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When purple things are pulsating on your mind, I'm the one whose clock you want to clean. Aiding is Sparky, the Astral Plane Zen Pup Dog from his mountain stronghold on the Northernmost Island of the Happy Ninja Island chain, this blog will also act as a journal to my wacky antics at an entertainment company and the progress of my self published comic book, The Deposit Man which only appears when I damn well feel like it. Real Soon Now.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sparky: Boob runs true.


The Palin Plunge: Voters Sour On McCain VP Pick

The more voters learn about Sarah Palin, the more wary they become. Once the focus of post-convention Republican euphoria, the Alaska Governor is now viewed as a serious liability to the McCain campaign.

As it stands, Palin's polling numbers are daunting: with the unfolding economic crisis, her favorable to unfavorable ratings have switched from a positive 40-30, according to a September 12-16 New York Times survey, to a negative 32-41 in an October 10-13 survey.

Palin is, additionally, costing McCain newspaper endorsements. Editor and Publisher calculated that as of Oct 18, Barack Obama led McCain 58-16 in the competition for the backing of newspapers. Many of the endorsements cited Palin as a factor in their rejection of McCain. The Salt Lake Tribune, which supported George W. Bush in 2004, commented that "out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously under-equipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency." The Kansas City Star, in turn, described Palin as "unqualified."

Brookings Senior Fellow Thomas Mann told the Huffington Post that initially, Palin both built conservative enthusiasm for McCain and drew widespread interest among voters who had not been closely following the race. But those benefits soon evanesced:

"Within weeks, she became a liability, primarily as a highly visible indicator of McCain's impulsiveness and recklessness in picking someone who is patently unqualified to serve as president and commander-in-chief. McCain's only chance of making this election competitive was to contrast his readiness to serve with Obama's inexperience and naiveté. The Palin choice was the first clear sign (others followed) that McCain could not win that comparison."

Norman Ornstein, of the American Enterprise Institute, agrees about the immediate gains, noting that the "short term boost dissipated awfully quickly. Palin's clear lack of capability to serve as VP, much less as president, her lack of knowledge of even basics about most areas of policy, her ethical problems in Alaska over Troopergate, and the campaign decision to cloister her from serious scrutiny, all caused a drop in her own approval, but also reflected on McCain's decision-making style." Palin continues to "generate enthusiasm from hard-core Republicans who would not be as charged-up if the running mate were, say, a [Mitt] Romney or [Tim] Pawlenty," Ornstein says, "but the downside is definitely greater than the gain."

Palin's analysis of the current economic crisis has not won over most voters seeking a serious appraisal of the situation accompanied by well-thought out proposals. In a highly sympathetic interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the verbatim exchange on the economy went as follows:

PALIN: "Certainly it is a mess though, the economy is a mess. And there have been abuses on Wall Street and that adversely affects Main Street.

And it's that commitment that John McCain is articulating today, getting in there, reforming the way that Wall Street has been allowed to work, stopping the abuses and that violation of the public trust that too many CEOs and top management of some of these companies, that abuse there has got to stop.

It is, somebody was saying this morning, a toxic waste there on Wall Street, affecting Main Street. And we've got to cure this."

HANNITY: "Through reform?"

PALIN: "Through reform, absolutely. Look at the oversight that has been lax, I believe, here it's a 1930s type of regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations. And we've got to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight regime. Not that government is going to be solely looked to for the answers in all of the problems in Wall Street, but government can play a very, very appropriate role in the oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life savings, with their investments, with their insurance policies and construction bonds and everything else. When we see the collapse that we're seeing today, you know that something is broke and John McCain has a great plan to get in there and fix it."

HANNITY: "Is Senator Obama then using what happened on Wall Street this week? Is he using it for political gain? Is there a danger of a presidential candidate is saying to the world that America's situation of economic crisis is the worst that we've seen in decades -- which was words that he was using yesterday -- is there a danger in terms of the world hearing that?"

PALIN: "Well, there is a danger in allowing some obsessive partisanship to get into the issue that we're talking about today. And that's something that John McCain too, his track record, proving that he can work both sides of the aisle, he can surpass the partisanship that must surpassed to deal with an issue like this. It is that profound and that important an issue that we work together on this and not just let one party try to kind of grab it all or capture it all and pretend like they have all the answers. It's going to take everybody working together on this."


Vice presidential picks have been considered by political scientists as irrelevant to the outcome. This year, however, there is a contribution Palin may make: If McCain loses Florida by a close margin, Palin will likely deserve responsibility because of the animosity she has generated among a key constituency the GOP was depending on to abandon its traditional support for Democrats: older Jewish voters.

In Florida, where McCain had led - sometimes by relatively strong margins - Obama took the lead during the past month. Real Clear Politics gives Obama a 3.2 percentage point advantage in the state, which has become a key battleground.

In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry 52-47 in Florida, while losing the Jewish vote, which makes up five percent of the electorate, 4-1.

On May 22, 2008, well before the Palin pick, the New York Times reported widespread concerns about the prospective Democratic nominee in a story headlined "As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of Its Jews Have Doubts."

The Palin pick was from the start viewed even more negatively by Jewish voters. By a margin of 57-37, Jewish voters nationwide said they disapproved McCain's decision according to a September 8- 21 survey by the American Jewish Committee.

Among Florida Jewish voters, according to University of Florida political scientist Ken Wald, "there's a great deal of resistance to her for a couple of reasons. First, on the issues, she's simply wrong. Jews as a group are pro-choice, anti-gun, and generally associated with liberal values on social and economic issues. Even many orthodox Jews, who are somewhat more traditionalist, are hardly raging social conservatives. The fact that her church hosted a Jews for Jesus speaker--at a service she attended and applauded--adds insult to injury. (Many in the Jewish community consider Jews for Jesus as a group that seeks the continuation of the Holocaust by peaceful means.)"

In addition, Wald told the Huffington Post, "among middle-class Jewish career women in particular, there's a resentment bordering on rage that somebody so obviously unqualified was appointed on the assumption that she would appeal to women. As women of accomplishment, they deeply resent the pandering and take it quite personally."

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News McCain acknowledged that he would be having a much easier time in Florida had he picked the state's Governor, Charlie Crist, instead of Palin. "Charlie, because he's so popular, he probably would have made a significant difference,'' McCain said, "Look, this is a tough decision that we made with Sarah Palin. But I also saw Sarah Palin come down here and energize crowds in a way that's pretty remarkable, too."


The crucial long-range question about Palin is whether she becomes the banner carrier for Republican conservatives, especially social conservatives, earning their support for the GOP nomination in 2012.

Conservative author and publicist Craig Shirley argues that Palin's "first job was to unify the convention and this she accomplished, even better than expected. Her second job was to rally the base and at this she has been less successful, though through little fault of her own. ... Her only weakness is that her handlers did not believe in Palin as much as she believed in herself and as a result, she has been damaged and thus has some rehabilitation work ahead of her."

