Saturday, November 11, 2006

2006: The Year of the ‘Macaca’


OF course, the “thumpin’ ” was all about Iraq. But let us not forget Katrina. It was the collision of the twin White House calamities in August 2005 that foretold the collapse of the presidency of George W. Bush.

Back then, the full measure of the man finally snapped into focus for most Americans, sending his poll numbers into the 30s for the first time. The country saw that the president who had spurned a grieving wartime mother camping out in the sweltering heat of Crawford was the same guy who had been unable to recognize the depth of the suffering in New Orleans’s fetid Superdome. This brand of leadership was not the “compassionate conservatism” that had been sold in all those photo ops with African-American schoolchildren. This was callous conservatism, if not just plain mean.

It’s the kind of conservatism that remains silent when Rush Limbaugh does a mocking impersonation of Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s symptoms to score partisan points. It’s the kind of conservatism that talks of humane immigration reform but looks the other way when candidates demonize foreigners as predatory animals. It’s the kind of conservatism that pays lip service to “tolerance” but stalls for days before taking down a campaign ad caricaturing an African-American candidate as a sexual magnet for white women.

This kind of politics is now officially out of fashion. Harold Ford did lose his race in Tennessee, but by less than three points in a region that has not sent a black man to the Senate since Reconstruction. Only 36 years old and hugely talented, he will rise again even as the last vestiges of Jim Crow tactics continue to fade and Willie Horton ads countenanced by a national political party join the Bush dynasty in history’s dustbin.

Elsewhere, the 2006 returns more often than not confirmed that Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, are far better people than this cynical White House takes them for. This election was not a rebuke merely of the reckless fiasco in Iraq but also of the divisive ideology that had come to define the Bush-Rove-DeLay era. This was the year that Americans said a decisive no to the politics of “macaca” just as firmly as they did to pre-emptive war and Congressional corruption.

For all of Mr. Limbaugh’s supposed clout, his nasty efforts did not defeat the ballot measure supporting stem-cell research in his native state, Missouri. The measure squeaked through, helping the Democratic senatorial candidate knock out the Republican incumbent. (The other stem-cell advocates endorsed by Mr. Fox in campaign ads, in Maryland and Wisconsin, also won.) Arizona voters, despite their proximity to the Mexican border, defeated two of the crudest immigrant-bashing demagogues running for Congress, including one who ran an ad depicting immigrants menacing a JonBenet Ramsey look-alike. (Reasserting its Goldwater conservative roots, Arizona also appears to be the first state to reject an amendment banning same-sex marriage.) Nationwide, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote fell from 44 percent in 2004 to 29 percent this year. Hispanics aren’t buying Mr. Bush’s broken-Spanish shtick anymore; they saw that the president, despite his nuanced take on immigration, never stood up forcefully to the nativists in his own camp when it counted most, in an election year.

But for those who’ve been sickened by the Bush-Rove brand of politics, surely the happiest result of 2006 was saved for last: Jim Webb’s ousting of Senator George Allen in Virginia. It is all too fitting that this race would be the one that put the Democrats over the top in the Senate. Mr. Allen was the slickest form of Bush-Rove conservative, complete with a strategist who’d helped orchestrate the Swift Boating of John Kerry. Mr. Allen was on a fast track to carry that banner into the White House once Mr. Bush was gone. His demise was so sudden and so unlikely that it seems like a fairy tale come true.

As recently as April 2005, hard as it is to believe now, Mr. Allen was chosen in a National Journal survey of Beltway insiders as the most likely Republican presidential nominee in 2008. Political pros saw him as a cross between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush whose “affable” conservatism and (contrived) good-old-boy persona were catnip to voters. His Senate campaign this year was a mere formality; he began with a double-digit lead.

That all ended famously on Aug. 11, when Mr. Allen, appearing before a crowd of white supporters in rural Virginia, insulted a 20-year-old Webb campaign worker of Indian descent who was tracking him with a video camera. After belittling the dark-skinned man as “macaca, or whatever his name is,” Mr. Allen added, “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.”

The moment became a signature cultural event of the political year because the Webb campaign posted the video clip on, the wildly popular site that most politicians, to their peril, had not yet heard about from their children. Unlike unedited bloggorhea, which can take longer to slog through than Old Media print, YouTube is all video snippets all the time; the one-minute macaca clip spread through the national body politic like a rabid virus. Nonetheless it took more than a week for Mr. Allen to recognize the magnitude of the problem and apologize to the object of his ridicule. Then he compounded the damage by making a fool of himself on camera once more, this time angrily denying what proved to be accurate speculation that his mother was a closeted Jew. It was a Mel Gibson meltdown that couldn’t be blamed on the bottle.

Mr. Allen has a history of racial insensitivity. He used to display a Confederate flag in his living room and, bizarrely enough, a noose in his office for sentimental reasons that he could never satisfactorily explain. His defense in the macaca incident was that he had no idea that the word, the term for a genus of monkey, had any racial connotation. But even if he were telling the truth — even if Mr. Allen were not a racist — his non-macaca words were just as damning. “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia” was unmistakably meant to demean the young man as an unwashed immigrant, whatever his race. It was a typical example of the us-versus-them stridency that has defined the truculent Bush-Rove fearmongering: you’re either with us or you’re a traitor, possibly with the terrorists.

As it happened, the “macaca” who provoked the senator’s self-destruction, S. R. Sidarth, was not an immigrant but the son of immigrants. He was born in Washington’s Virginia suburbs to well-off parents (his father is a mortgage broker) and is the high-achieving graduate of a magnet high school, a tournament chess player, a former intern for Joe Lieberman, a devoted member of his faith (Hindu) and, currently, a senior at the University of Virginia. He is even a football jock like Mr. Allen. In other words, he is an exemplary young American who didn’t need to be “welcomed” to his native country by anyone. The Sidarths are typical of the families who have abetted the rapid growth of northern Virginia in recent years, much as immigrants have always built and renewed our nation. They, not Mr. Allen with his nostalgia for the Confederate “heritage,” are America’s future. It is indeed just such northern Virginians who have been tinting the once reliably red commonwealth purple.

Though the senator’s behavior was toxic, the Bush-Rove establishment rewarded it. Its auxiliaries from talk radio, the blogosphere and the Wall Street Journal opinion page echoed the Allen campaign’s complaint that the incident was inflated by the news media, especially The Washington Post. Once it became clear that Mr. Allen was in serious trouble, conservative pundits mainly faulted him for running an “awful campaign,” not for being an awful person.

The macaca incident had resonance beyond Virginia not just because it was a hit on YouTube. It came to stand for 2006 as a whole because it was synergistic with a national Republican campaign that made a fetish of warning that a Congress run by Democrats would have committee chairmen who are black (Charles Rangel) or gay (Barney Frank), and a middle-aged woman not in the Stepford mold of Laura Bush as speaker. In this context, Mr. Allen’s defeat was poetic justice: the perfect epitaph for an era in which Mr. Rove systematically exploited the narrowest prejudices of the Republican base, pitting Americans of differing identities in cockfights for power and profit, all in the name of “faith.”

Perhaps the most interesting finding in the exit polls Tuesday was that the base did turn out for Mr. Rove: white evangelicals voted in roughly the same numbers as in 2004, and 71 percent of them voted Republican, hardly a mass desertion from the 78 percent of last time. But his party was routed anyway. It was the end of the road for the boy genius and his can’t-miss strategy that Washington sycophants predicted could lead to a permanent Republican majority.

What a week this was! Here’s to the voters of both parties who drove a stake into the heart of our political darkness. If you’ll forgive me for paraphrasing George Allen: Welcome back, everyone, to the world of real America.


“I’m finished folks. Because I’m an idiot…”

Friday, November 10, 2006


This man must never become President of the United States. Case closed.


“Why do they hate us?”

WASHINGTON — Concern about leftist victories in Latin America has prompted President Bush to quietly grant a waiver that allows the United States to resume training militaries from 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The administration hopes the training will forge links with countries in the region and blunt a leftward trend. Daniel Ortega, a nemesis of the United States in the region during the 1980s, was elected president in Nicaragua this week. Bolivians chose another leftist, Evo Morales, last year.

A military training ban was originally designed to pressure countries into exempting U.S. soldiers from war crimes trials.

The 2002 U.S. law bars countries from receiving military aid and training if they refuse to promise immunity from prosecution to U.S. servicemembers who might get hauled before the International Criminal Court. The law allows presidential waivers.

The White House lifted the ban on 21 countries, about half in Latin America or the Caribbean, through a presidential memorandum Oct. 2 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The training is conducted in the USA.

