Sunday, October 5, 2008

McCain Planning 'Fiercely' Negative Campaign In Final Days

John McCain and his Republican allies are "readying a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character, believing that to win in November they must shift the conversation back to questions about the Democrat's judgment, honesty and personal associations," several top Republicans told the Washington Post.

With just a month to go until Election Day, McCain's team has decided that its emphasis on the senator's biography as a war hero, experienced lawmaker and straight-talking maverick is insufficient to close a growing gap with Obama. The Arizonan's campaign is also eager to move the conversation away from the economy, an issue that strongly favors Obama and has helped him to a lead in many recent polls.

"We're going to get a little tougher," a senior Republican operative said, indicating that a fresh batch of television ads is coming. "We've got to question this guy's associations. Very soon. There's no question that we have to change the subject here," said the operative, who was not authorized to discuss strategy and spoke on the condition of anonymity. [...]

Moments after the House of Representatives approved a bailout package for Wall Street on Friday afternoon, the McCain campaign released a television ad that challenges Obama's honesty and asks, "Who is Barack Obama?" The ad alleges that "Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. Ninety-four times. He's not truthful on taxes." The charge that Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes has been called misleading by independent fact-checkers, who have noted that the majority of those votes were on nonbinding budget resolutions.

A senior campaign official called the ad "just the beginning" of commercials that will "strike the new tone" in the campaign's final days. The official said the "aggressive tone" will center on the question of "whether this guy is ready to be president."

The Obama campaign painted the Post story as evidence that the McCain campaign is trying to disregard the country's serious economic challenges in favor of personal attacks on Obama:

"On a day after we learned that America lost three-quarters of a million jobs this year and a week after our financial system teetered on the brink of collapse, John McCain and his campaign have announced that they want to 'turn the page' on the economic crisis facing working families and spend the last month of this election launching dishonest, dishonorable character attacks against Barack Obama. We understand that it's not easy for John McCain to defend the worst economic record of our lifetime, but he will have to explain to the people struggling to pay their bills and stay in their homes why he would rather spend his time tearing down Barack Obama than laying out a plan to build up our economy," said Obama-Biden Spokesman Bill Burton.

Obama's team also released this web ad hammering McCain over the new job loss numbers:

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Palin’s Alternate Universe


Sarah Palin is the perfect exclamation point to the Bush years.

We’ve lived through nearly two terms of an administration that believed it could create its own reality:

“Deficits don’t matter.” “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” “Those weapons of mass destruction must be somewhere.”

Now comes Ms. Palin, a smiling, bubbly vice-presidential candidate who travels in an alternate language universe. For Ms. Palin, such things as context, syntax and the proximity of answers to questions have no meaning.

In her closing remarks at the vice-presidential debate Thursday night, Ms. Palin referred earnestly, if loosely, to a quote from Ronald Reagan. He had warned that if Americans weren’t vigilant in protecting their freedom, they would find themselves spending their “sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was like in America when men were free.”

What Ms. Palin didn’t say was that the menace to freedom that Reagan was talking about was Medicare. As the historian Robert Dallek has pointed out, Reagan “saw Medicare as the advance wave of socialism, which would ‘invade every area of freedom in this country.’ ”

Does Ms. Palin agree with that Looney Tunes notion? Or was this just another case of the aw-shucks, darn-right, I’m-just-a-hockey-mom governor of Alaska mouthing something completely devoid of meaning?

Here’s Ms. Palin during the debate: “Say it ain’t so, Joe! There you go pointing backwards again ... Now, doggone it, let’s look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I’m glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right?”

If Governor Palin didn’t like a question, or didn’t know the answer, she responded as though some other question had been asked. She made no bones about this, saying early in the debate: “I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear.”

The problem with Ms. Palin’s candidacy is that John McCain might actually win this election, and then if something terrible happened, the country could be left with little more than an exclamation point as president.

After Ms. Palin had woven one of her particularly impenetrable linguistic webs, Joe Biden turned to the debate’s moderator, Gwen Ifill, and said: “Gwen, I don’t know where to start.”

Of course he didn’t know where to start because Ms. Palin’s words don’t mean anything. She’s all punctuation.

