffers.

Frederick Murrell, a black Kokomo High School senior, was not there but heard what happened. He was more disappointed than surprised. During his own canvassing for Obama, Murrell said, he had "a lot of doors slammed" in his face. But taunting teenagers on a busy commercial strip in broad daylight? "I was very shocked at first," Murrell said. "Then again, I wasn't, because we have a lot of racism here."

Vandalism, bomb threats
The bigotry has gone beyond words. In Vincennes, the Obama campaign office was vandalized at 2 a.m. on the eve of the primary, according to police. A large plate-glass window was smashed, an American flag stolen. Other windows were spray-painted with references to Obama's controversial former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and other political messages: "Hamas votes BHO" and "We don't cling to guns or religion. Goddamn Wright."

Ray McCormick was notified of the incident at about 2:45 a.m. A farmer and conservationist, McCormick had erected a giant billboard on a major highway on behalf of Farmers for Obama. He also was housing the Obama campaign worker manning the office. When McCormick arrived at the office, about two hours before he was due out of bed to plant corn, he grabbed his camera and wanted to alert the media. "I thought, this is a big deal." But he was told Obama campaign officials didn't want to make a big deal of the incident. McCormick took photos anyway and distributed some.

Obama looks past W. Va. primaries
May 12: Having overtaken Hillary Clinton in what was once her formidable superdelegate lead, Barack Obama turned his attention to defeating John McCain in the general election states. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

Nightly News

"The pictures represent what we are breaking through and overcoming," he said. As McCormick, who is white, sees it, Obama is succeeding despite these incidents. Later, there would be bomb threats to three Obama campaign offices in Indiana, including the one in Vincennes, according to campaign sources.

Obama has not spoken much about racism during this campaign. He has sought to emphasize connections among Americans rather than divisions. He shrugged off safety concerns that led to early Secret Service protection and has told black senior citizens who worry that racists will do him harm: Don't fret. Earlier in the campaign, a 68-year-old woman in Carson City, Nev., voiced concern that the country was not ready to elect an African American president.

"Will there be some folks who probably won't vote for me because I am black? Of course," Obama said, "just like there may be somebody who won't vote for Hillary because she's a woman or wouldn't vote for John Edwards because they don't like his accent. But the question is, 'Can we get a majority of the American people to give us a fair hearing?' "

Skilled at bridging divides
Obama has won 30 of 50 Democratic contests so far, the kind of nationwide electoral triumph no black candidate has ever realized. That he is on the brink of capturing the Democratic nomination, some say, is a testament to how far the country has progressed in overcoming racism and evidence of Obama's skill at bridging divides.

Obama has won five of 12 primaries in which black voters made up less than 10 percent of the electorate, and caucuses in states such as Idaho and Wyoming that are overwhelmingly white. But exit polls show he has struggled to attract white voters who didn't attend college and earn less than $50,000 a year. Today, he and Hillary Clinton square off in West Virginia, a state where she is favored and where the votes of working-class whites will again be closely watched.

For the most part, Obama campaign workers say, the 2008 election cycle has been exhilarating. On the ground, the Obama campaign is being driven by youngsters, many of whom are imbued with an optimism undeterred by racial intolerance. "We've grown up in a different world," says Danielle Ross. Field offices are staffed by 20-somethings who hold positions -- state director, regional field director, field organizer -- that are typically off limits to newcomers to presidential politics.

Gillian Bergeron, 23, was in charge of a five-county regional operation in northeastern Pennsylvania. The oldest member of her team was 27. At Scranton's annual Saint Patrick's Day parade, some of the green Obama signs distributed by staffers were burned along the parade route. That was the first signal that this wasn't exactly Obama country. There would be others.

In a letter to the editor published in a local paper, Tunkhannock Borough Mayor Norm Ball explained his support of Hillary Clinton this way: "Barack Hussein Obama and all of his talk will do nothing for our country. There is so much that people don't know about his upbringing in the Muslim world. His stepfather was a radical Muslim and the ranting of his minister against the white America, you can't convince me that some of that didn't rub off on him.

"No, I want a president that will salute our flag, and put their hand on the Bible when they take the oath of office."

Obama's campaign workers have grown wearily accustomed to the lies about the candidate's supposed radical Muslim ties and lack of patriotism. But they are sometimes astonished when public officials such as Ball or others representing the campaign of their opponent traffic in these falsehoods.

Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama. "I trust him," Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: "He's a half-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?"

Racial attitudes difficult to measure
Pollsters have found it difficult to accurately measure racial attitudes, as some voters are unwilling to acknowledge the role that race plays in their thinking. But some are not. Susan Dzimian, a Clinton supporter who owns residential properties, said outside a polling location in Kokomo that race was a factor in how she viewed Obama. "I think if it was somebody other than him, I'd accept it," she said of a black candidate. "If Colin Powell had run, I would be willing to accept him."

The previous evening, Dondra Ewing was driving the neighborhoods of Kokomo, looking to turn around voters like Dzimian. Ewing, 47, is a chain-smoking middle school guidance counselor, a black single mother of two and one of the most fiercely vigilant Obama volunteers in Kokomo, which was once a Ku Klux Klan stronghold. On July 4, 1923, Kokomo hosted the largest Klan gathering in history -- an estimated 200,000 followers flocked to a local park. But these are not the 1920s, and Ewing believes she can persuade anybody to back Obama. Her mother, after all, was the first African American elected at-large to the school board in a community that is 10 percent black.

Kokomo, population 46,000, is another hard-hit Midwestern industrial town stung by layoffs. Longtimers wistfully remember the glory years of Continental Steel and speak mournfully about the jobs shipped overseas. Kokomo Sanitary Pottery, which made bathroom sinks and toilets, shut down a couple of months ago and took with it 150 jobs.

Aaron Roe, 23, was mowing lawns at a local cemetery recently, lamenting his $8-an-hour job with no benefits. He had earned a community college degree as an industrial electrician, but learned there was no electrical work to be found for someone with his experience, which is to say none. Politics wasn't on his mind; frustration was. If he were to vote, it would not be for Obama, he said. "I just got a funny feeling about him," Roe said, a feeling he couldn't specify, except to say race wasn't a part of it. "Race ain't nothing," said Roe, who is white. "It's how they're going to help the country."

People with funny feelings
The Aaron Roes are exactly who Dondra Ewing was after: people with funny feelings.

At the Bradford Run Apartments, she found Robert Cox, a retiree who spent 30 years working for an electronics manufacturer making computer chips. He was in his suspenders, grilling shish kebab, which he had never eaten. "Something new," Cox said, recommended by his son who was visiting from Colorado.

