NYT : A Strained Wright-Obama Bond Finally Snaps

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Strained Wright-Obama Bond Finally Snaps


Late Monday night, in the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C., Barack Obama’s long, slow fuse burned to an end. Earlier that day he had thumbed through his BlackBerry, reading accounts of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s latest explosive comments on race and America. But his remarks to the press this day had amounted to a shrug of frustration.

Only in this hotel room, confronted with the televised replay of the combustible pastor, did the candidate realize the full import of the remarks, his aides say. At the same time, aides fielded phone calls and e-mail from uncommitted superdelegates, several demanding that the candidate speak out more forcefully.

As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright’s implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that.

The next afternoon, Mr. Obama held a news conference and denounced his former pastor’s views as “divisive and destructive,” giving “comfort to those who prey on hate.” And so, with those remarks, a tightly knit relationship finally came apart — Mr. Wright had married Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized their children.

Theirs was a long and painful falling out, marked by a degree of mutual incomprehension, friends and aides say. It began at the moment Mr. Obama declared his candidacy, when he abruptly uninvited his pastor from delivering an invocation, injuring the older man’s pride and fueling his anger.

Mr. Obama’s campaign has been striking for its discipline. This is a candidate who prides himself on his coolness and singleness of purpose, not to mention his ability to take on opponents as formidable as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, the former president. But Mr. Obama discovered one figure who has confounded him, his own pastor.

In recent months, the candidate has tried to distance himself from Mr. Wright and his often radical views, even as he felt compelled to understand and explain his former pastor to a larger, predominantly white political world.

As for Mr. Wright, he saw a cascade of perceived slights coming from the campaign of a bright young follower whose political ambitions were tugging him away from Trinity United Church of Christ. He saw the church he had founded coming under pressure from reporters and critics, forced to hire security guards. And he made no secret of whom he blamed: Mr. Obama’s political adviser, David Axelrod, a white Chicago political operative.

Only a few years ago, the tightness of the bond between Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright was difficult to overstate. Mr. Obama titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and his pastor was the first one he thanked when he gained election as a United States senator in 2004. “Let me thank my pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Mr. Obama said that night, before going on to mention his family and friends.

In this learned and radical pastor, Mr. Obama found a guide who could explain Jesus and faith in terms intellectual no less than emotional, and who helped a man of mixed racial parentage come to understand himself as an African-American. “Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black,” Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

At the same time, as Mr. Obama’s friends and aides now acknowledge, he was aware that, shorn of their South Side Chicago context, the words and cadences of a politically left-wing black minister could have a very problematic echo. So Mr. Obama haltingly distanced himself from his pastor.

Mr. Obama announced in early 2007 that he would be running for president. He invited Mr. Wright to deliver the invocation at the event in Springfield, but the evening before the event, Mr. Wright answered his cellphone and heard an apologetic soon-to-be candidate. Rolling Stone had just published a profile of Mr. Obama that included some colorful snippets from the pastor’s sermons.

“ ‘You can get kind of rough in the sermons,’ ” Mr. Wright said Mr. Obama told him. “ ‘Rather than have you out front, we thought it would be best to not have you do the invocation.’ ”

Mr. Obama then asked whether the Rev. Otis Moss III, who would soon succeed Mr. Wright at Trinity, could speak instead. Mr. Wright agreed, even offering to call the younger preacher. (These quotes are drawn from a year-old interview with Mr. Wright; he shared some of his cellphone messages with a reporter).

“Actually, we’ve already called him,” Mr. Obama told him.

A few minutes later, Mr. Wright got his daughters on the telephone line. “I’m only going to say this once,” he said. “Don’t look at TV tomorrow.”

Mr. Moss declined the invitation, and Mr. Wright still went to Springfield, praying with the Obama family privately before the event. Weeks later, Mr. Wright said the blame belonged not to Mr. Obama but to his advisers. He repeatedly mentioned Mr. Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s chief strategist, saying that while he was expert at promoting black candidates with white voters, he did not know much about relating to the black community.

“They’re spiriting him away from people in the African-American community,” Mr. Wright said, “David doesn’t know the African-American church scene.”

