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Filed under: Good Stuff — Kerry Fox @ 11:56 am

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November 7, 2006

Iraq Bomb Kills Two Lt. Colonels

Filed under: News — Kerry Fox @ 7:03 pm

Colorado Springs Gazette

A roadside bomb killed the deputy commander of Fort Carson’s largest force in Iraq on Thursday along with two other soldiers, the military announced Monday.

Lt. Col. Eric J. Kruger, 40, of Garland, Texas, died along with Lt. Col. Paul J. Finken, 40, of Mason City, Iowa, and Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Gage, 28, of Modesto, Calif., when their Humvee struck a bomb in eastern Baghdad.

Kruger was second in command of the 3,800-soldier 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which arrived in Baghdad last week.

He was married with two young children, said his neighbor, Holly Bliss.

The 2nd BCT has been working with the unit it is replacing, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, out of Fort Campbell, Ky. The other two men killed were members of that unit.

“It has been difficult, to say the least,” said Maj. Sean Ryan, a 2nd BCT spokesman, in an e-mail Monday from Iraq.

As of Oct. 28, the Army had lost 13 lieutenant colonels in the Iraq war. The explosion Thursday killed two more.

Kruger is the highest-ranking officer from Fort Carson to die in the war. Finken was the second-highest-ranking officer from Fort Campbell to be killed in Iraq.

The three men were riding together in what is known as the “right seat and left seat ride,” Ryan said, in which one leader prepares the other to take command.

“We have since changed tactics and no two key leaders will ride together for safety purposes,” Ryan said.

Kruger served in Afghanistan for a year before being assigned to the 2nd BCT in February.

“He was a wonderful, caring man and a good leader,” said Dee McNutt, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson who worked with Kruger at times. “He cared about all his soldiers and he gave 100 percent to them every single day.”

Bliss, the Krugers’ neighbor, said Kruger and his wife, Sara, moved into their northeast Colorado Springs home the same week as her family did last March. The Krugers’ children, a 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, have played with her 2-year-old son.

Kruger joined the military in 1989. He earned a Bronze Star and a Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, among other commendations. In addition to Afghanistan, he had served in Bahrain. He had bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern Methodist University.

Finken received a Bronze Star, along with multiple other commendations, during his time in the Army. He is survived by his wife, Jackie, and daughters Emilie, Caroline, and Julia of Clarksville, Tenn.

Finken headed a Military Transition Team, which was training the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Battalion.

Finken told USA Today in August that training Iraqis was a Catch-22, because they knew the neighborhoods well but also were hesitant to fight against people they knew.

“You’re now putting tribal loyalties at odds with some military operations,” Finken said.

Finken was a 1989 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was an infantry officer assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 506th Infantry Regiment. He entered the Army in 1989 and arrived at Fort Campbell in June 2003.

Gage was an infantryman assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team. He was a 10-year military veteran.

Gage received an Army Good Conduct Medal, among several commendations. He is survived by his wife, Samantha, and son, Michael, of Fort Campbell.

A Fort Carson spokesman said the Army has several options for reassigning Kruger’s responsibilities but declined to elaborate.

Britney Spears Files for Divorce from Kevin Federline

Filed under: Entertainment — Kerry Fox @ 6:45 pm

Fox News

LOS ANGELES  —  Britney Spears filed for divorced Tuesday from Kevin Federline, officials said.The Los Angeles County Superior Court filing cites “irreconcible differences,” said court spokeswoman Kathy Roberts.

Click for a PDF of the court papers

Spears, 24, married rapper Kevin Federline, 28, in 2004. They have a 1-year-old son, Sean Preston, and an infant son who was born Sept. 12. The couple have not confirmed the infant’s name, which is reportedly Jayden James.

Early Night for Poll Watchers?

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 6:37 pm

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
 

No matter who triumphs today — Election Day — supporters of both political parties and will have something to be happy about: They probably will not have to stay up too late to know which way the midterm elections are heading.

“The key races in Congress are concentrated in the Eastern and Central time zones, so we ought to have a good sense of the trend relatively early in the evening,” said Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

In the Senate, Democrats would have to gain six seats to win a majority, and all but one of the most competitive races are in states in the East or Midwest: Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio and Maryland. The single nail-biter farther west is in Montana.

Most tossup House races are also clustered in states east of the Mississippi River. By watching the fate of Republican candidates in Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, political enthusiasts will have a good idea whether Democrats will win the 15 seats they need to take control of the House, analysts say.

That is, of course, if everything goes smoothly. And things rarely do. Uncertainties about electronic voting machines and hassles over identifying registered voters could make early predictions about the election precarious.

