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Cranking Up the Slime Machine
McCain NewsLadder

by addiestan, The Media Consortium: Sat., Oct 11, 2008
Filed under: NewsLadderPresidential campaign 2008John McCain

Just days before the second face-to-face, nationally televised meeting of presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain came a torrent of accusations and innuendo against Obama, the Democrat, by McCain, the Republican, and his GOP surrogates — especially his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. By week’s end, Palin would be standing with egg on her face, chided by the Alaska state legislature for abuse of power in violation of the state Ethics Act., and revealed to have relationships with a couple of anti-government (as in anti-United States Government) types in her home state.

Before the week officially began, accusations against Obama that had months earlier failed to make a splash were urgently regurgitated by McCain and Palin — most especially an inference that Obama’s acquaintance with a Chicago figure who was active in the Weather Underground in the 1960s proves a disregard for his own country by the Democratic candidate.

As the McCain campaign tried to link Obama to former Weatherman William Ayers, respectable news organizations, Truthdig reports, questioned the claims as racially charged and misleading:

“Americans need to ask themselves if they’ve ever befriended an unrepentant terrorist,” says McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds. The AP called similar remarks by running mate Sarah Palin “racially tinged” and Time said the claim was “simply wrong,” but the McCain campaign shows no signs of backing down from its new strategy.

Though the campaign — especially Palin — pushed the theme throughout the week, it was mysteriously absent from Tuesday’s town hall meeting in Nashville, leading Obama himself to throw down with a dare to McCain during an interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson, stating that if McCain had an accusation to make, he should make it when they’re both in the same place. “…I guess we’ve got one last debate,” Obama told Gibson. “So presumably, if he ends up feeling that he needs to, he will raise it during the debate.”

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal put it this way:

One almost gets the sense that Barack Obama wants John McCain to confront him directly with some of these guilt-by-association attacks…He’s practically questioning McCain’s fortitude, calling him out for using sleazy tactics behind Obama’s back, but not to his face.

That didn’t stop the McCain camp from putting out another ad that leads with Ayers, and somehow mixes in the subprime mortgage meltown, somehow trying to lay that mess of deregulatory debauchery at Obama’s feet. Salon’s Alex Koppelman reports that the ad is lated to run “nationally”. [Video included at link.]

But it won’t work, says Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who engineered Ronald Reagan’s1984 victory. He’s a guy who knows from landslides (Reagan in ‘84 won every state except Minnesota and the District of Columbia), and he’s predicting one for Obama. Writes Ari Melber at The Nation:

So it means something when an old hand like Ed Rollins unloads on John McCain, as he just did, declaring that the race is over, “no one cares” about McCain’s Ayers attacks, and the GOP nominee must think about the fundamental question, “how do you want to end your career?”

As mentioned, on the stump, the purveyor of the Ayers smear is none other than Sarah Palin, who appears to have some pretty interesting friends of her own, according to Max Blumenthal and David Neiwert writing at Salon. Take, for example, a guy called “Black Helicopter Steve” Stoll, “a John Birch Society activist,” according to Blumenthal and Neiwert, whom Palin tried to appoint to a vacant city council seat in Wasilla. Or Mark Chryson, the former chairman of the the secessionist, who showed the reporters the 9-millimeter Makarov PM pistol he keeps in the glove compartment of his truck, adding, “I’ve got enough weaponry to raise a small army in my basement.” Todd Palin belonged to the Alaska independence Party for seven years.

If that’s not enough to give one pause about the company Palin keeps, check out Michelle Goldberg’s piece in The Nation about the churches Palin attends, and their political pull.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that local churches like the Wasilla Assembly of God, which Palin grew up attending, became aggressively political. A few years before Palin became mayor, a group of preachers confronted the school board with questions about social issues that had never before surfaced in local politics, according to O’Hara, who wrote first for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and then for the Anchorage Daily News. “They started asking me, ‘Would you allow a homosexual to teach in schools?’ and ‘Do you favor abortion?’” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know what was coming. I said, ‘This is not a school board issue. We have overcrowding. We have funding problems.’” The last time O’Hara ran, conservative pastors mounted an effort to defeat her, saying she favored hiring homosexuals, but they failed. Nevertheless, in 1996, feeling increasingly alienated in a place she’d lived for twenty-five years, she quit the school board and moved to more liberal Anchorage.