A ban on giving countries weapons remains. Commercial arms sales are not affected, said Jose Ruiz, a U.S. Southern Command spokesman.

The training ban had resulted in a loss of U.S. influence in the region. The issue gained urgency after a string of leftist candidates came to power in Latin America. Rice said this year on a trip to the region that the impact of the ban had been "the same as shooting ourselves in the foot."

China stepped into the gap. Ruiz said China "has approached every country in our area of responsibility" and has exchanged senior military officials with Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Cuba and provided military aid and training to Jamaica and Venezuela.

The ban remains in effect for some countries. Venezuela, whose fiery President Hugo Chávez is a critic of the Bush administration, remains ineligible because it is on a State Department list of countries alleged to have permitted the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation and forced labor.

Chávez is up for re-election in December and leads in the polls. Cuba is also off-limits because of a long-standing U.S. embargo against Fidel Castro's regime.

Ruiz said efforts are being made to transfer money this year to begin training foreign officers from eligible countries.

U.S. to lift ban on Latin American military training

"Concern about leftist victories in Latin America has prompted President Bush to quietly grant a waiver that allows the United States to resume training militaries from 11 Latin American and Caribbean countries," USA TODAY's Barbara Slavin reports today. "The administration hopes the training will forge links with countries in the region and blunt a leftward trend."

The training ban, "originally designed to pressure countries into exempting U.S. soldiers from war crimes trials," has caused the United States to lose influence in the region, military officials tell Slavin. Read the full story to learn which countries will get the waiver; Venezuela and Cuba aren't among them.

Public reaction appears limited so far. The School of the Americas Watch, which monitors and protests the U.S. military programs that have controversially trained Latin American military groups for decades, plans a large demonstration this month to protest the change and call for an end to the training.

The School of the Americas gained notoriety after the Pentagon's 1996 revelation that manuals used there "advocated executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents," as The Washington Post put it. A number of its graduates have also been accused of human rights abuses. The school closed in 2000 and was replaced by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation the next year.

A public forum this month covered by the Associated Press and others shows the debate around the issues here remain alive and well. What do you think of the return to training? Will it help American influence in Latin America, or does more involvement mean more trouble?

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Norway, Iceland, Australia said best places to live

Norway, Iceland, Australia, Ireland and Sweden rank as the best five countries to live in but Africa's quality of life has plummeted because of AIDS, said a U.N. report released on Thursday.

The United States was ranked in eighth place, after Canada and Japan, in the report that rates not only per-capita income but also educational levels, health care and life expectancy in measuring a nation's well-being.

The Human Development Index, prepared by the U.N. Development Program, has been issued annually since 1990 and includes every country for which statistics are available.

Unsurprisingly, the countries at the top of the list are high income nations as people in richer countries tend to be healthier and have more educational opportunities.

People in Norway, for example, are 40 times wealthier than people in Niger, which ranks 177th, the lowest ranking country on the list. For the 31 countries with low human development, life expectancy is only 46 years -- some 32 years less than in rich nations, the report said.

But some nations have a rank above their income. Vietnam for example is poor but ranks above countries with a higher per capita income. Conversely Bahrain has an average income twice the level of Chile but ranks lower because it "under-performs on education and literacy," the report said.

However, since 1990, sub-Sahara Africa has stagnated, in part because of economic decline but mainly because of the "catastrophic effect of HIV/AIDS on life expectancy," the report said.

The list of 177 nations ends with Niger. Above it are Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Burundi, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which ranked 167th.

COMMENT: We must rid ourselves of the influence of those miserable rotten stingy chickensh!t bible-babbling corporate-power worshipping anti-scientific neutered rightwing nutcases, bellicose beasties & knuckle-dragging nitwits, post haste--BAMN! (Purges are on the way, if they insist…)

Deja vu: Fla. recount likely for House

by PHIL DAVIS, Associated Press Writer

The touch-screen voting machines Katherine Harris championed as secretary of state after the 2000 presidential recount may have botched this year's election to replace her in the U.S. House, and it's likely going to mean another Florida recount.

More than 18,000 Sarasota County voters who marked other races didn't have a vote register in the House race, a rate much higher than the rest of the district, elections results show.

Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent defended her staff and the voting machines, arguing that the thousands of voters must have either overlooked the race — which was pushed to a second screen by a glut of minor U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot — or simply decided not to vote for either candidate in a race marked by mudslinging.

"My machines have recorded accurately for 40 elections," Dent said.

But she couldn't explain why the undervote rate in her county was so much higher than in the four other counties in the district.

Republican Vern Buchanan declared victory in the race with a 373-vote lead over Democrat Christine Jennings — less than 0.2 percent.

"Sarasota voters have been victimized by not having their votes count," Jennings said Wednesday.

Buchanan's campaign said a recount would confirm their candidate won.

Florida law requires a machine recount if the difference between the top candidates is less than half a percent. If the machine tallies find a margin of less than a quarter percent, a manual recount is conducted.

To do a manual recount for touch-screens, officials go back over the images of the electronic ballots where the machine didn't register a choice. But state rules essentially say that if the machine doesn't show that a voter chose a candidate, the voter is assumed to have meant to skip the race — it would be tough to prove otherwise.

Final results must be certified by Nov. 20.

Harris, a congresswoman since 2002, ran for U.S. Senate this year but lost to incumbent Bill Nelson.

As secretary of state in 2001, Harris had pushed for an election overhaul that outlawed the punch-card ballots involved in the 2000 presidential race recount that made Harris a GOP star. The law now required counties to use touch-screen devices or optical scan machines that read paper ballots voters filled in.

Harris spokeswoman Jennifer Marks said Harris had no comment on the House race.

Good morning, my fellow republicans…

Thought 4 the day: Omit needless words…unless of course they happen to be yours.




Don’t try getting cute…

-- Felix (as in Dzerzhinsky)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Democrats Take Control of the Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats wrested control of the Senate from Republicans Wednesday with an upset victory in Virginia, giving the party complete domination of Capitol Hill for the first time since 1994.

Jim Webb's squeaker win over incumbent Sen. George Allen gave Democrats their 51st seat in the Senate, an astonishing turnabout at the hands of voters unhappy with Republican scandal and unabated violence in Iraq. Allen was the sixth Republican incumbent senator defeated in Tuesday's elections.

The Senate had teetered at 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans for most of Wednesday, with Virginia hanging in the balance. Webb's victory ended Republican hopes of eking out a 50-50 split, with Vice President Dick Cheney wielding tie-breaking authority.

The Associated Press contacted election officials in all 134 localities where voting occurred, obtaining updated numbers Wednesday. About half the localities said they had completed their postelection canvassing and nearly all had counted outstanding absentees. Most were expected to be finished by Friday.

The new AP count showed Webb with 1,172,538 votes and Allen with 1,165,302, a difference of 7,236. Virginia has had two statewide vote recounts in modern history, but both resulted in vote changes of no more than a few hundred votes.

An adviser to Allen, speaking on condition of anonymity because his boss had not formally decided to end the campaign, said the senator wanted to wait until most of canvassing was completed before announcing his decision, possibly as early as Thursday evening.

The adviser said that Allen was disinclined to request a recount if the final vote spread was similar to that of election night.

From the REVENGE OF ‘OLD EUROPE’ files

Bye bye Rumsfeld…You freaking fossil…!

Now all we need is for Cheney to resign & Bush to go into internal exile at Prairie Chapel…

Bush heard the voices, alright …

Did Jesus & Jehovah lead him down the garden path…? Was it all prophesized in the Book of Subliminababble…?

‘Twas those unknown, unknown unknowns that got them in the end…



HELENA - Democratic challenger Jon Tester has defeated Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns in the bitterly contested Montana Senate race, the Associated Press declared this morning.

As of 10:38 a.m., these are the unofficial tallies:

• Tester, 198,032 votes for 49.19 percent.

• Burns, 194,904 votes for 48.39 percent.


Dem McCaskill ousts GOPer Talent in tight Senate race

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Claire McCaskill narrowly defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent in one of the nation’s most closely watched contests on Tuesday.

“Tonight we have heard the voices of Missourians and they have said we want change,” McCaskill said in declaring victory at the Democratic election party early this morning.

Talent called McCaskill about 1 this morning to concede.

“It just looked like we couldn’t do it,” he said. “The headwind was very strong this year.”

Credit for McCaskill’s victory goes in part to her success in garnering more votes from Republican-rich rural turf.


State overwhelmingly rejects GOP's No. 3 Senate leader.