Nonetheless, there will be plenty of guessing as the night goes on.

Broadcast networks plan to confine their reports to a single hour starting at 10 p.m. Eastern time, hosted by their national news anchors. ABC will also feature the midterm elections on “Nightline” from 11:30 p.m. to midnight. In addition, the broadcast channels will do live cut-ins throughout the evening when major results become known.

Political junkies will demand a lot more information than that. For them, cable news channels and Web sites will fill in the gaps.

The cable channels are scheduled to provide their usual blanket coverage all evening and into the wee hours. This year, in addition, the Web versions of most major publications and news outlets will constantly update their online election results. Cyber surfers will be able to pop onto a wide variety of Web sites as often as they want and track every tick of the electoral totals.

“If you wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, you can go to your computer for the latest results,” said Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for continuous news. “People can also wake up first thing in the morning and do the same thing.”

For people who want their beauty rest, however, a few contests with early poll closings can be seen as harbingers of things to come. As Kentucky and Indiana go, analysts say, so will go the House. And the good news: The polls in both states will close by 7 p.m. Eastern time.

Nathan L. Gonzales of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report recommends looking at Kentucky in particular. If Rep. Geoff Davis (R) is defeated by former representative Ken Lucas (D), Gonzales said, “the GOP is in serious jeopardy.” If Reps. Anne M. Northup and Ron Lewis, both Republicans, also lose, Republican losses in the House could be sizable, he added.

Another bellwether is Indiana. Three Republican congressmen face tough reelection fights there: John N. Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Michael E. Sodrel. Hostettler has been all but given up for lost. But if Chocola, Sodrel or both also go down, the Republican majority in the House will probably fall with them, analysts agree.

Walter of the Cook Political Report sees the electoral fate of Sodrel, a freshman who is facing former representative Baron Hill (D) for the third time, as one of the nation’s best predictors of the partisan direction of the House.

“If a Democratic tsunami is hitting, Republicans could realistically lose the majority before the polls close in the 8 p.m. states,” such as Pennsylvania, Gonzales said. “But if Republicans can escape these early states down by only three or four seats, it should be considered a moral victory.”

The Cook Report lists nine Senate races as tossups, and Gonzales of the Rothenberg Report names two of them as the ones to watch.

Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.) is in a neck-and-neck battle with Missouri state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D). And in Virginia, Sen. George Allen (R) is nip and tuck with Democrat James Webb. “If Talent loses, the GOP majority is in serious jeopardy [in the Senate],” Gonzales said. “And it’s gone completely if Allen loses.”

Best of all, the polls in both states will be closed by 8 p.m. Eastern time.

Crashed Laptops Lead to Long Lines in Denver

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 6:10 pm

CNN

DENVER, Colorado — When Denver and other Colorado cities switched from a precinct system to a more centralized voter center system, it was supposed to speed up the voting process, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

Under the new system, voters can go to any of the city’s many voting centers to vote. They come in and go to a laptop to check-in. Poll workers pull up their name and precinct and then program the e-voting machine and pull up their precinct ballot.

The bad news for many voters here at the Botanical Garden voting center is that the laptops crashed earlier today, so it’s been a logjam. A two-hour line developed, but with the laptops up and running again, officials hope the line starts shrinking.

The process can’t go quickly enough for some voters. I spoke to Stella Karabin, an elderly voter who was carrying a portable oxygen tank. They rushed Stella and her husband Myron to the front of the line because she didn’t have two hours worth of oxygen. It still took the Karabins around 45 minutes to vote.

Parties Fight Labels, Each Other for Control of Congress

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 5:43 pm

CNN

Republicans faced the possibility Tuesday that war in Iraq, an unpopular president, and a series of scandals would thwart their chances to maintain a grip on Congress.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats were battling accusations they are soft on national security and the economy. Some say they also are hindered by an uncanny propensity to blow elections over the last 12 years.

The war and a series of GOP gaffes may boost Democrats to victory in several elections, and Democrats seem poised to win a majority of of the 36 gubernatorial races across the country for the first time since they were last considered a dominant force in Congress.

While Michigan and Wisconsin promise two of the tightest races for the state’s executive office, Iowa is one of the most evenly divided states in the nation, with presidential candidate Al Gore barely taking the state in 2000 and Bush barely carrying it in 2004.

Also appearing on state ballots are a string of referendums, some controversial. Included are initiatives proposing to legalize marijuana, ban same-sex marriage, recognize domestic partnerships, make English the official state language, permit stem-cell research and raise the minimum wage.

Another controversy facing some states were technical glitches and other voting problems. The possibility of controversial election returns had already reared itself in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Ohio as of Tuesday afternoon.