This is such a serious moment in American history that it’s hard to believe that someone with Ms. Palin’s limited skills could possibly be playing a leadership role. On the day before the debate, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, made an urgent appeal for more troops, saying the additional “boots on the ground,” as well as more helicopters and other vital equipment, were “needed as quickly as possible.”

The morning after the debate, the Labor Department announced that the employment situation in the U.S. had deteriorated even more than experts had expected. The nation lost nearly 160,000 jobs in September, more than double the monthly losses in July and August.

Conditions are probably worse than even those numbers indicate because the government’s statistics do not yet reflect the response of employers to the credit crisis that has taken such a hold in the last few weeks.

Where is the evidence that Governor Palin even understands these complex and enormously challenging problems? During the debate she twice referred to General McKiernan as “McClellan.” Neither Ms. Ifill nor Senator Biden corrected her.

But after Senator Biden suggested that John McCain’s answer to the nation’s energy problems was to “drill, drill, drill,” Ms. Palin promptly pointed out, as if scoring a point, that “the chant is ‘Drill, baby, drill!’ ”

How’s that for perspective? The credit markets are frozen. Our top general in Afghanistan is dialing 911. Americans are losing jobs by the scores of thousands. And Sarah Palin is making sure we know that the chant is “drill, baby, drill!” not “drill, drill, drill.”

John McCain has spent most of his adult life speaking of his love for his country. Maybe he sees something in Sarah Palin that most Americans do not. Maybe he is aware of qualities that lead him to believe she’d be as steady as Franklin Roosevelt in guiding the U.S. through a prolonged economic downturn. Maybe she’d be as wise and prudent in a national emergency as John Kennedy was during the Cuban missile crisis.

Maybe Senator McCain has reason to believe that it would not be the most colossal of errors to put Ms. Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency.

He’s got just four weeks to share that insight with the rest of us.

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Obama Campaign Clears its Va. Voter Registration Goal

Voters rally for Obama at Ball Circle University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., on Sept. 27, 2008. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

By Alec MacGillis
With his decision to pull out of Michigan, John McCain will have more resources to devote to holding the Republican states he needs get to 270 electoral votes, including Virginia. And -- would you look at that -- just yesterday McCain and the Republican National Committee announced the opening of 12 new offices in the Old Dominion, giving the campaign a total of 21 offices in the state.

But the Virginia Board of Elections today posted new numbers showing the GOP nominee facing an unusually challenging climate in the state, which George Bush won with 54 percent of the vote in 2004. In September, the board reports, 106,150 people registered to vote in the state; combined with deaths and people moving out of the state, the net increase for the month was 101,737.

That is more than double the number of new registrants in August, and it places Barack Obama's campaign ahead its goal of making sure 150,000 Virginians got added to the rolls in the months since the primaries ended (on top of the 142,000 Virginians who registered in the first five months of the year).

As it now stands, there have been 163,000 voters added to the rolls during the general election period, for a total of 305,000 new voters since the start of the year. And a few days still remain before the Oct. 6 registration deadline. That compares with 210,000 new voters who were added between the start of 2004 and Oct. 1 of that year.

There is no way of knowing which way the new voters lean politically, since Virginia's registrations are nonpartisan. But one can speculate about their inclinations based on where they're coming from -- and a disproportionate number of the new voters reside in Democratic strongholds.

Roughly 30,000 of the 106,000 new voters registered in September reside in just six pro-Kerry cities and counties, with many more living in other jurisdictions that voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. More than 11,000 new voters signed up in Fairfax County, more than 5,000 signed up in Richmond, more than 4,500 signed up in Arlington, more than 3,500 in both Norfolk and Newport News, and nearly 2,500 in Alexandria.

The Obama campaign has been estimating that 80 percent of the new voters are Obama supporters, and that they'll turn out at a rate of about 75 percent, which the campaign predicts could mean about a 1.75 percent boost on Election Day. That's enough to make a difference in a close race -- but not nearly enough to close the full 8 point gap that Bush enjoyed.

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Record Refutes Palin's Sudan Claim


Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin fought to protest atrocities in Sudan by dropping assets tied to the country's brutal regime from the state's multi-billion-dollar investment fund, she claimed during Thursday's vice presidential debate.

