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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Clinton Stresses Party Unity in Remarks, Addresses McCain Ad

ABC News' Eloise Harper Reports: Sen. Hillary Clinton reassured the members of the New York delegation at the Democratic National Convention on Monday morning that her party is united -- saying the word "united" at least nine times during her remarks.

"Let there be no mistake about it," Clinton said. "We are united. We are united for change. We are, after all, Democrats, so it might take awhile. We're not the fall in line party -- we're diverse, many voices. But make no mistake, we are united. We are united on behalf of the Democratic party, the values we hold dear, the reason we work so hard in politics to make the changes that we know will matter in the lives of hard working Americans and for the future of our children. And we are united behind Barack Obama and Joe Biden and we are gong to make sure that we win on November 4th."

Clinton also responded directly to Sen. John McCain's ads, which say the Democratic Party is divided.

"I understand that the McCain campaign is running ads trying to divide us, and let me state what I think about their tactics and these ads," she said. "I'm Hillary Clinton and I do not approve of that message."

Before a cheering crowd, Clinton said, "We are gathered here in Denver for a very clear and simple purpose, and that is to come out of this convention energized, excited and ready to elect Barack Obama the next president of the United States."

Obama Assassination Plot?

A Denver TV station is reporting authorities may have foiled an assassination plot against Barack Obama, and there's talk the suspects may be members of a white supremacy group.

KUSA-TV claims three men are in custody after a routine traffic stop in Aurora (near Denver) turned up two rifles, high-powered scopes, ammo and meth. The man in the car led authorities to a hotel where another suspect jumped out of a fourth floor window in an attempt to escape.

A third guy was busted at another hotel but the info on him is sketchy.

The arrests went down yesterday. The TV station says sources said "Two of the men had tattoos and jewelry popular with white supremacists."

The mugshot inset in the photo is of one of the suspects, Tharin Gartrell.

Part of Pepsi Center flooded by sprinkler system

A sprinkler system partially flooded part of the Pepsi Center Monday morning.

The Denver Fire Department, which has a crew stationed at the center all week, was able to respond quickly before 5 a.m. when the sprinkler went off.

The sprinkler was located on the club level in a skybox which had recently been renovated to host a news crew. It appears the skybox belongs to Fox.

After going off, the sprinkler released 50 to 100 gallons of water per minute and 9NEWS crews estimate it was on for around 5 minutes.

The cause of the sprinkler is under investigation but early reports indicate it was likely bumped or the heat sensor may have been affected by equipment in the room.

Water leaked down to the first level concourse and crews are mopping up that area. A significant amount of water filled the club level and DFD used shop vacuums to remove the excess water.

All of the equipment in the skybox had to be removed quickly due to the possible electrical issues. No one was injured.

Original here

Last Call for Change We Can Believe In

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Frank Rich

AS the real campaign at last begins in Denver this week, this much is certain: It’s time for Barack Obama to dispatch “Change We Can Believe In” to a dignified death.

This isn’t because — OMG! — Obama’s narrow three- to four-percentage-point lead of recent weeks dropped to a statistically indistinguishable one- to three-point margin during his week of vacation. It’s because zero hour is here. As the presidential race finally gains the country’s full attention, the strategy that vanquished Hillary Clinton must be rebooted to take out John McCain.

“Change We Can Believe In” was brilliantly calculated for a Democratic familial brawl where every candidate was promising nearly identical change from George Bush. It branded Obama as the sole contender with the un-Beltway biography, credibility and political talent to link the promise of change to the nation’s onrushing generational turnover in all its cultural (and, yes, racial) manifestations. McCain should be a far easier mark than Clinton if Obama retools his act.

What we have learned this summer is this: McCain’s trigger-happy temperament and reactionary policies offer worse than no change. He is an unstable bridge back not just to Bush policies but to an increasingly distant 20th-century America that is still fighting Red China in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in the cold war. As the country tries to navigate the fast-moving changes of the 21st century, McCain would put America on hold.

What Obama also should have learned by now is that the press is not his friend. Of course, he gets more ink and airtime than McCain; he’s sexier news. But as George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs documented in its study of six weeks of TV news reports this summer, Obama’s coverage was 28 percent positive, 72 percent negative. (For McCain, the split was 43/57.) Even McCain’s most blatant confusions, memory lapses and outright lies still barely cause a ripple, whether he’s railing against a piece of pork he in fact voted for, as he did at the Saddleback Church pseudodebate last weekend, or falsifying crucial details of his marital history in his memoirs, as The Los Angeles Times uncovered in court records last month.

What should Obama do now? As premature panic floods through certain liberal precincts, there’s no shortage of advice: more meat to his economic plan, more passion in his stump delivery, less defensiveness in response to attacks and, as is now happening, sharper darts at a McCain lifestyle so extravagant that we are only beginning to learn where all the beer bullion is buried.

But Obama is never going to be a John Edwards-style populist barnburner. (Edwards wasn’t persuasive either, by the way.) Nor will wonkish laundry lists of policy details work any better for him than they did for Al Gore or Hillary Clinton. Obama has those details to spare, in any case, while McCain, who didn’t even include an education policy on his Web site during primary season, is still winging it. As David Leonhardt observes in his New York Times Magazine cover article on “Obamanomics” today, Obama’s real problem is not a lack of detail but his inability to sell policy with “an effective story.”

