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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Plouffe Fights ACORN Smears: It's A Smokescreen

After days of withering attacks against ACORN and implications that the Obama campaign was using the community organizing group to perpetuate voter fraud, aides to the Illinois Democrat fought back on Tuesday.

In a conference call with reporters, campaign manager David Plouffe called the charge that ACORN was illegally registering voters (and that Obama had nefarious ties to the organization) a cynical "smokescreen" and an attempt to discourage people from going to the polls.

"This is just the start of what is going to be a very deliberate and cynical attempt to try and create confusion and challenge people inappropriately," he said. "They clearly, strategically, believe the more people who vote in this election, the less their chances are [for victory]."

At one point, Plouffe chided the conservative echo chamber that had painted ACORN -- which helps poor communities with a number of issues including voter registration and affordable housing -- as a criminal enterprise.

"Fox News has turned themselves into the 24-hour ACORN channel," he said, adding later: "We are not particular concerned with these predictable Republican tactics."

The voter registration debate is, in fact, highly predictable. Each cycle, Democrats cry afoul about voter suppression, while Republicans bemoan fraud. Victory in such political trench-warfare is usually defined in media narratives rather than registration numbers. Although the New York Times recently reported that,"Tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law."

In fact, despite a week of constant complaints, there has been only one lawsuit filed by a Republican group against ACORN's efforts -- The Buckeye Institute, an Ohio-based think tank, filed a state RICO action on Tuesday.

To a certain extent, the faux-outrage of conservatives this go around seems painfully transparent. John McCain, for example, gave the keynote speech at a rally co-sponsored by ACORN in 2006. Other Republicans have also praised the organization's efforts.

Nevertheless, on the conference call, the Obama campaign said it was prepared for legal battles over voter rolls should they occur either before or after the election. The team, as the Huffington Post reported, has a bevy of volunteer lawyers willing to go to work on local levels. But they don't necessarily foresee it getting to that point.

"We have a very active aggressive legal operation," said Obama's legal counsel, Bob Bauer. "But we are not terribly worried. I'm not quiet sure what Sarah Palin [who warned of ACORN stealing the election] has in mind... It is something we are going to be prepared to deal with."

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Obama for president

COME JANUARY, a new president will take charge of a nation diminished, an America that is far shakier economically, less secure militarily, and less respected internationally than it was eight years before. The nation needs a chief executive who has the temperament and the nerves to shepherd Americans through what promises to be a grueling period — and who has the vision to restore this country to its place of leadership in the world.

Such a leader is at hand. With great enthusiasm, the Globe endorses Senator Barack Obama for president. The charismatic Democrat from Illinois has the ability to channel Americans’ hopes and rally the public together, at a time when the winds are picking up and the clouds keep on darkening.

Unlike many of his rivals this year of either party, Obama isn’t refighting the political or cultural battles of the 1960s. Instead, he is asking Americans to take responsibility for the nation’s problems now; no one else will take care of them, and the consequences of years of disunity and profligacy should not be visited upon future generations.

Obama shows great faith in the possibility of persuasion overseas and in the ingenuity of the American economy. While intransigent rogue states can’t be finger-wagged into giving up on nuclear weapons, perhaps they can be talked back from the brink. As fossil fuels become scarcer, and the ecological damage more evident, Americans can put up windmills and solar panels and drive more efficient cars.

Encouragingly, Obama has assembled an impressive economic team that understands both the power of the market and the need to discourage recklessness and promote social equity. He would broaden access to health insurance, using a mechanism akin to this state’s Commonwealth Connector. And he offers a tax plan that, in offering modest cuts to most taxpayers and taking back some past cuts for the highest earners, acknowledges the widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else.

The question, of course, is whether Obama can make good on his promises under the circumstances. For George W. Bush will leave a woeful legacy. The Iraq war, which was sold to Congress and the public on false pretenses, continues to consume billions upon billions of dollars, even as many of the plotters of Sept. 11 are still at large. In his efforts to cultivate democracy abroad, Bush has hacked away at its roots here: due process, the separation of powers, the conviction that there are some things that government must not do. Waterboarding and secret prisons abroad, warrantless wiretapping at home — these acts belie America’s image of forthrightness, the nation’s greatest asset in world affairs.