Governor Sarah Palin at VP debate

Not quite, according to a review of the public record – and according to the recollections of a legislator and others who pushed a measure to divest Alaskan holdings in Sudan-linked investments.

"The [Palin] administration killed our bill," said Alaska state representative Les Gara, D-Anchorage. Gara and state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, co-sponsored a resolution early this year to force the Alaska Permanent Fund – a $40 billion investment fund, a portion of whose dividends are distributed annually to state residents – to divest millions of dollars in holdings tied to the Sudanese government.

In Thursday's debate, Palin said she had advocated the state divest from Sudan. "When I and others in the legislature found out that we had some millions of dollars [of Permanent Fund investments] in Sudan, we called for divestment through legislation of those dollars," Palin said.

But a search of news clips and transcripts from the first three months of this year did not turn up an instance in which Palin mentioned the Sudanese crisis or concerns about Alaska's investments tied to the ruling regime. Moreover, Palin's administration openly opposed the bill, and stated its opposition in a public hearing on the measure.

"The legislation is well-intended, and the desire to make a difference is noble, but mixing moral and political agendas at the expense of our citizens' financial security is not a good combination," testified Brian Andrews, Palin's deputy revenue commissioner, before a hearing on the Gara-Lynn Sudan divestment bill in February. Minutes from the meeting are posted online by the legislature.

Gara says the lack of support from Palin's administration helped kill the measure.

"I walked out of that hearing livid," Gara recalled of the February meeting. Because of the Palin administration's opposition to the bill, "We could not get a vote in that committee," he explained. At no point did Palin come out in support of the effort, Gara said.

The bill's Republican co-sponsor remembers things differently. "I know she was very strongly behind this," said Rep. Lynn. Asked why, if Palin supported the bill, one of her administration's officials would speak against it, Lynn demurred. "We don't all work in lockstep here," he said. "People have different opinions," he added.

Lynn said he and Palin agreed to re-introduce the bill next January, and push to pass it then. He declined to consider whether stronger support from Palin would have helped the bill survive this winter. "I'm not going to do this what if, what if, what if," he said. "These are hypotheticals."

Gara said that after it was clear the bill had stalled, he and others pressed the administration directly on Sudan divestment.

"We were outraged," Gara recounted. "We went to the Commissioner of Revenue and said, 'What the hell are you guys doing? This is genocide. We're going to keep pushing this until we divest."

Two months later, at the end of the legislative session, the administration softened its position. Appearing before a Senate committee which was considering a companion measure to Gara's bill, Palin's Revenue commissioner, Patrick Galvin, stated the administration supported such a measure, though it hoped to amend the bill to allow for investments held indirectly, for example in index funds.

"We have a moral responsibility to condemn the genocide in Darfur," Palin told a reporter in April, through a spokesperson. "I commend the actions of the Senate State Affairs Committee and I hope the entire legislature gets a chance to weigh in on this matter."

"At the last minute they showed up" and supported the divestment effort, Gara said. But by then the legislative session was almost over, and there wasn't enough time to get it passed.

The Alaska Permanent Fund currently holds $22 million in Sudan-linked investments, according to the non-profit Sudan Divestment Task Force. Divestment advocates say the fund does not need an act of the state legislature to divest itself of those holdings.

The McCain-Palin campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been a strong supporter of Sudan divestment efforts, and has urged Americans to liquidate their holdings in companies who do business there. He was criticized for that position when it was revealed in May his wife Cindy held $2 million in investment funds owning shares of Sudan-linked companies. She sold those holdings following a reporter's inquiries.

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VIDEO: Watch Sarah Palin Read Her Answers In Last Night’s Debate

For Sarah Palin, last night’s debate was an open-book exam. She spent much of the evening methodically reading and rehearsing answers from “carefully scripted talking points.” Palin’s notes were largely hidden from plain view, resting behind the lectern where she stood.

Because the cable and network television stations did not show a split screen of the debate, most viewers could not see that, during Joe Biden’s answers, Palin spent almost all her time looking down and studiously reading her notes. But viewers did see that when Palin delivered her answers, she would repeatedly glance down to check her talking points.