The Obama campaign sought to offset McCain’s Project Ayers by reminding voters of the Republican’s very real links to Charles Keating, one of the key players in the collapse of many “savings & loan” lending institutions in the 1980s.

The Nation’s Ari Berman brought readers’ attention to a “breathtaking 1990 exposé” written for his magazine by Robert Sherrill, in which McCain’s role is featured. Berman links the McCain of the S&L scandal to the part he says McCain played in the current economic crisis:

A constant in both crises is John McCain. McCain and four other senators (dubbed the Keating Five) intervened to protect Keating from banking regulators. McCain was later rebuked by the Senate Ethics Committee for “poor judgment” and embarrassed by the $112,000 in campaign contributions, trips and gifts he had accepted from Keating. Cindy McCain and her father were also partners with Keating in a shopping mall development in Arizona. In his autobiography, McCain called the Keating episode “the worst mistake of my life.”

McCain eventually became a born-again crusader for campaign-finance reform. But he continued to surround himself with corporate lobbyists and push for greater deregulation of the finance industry, missing the greatest lesson from Sherrill’s story: “thievery is what unregulated capitalism is all about.”

Dan Schulman of Mother Jones looked at the two organizations to which McCain directed one of his questioners at Tuesday’s town hall forum with Obama. Theresa Finch asked the candidates, “”How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got us into this global economic crisis?”

It’s not surprising that McCain directed Finch to Citizens Against Government Waste or the National Taxpayers Union. Both anti-spending organizations are ideologically aligned with the Arizona Senator and have ties to his presidential campaign….

CAGW…gives McCain its highest marks–100 percent–in its latest report, though Finch and other voters may want to consider the source before placing stock in the nonprofit’s congressional scorecard. CAGW was one of five nonprofits accused by Senate investigators of “laundering payments and then disbursing funds” at the direction of Jack Abramoff. Earlier this year the Washington Post reported that CAGW was actively helping McCain.

Ezra Klein of The American Prospect noted the concurrence of a drop in McCain’s poll numbers and the Dow Jones, treating readers to a chart from The State of the Union. Klein writes:

It’s a useful reminder that elections are heavily structural. McCain’s problems are, in large part, the product of actual world events that don’t favor Republicans. They’re not the result of some awesome new Obama ads, or Palin, or even McCain’s erratic and odd campaign style.

And it’s not just presidential candidates who are powerless over the whims of the moneymen, according to one author; presidents themselves fare little better. At The Real News Network, author and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson told Paul Jay that he’s skeptical about the claim to real power that any president has over the conduct of the US on the world stage. Johnson went on to critique the visions and advisory teams being unveiled by both Obama and McCain.

Speaking of the world stage, David Corn of Mother Jones examined Palin’s claim to have conducted trade missions with Russia and meetings with representatives of foreign governments. Writes Corn:

But the calendars tracking Palin’s official meetings during her tenure as governor contain not one listing indicating she ever met with a Russian official. In fact, the 562 pages of her daily schedules–obtained by Mother Jones under Alaska’s Open Records Act–indicate that Palin had few meetings at all with any foreign representatives and rarely dealt with any topic related to foreign policy. The schedules include about 20 meetings, events, or phone calls in which Palin interacted with foreign officials.

Then, of course, there’s Troopergate, in which the McCain running made stands accused of using the power of her office of governor to retaliate against a public servant who refused to fire somebody with whom she had a few issues. Writing from Anchorage for The Washington Independent, Laura McGann explained on Friday:

A report released today finds that as Alaska governor, Sarah Palin “abused her power,” a specific violation of state law.

Palin was accused of firing the head of the Alaska safety commission, Walt Monegan, for not intervening in what amounted to a personal family feud. Evidence in the report suggests that Palin and her husband, Todd, pressured Monegan to fire their former brother-in-law, the state trooper Mike Wooten.

