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Daily Archives: June 14, 2008

Obama combats darker side of Internet politics

by Jitendra Joshi*

Democrat Barack Obama has shown the stunning power of the Internet for political fundraising. Now he is fighting its darker side as a vehicle for "smears" against his bid for the White House.
Pausing from a war of words with Republican John McCain over taxes, the African-American senator Thursday unveiled an interactive website to debunk false rumours peddled by email and right-wing media outlets.
The site at www.fightthesmears.com was created after one recent, and thus-far unfounded, assertion that Obama's wife Michelle had been caught on tape slurring white people.
"We created an interactive tool to allow our supporters to fight back against these smears in the same way that they received them — on the Internet," campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
"People can upload their address books and easily send fact-based emails to their friends and family," he said.
"Just knowing the truth isn't enough — you have to proactively tell people the truth to fight back."
Obama's main campaign website already has a fact-check section to refute rumours such as that the Christian candidate is a secret Muslim. But aides said the new site went further in inviting supporters to spread the word.
Political candidates have traditionally refused to acknowledge slanderous rumours for fear of giving them respectability.
But given the slew of attacks being spread by email against Obama, his campaign said it had to respond in kind by harnessing the "viral" power of the Internet to add to his impressive record of online fundraising.
By going back repeatedly to online donors who give little and often, the Illinois senator has set new records with a total take so far of more than 265 million dollars — three times the amount raised by McCain.
Another online political fund-raising phenomenon, Republican Congressman Ron Paul, announced Thursday he was bowing out of the presidential race.
The longshot libertarian-leaning candidate had harnessed the power of the web early on in the White House race by raising tens of millions of dollars online for his bid, and drew a huge grass-roots following.
Obama's new website was launched after reports, by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh among others, that a videotape existed showing Michelle Obama using the derogatory term "whitey" in the couple's former church.
No such tape has surfaced despite frenzied speculation by right-wing pundits and blogs, and Obama last week decried the mainstream media's attention to "dirt and lies."
The Democrat was back on the offensive a day after ditching Washington insider Jim Johnson, who was leading his search for a vice presidential nominee, over allegations of sweetened mortgage terms from a lender at the heart of the US "subprime" housing crisis.
Obama and McCain clashed afresh on policy as a CNN poll suggested that 50 percent of voters prefer the Democrat on the economy against 44 percent for the Republican. But McCain led by 54 percent to 43 on foreign policy.
Citing a new study by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill said one-quarter of the benefits under McCain's tax plan would go to people earning more than three million dollars a year.
"This is more of the same on steroids!" she told reporters, referring to President George W. Bush's hefty tax cuts and drawing a contrast with Obama's plan to reduce taxes for those on less than 250,000 dollars a year.
"The thinnest sliver of wealth in this country will be enriched under John McCain's tax policies while, once again, the middle class will be looking around wondering what has happened to the American dream," McCaskill said.
McCain accuses Obama of advocating "the largest tax increase since the Second World War" and is touting his own plan to keep costs low for consumers and businesses amid mounting economic hardship.
McCain's campaign seized on remarks by Obama to the CNBC business channel this week, in which he suggested that higher oil prices could be beneficial if they curb demand, but that a "gradual adjustment" would have been better.
"These gas prices are truly taking a toll on working families across America and it's time for us to act," Virginia Representative Eric Cantor said.
"And I think what we heard yesterday was Senator Barack Obama indicate through his comments that he, frankly, is out of touch with what Americans are going through," he said.

* AFP

Mugabe brandishes spectre of war in vote build-up

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by Fanuel Jongwe*

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe raised the spectre of war yesterday by warning that his staunchest supporters are ready to take up arms rather than let the opposition triumph in a June 27 election.
In comments carried by state media, the 84-year-old said veterans of the 1970s liberation war had told him they were ready to go into battle once more to avoid the prospect of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai coming to power after the run-off in a fortnight's time.
Although Mugabe told supporters of his ZANU-PF party he did not want a return to war, he repeatedly raised the threat of conflict and warned voters against making a "mistake".
His comments added to the fevered atmosphere in the build-up to the poll, after Tsvangirai was twice detained while campaigning on Thursday and his most senior lieutenant arrested on accusations of treason.
Tsvangirai also saw his two campaign buses impounded on Friday in a move the MDC said was designed to cripple his campaign.
Meanwhile a group of 40 leading Africans, including ex-UN chief Kofi Annan and Mozambique's former president Joaquim Chissano, said in an open letter they were "deeply troubled" by reports of intimidation, harassment and violence.
The situation in the southern African nation was also the subject of a session at the UN Security Council where the world body's humanitarian chief said food was fast running out.
In his speech to ZANU-PF followers at a rally northeast of Harare, Mugabe said a delegation of war veterans had approached him after the first round of elections on March 29 when Tsvnagirai fell just short of an outright majority.
"They came to my office after the elections and asked me: 'Can we take up arms?'," Mugabe said.
"They said this country was won by the barrel of the gun and should we let it go at the stroke of a pen? Should one just write an X and then the country goes just like that?"
While Mugabe said he personally did not want to see a return to war, he also indicated that a Tsvangirai victory would spark a new conflict.
"Would you want to vote to go back to war, to fight for the country which we liberated?"
Tsvangirai has been repeatedly portrayed by Mugabe as a puppet of former colonial power Britain and wealthy whites, thousands of whom have had their farms seized by the state as part of a controversial land reform programme.
The MDC leader however has accused Mugabe of being a dictator who has dragged the region's one-time breadbasket into a state of ruin.
Since Mugabe began his land reforms at the turn of the decade, the economy has gone into freefall. Inflation, officially put at 165,000 percent, is thought to be nearer two million percent while food shortages are widespread.
Tsvangirai is only taking part in the run-off under protest, insisting he passed the 50 percent threshold on March 29 but also aware he would hand victory to Mugabe if he boycotted the second round.
So far, his campaigning efforts have faced major restrictions and he was detained for a total of nearly six hours on Thursday after being stopped on two occasions by police in the centre of the country.
On Friday, police in the town of Gweru impounded the two campaign buses used to ferry Tsvangirai and his entourage around the country.
The buses, which carry the slogan "Morgan is the One", were only unveiled by the party two days ago.
Party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the move was a blatant attempt "to cripple the MDC campaign."
While Tsvangirai was still trying to hold rallies, MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti remained in custody after being arrested within minutes of landing on Thursday on a flight from South Africa.
Although he has not appeared in court, police say he will be charged with treason in connection with an alleged plot to rig victory for the MDC in the first round and also for pre-emptively announcing the results.
Efforts for the Security Council to have a full debate on the situation in Zimbabwe have been blocked by South Africa and Russia, according to diplomats, although they did receive a briefing on Thursday from the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes.
Holmes described the food security situation in Zimbabwe as "deteriorating very seriously, with probably only a quarter of the needs of the country likely to be met by the forthcoming harvest" and said a decision by the Mugabe regime to order the suspension all aid work was therefore "particularly regrettable."

* AFP

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