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to take the House, and a net gain of six seats to take the Senate. But even with the wind at their backs — especially in the House — one senior Democratic aide warned, “Don’t underestimate our ability to blow it.”

Sixteen GOP incumbents in five states are fighting for their political lives in races stretching from the Atlantic seaboard to the Ohio River Valley. The Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Connecticut and Pennsylvania races, say analysts, are the harbinger for whether the Democrats will take control of the House for the first time since 1994.

The entire House is up for election. If Republicans can fend off their Democratic challengers in these five states, they will defy widespread expectations that the House is primed for a changing of the guard.

But the GOP, which holds a 231-201 advantage in the House, will be on the defense, as Democrats are expected to hold all the seats they have, and depending on the prognostication, take about 20 to 36 seats from Republicans.

“Obviously, we have always recognized the steep hill to climb because it’s the sixth year of the president’s term,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. “At the same time, I think there’s momentum.”

Recent polls asking Americans how they plan to vote indicate Republicans are trailing by double digits — 53 percent to 41 percent, according to the polls’ average — but Mehlman said the gap was narrowing.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has a different take, saying “there’s a lot of energy on the Democratic side.”

“It was inevitable that the Republicans at some point would start to kind of come back a little,” Emanuel said, but “from early indications of our field operation, I feel strong about it and good about the type of field operation we have.”

To keep the House, Republicans must hold 22 of their seats at a time when polls indicate public sentiment is not in their favor. The GOP has been plagued by scandals and investigations that put five previously safe seats in jeopardy, including those formerly held by Republican Reps. Tom DeLay of Texas, Bob Ney of Ohio and Mark Foley of Florida, all of whom resigned and abandoned their re-election bids.

While polls suggest the Democrats have the edge in the House, they also suggest the Republican grip on the Senate is safer — but that isn’t stopping some Democrats from beating their chests.

“On Wednesday morning, the White House is going to wake up and say, ‘We have a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. We’ve got a problem,’ ” said Jim Webb, who is locked in a tight race with Sen. George Allen, R-Virginia, who also has expressed confidence in his chances of winning.

Thirty-three Senate seats are at stake, but only nine races are considered competitive, five of which are held by Republicans in states Bush handily carried in 2004.

Turnout ‘Very Heavy’ in Montana

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 5:28 pm

CNN

Billings, Montana – Bowen Greenwood, the director of communications for the Montana Secretary of State’s Elections office, said that 102,250 absentee ballots had been returned by Monday afternoon out of the 125,293 that were sent out.
There are 645,000 registered voters in Montana.

Voter turnout so far has been “very heavy” as of 2:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. MT), Greenwood said.

“When I voted this morning, the entire ballroom was covered with voters,” he said.

Republican Sen. Conrad Burns in a tight race for re-election with Democrat Jon Tester. The outcome of the Montana race could determine the balance of power in the Senate.

Poll Worker Accused of Choking Voter

Filed under: National — Kerry Fox @ 4:24 pm

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A poll worker was arrested Tuesday and charged with assault and interfering with an election for allegedly choking a voter and pushing the voter out the door, an official said.

Election officials called police, and the voter wanted to file charges, said Paula McCraney, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Clerk.

“That about tops off the day,” McCraney said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what sparked the altercation. The name of the poll worker was not released and a Louisville police spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Two Major Homebuilders See Orders Dive

Filed under: Business/Money — Kerry Fox @ 4:16 pm

By DEBORAH YAO, AP Business Writer

PHILADELPHIA - In a sign of a deepening housing slump, two major homebuilders on Tuesday reported steep declines in new orders and weaker fourth-quarter results.

Luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc. of Horsham, Pa., said home-building revenue fell by 10 percent and signed contracts were down by 55 percent compared with a year ago. The company, which released its quarterly outlook ahead of earnings, also said it will incur a hefty charge against profits as it pares down the number of lots it controls.

Beazer Homes USA Inc. of Atlanta reported a 44 percent decline in profit as higher revenue was offset by squeezed margins. The company said there was “significant” discounting in most markets.

New orders for Beazer fell by 58 percent to 2,064 homes from 4,937 last year, as the housing market continued to slow. It has cut 1,000 jobs, or 25 percent of its workforce.

Shares of both homebuilders fell. Beazer lost 34 cents, or 1 percent, to $41.60 in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange while Toll Brothers fell by nearly 2 percent, or 51 cents, to $27.54, also on the Big Board.

“We continue to look for signs that a recovery is imminent but can’t yet say that one is in sight,” Toll Brothers Chief Executive Robert Toll said in a statement. “It is worth noting that, atypically, this housing market is weak in an environment of low interest rates and low unemployment.”