Ewing was selling him hard on Obama. "There are more than two families that can run the United States of America," she said, "and their names aren't Bush and Clinton."

"Yeah, I know, I know," Cox said, remaining noncommittal.

He opened the grill and peeked at the kebabs. "It's not his race, because I got real good friends and all that," Cox continued. "If anything would keep him from getting elected, it would be his name. It might turn off some older people."

Like him?

"No, older than me," said Cox, 66.

Ewing kept talking, until finally Cox said, "Probably Obama," when asked directly how he would vote.

As she walked away, Ewing said: "I think we got him."

But truthfully, she wasn't feeling so sure.

Staff writer Peter Slevin and polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company
Original here

Breaking: Subliminal Pro-Obama messages in Clinton campaign ads

In a post yesterday over at a newspaper clip used in a Hillary Clinton ad was blown up to show that the headline was a fake. Initially it seemed as though this was simply a matter of laziness on Clinton's part. They couldn't find the headline they wanted so they made one up and pasted it over a different article.

As the Democratic Underground points out however, the story below it is not just any story, it is regarding troopergate. Troopergate is the story of an allegation that two Arkansas state troopers had arranged a sexual liaison for Bill Clinton back when he was the Governor of the state.

When I saw this it occurred to me that maybe this was more than a coincidental slip up by someone producing a pro-Clinton ad. It seemed too good to have happened by chance.

Sure enough when I replayed the ad looking for other signs of anti-Clinton propaganda I found it.

If you pause the video at about ten seconds, which is the same time the fake headline is on the screen, you can see the other anti-Hillary message. Look up and to the left of the headline. You'll see Hillary Clinton talking to someone. Underneath are the words "Clinton aides admit, it won't do much for you, but would help her politically." From the voice-over it seems that the clips are from an Obama ad, but it doesn't seem like the best choice to flash across the screen.
What is going on over there? Are her people revolting? Did some sort of anti-Hillary force infiltrate the video production team?

I want to get this posted now, but I will do some research and see what I can find. In the mean time maybe some other ambitious people out there can begin looking into it as well.

Join your favorite Eyes On Obama writers in the forums for an election night conversation about the West Virginia primary.
Original here

Pr. George's Executive Switches To Obama

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democratic convention delegate pledged to support Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said yesterday that he thinks Sen. Barack Obama has "in a real sense" won the Democratic nomination and that he now plans to support Obama at the August convention.

Johnson, who endorsed Clinton nine days before Maryland's February primary, said he will urge Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who co-chair Clinton's Maryland campaign, to bring all of her delegates to Obama's camp for the sake of party unity.

"I cannot in good conscience go to the convention and not support Barack," Johnson said in an interview. "She ran a great campaign, but she fell short of the line."

This is Johnson's second change of heart in the race. He had allowed his name to be listed as a supporter by the Obama campaign in December.

Unlike superdelegates, who are free to endorse either candidate, Johnson is one of 28 pledged delegates who have agreed to represent the 36 percent of Maryland Democrats who voted for Clinton on Feb. 12.

Some Clinton delegates were chosen by voters at the ballot. Others, such as Johnson, were selected in consultation with the Clinton campaign by the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee, party spokesman David Paulson said.

But Paulson said that pledged delegates are under no obligation to stick by their candidate and that Johnson is free to defect if he chooses.

"The freedom to change your mind or change your vote does exist," Paulson said. "They're not like superdelegates, but they do have this flexibility."

Obama swamped Clinton in Maryland, capturing 61 percent of the vote statewide and 79 percent of the vote in Prince George's County. Given the results in Maryland and elsewhere, Johnson said, the Maryland party would be unenthusiastic about the November election if Obama were not the nominee.

A decision by O'Malley or Mikulski to release all of Maryland's Clinton delegates could be the start of a national wave to unify behind Obama, Johnson said.

"If we do that, I think we could shift some other states and bring the race to an end," he said.

Johnson's call was rejected by some Clinton's other supporters in the state. Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Mikulski, said the Maryland senator "remains 100 percent behind Senator Clinton."

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said, "The governor continues to support Senator Clinton."

Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D-Prince George's) also rejected Johnson's call.

"I'm still committed to Senator Clinton until she decides that she's no longer in the race," Howard said. "You don't quit before it's over."

Several Maryland superdelegates have endorsed Obama in recent days, but Johnson is the first pledged delegate to switch sides.

In February, Johnson endorsed Clinton alongside Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), telling a crowd of 100 supporters that she would "fight for us on the issues."

The late support surprised many at the time, in part because of his county's enthusiastic support of Obama.

It also came two months after Johnson's name appeared on a list distributed by the Obama campaign of Maryland politicians supporting his effort. An aide at the time confirmed that Johnson had authorized the use of his name by Obama's campaign.

Johnson said yesterday that the February endorsement had been a difficult decision, driven by his personal loyalty to Clinton and former president Bill Clinton. He said he is unconcerned that his support for either candidate might appear less than steadfast.

"My job is to bring unity, and we will not have unity in Maryland if Barack Obama is not the nominee," he said.

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, the co-chairman of Obama's campaign in Maryland, called Johnson's support "helpful," noting the executive's position as the leader of the prominent African American jurisdiction, which has the largest concentration of registered Democrats in the state.

But Gansler said he thinks the unity Johnson seeks will come before the August convention regardless.

"His leadership coming over now cannot be ignored and should be followed," Gansler said.

"Does it need to be followed today? I don't think so. Inevitably, all the Clinton delegates will come over to the Obama camp."

Orignal here

Fox commentator: Ron Paul revolt could be 'disaster' for GOP

Rep. Ron Paul is still in the GOP race and even drew 16% of the vote in the recent Pennsylvania Republican primary. Now his supporters are planning to stage a "revolt" at the Republican National Convention in September, possibly with the aim of securing Paul a prime time speaking slot.

Conservative radio talk show host Mike Gallagher told the hosts of Fox and Friends on Tuesday, "There is no question that this could be a major headache for John McCain."

"John McCain would be well-served to kind of reach out and give him an olive branch at the convention," Gallagher continued. "Let him speak, give him a role, because if these people are disrespected -- you know, this, combined with Bob Barr's announcement that Barr now is running as a Libertarian, is going to just take votes away from John McCain and could be a disaster for the Republican Party."

Bob Barr recently cited Paul's success as having helped inspire his own candidacy, pointing to "what Ron Paul has tapped into in terms of reaching an awful lot of young people in particular and illustrating very clearly that in this day and age it is possible to reach a lot of young people through the Internet."

Democratic political consultant and commentator Bob Beckel then joined into the Fox discussion, saying of Paul, "I think he ought to get a prime time speech at the convention. This is the only guy that has a bobble doll made for him that his head doesn't move."