“I don’t like this,” Mr. Wright added. “I’ve been his pastor for 20 years.”

The two men nonetheless remained publicly close. A few weeks after Mr. Obama entered the presidential race, he and his wife swept into a private reception and then a gala in honor of Mr. Wright’s 35th anniversary at the church. They were, to all eyes, the favorite children returning to honor the pastor who had married them, dedicated their house and baptized their children.

The ladies of Trinity United Church of Christ pressed in on Mr. Obama, as others held aloft cameras and cellphones.

Still, the seed of worry had been planted. Blogs, and a few print reporters, kept asking questions about Mr. Wright’s politics, his black liberation theology. Snippets of his fiery, soaring sermons began to appear on cable televisions and in blog posts.

Not all of this surprised Mr. Obama. Trinity was a progressive church, welcoming to gay men and lesbians, embracing of AIDS sufferers at a time when many other black churches shunned them. But the message heard from the pulpit was sometimes unyielding in its radicalism. To be provoked, if not always to agree, was the point. As he wrote in “Dreams From My Father.”

“In his sermons, Mr. Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima, the callousness of policy makers in the White House and the statehouse,” Mr. Obama wrote.

Mr. Obama faced practical political considerations as well. He had made Mr. Wright a central figure in his personal narrative. His embrace of Mr. Wright’s church and its congregants, wealthy and working class and impoverished, formed the climax of his book. It was the moment, in his telling, when Mr. Obama finally pulled every disparate strand of his background together and found his faith.

“He had found a truth, a sense of community, people with whom to share the experiences of the day,” said Maya Soetoro Ng, Mr. Obama’s younger half sister, in an interview last year.

Mr. Obama’s candidacy would offer the promise of a conciliatory man fluent in the language of the Bible. Here was a candidate who could lead religious voters back into the fold. “We need to take faith seriously not simply to block the religious right but to engage all persons of faith in the larger project of American renewal,” he wrote.

His grounding in Trinity Church would also bequeath to him a measure of authenticity with the black community.

But by March 2008, Mr. Wright’s most outrageous sermons had nested on cable television, replayed on an endless loop on news channels. The two men rarely, if ever, talked anymore, and Mr. Obama increasingly found himself asked to explain and excuse away Mr. Wright’s most elaborate accusations.

Aides say that they and the candidate came to feel that they had no control over the pastor, no sense of what next he might do or say.

At the church, as well, the presidential campaign had placed a congregation under a microscope. Trinity, of late, took up a collection — the Resurrection Fund — to pay expenses like security guards and public relations. Some reporters began covertly taping services, and others took to calling infirm members whose names are listed each week in the church bulletin, pressing even those in hospice care for details about Mr. Wright.

This infuriated the pastor.

“There was a whole environment of intimidation and threats at the church,” said Dwight Hopkins, a theologian at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “He’s the senior minister; he’s been the pastor for 35 years.”

That month, Mr. Obama gave his speech on race in Philadelphia, a long, pained, nuanced take that purchased distance between himself and his mentor, even as he struggled to explain Mr. Wright’s hurt to the larger world. “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me,” Mr. Obama said. “He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms.”

Mr. Wright was on a long-planned cruise about this time; he returned to find his name a term of opprobrium all across the nation. Mr. Obama and his advisers decline to say if they attempted a reconciliation. Mr. Obama himself has acknowledged talking with Mr. Wright after the Philadelphia speech, and people close to both men tried to caution the pastor to remain silent.

Mr. Wright, however, wanted only to explain himself. His first steps seemed to go well enough, particularly a relatively temperate interview with Bill Moyers on PBS. But at the National Press Club on Monday, Mr. Wright took a few questions, and his scholarly mien fell away.

“His initial statement was fine,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in Chicago and a friend of Mr. Wright. “But the questions caused a response from Reverend Wright that I wasn’t expecting.”

Mr. Wright seemed to sense nothing wrong. A friend said he appeared buoyant and relieved afterward. But a couple hundred miles south, Mr. Obama was soon seething.