The average rate on the 30-year, fixed rate mortgage was 6.31 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac. The rate has fallen from 6.8 percent in July.

In the quarter, Toll Brothers’ home-building revenue fell to $1.81 billion from last year’s $2 billion. Signed contracts — a sign of future business — fell to $710 million from last year’s record $1.59 billion. The housing backlog declined as well, by 25 percent to $4.5 billion.

Toll Brothers said its fourth quarter was hurt by an above-average 585 cancellations. One-fourth of the quarter’s cancellations came from Orlando and Northern California.

The Southeast region, comprising Florida and the Carolinas, saw the biggest drop in signed contracts, down 78 percent to 101 in the quarter. It was followed by the Southwest — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Texas — down 62 percent to 163 contracts.

Toll Brothers also pared back the number of lots it controls by about 6,500. As such, it expects to take write-downs of between $50 million and $100 million on lands owned and on option.

The company expects earnings to be reduced by 18 to 36 cents per share as a result.

Toll Brothers now expects to deliver between 6,300 and 7,300 homes for fiscal 2007, down from its prior outlook of 7,000 to 8,000 deliveries.

For the first quarter, the homebuilder expects to deliver between 1,500 and 1,800 homes.

Beazer’s fourth-quarter net income fell to $91.9 million, or $2.19 per share, from $164.4 million, or $3.61 per share, a year ago. Revenue climbed 4 percent to $1.88 billion.

On average, analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for profits of $1.65 per share on sales of $1.51 billion.

Beazer said it closed 6,411 homes during the quarter, up about 1 percent from the prior year as decreased closings in Florida and the Mid-Atlantic were offset by increases in the West, Southeast and other homebuilding segments.

The company previously said it expected 2007 home closings of 12,000 to 13,500, and sees new orders in the range of 12,000 to 14,000 for this period.

If Beazer closes on 13,500 homes, it is forecasting 2007 earnings per share of about $3.65 — slightly below analysts’ current consensus estimate of $3.69 per share.

Voter Results Will Decide Bush’s Potency

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 2:35 pm

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush exhorted Americans Tuesday to “do your duty” and vote in midterm elections that Republicans worry could tip the congressional balance of power to Democrats.

Even though Bush’s name was not on the Election Day ballot, he sought steadfastly in recent weeks to influence its outcome.

On Tuesday morning, the president did just what he’s been prodding voters to do on his campaign swing through 10 states: vote Republican. At sunrise, he strode into the Crawford Fire Station near his ranch just as Texas polls opened and did the last thing he could do for this party.

Once he left the voting booth, Bush made a general appeal to all citizens to go out and vote.

“We live in a free society and our government is only as good as the willingness of our people to participate,” said Bush, his wife, Laura, at his side and an “I voted” sticker on the lapel of his brown suede jacket.

“Therefore, no matter what your party affiliation or if you don’t have a party affiliation, do your duty cast your ballot and let your voice be heard,” Bush said.

The GOP says the president’s five-day sprint through heavily Republican areas helped fire up the party’s political troops. The hope is that the GOP’s well-oiled, get-out-the-vote operation will be enough to fend off the Democrats’ aggressive push to capture control of Congress.

Privately, however, Republicans acknowledge that their party has a slim chance of retaining the House after tight campaign races that, in many states, have turned into a referendum on the president himself, turmoil in Iraq and political scandals.

Bush, quick to denounce political prognosticators, put a positive spin his party’s chances.

“I knew we were going to finish strong,” Bush said at a rally in Arkansas where the audience was pumped up by a university band banging drums and cymbals. “I knew that we were going to come roarin’ into Election Day because we’ve got the right position on taxes, we’ve got the right position on what it takes to protect you from attack.”

Sara Taylor, White House political director, said the president’s presence helped at each stop on his final push to Election Day. For example, she said, Bush’s trip to Sugar Land, Texas, on Oct. 30 helped the write-in candidacy of Shelley Sekula-Gibbs to replace former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who resigned amid investigations about his fundraising.

“He is energizing voters in contested races in areas where turnout will make the difference,” Taylor said.

Still, the White House had to battle the perception that Bush was doing his party as much harm as good — and was unwanted in some districts. The White House did not hide its irritation when the Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate, Charlie Crist, skipped a chance to campaign at Bush’s side in the Florida Panhandle. Crist said his support was firm there and it made more sense to campaign elsewhere in the state.

In recent history, the best any party has done when the popularity of the man sitting in the Oval Office has dipped below 50 percent was in 1978. That year, when President Carter’s approval was 49 percent, his party lost 15 seats in the House, the same number that Democrats need to regain control of the House this year.