Shirley holds in disdain those on the right who have criticized or turned against Palin: "The sunshine conservatives and summer Reaganites who have cut and run on Palin are the same weak-sister Republicans who chose Gerald Ford over 'that actor' Ronald Reagan in 1976, because he went to Eureka College and because he foolishly thought we could defeat Soviet Communism. Didn't he know all the sophisticates on both sides supported 'détente'?"

In the immediate aftermath of Palin's nomination over a month ago,'s Chris Cillizza noted the surge of enthusiasm for her: "While any number of candidates -- former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- are already being seriously mentioned, Palin has quickly eclipsed all of them when it comes to 2012 positioning. She is seen as the bright new star in the Republican universe and it seems unlikely that her fresh-faced appeal will wear off completely -- especially among the GOP rank and file voters who tend to decide the identity of their party's nominee."

That luster has, however, come off and -- despite Democrats privately cheering her on -- Palin's future as a national politician now appears likely to be damaged.

In what read more like an obituary than a commentary, Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics. It's no good, not for conservatism and not for the country. And yes, it is a mark against John McCain, against his judgment and idealism."

Even at that price, many records won't be available until after the election

Sarah Palin's office has discovered a renewable resource to bring millions of dollars into Alaska's economy: the governor's e-mails.

The office of the Republican vice-presidential nominee has quoted prices as high as $15 million for copies of state e-mails requested by news organizations and citizens. No matter what the price, most of the e-mails of Palin, her senior staff and other state employees won't be made public until at least several weeks after the Nov. 4 presidential election, her office told on Thursday.

How did the cost reach $15 million? Let's look at a typical request. When the Associated Press asked for all state e-mails sent to the governor's husband, Todd Palin, her office said it would take up to six hours of a programmer's time to assemble the e-mail of just a single state employee, then another two hours for "security" checks, and finally five hours to search the e-mail for whatever word or topic the requestor is seeking. At $73.87 an hour, that's $960.31 for a single e-mail account. And there are 16,000 full-time state employees. The cost quoted to the AP: $15,364,960.

And that's not including the copying costs. Although the e-mails are stored electronically in Microsoft Outlook and on backup servers, and although a blank CD-ROM costs only 41 cents at Capital Office Supply in Juneau, the governor's office says it can provide copies only on paper.

Why? Because lawyers need printouts so they can black out, or "redact," private or exempted information. That task is more difficult because Palin and her senior staff have used government e-mail accounts for some personal correspondence, and personal e-mail accounts for much of their government correspondence. The photocopies of those printouts will be a relative bargain, only 10 cents a page. A state administrator said he understood that such redaction could be done electronically, but that state offices weren't set up to do that.

That process of deleting information is likely to be so lengthy that most requestors won't be able to see the records until well after the next president and vice president are chosen, Palin's office said.

E-mail sent between the governor's staff and their private Yahoo e-mail accounts won't be collected until Oct. 31. Searches will take an additional two weeks, until Nov. 14. And then the legal review of each e-mail will begin. There's no telling how long that will take, because no one knows how many e-mails there are, wrote Linda J. Perez, administrative director for the governor, in a letter she sent to the state attorney general seeking approval for a delay.

A small victory: Copies of the requests themselves did receive from Palin's office copies of all the public records requests filed since she was inaugurated, and the replies from the governor's office. Palin took office in December 2006, after seeking office on a platform of clean and transparent government.

The price quotes reveal that Palin's office has repeatedly tried to charge different news organizations the cost to reconstruct the same e-mail accounts of the governor, her senior staff and other employees. Each time an e-mail is requested, the office quotes the same cost of $960.31 for 13 hours to recover and search each employee's e-mails.

NBC's price quote for e-mails sent to Todd Palin: $15 million.

The AP's price for e-mails between state employees and the campaign headquarters of Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain: $15 million.

And the AP again, for e-mails between state employees and the National Park Service (on polar bears, wolves and other topics): $15 million.

The AP's news editor in Anchorage, Mark Thiessen, told he wasn't authorized to say whether the AP, a nonprofit cooperative owned by newspapers, planned to pay the $45 million for e-mails.

You can read all the requests for records, and the responses of Gov. Palin's office in this PDF file.

The employees in the governor's office have been polite and responsive in fulfilling the request by for all the public records requests and replies. The charge was only $37.70 for photocopies, and the administrative coordinator, Michelle Fabrello, dashed out the door to make sure the package got in the overnight mail delivery.

No free passes
Palin's office hasn't always interpreted state law in favor of public access. The Alaska law on public records does not require it to charge any fee for public records, although a fee is allowed if the processing would take five hours or more. The state law says all fees may be waived if the information is used for a public purpose, such as journalism or academic research.

But the governor and the Law Department have been waiving fees only when they are just a few dollars. The state has not been granting requests to waive the fees in the public interest, because it has not been considering those requests.

The records released to show that the state is charging for e-mails at the same hourly rate that it charged before Palin was chosen by McCain on Aug. 29. Only the scale of the requests has changed, and now most requests come from out of state. (State law does not require requestors to be residents.) There are some in-state requests, including the local news organizations, the Democratic party and several citizens. The state employees union, which had filed an ethics complaint against Palin in the inquiry known as Troopergate, was told it would have to pay $88,000 to see e-mails for a list of employees in the governor's office.

Even before interest in Palin went national, large and small news organizations in Alaska have been dissuaded from seeking public records from her administration, because of the cost. Voice of the Times, a conservative online news site, was quoted a price of $1,250 in May to retrieve e-mails from the accounts of two top aides to the governor, Ivy Frye and Frank Bailey. "Please cancel my request for public records," editor Paul Jenkins wrote to the governor's administrator. "We have a limited budget here and paying $1,250 in fees for people who already are on the state payroll is ridiculous." The newspaper announced this week it will shut down at the end of October for lack of money.

A weekly paper, the Anchorage Press, was told it would have to pay $6,500 for e-mails of Palin and three aides relating to the lieutenant governor. The request was withdrawn, with the newspaper offering the apology. ""Hi Linda - wow, that's an expensive request I made," reporter Brendan Joel Kelley wrote to state administrator Linda Perez. "In that case, I definitely don't want to waste 60 hours of the state's resources, whether we had the fee waived or not. Consider the request withdrawn. I had supposed/hoped that an electronic records request would be fairly simple."

A similar situation was settled in Missouri this week. Gov. Matt Blunt agreed to turn over e-mails, at no cost, a year after three news organizations sued for the records. Blunt's office at first had quoted thousands of dollars in fees for the e-mails about his firing of a deputy general counsel. And in New Jersey earlier this year, a state judge ruled against Gov. Jon Corzine, who wanted to keep private his e-mails with a union leader, his ex-girlfriend. Blunt is a Republican, Corzine a Democrat.