The cascade of slights and misunderstandings between spiritual mentor and protégé has halted for now. But if Mr. Obama wins the Democratic nomination, Republicans have signaled, unambiguously, that they intend to resurrect his pastor’s most provocative comments.

The question is whether Mr. Wright keeps his peace, or raises his voice.

“Its easy to hurt his feelings,” said Richard Sewell, a Trinity deacon who has known both men for two decades. “He’s extremely sensitive.”

Jeff Zeleny contributed reporting.

NYT : Afghans See Link to Qaeda in Plot to Shoot Karzai

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Afghans See Link to Qaeda in Plot to Shoot Karzai


KABUL, Afghanistan — The attempt to kill President Hamid Karzai on Sunday was the work of militants who had infiltrated Afghanistan’s security forces and had ties to groups linked to Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Afghan intelligence chief said Wednesday.

The claims emerged after a day of heightened alarm in which Afghan security forces killed and captured a number of suspects involved in Sunday’s assassination attempt, raiding three safe houses in Kabul, the capital. An eight-hour siege with one cell left seven people dead, including a child and three security officials.

One of those killed was a militant named Homayoun, who assisted in the attack on President Karzai as well as in the bombing in January of the Serena Hotel in Kabul, killing seven people, Amrullah Saleh, the intelligence chief, said at a news conference.

Afghan intelligence officials say they have linked Homayoun through an intermediary to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a mujahedeen commander who is based in Pakistan’s tribal areas and has long had ties to Al Qaeda.

The statements by Afghan officials suggested that militants linked to Al Qaeda and based in Pakistan were working closely with the Taliban to threaten the Karzai government, bringing a new level of sophistication to attacks in and around the capital.

American counterterrorism officials in Washington, however, said it was not yet clear what role, if any, Al Qaeda might have played in the attack against President Karzai on Sunday, even while acknowledging Mr. Haqqani’s past links to the group.

Afghan and Western intelligence officials have warned for more than a year that Taliban and Qaeda militants were using their sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal areas to fortify their links, recruit new fighters and expand their ranks of suicide bombers.

The tightening alliance has been felt not only here, but also in Pakistan, where militants linked to Al Qaeda have carried out scores of suicide attacks over the past year, and have pushed Pakistan’s new government into fresh talks aimed at a truce. It has also alarmed American and Western officials who report a rise in cross-border attacks from Pakistan in Afghanistan this year.

“Once again our country was attacked from Pakistani soil,” Mr. Saleh, the chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, said at a joint news conference with the defense and interior ministers. “This is clear like the sun, and we have all the evidence to show that.” That evidence included cellphone calls from the militants to Pakistan up until their final moments, he said.

The unraveling of the plot here, the officials said, came after the Interior Ministry arrested some of its own men, who had been under investigation since the Serena Hotel bombing.

One of them confessed to involvement in the attack on a military parade on Sunday, which killed three and wounded 11, and he gave information on other groups in Kabul who were planning more attacks, Mr. Saleh and other officials said.

The ministry informant confessed to receiving money in return for weapons for the group and providing cover for them through his job. A second suspect also confessed to supplying the weapons for the attacks, Mr. Saleh said.

Members of the police and a high-ranking officer of the Defense Ministry are also accused of helping the group, according to a member of the intelligence service who did not want to be identified because he is not permitted to speak to the press.

Mr. Saleh called the men traitors and said more would be revealed about them after a full report was delivered to the president. Both the interior minister and defense minister admitted that the security services had been infiltrated.

“From the investigation so far it has become clear that the enemy to some limit infiltrated our security forces,” Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said. “Those who were involved have also been arrested.”

Within an hour of the confessions, the security forces had narrowed their search to a single house in the Kabul neighborhood of Guzargah and surrounded it on Wednesday, Mr. Saleh said.

When security officials tried to enter, they came under fire from gunmen and a woman barricaded in the basement. Three intelligence officials were killed in the ensuing battle. The security forces finally set off explosives, which killed all those inside — two men, a woman and a child — Mr. Saleh said.

In addition to the militant Homayoun, the two other adults killed in the house were a married couple and were not Afghan, Mr. Saleh said. He said he suspected that the child would have also been used in a suicide attack they were planning in Kabul. The group had been armed with guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mines and suicide vests, he said.