Sen. Rick Santorum, the No. 3 Senate leader who rode into office 12 years ago on an anti-incumbent swell, succumbed yesterday to a similar wave of voter discontent, losing his seat in a landslide to Democrat Bob Casey Jr.

Casey, 46, mined anger over the Iraq war, the economy, and Washington corruption to become the first Pennsylvania Democrat in more than 40 years to win a full Senate term. The state treasurer and son of a popular former governor, Casey cast himself as the anti-Santorum, a soft-voiced moderate who would set aside ideology for pragmatism.

Dem Sestak ends GOPer-Under-a-Cloud Weldon's reign

Retired admiral Joe Sestak, harnessing fatigue with the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, and helped by the disclosure of an FBI investigation, handed a stunning defeat yesterday to U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R., Pa.).
The 10-term incumbent conceded about 10:40 p.m. last night.

U.S. House District 22: Klein hands Shaw first defeat

Ron Klein, who followed the national Democratic script and made his congressional race a referendum on President Bush and the war in Iraq, unseated longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw on Tuesday in one of America's most closely watched House races.


A Missouri ballot measure to protect embryonic stem cell research won slim voter approval Tuesday, narrowly surviving an opposition campaign that for weeks had eroded the measure’s popularity, according to the Associated Press, which called the measure shortly before 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Donn Rubin, of the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, said, “We've known for a long time that a large majority of Missourians support stem cell research. Unfortunately, the issue was clouded to a great extent in the last few weeks ... I think that's why the margin of victory was as narrow as it was.”

Rubin said the vote meant Missouri would embrace rather than outlaw stem cell research.


Democrat Nick Lampson won the bitter race to succeed former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on Tuesday, overcoming Shelley Sekula-Gibbs' strong write-in effort to save the seat for the Republicans.

Lampson said his victory was indicative of the Democratic Party's return and its cohesiveness. He added that the country deserves and will get a "new direction."

Democrats regained control of the U.S. House for the first time in 12 years.

Gay Marriage Ban Rejected in Arizona

AP National Writer

November 8, 2006, 5:01 AM EST

In a triple setback for conservatives, South Dakotans rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions, Arizona became the first state to defeat an amendment to ban gay marriage and Missouri approved a measure backing stem cell research.

Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states Tuesday, but none had riveted political activists across the country like the South Dakota measure. Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have been the toughest abortion law in the nation, allowing the procedure only to save a pregnant woman's life.

Lawmakers had hoped the ban would be challenged in court, provoking litigation that might eventually lead to a U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Jan Nicolay, a leader of the state's anti-ban campaign, said voters viewed the measure -- which lost by a 55-45 margin -- as too intrusive.

"We believe South Dakotans can make these decisions themselves," she said. "They don't have to have somebody telling them what that decision needs to be."

Arizona broke a strong national trend by refusing to change its constitution to define marriage as a one-man, one-woman institution. The measure also would have forbid civil unions and domestic partnerships.

Eight states voted on amendments to ban gay marriage: Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin approved them. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.

"What we're seeing is that fear-mongering around same-sex marriage is fizzling out," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. He noted that the bans that succeeded won by much narrower margins, on average, than in the past.

Conservatives had hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans, though the GOP had a rough night. Democrats had looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hikes passed in Arizona, Colorado. Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada.

The Missouri stem cell measure passed by a narrow margin. It had become a key factor in the state's crucial Senate race, won by Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, who supported it, over incumbent Republican Jim Talent, who opposed it.

Celebrities also had plunged into the campaign: actor Michael J. Fox, suffering from Parkinson's disease, endorsed the amendment, while several sports stars spoke against it.

In Michigan, voters took a swipe at affirmative action, deciding that race and gender should not be factors in deciding who gets into public universities or who gets hired for government work.

Arizona voters faced the most ballot measures -- 19. They approved four that arose out of frustration over the influx of illegal immigrants: One measure makes English the state's official language, while another expands the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants.

Voters weren't keen about another, more quirky Arizona measure: They defeated a proposal that would have awarded $1 million to a randomly selected voter in each general election.

In Ohio and Arizona, anti-smoking activists won showdowns with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Voters in each state approved a tough ban on smoking in public places and rejected rival, Reynolds-backed measures that would have exempted bars. Voters in Arizona and South Dakota approved increases in tobacco taxes, while the proposal was rejected in Missouri.

Nevada and Colorado voters rejected measures that would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and older. South Dakotans voted down a proposal that would have allowed marijuana use for some medical purposes. A winning measure in Rhode Island will restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole.

Elsewhere, land use was a hot issue, part of a backlash against a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London, Conn., to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development.

Nine states approved eminent-domain measures barring the government from taking private property for a private use. Arizona's winning measure went a step further, requiring state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lowered the value of their property: Idaho rejected a similar measure.

South Dakota voters defeated a measure that would have made their state the first to strip immunity from judges, exposing them to the possibility of lawsuits. In Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, voters defeated measures that would cap increases in state spending.

Pennsylvania voters gave the state the go-ahead to borrow $20 million so that nearly 33,000 veterans in the state who participated in the Persian Gulf War could collect one-time payments up to $525.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Nicaraguans’ Votes Are In, and Ortega Is Back


MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Nov. 7 — As election officials finished the final vote tallies on Tuesday and his leading opponent conceded defeat, Daniel Ortega, the onetime cold-war nemesis of the United States, was assured of winning the presidency here and fulfilling his 16-year struggle to regain power.

With 91 percent of the vote counted from Sunday’s balloting, Mr. Ortega led five other candidates with 38 percent of the vote, while the second-place candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, a conservative, trailed with 29 percent, election officials said Tuesday night. The third-place candidate, José Rizo, received 26 percent.

“With his triumph, he has taken on an enormous responsibility,” Mr. Montealegre, a 51-year-old Harvard-trained banker, said as he stepped aside moments after the results were announced. “He has to govern democratically.”

Later in the evening, Mr. Ortega and Mr. Montealegre appeared together at the Sandinista headquarters, where they pledged to put aside past differences. Mr. Ortega promised to keep the country open to foreign investment and to seek consensus with his political opponents to battle poverty.

“Here we cannot talk about winners or losers,” he said. “Here simply we have a process where really everyone will work together for the good of Nicaragua.”

About 300 of Mr. Ortega’s supporters rallied outside the headquarters, waving their party’s black and red flags and chanting “The people united will never be defeated.” Across the city, fireworks and car horns went off in celebration.

Mr. Ortega, who is 60, maintains that both he and the country have changed since the 1980s, when he was a hard-line Marxist president accepting Soviet aid and fighting a United States-backed insurgency. The cold war is over, and Nicaragua’s economy now depends heavily on exports to the United States and free markets.

While Mr. Ortega still rails against “savage capitalism” and the failure of free trade to alleviate poverty, he has become a more pragmatic leftist over the past decade and a half. Gone is the fiery Marxist oratory, replaced with talk of reconciliation, peace and God. He has traded his anti-American campaign songs for John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.”

He has also become openly religious, regularly attending church and often asking people at his rallies to pray. He even pushed through a bill to ban abortion recently, in part to attract Catholic support.

Still, no one is sure how much of the change in Mr. Ortega’s political outlook is real. Many business leaders and political analysts say the future of this impoverished country may hinge not just on whether Mr. Ortega’s style has evolved, but whether Nicaragua’s democracy is strong enough to keep a leftist president with an authoritarian past in check.

“If he hasn’t changed, he will have to change, because it’s not the same Nicaragua in 2006 as the Nicaragua in which he came to power at the head of a revolutionary movement,” said Carlos Tunnerman, a political analyst.

The United States has made it clear that it does not like the prospect of its cold war foe returning to power, especially in light of Mr. Ortega’s close relationship with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Still, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would respect the decision of the Nicaraguan people and see what policies the next government follows before making decisions about future relations. Bush administration officials had threatened before the vote to suspend aid if Mr. Ortega won.

Former President Jimmy Carter monitored the polling here and said the election was clean and fair. He said Mr. Ortega had given him assurances Monday night that he would respect property rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and the free trade agreement with the United States.

Business leaders said they were confident Mr. Ortega would not roll back the free-market reforms in the Nicaraguan government since 1990, when he agreed to hold an election to end the civil war and lost to Violeta Chamorro.

Since then, the government has sold off more than 360 state-owned enterprises, liberalized its markets, privatized the banks and entered a free trade agreement with the United States and its neighbors.

Erwin J. Kruger, president of the Superior Council of the Private Sector, the nation’s largest business group, said Mr. Ortega and his party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, had given assurances they would not dismantle the free-market economy.