That story is there to be told, but it has to be a story that is more about America and the future and less about Obama and his past. After all these months, most Americans, for better or worse, know who Obama is. So much so that he seems to have fought off the relentless right-wing onslaught to demonize him as an elitist alien. Asked in last week’s New York Times/CBS News poll if each candidate shares their values, registered voters gave Obama and McCain an identical 63 percent. Asked if each candidate “cares about the needs and problems of people like yourself,” Obama beat McCain by 37 to 23 percent. Is the candidate “someone you can relate to”? Obama: 55 percent, McCain: 41. Even before McCain told Politico that he relies on the help to count up the houses he owns, he was the candidate seen as the out-of-step elitist.

So while Obama can continue to try to reassure resistant Clinton loyalists in Appalachia that he’s not a bogeyman from Madrassaland, he must also move on to the bigger picture for everyone else. He must rekindle the “fierce urgency of now” — but not, as he did in the primaries, merely to evoke uplifting echoes of the civil-rights struggle or the need for withdrawal from Iraq.

Most Americans, unlike the press, are not obsessed by race. (Those whites who are obsessed by race will not vote for Obama no matter what he or anyone else has to say about it.) And most Americans have turned their backs on the Iraq war, no matter how much McCain keeps bellowing about “victory.” The Bush White House is now poised to alight with the Iraqi government on a withdrawal timetable far closer to Obama’s 16 months than McCain’s vague promise of a 2013 endgame. As Gen. David Petraeus returns home, McCain increasingly resembles those mad Japanese soldiers who remained at war on remote Pacific islands years after Hiroshima.

Economic anxiety is the new terrorism. This is why the most relevant snapshot of voters’ concerns was not to be found at Saddleback Church but at the Olympics last Saturday. For all the political press’s hype, only some 5.5 million viewers tuned in to the Rev. Rick Warren’s show in Orange County, Calif. Roughly three-quarters of them were over 50 — in other words, the McCain base. By contrast, a diverse audience of 32 million Americans tuned in to Beijing that night to watch Michael Phelps win his eighth gold medal.

This was a rare feel-good moment for a depressed country. But the unsettling subtext of the Olympics has been as resonant for Americans as the Phelps triumph. You couldn’t watch NBC’s weeks of coverage without feeling bombarded by an ascendant China whose superior cache of gold medals and dazzling management of the Games became a proxy for its spectacular commercial and cultural prowess in the new century. Even before the Olympics began, a July CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans fear China’s economic might — about as many as find America on the wrong track. Americans watching the Olympics could not escape the reality that China in particular and Asia in general will continue to outpace our country in growth while we remain mired in stagnancy and debt (much of it held by China).

How we dig out of this quagmire is the American story that Obama must tell. It is not a story of endless conflicts abroad but a potentially inspiring tale of serious economic, educational, energy and health-care mobilization at home. We don’t have the time or resources to go off on more quixotic military missions or to indulge in culture wars. (In China, they’re too busy exploiting scientific advances for competitive advantage to reopen settled debates about Darwin.) Americans must band together for change before the new century leaves us completely behind. The Obama campaign actually has plans, however imperfect or provisional, to set us on that path; the McCain campaign offers only disposable Band-Aids typified by the “drill now” mantra that even McCain says will only have a “psychological” effect on gas prices.

Even as it points to America’s future, the Obama campaign also has the duty to fill in its opponent’s past. McCain’s attacks on Obama have worked: in last week’s Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll, Obama’s favorable rating declined from 59 to 48 percent and his negative rating rose from 27 to 35. Yet McCain still has a lower positive rating (46 percent) and higher negative rating (38) than Obama. McCain is not nearly as popular among Americans, it turns out, as he is among his journalistic camp followers. Should voters actually get to know him, he has nowhere to go but down.

The argument against Obama’s “going negative” is that it undermines his message of “transcendent politics” and will make him look like an “angry black man.” But pacifistic politics is an oxymoron, and Obama is constitutionally incapable of coming off angrier than McCain. A few more fisticuffs from the former law professor (and many more from his running mate and other surrogates) can only help make him look less skinny (metaphorically if not literally). Obama should go after McCain’s supposedly biggest asset — experience — much as McCain went after Obama’s crowd-drawing celebrity.

It is, after all, not mere happenstance that so many conservative pundits — Rich Lowry, Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru — have, to McCain’s irritation, proposed that he “patriotically” declare in advance that he will selflessly serve only a single term. Whatever their lofty stated reasons for promoting this stunt, their underlying message is clear: They recognize in their heart of hearts that the shelf life of McCain’s experience has already reached its expiration date.

Is a man who is just discovering the Internet qualified to lead a restoration of America’s economic and educational infrastructures? Is the leader of a virtually all-white political party America’s best salesman and moral avatar in the age of globalization? Does a bellicose Vietnam veteran who rushed to hitch his star to the self-immolating overreaches of Ahmad Chalabi, Pervez Musharraf and Mikheil Saakashvili have the judgment to keep America safe?

R.I.P., “Change We Can Believe In.” The fierce urgency of the 21st century demands Change Before It’s Too Late.

Original here

Biden Background

A quick Biden primer...

Senator Joe Biden is a (pro-choice) Catholic with strong working-class roots in his hometown of Scranton, PA. He's got impeccable foreign policy credentials, having served several terms as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. During the Presidential primary, he often said he knows many foreign leaders by their first names -- "not because I'm important, but I've been there a long time." And Biden co-wrote the Violence Against Women Act, which created official support structures for victims of domestic violence and criminalized their batterers.

He was first elected to the Senate at age 29 (he's now 65). But before he even took office, his wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident, leaving him the single father of two young sons. He married his current wife -- Jill, a teacher -- several years later, and they had another daughter.