ThinkProgress has compiled a video documenting some of the instances where it was clear to the audience that Palin was propped up by written responses. Watch a video compilation:

Politico reports that “on at least ten occasions, Palin gave answers that were nonspecific, completely generic, pivoted away from the question at hand, or simply ignored it: on global warming, an Iraq exit strategy, Iran and Pakistan, Iranian diplomacy, Israel-Palestine (and a follow-up), the nuclear trigger, interventionism, Cheney’s vice presidency and her own greatest weakness.”

“The problem for Mrs Palin, however, is that she often seemed to run out of talking points - at which point her answers would devolve into the confusing ‘blizzards of words,’” writes Newsweek’s Andrew Romano.

UpdateAt the debates during the 2006 gubernatorial race, Palin "frequently stashed note cards behind her nameplate so that she could see them while seated at the candidates' table," the New Republic notes.
UpdateMarc Ambinder reports, "Debate rules prohibited candidates from bringing any pre-prepared material with them. Only blank paper and writing utensils were provided. So to the extent that Palin seemed to be reading, it was because she had, during the course of the debate or during Joe Biden's answers, written down some notes."

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Say It Ain't So, Sarah: Palin Smears Obama With Year-Old Discredited Attack

During an appearance on Fox News this Friday, Sarah Palin claimed that Barack Obama should be disqualified from serving as president because he had once proclaimed that troops in Afghanistan were "air raiding villages and killing civilians."

If the charge seemed oddly and painfully familiar it's because it has been levied at Obama - and subsequently dismissed - several times before during this election season.

The issue stems from a remark the Illinois Democrat made in August 2007, in Nashua, New Hampshire. Speaking to supporters, the Senator called for an increase of U.S. troops in that war zone because, without the influx, operations were being limited to air raids that resulted in many preventable civilian deaths.

"Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban," Obama said, "so we've got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages, and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there."

When the comment was first made, Republicans were eager to mold it into an electoral liability. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and the RNC called it disrespectful and unbecoming of a presidential aspirant.

But within a day, objective observers were knifing through the faux-outrage. The AP fact-checked the claim by pointing out that none other than President Bush himself had bemoaned the excessive loss of innocent Afghani lives and the setback such casualties caused for U.S. military efforts there.

And yet, the GOP couldn't and wouldn't let the canard die. One year after Obama's initial remark, the McCain campaign marked the anniversary by randomly raising it in the form of a biting press release. That charge didn't create many waves. (The Huffington Post wrote an article examining that attack as well.) But the McCain campaign kept at it.

On Thursday night, Palin brought it up directly in the vice presidential debate, and actually intensified the smear. Rather than painting the remark as a gaffe borne of inexperience, as Republicans claimed last year, Palin implied that Obama was slandering U.S. forces as little more than murderers.

"Now," she declared, "Barack Obama had said that all we're doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause. That's not what we're doing there. We're fighting terrorists, and we're securing democracy..."

And on Friday, she repeated the line to minimal journalistic resistance.

"Some of his comments that he has made about the war that I think may -- in my world- disqualifies someone from consideration as the next commander in chief," she told Fox News. "Some of his comments about Afghanistan and what we are doing there supposedly- just air raiding villages and killing civilians. That's reckless."

The un-originality of the claim would seem to detract from its general newsworthiness. Not to mention the fact that it appears devoid of any reasonable context. And yet, hours after Palin's appearance on Fox, the headline on the Drudge Report read as follows:


For more, check out this fact-check video produced by Talking Points Memo when Obama made these remarks last year:

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Fox News: Palin Won VP Debate Because She Had A Bigger Flag Pin

This morning, the hosts of Fox and Friends discussed last night’s vice presidential debate, concluding that Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) was the “big winner.” As evidence, they said that she looked “relaxed.” “You saw somebody who was talking to you like she was just sitting at the kitchen table,” concluded Gretchen Carlson. “She seemed to want to be there,” said Brian Kilmeade, before adding that “Joe Biden did well.”