"They're nuts," Beckel said of Paul's supporters, hastening to add, "I don't mean nuts in a bad way. They're nuts about their guy."

"I think they ought to do it, Mike," Beckel concluded, laughing. "I think it would be great for you guys to have Ron Paul at your convention."

"It'll show some diversity at the convention," Gallagher acknowledged.

"That's the kind of diversity you need, brother," Beckel affirmed.

This video is from Fox's Fox & Friends, broadcast May 13, 2008.

Download video
Original here

Barack Obama: Keeping Our Faith With Veterans (Full)

Obama Over The Top: How New Voters Could Redraw The Electoral Map

During an April 25 conference call to unveil the Obama campaign's 50-state voter registration drive, deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand sounded genuinely exasperated as he tried to steer reporters to the topic at hand.

Despite his best efforts, those on the call didn’t request any further details about the effort. No one posed questions about the drive's goals or how the campaign thinks it could affect Obama’s general election prospects. Instead, they brought up the latest distractions: What does the campaign make of Jeremiah Wright’s new comments? Are advisers worried that Obama has a problem attracting working-class white voters? And so on.

The media’s lack of interest is hardly surprising. While voter registration drives are invaluable, they’re also dry and tedious – not that exciting to participate in or to write about.

But some new data indicates that, come November 5, we may find ourselves looking back at this year’s intensive voter mobilization efforts as what put Obama – and down-ballot Democrats nationwide – over the top.

The Poblano Model

This new data was generated by the anonymous 30-year-old author of the website A statistician and analyst, “Poblano” (who asked that his real name be kept private for professional reasons) has developed a sophisticated regression model that uses state-by-state polling data to assess possible general election outcomes in individual states.

“We weight the average based on the reliability of the pollster,” Poblano told me. “The polls that have a better track record are obviously going to be emphasized more heavily. We look at sample size. We look at how recent the poll was. We also skew various demographic factors as well.”

In the Frequently Asked Questions section of his site, Poblano lists the demographic variables that his model takes into account in each state. Included are John Kerry’s 2004 performance, the candidates’ respective fundraising efforts, and other factors such as income, race, religion, age, and education level.

Using the resulting baseline averages, Poblano runs simulations – 10,000 at a time – to determine the probability of either Obama or Hillary Clinton beating John McCain in the fall.

“The simulation takes the polls we have now and recognizes that this far out from the election there are a lot of uncertainties,” Poblano explained. “There was a point in time [in 1984] at which Walter Mondale led Ronald Reagan by 17 points or something. So we look at how much polls move over time, plus the margin of error in each poll, plus the fact that polls are never as good as they claim to be … And we just simulate around that.”

Poblano’s simulation engine has produced some fascinating results. According to his current data, the model predicts that Clinton would win four states against McCain that Obama is favored to lose (FL, AR, WV, OH). Meanwhile, Obama wins eight states where Clinton would likely fail (MI, WI, IA, CO, NM, NV, WA, OR).

Using his simulation engine, Poblano went way against the grain last Monday, predicting that Obama would win the North Carolina primary by 17 points (most expected him to win by a single-digit margin). The following day, Obama took the state by 14.

Poblano’s Indiana projection was even more spot on. He predicted a 51-49 Clinton victory. And sure enough, that’s what happened.

Later in the week, pollster Mark Blumenthal devoted his National Journal column to the “Poblano Model,” noting that it had outperformed five major national polling operations in predicting the results of Tuesday’s primaries.

Increasing African-American Turnout

Recently, Progress Illinois and the SEIU Illinois Council (which sponsors us) asked Poblano to examine how incremental increases in turnout among certain demographic groups would affect the outcome of an Obama-McCain contest. What he found underscores the importance of voter mobilization this year. (You can find Poblano’s own analysis here.)

Take the African-American vote, for example. With each 10 percent increase in black turnout nationwide, Obama gains an average of 13 electoral votes, while his chance of winning jumps by about eight points:

Poblano generated these projections by taking his current McCain-vs.-Obama polling averages and creating a baseline prediction assuming 2004 levels of turnout, which now gives Obama a 49.5 percent chance of winning.

He then added more African-American voters to the model in 10 percent increments, having them break 94 percent for Obama and 6 percent for McCain (which reflects average head-to-head polling). Finally, he ran simulations at each threshold, which produced corresponding win percentages and electoral vote splits.

Examining the full results, you can see a handful of states turn from red to purple – or from purple to blue – as African-American turnout increases.

The Rust Belt states are the first to catch your eye. According to the baseline, if 2008 turnout levels mirror those in 2004, McCain is predicted to win Ohio by 1.6 percent. But when you increase African-American voters by 20 percent, the state tips towards Obama, giving him a 0.3 percent margin of victory. Push that up to 30 and 40 percent and his edge increases to 1.2 and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Pennsylvania, a 30 percent hike in black turnout would boost Obama’s predicted margin of victory from 1.3 to 3.4 percent, and in Michigan from 1.3 to 4.4 percent.

Other states where Obama stands to benefit the most from increased African-American turnout are North Carolina and Virginia. Poblano’s baseline predicts a 6.6 percent margin of victory for McCain in North Carolina. But if you hike black turnout by 30 percent, that margin shrinks to just 0.9 percent. And when you reach a 40 percent increase, Obama takes the state.

Virginia follows much the same trend. A 30 percent increase in turnout slices McCain’s margin of victory from 4.5 to 0.5 percent. And once again, at the 40 percent level, Obama wins. (To see the estimate number of unregistered African-Americans in these states, click here.)

Poblano also points to South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia as states that could suddenly be in play with a significant increase in black turnout: “There are scenarios where you could really have – not a landslide – but Obama winning 350-plus electoral votes … just with a mild increase in African-American turnout.”

The Latino And Youth Votes

Just as he did with African-Americans, Poblano used his regression model and simulation engine to examine how increases in turnout among two other crucial demographics -- 18-24 year-olds and Latino voters -- would affect Obama’s electoral prospects.

While under 50 percent of both these groups voted in 2004, their participation is expected to improve significantly this year. Young voters are more enthusiastic than ever. Meanwhile, efforts to mobilize the Latino population have so far proved very successful this primary season.

Poblano found that increasing the youth vote by 25 percent would give Obama 16 additional electoral votes and boost his chance of beating McCain by nearly 7 percent (assuming that this group breaks 70-30 towards Obama):

While 18-24 year-olds are spread rather evenly across all 50 states, Poblano points to Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota as states with traditions of high youth turnout. His baseline currently has them all in Obama’s column. But if young voters flock to the polls come November – as they’re expected to – these three states could end up far out of McCain’s reach.