“We don’t know how he’s going to be tomorrow, or next month, or next year, but we are going to give it a chance,” Mr. Kruger said. “We paid a high price for our freedom and neither side wants to lose that.”

Most political strategists said Mr. Ortega won because the conservative anti-Sandinista vote split in two.

After former President Arnoldo Alemán was convicted on corruption charges, Mr. Montealegre and other conservatives broke away from the governing Constitutionalist Liberal Party and formed the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance. As a result, Mr. Montealegre and Mr. Rizo, who carried the banner for the old ruling party, divided the voters who had consistently opposed Mr. Ortega and the Sandinistas in past elections, defeating him three times.

Mr. Ortega’s ability to enact radical challenges is severely hampered by the National Assembly, which remains divided between four parties. To rule, he must reach agreements with the two conservative parties. What is more, the president’s power has been curbed by constitutional changes pushed through in recent years, giving the assembly more say over cabinet positions.

Even members of Mr. Ortega’s party said he had not won a popular mandate to make radical changes, like the expropriation of private businesses or the redistribution of land, as he did in the late 1980s.

“The important point is not what he wants to do, the important thing is what is feasible to do,” said Alejandro Martínez Cuenca, an economist and member of the Sandinista party. “Nicaragua has changed tremendously. The mandate he has received does not give him the opportunity to do his will.”

Jill Replogle contributed reporting.

Ortega elected president in Nicaragua

By TRACI CARL, Associated Press Writer

Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary who fought off a U.S.-backed insurgency in the 1980s, won back the Nicaraguan presidency Tuesday and promised to work to eliminate poverty and reassure investors.

After near-complete results showed Ortega with a 9-percentage point lead, chief rival Eduardo Montealegre conceded defeat.

Ortega said he would fight poverty, encourage investment in Nicaragua and "create a new political culture" that would "set aside our differences and put the Nicaraguan people, the poor first."

Ortega's supporters filled the streets, waving black-and-red party flags and singing Ortega's peace-and-reconciliation campaign song, set to the tune of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance."

The Harvard-educated Montealegre appeared at a rally with Ortega and congratulated him, saying "Nicaragua needs to move forward. The people have suffered enough." Montealegre said that he would spend the next five years ensuring that Ortega stayed true to his pledges to promote private business, allow a free press and battle widespread poverty.

With 91 percent of the votes tallied, Ortega had 38 percent of the votes from Sunday's election compared to 29 percent for Montealegre. Under Nicaraguan law, the winner of Sunday's election must have 35 percent of the vote and a 5 percentage-point lead to avoid a runoff.

The former Marxist revolutionary spent most of the 1980s fighting a U.S.-backed Contra insurgency. He lost the presidency in the 1990 election, ending Sandinista rule and years of civil war. He's spent the past 16 years trying to get his old job back.

The United States, which had warned against an Ortega win, has declined to comment on the results.

But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who served as an election observer, said Tuesday in Managua that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "assured me that no matter who was elected, the U.S. will respond positively and favorably." Rice's office confirmed that the two talked by phone, but refused to give details.

The Cold War icon's victory adds Nicaragua to a growing number of Latin American nations with leftists at the helm, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has tried to help Ortega by shipping discounted oil to the poor, energy-starved nation.

Chavez called to congratulate Ortega Tuesday night, praising what he called the rising current of sentiment against U.S. influence.

"We're happy here. We're very proud of you," Chavez said during a televised speech as he called Ortega by cellular phone, adding the two countries would be "uniting as never before" to construct a socialist future.

Ortega could be heard replying with praise for Chavez's so-called "Bolivarian Revolution."

Chavez added that he shortly hoped to see Ortega and that Cuba's Fidel Castro was also pleased by his victory.

Ortega, who served as president from 1985-90, toned down his once-fiery rhetoric during the campaign, promising to support a regional free trade agreement with the U.S. and maintain good relations with Washington.

He says he has changed profoundly since he befriended Soviet leaders, expropriated land and fought Contra rebels in a war that left 30,000 dead and the economy in shambles.

Before he lost the presidency to Violeta Chamorro in 1990, Ortega lowered illiteracy rates from 60 percent to 12 percent and built a free health care system.

He also confiscated many homes, including the estate of a former Contra spokesman, Jaime Morales, who is now his vice president. He reconciled with Morales recently by paying him for the sprawling complex.

Ortega used congressional immunity to dodge rape allegations filed by a stepdaughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez. He has denied the charges, but Narvaez continues to push her case publicly.

The father of nine children — seven with his wife and campaign manager, Rosario Murillo — Ortega is known to enjoy ranchera music. But his favorite song is Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

Pelosi expected to be 1st woman speaker

By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) dashes off declarations about what she would do with a Democratic majority in the House with the ease of someone ordering a latte at Starbucks.

The woman expected to become the nation's first Madam Speaker promises a barrage of "discrete deliverables" in the first 100 work hours after the Democrats take control:

_Boost the minimum wage? The only question is how high, how fast.

_Fiscal discipline? "Remove all doubt. Pay as you go."

_Research on new embryonic stem cells? Scrap the ban on federal funding.

_Problematic prescription drug coverage for seniors? "We can do something about that."

_9-11 commission recommendations? Approved on Day One.

The list goes on and on of things she'd get passed by the House and battle to make law.

All this from fractious House members, and within only their first 100 hours in session?

"Well, I would do them all on the first day, but I know they have friends and relatives in town and they want to celebrate," Pelosi says with a playful grin.

Anticipating her party's new majority status, Pelosi struck a confident and conciliatory tone Tuesday night: "Democrats are ready to lead. We are prepared to govern. And we will do so working together with the administration and Republicans in Congress in partnership, not partisanship."

Pelosi, 66, made history four years ago when she became the first woman to lead a party caucus in either house of Congress, piercing what she calls a "marble ceiling" in the Capitol that's even harder to break than the proverbial glass ceiling encountered by many women.

Twice in the past, Pelosi had presented Republican Dennis Hastert with the speaker's gavel as the GOP extended its control of the House for two more years. "This is getting tiresome, Mr. Speaker," she said last time.

Then, she did her darndest to make sure it didn't happen again, organizing difficult-to-corral Democrats into a united front against President Bush and congressional Republicans, campaigning tirelessly for members of her own party and raising campaign cash for them by the boatload.

Pelosi, a liberal who represents one of the nation's most liberal congressional districts, presides over a Democratic caucus in which members voted with their party 88 percent of the time in 2005, one of the most cohesive records in decades, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly.

She raised $59 million for House candidates this election cycle and more than $100 million since she was elected Democratic leader.

No one has worked harder "to bring us out of the desert," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (news, bio, voting record), a fellow Democrat from California and longtime friend. "This woman is a human tornado."

Pelosi, the daughter and sister of Baltimore mayors, grew up immersed in politics and moved west in her 20s when her investment banker husband wanted to return to his roots. She managed to work herself into California's Democratic political structure while raising five children who were born over six years.

She didn't run for Congress until she was 46, when her youngest daughter reached high school.

Twenty years later, Pelosi's confident vision for House Democrats will be sorely tested in the messy business of making laws.

Her pledge to treat Republicans more fairly than they have dealt with Democrats could be "the first casualty of a Pelosi speakership," said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California who has written extensively about Congress.

Rutgers political science professor Ross Baker said that as a leader of the Democratic minority, Pelosi executed "guerrilla warfare against a vastly superior force." Her weaknesses, he said, included the Democrats' failure to offer a clear message to counter the Republicans and her sometimes halting television presence. "She needs some work in the green room," he said.

"My hunch is that there is some uneasiness in the House about her as speaker," Baker said, adding that such reservations are tied partly to her liberal image.

Republicans worked overtime to stoke those reservations during a campaign that, in some GOP races, sometimes seemed to be solely about Pelosi. All around the country, GOP partisans invoked the specter of "Speaker Pelosi" as reason enough to keep the House in Republican hands.

In Indiana, for example, GOP mailings on behalf of Republican Rep. John Hostettler (news, bio, voting record) magically transported the Golden Gate Bridge from Pelosi's district to an Indiana field, and declared, "San Francisco values don't belong in Indiana."

Pelosi, whose district takes in much of San Francisco, has a voting record that consistently gets her laurels from liberal interest groups and raspberries from conservatives.

But she also is a pragmatist.

"She's good at counting noses, which means that she'll do everything she can to represent the whole caucus," said Bruce Reed, president of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. "She'll have to."