Meanwhile, as the planet gets warmer, its top energy consumer has no plan to wean itself from fossil fuels. Healthcare costs are strangling businesses. Real wages have declined for the average worker, even as the cost of food and fuel has skyrocketed. Vague unease about the economy has turned into outright fear as the financial system sank into quicksand and 500-point-plus plunges on the stock market have become a near-daily occurrence. Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain, would try to solve all these problems by going back to the same Republican set of tools: tough talk abroad, tax cuts for the richest at home. In contrast, Obama’s presidency would benefit from the Illinois senator’s formidable political gifts. A graduate of Harvard Law School and a former community organizer on Chicago’s South Side, Obama debuted on the national political scene with a dazzling speech at the Democratic National Convention four years ago. Since then, every word of his books and his speeches has been closely parsed. Evident from all that scrutiny is a nimble mind, an ever more impressive grasp of policy detail, and an ability to listen to contradictory viewpoints. Obama is clearly a liberal. But when he led the Harvard Law Review, he won praise from conservative thinkers because he genuinely wanted to hear what they had to say.

Obama is hardly immune to political calculation. Though he has positioned himself as a supporter of campaign finance reform, he backed out of the public financing system after his ability to raise jaw-dropping sums over the Internet became apparent. In the general election campaign, he has been slow to admit how much the financial crisis would limit his policy options come January.

Even so, the way Obama has run his campaign has been a marvel of sound management: He laid down principles, put the right people in positions of authority, and spent money strategically. And he has shown a remarkable steadiness. Whether he was far behind Hillary Clinton before the Iowa caucuses or on the verge of locking up the Democratic nomination, whether he was leading or trailing McCain in the general election contest, Obama made the same forward-looking appeal to voters’ best instincts.

As the first black major-party presidential nominee, Obama has strived to make voters comfortable with a ‘‘skinny kid with a funny name.’’ And yet the historical significance of his bid is impossible to ignore. Voters can make no more powerful statement about America’s commitment to inclusion and opportunity than to put forward this man — Barack Hussein Obama, son of a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas — as the nation’s representative to the world.

An early Obama campaign slogan declared, ‘‘We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.’’ His critics deemed such rhetoric too ethereal. Now it seems prescient, as the nation confronts a financial crisis of historic proportions, as well as all the other policy failures and debt-fueled excesses of the last eight years. The United States has to dig itself out. Barack Obama is the one to lead the way.

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Confirmed: Obama Is Campaigning on Xbox 360!

Wagner James Au

Last week we noted unconfirmed sightings of an “Obama for President” billboard in the Xbox 360 racing game Burnout Paradise. Today we’re able to report that it is, in fact, an official advertisement placed by the senator’s campaign team. “I can confirm that the Obama campaign has paid for in-game advertising in Burnout,” Holly Rockwood, director of corporate communications at Electronic Arts, the game’s publisher, told me via email, noting that EA regularly allows ad placements in their online games. “Like most television, radio and print outlets, we accept advertising from credible political candidates,” she continued. “Like political spots on the television networks, these ads do not reflect the political policies of EA or the opinions of its development teams.”

To my knowledge, this Burnout ad is far and away the most prominent use of a major online game to promote a presidential candidate’s campaign. There have been near-misses, of course: In 2006, for example, when he was seriously considering a run for the Democratic nomination, ex-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner made an avatar-based appearance at a press conference in Second Life.

Of course, detractors could accuse Sen. Obama of sending out mixed messages; earlier this year he was telling audiences that parents need to “turn off the television set, and put the video games away.” Then again, since the Burnout billboard specifically advises gamers to vote early, maybe it’s his subtle way of trying to get them off the couch.

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McCain Transition Chief Aided Saddam In Lobbying Effort

William Timmons, the Washington lobbyist who John McCain has named to head his presidential transition team, aided an influence effort on behalf of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to ease international sanctions against his regime.

The two lobbyists who Timmons worked closely with over a five year period on the lobbying campaign later either pleaded guilty to or were convicted of federal criminal charges that they had acted as unregistered agents of Saddam Hussein's government.

During the same period beginning in 1992, Timmons worked closely with the two lobbyists, Samir Vincent and Tongsun Park, on a previously unreported prospective deal with the Iraqis in which they hoped to be awarded a contract to purchase and resell Iraqi oil. Timmons, Vincent, and Park stood to share at least $45 million if the business deal went through.

Timmons' activities occurred in the years following the first Gulf War, when Washington considered Iraq to be a rogue enemy state and a sponsor of terrorism. His dealings on behalf of the deceased Iraqi leader stand in stark contrast to the views his current employer held at the time.

John McCain strongly supported the 1991 military action against Iraq, and as recently as Sunday described Saddam Hussein as a one-time menace to the region who had "stated categorically that he would acquire weapons of mass destruction, and he would use them wherever he could."