Compared to African-Americans and 18-24 year-olds, the Latino vote doesn’t break as heavily towards Obama. Poblano’s baseline assumes a 60-40 split in Obama’s favor and each 25 percent increase in turnout boosts his chances of beating McCain by a little under 3 percentage points:

Nonetheless, when it comes to certain Southwestern states, boosting Latino turnout is going to be crucial for the Obama campaign. Take New Mexico, for example. While Poblano’s baseline has Obama winning by 1.2 percent there, a 40 percent increase in the Latino vote would increase that margin to 4.9 percent. Similar turnout levels in Colorado would push his margin from 1.3 up to 2.4 percent. In Nevada, meanwhile, it would climb from 2.0 to 3.1 percent.

The Full Monty

Of course, to really understand the ramifications of Obama’s 50-state registration drive and the unprecedented excitement surrounding his campaign, you have to look at how increased turnout across all three of these groups could tilt the electoral map in his favor.

So Poblano devised several possible scenarios. The first, titled the “40/20 Plan,” increases the youth vote by 40 percent and the African-American vote by 20 percent, while keeping the Latino vote at the 2004 level. The “40/30/20 Plan” projects a 40 percent increase among 18-24 year-olds, a 30 percent increase among Latinos, and a 20 percent in increase in the black vote. Finally comes the “Best Case Scenario,” which assumes a 40 percent increase among African-Americans and a 50 percent increase in both the youth and Latino vote nationally.

The “40/20 Plan” alone increases Obama’s chances of winning from 49.5 percent to 68.3 percent. The “40/30/20 Plan,” meanwhile, lifts this probability over 70 percent:

These projections illustrate the extraordinary level of flexibility enjoyed by the Obama campaign as they head towards the general election. Rather than focusing on simply winning Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, they have a big enough war chest and a broad enough base of support to create all sorts of contingencies in case one of those typical battleground states goes for McCain.

“If Obama wins the traditional big three, he’s going to have a tough time losing anyway,” Poblano said. “But now you give him a margin for error where if something goes wrong in Ohio – if you’re winning North Carolina and Iowa and Colorado, it’s a very robust scenario for him with a lot of Plan A's, Plan B's, and Plan C's to win the election.”

While the media has often focused on Obama’s star power, his success is largely the result of a campaign team that, through thick and thin, keeps its eye on the big picture. In late 2007, the Clinton camp believed that a slew of primary victories on February 5 were all they needed to cinch the nomination. By contrast, Obama’s advisers focused on the half of the country that wasn’t voting that day. In the end, it was their intensive organizing in states like Idaho, Kansas, and Colorado that brought Obama to the threshold of the nomination.

With the launch of “Vote For Change" in 50 states yesterday, it’s clear that the Obama campaign still has the big picture in mind. And if Poblano’s projections are accurate, it’s going to be quite an adventure.


For those interested in the raw, state-to-state numbers, you can download Poblano's Excel spreadsheet here. To experiment with different scenarios, just change the turnout numbers in the yellow section at the top of the page. To recalculate, hit F9 on a PC, or Command + = on a Mac.

For more information on the estimated number of unregistered African-American, Latino, and 18-24 year-old voters in the states mentioned in this article, check out this spreadsheet, or download it here.

Finally, be sure to check out this Q&A posted by Poblano on his methodology.

Original here

Congress: Money for War, But No Money for the Troops?

When it comes to hypocritical "Support the Troops" rhetoric, I thought I'd seen it all. But I was wrong. This week, a small group of Democrats are using back door dealings to torpedo the widely-supported new GI Bill. For anyone new to the issue, here's the bottom line up front:

In 1944, FDR signed the original GI Bill, which gave every veteran a chance to go to college. It paid for tuition, fees, and books, and gave veterans a living stipend. The GI Bill helped the "Greatest Generation" readjust to civilian life, it helped pull us out of a post-war recession, and it helped build the middle class. Every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original GI Bill added at least seven dollars to the national economy.

Today, 1.7 million troops have come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the GI Bill no longer covers anything like the cost of college. So a bipartisan coalition of veterans now serving in the Senate introduced a new GI Bill, modeled on the World War II legislation. This bill recently got added to the war funding bill currently in Congress.

In the real world, two things are obvious:

1) If you send troops to war, caring for the veterans who come home is an unavoidable and necessary cost of that war.
2) The GI Bill is a proven program, and a smart financial investment that pays for itself.

It just makes sense. That's why the 300-plus Senators and Representatives from both parties and all the major veterans organizations in America have endorsed the legislation.

In Washington, however, it seems like nothing is ever easy. A couple of Congressmen, including Rep. John Tanner (D-TN), Jim Cooper (D-TN), and Allen Boyd (D-FL), all members of the Blue Dog Coalition, have gotten together to OPPOSE paying for the GI Bill this week. (If you live in their districts, you can urge them to support the GI Bill by clicking here.)

As Representative Tanner quipped, "Some of us oppose creating a new entitlement program in an emergency spending bill, whether it's butchers, bakers or candlestick makers." Really? Does the Congressman usually explain major policy decisions by quoting Mother Goose?

Seriously, though--by saying that the GI Bill shouldn't be in the war funding bill, Representative Tanner is supporting the war, but not the warriors. That kind of thinking used to only appear in parodies. Moreover, these Representatives insist on referring to the GI Bill as a "new entitlement" - even though we've had a GI Bill for more than 60 years. But the most remarkable logical pirouette they've offered so far is that they oppose the GI Bill because they are "fiscal conservatives."

Our government has been paying for basically the entire war "off-budget"--the equivalent of racking up billions in credit card debt. Everyone thinks this is a bad way of doing business. But it's not the whole supplemental that these Congressmen are threatening to vote against; it's just the GI Bill. For those of you playing along at home, here's what that looks like:

This circle is the spending bill we're talking about. The big red part? That's spending that is A-OK with these Congressmen (more than $180 billion). It's that tiny blue sliver that represents the GI Bill, and that's the dealbreaker for these folks ($780 million).

It's absurd. Anyone who can find the money to fund the war has no excuse for voting against the tiny fraction of money needed for veterans' education benefits. The fiscal conservative argument seems even more ludicrous once you realize that even five years of spending on the GI Bill would only cost as much as nine weeks of war in Iraq.

While their arguments seem asinine to anyone outside the Beltway, they are putting a serious speedbump in the way of the new GI Bill. Do I think sanity will prevail on this issue? I hope so. One of the leaders of the Blue Dogs is Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD), a dedicated supporter of veterans. She may be able to get her troops in line. If not, I'd love to see those members of Congress find a way to explain to their constituents in an election year that they voted for a $170-billion war bill, and then also voted to nickel-and-dime the troops who are fighting that war.