As if the week’s relations weren’t enough bad news for Camp McCain, the week ended with word that Christopher Buckley, the conservative son of William F. Buckley, founder of the modern conservative movement, has endorsed Barack Obama, prompting Kevin Drum to write at Mother Jones:

The modern GOP is the party of Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, George Bush, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. It’s not just off the rails. It doesn’t even know where the rails are anymore.

Adele M. Stan

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting
about John McCain. Visit
for a complete list of articles on McCain. And for the best progressive reporting on two
critical issues, check out and is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder. Adele M. Stan is executive editor of The Media Consortium’s syndicated reporting project.

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McCain Fails to Vanquish “That One”
McCain NewsLadder

by addiestan, The Media Consortium: Wed., Oct 8, 2008
Filed under: NewsLadderPresidential campaign 2008John McCain

Special Debate Edition

In a forum on a college stage in Nashville, Tenn., Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain faced off for a second time before the television cameras, fielding questions on the economy, energy and foreign policy from an audience selected largely for its members’ self-description as “undecided voters.”

The discussion included plenty of policy, but will likely be more remembered for a moment when McCain pointed his finger at Obama than for anything either man said.

You said you wanted substance in the presidential campaign? If you watched last night’s “town hall” or debate or whatever it was, you surely got some, though not in a particularly energizing setting. As Liliana Segura, writing for AlterNet, sees it:

The first problem with this debate was calling it a debate. The second was calling it a “town hall.” In the strange, stilted ritual atop the red carpet at Nashville’s Belmont University, the studio audience looked less like an inquisitive cross-section of the American public than it did a cast of apolitical drones programmed to deliver canned questions in exchange for canned lines.

David Corn of Mother Jones described it this way:

For an evening billed as The Night McCain Attacks, Obama landed as many blows as did McCain. Neither took any wild swings. But Obama, leading in the polls nationally and within swing states, didn’t have to. He is going smooth and steady. He was practically cruising in this debate–slow and calm. He exuded confidence. McCain was no slouch. He just couldn’t overcome a high-performing foe.

Okay, but who won? Not surprisingly, perhaps, writers for progressive news outlets saw Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, as the clear winner. But so did a CBS poll. And a CNN poll. As Laura Rozen of War and Piece explains, “CBS poll of 500 uncommitted voters: 40% said Obama won, 26% said McCain, 34% thought it was a draw…A CNN debate poll found 54% said Obama did the best job, 30% said McCain did.”

By significant margins, respondents to the CNN poll found Obama to be more likable (65 percent to 28 percent for McCain) and more intelligent (57 percent to McCain’s 25 percent).

That likability thing: Perhaps that’s where that finger-pointing moment comes into play. While making an accusation about Obama’s voting record on the controversial Bush energy bill, McCain asked, rhetorically, ” You know who voted for it? You might never know.” He pointed he finger at Obama and, answering his own question, said, “That one.”

Sure got my attention. In one fell swoop, McCain not only pointed his finger angrily at his opponent, but chose to refer to a black man in a way that omitted any reference to his humanity. Even if that was not his intention, it was not a particularly deft move.

The general sense around the progressive blogosphere was that the “That one” comment wasn’t coming from a racist place. Ezra Klein, writing at his blog on The American Prospect site, called it “tone deaf”. “It’s Grandpa Simpson,” Klein writes. Mother Jones‘ Jonathan Stein heard a certain derision that was not race-based, in his view: “I, for one, read no racism into the comment. Condescension, yes. Racism, no.”

Though not seeing racism in the swipe, The Nation’s John Nichols did see it as a deliberate word choice:

Understand what the Republican nominee was doing.

He did not slip up.

The McCain campaign and its media acolytes have for weeks been spinning the notion that Obama is running as some sort of messianic character who sees himself in something akin to Biblical terms.

In internet advertisements, campaign spin and talk-show commentary, Obama is mocked as “the one.”

A McCain Web commercial from earlier this year compared Obama with the Nazarene. That ad opened with the announcer declaring, “It shall be known that in 2008 the world will be blessed. They will call him ‘The One.’”