Timmons declined to comment for this story. An office manager who works for him said that he has made it his practice during his public career to never speak to the press. Timmons previously told investigators that he did not know that either Vincent or Park were acting as unregistered agents of Iraq. He also insisted that he did not fully understand just how closely the two men were tied to Saddam's regime while they collaborated.

But testimony and records made public during Park's criminal trial, as well as other information uncovered during a United Nations investigation, suggest just the opposite. Virtually everything Timmons did while working on the lobbying campaign was within days conveyed by Vincent to either one or both of Saddam Hussein's top aides, Tariq Aziz and Nizar Hamdoon. Vincent also testified that he almost always relayed input from the Iraqi aides back to Timmons.

Talking points that Timmons produced for the lobbyists to help ease the sanctions, for example, were reviewed ahead of time by Aziz, Vincent testified in court. Proposals that Timmons himself circulated to U.S. officials as part of the effort were written with the assistance of the Iraqi officials, and were also sent ahead of time with Timmons' approval to Aziz, other records show.

Moreover, there was a major financial incentive at play for Timmons. The multi-million dollar oil deal that he was pursuing with the two other lobbyists would only be possible if their efforts to ease sanctions against Iraq were successful.

Vincent, an Iraqi-born American citizen with whom Timmons worked most closely, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in January 2005 that he had acted as an unregistered agent of Saddam Hussein's regime. Tongsun Park, the second lobbyist who Timmons worked closely with, was convicted by a federal jury in July 2006 on charges that he too violated the Foreign Agent Registration Act.

As part of a plea bargain agreement with the Justice Department, Vincent agreed to testify against Park and others in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. He was the government's chief witness against Park during Park's trial. Park was sentenced to five years in prison after his conviction.

A U.N commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker conducted an exhaustive investigation of the oil-for-food program, in which various individuals were found to have paid illegal kickbacks to Saddam Hussein. The findings of the Volcker Commission detail the roles of Vincent, Park and Timmons in trying to ease the sanctions.

* * * * *

Timmons testified that he first introduced Vincent to Tongsun Park and encouraged him to hire Park to work on the deal.

At the time Timmons introduced the two men, Park's notorious background was well known:

In the 1970s, Park had admitted to making hundreds of thousands in payments and illegal campaign contributions to U.S. congressmen on behalf of the South Korean government. Park was indicted on 36 counts by a federal grand jury, but fled to South Korea before he could face trial. All of the charges were later dismissed in exchange for Park providing information about which public officials received funds from the South Korean government.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not long after Timmons suggested that Vincent hire Park to assist their influence, lobbying, and back-channel diplomatic efforts on behalf of Saddam Hussein's government, much of that effort became increasingly bizarre, corrupt, and - on occasion - illegal.

Vincent testified that Park covertly received millions of dollars from Saddam's government that was supposed to be used to bribe then-U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali to ease international sanctions against Iraq. But both men simply pocketed the money, according to Vincent. (There is no evidence that Boutros Ghali even knew of Iraq's intention to bribe him.)

Investigations by the Justice Department and the Volcker commission disclosed that Park also served as the middleman for a million dollar payment that investigators believed was a bribe for another senior United Nations official. That official in fact admitted receiving the money from Park, but said he did not know that the funds originated with Saddam's regime.

Timmons told federal investigators that he was unaware of these particular activities, and investigators were unable to uncover any evidence to contradict that claim.

Timmons also claimed that he was motivated to push forward with the lobbying campaign with Vincent and Park not only to assist Saddam's regime but also because he believed that his actions would serve U.S. interests, that they would help the people of Iraq obtain needed medicine and food being denied them by sanctions, and would serve to facilitate a rapprochement of relations between Hussein and the U.S. that would be beneficial to both countries.

But there was a financial incentive in play as well. During the same period, Vincent was hard at work obtaining contracts with Iraq to purchase and resell Iraqi oil allowed under international sanctions; Timmons would have stood to benefit financially from those contracts.

Timmons claimed to investigators that any contracts offered to him, Vincent, and Park would be awarded solely on merit, and had nothing to do with their lobbying efforts.

But Vincent told investigators that their work clearly gave them an inside track. And in other instances, in which Timmons was not involved, Vincent profited from lucrative oil-for-food contracts awarded by Iraq as compensation for his effort to buy influence in the U.S. and at the U.N. for Saddam's regime.

