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SATURDAY, OCT. 9, 2004

Cheney, Edwards stuck to their acts

It was supposed to be the Prince of Darkness taking on the Angel of Light in a duel for the nation's soul. That's how Democrats hoped people would see it. But not even Sen. Patrick Leahy could rattle Dick Cheney during the vice presidential debate in Cleveland. The Dems sat Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who the vice president cussed at not too long ago, up front, in Cheney's line of sight, just to rile him. Cheney was unflappable.

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Imperfect election better than none

Two very different pictures can be painted of Afghanistan's historic presidential election today. In gloomy grays and blacks, with explosions of blood red, pessimists could portray the first Afghan national elections in 35 war-torn years as a sham. You can't call these legitimate elections, they might argue, when security issues are an utmost concern – safety for the voters, polling places and ballots. In the south and east parts of Afghanistan, for example, women have received letters warning them not to vote – that they'll be killed and their houses burned if they do. Violence dogs the election process. Only Wednesday, vice presidential hopeful Ahmed Zia Massood escaped an assassination attempt in northeastern Badakhshan province, an area known for its opium and heroin trade.

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It's different when it's your kid

So it appears no American kid will be receiving that dread letter anytime soon. You know the one. It brings greetings from Uncle Sam along with the news that whatever you had planned for the next few years, you'd better cancel it. Not going to happen. The draft is not coming back. Not that there was ever much chance it would.

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FRIDAY, OCT. 8, 2004

Annexation plan gets hearing on Monday

Next step for the City of Liberty Lake's controversial annexation plan is the Boundary Review Board of Spokane County. The Spokane County Board of Commissioners and the city of Spokane Valley both have raised objections to Liberty Lake's plans to add 643 acres west of town.

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Marred image met with denial

You don't have to be a news junkie to have heard of Pfc. Lynndie England. She's the soldier who posed near a pyramid of naked Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. She's facing a court-martial in January over prisoner abuse. Every twist and turn of her case is being reported. But have you heard of Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson L. Williams and Lewis E. Welshofer Jr., Sgt. 1st Class William J. Sommer and Spec. Jerry L. Loper? Probably not. But those four are accused of committing a far more egregious act. On Tuesday, they were charged in the murder last year of an Iraqi general during an interrogation.

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Voters must force accountability

EXTON, Pa. – The afternoon I spent interviewing voters in this Philadelphia suburb, in one of the prime battleground states, confirmed the seriousness with which people are taking this election. The answer to my opening question, "Do you plan to vote next month?" was often, "Absolutely!" The one man who hesitated turned out to be anything but indifferent; he was just agonizing over his choice of a candidate. What these voters – and their counterparts in other communities – seem to realize is that Nov. 2 provides the opportunity to weigh in on a terribly consequential choice for the country and for their families. Elections are the great accountability device in our system of representative government – and accountability has never loomed larger than it does now.

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Voting is an enormous responsibility

Every election year there are great alarms in the media that not enough Americans vote. Supposedly this shows that there is something wrong at the core of our society. In reality, societies where different groups are at each other's throats often have high voter turnout, as each fears the worst if some other group gains political power. Polarization is a high price to pay for high voter turnout. But efforts are already under way to scare old people that their Social Security is threatened, in order to get out their vote, when in fact nobody in his right mind is going to touch their Social Security.

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THURSDAY, OCT. 7, 2004

Another election stereotype fades

BOSTON – May I admit to being relieved that the spotlight is off the "security mom?" I was beginning to cringe every time she came on the screen, touted as the woman whose fear of terrorism would swing the election. The image had evolved into a stereotype of a mother hiding in her cave beside her kids trying to decide which of the two males was more alpha.

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Army's creed almost foreign to some

I have known him since he was born and now this baby-child-boy-man is going off to war. Once a wise-cracking "authority" on the Titanic, Daniel Dobson aspired to a career in politics that he imagined might lead him to become governor of Michigan. Now 19, Daniel has taken a different road, motivated not by self-interest, but by those old-fashioned virtues – duty, honor, country – that appear to many to have gone on extended leave.

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Public opinion being highjacked

Americans are so impatient. On Tuesday, hours before vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and John Edwards debated, readers of several newspapers across the country were weighing in by e-mail on who had won.

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And another thing . . .

Call now. Shady operators are standing by. KAYU, a Spokane television station, pulled off the air an ad aimed at Don Barbieri, the Democrat running against Cathy McMorris for Congress in Washington's 5th District. The ad, produced by the National Republican Congressional Committee, claims Barbieri made a huge profit on a downtown property sale when, in fact, his company lost money. TV stations follow standards of accuracy and fairness when deciding whether to accept or reject ads. But the primary responsibility to monitor attack ads lies with the candidates — and with voters. McMorris vowed to pursue a positive campaign and did so in the primary. She claims she has no control over the national Republicans and blames faulty campaign reform laws for the negative ads. But there is no law against making a phone call to the national Republicans and asking them to knock this obviously inaccurate ad off the air. Ultimately, though, voters are the final arbiters of taste, accuracy and fairness. And they can show their disapproval of negative ads most effectively in the voting booth.

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Of baseball, politics and semantics

WASHINGTON – A reader of this column in St. Louis left me a voice mail message this week that set my head spinning. "I suppose," he said, "now that Washington has a baseball team again, you will keep your promise and endorse President Bush's re-election." The caller was bringing up an incident I had written about in one of probably a dozen columns in which I was whining about the nation's capital being without the national pastime. Several of those columns listed the inducements I was prepared to offer to anyone who would get us back into the game.

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Politics hurting intelligence bill

Congress has long known that intelligence gathering in the United States was in need of comprehensive overhaul. Before the 9-11 Commission's report, a bipartisan congressional report found many of the same problems. And before that the Scowcroft Commission recommended substantial changes. The 9-11 Commission's recommendations, announced in August, were met with the usual foot-dragging. Now Congress is moving too quickly, and the catalyst appears to be the Nov. 2 elections. Members of Congress want to have concrete reforms they can point to on the campaign trail.

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Testing needed to ready future citizens

Imagine a nation whose young people suffer from a huge gap in civic knowledge – about the workings of government, the values of democracy, the skills of citizenship. As a result, the young people vote at shockingly low rates and don't participate much in political life. At the same time, the nation is blessed with many educators who want to turn around this civic amnesia and even public officials who recognize what needs to be done. But to hold schools accountable, to separate the good programs from the ineffective ones, the nation needs to test its students every now and then to assess how much they are learning.

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