State employees overwhelmed
Since Palin was chosen by McCain, state employees have been overwhelmed by hundreds of public records requests sent to the governor's office and other agencies, said Kevin Brooks, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Administration. There's been no attempt to delay release of public records about the governor until after the election, he said. Many records requests have been fulfilled, forming the basis of news stories and online archives such as the one growing at

But e-mails have been much slower to emerge through the tight window of nine weeks from Palin's selection until the election.

"I've had my information technology folks working nights and weekends. These people are not doing their regular jobs anymore," Brooks said. "We used to get several records requests for e-mail in a week, or a month. Now it's literally hundreds and hundreds. It's gone exponentially off the charts."

After challenged apparent double billing, Brooks said he was going to try a new approach: assembling the e-mail files a single time, without charging requestors for that time. But that still leaves the search and copying costs.

"Hindsight is 20-20," Brooks said. "If we could do it over again, we would have loaded it all up and done these requests." Still today, he said he was not considering taking a more active approach, posting online for the public all of the governor's e-mails.

Brooks said he was also rethinking that rate of $73.87 an hour. That cost is not the actual salary of any particular employee. At that rate, an employee would be making about $144,000 a year. Instead, the state has been charging the public and news organizations the same rate that the state Enterprise Technology Services group charges other state departments, as a cost-shifting mechanism on state budget forms.

Alaska law does allow the state to charge for an employee's time for recovery of records. Brooks said he thought the actual cost would be between $50 and $60 an hour, including benefits and a share of the department's overhead costs.

As for the estimate of up to five hours to search e-mail for a single word or phrase, Brooks said he was just passing along the estimate from the technical staff.

‘A heckuva lot’ of data
"Why five hours? I've asked repeatedly, and that's what they say it will take," Brooks said. "We're talking about 5 terabytes of compressed data. I don't know what a terabyte is. I just know it's a heckuva lot."

Brooks said the state has Outlook on the desktop computers of employees, and that a search of those e-mails would take only a few seconds. But he said most e-mails are on journal servers, which hold e-mail for many employees, and that older or deleted messages might be on archival servers. "The point is we have three sources. We pull from those three and download to a storage device we can search. The process is not simple."

The courts have given the Palin administration a nudge toward open records. A state judge ruled this week that the state must retrieve public e-mails sent between state accounts and the private e-mail accounts used by the governor and other state employees.

Having a private e-mail account, by itself, is not unusual or unethical, because state employees are forbidden to carry out political activities on government accounts. That's the reason given for Palin's habit of punching away on two separate Blackberry devices. But a citizen request earlier this year yielded hundreds of heavily redacted e-mails from the governor's office, which suggested that Palin and her staff had chosen to move most of their government conversations off the radar, to their Yahoo accounts. News reports then led to public curiosity and the hacking of one of Palin's Yahoo accounts, for which a college student in Tennessee, the son of a Democratic legislator, has been indicted.

Brooks said the state doesn't know yet how much e-mail it can recover from Yahoo, in cases where one state employee on a personal account e-mailed another on a personal account.

But the state probably can recover e-mails sent between government and personal e-mail accounts, he said. At least 18 public records requests have been filed for some or all of those e-mails. The requestors include Mother Jones magazine, the AP, NBC, the Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire,, CNN, the Alaska Democratic Party, and several citizens, including Andree McLeod, whose request for the Yahoo e-mails was upheld by the court., for example, sought all e-mails sent or received by the governor and a dozen top aides between their state accounts and the personal e-mail accounts of themselves and others. The request included e-mail sent to Palin's husband, Todd, who has been active in policy and political discussions. The state quoted a price of $11,000 for all the e-mails sought by, which apparently won't be available until after the election.

To respond to those requests, the state is pulling together all the e-mails sent or received by 51 employees, including Palin, her senior staff, members of the Cabinet, the governor's assistants and schedulers, and key staff involved with the pipeline proposed to bring natural gas from Alaska's North Slope, the governor's office said Thursday. It sought the attorney general's approval to delay the search of the e-mails until mid-November. Later Thursday, the attorney general, Talis J. Colberg, sent the requestors a letter offering them a chance to be heard before he rules on that request.

'The hottest thing right now'
Many states have had battles with news organizations and citizens over the fees charged for access to the public's records, particularly for electronic records such as e-mails.

News organizations have often claimed that the fees are used as a tollbooth to discourage requests, and that requests are delayed until interest in a public issue or candidate has long passed.

Federal law is more favorable. The federal Freedom of Information Act will change in January to penalize agencies for delay. After January, if an agency takes more than 20 days to respond to a request, it can't charge any duplication fees to individual requestors.

Nationally, access to e-mails of government employees "is the hottest thing right now in open government," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit that helps journalists obtain public records. "Most judges are interpreting the laws that if you use your private e-mail for state business, that's a public record.

"Many public officials thought e-mail was more like a phone call, but it's more like a letter. You type those words, those are like documents. It doesn't matter if you used a piece of paper from your home or stationery from your office. The form doesn't matter."

Sparky: We Blog EVEN More — why is the big media allowing the GOP to distract them with ACORN while they try to purge Democrats from the Voting Rolls?

Have we had the big boys broach McCain's gambling or that he has anger problems?

Questions Linger About McCain's Prognosis After Skin Cancer

In May, the presidential campaign of 72-year-old cancer survivor John McCain tried to put to rest doubts about his health by allowing a few reporters to inspect his medical records, but the effort has failed to quell questions about his odds of surviving an eight-year tenure in the White House.

One loosely organized group of physicians has been claiming in Web-based videos, op-ed columns and newspaper ads that McCain's risk of dying from a recurrence of the skin cancer he had treated eight years ago may be as high as 60 percent.

Questions Linger About McCain's Prognosis After Skin Cancer

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 18, 2008; Page A04

In May, the presidential campaign of 72-year-old cancer survivor John McCain tried to put to rest doubts about his health by allowing a few reporters to inspect his medical records, but the effort has failed to quell questions about his odds of surviving an eight-year tenure in the White House.

One loosely organized group of physicians has been claiming in Web-based videos, op-ed columns and newspaper ads that McCain's risk of dying from a recurrence of the skin cancer he had treated eight years ago may be as high as 60 percent.

However, data on cancer survival rates compiled by the federal government suggest that people in McCain's situation have no more than a 10 percent chance of dying from melanoma over the next decade.

The key to the favorable prognosis is that McCain has already survived eight years without a recurrence. Even if the cancer was more serious in 2000 than his doctors judged, the fact that he is alive today suggests it had not spread by the time it was removed on Aug. 19, 2000, at the Mayo Clinic's campus in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The McCain campaign has rejected releasing additional records. A campaign spokeswoman, Jill Hazelbaker, said in an e-mail that letting reporters look at 1,173 pages of medical documents "was an unprecedented level of disclosure. . . . It was certainly more significant than the one-page doctor's note [Democratic candidate Barack] Obama released!"

The gist of the critique is that McCain's cancer was more advanced than his physicians concluded and that the chance of recurrence is consequently higher. Melanoma that spreads widely through the body -- "metastasizes," in medical parlance -- is rapidly fatal.