Biden is an able and often funny debater with a reputation for verbosity (though he assured NBC's Brian Williams during an April 2007 primary debate that he is capable of verbal discipline). He also has an occasional tendency to stick his foot in his mouth. The gaffe we've already been reminded of several times this morning was his 2007 comment that Barack Obama is "the first mainstream African-American [to run for President] who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Obama accepted an immediate apology for the inelegant remarks and went on to defend Biden's civil rights record during the Des Moines Register debate in December, saying, "I have absolutely no doubt about what is in his heart and the commitment that he's made with respect to racial equality in this country."

You can read more about Biden's life and times in this profile, courtesy of NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

Original here

VP Candidate Biden Is No Friend to File Sharing, Net Neutrality Protection or Online Privacy

CNet's Declan McCullagh wrote up an informative history of Joe Biden's tech-related voting record--if Biden's name rings a bell, it's because he's the guy Barack Obama picked to be his vice president last Friday night. Maybe you don't care about the doings in Washington, but you may want to know that Biden considers a lot of what you do care about criminal activity. Here's what I'm talking about:

• He asked Congress to spend $1 billion to monitor peer-to-peer activity. (In fairness, much of this is to prevent child pornography, but the tactic is apparently a little blunt.)

• Two Biden bills have been explicitly anti-encryption, because you know, encryption makes it hard for the FBI to read people's e-mails.

• He has expressed support for internet taxes and internet filtering in schools and libraries.

• The RIAA seems to be one of his best buddies: Biden sponsored a bill that would restrict recording of songs from satellite and net radio, and another one that would make it a felony to "trick" a computer into playing back unauthorized songs or running bootlegged videogames. That latter one died when Verizon, Microsoft, Apple, eBay and Yahoo all argued against it.

• Biden was one of just four senators invited to attend a celebration of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act hosted by the MPAA's Jack Valenti and the RIAA's Hillary Rosen, two of American file-sharer's most wanted.

• When he was asked in 2006 about proposing net-neutrality laws, he said there was no need, since any bit-filtering violations would provoke such a huge public ruckus they'd have to hold congressional hearings anyway--and they'd be standing-room only. (Wonder if Biden reads Gizmodo.) [CNet]

Original here

GOP Fight in Nevada Could Cause McCain Trouble

By BRAD HAYNES
PAHRUMP, NEV. -- Two Nevada delegations are packing their bags for the Republican National Convention Sept. 1, and if the latest party ruling stands, neither of them will be seated.

A fiasco at the state convention spawned the dueling delegations -- one for John McCain and one for Ron Paul -- and their continued wrangling has exposed a split in the party that may spell trouble in a key state for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

[Nevada]
Associated Press
Former presidential candidate Ron Paul speaks to the crowd as he is welcomed at the Nevada Republican Convention on April 26.

Running a strident libertarian campaign in the primaries, Texas Rep. Ron Paul tapped a seam of Republican frustration across the country, railing against the Bush administration's impact on civil liberties, foreign policy and the growing federal government. Mr. Paul's message resonated particularly in Nevada, a state where frontier spirit and personal freedom runs deep, and he captured second place in the January state caucuses, ahead of Sen. McCain.

Mr. Paul has suspended his campaign, but his libertarian loyalists have not. Their lingering discontentment and underlying philosophical differences may prove fertile territory for the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, Bob Barr, and dangerous ground for Sen. McCain if even a portion of the Republican base is too disgruntled to vote. Nevada is shaping up as a key battleground in the presidential race; President Bush won the state by roughly 20,000 votes in each of the last two elections, and Democrats are contesting it strongly this year. Republican hopes in Nevada have also been hampered by the scandal-plagued GOP governor, Jim Gibbons, whose approval ratings have tanked as he has dealt with a messy divorce and a federal corruption investigation.

In April, riding high on a second-place showing in the Silver State, the grass-roots Paul supporters were well represented and well organized at the Republican state convention. Winning a key rule change, the Paul delegation began electing a majority slate for its candidate, when party officials dropped the gavel, turned out the lights and adjourned the convention indefinitely.

The state party leadership went on to appoint a slate of McCain delegates to the national convention by private conference call. Meanwhile, the spurned Paul faction gathered for its own "reconvention" to produce a competing delegation. In a decision Aug. 5, the national party's contest committee recommended against seating either slate, citing flaws in the selection process. The fate of Nevada's 34 seats at the Republican National Convention may not be decided until the final days before it begins.

At least one of the delegations will have alternative plans in St. Paul if they can't get past the door of the convention. Mr. Paul will be hosting his Rally for the Republic across town just as the Republican Party is assembling for its moment of unity.

[John McCain]

The Texas congressman has not taken a position on Nevada's delegation dispute, but his campaign spokesman said he won't be pushing his supporters in Minnesota toward Sen. McCain. "There are some really good candidates running third-party campaigns," said spokesman Jesse Benton. "If the GOP happens to lose because they've abandoned their principles and traditions, maybe that will be a signal for the future."

More than the distraction in Minnesota, Sen. McCain may have to worry what discontented Ron Paul voters are doing back in Nevada, where longtime Republicans with a libertarian streak are already discussing alternatives to the party establishment.

In the city of Pahrump, 60 nearly barren miles west of Las Vegas, in a windowless tavern called Irene's Casino, a group of friends gathered to pass around a bottle of Ron Paul Revolution Cola and discuss how the Republican Party had wronged them.