Out to beat the odds, Bush, his shirt sleeves rolled up, bounded onto the stage at each rally in Montana, Nevada, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Arkansas and Texas.

Bush’s schedule for the last lap took him to places like Elko, Nev., and other small to mid-size cities where he could create a buzz and draw wall-to-wall coverage from local media.

“The smaller the place, the more exciting it is,” said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University public affairs professor who has worked in several Republican administrations.

“But what is it telling us that he’s in Elko instead of Cleveland?” Hess asked. “He’d been better off if he could have been in places where he could be seen by 100,000 rather than 10,000.”

At nearly every stop, several dozen protesters shouted and waved mostly anti-war signs at Bush’s motorcade. One in Grand Island, Neb., said: “Stay the curse,” a denunciation of Bush’s “Stay the course” strategy in Iraq.

Did Bush sway voters in the south-central Nebraska town of 16,685?

“I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference,” said Dwayne Niemoth, a disabled Vietnam veteran from Campbell, Neb. “I hope so, but I think it’s pretty much decided.”

Hussein to Iraqis: Forgive Each Other, Reconcile

Filed under: News — Kerry Fox @ 2:28 pm

CNN

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, speaking in court two days after being sentenced to death for crimes against humanity, has called on Iraqis to forgive each other.

“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds, to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” Hussein said Tuesday at his second trial, where he and six other defendants face charges related to the military Operation Anfal in the country’s Kurdish region in 1988.

Hussein and Ali Hassan al-Majid, or Chemical Ali, have been charged with genocide.

The former leader was conflicted on Sunday in the deaths of almost 150 Shiite Muslims, which followed an assassination attempt on him in the town of Dujail in 1982.

On Tuesday, the court heard from three Kurdish villagers who were survivors of a 1988 execution squad and the fourth who fled a chemical attack in the same year.

Hussein listened quietly as the first witness testified Tuesday for about 90 minutes, at one time taking off his shirt to show his back scarred by bullet wounds.

After his testimony, Hussein said Muhammad failed to connect him to his shooting.

“Witnesses come here and take us on a trip and have nothing to back up what their saying,” Hussein said. “Who backs up their words? No Arabs, no Kurds, no one. Is this the way to reach the truth?”

The witness said he and other villagers surrendered following an uprising in the Kurdish village after they were promised a pardon by Hussein and his Baath party. Instead, the witness said, they were rounded up along with all the other men and shot.

The second witness, who gave a similar account of the execution and showed his gunshot scars, presented a video of bodies being excavated at a mass grave in his village of Kareem.

The witness said the mass grave was located at the site of the execution, and excavated in 1991.

The third witness quoted Hussein as saying, “‘Kurds are saboteurs and have to be destroyed.’”

When Hussein asked him during cross examination to specify when he had said that, the man gulped in fear before he tried to answer in a shaky voice. The judge asked the witness to answer the question and he replied, “People used to say that, I did not hear that.”

Five witnesses are expected to testify when the trial resumes Wednesday.

The Anfal trial will continue while an appeal is under way in the Dujail case.

On Monday, the chief prosecutor said the nine-judge appeals panel was expected to rule on Hussein’s guilty verdict and death sentence in the Dujail case by the middle of January. That could set in motion a possible execution by mid-February.

Hussein and two co-defendants were sentenced Sunday to be hanged, while four other defendants were sentenced to prison terms ranging up to life. One defendant was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Defense lawyers called the sentences politically motivated — timed, they said, to “consolidate the electoral campaign of George W. Bush.”

The lawyers also questioned the impartiality of the judges of the Iraqi High Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country opposed the death penalty “whether it’s Saddam or anyone else.”

Blair added, however, that the trial “gives us a chance to see again what the past in Iraq was, the brutality, the tyranny, the hundreds of thousands of people he killed, the wars,” The Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, Iran called for the death sentence to be carried out, saying the former Iraqi dictator was a criminal who deserved to die.

“We hope the fair, correct and legal verdict against this criminal … is enforced,” government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told a news conference, AP reported.

Hussein waged a war against Iran in 1980-88. More than a million Iranians and Iraqis died in the conflict.

Lieberman Says He Won’t Be Beholden to GOP

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 2:18 pm

Associated Press

MERIDEN, Conn. - Though Sen. Joe Lieberman expects to win a lot of Republican votes Tuesday, the Connecticut lawmaker said he won’t feel especially beholden to the GOP if he is elected to a fourth term.

“I’ll owe everybody and that’s the point,” Lieberman said Monday as he pressed for final votes at a senior center in Meriden.