At Park's trial, Vincent testified that he, Park, and Timmons stood to make as much as $45 million in profits from one particular oil venture with Saddam's regime had it gone forward. Park testified that he was unsure exactly what percentage of the proceeds each of the three men would have personally received. The deal ultimately fell through.

An investigator who worked on the U.N. investigation of the oil-for-food program told me that Timmons clearly should have or did understand that he was the possible recipient of oil contracts from the Iraqi government because of his lobbying and back channel diplomatic efforts on behalf of Saddam: "He would have to be the most naive person in the world to believe that was not the case," the official told me. "I guess William Timmons is just a natural born oilman. He is either deceiving himself to rationalize what he has done or taking the rest of us for fools."

Between 1997 and 2001, according to the Volcker report, Vincent received five such contracts from Saddam's regime.

In his guilty plea agreement with the Justice Department, Vincent admitted: "I received those allocations because of the work I had done on behalf of the Government of Iraq in helping set up the oil-for-food program."

* * * * *

Samir Vincent was well positioned for the task at hand when he began his influence and back channel diplomacy campaign with the Iraqis; he had been boyhood friends of two of Saddam Hussein's closest advisers, Nizaar Hamdoon and Tariq Aziz.

Hamdoon, who died in 2003, was Saddam's foreign minister, and Tariq Aziz had variously served as Baghdad's ambassador to the United States, ambassador to the United States, and Iraq's deputy prime minister.

But Vincent also sought to enlist the help of a Washington insider or lobbyist if his efforts were to have any chance of success.

His initial plan to purchase Iraqi oil through the American Red Cross faced opposition from the U.S. government. Vincent's partner at the time, an American businessman named John Venners, suggested that they needed "help from some people that he knew very well" who "used to be high up in the government." Venners recommended William Timmons.

As Time magazine's Michael Scherer recently reported, Timmons is "a Washington institution," having worked as a senior aide to every Republican president since Richard Nixon. He also serves as chairman emeritus of Timmons and Company, "a small but influential lobbying firm he founded in 1975 shortly after leaving the White House."

According to Vincent's testimony, Timmons immediately opened doors for the Iraqi-American lobbyist. He talked to then-Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger on Vincent's behalf. He also contacted then-Sen. Bob Dole and John Bolton, then-undersecretary of state for international affairs, to discuss Vincent's plan.

In a meeting with U.N. officials, Vincent pressed his case armed with "talking points" that Timmons had written for him. Before using them, Vincent said that he first sent the talking points to Nizaar Hamdoon and Tariq Aziz, with Timmons' approval.

After the meeting, Vincent traveled all the way to Baghdad to report back to Tariq Aziz what had occurred. Later, he had another meeting with Hamdoon and Aziz at the United Nations mission in New York to plan on next steps. Vincent testified he made formal minutes of that meeting, typed them up, and then traveled to Washington to personally give them to Timmons. This was routine practice as Vincent, Timmons, and the Iraqis worked together.

Timmons himself was apparently loathe to meet with Hamdoon or Aziz personally. But virtually the entire time they worked together, Vincent would relay to Timmons what the Iraqis had to say and vice versa.

After Vincent's first meeting with U.N. officials, Aziz and Hamdoon suggested that something called a "non-paper" be presented the next time Vincent met with the same officials. Non-papers are diplomatic communications in which parties can propose positions in writing, but do not have to fear if they leak to the public or press, because they do not officially represent positions of the government.

At the request of Aziz and Hamdoon, Timmons authored the non-paper which Vincent could rely on for that second meeting. Both Aziz and Hamdoon also reviewed the paper before Vincent used it.

On March 15, 1995, Timmons wrote a memo (which is a matter of public record as an exhibit in the case) advocating that they and the Iraqis should enlist the assistance of U.S. oil companies to make their case.

Timmons once again apparently understood that his audience was the Iraqi government. Vincent testified that Timmons gave him the memo knowing that the document was "supposed to solicit the thoughts of the Iraqi government, if this is something they would seriously consider." Vincent dutifully passed Timmons' memo on to Nizaar Hamdoon, he testified.

Weeks later, in April 1995, Vincent was summoned to Iraq to meet with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

As to Timmons' claims that he kept his distance from Vincent and Park and did not know much about what they and the Iraqis were up to, this exchange between a federal prosecutor and Vincent once again suggests otherwise:

Q: And when you returned to the United States, did you tell anyone about your visit with Saddam Hussein?

A: I told Bill Timmons and Tongsun Park.

Q: Why did you tell Bill Timmons about your visit with Saddam?