The effort to learn more about McCain's health gained steam after he chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. More than 2,700 physicians signed a full-page ad in the New York Times on Oct. 3 calling for a "full, public release" of the candidate's medical records. Others urged that microscopic slides of tissue removed before and during his operation be made available for review by independent pathologists.

"Voters need to know who is most likely to be running the country in 2010 if Senator McCain is elected in 2008," Wendy Epstein, a New York dermatologist and Obama supporter, wrote in an eight-page analysis of the senator's risk circulating on the Internet.

She and some other critics believe the odds of McCain surviving 10 years after his surgery is 36 to 56 percent. The senator's physicians, while eschewing precise predictions, have said that his risk of developing metastatic melanoma is in the "single digits."

Data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Institutes of Health support the more optimistic view. The SEER database is drawn from representative areas that together contain about one-quarter of the population. It is considered the most authoritative compendium of American cancer patients' survival rates.

At the request of The Washington Post, biostatisticians at the National Cancer Institute, where SEER is housed, "interrogated" the database with McCain's demographic variables. None of the data are linked to patients' names.

The melanoma patients in SEER are categorized by whether the disease was "localized," "regional" or "distant" at the time it was found. This staging system is simpler than the one currently used by dermatologists, who divide patients into Stages I to IV, and then into many subcategories.

McCain's physicians concluded after some debate that he was Stage IIa, which would put him in SEER's localized category. Epstein and many of the doctors calling for the release of his records say McCain was Stage IIIb, which falls into SEER's regional group.

The SEER data show that a white male whose cancer was diagnosed in his early 60s and who is now an eight-year survivor of melanoma has a 2 percent risk of dying of the disease in the next five years if the original tumor was localized, and a 4 percent risk if it was regional.

The first estimate was based on the experiences of 1,481 people and has an error range of plus or minus 0.4 percent. The second was drawn from only 83 people and has more uncertainty -- 2.6 percent.

If one looks out 10 years from now, a person with McCain's experience has a 4 percent probability of dying if the tumor was localized and 10 percent if it was regional. The error ranges of those estimates are 0.7 and 5.1 percent, respectively.

Someone with McCain's variables can, of course, die of other causes. According to SEER, such a person has an 85 percent overall chance of surviving five years and a 66 percent chance of living 10 years, regardless of whether the cancer was localized or regional.

In their analysis, many of the critiquing doctors point to a comment made by two pathologists at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington who were asked by the Mayo Clinic to look at microscopic slides from McCain's biopsy.

Those doctors said the tissue's appearance "is highly suggestive of a metastasis of malignant melanoma and may represent a satellite metastasis."

A satellite metastasis is an island of cancer that has spread from a nearby tumor. In terms of risk, it is equivalent to finding cancer in the nearby lymph nodes, which makes the disease regional and no longer localized.

The Mayo Clinic doctors concluded that McCain did not have satellite metastases. However, to be safe, they did a much more extensive operation than is usual for purely localized disease, removing more than 30 lymph nodes from McCain's face. No cancer was found in any of them.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Altered Obama photo in GOP club newsletter sparks outrage

Illustration shows the candidate's head on donkey's body on a bogus $10 bill that says 'Food Stamps.' Leader of the Upland women's group denies racism, but a state party official decries the image.

Newsletter photo of Obama

Altered Obama photo in GOP club newsletter sparks outrage: Illustration shows the candidate's head on donkey's body on a bogus $10 bill that says 'Food Stamps.' Leader of the Upland women's group denies racism, but a state party official decries the image. (Los Angeles Times)

A Republican women's club in San Bernardino County sent out a recent newsletter with a photo of Barack Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelon and ribs, sparking widespread outrage and rebuke from GOP leaders and Democrats.

The illustration shows the Democratic presidential candidate's head atop a donkey's body on a bogus $10 bill referred to as "Obama Bucks." Inscribed on the money are the words "United States Food Stamps" surrounded by stereotypical African American food.

The October newsletter went out to about 200 members of the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated, based in Upland.

"I apologize to anyone who was offended because that was not my intent," said club President Diane Fedele. "It was poor judgment on my part. It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of Obama's statement that he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

The caption reads: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on ????? Food Stamps, what else!"

Fedele said the mailer merely parodied the statements Obama made during a debate last summer and wasn't racist.

"If I was racist, I would have looked at it through racist eyes," she said. "I am not racist, which is why it probably didn't register."

Club member Kristina Sandoval agreed.

"None of us are racists," she said.

The use of watermelon, ribs and fried chicken was innocent, she said.

"Everyone eats those foods, it's not a racial thing."

That's not how club member Acquanetta Warren -- a Fontana city councilwoman and an African American -- saw it.

"My daughter who is 16 was standing over my shoulder when I opened the e-mail, and her mouth dropped wide open," Warren said. "I actually turned the screen away and sent her to her room so she wouldn't see. I don't want to talk to anyone; I want a written apology so the public knows that this is not right and this is not representative of the way Republicans think."

She's known Fedele a long time and is shocked by the newsletter.

"When she didn't see a problem with this, I knew something was wrong," said Warren, who is also vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party for the Inland Empire. "This is an isolated, crazy thing. Our chairman is outraged. We just don't do this."

Indeed, Fedele drew a sharp reprimand from Ron Nehring, California Republican Party chairman.

"Any material that invokes issues related to race is absolutely unacceptable, tarnishes our party, diminishes the hard work of the tens of thousands of volunteers who are working hard every day for our candidates, and must be condemned," he said in a statement Thursday. "This material I've seen inspires nothing but divisiveness and hostility and has absolutely no place in this election, or any public discourse."

His statement also referred to an image on the Sacramento County GOP website this week showing Obama in a turban beside Osama bin Laden with the words: "The difference between Osama and Obama is just a little B.S." The site also exhorted members to "Waterboard Barack Obama."

"I called the chairman and said, 'You need to take that off your website,' and he took it off," said Hector Barajas, spokesman for the state GOP.

Fedele and the others at the Chaffey Community Republican club are volunteers and can't be fired. Aside from politics, they also do volunteer and charity work throughout the community.

Gary Ovitt, a county supervisor and chairman of the San Bernardino County Republican Party, is scheduled to meet with Fedele on Monday to discuss the incident.

"He is disgusted and appalled by it, and he believes it is blatantly racist and offensive no matter what the intent was," said Burt Southard, Ovitt's spokesman. "These are individual clubs. This one in particular may be one of the largest in the state and is one of the most active."

A spokesman for the Obama campaign in California, Gabriel Sanchez, declined to comment.

State Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) represents the area, and his wife, a Latina, is a member of the club.

"I thought it was unacceptable and a failed attempt at humor," Dutton said. "My wife isn't taking it personally because she knows the people involved. I called Diane and talked to her and told her it was inappropriate. She is a sweet lady without a mean bone in her body. But we all have to be more sensitive."