As President Roosevelt said, the GI Bill "gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down." Please help us show these members of Congress that Americans' support for our troops is no different today than it was 60 years ago. You can join us at

UPDATE (As of 1:19AM Wednesday): Good news. It looks like a deal was reached late Tuesday night. Check out this article from the Politico.

The vote in the House should be on Thursday. There is still a long fight ahead before we can claim victory. Thank you to all of you who called, signed the petition and told your friends. Please check for all the latest.

Original here

What Are the Wounds of War?

WASHINGTON -- Centuries before Iraq and Afghanistan, George Washington created the Purple Heart to honor troops wounded in combat.

But with an increasing number of troops being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the modern military is debating an idea Gen. Washington never considered -- awarding one of the nation's top military citations to veterans with psychological wounds, not just physical ones.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered cautious support for such a change on a trip to a military base in Texas this month.

"It's an interesting idea," Mr. Gates said in response to a question. "I think it is clearly something that needs to be looked at."

The Pentagon says it isn't formally considering a change in policy at this point, but Mr. Gates's comments sparked a heated debate on military blogs, message boards and email lists. The dispute reflects a broader question roiling the military: Can psychological traumas, no matter how debilitating, be considered equivalent to dismembering physical wounds?

Supporters of awarding the Purple Heart to veterans with PTSD believe the move would reduce the stigma that surrounds the disorder and spur more soldiers and Marines to seek help without fear of limiting their careers.

The High Price Paid

"These guys have paid at least as high a price, some of them, as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with a shrapnel wound," John Fortunato, who runs a military PTSD treatment facility in Texas, told reporters recently. Absent a policy change, Dr. Fortunato told reporters, troops will mistakenly believe that PTSD is a "wound that isn't worthy."

Opponents argue that the Purple Heart should be reserved for physical injuries, as has been the case since the medal was reinstituted by Congress in 1932. Military regulations say the award should go to troops with injuries "received in action with an enemy." Some opponents also note that PTSD can be faked, which can't easily be done with a physical wound.

"The Purple Heart was meant to be a badge of honor to show you were wounded in battle," says Bob Mackey, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who fought in the first and second Iraq wars. "I've been in combat three times. There's stuff I've had to deal with. But it's substantially different from being physically hurt."

The biggest difference, he says, is that some veterans may be diagnosed with PTSD even if they never saw combat or fought an enemy -- requirements, historically, for receiving a Purple Heart.

Lasting Torment

Military historians believe that the syndrome now known as PTSD -- usually characterized by nightmares, sleeplessness and anxiety -- has been around for as long as humans have gone to war.

The American Psychological Association formally recognized PTSD in 1980, and the term quickly entered the popular imagination as a way of describing the suffering of veterans emotionally traumatized by what they had seen or done in Vietnam.

Today, PTSD is emerging as one of the signature maladies of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which lack clear front lines and pit U.S. forces against enemies who operate out of densely packed civilian areas.

A recent California-based research institution Rand Corp. study concluded that 300,000 of the military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have symptoms of the disorder, which can sometimes lead to suicide. The report found tragedies closely linked to the development of PTSD: Half of the 1.6 million troops who spent time in the two war zones had friends who were seriously wounded or killed, while about 45% saw dead or wounded civilians.

The young soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan came of age in a culture obsessed with therapy and mental disease, but the Rand study suggests that today's troops are no more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than those who fought in Vietnam. A 2006 study in the journal Science estimated that 18.7% of Vietnam veterans suffered from PTSD, a figure virtually identical to Rand's estimate for veterans of the current wars.

Military officers and psychologists fear that veterans of the two wars will suffer mental-health problems for decades to come, a largely hidden cost of the current conflicts.

"There's a financial cost to this, but more importantly there'll be a cost in lives if we don't get a handle on this problem now," Sen. Christopher Bond (R., Mo.) said in a recent interview. He is crafting a new bill designed to improve veterans' mental-health care.

Sen. Bond's bill would allow active-duty soldiers suffering from mental-health problems to use the much-larger network of Veterans Administration facilities and treatment centers. It would also train veterans to offer psychological assistance to other returning service personnel.

The Stigma

Many military personnel are reluctant to seek counseling for PTSD because they are afraid that seeking help would harm their careers. A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that 75% of military personnel felt that asking for assistance would reduce their chances for promotion.

"There's a real fear that admitting to mental illness will mean being stigmatized," said Carolyn Robinowitz, the organization's president.

The Pentagon's Mr. Gates has worked hard to dispel that stigma, recently pushing through a rule change allowing military personnel to get counseling for PTSD without having it negatively affect their security clearances.

The question of whether veterans suffering from PTSD should be eligible for the Purple Heart is a deeply emotional issue for military personnel and their families.

Carol Schultz Vento's father, Arthur, was a World War II veteran who took part in the D-Day invasion and won a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts during his service in Europe.

"From my perspective, the PTSD impaired his functioning more than the physical injuries," she says.

Ms. Vento is working on a book about the emotional traumas World War II veterans like her father suffered, and believes PTSD victims should be eligible for the Purple Heart.

"But for their war experiences, those veterans would not have been traumatized and struggle to adapt to postwar life -- and some don't make it," she says.

Robert Certain is a retired Air Force colonel who was shot down over Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1972 and held as a prisoner of war. He received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts and later became an Air Force chaplain and Episcopal priest.

'Obvious to the Warrior'

Mr. Certain suffered severe depression in the 1980s and was formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2000.

Mr. Certain says that he is conflicted about whether veterans with PTSD should be eligible for the Purple Heart. In his own case, the disorder wasn't diagnosed until decades after the Vietnam War ended but he believes that making troops suffering from the disorder eligible for the award might persuade more of them to seek help.

In an email, he wrote: "The scars resulting from PTSD are almost all invisible to the observer, but always obvious to the warrior who has them."

Write to Yochi J. Dreazen at

Original here

Obama Starts Off The Day With Superdelegates

Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly endorsed Obama this morning, moving Barack's gap to the nomination 149 delegates. The press release is below.

UPDATE: New Orlean Mayor Ray Nagin, another superdelegate, has also endorsed Obama (statement below). Also, the Washington Post reports that one of Clinton's pledged delegates from Maryland has announced that he will support Obama at the convention.

UPDATE: Former DNC Chair (and Colorado governor) Roy Romer makes three.

UPDATE: Anita Bonds, the chairwoman of D.C.'s Democratic party came out, rather unexpectedly, for Obama late last night.