Steve Doocy then jumped in by pointing out the fact that although both Biden and Palin were wearing flag pins, Palin’s was “about three times the size of his.” “So I would say flag-pin wise, she is a hands-down winner,” said Doocy. Carlson noted that her pin had “a few more jewels” too. Watch it:

Although Fox and Friends may have been trying to imply that the greater the size of the pin, the greater one’s patriotism, the real reason Palin’s pin was big and sparkly is because she was wearing a brooch. They are often ornamented with gemstones and more typically worn by women, explaining why Biden did not wear the same item.

Additionally, during the first presidential debate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wasn’t wearing a flag pin at all, whereas Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was:


Of course the day after that debate, Fox and Friends never declared Obama the “hands-down winner,” nor did they note the absence of McCain’s flag pin. In the past, Doocy has attacked Obama for “kick[ing] his American flag pin to the curb.” (HT: Raw Replay)


DOOCY: There is a clear winner this morning and it is completely subjective. Take a look. We’ve got a side by side comparison. Examine the flag pins. Joe Biden had a flag pin. Sarah Palin had a flag pin. As you can see, hers is screen right. His is screen left. Hers is about three times the size of his. So I would say flag-pin wise, she is a hands-down winner.

CARLSON: She has a few more jewels on hers, too.

DOOCY: Yes, she does.

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Palin's Tax Return Mystery: Where Are The Per Diems?

In typical news-dump fashion, the McCain campaign put out the last two years of Sarah Palin's tax returns late Friday afternoon.

The information contained a few interesting revelations in what was, otherwise, a fairly mundane filing. Palin, it appears, did not pay taxes on the more than $60,000 of travel reimbursements that she and her family members reportedly billed the state during her 18 months as governor. There is a fairly wonky debate over whether she should have been charged for these trips or whether it was accounted for in her salary. John Bogdanski, a tax professor at the Lewis and Clark Law School, told the Huffington Post's Seth Colter Walls that they did qualify as taxable income.

It does not appear that such deductions would have been allowable for any amounts attributable to travel by her husband and children. Section 274(m)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code strictly forbids deductions for bringing spouses and dependents along on business travel unless the spouses and dependents (a) are employees of the taxpayer (here, the taxpayer is the governor), (b) are traveling for a bona fide business purpose, and (c) would otherwise be entitled to deduct the travel on their own tax returns. Unless Palin's spouse and kids are also her employees and she can show that they were away on their own businesses, their expenses would not be deductible by the governor. And therefore she cannot exclude from income any per diems attributable to any of them. (By the way, since she's the employee, the income would be required to be reported on her own return, not her kids'.)

Overall, the Palins reported a gross income of $127,869 in 2006, and paid taxes amounting to $11,944 (an effective rate of 9.3 percent). In 2007, the family reported earning a gross income of $166,080 ($107,987.00 of which came from Gov. Palin) and paid taxes totaling $24,738, for a rate of 14.9 percent.

But there is some discrepancy with the latter number. According to an accompanying 2007 personal financial disclosure report, Palin's "income" as governor of Alaska was $196,531.50, well above the $107,987.00 that was noted on her W2 form from that same year. An email was sent to the McCain campaign for clarification. And this story will be updated should aides reply.

Palin's personal financial disclosure form also showed a moderate amount of assets. The family has ownership or interest in several properties, including tracts on several Alaska fishing spots. And Todd made between $50,000 and $100,000 from British Petroleum's retirement plan.

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The dumbing down of the GOP

By Joe Conason


Sarah Palin's debate performance should signal the beginning of the end of her fad. But for the moment it is worth looking at the meaning of her nomination, without the protective varnish of what conservatives usually dismiss as political correctness.

Why should we pretend not to notice when Gov. Palin's ideas make no sense? Having said last week that "it doesn't matter" whether human activity is the cause of climate change, she said in debate that she "doesn't want to argue" about the causes. It doesn't occur to her that we have to know the causes in order to address the problem. (She was very fortunate that moderator Gwen Ifill didn't ask her whether she truly believes that human beings and dinosaurs inhabited this planet simultaneously only 6,000 years ago.)

Why should we ignore her inability to string together a series of coherent thoughts? As a foe of Wall Street greed and a late convert to the gospel of government regulation, along with John McCain, Palin promised to clean up and reform business. But when her programmed talking points about "getting government out of the way" and protecting "freedom" conflicted with that promise, she didn't notice.