The ad proceeds to ridicule Obama’s high-minded rhetoric before closing with the narrator telling Americans: “Barack Obama may be ‘The One.’ But is he ready to lead?”

But is McCain’s tone-deafness in racially sensitive situations indicative of a lack of understanding of our increasingly diverse culture? Joan Walsh of Salon observed McCain’s interaction with Oliver Clark, the second audience member to question the candidates:

Barack Obama dominated this debate from the very first question John McCain fielded directly, when he condescended to the African-American questioner, a young man named Oliver, who asked how the $700 billion rescue plan passed last week would help the average American. McCain first implied that Oliver and other regular voters wouldn’t know that much about Fannie Mae and and Freddie Mac…tThen McCain told Oliver that his plans would “help Americans like Allen … stay in their home.” Allen? Allen was the nice older white man who asked the first question. So what about Oliver? Did he not matter? Was McCain confused?

And McCain did not acknowledge by name Ingrid Jackson, the African-American woman who asked him how quickly a McCain administration would move to push Congress on green jobs and climate change. Calling questioners by their names is pretty much the unspoken rule of enforcing the false intimacy of the town-hall format.

David Roberts of Grist was taken aback by McCain’s answer to Jackson: “Now, how — what’s — what’s the best way of fixing it? Nuclear power. Sen. Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or something like that.”

The transcript doesn’t convey it, but this line — “Sen. Obama says that it has to be safe or disposable or something like that” — is delivered with a kind of bemused sputter, like he’s trying to figure out some peculiar idiosyncrasy of Obama’s. High-handedly dismissing safety concerns about nuclear power struck me as jarring and a little bizarre.

Another policy matter that drew a sharp distinction between Obama and McCain was health care. As The Nation’s Nichols recounts:

“Quick discussion: Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?” said the NBC newsman. “Senator McCain?”

“I think it’s a responsibility,” responded the Republican nominee for president.


Brokaw then turned to Obama.

“Well, I think it should be a right for every American,” the Democrats declared. “In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can’t pay their medical bills — for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they’re saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don’t have to pay her treatment, there’s something fundamentally wrong about that.”

AlterNet’s Segura noted several “eyebrow-raising moments,” one on health care,

…when McCain proposed, “Let’s put health records online” — a cunning way to offset his own lack of Internet savvy, perhaps, but a comment that no small number of critics will respond to by saying, “Let’s start with yours.”

The McCain campaign has only allowed reporters glances at the Republican candidate’s health records, in a setting that gave them little time to examine thousands of pages of records, and in which they were forbidden to take notes or make copies.

Several bloggers mentioned moments and attributes that made the 72-year-old McCain come across as elderly in their eyes. Here’s Ezra Klein:

Tonight, even though McCain made no major mistakes, the debate was clearly Obama’s. And not only on the merits, though I thought this Obama’s best outing on the substance. Rather, it was the visual contrast that proved striking. The constant movement required by the format left McCain looking old and slow and tired. It’s not his fault. He moves like a 72-year-old man because he is a 72-year-old man. But that fact was emphasized this evening, and not to McCain’s advantage.

Laura Rozen noted McCain’s several invocations of Ronald Reagan:

And like one has sometimes with like a great uncle or something, a lack of awareness of how dated and out of touch some of the talking points sound. Does Ronald Reagan still offer the answer to today’s economy? (When the US was still manufacturing the world’s cars, there weren’t really global markets, no China as a trading partner, still a Soviet Union, no 401k plans, or ATM machines, no one except MIT professors had computers, and you made long distance calls to your grandparents once a week?) To listen to McCain, it did.

One topic was notable for its absence, especially because it’s a theme that the McCain campaign has been hammering since the weekend — that of a certain “domestic terrorist” whom Obama knows through his service on the board of a Chicago-based education project. As TPM Election Central’s Greg Sargent put it:

As multiple observers have pointed out, McCain needed to jar the electorate into seeing this race in a new way. It isn’t even clear if McCain even tried to do this tonight — there was no moment where he appeared to make an aggressive bid to take down Obama or grab the initiative. McCain did try to hit Obama by saying that the presidency is no time for “on the job training,” but the attack was a stale one that we’ve heard before. There was no mention of the words “William Ayers.”