A: To let him know that we were talking to the leader of Iraq, and in essence we have access and assure him that any messages we were relaying between Iraqi and Tariq Aziz and anyone else, it was being transmitted to the president, Saddam Hussein, in Iraq.

* * * * *

Presciently, Time's Scherer noted that McCain's own staffers had early concerns that appointing Timmons could prove detrimental to the Arizona Senator's presidential ambitions:

His [lobbying] registrations include work on a number of issues that have become flashpoints in the presidential campaign. He has registered to work on bills that deal with the regulations of troubled mortgage lenders Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, a bill to provide farm subsidies and bills that regulate domestic oil-drilling.

By tapping Timmons, McCain has turned to one of Washington's steadiest and most senior inside players to guide him in the event of a victory -- but also to someone who represents the antithesis of the kind of outside-of-Washington change he has recently been promising. One Republican familiar with the process said the decision to involve Timmons could become a political liability for the campaign's reformist image, especially in the wake of the controversies over the lobbying backgrounds of other McCain staffers, including campaign manager Rick Davis. "It's one more blind spot for Rick Davis and John McCain," the person said.

Timmons' work to relax international sanctions against Iraq, as well as to benefit financially from Saddam Hussein's regime, may be another such flashpoint.

The Volcker report makes clear that when Timmons first got involved with Vincent and the Iraqis, the lure of millions of dollars was at least one incentive. By early 1992, Timmons and his associates were already "pursu[ing] the purchase of sale of Iraqi oil and the exploration by a consortium of companies of the Manjoon field in Iraq," the report said.

According to the report, the venture was dependent on Vincent's belief "that sanctions against Iraq would be lifted immediately and that the Iraqi government might grant a long-term concession to an American oil company."

Later, when Timmons pressed the case even more aggressively that sanctions against Saddam's regime be eased, he, Vincent and Park hoped to profit as well, according to the Volcker report. "Continuing through 1994 and 1995, Mr. Vincent and Mr. Park, along with Mr. Timmons and others, persisted in their efforts to establish a foothold in the Iraqi oil business," the report stated.

At one point, Timmons even boasted to investigators that it was his ideas that later became the basis for the United Nations' oil-for-food program.

Under that program, the United Nations allowed Iraq to sell its oil under U.N. supervision, with the proceeds placed in U.N. escrow accounts to buy food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods for the Iraqi people.

However, a major flaw in the program was that Saddam Hussein's regime was allowed to play a role in the selection of oil companies awarded contracts. Because of lax oversight of the program, Saddam's government was able to demand that foreign oil companies -- including American ones -- provide more than $1.7 billion in kickbacks to his regime.

One of the most outspoken critics in the U.S. Senate of the oil-for-food program was John McCain:

"We need to have a full and complete cooperation on the part of the U.N. about this whole oil-for-food program, which stinks to high heaven," McCain told Fox News in Dec. 2004. "We're talking about billions and billions of dollars here that were diverted for many wrong purposes. And this is an example of corruption.

"And by the way, it's an argument, maybe a small one, but maybe an argument that justifies our action in Iraq. Because clearly the sanctions and the framework of those sanctions was completely eroded."

Additional reporting by Patrick B. Anderson.

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Bush Strategist: McCain Knows He Put Country At Risk With Palin Pick

Matthew Dowd, a prominent political consultant and chief strategist for George W. Bush's reelection campaign eviscerated John McCain on Tuesday for his choice of Sarah Palin as vice president.

Dowd proclaimed that, in his heart of hearts, McCain knew he put the country at risk with his VP choice and that he would "have to live" with that fact for the rest of his career.

"They didn't let John McCain pick the person he wanted to pick as VP," Dowd declared during the Time Warner Summit panel. "When Sarah Palin got picked instead of Joe Lieberman, which I fundamentally believed would have given John McCain the best opportunity in this race... as soon as he picked Palin, that whole ready versus not ready argument was not credible."

Saying that Palin was a "net negative" on the ticket, he went on: "[McCain] knows, in his gut, that he put somebody unqualified on the ballot. He knows that in his gut, and when this race is over that is something he will have to live with... He put somebody unqualified on that ballot and he put the country at risk, he knows that."

The other panelists were surprised, a bit, by Dowd's bluntness. Not least because McCain's well-known campaign motto is "country first."

"No, I don't agree," said Mark McKinnon, a former McCain aide, after chiding Dowd for claiming particular insight into McCain's soul.

"Well," responded Dowd, "that's even more disturbing than my thought" -- the implication being that it would be truly frightening if McCain didn't know how bad Palin truly was.