CHICAGO, IL -- Today, Indiana Congressman Joe Donnelly endorsed Barack Obama for President, citing his commitment to working families and building a real coalition for change:

"Today, I am pleased to announce my support for Barack Obama. At a time when too many Americans have lost faith in their government, Senator Obama can move us beyond the politics of stalemate and gridlock that has kept us from meeting the monumental challenges of our time: our dependence on foreign oil, a health care gap that leaves tens of millions uninsured, the steady deterioration of our manufacturing base, and an economy that is not working for working people.

The Democratic Party's strength comes from its core commitment to the American Dream and from a coalition that is ideologically, economically, geographically and ethnically diverse. Barack Obama will stand with working families while building that coalition so that we can change this country, and that's why he's the best choice for America."

Barack Obama said, "I am honored to have the support of Congressman Joe Donnelly. Joe has brought an independent, principled, and pragmatic voice to Washington that is more focused on getting results for Hoosier families than scoring political points. As President, I look forward to working with Congressman Donnelly to build bipartisan majorities to create jobs, make health care more affordable and accessible, and to give our veterans the care and support that they have earned."
Donnelly is the 282nd superdelegate to endorse Barack Obama, who is 149 delegates away from securing the Democratic nomination.

Original here

Ex-State officials allege corruption in Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration repeatedly ignored corruption at the highest levels within the Iraqi government and kept secret potentially embarrassing information so as not to undermine its relationship with Baghdad, according to two former State Department employees.

Arthur Brennan, who briefly served in Baghdad as head of the department's Office of Accountability and Transparency last year, and James Mattil, who worked as the chief of staff, told Senate Democrats on Monday that their office was understaffed and its warnings and recommendations ignored.

Brennan also alleges the State Department prevented a congressional aide visiting Baghdad from talking with staffers by insisting they were too busy. In reality, Brennan said, office members were watching movies at the embassy and on their computers. The staffers' workload had been cut dramatically because of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's "evisceration" of Iraq's top anti-corruption office, he said.

The State Department's policies "not only contradicted the anti-corruption mission but indirectly contributed to and has allowed corruption to fester at the highest levels of the Iraqi government," Brennan told the Senate Democratic Policy Committee.

The U.S. embassy "effort against corruption — including its new centerpiece, the now-defunct Office of Accountability and Transparency — was little more than 'window dressing,'" he added.

Deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the administration takes the issue of corruption seriously and pointed to its recent appointment of Lawrence Benedict as coordinator for anti-corruption initiatives at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Benedict's appointment "is another demonstration that we are working at very senior levels to help the Iraqis deal with this issue," Casey said. "Any assertion that we have not taken this issue seriously or given it the attention it deserves is simply untrue."

The Office of Accountability and Transparency, or "OAT" team, was intended to provide assistance and training to Iraq's anti-corruption agencies. It was dismantled last December, after it alleged in a draft report leaked to the media that al-Maliki's office had derailed or prevented investigations into Shiite-controlled agencies.

The draft report sparked hearings in Congress and prompted a showdown between Democrats and senior State Department officials on whether the public has a right to know the extent to which al-Maliki was involved in corruption cases.

Brennan charges the State Department never responded to his team's report, which was retroactively classified because agency officials said it could hurt bilateral relations with Iraq. Other recommendations by the group also were kept secret, including a negative assessment of Iraq's Joint Anti-Corruption Committee, Brennan said.

In July 2007, the OAT team concluded that the committee's only purpose was to provide a forum for complaints against Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, a top anti-corruption official in Baghdad whom many U.S. officials have hailed as the most effective in exposing fraud and abuse.

But information later released by the embassy ignored the team's assessment and ultimately "failed to even mention what a disaster" the committee "really was," Brennan said.

Brennan said he approved the embassy report against his better judgment but later regretted it.

Mattil, who worked with Brennan, made similar allegations. Specifically, he said the U.S. "remained silent in the face of an unrelenting campaign" by senior Iraqi officials to subvert Baghdad's Commission on Public Integrity, which had been led by al-Radhi. Then, the U.S. turned its back on Iraqis who fled to the United States after being threatened for pursuing anti-corruption cases, he said.

"Since we have done so little (to undercut corruption), it's easy to see why the government of Iraq has not done more," said Mattil, who left the accountability office last October after having served for a year as its chief of staff. "We have demanded no better."

Brennan was appointed as OAT director last summer and arrived in Baghdad in July. He left only a few weeks later after his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He stepped down from his position in August.

Iraqi government officials could not be reached for comment.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, head of the Democratic Policy Committee, said the testimony was critical in light of upcoming legislation that would appropriate more than $170 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Dorgan is a member, is expected to approve the legislation Thursday.

"It is a cruel irony if we are appropriating money next Thursday or did appropriate money last month or last year and that money ends up actually providing the resources for an insurgency in Iraq which ends up killing Americans," said Dorgan, D-N.D.

Original here

Outcry over Sheriff's Department search methods

ALBANY -- Two years ago, Tunde Clement stepped off a bus at the city's main terminal downtown.

Clement, a black man, was carrying a backpack and coming from New York City. That may have been enough to pique the interest of undercover sheriff's investigators scanning the crowd with their eyes.

They cornered Clement and began peppering him with questions.

He was quickly handcuffed and falsely arrested. He was taken to a station to be strip-searched and then to a hospital, where doctors forcibly sedated him with a cocktail of powerful drugs, including one that clouded his memory of the incident.

A camera was inserted in his rectum, he was forced to vomit and his blood and urine were tested for drugs and alcohol. Scans of his digestive system were performed using X-ray machines, according to hospital records obtained by the Times Union.

The search, conducted without a search warrant, came up empty.

In all, Clement spent more than 10 hours in custody before being released with nothing more than an appearance ticket for resisting arrest -- a charge that was later dismissed.

For years, the Albany County Sheriff's Department's controversial tactics at the downtown bus depot have drawn harsh criticism from defense attorneys and civil rights advocates. Seven years ago, the state's highest court issued a searing rebuke of their methods while overturning the conviction of a passenger who'd been arrested carrying three ounces of cocaine.

The Court of Appeals said it was improper for the investigators to board buses from New York City and flash their badges, waiting for passengers to react.

The operations have continued and have been mostly successful, from the department's perspective. But not always. An arrest two years ago involving a man found with a kilo of cocaine in his backpack was subsequently thrown out by an Albany County judge, who ruled the cops had no legitimate reason to approach and question the man.

During the hearing that led to that dismissal, Terence L. Kindlon, the defendant's attorney, accused a sheriff's investigator of lying and embellishing his testimony by using precise language -- "I sensed 'criminality was afoot' " -- directly from the Court of Appeals ruling, according to a court transcript.

Kindlon, an Albany defense attorney since the early 1970s, says the bus station searches have endured no matter what courts have decided since the early 1980s.