California Rep. Dennis Cardoza (news, bio, voting record), one the so-called Blue Dog Democrats who advocate fiscal restraint, said Pelosi recognizes that "in order for her to have a successful speakership, she will have to continue to embrace the moderates in the caucus." He is quick to point out that Pelosi has promised to make an early push for reinstating "pay-as-you-go" budgeting rules that require new spending to be offset by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere.

But, as if to show the difficulty of Pelosi's task, he also notes, "We're not elected to be controlled; we're elected to represent our districts."

Democrats guaranteed governor majority

By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer

Democrats reclaimed governors' offices Tuesday from the Northeast to the Rockies and even in the South, giving them control of the top political job in a majority of states for the first time in 12 years and an edge in places critical to the 2008 White House race.

A string of victories in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Arkansas, Colorado and Maryland means Democrats will control the governorship in at least 28 states. They also held onto vulnerable seats that had been targeted by Republicans in Iowa, Michigan, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Massachusetts Democrat Deval Patrick will be the first black governor of his state — and just the second elected black governor of any state. In Ohio, Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland (news, bio, voting record) easily defeated Republican Ken Blackwell. New York, as expected, chose Democrat Eliot Spitzer, the attorney general who crusaded for Wall Street and corporate reform.

Massachusetts and Ohio hadn't elected a Democrat since 1986. New York last elected one in 1990.

In Colorado — which voted Republican for president in the last three elections — Democrat Bill Ritter defeated GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez (news, bio, voting record) for the seat left open by term-limited GOP Gov. Bill Owens. Arkansas chose a Democrat — attorney general Mike Beebe over Republican Asa Hutchinson — for the first time since 1992.

And Democrats turned out GOP Gov. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland, the lone party switch that wasn't in an open seat. Martin O'Malley, the Baltimore mayor, was the winner there.

A tight race emerged for Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in Minnesota, who was pulling ahead of Democrat Mike Hatch, attorney general, as votes continued to be counted into Wednesday morning.

Democrats were jubilant.

"From here on out, we need a politics that binds us together, a politics that's forward-thinking, a politics that asks not, 'What's in it for me?' but always 'What's in it for us,'" Spitzer said in prepared comments.

Two vulnerable Democratic governors in the Great Lakes beat back well-funded Republican challenges. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, long targeted by the GOP, defeated millionaire Dick DeVos, even though he put more than $35 million of his own money toward his campaign. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle defeated GOP Rep. Mark Green (news, bio, voting record). Democrat Ted Kulongoski also beat back a tough challenge in Oregon.

The geographical reach of the victories will be critical for the next White House race and for redistricting of congressional seats, which are typically controlled by the governor and the legislature, said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who won re-election — and is also exploring a presidential run.

"It makes us more a national party. In the past, the Democratic party was strong in the Northeast and California, and that was about it," he said. "Now we're a more centrist, national party who can show victories across the country."

Republicans remained strong in some of the nation's biggest states. They got good news in Florida, where Republican Charlie Crist, the state attorney general of Florida, defeated Democratic Rep. Jim Davis (news, bio, voting record) in the contest to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Jeb Bush.

In California, the nation's best-known governor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, easily won re-election. The former action star defeated Democrat Phil Angelides, the state treasurer.

And Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, won re-election. He fended off challengers including musician and writer Kinky Friedman.

Ten states had open seats because of retirements, term limits and primary defeat. Republicans went into Election Day holding 28 governorships to 22 for the Democrats.

In Massachusetts, Patrick trounced GOP Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey despite her support from outgoing GOP Gov. Mitt Romney, a potential 2008 presidential candidate. The last elected black governor was L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia who left office in 1994.

Two other black candidates — both Republicans — lost. In Ohio, Strickland swept past Blackwell, the secretary of state who was criticized by Democrats for his role in overseeing the 2004 election in Ohio that was critical in securing President Bush's victory. And in Pennsylvania, former NFL star Lynn Swann was swamped by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich won re-election in a contest that Republicans had at one time hoped would go their way. In Iowa, Democrat Chet Culver, the secretary of state, held the seat left open by retiring Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is exploring a presidential race.

Republicans held narrow leads in the last few uncalled races:

• Nevada, where GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons was hobbled by accusations he assaulted and propositioned a cocktail waitress. He faced Democrat Dina Titus, a state senator.

• Idaho, with GOP Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter in a close contest against Democrat Jerry Brady, a former newspaper publisher.

Also, in Alaska, pre-election polls showed a competitive contest between Republican Sarah Palin, who unseated unpopular Gov. Murkowski in the GOP primary, and Democratic former Gov. Tony Knowles.

The contests could break the record for women governors, depending on the outcome in Alaska and Nevada. Eight women governors now hold office, one fewer than the record — though that number won't fall following the re-election of Granholm in Michigan.

Resurgent Democrats win control of House

By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press Writer

Democrats won control of the House early Wednesday after a dozen years of Republican rule in a resounding repudiation of a war, a president and a scandal-scarred Congress.

"From sea to shining sea, the American people voted for change," declared Rep. Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record), the hard-charging California Democrat in line to become the nation's first female House speaker.

"Today we have made history," she said, "now let us make progress."

The White House made plans for President Bush to call Pelosi first thing in the morning; he will enter his final two years in office with at least half of Congress in the opposition party's hands.

"It's been kind of tough out there," conceded House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who won a 11th term.

By early Wednesday, Democrats had won 221 seats, enough to control the House, and were leading for another 13, which would give them 234. Republicans, who hold 229 seats in the current House, won 181 and were leading in another 20, which would give them 201.

Democrats had won 25 Republican-controlled seats, and no Democratic incumbent had lost by early Wednesday. Races were too close to call in more than a dozen seats, making it impossible to know how large the Democratic margin would be.

Still, it already was an eerie reversal of 1994, when the GOP gained 54 seats in a wave that toppled Democrats after four decades. No Republican incumbent lost that year.

This time, Republicans fell from power in nearly every region of the country — conservative, liberal and moderate — as well as in every type of district — urban, rural and suburban. Middle class voters who fled to the GOP a dozen years ago appeared to return to the Democrats, according to exit polls.

Casualties of a Democratic call for change, three GOP congressmen lost in Indiana, three more in Pennsylvania, two in New Hampshire, one in North Carolina and one in Kansas. Democrats won open seats in New York, Arizona, Iowa and elsewhere.

Scandals that have dogged Republicans appeared to hurt GOP incumbents even more than Bush's unpopularity and the nearly four-year-old war in Iraq.

Republicans surrendered the Texas seat of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who resigned from the House after being charged in a campaign finance scheme, the Ohio seat once held by Bob Ney, who resigned after pleading guilty in a lobbying scandal, and the Florida district of Mark Foley, who stepped down after the disclosure that he sent sexually explicit messages to male congressional pages.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats defeated Curt Weldon in the fallout from a federal corruption investigation and Don Sherwood who admitted to a long-term affair with a much younger woman who says he choked her.

Midway through the evening, Pelosi, a grandmother five times over, briefly addressed a crowd of party faithful at an election-night fete at a Washington hotel.

"I thank all of you for taking us to where we are tonight," said Pelosi, who won an 11th term. As she left the stage, half the crowd started chanting "Madam Speaker" and the other shouting "Nancy, Nancy."

Ethics woes, the war and overall anger toward Bush appeared to drive voters to the Democrats, according to surveys by The Associated Press and the television networks of voters as they left voting places. Several traditionally hard-fought demographic groups were choosing Democrats, including independents, moderates, and suburban women.

Those exit polls also showed that three in four voters said corruption was very important to their vote, and they tended to vote Democratic. In a sign of a dispirited GOP base, most white evangelicals said corruption was very important to their vote — and almost a third of them turned to the Democrats.

Two out of three voters called the war very important to them and said they leaned toward the Democrats, while six in ten voters said they disapproved of the war. About the same number said they were dissatisfied with the president — and they were far more likely to vote Democratic.

Additionally, eight in ten voters called the economy very important to their House vote, and those who said it was extremely important — about four in ten voters — turned to Democrats.

All 435 House seats were on the ballot, and most incumbents won easy re-election. The current lineup: 229 Republicans, 201 Democrats, one independent who lines up with the Democrats for organizational purposes, and four vacancies, three of them in seats formerly held by Republicans.

The fight for control came down to 50 or so seats, nearly half of them in a string stretching from Connecticut through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. All were in Republican hands, a blend of seats coming open and incumbents in trouble.

For months, national surveys have showed Democrats favored over Republicans by margins unseen since 1990 as voters have grown restless with the Bush administration and seemingly more ready for an end to one-party rule on Capitol Hill.