In essence, looking at last night’s forum, the guilt-by-association stuff seems all McCain has left to use against Obama, and that was a tack he preferred not to take before the entire television-viewing nation. And so, writes the Washington Independent’s Matthew DeLong, McCain probably didn’t improve his poll numbers in this outing:

So, how did McCain fare? Overall, it was probably a draw. There wasn’t a clear win on either side. Will tonight’s performance be shifting the polls tomorrow? Not likely — and because McCain came into the debate desperately needing a decisive victory, with just one more debate remaining, the lack of one would constitute a defeat.

In that case, chalk up one for That One.

Adele M. Stan

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting
about John McCain. Visit
for a complete list of articles on McCain. And for the best progressive reporting on two
critical issues, check out and is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and created by NewsLadder. Adele M. Stan is executive editor of The Media Consortium’s syndicated reporting project.

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Palinpalooza a Diversion from Deeper Problems?
McCain NewsLadder

by addiestan, The Media Consortium: Sat., Oct 4, 2008
Filed under: NewsLadderPresidential campaign 2008John McCain

The hard times continue for Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who today pulled up his stakes in Michigan, a state his campaign once thought worth contesting.

In the progressive cyberspace, we find McCain ever-so-slightly better off than the week began, on account of the fact that his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, failed to fulfill the dreams of liberals, a dream that would have had her imploding on the podium in a torrent of stammers, a potentiality foreshadowed by her supernova performance in a multi-part interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric.

In March, McCain changed his mind on waterboarding, voting to sustain President Bush’s veto of a bill that would have banned U.S. interrogators from the practice; he seemed to be rewarded this week with a metaphorical version of a more traditional water torture, as steady drip, drip, drip of mortifying Palin responses to Couric’s questions leaked daily out of CBS over the course of a week. Palin couldn’t name the newspapers she read, the Supreme Court decisions she opposed (excepting Roe), explain why Alaskan proximity to Russia made her a foreign policy expert, or give more than one narrow example of John McCain’s support for regulation of the financial sector.

Last night, facing off with Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, Palin lived to fight another day, playing the game by her own rules, declaring to Biden that she “may not answer the questions the way you or the moderator want me to.” Indeed, observed many progressive bloggers, she answered the questions she wanted to be asked, whether they were asked of her or not.

Earlier in the week, the McCain campaign began making noise about the fact that moderator Gwen Ifill, host of PBS’s “Washington Week in Review” and an African-American, was the author of a forthcoming book about race and the Obama campaign. The inference by McCain campaign operatives was one of a lurking bias toward the Obama camp, even though McCain himself said he had no problem with Ifill moderating the debate. But, wrote Greg Sargent of TMP Election Central, the merits of the argument are beside the point.

At bottom, though, debating whether there’s any merit in the attack on Ifill is beside the point, because as this is really just a transparent game, of course. The criticism is about trying to spook the moderators into going easy on Palin — a “time-honored form of pre-debate spin,” as [the Politico’s] Ben Smith put it.

And, indeed, some commentators suggested that Ifill tossed softballs at Palin most of the night, and rarely challenged either candidate when they strayed from her questions.

Some feared that the novelty of Palin’s gender posed perils for Joe Biden and commentators alike.

Before the debate began, famed feminist Robin Morgan, writing at the Women’s Media Center site, offered this helpful guide to those covering Palin:

Do investigate Palin’s opposition to listing polar bears and other animals as endangered. Do not call her one: no chick, bird, kitten, bitch, hen, cow. Also no produce: tomato, peach, etc.

Morgan also reports that, like Palin, both of John McCain’s wives were beauty queens.

In truth, Palinpalooza proved to be a mere sideshow to what appears to be chaos and confusion in the McCain camp. Last week saw McCain claiming to suspend his campaign to return to Washington to broker a deal on a financial bailout bill for which a deal appeared to have been reached before McCain showed up. Once he was on the ground the deal fell apart when a majority of House Republicans balked at what was on the table.

