NATIONAL CLIPS: Dec. 15

COLUMBIA, S.C.: Obama, Winfrey draw thousands into politics

As 65,000 voters in three states turned out for rallies backing Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and featuring TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey, media coverage depicted the events as business as usual: voter apathy piqued only by celebrity, with no issues.

Nothing could be further from reality. “These are dangerous times,” Winfrey told nearly 30,000 people here. “We’re all watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’ to forget about it.” Obama dug into ending the Iraq war and pushing health care reform — hardly a rock concert.

“There are changes that need to be made in America,” said Audrey Evans, 33, who brought her son, Darius Richmond, to the University of South Carolina’s Williams-Brice Stadium. “If he sees that I’m interested in politics, then he’ll be interested in politics.”

Civil rights movement veteran Jim Campbell, 82, watched as men and women — Black, Brown and white, young and old — streamed into the stadium. He had not seen the same hope, diversity and determination since the 1960s.

“I’m so tired of politics as usual,” said Sally MacMillan, 58. “He’s bringing so many people back into the system who have given up hope. The fact that he takes no special interest money is what Obama is all about.”

Voters will get their first crack at the presidential campaign in the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3. Polls say the Democratic races are too close to call. “This race will go to the campaign that finds new voters to bring into the process,” said Democratic consultant Jenny Backus.

Over 18,000 showed up for the Obama/Winfrey stop in Des Moines, Iowa, and 8,500 in Manchester, N.H.

New Hampshire’s Democratic primary is Jan. 8, and Michigan’s is Jan. 15. Nevada’s, with a large Latino vote, is Jan. 19, while South Carolina Democrats vote Jan. 29. Republican primaries and caucuses largely follow a similar schedule.

In a related development, Republican candidate Fred Thompson announced he will skip the New Hampshire contest to focus on Iowa and Florida.



PITTSBURGH: Abandon torture, say 49 retired military officers

“We are trying to come down on the side of American values that we see being eroded and destroyed,” Duquesne University Law School dean and retired Rear Admiral Don Guter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Guter is among 49 retired generals and admirals campaigning to halt the U.S. use of torture.

Guter said 15 members of the group, working with Human Rights First, met with seven presidential candidates, six Democrats and one Republican, in Iowa earlier this month.

The Republicans’ lack of response is “frustrating,” Guter said. The group plans to meet with all 17 candidates, arguing that torture results in bad information, violates the rules of war and Geneva Conventions, damages military personnel and has destroyed the U.S. reputation around the world.

“As far as we’re concerned,” he told the Post-Gazette, “this shouldn’t be a point the United States should have to debate. Whoever is the next commander in chief, we want them to believe what we are telling them.”

Darius Rejali, a political science professor at Oregon’s Reed College, called the Bush war on terror a “war on values. … You lose the war if you defend your values with barbaric methods,” he said.

The perception that U.S. voters support torture is not upheld by polling data. Rejali said that since Sept. 11, Americans have consistently opposed torture by 55 percent to 65 percent. “We think the debate has been driven by fear,” said Guter. “We’ve faced vicious enemies in every war.”

In a related development, senators from both sides of the aisle are conducting and calling for investigations into the CIA’s destruction of tapes showing torture. “Burning tapes, destroying evidence, I don’t know how deep this goes,” Republican Sen. Chuck Hegel of Nebraska told “Face the Nation” on CBS. “Could there be obstruction of justice? Yes.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has initiated an investigation into the destruction of tapes made in 2002.

Questioning whether or not Attorney General Michael Mukasey would prosecute the CIA for destroying evidence of torture, Sen. Joseph Biden told “This Week” on NBC, “He’s the same guy who couldn’t decide whether or not waterboarding was torture, and he’s going to be doing this investigation?”

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @aol.com).