Trailing in the polls, Republican presidential candidate John McCain tried to put Democratic rival Barack Obama on the defensive last night in their third and final presidential debate. McCain said Obama is advocating "class warfare" with his plan to roll back President Bush’s tax cut for Americans making over a quarter-million dollars a year. And he chided Obama for his campaign theme that a McCain presidency would continue the policies of the Bush White House.
Sen. John McCain: “Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago. I’m going to give a new direction to this economy and this country."
McCain also challenged Obama over his ties to ACORN, the community organizing group that has faced allegations of fraud in spearheading one of the most successful voter registration efforts in US history. McCain said ACORN could “[destroy] the fabric of democracy.”
Sen. McCain: "We need to know the full extent of that relationship. We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of
democracy, the same front outfit organization that your campaign gave $832,000 for, for, quote, ‘lighting and site selection.’ So, all of these things need to be examined, of course."
[Related coverage: ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis responds to the McCain campaign’s allegations]. McCain also brought up Senator Obama’s alleged ties to Bill Ayers, a respected Chicago professor who was a member of the 1960s militant antiwar group the Weather Underground. Obama accused McCain of trying to distract voters.
Sen. Barack Obama: "Forty years ago, when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago, he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.”
The two candidates also sparred over their plans to revive the economy. Obama challenged McCain’s recent proposal on relief for struggling homeowners.
Sen. Obama: "Now, Senator McCain and I agree with your idea that we’ve got to help homeowners. That’s why we included in the financial package a proposal to get homeowners in a position where they can renegotiate their mortgages. I disagree with Senator McCain on how to do it, because the way Senator McCain has designed his plan, it could be a giveaway to banks if we’re buying full price for mortgages that now are worth a lot less."
On foreign policy, the candidates also discussed US trade policies. Obama invoked the killings of union leaders in Colombia.
Sen. Obama: "The history in Colombia right now is that labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis, and there have not been prosecutions."
Outside the debate, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War led a demonstration at the Hofstra University gates. At least fifteen people were arrested, including five IVAW members. Emily Forman of I-Witness Video captured footage of police on horseback attacking the crowd. Police horses trampled at least one veteran, Nick Morgan, who lay on the ground nearly unconscious in a pool of blood. Morgan served in Iraq for about a year. His condition is unknown. Liam Madden of Iraq Veterans Against the War described the crackdown.
Liam Madden: "The police are doing what I did when I was in Iraq, just following their orders instead of their conscience. And I think that’s a big problem. And I just saw a veteran get his face stepped on by a horse, because the police, out of nowhere, just charged forward these giant animals, and they have no concern for the health and welfare of the people they’re supposed to be serving and protecting."
A brief rally on Wall Street sank again Wednesday as the stock market had one of its worst days in history. The Dow fell 7.9 percent, its second-biggest point drop on record. The losses came one day after the Treasury unveiled a new $250 billion plan to partially nationalize the nation’s banking system. At the White House, President Bush said his administration is helping average Americans.
President Bush: “The American people must understand that this carefully structured plan is aimed at helping you. If I’d have thought this situation would have been contained only to Wall Street, we’d have had a different response. But in our judgment, had we not acted decisively at the time we did, the credit crunch, the inability for banks in your communities to loan to your businesses would have affected the working people and the small businesses of America, and that’s unacceptable to me, and it’s unacceptable to this cabinet.”
Iraqi officials say they’ve moved closer to a long-term status of forces agreement with the United States. A proposed draft agreement calls for US troops to leave Iraqi cities by next June and completely withdraw from Iraq by 2012. US soldiers would retain immunity from prosecution for all actions committed in combat. Critics have dismissed the provision because US troops seldom leave their bases in Iraq unless on authorized missions. Iraqi and US negotiators are hoping to finalize agreement before a UN mandate expires this year.
In other Iraq news, the US military says it’s killed a top member of al-Qaeda. The US says Abu Qaswarah, also known as Abu Sara, was said to be al-Qaeda’s second in command in Iraq.
Elsewhere in Iraq, ethnic tensions continue to rise in the town of Mosul. On Wednesday, Iraqi officials cordoned off several Christian neighborhoods where some 3,000 residents have fled their homes due to a wave of killings and kidnappings. Christians from Mosul say they have been the victims of a systematic plan to cleanse them from the area. An unidentified Iraqi woman spoke from Mosul’s Christian Center, where many Iraqi Christians have fled.
Unidentified resident: "We heard about the killings and blowing up of houses, and we received several warnings. We were very uncomfortable. The fear made us all leave our homes. We left them empty and came here."
In Afghanistan, the US-led occupation force says it’s implementing a new directive seeking to minimize civilian casualties. NATO commanders have been ordered to try to lessen reliance on air strikes that have led to thousands of deaths. NATO called the move a response to Afghan public outcry. Earlier this month, the Pentagon was forced to back off a nearly two-month-old denial of a mass killing of civilians in an Afghan village. Local residents and UN officials say ninety civilians were killed. The US now admits a death toll of at least thirty after initially claiming only five people died.
In Haiti, aid officials are issuing a new warning as relief efforts continue in the aftermath of several devastating storms. Some 1,000 people have been killed and more than a million displaced since the first storm hit in August. The head of the UN humanitarian mission, Joel Boutroue, says aid groups will likely be unable to respond if another hurricane strikes the island.
Joel Boutroue: "The situation has at least temporarily stabilized. I’m saying temporarily because, as you know, we’re still only halfway through the hurricane season, and if there were other hurricanes to hit Haiti, I’m not sure how we would be able to respond. What we’ll have is additional hardship, a deepening poverty, and probably we would enter, I would say, what we call a vicious circle of deepening poverty, instability, unrest, insecurity, with any kind of domino effect, including erratic population movement."
Boutroue went on to appeal for more international aid. The US has pledged just $10 million to relief efforts in Haiti.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN is warning some 100,000 people have been displaced in fighting between the army and a rebel force. The fighting has occurred in eastern Congo, the flashpoint of two civil wars over the past decades. The UN says the situation is "catastrophic."
Back in the United States, the Pentagon has recently announced two new changes to its policies on interrogations. A newly reissued directive says behavioral science consultants can no longer be used to determine "detainee phobias." The change follows the recent vote by members of American Psychologists Association to ban members from taking part in interrogations. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has also banned a controversial technique based on Chinese interrogations of US prisoners during the Korean War. The techniques, known as SERE, have long been considered forms of torture, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” “exposure,” “semi-starvation,” “exploitation of wounds.” Some of the methods were used on Guantanamo prisoners until Congress banned the use of coercion in 2005.
And in media news, Christopher Buckley, the son of the late right-wing icon William F. Buckley, has resigned from the National Review magazine after he came under intense criticism for endorsing Barack Obama. Buckley says he has received a flood of hate-mail for backing Obama over John McCain.