Lieberman, whose Senate career was at risk just three months ago after he lost to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary, led Lamont by 12 percentage points in a statewide poll released Monday.

Lieberman is running as an independent and has enjoyed support from the GOP, including praise from the White House and fundraising help from prominent Republicans such as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

But he said his comeback since the primary has convinced him that he needs to be a stronger independent voice.

“It’s taken me as an independent-minded Democrat and really empowered me to be more independent,” said Lieberman, the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential nominee. “Parties are important, but they’re not as important as the public interest.”

A 50/50 Senate split?
Potential gains by Democrats mean the Senate could end up in a 50-50 split, or something close to it. Republicans, who have already helped Lieberman’s campaign, would likely court him in hopes of persuading him to switch parties.

Lieberman has pledged to remain a Democrat.

“At every occasion I’m going to try my best to build bridges instead of walls between people in both parties,” he said.

Lamont, a Greenwich businessman and political newcomer who has spent $16 million of his own money, including a $2 million loan, on the race, gave a final speech at a union office in Hartford on Monday. He echoed the theme of change that he has used throughout the campaign.

“I say we have a lot of people who have been in Washington D.C., too long,” Lamont said. “It’s time to bring some new people down there who are going to shake up the way we do business.”

Lieberman’s independent bid rankled many Democrats who questioned his party loyalty. He has admitted to some bruised feelings about Democratic colleagues such as fellow Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, who endorsed him in the primary but is now backing Lamont.

“Well, we’re all grown-ups,” Lieberman said. “And the Senate is ultimately 100 people going to work in the same place every day and your ability to get things done depends on how well you get along with the other workers, so it will be fine.”

Glitches Reported in Early Voting

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 1:38 pm

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Voters put the Republican congressional majority and a multitude of new voting equipment to the test Tuesday in an election that defined the balance of power for the rest of George W. Bush’s presidency.

Both parties hustled to get their supporters out in high-stakes contests across the country, Democrats appealing one more time for change, and appearing confident the mood was on their side.

Republicans conceded nothing as their vaunted get-out-the-vote machine swung into motion.

About a third of voters were using new equipment, and problems in several states were reported right out of the gate. The government deployed a record number of poll watchers to the many competitive races across the country.

Glitches delayed balloting in dozens of Indiana and Ohio precincts, and Illinois officials were swamped with calls from voters complaining that poll workers did not know how to operate new electronic equipment.

In Delaware County, Indiana, officials planned to seek a court order to extend voting after an apparent computer error prevented voters from casting ballots in 75 precincts.

Florida officials, working to avoid a repeat of the vote-counting debacle of 2000, fielded extra voting machines, paper ballots and poll workers.

In the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park, Florida, voters were forced to use paper ballots after an electronic machine broke.

Voting at sunrise, Bush switched from partisan campaigner to democracy’s cheerleader as he implored Americans of all political leanings to cast ballots.

“We live in a free society and our government is only as good as the willingness of our people to participate,” Bush said, his wife, Laura, at his side and an “I voted” sticker on the lapel of his brown suede jacket.

“Therefore, no matter what your party affiliation or if you don’t have a party affiliation, do your duty, cast your ballot and let your voice be heard.”

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York seconded her party’s call for change, with one qualification.

“I voted for change, except for me,” she said, casting her ballot with her husband, Bill, the former president, in Chappaqua, New York.

In Tennessee, where Republican Bob Corker and Democrat Harold Ford Jr. were in a pitched battle for a Senate seat, even a spotty rain made Corker edgy.

“Any candidate doesn’t like to see rain,” Corker said, greeting supporters on a damp Tuesday morning in Kingsport. “You don’t know what kind of variables that brings into it.”

At stake in the midterm election were all 435 House seats, 33 in the Senate, 36 races for governor, ballot measures on gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, the minimum wage and more — plus the overarching fate of President Bush’s agenda in the last two years of his presidency.

Democrats hoped finally to answer the rout that drove them from legislative power in 1994. Even their opponents conceded Democrats were certain to make gains and, despite brave words for public consumption, Republicans worried that control of the House would slip from their hands.

Even Senate control was up in the air, but a tougher climb for Democrats.

Unsurprisingly, the chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties talked optimistically as voters went to the polls Tuesday.

“I believe we’re going to defy the experts and maintain our majority in the House and the Senate,” GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman said on CBS’s “The Early Show.”

Countered Howard Dean, his Democratic opposite number: “If you want change, we can give you change.”

That’s just what 60-year-old Ron Bowman, a Democrat from Windsor, Connecticut, had on his mind when he went out to vote first thing Tuesday.

“It was a chance for a change,” he said, after casting his ballot for Democratic senatorial candidate Ned Lamont over incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman, running as an independent.