Democrats weren't as charitable.

"I think it's sad and unbelievable that they can't see how offensive this is," said Carol Robb, head of the San Bernardino County Democratic Party. "People are losing their homes, we are in financial chaos and the best they can do is a caricature of Obama on a donkey's body and food stamps. How out of touch with the 21st century can you get?"

Iglesias: "I'm Astounded" By DOJ's ACORN Probe

David Iglesias says he's shocked by the news, leaked today to the Associated Press, that the FBI is pursuing a voter-fraud investigation into ACORN just weeks before the election.

"I'm astounded that this issue is being trotted out again," Iglesias told TPMmuckraker. "Based on what I saw in 2004 and 2006, it's a scare tactic." In 2006, Iglesias was fired as U.S. attorney thanks partly to his reluctance to pursue voter-fraud cases as aggressively as DOJ wanted -- one of several U.S. attorneys fired for inappropriate political reasons, according to a recently released report by DOJ's Office of the Inspector General.

Iglesias, who has been the most outspoken of the fired U.S. attorneys, went on to say that the FBI's investigation seemed designed to inappropriately create a "boogeyman" out of voter fraud.

And he added that it "stands to reason" that the investigation was launched in response to GOP complaints. In recent weeks, national Republican figures -- including John McCain at last night's debate -- have sought to make an issue out of ACORN's voter-registration activities.

As we noted earlier, last year, Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly highlighted changes made to DOJ's election crimes manual, which lowered the bar for voter-fraud prosecutions, and made it easier to bring vote-fraud cases close to the election.

Speaking today to TPMmuckraker, Iglesias called such changes "extremely problematic."

The way in which the news was revealed today -- Associated Press sourced its report to two "senior law enforcement officials" who "spoke on condition of anonymity because Justice Department regulations forbid discussing ongoing investigations particularly so close to an election" -- is also raising eyebrows.

Both Iglesias and Bud Cummins -- another of the U.S. attorneys who, according to the IG report, was also fired for political reasons -- told TPMmuckraker that DOJ guidelines do allow US attorneys to speak publicly about an investigation, even before bringing an indictment, if it's to allay public concern over an issue.

But that certainly wouldn't cover anonymous leaks. "If you can't say it with your name on it, it's fair to say you should not be saying it," Cummins told TPMmuckraker.

Earlier this afternoon, House Judiciary Chair John Conyers (D-MI) released a letter he sent to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI director Robert Mueller, which connected today's news to the U.S. attorney firings, and to recent GOP efforts to stoke fears over voter fraud.

Behind McCain, Outsider in Capital Wanting Back In

Richard Perry/The New York Times
Cindy McCain, listening to her husband, John McCain, on Friday at a rally in Miami.

Cindy McCain was new to Washington and not yet 30 when she arrived at a luncheon for Congressional spouses to discover a problem with her name tag.

It read “Carol McCain.” That was the well-liked wife John McCain

had left to marry Cindy, to the disapproval of many in Washington.

Fearing that the slight was intentional, she slinked to a half-empty table that never filled. “No one wanted to sit at her table,“ said Barbara Ross, a friend who was not surprised when Mrs. McCain announced a few months later that she was moving back to Arizona. “It was like high school.”

Cindy McCain, the wife of the Republican presidential nominee, has spent the last year pursuing a return to Washington: “a harsh town” that does not suit her, she has said.

Nor does campaigning, friends say. She has done relatively few solo events, grants interviews reluctantly— she declined to speak for this article — and in introducing her husband at events, she offers few of the heartwarming anecdotes that are the stock in trade of the political spouse. When she finishes, she stands silently behind him, sometimes with an approving smile, sometimes looking strained.

From the start, Mrs. McCain’s marriage has been defined by her husband’s ambitions, and despite her sometimes punishing ride in political life, she does whatever she must to help fulfill them. As his poll numbers have slid recently, her devotion has seemed only to grow. When the McCain campaign recently stepped up attacks on Senator Barack Obama, Mrs. McCain joined in with startling intensity. The day after the second presidential debate, which did not turn around Mr. McCain’s standing in the polls, she interrupted a Fox News interview he was doing to testify to his virtues. At this late date, Mrs. McCain is starting to headline her own rallies, starting in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

“She would walk on broken glass barefoot if it required her to do so in this campaign,” said Matt Salmon, a former Arizona congressman who knows the couple.

Mrs. McCain, 54, describes herself as her husband’s best friend, though for the last two decades they have mostly lived apart, she in Arizona, he in Washington. She initially seemed like an ideal political partner, giving Mr. McCain a home state, money and contacts that jump-started his career. But as the years passed, she also became a liability at times. She played a role in the Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal, and just as her husband was rehabilitating his reputation, she was caught stealing drugs from her nonprofit organization to feed her addiction to painkillers. She has a fortune that sets the McCains apart from most other Americans, a problem in a presidential race that hinges on economic anxieties. She can be imprecise: she has repeatedly called herself an only child, for instance, even though she has two half-siblings, and has provided varying details about a 1994 mercy mission to Rwanda.

Those close to Mrs. McCain say she aspires to be like another blonde, glamorous figure married to an older man: Diana, the Princess of Wales. Mrs. McCain sought out the same mine-clearing organization that the princess supported, joining its board and traveling to minefields, just as her role model had. Mrs. McCain recently told British reporters that as first lady, she would take her cues from Diana, throwing herself into international philanthropy.

First, though, the McCains must win. Mrs. McCain has traveled by her husband’s side on the campaign trail and helped reorganize the campaign after it floundered in 2007. When The New York Times reported last winter that Mr. McCain’s staffers had urged him to stay away from a female lobbyist during his first presidential run, Mrs. McCain stood by her husband at a news conference and defended his honor.

Politics have always brought the McCains together: as she remarked during his failed 2000 presidential run, campaigns are when the two spend the most time with each other.

“Just when I think we’re complete opposites, it turns out we’re not, that we’ve had a common goal — first the children and now this,” she told Harper’s Bazaar last year.

Washington Experiences

Some of Mr. McCain’s Washington friends say they have barely met Mrs. McCain, while fellow mothers at their children’s schools say they have little sense of her husband. The two often relax in separate places: Mr. McCain prefers the family’s ranch in the Arizona desert, while Mrs. McCain’s refuge is a high-rise condominium on the Pacific. (Her husband is “not a beach person,” she recently told Vogue.)

From the beginning, John and Cindy McCain had two entirely different experiences of Washington. He was the most popular member of the freshman Congressional class of 1983, with the most heroic background, the most uproarious jokes and, from his days as the Senate’s Navy liaison, the highest-level contacts. “John was clearly the star from the first day,” said Steve Bartlett, a former congressman from Texas.

Mrs. McCain was 28, nearly two decades younger than her husband and just five years older than his eldest-son. “Cindy was a little bit star struck by John’s fame and the strength of his personality,” said Diana Dunn, who socialized with the couple. Ms. Dunn, the former wife of William S. Cohen, the former Maine senator and defense secretary, recalls the new Mrs. McCain as gracious but timid, unschooled in Washington conversation, and worried about fitting in.