American casualties and costs have climbed in Iraq, and public support for the war has fallen, as have approval ratings for Congress along with the president.

In addition, DeLay, R-Texas, was charged with participating in a campaign finance scheme and resigned from the House. Ney, R-Ohio, resigned, too, after pleading guilty in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation. A month before the election, Foley, R-Fla., stepped down when it was disclosed that he had sent sexually explicit electronic communications to former congressional pages.

Through it all, Democrats cast the race as a national referendum on Bush and Iraq, accusing Republicans of walking in lockstep with the president and rubber stamping his policies.

Republicans insisted the elections came down to choices between individual candidates from coast to coast — and that Democrats were liberals who would raise taxes, flee from Iraq and be soft on terrorists.

Initially, Democrats targeted GOP-held seats left open by retiring Republicans as well as districts where Bush won by close margins in 2004 — many in the Northeast and Midwest. In recent weeks, Democrats have been able to expand the battlefield, making plays for seats long in Republican hands, such as in Wyoming and Idaho.

The GOP, defending its majority, made serious bids for only a handful of Democratic-held seats, including two districts in Georgia that the Republican legislature redrew to make more hospitable to the GOP. The only two endangered Democrats appeared to be in those Georgia districts, where the vote totals were so close that the races appeared to be headed to recounts.

As the 2006 midterm election cycle began, Republicans were optimistic that they would be able to extend their reign because they had limited the number of GOP retirements, leaving fewer open seats that would be targets for Democrats.

Then violence increased in Iraq and scandals erupted in the House — knocking the GOP off course.

South Dakotans reject tough abortion ban

By DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer

South Dakotans rejected a toughest-in-the-nation law that would have banned virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest — defeating one of the most high-profile state measures facing voters Tuesday.

The outcome was a blow to conservatives, who also had cause for worry in Arizona. An amendment to ban gay marriage was trailing there with returns nearly complete; it would be the first defeat for such a measure after prevailing in more than two dozen states in recent years.

Five states approved increases in their minimum wage, while Arizona passed four measures targeting illegal immigrants, including one making English the state's official language. In Michigan, voters took a swipe at affirmative action, deciding that race and gender should not be factors in deciding who gets into public universities or who gets hired for government work.

In Missouri, returns were too close to call on a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research. It had been a factor in the crucial Senate race there, with incumbent Republican Jim Talent opposing the measure and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill supporting it.

Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states, but none had riveted political activists across the country like the South Dakota abortion measure. Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have allowed abortion only to save a pregnant woman's life.

Lawmakers had hoped the ban would be challenged in court, provoking litigation that might eventually lead to a U.S. Supreme Court reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Jan Nicolay, a leader of the state's anti-ban campaign, said voters viewed the measure as too intrusive.

"We believe South Dakotans can make these decisions themselves," she said. "They don't have to have somebody telling them what that decision needs to be."

Eight states had ban-gay-marriage amendments on their ballots: Idaho, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin approved them, while results were pending in Arizona, Colorado and South Dakota. Similar amendments have passed previously in all 20 states to consider them.

Colorado voters had an extra option — a measure that would grant domestic-partnership rights to same-sex couples.

Conservatives had hoped the same-sex marriage bans might increase turnout for Republicans. Democrats looked for a boost from low-income voters turning out on behalf of measures to raise the state minimum wage in six states. The wage hike passed in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Nevada; results were pending in Colorado.

In Missouri, a proposed amendment allowing stem cell research was a factor in the crucial Senate race there; incumbent Republican Jim Talent opposed the measure, while Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill supported it.

In Ohio and Arizona, anti-smoking activists won showdowns with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. Voters in each state approved a tough ban on smoking in public places and rejected rival, Reynolds-backed measures that would have exempted bars.

Nevada and Colorado voters rejected measures that would have legalized possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by anyone 21 and older. A winning measure in Rhode Island will restore voting rights to felons on probation and parole.

Elsewhere, land use was a hot issue, part of a backlash against a 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London, Conn., to buy up homes to make way for a private commercial development.

Seven states approved eminent-domain measures barring the government from taking private property for a private use. Arizona's winning measure went a step further, requiring state and local authorities to compensate property owners if land-use regulations lowered the value of their property.

South Dakota voters defeated a measure that would have made their state the first to strip immunity from judges, exposing them to the possibility of lawsuits. In Maine, Nebraska and Oregon, voters defeated measures that would cap increases in state spending.

Arizona voters were deciding on the most ballot measures — 19 — including four that were approved out of frustration over the influx of illegal immigrants. One measure makes English the state's official language; another expands the list of government benefits denied to illegal immigrants.

Voters weren't keen about another, more quirky Arizona measure: They defeated a proposal that would have awarded $1 million to a randomly selected voter in each general election.

Pennsylvania voters gave the state the go-ahead to borrow $20 million so that nearly 33,000 veterans in the state who participated in the Persian Gulf War could collect one-time payments up to $525.

“I’m an idiot! You’re all idiots! We idiots have to stick together!”


'Jesus faked his Crucifixion' says Rush Limbaugh

'Those aren't real nails' says fat, odious foul-mouthed, fear-mongering, low-life, drug-addicted scumbag.

Right-wing American shock-jock Rush Limbaugh took time out from his busy schedule of sacrificing chickens and small children to the Dark Lord of Hades, whoring for the Republican party and desperately trying to hide the fact that he is, in fact, everything he professes to hate this morning, to cast doubt on the authenticity of Jesus' crucifixion.

'I don't buy it for a second', spluttered Limbaugh, whilst masturbating furiously over a computer generated picture of George W. Bush in fish-nets and high-heels. 'He's wriggling around on that cross like a spastic worm, arms flapping all over the place. He's faking it. Faking it! He's a professional liar! Those wounds on his hands? Ketchup! Nails through the feet? Bought them in a joke shop! Crown of thorns? Crown of cotton wool more like. Spear through the side? Barely tickled him, the con-artist.'


(They just did business with the Nazis…)


Monday, November 06, 2006

For Democrats, Even a Gain May Feel Like a Failure


WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 — In most midterm elections, an out-of-power party picking up, say, 14 seats in the House and five seats in the Senate could call it a pretty good night.

But for Democrats in 2006, that showing would mean coming up one seat shy of taking control of both the Senate and the House. And it would probably be branded a loss — in the case of the House, a big one.

For a combination of reasons — increasingly bullish prognostications by independent handicappers, galloping optimism by Democratic leaders and bloggers, and polls that promise a Democratic blowout — expectations for the party have soared into the stratosphere. Democrats are widely expected to take the House, and by a significant margin, and perhaps the Senate as well, while capturing a majority of governorships and legislatures.

These expectations may well be overheated. Polls over the weekend suggested that the contest was tightening, and some prognosticators on Monday were scaling back their predictions, if ever so slightly. (Charlie Cook, the analyst who is one of Washington’s chief setters of expectations, said in an e-mail message on Monday that he was dropping the words “possibly more” from his House prediction of “20-35, possibly more.”)

Some Democrats worry that those forecasts, accurate or not, may be setting the stage for a demoralizing election night, and one with lasting ramifications, sapping the party’s spirit and energy heading into the 2008 presidential election cycle.

“Two years ago, winning 14 seats in the House would have been a pipe dream,” said Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic organization. Now, Mr. Bennett said, failure to win the House, even by one seat, would send Democrats diving under their beds (not to mention what it might do to all the pundits).

“It would be crushing,” he said. “It would be extremely difficult.”

Mr. Cook put it more succinctly. “I think you’d see a Jim Jones situation — it would be a mass suicide,” he said.

On election eve, the rough consensus among officials in both parties was that the Democrats would win the House but come just short of capturing the six seats they needed in the Senate. There was wide disagreement, though, about how many House seats Democrats might win.

Many of these predictions had been based on polls showing that President Bush, the Republican Party and Congress were extraordinarily unpopular. But going into Election Day, at least 20 House seats and probably 3 Senate seats were tied or close to it, no matter what the national polls say.

So, what if Democrats just squeak to victory in the House by a seat or two? What if Democrats win just three seats in the Senate or — unlikely but not impossible — even two?

“I’m not getting into the Washington expectations game,” said Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Democrat from Illinois running his party’s effort to capture the House, in what he said would be a very brief minute he would devote to commenting on this subject. “My job is to deliver north of 15 seats and that’s what I am going to do.”