Twenty years ago, Kindlon and another defense attorney, Joseph Donnelly, who is now deceased, hired a private investigator to stake out the bus station and monitor the detectives working there.

"Donnelly and I were hearing that just about every black man who came through the bus station was being literally grabbed and dragged into the men's room and searched," Kindlon said. "Occasionally, of course, they would get lucky and find some drugs. But the vast, overwhelming majority of black men searched were clean."

At that time, the bus station details were being manned by the Albany Police Department, which later discontinued the practice. But Sheriff's Inspector John Burke, a longtime city vice detective, took over the bus station operation when he retired from the Albany force and took a job with the Sheriff's Department.

Sheriff's officials scoff at suggestions they violate anyone's rights.

"There's not too many cases that have been thrown out," said Sheriff James L. Campbell. He said a 2001 court ruling forced "a change in the way we had to do it. ... What we started doing is studying their mannerisms when they get off (a bus) and how they're walking."

Burke, who runs the sheriff's Drug Interdiction Unit, said investigators need a reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk someone. That could be something as subtle as a passenger walking out an entrance door, leaving a bag unattended or going into a bathroom stall and not pulling down his or her pants, he said.

"It's not profiling," Burke said. "We look for indicators."

Records show many people arrested by sheriff's investigators are minorities, including four people arrested last year.

Yet the case of Tunde Clement is like no other on record, and raises questions about how many liberties the drug investigators are taking with suspects they handcuff.

Clement, a convicted drug dealer with a lengthy criminal record, is serving time in state prison for a separate offense. He has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff's department and Albany Medical Center Hospital. He claims that when officials strapped him down and injected him with drugs, against his will and with no medical need or emergency, he was a victim of assault and battery. His rights under the First, Fourth and 14th amendments also were violated, according to the federal complaint filed by John Queenan, his attorney.

The allegations come at a time when Burke's Drug Interdiction Unit recently was accused by an Albany detective of being negligent, reckless and poorly supervised. The detective's thumb was shot off by a sheriff's investigator during a bungled drug raid in Berne last summer, and his career is in question. An internal affairs investigation of the incident reached the same conclusion about the unit's poor supervision and recommended discipline against Burke and other members of the unit, according to confidential sources.

No action was taken.

For reasons never outlined in court records, Burke's investigators zeroed in on Clement that Monday morning in March 2006, cut him off and started asking questions as he tried to exit the bus terminal.

Clement, whose criminal record consists mostly of drug convictions, tried to brush past. He told cops he didn't have to answer questions.

They pushed him against a wall, frisked him, searched his backpack and charged Clement with resisting arrest after finding no drugs or weapons, records show.

Under the law, the sheriff's investigators needed "reasonable suspicion" to stop Clement that day.

They also needed to charge him with more than just resisting arrest, which requires a person to commit some other underlying crime. Their mistake would lead a City Court judge to throw out the misdemeanor charge nine months later.

Minutes after being led from the bus station in handcuffs, Clement was taken to a sheriff's department holding cell in the bowels of the county's sprawling downtown Judicial Center. He was forced to strip naked, squat and cough as investigators wrongly concluded he was hiding drugs inside his body, according to a federal complaint.

The investigators claimed to have seen something "white" protruding from Clement's rectum during the strip-search, according to hospital records. But it's not clear why Clement, who was arrested for a misdemeanor, was strip-searched in the first place.

Upstairs in the county Judicial Center, it was midmorning on a Monday and a smattering of judges were on the bench or in their chambers, available at a moment's notice to consider any search warrant applications. A request was never made.

Instead, just before noon, Clement -- fully shackled and still in custody for a minor offense -- shuffled into Albany Medical Center Hospital with a phalanx of cops at his side, hospital records show.

He was locked in a gurney and listened anxiously as a group of doctors and nurses debated the cops' request to have Clement forcibly sedated so his body could be searched for drugs.

The doctors asked Clement to sign a consent form, but he refused.

The medical records show one of the doctors placed a call to the hospital's risk management director to assess the liability exposure of what they were about to do.

In some cases, prisoners or people under arrest can be forcibly sedated without a court order if they are in imminent danger, such as when a bag of drugs bursts open inside them and they begin to have a seizure or fall unconscious. But the hospital's records indicate Clement was behaving normally and showed no signs of any medical emergency.

"Spoke to Shirley of Risk Management," a physician wrote, documenting the medical decision-making that afternoon. "OK to treat, sedate & remove FOB (foreign object body) against (patient's) will despite his personal refusal."

The following month, Clement received a $6,792 bill from Albany Med for the procedures. Hospital records indicate the final diagnosis as "hemorrhoids."

A spokeswoman for Albany Medical Center declined to comment two weeks ago on its policies regarding forcible sedations of people in police custody. The spokeswoman also declined comment on why the hospital didn't require police to obtain a search warrant that day.

Nationwide, evidence obtained during forcible sedations of people by medical facilities has been challenged in various courts. But most of those cases, including one in San Francisco in which a hospital refused to forcibly search a woman's body for drugs, involved instances where police had search warrants.

Elmer Streeter, a spokesman for St. Peter's Hospital, said the hospital considers a patient's ability to give consent paramount.

"There is some leeway given to doctors, and the leeway is again what is a potential harm to the patient," Streeter said. "It does not seem that with a conscious and alert patient that people would take action without the patient's consent. ... If a court order were to exist that might force us to override it."

While Clement's case is arguably one of the more egregious on record, Kindlon said there are examples of civil rights violations at the bus station that date back decades.

In 1992, Kindlon represented a Boston man who won a $200,000 verdict against Albany police after he was roughed up and falsely arrested during a bus station stop.

"If the cops do a bad search and find nothing, there is usually no legal consequence," he said. "Any such 'victim' is glad just to get away with his skin still on."

"If the cops find drugs, since the penalties are so severe, the defendant is almost always eager to make a deal," he said. "The cops realize, very quickly, they can get away with anything they want."

Brendan J. Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at

Original here

Rove refuses call to testify under oath

A House Judiciary Committee deadline passed Monday with former White House adviser Karl Rove standing by his refusal to testify about allegations that he pushed the Justice Department to prosecute former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman.

In his latest offer to settle the matter, Rove sent the panel a letter offering to respond to questions in writing, according to his attorney. But he reiterated that he would not testify publicly and under oath.

Committee leaders did not immediately answer questions about how they will respond. Earlier this month, they threatened to subpoena Rove if he did not agree to appear voluntarily by Monday.

The dispute is the latest in a standoff between President Bush and Congress over testimony from current and former White House staffers on a variety of issues.