Six others suspects were arrested in a village on the eastern edge of the capital, he said, adding that another raid in a suburb of eastern Kabul was under way.

Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Muqbil said that his ministry had been watching a group of police officers suspected of involvement in the attack on the Serena Hotel and that they had been arrested. Mr. Saleh said none of the suspects arrested were from the intelligence service.

The group members killed inside the house had been in telephone contact with people in Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, as well as Bajaur, another tribal region of Pakistan, and with people in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. They were using Pakistani subscriber identity module cards in their cellphones, Mr. Saleh said.

“Some contacts were made back and forth, and we have some evidence that they were receiving orders from the other side of the border until the last moments,” he said. “Whether these orders were given through the government of Pakistan, we have no evidence,” he added.

On Monday, Mr. Saleh told Parliament that the group of three gunmen who fired on the parade just as Mr. Karzai was preparing to speak had also been in contact with a central base through text messages, and that they were being urged to carry out their task.

Earlier this year after the attack on the Serena Hotel, Afghan government officials said that the mastermind, Homayoun, was receiving orders from a militant based in Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan.

In particular, they named Mullah Abdullah, who they said had ordered the Serena attack, and who is a senior lieutenant of Mr. Haqqani, the mujahedeen commander, who is based in Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan.

Western military officials in the region have confirmed that the little-known Mullah Abdullah has links to Al Qaeda and ordered suicide attacks in Afghanistan from his base in North Waziristan.

After the attack on the Serena Hotel, Homayoun escaped to Pakistan and called his wife from there the next morning, said one senior Afghan government official, who asked not to be named. The call was monitored by Afghan officials, and his telephone number was passed on to counterparts in Pakistan’s intelligence service, but without result, the official said.

The attack on the Serena Hotel, mounted by a two-man team wearing police uniforms, was a new development in Afghanistan in its sophistication and planning, and it was probably not the work of the Taliban, but more likely an operation by militants linked to Al Qaeda, Afghan and Western officials have said.

The first attacker, a suicide bomber, blew himself up at the gate, killing or wounding the security guards and opening the way for the second attacker. He then entered the hotel and shot and killed people in the lobby and the hotel gym before hiding his weapons and trying to walk out with the hotel employees.

He was caught inside the hotel, and intelligence officials were able to trace the plot back to Mullah Abdullah, partly through 14 phone calls he made to Pakistan in the minutes before his capture, and through his own confession, Afghan officials say.

Pakistani military and government officials have denied that they have any knowledge of Mullah Abdullah or that the Serena attack was planned in Pakistan.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

NYT : Low Spending Is Taking Toll on Economy

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Low Spending Is Taking Toll on Economy

By PETER S. GOODMAN | May 1, 2008

For months, beleaguered American consumers have defied expert forecasts that they would soon succumb to the pressures of falling home prices, fewer jobs and shrinking paychecks. Now, they appear to have given in.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that the economy continued to stagnate during the first three months of the year, with a sharp pullback in consumer spending the primary factor at play.

Pressures on households in which cash is tight appeared to weigh significantly in the calculations of the Federal Reserve as it rolled back interest rates Wednesday for the seventh time since September — this time by one-fourth of a percentage point — in a bid to prevent a further falloff in the economy.

The Fed made clear, though, that investors and borrowers should not expect another drop in interest rates anytime soon. In the statement accompanying their action, policy makers said they believed that with the short-term rate at 2 percent, they had already unleashed enough economic stimulus to “help promote moderate growth.”

With the overall economy growing at a mere 0.6 percent annual rate for the second quarter in a row, consumer spending advanced by only 1 percent, the government estimated. That was down sharply from the 2.9 percent gain for all of 2007 and the 3.1 percent gain for 2006. It was the weakest showing since 2001, the last time the economy was ensnared in a recession.

Even more ominously, Americans cut back on a wide variety of discretionary purchases, conserving their cash for necessary spending.

In the dip, economists saw evidence that the basic laws of arithmetic are now impinging on millions of households.