Why should we give her a pass on the most important issues of the day? Supposedly sharing the fears and concerns of the average families who face the burdens of mortgages, healthcare and economic insecurity, Palin simply refused to discuss changes in bankruptcy law and proved that she didn't know the provisions of McCain's healthcare plan.

All the glaring defects so blatantly on display in her debate with Joe Biden -- and that make her candidacy so darkly comical -- would be the same if she were a hockey dad instead of a "hockey mom." In fact, the cynical attempt to foist Palin on the nation as a symbol of feminist progress is an insult to all women regardless of their political orientation.

There was a time when conservatives lamented the dumbing down of American culture. Preservation of basic standards in schools and workplaces compelled them -- or so they said -- to resist affirmative action for women and minorities. Qualifications mattered; merit mattered; and demagogic appeals for leveling were to be left to the Democrats.

Not anymore.

Actually, the Palin phenomenon is the culmination of a trend that can be traced back to Dan Quayle, the undistinguished Indiana senator whose elevation onto the Republican ticket in 1988 had nothing to do with intellect or experience and everything to do with the youthful appeal of a handsome blond frat boy. (That was how Republican strategists thought they would attract female voters back then, which must be why they believe Palin represents progress.) Quayle too was unable to articulate, let alone defend, the policy positions for which he was supposed to be campaigning. He too had to undergo the surgical stuffing of stock phrases into his head as a minimal substitute for knowledge and thought. And in the same sad way, he too benefited from the drastically reduced expectations applied to anyone whose inadequacy is so obvious.

Quayle deserved more pity than scorn, however, because he seemed to know that he was fighting far above his weight class. Palin evokes no such sympathy, with her jut-jawed, moose-gutting confidence in her own overrated "common sense" and her bullying insistence that only "elitists" would question her expertise.

As Biden showed quite convincingly when he spoke about his modest background and his continuing connection with Main Street, perceptive, intelligent discourse is in no way identical with elitism. Palin's phony populism is as insulting to working- and middle-class Americans as it is to American women. Why are basic diction and intellectual coherence presumed to be out of reach for "real people"?

And why don't we expect more from American conservatives? Indeed, why don't they demand more from their own movement? Aren't they disgusted that their party would again nominate a person devoid of qualifications for one of the nation's highest offices? Some, like Michael Gerson and Kathleen Parker, have expressed discomfort with this farce -- and been subjected, in Parker's case, to abuse from many of the same numbskulls whom Palin undoubtedly delights.

The ultimate irony of Palin's rise is that it has occurred at a moment when Americans may finally have grown weary of pseudo-populism -- when intelligence, judgment, diligence and seriousness are once again valued, simply because we are in such deep trouble. We got into this mess because we elected a man who professed to despise elitism, which he detected in everyone whose opinions differed from his prejudices. That was George W. Bush, of course. Biden was too polite and restrained to say it, but the dumbing down is more of the same, too.

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The War on Intellectualism

Filed by: Waymon Hudson

It seems there is a new threat to our country- an insidious danger that is seeping into our homes and everyday lives that must be stopped at any cost. That threat is intellectualism.

We have heard the some of the buzzwords of this political season- Folksy, Joe Six-pack, Elitist, and Arugula Eating. It seems the new "culture war" or wedge issue is intelligence. The Vice-Presidential debate only solidified the lines in this war. On one side, you had Palin- full of "folksy charm" and "you betcha" language. Then you had Biden, who had a command of the issues, but was called "boring" and (gasp!) "professorial" by the pundits.

Is this the point we have come to in our country? Do we really think that having knowledge about an issue is a liability? Have we learned nothing from the past eight years about voting for the person you "want to have a beer with"? Is being smart or intellectually curious a bad thing?

It seems the war is on and the Republicans have launched another surge strategy.

I have been absolutely dumbfounded as I have watched the level of discourse (and the ensuing media coverage) in this political season. There has always been a level of "east coast intellectual" bashing from the right, but this cycle it has been raised to a completely new level.