Carol McCain was still a presence on the social scene, working in the Reagan White House and as an events planner. Everyone knew her story: she had stood by her husband during his captivity in North Vietnam, never passing word of a debilitating car accident, only to discover, a few years after their reunion, that he was leaving her for a younger, richer woman.

Rejected by the clubby Congressional wives, Cindy McCain tried to befriend her husband’s aides.

“She seemed lonely,” said Lisa Boepple, a former chief of staff. But “she was John’s wife, so we didn’t really want to hang around with her.”

Mrs. McCain announced she was returning to Phoenix to start a family, but friends detected other reasons. “I think Cindy made an intellectual decision: I could stay here and fight this, or I could go and do more productive things,” said Ms. Ross, the friend from back home.

Ever since, the McCains have led only partly overlapping lives, with Mr. McCain — who was first elected to the Senate in 1986 — spending the week in Washington. The separation had a political upside: Mr. McCain, initially considered something of a carpetbagger, boasted that his family lived in Arizona. He flew home on weekends, but spent part of them campaigning.

In his absence, Mrs. McCain organized elaborate fund-raisers, like a “South Pacific” affair to complement his naval background, complete with Polynesian dancers. She shopped for thoughtful gifts: engraved silver platters to give to staff members on primary night, gold elephant lapel pins, and gag presents, like a cowboy outfit for Victoria Clark, then an aide who knew little about the West. For his district offices, she ordered native Arizonan plants — which all promptly died, according to Peggy Rubach, a former aide.

Mrs. McCain expanded her childhood home, turning it into a 10,000-square-foot mansion that struck more than one visitor as a shrine to her husband. On the walls, she hung photos of the storied McCain military clan and her husband clasping hands with Republican presidents. Elephants adorned the wallpaper in one bathroom and a pot rack in the kitchen. In the master suite, she installed a fireplace carved with “MC,” for McCain.

When he was home, the two were “as affectionate as you can be with John McCain,” said Wes Gullet, a former aide, explaining that his old boss, with his military training, restless energy and sarcastic humor, is not the cuddly type. “He’s a funny and vivacious guy, but he is not someone who spends his weekend watching ‘The Way We Were,’ ” Mr. Gullet said.

Recently, Mrs. McCain has called the separations painful, volunteering that she endured several miscarriages alone. She spent subsequent pregnancies mostly confined to home, Ms. Ross said, sitting in a favorite stuffed chair, watching videos. But she rarely complained. “Her attitude was as a good soldier,” Mr. Gullet said.

As her family grew, her parents moved across the street to help out, even ordering birthday gifts to be given in her husband’s name. “I’m sure John hasn’t been able to get anything done, so send something Cindy would enjoy,” Marguerite Hensley, Mrs. McCain’s mother, would tell G. Darrell Olson, a local jeweler. “John doesn’t have a lot of money, so find something in the $5,000 area,” she added, according to Mr. Olson. (One year, Mr. McCain chose his own gift for his wife: a ring with her children’s birthstones.)

Mr. McCain regretted his absences, but he saw himself as an improvement on his own father and grandfather. “John’s dad had gone to war on Dec. 7” — the day Pearl Harbor was attacked — “and didn’t come home for years at a time,” Mr. Gullet said.

Scandal and an Addiction

Whatever humiliation Mrs. McCain suffered in her first Washington foray, her trips there in 1989, for weeks of Senate hearings on the savings-and-loan scandal, were worse.

“I can remember once during that time, Cindy saying she didn’t know how she was going to get up in the morning,” Ms. Ross said. For the ever-present news cameras, Mrs. McCain developed what Ms. Ross called “that stone face” — an impassive mask.

Her husband was accused of improperly intervening on behalf of a donor, Charles Keating, whose failed savings and loan had cost taxpayers billions. Four other senators were implicated, and one Senate spouse: Mrs. McCain. She and her father had invested in a shopping center with Mr. Keating, and while Mr. McCain insisted that he had reimbursed Mr. Keating for vacations their families had taken together in the Bahamas, he said his wife, the family bookkeeper, could not find the receipts.

Mrs. McCain busied herself with the American Voluntary Medical Team, a charity she founded to supply medical equipment and expertise to some of the neediest places on earth, like Micronesia, Vietnam and Kuwait in the weeks after the Persian Gulf war.

When Mrs. McCain visited Bangladesh after a cyclone, she stopped at an orphanage founded by Mother Teresa, who was not, as the campaign has said, present for the visit. Mrs. McCain returned with two baby girls; Mr. Gullet later adopted one, and Mrs. McCain informed her husband on landing that they would adopt the other.

In 1994, Mrs. McCain dissolved the charity after admitting that she had been addicted to painkillers for years and had stolen prescription drugs from it. She had used the drugs, first given for back pain, to numb herself during the Keating Five investigation, she confessed to Newsweek magazine. “The newspaper articles didn’t hurt as much, and I didn’t hurt as much,“ she wrote in an essay. “The pills made me feel euphoric and free.”

The scandal broke just as her husband had been trying to rehabilitate his reputation. He had no idea his wife had been an addict, he told the press.

On the Trail

Mrs. McCain has said that the smears during her husband’s 2000 presidential bid — he was accused of fathering a black child, a twisted reference to their daughter from Bangladesh — left her skittish about presidential politics.

Observers of that campaign and the current one say she seems different this time — more guarded, more tense, superthin. She rarely campaigns away from her husband’s side, and yet their interactions on the trail often appear brief and formal. During the rolling primary-season seminars that Mr. McCain held in the back of his bus, Mrs. McCain sat up front. Once in a while, she joined him, sitting very straight, smiling and saying little. Physically, she seems fragile: she suffers from migraines, hobbled around on crutches last year after a knee injury and recently wore a wrist brace because of a handshaking injury.

In speaking about each other, the McCains use standard lines: she praises his experience, he tells the crowd that she should really be the candidate. Meghan McCain, their daughter, performs the image-softening role spouses usually perform for each other: on her blog, she depicts her father joking around on campaign planes and her mother in polka-dot pajamas. On Friday, Mrs. McCain made rare contact with the reporters covering her husband, distributing Halloween candy and gaily advising, “Make your dentist happy!”

In interviews, some of Mrs. McCain’s statements seem questionable. She often tells of how she moved to California, leaving her children behind, for four months in 2004 to recover from a stroke that left her unable to walk or speak. But news reports from the time indicate she had few discernible impediments. She gave interviews four days afterward, attended a baseball game with her husband and a reporter several weeks later, and spoke at a Tempe, Ariz., Chamber of Commerce event. “One month out, I feel wonderful,” she told the audience. The McCain campaign declined to resolve the discrepancy.