Time columnist Joe Klein summed up what seemed to be the panel's Palin consensus.

"It was a gimmick," he said of the pick. "It was one of the most disastrous decisions I have seen in a presidential campaign since I've begun covering them."

Later in the session, Hilary Rosen, the Huffington Post's Washington editor at large, noted that the Palin pick had been successful in energizing the Republican base -- and McCain himself. But Dowd wasn't biting.

"To me it is like Halloween," he said. "You get energized by eating all that candy at night but then you feel sick the next day."

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Judge: GOP's voter purge a 'violation of federal law'

Stephen C. Webster

The American Civil Liberties Union is trumpeting a judge's decision in Michigan which brings to a halt the practice of eliminating voters from rolls if their mailing address is found to be invalid.

Recently, the GOP chairman in Macomb County, Michigan, detailed a plan to use a list of foreclosed homes to challenge voters. His pronouncement drew an immediate backlash, with predictions that the plan would "backfire."

It has.

The suit, filed by ACLU national and ACLU of Michigan, along with the Advancement Project, aimed to protect voters whose registration cards were returned to government offices by post as 'undeliverable.' Judge Stephen J. Murphy of the U.S. District Court of Michigan's Eastern District concluded that the program of eliminating these voters from rolls is in violation of federal law.

The voter purge program, better known to elections integrity experts as 'voter caging,' is a long-storied GOP tactic employed against minority, student and low-income voters. In September, the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit in Michigan challenging the illegal tactic.

"You essentially send a first-class letter to a hoursehold where you suspect that that person no longer lives there but where they're still registered to vote," explained Allen Raymond, a convicted GOP elections fraudster who spent time in prison after the discovery of a phone-jamming scheme during the 2002 elections. "That letter comes back. ... Somebody [at the local polling place] then challenges that vote if that person comes in to vote."

"This is a very significant ruling for Michigan voters," said Matthew Lund, the ACLU cooperating attorney and a partner at Pepper Hamilton LLP who argued the case, in a release. "The court recognized – and repeated several times – that the state of Michigan is conducting unlawful voter purges that clearly violate the National Voter Registration Act. Michigan voters who were removed from the voting rolls for no reason other than failure to receive their ID card in the mail will now be allowed to vote in November.”

"More than 1,400 voters in that category have been disqualified so far in 2008," reports the Associated Press. "The judge says it's unclear how many cancellations actually are wrong but it's a violation of federal law. Murphy says those people shouldn't be prevented from voting if they can produce more proof of residency at the polls."

"This program has a very detrimental impact in minority, low-income and student communities across Michigan," claims an ACLU advisory. "These communities tend to be more transient and to live in multi-family housing."

“This is a major victory for Michigan voters and the integrity of our democratic process,” said Meredith Bell-Platts, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, in a release. “Today’s decision brings us one step closer to restoring confidence in a electoral system that has been poisoned by illegal disfranchisement policies. As a result of the judge’s decision, fewer Michigan voters will be illegally purged and wrongly disfranchised – and that’s good for everyone.”

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McCain Claims Obama Rally Crowds Call Him Terrorist, Traitor

The man is just a pathological liar. Here's video, from a CNN interview with Dana Bash. (And by the way, Bash gets serious minus points for not challenging McCain on his lie.)

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Drudge Report Uses Racial Undertones, Blatant Propaganda to Boost McCain

If you turn on a computer and open the web browser within a 50 mile radius of Capitol Hill, there’s a pretty decent chance that the first page that pops up on the screen is DrudgeReport, Matt Drudge’s news aggregation powerhouse. Drudge, a reclusive journalist who pores over hundreds of news sources to cull the most interesting and salacious from the world of politics and beyond, essentially has 100% discretion over which headlines are featured on his site. And with upward 150,000 visits a day, that makes Drudge pretty powerful.

The impact of the DrudgeReport in the political world can not be underestimated. Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said, “Whenever Drudge breaks a story, phones start ringing.” And it’s true: a story isn’t a story until Matt Drudge covers it. Accordingly, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2006. In his book The Way to Win, Mark Halperin- one of the nation’s most prominent political strategists- called Drudge, “the Walter Cronkite of his era.”

Drudge makes no pretenses about his own political leanings: he’s conservative, and he lets his site show his ideological slant. Fortune magazine editor Richard Siklos called Drudge, “a conservative bullhorn.” Nonetheless, his site has become a frequent stop for those on the left as well on the right, not only because of Drudge’s influence, but also because of his uncanny ability to remain at the forefront of breaking news.