At first, wrote Ben Craw on Sept. 30 at Talking Points Memo, McCain pointed the finger at his opponent, then said he didn’t:

To review: yesterday John McCain said in consecutive sentences, “Senator Obama and his allies in Congress infused unnecessary partisanship into the process. Now is not the time to fix the blame”…

In a new interview with ABC News’s Ron Claiborne however, McCain says he never blamed nobody…

According to Mark Schmitt, editor of The American Prospect, the House Republicans’ rebuke of McCain and the first version of the bailout package is symptomatic of a problem much bigger for Republicans than any immediate concern:

Republican strategist Ed Rollins gave the game away on CNN: “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people thinking about how to rebuild this party, and do we want to rebuild it with John McCain, who’s always kind of questionable on the basic facts of fiscal control, all the rest of it, immigration…”


The Republican coalition since at least Reagan has been a miraculous alliance of Wall Street and Main Street. Populist politics, such as the attack on “elites” now embodied by the enthusiasm for Gov. Sarah Palin, were the vehicle for Wall Street policies, the very policies that led to the crash. The alliance always seemed unsustainable.

Trying to straddle the factions of that “miraculous alliance” may well have proved the undoing of John McCain, according to Edward McClelland, writing at Salon:

McCain has run for the presidency twice, as two completely different candidates. His campaigns and his image have been shaped by the nasty partisanship of the late 20th and early 21st century, an era that may be remembered as the Late Culture Wars.


Writers loved McCain during his first run for the presidency, in 2000. But eight years later, they think he’s a flip-flopping hack.

McClelland’s essay comes to us in the form of a review of four books about John McCain, authored, respectively, by David Foster Wallace, Paul Begala, Cliff Schecter and Matthew Welch — and argues for occasional forays by news junkies into the erudite realm of book reviews.

Addressing more immediate matters, Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones and Tim Fernholz of TAPPED give us the low-down on two conference calls with reporters by the McCain camp.

On Wednesday, Stein detected something of a ringer on a press call with McCain surrogate Rudy Giuliani:

The second question was from someone named Chuck Pardee. Pardee asserted that Tina Fey and many reporters make their living “embellishing the facts.” After criticizing the press for treating Sarah Palin unfairly, Pardee concluded*:

“Do you think embellishing the facts is actually what the concerned voter is after? And specifically, Joe Biden seems to embellish and forget facts just to kind of impress people but when you take Sarah Palin she seems to impress others with her quick study without embellishing the facts. In other words do you think people want a straight shooter or do they want the stuff and fluff?”


Pardee, by the way, is the “founder and president” of He has donated the maximum $2,300 to McCain.

TAPPED’s Fernholz, on the next day’s called, reported a new “aggressiveness” on the part of the campaign:

But McCain political director Mike Duhaime and senior adviser Greg Strimple aren’t worried, because they’re aggressive — in fact, everyone’s aggressive. The word came up about 50 times in the call, used to describe everything from Obama’s liberalism to President Bush! (Amateur psychologists, make of it what you will.) They also promised an aggressive last 30 days, which is no surprise as conventional wisdom is beginning to coalesce around the idea that the McCain camp needs to/will go negative to win.

That’s because the polls continue to bode ill for McCain.

Also boding ill for McCain was an ad by Brave New PAC and Democracy for America that was airing on MSNBC, before Fox’s Bill O’Reilly started slamming the rival network about it. The ad raises questions on the state of McCain’s health, which some viewers found offensive.

In other health-related campaign news, Doug Cunningham of Workers Independent News reports that the AFL-CIO is targeting voters in battleground states with a leafletting campaign challenging McCain’s health plan.

And so concludes another wild week in campaignland.

Adele M. Stan

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting
about John McCain. Visit
for a complete list of articles on McCain. And for the best progressive reporting on two
critical issues, check out and is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and CommonSense NMS. Adele M. Stan is executive editor of The Media Consortium’s syndicated reporting project.

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