Similarly, Mrs. McCain often mentions her travels to Rwanda at the height of the 1994 genocide — she wrote about it in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece and has been praised by politicians and newspaper columnists for jetting into the heart of a massacre. As with her other charity trips, participants praised her eagerness to help victims of tragedy. But news accounts and interviews indicate, and a campaign spokesman confirmed, that Mrs. McCain traveled after the genocide had ended, spending time with refugees in neighboring Zaire, now Congo. Asked if she was ever in Rwanda, as Mrs. McCain has stated many times, a campaign spokesman, Jill Hazelbaker, said “she was driven to the Zaire/Rwanda border in order to assess the conditions of the refugees entering the country.”

Whatever stumbles she may have made in telling her story, Mrs. McCain has exhibited the signal trait of the political spouse: a burning desire to win. In summer 2007, she helped reorganize her husband’s campaign after it almost fell apart, sitting down with the books to review the cash-flow. Rick Davis, a contentious figure in the McCain camp because of his lobbying ties, emerged as campaign manager, in part because Mrs. McCain, with whom he spent months traveling and fund-raising, backed him.

“It was at a time when most people had given up on John,” said Mr. Salmon, the former Arizona congressman. “When he was down, Cindy was extremely positive.”

Asked to explain how Mrs. McCain can seem so uncomfortable on the trail and yet so intent on victory, friends say she truly believes that her husband is the best man for the job. Some note she has invested for decades in his career and now sees the ultimate prize in reach; others say she wants approval, from either her husband or the public. At a Florida rally on Thursday, the crowd greeted her with chants of “Cin-dy! Cin-dy!”

If Mr. McCain wins, she would have to return to the town she says she dislikes, attending the same sorts of luncheons she once fled from. But this time — maybe at the annual event that Congressional wives have for the first lady — the women of Washington, including a few who shunned her the first time around, would have to applaud in Mrs. McCain’s honor.

Kitty Bennett and Mark Leibovich contributed reporting.

Barack Obama for president
He is the competent, confident leader who represents the aspirations of the nation.
October 19, 2008
It is inherent in the American character to aspire to greatness, so it can be disorienting when the nation stumbles or loses confidence in bedrock principles or institutions. That's where the United States is as it prepares to select a new president: We have seen the government take a stake in venerable private financial houses; we have witnessed eight years of executive branch power grabs and erosion of civil liberties; we are still recovering from a murderous attack by terrorists on our own soil and still struggling with how best to prevent a recurrence.

We need a leader who demonstrates thoughtful calm and grace under pressure, one not prone to volatile gesture or capricious pronouncement. We need a leader well-grounded in the intellectual and legal foundations of American freedom. Yet we ask that the same person also possess the spark and passion to inspire the best within us: creativity, generosity and a fierce defense of justice and liberty.

The Times without hesitation endorses Barack Obama for president.

Our nation has never before had a candidate like Obama, a man born in the 1960s, of black African and white heritage, raised and educated abroad as well as in the United States, and bringing with him a personal narrative that encompasses much of the American story but that, until now, has been reflected in little of its elected leadership. The excitement of Obama's early campaign was amplified by that newness. But as the presidential race draws to its conclusion, it is Obama's character and temperament that come to the fore. It is his steadiness. His maturity.

These are qualities American leadership has sorely lacked for close to a decade. The Constitution, more than two centuries old, now offers the world one of its more mature and certainly most stable governments, but our political culture is still struggling to shake off a brash and unseemly adolescence. In George W. Bush, the executive branch turned its back on an adult role in the nation and the world and retreated into self-absorbed unilateralism.

John McCain distinguished himself through much of the Bush presidency by speaking out against reckless and self-defeating policies. He earned The Times' respect, and our endorsement in the California Republican primary, for his denunciation of torture, his readiness to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and his willingness to buck his party on issues such as immigration reform. But the man known for his sense of honor and consistency has since announced that he wouldn't vote for his own immigration bill, and he redefined "torture" in such a disingenuous way as to nearly embrace what he once abhorred.

Indeed, the presidential campaign has rendered McCain nearly unrecognizable. His selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate was, as a short-term political tactic, brilliant. It was also irresponsible, as Palin is the most unqualified vice presidential nominee of a major party in living memory. The decision calls into question just what kind of thinking -- if that's the appropriate word -- would drive the White House in a McCain presidency. Fortunately, the public has shown more discernment, and the early enthusiasm for Palin has given way to national ridicule of her candidacy and McCain's judgment.

Obama's selection also was telling. He might have scored a steeper bump in the polls by making a more dramatic choice than the capable and experienced Joe Biden. But for all the excitement of his own candidacy, Obama has offered more competence than drama.

He is no lone rider. He is a consensus-builder, a leader. As a constitutional scholar, he has articulated a respect for the rule of law and the limited power of the executive that make him the best hope of restoring balance and process to the Justice Department. He is a Democrat, leaning further left than right, and that should be reflected in his nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. This is a good thing; the court operates best when it is ideologically balanced. With its present alignment at seven justices named by Republicans and two by Democrats, it is due for a tug from the left.

We are not sanguine about Obama's economic policies. He speaks with populist sweep about taxing oil companies to give middle-class families rebates that of course they would welcome, but would be far too small to stimulate the economy. His ideas on taxation do not stray far from those put forward by Democrats over the last several decades. His response to the most recent, and drastic, fallout of the sub- prime mortgage meltdown has been appropriately cautious; this is uncharted territory, and Obama is not a master of economic theory or practice.

And that's fine. Obama inspires confidence not so much in his grasp of Wall Street finance but in his acknowledgment of and comfort with his lack of expertise. He will not be one to forge far-reaching economic policy without sounding out the best thinkers and practitioners, and he has many at his disposal. He has won the backing of some on Wall Street not because he's one of them but because they recognize his talent for extracting from a broad range of proposals a coherent and workable program.

On paper, McCain presents the type of economic program The Times has repeatedly backed: One that would ease the tax burden on business and other high earners most likely to invest in the economy and hire new workers. But he has been disturbingly unfocused in his response to the current financial situation, rushing to "suspend" his campaign and take action (although just what action never became clear). Having little to contribute, he instead chose to exploit the crisis.

We may one day look back on this presidential campaign in wonder. We may marvel that Obama's critics called him an elitist, as if an Ivy League education were a source of embarrassment, and belittled his eloquence, as if a gift with words were suddenly a defect. In fact, Obama is educated and eloquent, sober and exciting, steady and mature. He represents the nation as it is, and as it aspires to be.

Newspapers That Backed Bush Shift To Obama

The Denver Post, "which had backed George W. Bush in 2004 and is owned by Republican-leaning William Dean Singleton," endorsed Barack Obama for president on Friday. "So did the Chicago Sun-Times, Kansas City Star. Southwest News-Herald (Ill.) and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And to top it off: another Bush-backing in 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune."

The Obama campaign has posted excerpts from all the recent endorsements.

Greg Mitchell has more:

In E&P's exclusive count, Obama now leads 58-16 in editorial endorsements. Check out our running list, updated Friday, here.