This is a place where people move to be left alone, where mobile homes are sold as Freedom Homes and where Mr. Paul won the local Republican caucus, as his campaign signs along the highway still attest. He owed his victory to spontaneous gatherings like this one, where supporters fed up with the size of government, the Iraq war and the incursions on their civil liberties organized their own grassroots campaign.

"Out here folks draw water from their own well," said compatriot Kenny Bent, a former rancher, miner and lumberjack with long gray hair and mustache past his lower lip. "They have their own sewage system. They don't need the government and they don't want its intrusion."

Across the state, lifelong Republicans like Mr. Bent who now identify more closely with Mr. Paul's cause than with the party establishment say they won't vote for Sen. McCain.

The McCain campaign maintains that Nevada is a natural fit for the candidate. "He's a Western senator. He understands the issues, from water to public lands, that affect Westerners," said spokesman Rick Gorka. "And he's independent. He's a maverick. That has tremendous appeal in Nevada."

But the hard-line libertarian voters see Sen. McCain as the embodiment of a Republican Party they no longer trust to protect their freedoms. Citing the campaign finance rules and ban on college sports betting that he championed, many conservatives are rejecting the presumptive Republican nominee along with the party establishment.

Recent history shows Nevada's frustrated conservatives can swing an election. The last Texan presidential candidate preaching small government, Ross Perot, took 10% of the vote here in 1992 and 27% in 1996, helping Democrat Bill Clinton to carry the state both times. A Libertarian Senate candidate in 1998 tipped a close race to Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Mr. Barr's running mate, Wayne Allyn Root, a sports-betting entrepreneur and resident of greater Las Vegas, says their campaign is perfectly suited for his home state, citing Nevada's low taxes, frontier spirit and premium on personal freedom.

"We're all about turning America into a great big Nevada," Mr. Root said. "Nevada proves the model works."

Write to Brad Haynes at brad.haynes@dowjones.com

Original here

Limbaugh: Obama won primaries because no one ‘had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy.’

Yesterday on his radio show, right-wing talker Rush Limbaugh said it’s “striking how unqualified Obama is and how this whole thing came about within the Democrat Party. I think it really goes back to the fact that nobody had the guts to stand up and say no to a black guy.” Limbaugh continued:

limbaughweb.jpgI think this is a classic illustration here where affirmative action has reared its ugly head against them. It’s the reverse of it. They’ve, they’ve ended up nominating and placing at the top of their ticket somebody who’s not qualified, who has not earned it. […]

It’s perfect affirmative action. And because of all this guilt and the historic nature of things, nobody had the guts to say, well, wait a minute, do we really want to do this?

Media Matters has the audio.

Original here

Russia and Georgia Conflict

There's an irony in the fact that when Belgium laid out the month's "Programme of Work" at the U.N. Security Council, this last week was absent an agenda. Since Russia's invasion of Georgia, the diplomatic community has been rather preoccupied. The United States and Western Europe have flailed about, ultimately unable to check Russia's unabashed aggression. Defying a host of threats from the West, which now include military posturing in Poland, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have invaded a neighboring country with impunity.

President George W. Bush rightly reminded the world that "the cold war is over." Today's Russia is by no means the Soviet Union, and just as much, today's West is not led by Ronald Reagan's big-talking United States. Putin heads an energy-rich, autocratic country loaded with more than half a trillion dollars worth of foreign reserves (most of which are held in U.S. dollars), while the United States is faced with a worsening financial crisis and taxing military commitments overseas.

"On balance, Russia sees that they have more leverage economically over the West than the West has over Russia," says Cliff Gaddy, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "Belatedly, this incident in Georgia is waking everybody up to a reality that's already true." That reality is that the West lacks the capacity to contain Russia in the way that it did for nearly two decades after the end of the cold war, and the invasion of Georgia signals a new era, one in which authoritarian regimes can brazenly buck the international system.

The U.S. response has continually grown more bellicose. At the beginning of the week, in concert with much of the West, Bush called for a ceasefire. Day by day, the rhetoric ramped up. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that this was not 1968--when the Soviet Union occupied Czechoslovakia--and argued that the "role Russia can play in the international community is very much at stake here." The United States scrapped war games with Russia that had been scheduled for later this month, and Bush ordered a C-17 military cargo plane full of humanitarian supplies to be sent to Georgia. After a week though, the Russians had not pulled back.

Then came the announcement that Poland had agreed to host the U.S.'s missile-defense system, a military installment that has long sparked tensions between Russia and the United States. As of Sunday, the Russians had promised to withdraw forces from some parts of Georgia, but hinted that they could continue to occupy the country. A Russian general even said that Poland had opened itself up to nuclear retaliation.

Europe has played a different hand. The continent is much more dependent on Russia economically. Russia has grown in recent years to become one of the European Union's largest trading partners, and the EU relies on Russia for a third of its oil and 40 percent of its natural gas. At the same time, Europe simply has a different outlook because of its geographic closeness to Russia. In light of its more complicated relationship, the EU has had a more restrained reaction, joining with the U.S. in suggesting that Russia's position within the G8, as well as its membership in the World Trade Organization or the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, could be in jeopardy.

"If it comes down to Russia's security versus WTO membership, there's no question what Putin will choose," says Gaddy. "Even if the West were fully unified, it still would not be enough of a threat to deter them."

The U.N. has only magnified the ineffective response. At the Security Council's fourth emergency meeting, the body remained deadlocked. This is unsurprising, because as a permanent member, Russia holds the power to veto any measure before the council; it's nearly impossible to imagine Russia accepting terms that hamper its current strategy in Georgia. At the same time, France, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, has assembled a proposal that would get the Russians to pull back, establish mediation and send peacekeepers. Few are optimistic.