The White House has balked at requests for staff testimony, arguing that the administration has no obligation to respond to congressional demands for the details of internal deliberations.

Democrats say Bush is taking the most expansive view of executive privilege since Watergate and that the executive branch cannot ignore Congress' demands for information. The panel is suing to get documents and testimony from former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Bush's chief of staff, Josh Bolten.

Rove had previously offered to discuss the Siegelman matter with committee members privately, without a transcript and not under oath.

Judiciary Democrats balked, saying it would not create a clear record and would not be sworn.

Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said Monday the latest offer for written responses was intended to address concerns about establishing a clear record.

The committee is investigating whether Rove and Republican appointees at the Justice Department influenced Siegelman's prosecution to kill his chances for re-election. It is part of a broader inquiry into whether U.S. attorneys were fired for not aggressively pursuing cases against Democrats.

Siegelman, a Democrat who served one term as governor after being elected in 1998, was convicted in 2006 on bribery and other charges and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. He was recently released on bond pending appeal.

Monday was the last day for former Bush advisor Karl Rove to agree to voluntarily testify about the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. MSNBC's Dan Abrams talked with Don Siegelman to talk about a case that some say is politically motivated.

This video is from MSNBC's Verdict, broadcast May 12, 2008.

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WTF?! Pic of the Day ~ Racist Obama T-Shirts Sold in Georgia Bar

(Images via AJC)

This is one of the many reasons why I rarely set foot in Marietta and I feel sorry for those of you who have to live there. Mulligan’s Bar & Tavern in Cobb county has printed up racist t-shirts featuring cartoon chimp Curious George peeling a banana, with “Obama in ‘08″ printed underneath and are selling them in the bar. The owner, Mike Norman thinks there’s nothing wrong with the T-shirts and calls them ”cute.” :shock:

Norman said those offended are “hunting for a reason to be mad” and insisted he is “not a racist.”

Why picture Obama as Curious George? “Look at him . . . the hairline, the ears, he looks just like Curious George,” Norman said.

He said it’s just a coincidence that the character he chose for the T-shirt is a monkey. Norman said proceeds raised from sales of the T-shirts will be donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. (Source)

Y’all can keep walking around like racism doesn’t exist if you want to! Check out other disturbing images from Mulligan’s Bar after the jump…


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NYC's Staggering Arrest Rate for Pot Achieved By Police Deception and Scams

New study says New York's cannabis crackdown is both racist and fraudulent -- and that more have been arrested under Bloomberg than Giuliani.

New York City has been the pot-bust capital of the world for a decade, since Rudolph Giuliani's decision to make public toking a top police priority. A new study sponsored by the New York Civil Liberties Union says the city's cannabis crackdown is both racist and fraudulent.

New York police have arrested almost 400,000 people for misdemeanor marijuana possession in the last decade. Last year, there were 39,700 such arrests. The vast majority of those seized have been black and Latino men, most under 25. And according to the NYCLU study, released last week, thousands of them are the victims of police scams, falsely charged with possession of marijuana "burning or open to public view."

"We are confident in estimating that about two-thirds to three-quarters of the people arrested were not smoking marijuana," the study says. "Usually they were doing their utmost to keep their marijuana concealed, generally deep inside their clothing." The authors, sociologist Harry Levine of Queens College and activist Deborah Peterson-Small of the organization Break The Chains, say that conclusion is "based on the experience of legal aid and public-defender attorneys who have handled thousands of these cases, along with that of the police officers and arrestees we interviewed."

New York State decriminalized marijuana in 1977. That reduced possession of less than 25 grams is a violation, carrying a $100 fine and no criminal record. But smoking or possession in public is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in jail. So in order to get around the constitutional restrictions on searches and find a valid reason to make an arrest, police have to use deception.

A typical ruse is for police to stop someone near a suspected marijuana-sales site and tell them something along the lines of "We saw you coming out of the weed spot. If you have anything on you that you're not supposed to have, give it to me and all I'll give you is a ticket." If the suspect falls for the ruse and hands over his marijuana, he is then arrested for displaying it in public view. Though most people charged with misdemeanor pot possession do not receive jail sentences, they often have to spend up to 24 hours in jail before arraignment, and they acquire a permanent arrest record.

Police and defenders of the crackdown say that making large numbers of arrests for minor offenses has reduced major crimes. Other benefits include that it's an easy way for police supervisors to show their precincts' productivity, it's an easy way for individual officers to get overtime-rookie New York cops get paid only $25,000 a year, so "collars for dollars" augment that -- and it keeps a reserve of officers occupied.

Peterson-Small states bluntly that the crackdown is "racist," a legacy of the Giuliani principles that "we will tame New York by bringing the black and brown people under control" and "no offense is too petty." Of the people arrested for misdemeanor pot possession from 1997 through 2006, five out of six were black or Latino, in a city that is almost half white and Asian. Nine out of ten were male, and most were aged 16 to 25. And over the years, the focus has shifted from Midtown Manhattan and Greenwich Village to outlying black and Latino areas. The police precincts in upper Manhattan's Washington Heights, the west Bronx, Jamaica and St. Albans in southeastern Queens, and the "Black Brooklyn" neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and East New York regularly turn in more than 1,000 petty pot busts a year each. Though there is no evidence that black New Yorkers smoke more pot than white ones -- nationally, the rate of use among young adults is slightly higher for whites, at least according to government surveys -- the city's marijuana-arrest rate for blacks is more than five times what it is for whites.

Another worry is that the arrests tag thousands of young black and Latino men as criminals. The study terms the crackdown "Head Start for prison and unemployment." The Head Start preschool program, it notes, intends to "familiarize and socialize young children in the routines and expectations of school systems"; the marijuana-arrest program works to "familiarize, socialize, and prepare disadvantaged black and Latino teenagers and young adults from poor neighborhoods for the routines and expectations of the police, court, jail, and prison system."

The study also calls the policy a waste of money -- at an estimated $1,500 to $2,500 per arrest, it cost the city $60 to $100 million last year, at a time when Mayor Michael Bloomberg is slashing the city budget and closing libraries on weekends. Peterson-Small adds that it violates the spirit of the state's decriminalization law. The ban on public smoking, she says, was originally intended to apply only to people creating a public nuisance, not to someone lighting up discreetly "in the alley behind a jazz club."

Though the city's cannabis crackdown is Rudolph Giuliani's legacy, Bloomberg has continued it. Bloomberg has a reputation as a moderate, as less racist and draconian than Giuliani, and he famously declared "You bet I did -- and I enjoyed it" when asked if he had ever smoked pot. But in his first six years in office, more people have been arrested for misdemeanor possession than in Giuliani's entire eight-year regime.
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