Colorodo, of course, is a key swing state. Georgia is also now, surprisingly, in play and the Atlanta paper is the state's largest.

The Salt Lake paper complained that "out of nowhere, and without proper vetting, the impetuous McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. She quickly proved grievously underequipped to step into the presidency should McCain, at 72 and with a history of health problems, die in office. More than any single factor, McCain's bad judgment in choosing the inarticulate, insular and ethically challenged Palin disqualifies him for the presidency.

"Still, we have compelling reasons for endorsing Obama on his merits alone. Under the most intense scrutiny and attacks from both parties, Obama has shown the temperament, judgment, intellect and political acumen that are essential in a president that would lead the United States out of the crises created by President Bush, a complicit Congress and our own apathy."

The Kansas City paper also hit McCain hard for choosing an "unqualfied" running mate.

* * *

On Friday, two dependable conservative organs backed Democrat Barack Obama for president.

First, Philadelphia talk radio host Michael Smerconish:

On his talk show on WPHT today, conservative Philadelphian Michael Smerconish endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Smerconish did so by reading a couple paragraphs from his pending op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"I've decided," he said. "My conclusion comes after reading the candidates' memoirs and campaign platforms, attending both party conventions, interviewing both men multiple times, and watching all primary and general election debates.

"John McCain is an honorable man who has served his country well. But he will not get my vote. For the first time since registering as a Republican 28 years ago, I'm voting for a Democrat for president.

"I may have been an appointee in the George H.W. Bush administration, and master of ceremonies for George W. Bush in 2004, but last Saturday I stood amidst the crowd at an Obama event in North Philadelphia," says the Republican.

Then, the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper that has not endorsed a Democrat for president since it was founded in 1847, followed suit. From their editorial:

Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.


It may have seemed audacious for Obama to start his campaign in Springfield, invoking Lincoln. We think, given the opportunity to hold this nation's most powerful office, he will prove it wasn't so audacious after all. We are proud to add Barack Obama's name to Lincoln's in the list of people the Tribune has endorsed for president of the United States.

According to Editor & Publisher, Obama now has a 3 to 1 lead over McCain in newspaper endorsements -- 51 newspapers with a total 6,299,363 daily circulation. At least seven of those papers endorsed President Bush in 2004.

Joe Biden On "Tonight Show" (VIDEO)

Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden calls McCain a longtime friend, but he said Thursday the Republican presidential candidate just isn't himself at this stage of the campaign.

"He seems a little more angry than he usually is," Biden told Jay Leno on NBC's "The Tonight Show," after Leno said McCain was making odd facial expressions during his debate Wednesday night with Democrat Barack Obama.

"John doesn't seem comfortable right now," Biden added.

"I don't think John is comfortable with the negative stuff in the advertising" being run by his campaign, Biden said at another point.

Biden, a Delaware senator, made a brief stop on Leno's stage in Burbank on his way to a fundraiser in Los Angeles. The two chatted about the economic crisis, the Iraq war and developments on the campaign trail as Nov. 4 closes in.

Biden has a reputation for verbal gaffes, and he assured Leno he'd be providing more fodder for late-night talk shows. Leno ribbed him about a slip-up at a rally in Ohio on Wednesday, when Biden referred to "a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S."

"I suspect I'll make a whole lot more," Biden said.

He credited Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin with driving up viewership of their debate, the second most-watched political matchup ever.

"I was a bit player in that debate," Biden concluded.

The 65-year-old Biden joked about his age, while poking at McCain, 72, who if elected would become the oldest first-term American president.

"The only guy older than me is John," he said.


Asked about Biden's claim that McCain seemed a bit cranky, McCain campaign spokesman Rick Gorka said, "John McCain is a fighter.

"People are hurting, they are upset and they want answers, and John McCain is the candidate that understands," Gorka said.

Biden later attended an outdoor fundraiser in Los Angeles attended by several hundred people, where tickets cost up to $5,000 and members of the band Maroon 5 entertained the crowd.

He urged supporters not to be lulled into complacency by polls showing Obama with an edge and warned of an onslaught of negative ads from their rivals that would come in the closing days of the campaign.

"This is no time for us to get cocky," said Biden, who was introduced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "We cannot take anything for granted."

Chicago Tribune Endorses ObamaThe Chicago Tribune endorsed Barack Obama Friday, marking the first time in the paper's 161-year history it has backed a Democrat for president.

The unsigned editorial, which was published on the paper's Web site Friday afternoon, wasted little time establishing the historic moment of the election and substantiating its choice by tying Obama to Abraham Lincoln, whose presidency is at the core of the Tribune's identity.

The opening section:

However this election turns out, it will dramatically advance America's slow progress toward equality and inclusion. It took Abraham Lincoln's extraordinary courage in the Civil War to get us here. It took an epic battle to secure women the right to vote. It took the perseverance of the civil rights movement. Now we have an election in which we will choose the first African-American president . . . or the first female vice president. [...] On Nov. 4 we're going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.

The editorial acknowledged the paper's deep conservative roots, noting that one of the Tribune's founders, Joseph Medill, also helped to found the Republican Party:

The editorial page has been a proponent of conservative principles. It believes that government has to serve people honestly and efficiently.

But those "conservative principles" have been lost in the current Republican Party, the paper reasoned:

The Republican Party, the party of limited government, has lost its way. The government ran a $237 billion surplus in 2000, the year before Bush took office -- and recorded a $455 billion deficit in 2008. The Republicans lost control of the U.S. House and Senate in 2006 because, as we said at the time, they gave the nation rampant spending and Capitol Hill corruption. They abandoned their principles. They paid the price.

John McCain, whom the Tribune endorsed in the Republican primary, did not convince the editorial board that he was capable of restoring those principles:

McCain failed in his most important executive decision. Give him credit for choosing a female running mate--but he passed up any number of supremely qualified Republican women who could have served. Having called Obama not ready to lead, McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. His campaign has tried to stage-manage Palin's exposure to the public. But it's clear she is not prepared to step in at a moment's notice and serve as president. McCain put his campaign before his country.

The Tribune praised Obama as a "University of Chicago Democrat" and promised to "provide some assurance" to Americans wary of the Illinois Senator:

We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

Editorial page editor Bruce Dold said he is "as proud of our endorsement of Obama" as he is of its endorsement of Lincoln:

In a story that accompanied the endorsement, editorial board member Paul Weingarten explained how the decision was reached:

There was a 90-minute discussion of the editorial board, which included Tribune publisher Tony Hunter and Tribune editor Gerould Kern. There were passionate, but respectful arguments on both sides. Everyone spoke. There was no shouting. What emerged was a clear consensus of the board in favor of Obama. Hunter, Kern and editorial page editor Bruce Dold agreed on that final decision. Dold wrote the endorsement.

Dold said Tribune Company CEO Sam Zell had no involvement in the endorsement.

More later - Sparky