Another voter who echoed Bowman’s sentiment, Shirley Swanson of Windsor, said that she, too, voted for Lamont. “He’s not Lieberman. Joe isn’t listening to us,” she said.

In Texas, Bush finished a restrained five-day round of campaigning mostly in GOP strongholds around the country. His presence on the stump was a mixed blessing for candidates attracted to the attention and fundraising prowess generated by a president but nervous about being associated too closely — or even seen with — an unpopular leader.

Charlie Crist, a Republican running to succeed Bush’s brother Jeb as Florida governor, bailed from a planned appearance with Bush in a safely Republican section of the Panhandle, an embarrassing snub on the eve of voting.

Bush gamely pressed on with lacerating attacks on Democrats at that Pensacola rally of 7,000 loud supporters. “The Democrat philosophy is this: If it breathes, tax it, and if it stops breathing, find its children and tax them,” Bush shouted.

Former President Clinton responded sharply in kind: “They can’t run anything right,” he said, taunting Republicans about Iraq, Hurricane Katrina recovery and scandal in Washington.

Democrats needed to gain 15 House seats or six in the Senate to form a majority, a development that would give them a stronger voice against a war that has cost more than 2,800 U.S. lives and has come to be seen by most Americans as misbegotten.

Sharply critical of Bush’s prosecution of the war throughout the campaign, Democrats nevertheless lack a common position on how to get the U.S. out.

Republicans have been the acknowledged champions at getting supporters out to polling stations, a critical skill in midterm elections when turnout is typically low, around 40 percent, and one that heightened suspense over which party would hold the levers of power at the end of the counting.

Evangelical conservatives are the foundation of that mobilization and motivation drive, but their own enthusiasm was in question as they faced the prospect of a president too politically weak to take forward their agenda and looked back on a campaign tainted by the congressional page sex scandal and more.

Even so, some final opinion polls indicated a tightening race; others suggested the Democrats were still far in front in national sentiment.

At least two dozen Republican House seats were at risk. Among GOP-held open seats, those in Arizona, Colorado, New York, Ohio and Iowa seemed most vulnerable. Republican Reps. John Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel of Indiana; Charles Taylor of North Carolina; Curt Weldon, Don Sherwood and Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania; and Charles Bass of New Hampshire were in particularly difficult re-election struggles.

In Senate races, Republican incumbents Mike DeWine in Ohio and Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania appeared in deepest trouble; Sens. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Conrad Burns in Montana somewhat less so.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, in line to become the first woman House speaker in history if Democrats win, was in Washington after a weekend of campaigning for candidates in Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Initiatives Seen Key to Some Congress Races

Filed under: Politics/Activism — Kerry Fox @ 10:33 am

Reuters

LOS ANGELES - Votes on divisive issues from gay marriage to stem cell research may decide control of the next U.S. Congress if state initiatives bring out voters in some of the tightest races on Tuesday.

A host of hotly contested races for Senate and House of Representatives seats are in states with ballot issues that have become battle cries and may motivate potential voters who otherwise might stay home.

“I urge Christians to make their voices heard,” Jerry Falwell, a prominent Christian conservative, said in a recent newsletter on his Web site, exhorting followers to go to the polls in states where amendments that would outlaw gay marriage are up for consideration. “Let’s get out and vote,” he said.

Eight states will decide such measures on Tuesday.

Tobacco and smoking taxes, abortion, property rights and minimum wage levels also will be considered in various forms by a number of states.

Voters will decide 205 ballot propositions in 37 states, according to the University of Southern California’s Initiative and Referendum Institute.

Control of both houses of Congress is up for grabs and politicians have been using ballot initiatives as a calculated strategy to get out the vote and to influence debates, said Institute President John Matsusaka.

“They are actually trying to affect who controls the Congress,” he said, pointing in particular to minimum wage raises promoted by Democrats.

In Missouri, one of the closest Senate races, a minimum wage proposal is on the ballot as well as one on stem cell research. Democrat Claire McCaskill supports embryonic stem cell research while rival Sen. Jim Talent (news, bio, voting record) said he supported some forms of research but not others.

“Where you have very closely contested races, as in the House or Senate this year, ballot measures either through turnout or affecting the issues people think about, could have a decisive roll,” said Stephen Nicholson, a political science professor at the University of California, Merced, who has written a book on the subject.

Some issues may have mostly symbolic value, however. Voters in Nevada, home to legal gambling and prostitution, will decide whether to de-criminalize marijuana.

“The proposed amendments would have no effect on federal laws that prohibit the sale, possession, use and transport of marijuana,” a state voter guide adds.