As real estate prices plunge, so does the ability of homeowners to borrow against the value of their homes, crimping a major artery of spending. As banks grow tighter with their dollars in a period of uncertainty, families are running up against credit limits, forcing many to live within their incomes. And as companies lay off employees and cut working hours, paychecks are effectively shrinking.

“This is not a fluke or a technical quirk,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C. “It’s fundamental. Real disposable income has been squeezed.”

Consumer spending fell for a broad range of goods and services, including cars, auto parts, furniture, food and recreation, reflecting a growing inclination toward thrift. Areas in which spending rose were predominantly those not considered optional purchases, including health care, housing and utilities.

The fact that the economy expanded at all, even by a tiny margin, sowed hopes that a recession might yet be averted. But most economists found in the details of the preliminary report signs of broadening economic distress at home even as businesses expanded production to meet growing demand from abroad.

A panel of economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private research organization, ultimately decides whether a particular period of weakness qualifies as a recession, which it defines as a “significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months.”

Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute in Washington, said, “The argument that we’re not in a recession certainly gets a little bit more of a boost from this report.”

But he and many other specialists still assume the economy will slide into negative territory. Moreover, the recession-or-not question is now almost entirely academic, Mr. Bernstein contended, given the steady erosion of American spending power and soaring costs for food and gasoline.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department reported that wages and benefits, adjusted for inflation, were down 0.6 percent in the January-March period, compared with a year earlier.

“A very significant slowdown in the economy has caused a lot of pain,” Mr. Bernstein said. “That’s a done deal.”

The Commerce Department reported that growth was hampered in the first three months of the year by a continued decline in home construction, which fell for the ninth straight quarter, and by a pullback in investments for business equipment and buildings.

The only factors preventing the economy from sliding backward were the growth of American exports — aided by a weakening dollar — and a swing in business inventories from shrinking to swelling. Putting exports and inventories aside, the final sales of goods and services produced domestically dipped at a 0.4 percent annual rate in inflation-adjusted terms, the first such decline since the end of 1991.

“You’re seeing a sharp slowdown in domestic demand,” said Michael T. Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners in Greenwich, Conn. “This is stall-speed growth.”

Economists suggested that larger stocks of unsold goods might portend trouble in the months ahead. If business does not swiftly improve, allowing factories to sell the products they have piled up, firms are likely to lay off workers at a more aggressive clip.

Even if business picks up and orders materialize, averting broader layoffs, factories will probably not need to produce as many new things in coming months, prompting some to trim working hours and purchases of materials.

“A big inventory contribution in one quarter means a payback in another quarter,” said Zach Pandl, United States economist at Lehman Brothers. “Firms are likely to pull back.”

The biggest questions ahead center on the duration and severity of the downturn. Attention now turns to the job market and the tax rebate checks being sent out to roughly 130 million American taxpayers to encourage spending.

On Friday, the Labor Department is to release its monthly snapshot of the jobs picture, which has become a primary factor gnawing at the economy. For four months in a row, the private sector has shed jobs, with 80,000 nonfarm jobs lost in March alone, according to the Labor Department.

If, as widely expected, the jobs report shows another monthly decline, markets are likely to absorb it as a sign of an economy that has effectively slipped into a recession despite the modestly reassuring positive figures from the Commerce Department.

Most economists agree that the tax rebate checks will finance a flurry of spending that should stimulate economic growth. But whether it will be a quick binge lasting only a few months, or whether spending will crystallize a sense of confidence, prompting companies to expand and hire, is a matter of much contention.

Even with the rebate checks, consumer spending should grow by only 1.7 percent this year and roughly the same next year, predicted Alan D. Levenson, chief economist at T. Rowe Price Associates in Baltimore. With spending that weak, the economy would probably continue to shed 75,000 to 80,000 jobs a month, even after stronger growth resumes, he said.

The government has offered the rebate checks to buy time while it waits for the Fed’s lowered interest rates to wash through the economy, nurturing fresh investment and hiring. But many economists are skeptical that such timing can be pulled off. Many forecasts show a dip in economic activity from April through June, then a bump up from the rebate checks before the economy slows again at the end of this year.