But there is a difference between slanting news (a la Huffington Post, where a reader is fully aware that the news he or she receives is given from a liberal standpoint) and outright misleading your audience with ethically questionable tactics.

During the Democratic primary, Drudge frequently ran pro-Obama news stories at the top of his page. The reason, of course, was entirely his opponent: Hillary Rodham Clinton, effectively the most prominent conservative archenemy still in politics today. And through most of the general election campaign, Drudge has remained more or less fair (if not just slightly favorable to the GOP- he trumpeted the selection of Sarah Palin as the saving grace of the Republican ticket).

But in the last several weeks, Drudge has ratcheted up his conservative agenda, perhaps in response to John McCain’s dire straits in the 2008 presidential campaign. In the past 24 hours alone, Drudge had posted the following headlines:

1. “Ready for Comeback” beneath a photograph of a confident looking John McCain.

2. “McCain-Obama Gap Narrows” above two national tracking polls that showed Obama leading by five points.

3. “Obama goes door-to-door to drum up votes,” beneath a photograph of Obama kissing the cheek of a white woman.

To show just how blatant Drudge’s bias really is, take a look at these one by one. First of all, nothing in the past weeks has suggested a resurgence on the part of McCain. Last week, he got slaughtered in the second presidential debate (and while every major news network was pointing to the incredible disparity in the two debate performances, Drudge downplayed the entire event with a one-word headline beneath a photograph of the two candidates on the stage: “BORING”). In the meantime, his polling numbers have tanked, and states that have been among the most reliable Republican states in the Union- like South Dakota, West Virginia, Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina- have shifted hard toward Obama. What was a bad electoral outlook two weeks ago is far worse today.

Secondly, Drudge’s selection of the “narrowing polls” is among the worst cherry-picking I’ve ever seen. In choosing the two polls he chose, he passed up several others that showed an overwhelmingly increasing trend in favor of the Democrat, including: (a) a Gallup poll showing an 8 point Obama lead; (b) an ABC News poll showing a 10 point Obama lead; (c) a Battleground poll showing an 8 point Obama lead; and (d) a Hotline poll showing a 6 point Obama lead. Beyond those, a five point buffer hardly suggests a “narrowing” gap- in fact, those numbers would be right within the national average over the past several weeks.

It’s the third example listed above that really raises eyebrows. Back in 2006, then-candidate for US Senate in Tennessee Bob Corker took a lot of heat for airing a commercial that ended with a plea from an attractive blonde white woman for Corker’s opponent, African American Congressman Harold Ford, to call her. Media and political analysts alike jumped on Corker immediately for the ad, which they said played on the racist tendencies of those who were still uncomfortable with the notion of interracial dating. It was labeled as “despicable,” even among independent viewers. Drudge was among the news outlets that covered the story. But Drudge himself became guilty of the same offense.

The picture Drudge featured on his site is no different. His photograph of Obama kissing the cheek of a blonde white woman will undoubtedly rouse some emotion in those same voters. Moreover, it was not the photograph used in the article linked below the picture. That means Drudge chose that picture himself. And especially at a time when McCain and Palin are being accused of stoking racial tensions as well, one has to ask: why that photo?

That’s not the first time Drudge has used implicit, almost subliminal, references to draw on deeply-held emotions, ostensibly to influence voters. In the past two weeks, Drudge made stories out of two pro-Obama YouTube videos. One was young children singing a song dedicated to Obama. Drudge linked to the video with a suggestive headline: “Obama Kids Sing for Dear Leader.” The “dear leader” part of that line is nowhere in the video. Drudge came up with that on his own. Two other historical figures have made use of the endearing title of “dear leader”: one is North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. The other is Benito Mussolini. The other video featured young African American teenagers wearing matching Obama shirts and army pants marching together, alternately announcing how Obama’s candidacy has inspired them. Drudge called them the “Obama Youth,” a reference to the “Hitler Youth” of 1930s Germany.

In the meantime, the one article unfavorable to Republicans received none of the star treatment the positive stories did. Early Saturday morning, Drudge posted the headline, “Report Stings Palin Over Troopergate,” in response to the harsh critique of Palin’s “abuse of power” to emerge from the State of Alaska’s investigation into the scandal. But far from the top-of-the-fold, bold/underlined/italicized headlines that seemed to offer bad news for the Obama camp, this one was buried on the left-hand side, about two-thirds of the way down the page. By 2:41 on Sunday morning, the story was completely erased from the site.