57 Iraqi Police Charged with Torture

Filed under: News — Kerry Fox @ 10:31 am

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that it had brought the first-ever charges of torture against members of the Iraqi police, who are accused of close ties to the Shiite death squads whose daily abductions and killings fuel the sectarian violence convulsing the country.

Authorities reported finding the bodies of a dozen apparent death squad victims floating in the Tigris River south of Baghdad.

Shiite death squads are generally thought to be behind such killings, hundreds of which have been recorded in Baghdad alone since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine in February ignited the explosion of sectarian revenge killings.

Some officers on the Shiite-dominated police force are accused of abetting the violence by allowing the gunmen to violate curfews and pass through checkpoints.

Torture is considered widespread among the poorly trained police force, which has suffered heavy losses at the hands of Sunni insurgents, Shiite militiamen and criminal gangs.

Such concerns were underscored by the discovery of a police torture chamber in Baghdad last year, and by the apparent complicity of police in a mass kidnapping of Sunni workers that prompted authorities to take an entire police brigade out of service for retraining.

The torture that led to the charges described Tuesday took place at a prison in eastern Baghdad called Site No. 4, the Interior Ministry said.

The police charged and removed from their job include a general, 19 officers, 20 noncommissioned officers and 17 patrolmen or civilian employees.

Their names were being withheld, but ministry spokesman Brig. Abdel-Karim Khalaf said the general had received administrative punishment and would face criminal charges.

Khalaf declined to give details about specific abuses or what sentences the policemen could receive if found guilty.

“All of these people will stand trial and the court will decide their fate,” Khalaf said.

Meanwhile, a subdued Saddam Hussein returned to court for his genocide trial, two days after being sentenced to hang for war crimes in the 1980s killings of 148 people in the town of Dujail.

Traffic was back on the streets of Baghdad after the lifting of a round-the-clock curfew that was largely successful in heading off sectarian violence that was feared after the verdict.

Saddam’s trial in connection with the deaths of 180,000 Kurds, most of them civilians, in the 1987-88 crackdown called Operation Anfal, will continue while an appeal in the Dujail case is under way.

The U.S. military said a Baghdad-based soldier was killed by a roadside bomb on Monday, bringing the death toll among U.S. troops this month to 19. A British soldier was killed in an attack Monday on a base in the southern city of Basra, the first British casualty this month.

The U.S. military said this month’s casualties included two lieutenant colonels, among the highest ranking soldiers to die in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Lt. Col. Eric J. Kruger, 40, was killed Thursday by a roadside bomb along with Lt. Col. Paul J. Finken, 40, and Staff Sgt. Joseph A. Gage, 28. All three men were riding in a Humvee in eastern Baghdad.

Fighting was also reported between gunmen and U.S. soldiers in the western city of Ramadi, a center of pro-Saddam sentiment among the former Sunni ruling class. Police and the military said they had no word on casualties.

The 12 bodies of the unidentified torture victims were found floating in the Tigris River in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, Police Lt. Mohammed al-Shamari said. All had been blindfolded and bound at the wrists and ankles, before being shot in the head and chest.

Officials say they plan to eventually retrain all 26 national police battalions — the Interior Ministry’s paramilitary units — and weed out those suspected of ties to sectarian militias and criminal gangs.

Iraq’s main Sunni political party issued a statement accusing “criminal militias” of being behind the torching of two Sunni mosques in western Baghdad on Sunday.

“We demand the government at least issue a statement condemning such crimes, as it does when other places are attacked,” the Iraqi Islamic Party said.

“The government should be the government of all Iraqis, regardless of their religion or sect,” the statement said. It said the mosques had never been used to store weapons or shelter criminals or insurgents.

The government on Monday reached out to disaffected Sunnis in hopes of enticing them away from the insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of Iraqis and is responsible for the vast majority of U.S. casualties. The Supreme National Commission for de-Baathification has prepared a draft law that could see thousands of members of Baath party reinstated in their jobs, the commission’s head told The Associated Press.

A 24-point national reconciliation plan that was announced in June by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, in which he called for reviewing the de-Baathification program, al-Lami said.

The United States dissolved and banned the Baath party in May 2003, a month after toppling Saddam. The U.S. later softened its stance, inviting former high-level officers from the disbanded military to join the security forces.

The former top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, also allowed thousands of teachers who were Baathists to return to work. He conceived of the so-called de-Baathification effort but later found it had gutted key ministries and the military.

About 1.5 million of Iraq’s 27 million people belonged to the Baath party — formally known as the Baath Arab Socialist Party — when Saddam was ousted. Most said they joined for professional, not ideological, reasons.

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