Howard Wolfson, a Democratic consultant advising candidates in some of the most competitive races in upstate New York — and one of his party’s biggest optimists this year — said the size of the margin would not matter, assuming, of course, that Democrats win. “It’s not a question of 25 or 35,” Mr. Wolfson said. “It’s a question of 14 or 15. Would you rather have a bigger margin? Of course. But if you take back the House, the world changes.”

But any casual reader of a newspaper, or watcher of television news, or consumer of polls could be forgiven for thinking that the nation was about to witness its biggest shift in power since Republicans seized control of Congress by capturing 54 House seats in 1994. In the past week, analysts like Mr. Cook and Stuart Rothenberg, as well as on-the-record Democrats and Republicans, were talking about the Democrats’ racking up as many as 35 seats. (Republicans, of course, may have decided that they have a Machiavellian interest in setting up Democrats with inflated expectations.)

“From a communications standpoint, the Democrats have done a lousy job managing expectations,” said Justin Blake, an executive vice president at Edelman, the public relations firm.

Indeed, Mr. Emanuel and his Senate counterpart, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, have gone to some lengths not to project overconfidence. Mr. Schumer likes to say that Democrats are “on the edge” of taking back the Senate.

Other Democratic leaders are less restrained.

“I am now even more certain that Democrats will take control of the House and believe the net gain will be at least 30 seats and that we will certainly know the outcome early in the evening,” Martin Frost, the former Texas Democratic congressman, wrote in a column he e-mailed around last week.

Mr. Bennett said that winning only 14 seats would produce an inevitable drop in contributions and a round of whither-the-Democrats post-election sessions. But he also said that, based on what had happened after Senator John Kerry’s failed presidential effort in 2004, a race that many Democrats thought they should have won, he doubted the impact would last long.

And, unless the Democrats make no gains at all, it seems highly unlikely that there would be the kind of recriminations that typically follow a party loss, the kind of bloodletting already being seen on the Republican side.

Almost without exception, Democrats have praised Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Schumer — though Howard Dean, the party’s national chairman, may have to defend his decision to spread Democratic National Committee money to build up parties in all 50 states, while parrying requests for support in the Congressional races.

The scope of a Democratic victory could go a long way in determining just how much power the party had in Congress.

Perceptions matter in politics, and this White House has shown it knows how to shape them; it would no doubt relish trying to weaken its new Congressional foes by portraying a small Democratic edge as a loss.

The obvious best outcome for Democrats would be to win control of both houses, allowing them to claim a public mandate. But unless they somehow control 60 votes in the Senate — which, not to be setting any expectations here, is not going to happen — they will have to work with Republicans to pass legislation. If they win the House by a large margin but do not get the Senate, they will also no doubt claim something of a mandate, though that would seem to be a recipe for gridlock.

If the Democrats fail to capture the House and the Senate, it would provide a psychic boost for the White House and some political vindication for Karl Rove, the president’s chief political adviser. But given the intramural Republican squabbling of the past two years, it seems fair to say that nothing much could be expected out of Congress for the next two.

Mr. Bennett said, of the possibility of Democrats’ losing in the end, “Some people will be saying, maybe that’s better, which I think is crazy, but people are going to say it anyway.”

Al-Qaeda Wants Republicans to Win

By Robert Parry
October 31, 2006

George W. Bush’s blunt assertion that a Democratic victory in the Nov. 7 elections means “the terrorists win and America loses” misses the point that Osama bin Laden stands to advance his strategic goals much faster with a Republican victory.

Indeed, as U.S. intelligence analysts have come to understand, there is a symbiotic relationship between Bush’s blunderbuss “war on terror” and bin Laden’s ruthless strategy of terrorist violence – one helping the other.

Last April, a National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, concluded that Bush’s Iraq War had become the “cause celebre” that had helped spread Islamic extremism around the globe.

In June, U.S. intelligence also learned from an intercepted al-Qaeda communiqué that bin Laden’s terrorist band wants to keep U.S. soldiers bogged down in Iraq as the best way to maintain and expand al-Qaeda’s influence.

“Prolonging the war is in our interest,” wrote “Atiyah,” one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants.

Atiyah’s letter and other internal al-Qaeda communications reveal that one of the group’s biggest worries has been that a prompt U.S. military withdrawal might expose how fragile al-Qaeda’s position is in Iraq and cause many young jihadists to lay down their guns and go home. [See below]

But a Republican victory in the Nov. 7 congressional elections almost certainly would end that concern. A GOP-controlled Congress would continue to give Bush a blank check, meaning the Iraq War would be prolonged and, quite possibly, expanded into other Middle East countries.

Bush would be tempted to double up on his Iraq wager by attacking Iran and Syria, two countries that U.S. officials have accused of aiding Iraqi insurgents. A number of U.S. military experts also believe that Bush would order the bombing of Iran if it doesn’t agree to curtail its nuclear research.

An expanded war would thrill Bush’s neoconservative advisers and other prominent Republicans, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who have lusted publicly over the idea of fighting “World War III” against radical Muslims around the globe.

But the continued war in Iraq and its regional expansion would serve bin Laden’s interests, too, by proving to many of the world’s one billion Muslims that the Saudi exile was right in his predictions of an aggressive Western assault on Islam.

As the violence worsens, Middle East moderates would be forced to choose between Washington and the Islamic extremists. Like any violent revolutionary, bin Laden knows that the greater the polarization the faster his extremist ideology can grow.

On the other hand, Bush realizes that his best chance to retain and consolidate his political power in the United States is to exploit the American people’s fear and loathing of bin Laden and portraying his rivals as al-Qaeda’s fellow-travelers.

So, in an Oct. 30 speech in Statesboro, Georgia, Bush said, “However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses.”

Same Coin

The reality, however, is that Bush and bin Laden are the proverbial two sides of the same coin, both benefiting from the other’s existence and actions. Indeed, in the six years of the Bush administration, bin Laden could not have found a more perfect foil – or some might say a more useful fool – than George W. Bush.

First, in summer 2001, when al-Qaeda was an obscure band of extremists hiding out in the Afghan mountains, Bush failed to react to U.S. intelligence warnings about al-Qaeda’s plans for an impending attack.

After nearly 3,000 people were killed on Sept. 11, 2001,in the worst terrorist attack in history, Bush reacted by ordering U.S. forces to charge into the Middle East on what he called a “crusade” to “rid the world of evil.” Bin Laden quickly jumped on the anti-Muslim connotation of the word “crusade.”

Though U.S.-led forces ousted bin Laden’s Taliban allies in Afghanistan and cornered bin Laden at Tora Bora, Bush failed to close the trap, allowing bin Laden and key followers to escape. Then, before Afghanistan was brought under control, Bush diverted U.S. military forces to Iraq.

There, Bush eliminated secular dictator Saddam Hussein, one of bin Laden’s Muslim enemies, and repeated the Afghanistan mistake by celebrating “mission accomplished” without devoting sufficient U.S. forces to stabilize the country.

That blunder allowed al-Qaeda elements led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to set up shop in the Iraqi heartland. Though the force never totaled more than about five percent of the anti-U.S. fighters in Iraq, it conducted dramatic attacks, especially against Shiite targets, that worsened Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite sectarian strife.

Meanwhile, in the United States, bin Laden’s murderous 9/11 assaults created a political climate that helped Bush establish one-party Republican dominance. Citing the “war on terror,” Bush also asserted “plenary” – or unlimited – presidential powers for the conflict’s duration.

In effect, Bush suspended the American concept of “unalienable rights,” as promised in the Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Under Bush’s theory of presidential powers, gone are fundamental liberties such as the habeas corpus right to a fair trial, protection from warrantless government searches and prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments.

Then, whenever Bush has found himself in political trouble, he has conjured up the frightening spirit of bin Laden to scare the American people. Other times, bin Laden has stepped forward on his own to lend a hand.

Election Scheme

On Oct. 29, 2004, just four days before the U.S. presidential election, bin Laden took the personal risk of breaking nearly a year of silence to release a videotape denouncing Bush. Right-wing pundits immediately spun the videotape into bin Laden’s “endorsement” of Democrat John Kerry. Polls registered an immediate bump of about five points for Bush.

However, inside CIA headquarters, senior intelligence analysts reached the remarkable conclusion that bin Laden’s real intent was to help Bush win a second term.

“Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President,” said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a meeting to review secret “strategic analysis” after the videotape had dominated the day’s news, according to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.

Suskind wrote that CIA analysts had spent years “parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. … Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.”

Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for intelligence, expressed the consensus view that bin Laden recognized how Bush’s heavy-handed policies – such as the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and the war in Iraq – were serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

“Certainly,” Miscik said, “he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.”