We have seen McCain release vapid attack ad after attack ad about "celebrity", all the while being devoid of any facts or issues. We have seen Palin stumble through interviews, to the point of not even being able to name any newspapers she reads (very reminiscent of George W Bush, who famously said he doesn't read). The media even praised Palin in the debate for being "down to earth" and a "breath of fresh air."

How is dumbing down our country a breath of fresh air? Lowering the discourse to these levels (Paris Hilton, hockey moms, and lipstick- oh my!) has been staggering and disheartening to watch.

The war has not only been waged by promoting the "Joe Six-pack" quality (a term that makes my skin crawl and sounds incredibly offensive) of McCain and Palin, however. They GOP has taken to throwing around charges of elitism, arugula eating, latte and martini drinking to show how Obama and Biden- and by extension all Democrats- are "out of touch" with "real" Americans. It's an amazing argument- by being too smart and thoughtful on issues, they just don't understand anything. Want proof? They eat fancy salad and drink coffee.

It is also constantly being said that both Obama and Biden are too "professorial", as if being an intelligent leader is a weakness. Professors are people who KNOW THINGS and can lead and teach others. How is that an insult? They simply know too much to be the leaders of the free world? All those pesky details floating around in their heads makes it impossible for them to lead? Huh?

How did we get here? I certainly don't want just any old Average Joe to lead our country. I want someone who knows facts and issues. And if they don't know something, I want someone with the intellectual curiosity to learn and find out! Pick up a newspaper, get online, and surround yourself with other intelligent people. Yet McCain can't use the internet and Palin can't name a paper she reads. Where is the intellectualism to be a true leader in this time of trouble in our country?

Let me be clear- I don't care if politicians don't seem "fun" or "folksy"- I don't want to have a beer with them. I want them to lead. "Going with your gut" is not a viable option for this level of leadership. Quick sound bites or catch phrases don't make you a good leader. I don't care if you can hunt, were in the PTA, or wink at me- I want you to be educated about the issues facing our country.

Intellectualism is a quality we want in a leader. I would rather have someone who might be a bit dry and heavy on the facts than someone who is folksy and dead wrong any day.

But hey, what do I know? Maybe I'll just stick to eating my elitist arugula salad and reading.

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McCain's Tax Returns Hide Gambling

Senator John McCain is a gambler. If I'd known that right away I would have immediately seen what was wrong with his tax returns.

I am a tax attorney, so a tax return means more to me than it would to most. I reviewed McCain's tax returns as a basic check on the candidates. You can look at McCain's 2006 and 2007 tax returns for yourself. The tax returns are below a lot of verbiage about his charitable activities.

According to a New York Times article of September 27, 2008 "For McCain and Team, a Host of Ties to Gambling," reported by Jo Becker and Don VanNatta Jr., McCain gambled at the MGM Grand in May 2007.

Apparently McCain is a habitual gambler; he usually plays craps. He even says, "I am a gambling man."

Gambling has tax implications. According to IRS Publication 17, "Your Federal Income Tax", 2007 edition, page 89 "Gambling Winnings. You must include your gambling winnings in income on Form 1040, line 21. If you itemize your deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040), you can deduct gambling losses you had during the year, but only up to the amount of your winnings." In other words, you can't subtract your losses from your winnings and just not report. You have to report the winnings, and then claim the losses.

But McCain's tax returns say nothing about gambling winnings or losses.

As a casino gambler, McCain is likely to have lost more than he won. But by not reporting his winnings, the different percentage calculations built into the tax calculation are thrown off, and if he gambled much at all, he has underpaid his tax. The amount of understatement of tax may be minimal, but that's not the point.

The real purpose of preparing his tax return and omitting the gambling winnings is so that people would not know how much he gambled. If he won $200,000 playing craps in Las Vegas, it would make a difference in the way voters viewed his suitability as a presidential candidate.

There are circumstances under which the tax returns could be correct, such as McCain gambled once in 2007, not at all in 2006, and lost everything the one time he gambled. Such an explanation is unlikely in light of McCain's alleged long history of gambling.

I think we are looking at tax returns calculated to hide an aspect of the candidate. My 35 years of experience in taxes tells me these tax returns are wrong, and we do not know the true scope of McCain's gambling or of his potential obligations to gambling enterprises.

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