"This is the first time in a long while that a permanent member [of the Security Council] has been involved in a situation the council is considering," says Shamala Kandiah, a research analyst for the independent nonprofit organization Security Council Report. "It raises the question of the council's effectiveness in such a situation."

Despite concerns over a new cold war, there's a key difference between the current situation and U.S.-Russian relations 25 or 30 years ago. In Georgia, Russia's invasion is purely strategic, an attempt to increase security along its border. It is not interested in exporting an ideology in the way that the Soviet Union wanted to spread communism. "Russia is staking its ownership regionally," says Steve Levine, author of the book "Putin's Labyrinth." "The U.S. is being challenged: 'Are you a superpower or not?'"

What is most striking is that the attempted check on Russian aggression is varied, unaligned and seemingly ineffective. The post-cold-war world has given way to yet another shift in power, one in which the U.S. doesn't wear the uniform of global policeman as it did in the 1990s. But has the era of global policing passed for good?

The U.S.'s announcement of missile deployment in Poland, west of Russia's border, looks more like a standoff than the triumph of economic interdependence and diplomacy that the advances of globalization once heralded. If that is true, then the peaceful decade of the 1990s, the talk of the end of history and the triumph of liberal ideals may be written off as the good old days. Instead, the realist conception of powerful states in competition for security may once again rear its head.

Original here

Name on government watch list threatens pilot's career

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- For Erich Scherfen, being on a government terror watch list isn't just a matter of inconvenience. It could end his career.

Erich Scherfen served 13 years in the military, including flying National Guard helicopters.

Erich Scherfen served 13 years in the military, including flying National Guard helicopters.

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Scherfen served in the U.S. military for 13 years, as an Army infantryman in the first Gulf War and then as a helicopter pilot in the National Guard. After receiving an honorable discharge, he was hired as a pilot by Colgan Air Inc., a regional airline operating in the Northeast and Texas.

In April, Colgan informed Scherfen that he was on a government list and would be suspended from his job. He was told he faced termination on September 1 unless he was able to clear his name.

But Scherfen, of Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, has been unable to do so and said he fears that it could mean he has no future as a pilot.

"My entire career depends on me getting off this list," he said. "I probably won't be able to get a job anywhere else in the world having this mark that I'm on this list."

Witold Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Scherfen and his wife in a lawsuit, calls the government actions "unfair" and "unjust."

"It is quite clear when the government does something that takes away not just your job but your occupation, your career, they have to provide you with some means to clear your name," Walczak said.

The lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in Pennsylvania, asks the U.S. government to remove Scherfen and his wife, Rubina Tareen, from any watch lists or databases that inhibit their travel.

Scherfen is a convert to Islam. His wife emigrated from Pakistan when she was 17 and is now a U.S. citizen. She runs a small business selling books and DVDs about Islam, publications she describes as nonpolitical.

Scherfen and Tareen have both been stopped when traveling and told by security personnel that they are on "a list." Scherfen calls it "embarrassing."

Tareen said she thinks they may be on a watch list because of their Muslim faith and her Pakistani heritage. The two said they are not terrorists and don't associate with people who are.

"I have no idea why I am on the list, and they're not telling officially that I'm even on the list," Scherfen said. iReport.com: Are you on the list?

In a statement, the U.S. Justice Department said it will not confirm or deny that the couple's names are on a watch list for national security and privacy reasons.

In May, Scherfen and his wife wrote to the Department of Homeland Security, asking for help with their case. The department referred them to the Transportation Security Administration's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program. This week, they received a number to track their case, but their complaint has not been addressed.

A TSA spokeswoman said the agency is seeking "a meaningful resolution" to the couple's case but said there is no timetable for doing so.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has the case under review. He asked that Colgan move Scherfen's termination date to October 1. The airline has done so, allowing more time for a possible resolution.

"Unfortunately, it is a problem that is shared by countless individuals who have no connection to terrorism, have no connection to crime and don't belong on this list," said Walczak, the ACLU lawyer.

Walczak acknowledged the need for the government to protect the country from threats with a watch list but said, "The problem with what the government is doing is that they really don't care about innocent casualties."

Scherfen said the pain of his situation is accentuated by the fact that he spent 13 years in uniform protecting the country.

"We served honorably," he said. "We served in a war. And they're thumbing their noses at us, basically, and that makes me feel ... really sad about this situation."

Original here

John McCain's Secretive Plan to "Kill the UN"

Does John McCain have a "hidden agenda" to "kill the UN?" That's what the man who devised McCain's big set-piece foreign policy proposal says -- and he's delighted it is sailing silently through the presidential election campaign towards success.

This story begins with a Republican presidential candidate who, despite the hype, doesn't seem to know much about foreign affairs. McCain recently talked at length about problems on the "Iraq/Pakistan border." The countries are a thousand miles apart. Asked how to deal with Darfur, he mused about his desire to "bring pressure on the government of Somalia." Uh -- it's Sudan, Senator McCain. He keeps expressing his desire to build up US relations with Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn't existed for fifteen years.

But McCain does know one thing: he doesn't like the United Nations. He championed George Bush's appointment of John Bolton as the US Ambassador to the UN -- precisely because Bolton scorns the UN as "irrelevant" and "a twilight zone." He even announced "there is no such thing as the United Nations." It was like appointing Marilyn Manson as Ambassador to the Vatican. This is part of a long seam of thinking on the American right: they opposed the UN's creation by Franklin Roosevelt as an unacceptable fetter on American power, and have never been properly reconciled to it. Republican congresses have refused to authorise US dues to the UN -- so there is now a backlog of $2.8 billion outstanding.