As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts were troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. “An ocean of hard truths before them – such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected – remained untouched,” Suskind wrote.

However, Bush’s campaign backers took bin Laden’s videotape at face value, calling it proof the terrorist leader feared Bush and favored Kerry.

In a pro-Bush book entitled Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats and Confounding the Mainstream Media, right-wing journalist Bill Sammon devoted several pages to bin Laden’s videotape, portraying it as an attempt by the terrorist leader to persuade Americans to vote for Kerry.

“Bin Laden stopped short of overtly endorsing Kerry,” Sammon wrote, “but the terrorist offered a polemic against reelecting Bush.”

Sammon and other right-wing pundits didn’t weigh the obvious possibility that the crafty bin Laden might have understood that his “endorsement” of Kerry would achieve the opposite effect with the American people.

Bush himself recognized this fact. “I thought it was going to help,” Bush said in a post-election interview with Sammon about bin Laden’s videotape. “I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the President, something must be right with Bush.”

In Strategery, Sammon also quotes Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman as agreeing that bin Laden’s videotape helped Bush. “It reminded people of the stakes,” Mehlman said. “It reinforced an issue on which Bush had a big lead over Kerry.”

But bin Laden, a student of American politics, surely understood that, too.

Bin Laden had played Brer Rabbit to America’s Brer Fox as in the old Uncle Remus fable about Brer Rabbit begging not to be thrown into the briar patch when that was exactly where he wanted to go.

Iraq-Terror Ploy

By rhetorically merging the Iraq War and the “war on terror,” Bush also has kept many Americans from understanding the true nature of the Iraq conflict. From 2003 to 2005, Bush presented the worsening violence in Iraq as mostly a case of al-Qaeda’s outside terrorists attacking peace-loving Iraqis.

“We’re helping the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy that is peaceful and prosperous and an example for the broader Middle East,” Bush said in one typical speech on Dec. 14, 2005. “The terrorists understand this, and this is why they have now made Iraq the central front in the war on terror.”

But this analysis blurred the varied motivations of the armed groups fighting in Iraq. The main elements of the Iraqi insurgency are Sunnis resisting the U.S. invasion of their country and the marginalization they face in a new Iraq dominated by their Shiite rivals.

Non-Iraqi jihadists, a much smaller group estimated at about 5 percent of the armed fighters, are driven by a religious fervor against what they see as an intrusion by a non-Islamic foreign power into the Muslim world.

As U.S. military officers in the field recognized – and as new intelligence has confirmed – al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq was far more fragile than Bush’s rhetoric suggested.

Indeed, an intercepted letter, purportedly from bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and dated July 9, 2005, urged Zarqawi, then al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, to take steps to prevent mass desertions among young non-Iraqi jihadists, who had come to fight the Americans, if the Americans left.

“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” wrote Zawahiri, according to a text released by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

To avert mass desertions, Zawahiri suggested that Zarqawi talk up the “idea” of a “caliphate” along the eastern Mediterranean. In other words, al-Qaeda was looking for a hook to keep the jihadists around if the Americans split.

A more recent letter – written on Dec. 11, 2005, by Atiyah – elaborated on al-Qaeda’s hopes for “prolonging” the Iraq War.

Atiyah lectured Zarqawi on the necessity of taking the long view and building ties with elements of the Sunni-led Iraqi insurgency that had little in common with al-Qaeda except hatred of the Americans.

“The most important thing is that the jihad continues with steadfastness and firm rooting, and that it grows in terms of supporters, strength, clarity of justification, and visible proof each day,” Atiyah wrote. “Indeed, prolonging the war is in our interest.” [Emphasis added.]

The “Atiyah letter,” which was discovered by U.S. authorities at the time of Zarqawi’s death on June 7, 2006, and was translated by the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, also stressed the vulnerability of al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq.

“Know that we, like all mujahaddin, are still weak,” Atiyah told Zarqawi. “We have not yet reached a level of stability. We have no alternative but to not squander any element of the foundations of strength or any helper or supporter.” [For details, see’s “Al-Qaeda’s Fragile Foothold.”]

What al-Qaeda leaders seemed to fear most was that a U.S. military withdrawal would contribute to a disintegration of their fragile position in Iraq, between the expected desertions of the foreign fighters and the targeting of al-Qaeda’s remaining forces by Iraqis determined to rid their country of violent outsiders.

In that sense, the longer the United States stays in Iraq, the deeper al-Qaeda can put down roots and the more it can harden its new recruits through indoctrination and training.

Just as U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Bush administration’s occupation of Iraq became a “cause celebre” that spread Islamic radicalism around the globe, so too does it appear that an extended U.S. occupation of Iraq would help al-Qaeda achieve its goals there – and elsewhere.

So, contrary to Bush’s assertion that a Democratic congressional victory means “the terrorists win and America loses,” the opposite might be much closer to the truth – that a continuation of Bush’s strategies, left unchecked by Congress, might be the answer to bin Laden’s dreams.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

Shouting Over the Din By BOB HERBERT

November 6, 2006
NYT Op-Ed Columnist

We know that Al Gore got more votes than George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, and that of the people who went to the polls in Florida, more had intended to vote for Mr. Gore than for Mr. Bush. But Mr. Bush became president.

In 2004, Mr. Bush outpolled John Kerry by more than three million votes nationally. But widespread problems encountered by voters in Ohio, especially those who had intended to vote for Mr. Kerry, raised doubts about who had really won the crucially important Buckeye State. If Mr. Kerry had taken Ohio, he would have won the White House with a minority of the popular vote, as Mr. Bush had done four years earlier.

These are not scenes from a flourishing democracy. If you’re looking to put a positive spin on the current state of politics and government in the U.S., you’ve got your work cut out for you.

Voters will head to the polls tomorrow for the most important off-year election in recent memory. But instead of a concerted effort to make it easier for Americans to vote, the trend in recent years has been to make it harder, through legal means and otherwise.

Tens of thousands of voters in Georgia will very likely be confused tomorrow. A judge struck down a state law requiring voters to show a photo ID before casting their ballots. But up to 300,000 voters have received letters from the State Board of Elections telling them that a photo ID is required.

A veteran Democratic congresswoman from Indianapolis, Julia Carson, ran into trouble when she tried to vote on primary day by displaying her Congressional identification card. It had her picture on it, but she was told that was not enough. She needed something issued by the state or federal government that had an expiration date on it.

Eventually, as The Washington Post tells us, she was allowed to vote after a poll worker called a boss.

This was a congresswoman!

With each new election comes a new round of voter horror stories: Hanging chads. Eight- and nine-hour waits in the rain. Votes lost. Votes never counted. Electronic voting machines, vulnerable to all types of mischief, proliferating without the protective shadow of a paper trail. People in poor neighborhoods shunning the voting booth because they’ve been led to believe they’ll be arrested for some minor violation, such as an unpaid traffic ticket, if they dare to show up at the polls.

Enough. We need to recognize reality. The aging system of American-style democracy is beset in too many places by dry rot, cynicism, chicanery and fraud. It’s due for an overhaul.

The gerrymandering geniuses have raised their antidemocratic notion of perpetual incumbency to a fine art. As Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner informed us in yesterday’s Times, it’s very difficult to transform even intense voter dissatisfaction into real political change. “For all the deep unhappiness that polls show with Congress, Mr. Bush, his party and the Iraq war,” they wrote, “only about 10 percent of House races could be considered even remotely competitive.”

I’ve already said that I favor the creation of some sort of nonpartisan national forum — perhaps a series of high-profile, televised town hall meetings — to explore ways of improving our deeply troubled system of politics and government. If we could get beyond the hellacious din of obnoxious television ads and mindless shouting heads, we’d find that there are a lot of people with good ideas out there who need to be heard from.

One of the biggest problems at the moment is the extent to which ordinary Americans feel estranged from the ruling elite, from those powerful (and invariably wealthy) men and women in both parties who actually influence the course of politics and government.

The key task of any national effort to revitalize American-style democracy would be to bring the citizenry into closer touch with elected leaders in ways that hold the leaders to greater account and make them more responsive. The absolutely essential first step would be to ensure that all who are eligible to vote are actually allowed to vote, and that their ballots are properly counted.

I don’t think the politicians, even with all the recent coverage, realize the level of dissatisfaction and outright anger that has gripped much of the population. Iraq may be the flash point, but the dissatisfaction runs much deeper than that. People feel that the U.S. has sailed off in the wrong direction, and that — as voters — they haven’t the clout to set things right.

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