Then again, the website’s online advertising company estimates that more than 60% of Drudge’s visitors are self-identified Republicans. During the second presidential debate, an online Drudge poll of more than 10,000 viewers found that a whopping 75% of them thought that McCain had won- a full half hour before the debate had even ended.

Still, Matt Drudge is a smart guy. He doesn’t pick photos or headlines randomly. What he does, however, is not jounralism. It’s journalism with the explicit intent of forming, influencing, or modifying public perception- in a word, propaganda. And from the historical perspective of which Drudge seems to be so fond, that’s a skill both Hitler’s and Mussolini’s regimes perfected.

Original here

Study says most corporations pay no U.S. income taxes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most U.S. and foreign corporations doing business in the United States avoid paying any federal income taxes, despite trillions of dollars worth of sales, a government study released on Tuesday said.

The Government Accountability Office said 72 percent of all foreign corporations and about 57 percent of U.S. companies doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005.

More than half of foreign companies and about 42 percent of U.S. companies paid no U.S. income taxes for two or more years in that period, the report said.

During that time corporate sales in the United States totaled $2.5 trillion, according to Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who requested the GAO study.

The report did not name any companies. The GAO said corporations escaped paying federal income taxes for a variety of reasons including operating losses, tax credits and an ability to use transactions within the company to shift income to low tax countries.

With the U.S. budget deficit this year running close to the record $413 billion that was set in 2004 and projected to hit a record $486 billion next year, lawmakers are looking to plug holes in the U.S. tax code and generate more revenues.

Dorgan in a statement called the report "a shocking indictment of the current tax system." Levin said it made clear that "too many corporations are using tax trickery to send their profits overseas and avoid paying their fair share in the United States."

The study showed about 28 percent of large foreign corporations, those with more than $250 million in assets, doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes in 2005 despite $372 billion in gross receipts, the senators said. About 25 percent of the largest U.S. companies paid no federal income taxes in 2005 despite $1.1 trillion in gross sales that year, they said.

(Reporting by Donna Smith, Editing by David Wiessler)

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Palin vindicated?

Sarah Palin's reaction to the Legislature's Troopergate report is an embarrassment to Alaskans and the nation.

She claims the report "vindicates" her. She said that the investigation found "no unlawful or unethical activity on my part."

Her response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian.

Page 8, Finding Number One of the report says: "I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act."

In plain English, she did something "unlawful." She broke the state ethics law.

Perhaps Gov. Palin has been too busy to actually read the Troopergate report. Perhaps she is relying on briefings from McCain campaign spinmeisters.

That's the charitable interpretation.

Because if she had actually read it, she couldn't claim "vindication" with a straight face.

Palin asserted that the report found "there was no abuse of authority at all in trying to get Officer Wooten fired."

In fact, the report concluded that "impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates in order to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired."

Palin's response is the kind of political "big lie" that George Orwell warned against. War is peace. Black is white. Up is down.

Gov. Palin and her camp trumpeted the report's second finding: that she was within her legal authority to fire Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. But the report also said it's likely one of the reasons she fired him was his failure to get rid of her ex-brother-in-law trooper.

That's not "vindication," and surely Gov. Palin knows it.

Gov. Palin does have a defense. She could have said:

"I'm gratified that the report confirmed what I said all along, that I had the authority to terminate Walt Monegan as public safety commissioner.

"I absolutely disagree that I violated state ethics law. In repeatedly complaining about trooper Mike Wooten, Todd and I were not pursuing a personal vendetta. We were trying to protect the integrity of the Alaska State Troopers from having an arrogant, almost-out-of-control law-breaker in their ranks. Because the action we were seeking was in the public interest, not purely our personal interest, there is no ethics law violation."

Gov. Palin and her husband felt so passionately about Wooten because the case was so personal to them. Their passion blinded them to any other considerations.

They had no sense that the power of the governor's office carries a special responsibility not to use it to settle family scores. They had no sense that legal restrictions might prevent the troopers from firing Wooten. They had no sense that persistent queries from the governor's office might be perceived as pressure to bend state personnel laws.

Gov. Palin and her husband were obsessed with Wooten the way Capt. Ahab was obsessed with the Great White Whale. No Wooten, no peace.

Has Gov. Palin committed an impeachable offense? Hardly.

Is what she did indictable? No.

But it wasn't appropriate, especially for someone elected as an ethical reformer. And her Orwellian claims of "vindication" make this blemish on her record look even worse.

You asked us to hold you accountable, Gov. Palin. Did you mean it?

Bottom line: Gov. Palin, read the report. It says you violated the ethics law.

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