Yet McCain cannot oppose the UN outright -- because the American people support it so passionately. Contrary to the yokel-myth, a typical opinion poll -- by Global Public Opinion -- just found that 64 percent of Americans think the UN is doing a good job, compared to just 28 percent who support George Bush. Some 72 percent of Americans want the UN to play a bigger role in their foreign policy.

So McCain has decided to build up an innocuous-sounding alternative called a "League of Democracies." It would be an alliance of countries the US labels democratic that can be used to legitimate US military actions. Charles Krauthammer, the conservative journalist who invented the plan, says: "What I like about it is, it's got a hidden agenda. It looks as if it's about listening and joining with allies... except the idea here, which McCain can't say but I can, is to essentially kill the UN. Nobody's going to walk out of the UN. There's a lot of emotional attachment to it in the United States. How do you kill it? You create a parallel institution." Gradually -- over decades -- McCain hopes it would make the UN wither away.

Any response needs to start by admitting the UN has serious imperfections. Its structure is absurdly antiquated, with the permanent members of the Security Council frozen as the winners of the Second World War. The Human Rights Commission became an obscenity, offering places to Sudan and Saudi Arabia. There have been some horrible scandals in the past decade: UN peacekeepers who commit sexual abuse still aren't properly investigated; some of them cut corrupt deals with the murderous Congolese militias they were supposed to stop; and Kofi Annan's son Kojo was involved in some dodgy dealings. Those of us who support the UN should be more outraged by these failures than anyone else.

But the US government has also committed horrible abuses and been riddled with corruption -- and nobody suggests the solution is to abolish it. No: it is to make it live up to its greatest ideals.

In addition to these real flaws, the UN is too often used as a bright blue punch-bag for any old complaint about the state of the world. For example, the UN is routinely blamed for not intervening in Burma or Zimbabwe or Georgia -- but the UN has no army of its own; it is only as good as its members. Blaming the UN for these failures is like blaming Wembley Stadium when your football team loses a match. The UN's positive achievements are almost never mentioned. It was the UN vaccination programme that abolished smallpox -- an agonising disease that killed hundreds of millions of people -- from the human condition. It was the UN that talked Kennedy and Khrushchev back from the brink when they were poised to incinerate the earth.

The League would not even live up to its limited pro-democracy billing. If you study McCain's foreign policy statements, you find that for him 'democracy' doesn't mean a free and openly elected leader. No: it means a leader who supports US demands.

You can see this if you compare McCain's reactions over the past fortnight to two different separatist movements: in Georgia and Bolivia. When it comes to Georgia, he says it is obscene for South Ossetians to secede from a country they never felt part of, and have never been directly ruled by. He orders the people there to decline the support of the foul Putin regime next door and remain glued to the government of Georgia, against their will, for the sake of keeping the country together. However, when it comes to Bolivia, McCain actively encourages separatism. The Bush administration -- with McCain's support -- has been lavishing cash on the separatists in the gas-rich regions of this South American country in the hope they will declare independence.

Why does McCain think separatism is "evil" in one part of the world, and "necessary" in the other? The answer lies in the ground. In Georgia, the democratic-but-dissident-bashing government lets the US control the oil and gas that pass through the country. In Bolivia, the impeccably democratic government of Evo Morales wants to control it for himself. He is asking US gas companies to pay their fair share, and using the proceeds to lift his own people out of poverty. For that, he is dubbed "authoritarian."

So there's McCain's definition of democracy underpinning the League: if you let us control your resources, you're a democracy. If you try to control your resources yourself, you're a dictatorship. Those of us who believe democracy is the most precious political value of all should be repelled to see it reduced to a propaganda term.

On an increasingly multipolar planet that has begun to disastrously heat up, the need for a shared set of rules we can all push our leaders to obey is greater than ever. But how do we make it work? We need to look beyond the cagey centrism of Obama -- still too determined by America's oil addiction, and the capturing of its politics by big money -- to genuinely radical ideas. Albert Einstein thought the UN General Assembly should be directly elected, and it should in turn appoint the Security Council. This would create an even greater pro-UN momentum all over the world; and its peoples would immediately look to it in any crisis. The vision of a Parliament of Man is obviously distant, but it is a shimmering goal to begin slowly progressing towards. John McCain would slap us back in the opposite direction -- towards a Hobbesian chaos regulated only by raw American power.

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The Veep’s Pipeline Push

A two-year-old letter by Vice President Dick Cheney that pushed a controversial Alaska natural-gas pipeline bill is getting renewed scrutiny because of recently disclosed evidence in the Justice Department's corruption case against Sen. Ted Stevens. In a conversation secretly tape-recorded by the FBI on June 25, 2006, Stevens discussed ways to get a pipeline bill through the Alaska Legislature with Bill Allen, an oil-services executive accused of providing the senator with about $250,000 in undisclosed financial benefits. According to a Justice motion, Stevens told Allen, "I'm gonna try to see if I can get some bigwigs from back here and say, 'Look … you gotta get this done'." Two days later, Cheney wrote a letter to the Alaska Legislature urging members to "promptly enact" a bill to build the pipeline. The letter was considered unusual because the White House rarely contacts state lawmakers about pending legislative matters. It also angered state Democrats, who accused Cheney of pushing oil-company interests. The former executive director of Cheney's energy task force had gone to work as a lobbyist for British Petroleum, one of three firms slated to build the pipeline.

Stevens confirmed to NEWSWEEK last week that he asked Cheney to write the letter. "We wanted the federal government to tell the state to act quickly on it," he said. (A spokesman for Alaska's other senator, Lisa Murkowski, said her office also had contacts with Cheney's office.) A Cheney spokeswoman said his office does not comment on pending legal matters.

In the motion, prosecutors said they want to show that Stevens, who has pleaded not guilty, used his political clout to benefit Allen's business interests while the oil exec was paying for renovations on the senator's home. As an example, the motion points out that Stevens discussed contacting the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the pipeline; soon after, FERC issued a report on the project "similar to the message delivered by Stevens." But the Justice motion made no mention of Cheney's letter. A department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment about why prosecutors did not also include the letter or whether they expect Cheney to come up at Stevens's trial, now slated to begin next month.

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New Bush Rule: Doctors Can Refuse To Give Women Abortions

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Thursday proposed stronger job protections for doctors and other health care workers who refuse to participate in abortions because of religious or moral objections.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said that health care professionals should not face retaliation from employers or from medical societies because they object to abortion.

"Freedom of conscience is not to be surrendered upon issuance of a medical degree," said Leavitt. "This nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience."

The proposed rule, which applies to institutions receiving government money, would require as many as 584,000 employers ranging from major hospitals to doctors' offices and nursing homes to certify in writing that they are complying with several federal laws that protect the conscience rights of health care workers. Violations could lead to a loss of government funding and legal action to recoup federal money already paid.

Abortion foes called it a victory for the First Amendment, but abortion rights supporters said they feared the rule could stretch the definition of abortion to include birth control, and served notice that they intend to challenge the administration.

"Women's ability to manage their own health care is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

Abortion rights groups had complained that earlier drafts contained vague language that might block access to birth control, and they said the latest version has not addressed all of their concerns.

The rule "fails to give assurances that current laws about abortion will not be stretched to cover birth control," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

But Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said it upholds basic constitutional freedoms.

"This proposal ensures that doctors and other medical personnel will retain the constitutional right to listen to their own conscience when it comes to performing or participating in an abortion," Perkins said. "These regulations will ensure that pro-life medical personnel will not be forced to engage in the unconscionable killing of innocent human life."

Leavitt said the regulation was intended to protect practitioners who have moral objections to abortion and sterilization, and would not interfere with patients' ability to get birth control or any legal medical procedure.

"Nothing in the new regulation in any way changes a patient's right to any legal procedure," he said, noting that a patient could go to another provider.

"This regulation is not about contraception," Leavitt added. "It's about abortion and conscience. It is very closely focused on abortion and physician's conscience."

The 42-page rule seeks to set up a system for enforcing conscience protections in three separate federal laws, the earliest of which dates to the 1970s. In some cases, the laws aim to protect both providers who refuse to take part in abortions and those who do.

The regulation is written to apply to a broad swath of the health care work force, not doctors alone. Accordingly, an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments used in a particular procedure would be covered. Also covered would be volunteers and trainees.

The underlying laws deal mainly with abortion and sterilization, but both the laws and the language of the rule seem to recognize that objections on conscience grounds could involve other types of services.

"This regulation does not limit patient access to health care, but rather protects any individual health care provider or institution from being compelled to participate in, or from being punished for refusal to participate in, a service that, for example, violates their conscience," the rule said.

Planned Parenthood attorney Roger Evans said that a key legal problem with the rule is that it fails to define what constitutes an abortion, and thereby could be stretched to cover other types of services. But Leavitt said existing laws adequately define abortion.

The regulation now faces a 30-day public comment period.

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McCain’s Colorado River Gaffe Might Cost Him Key Western States

Libby questioned on forged letter linking Saddam to 9/11

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) issued letters of inquiry Wednesday to Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, regarding a forged letter linking Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks.

The Michigan Democrat also sent letters to senior former Bush intelligence officials, including Robert Richer, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations, who claimed that Cheney's office pushed the CIA to develop a phony letter to aid their argument for a preemptive strike on Iraq. The letters were copied to RAW STORY.

"I have become very concerned with the possibility that this Administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion," Conyers wrote Libby, who was convicted of obstruction of justice in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. "The law specifically provides that "[n]o covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media."

Conyers' letters come in the wake of claims by author Ron Suskind, who quotes Richer in his most recent book as saying a forged letter linking Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was ordered on White House stationery.

"What I remember is George [Tenet] saying, 'we got this from'--basically, from what George said was 'downtown,'" Richer says in a transcript Suskind released. "He may have hinted--just by the way he said it, it would have--cause almost all that stuff came from one place only: Scooter Libby and the shop around the vice president."

Richer contests the account. In an unusual move, the White House issued a denial in Richer's name when the details of the book were released earlier this month.

In it, Richer declared, "I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document ... as outlined in Mr. Suskind's book."

Suskind, however, says he has a tape of their conversation, which took place earlier this year. His prior accounts of internal Administration machinations have stood up under scrutiny. Conyers asked that Richer "set up a time" to discuss allegations surrounding the false letter.

"According to recent allegations in your capacity as the former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations and Chief of the Near East Division, you were tasked by former CIA Director George Tenet to create the false letter and may even have seen the White House stationery on which the false letter assignment was reportedly written," Conyers wrote Richer Wednesday. "Given your reported direct knowledge of these events, I am requesting that you contact Judiciary Committee staff as soon as possible to set up a time to discuss your involvement and knowledge of the allegedly false letter."

Full transcripts of the letters follow. Conyers also wrote John Hannah, Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs.

Book asserts White House ordered forged letter



Suskind's book, The Way of The World, asserts that senior Bush officials ordered the CIA to forge a document "proving" that Saddam Hussein had been trying to manufacture nuclear weapons and was collaborating with al Qaeda. The alleged result was a faked memorandum from then chief of Saddam's intelligence service Tahir Jalil Habbush dated July 1, 2001, and written to Hussein.

The bogus memo claimed that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had received training in Baghdad but also discussed the arrival of a "shipment" from Niger, which the Administration claimed had supplied Iraq with yellowcake uranium -- based on yet another forged document whose source remains uncertain.

The memo subsequently was treated as fact by the British Sunday Telegraph, and cited by William Safire in his New York Times column, providing fodder for Bush's efforts to take the US to war.

It is likely the Vice President's Office will refer to Richer's denial on the matter and claim that discussions between the Vice President's staff and the Vice President are protected. Libby, who was convicted of four counts of obstruction of justice and perjury, was sentenced to 30 months in prison but had his sentence commuted by President Bush in July 2007.

Letter to Rob Richer, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations



Mr. Rob Richer
c/o Cofer Black
Total Intelligence Solutions
1650 Tysons Boulevard, Suite 800
McLean, Virginia 22102

Dear Mr. Richer:

I am writing to follow up on recent serious allegations regarding the creation of a false letter from Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam Hussein's former Chief of Intelligence, to Saddam Hussein. The letter, which was allegedly backdated to July 1, 2001, attempted to establish an operational link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the period before the 9/11 attacks by specifically stating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had received training in Iraq. At the time of the alleged decision in 2003 to concoct the false letter, the Vice President's Office had been reportedly pressuring the CIA to prove this connection as a justification to invade Iraq. The letter also falsely noted that Iraq had received a "shipment" (presumably uranium) from Niger with the assistance of al Qaeda.

Upon careful review of the allegations concerning this matter, I have become very concerned with the possibility that this Administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion. The law specifically provides that "[n]o covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media."

According to recent allegations, in your capacity as the former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations and Chief of the Near East Division, you were tasked by former CIA Director George Tenet to create the false letter and may even have seen the White House stationery on which the false letter assignment was reportedly written. Given your reported direct knowledge of these events, I am requesting that you contact Judiciary Committee staff as soon as possible to set up a time to discuss your involvement and knowledge of the allegedly false letter. Please direct your response and any questions to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: XXXXXXXXXX, fax: XXXXXXXXXX). Thank you very much for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman

Letter to I. Lewis Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney



ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6216
(202) XXXXXXXX
http://www.house.gov/judiciary
August 20, 2008

Mr. Lewis I. Libby
The Hudson Institute
Sixth Floor
1015 15th Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. Libby:

I am writing to follow up on recent serious allegations regarding the creation of a false letter from Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam Hussein's former Chief of Intelligence, to Saddam Hussein. The letter, which was allegedly backdated to July 1, 2001, attempted to establish an operational link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the period before the 9/11 attacks by specifically stating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had received training in Iraq. At the time of the alleged decision in 2003 to concoct the false letter, the Vice President's Office had been reportedly pressuring the CIA to prove this connection as a justification to invade Iraq. The letter also falsely noted that Iraq had received a "shipment" (presumably uranium) from Niger with the assistance of al Qaeda.

Upon careful review of the allegations concerning this matter, I have become very concerned with the possibility that this Administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion. The law specifically provides that "[n]o covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media."

According to recent allegations, the Vice President's Office was involved in directing CIA officials to draft the false letter. As the former Chief of Staff to the Vice President, you may have direct knowledge of these events. I am requesting that you contact Judiciary Committee staff as soon as possible to set up a time to discuss your involvement and knowledge of the allegedly false letter. Please direct your response and any questions to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: XXXXXXXXXX, fax: XXXXXXXXXX). Thank you very much for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman

Letter to John Hannah, Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs



ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-6216
(202)XXXXXXXX
http://www.house.gov/judiciary
August 20, 2008

Mr. John Hannah
Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs
Eisenhower Executive Complex
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. Hannah:

I am writing to follow up on recent serious allegations regarding the creation of a false letter from Tahir Jalil Habbush, Saddam Hussein's former Chief of Intelligence, to Saddam Hussein. The letter, which was allegedly backdated to July 1, 2001, attempted to establish an operational link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the period before the 9/11 attacks by specifically stating that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta had received training in Iraq. At the time of the alleged decision in 2003 to concoct the false letter, the Vice President's Office had been reportedly pressuring the CIA to prove this connection as a justification to invade Iraq. The letter also falsely noted that Iraq had received a "shipment" (presumably uranium) from Niger with the assistance of al Qaeda.

Upon careful review of the allegations concerning this matter, I have become very concerned with the possibility that this Administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion. The law specifically provides that "[n]o covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media."

According to recent allegations, the Vice President's Office was involved in directing CIA officials to draft the false letter. As Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, you may have direct knowledge of these events. I am requesting that you contact Judiciary Committee staff as soon as possible to set up a time to discuss your involvement and knowledge of the allegedly false letter. Please direct your response and any questions to the Judiciary Committee office, 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 (tel: 202-XXXXXXX fax: 202-XXXXXXXX). Thank you very much for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Chairman

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