“It doesn’t get us across the chasm,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at the research and trading firm ITG, speaking of the rebate checks. “It will make things look better than they are for a few months, but it doesn’t change the fundamentals. The underlying circumstances are unambiguously recessionary.”

WaPo : Suicide Bombing Kills at Least 18 in Afghanistan

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Suicide Bombing Kills at Least 18 in Afghanistan

By Candace Rondeaux | Washington Post Foreign Service | April 30, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 29 -- At least 18 people were killed in a suicide bombing in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, the second high-profile attack in the country this week, according to Afghan officials.

Around the same time that the blast was set off in the district of Khogiani, near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, assailants fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, killing an unspecified number of Afghan police officers, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. ISAF troops were near the center of Khogiani at the time of the blast, but none was injured, a spokeswoman for the force said.

Meanwhile, security remained tight in Kabul two days after an assassination attempt against Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a military ceremony.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan's intelligence chief told parliament that the government had been warned of a plot against Karzai. "We had technical information . . . that this work would happen," said Amrullah Saleh. "We passed this information to the national security [adviser] and to the president of Afghanistan."

Despite security measures, Saleh said, "the result is that we failed."

The brazen daylight assault occurred at a ceremony celebrating the 16th anniversary of the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Karzai and several foreign dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador William B. Wood, scattered for cover after Taliban fighters peppered the parade grounds with gunfire.

Three people were killed in the attack, including a member of Afghanistan's parliament. At least eight others were injured. Officials said they had rounded up more than 100 people in connection with the attack.

The blast Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan occurred just after 9 a.m. when a lone suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the headquarters of the district chief, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. An estimated 35 people were injured.

"There were a lot of people there because that is where many of the shops are, and there is a market bazaar there," said Hakim Asher, a ministry spokesman.

A spokesman for the governor of Nangahar, the province where the blast occurred, said the attack targeted a group of local officials who were part of a poppy eradication team. Khogiani's police chief was killed in the attack and the district chief was injured, the spokesman said.

The Interior Ministry said the Taliban asserted responsibility for the suicide blast -- one of more than 140 such attacks conducted by Taliban forces in Afghanistan within the last year. Asher said security had been tightened in Khogiani immediately following the blast.

The succession of attacks came as U.S. Marines rolled out an operation in the southern province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold. More than 3,000 Marines were deployed in Afghanistan's south last month in an effort to shore up British and Canadian NATO forces there.

Special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.

WaPo : Siphoning Off Corn to Fuel Our Cars

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Siphoning Off Corn to Fuel Our Cars

As farmers feed ethanol plants, a costly link is forged between food and oil.

By Steven Mufson | Washington Post Staff Writer | April 30, 2008


Erwin Johnson picks up a clump of the dark, rich soil that he has farmed for 35 years, like his father and grandfather before him. In a few months, this flat expanse of northern Iowa will be crowded with corn ready to be trucked to market.

A year ago, that market got a little closer -- and a lot better. Instead of sending his corn to a barge company to be shipped down the Mississippi River for export, Johnson now loads it into an open truck and sends it two miles up the gravel road to a hulking new ethanol distillery that he can see from his field. The plant is paying him $5.50 or more a bushel, more than twice as much as Johnson could get just a couple of years ago.

"This is a fantastic time to be farming," Johnson says. "I'm 65, but I can't quit now."

Across the country, ethanol plants are swallowing more and more of the nation's corn crop. This year, about a quarter of U.S. corn will go to feeding ethanol plants instead of poultry or livestock. That has helped farmers like Johnson, but it has boosted demand -- and prices -- for corn at the same time global grain demand is growing.

And it has linked food and fuel prices just as oil is rising to new records, pulling up the price of anything that can be poured into a gasoline tank. "The price of grain is now directly tied to the price of oil," says Lester Brown, president of Earth Policy Institute, a Washington research group. "We used to have a grain economy and a fuel economy. But now they're beginning to fuse."

Not everyone thinks it's fantastic. People who use corn to feed cattle, hogs and chickens are being squeezed by high corn prices. On Monday, Tyson Foods reported its first loss in six quarters and said that its corn and soybean costs would increase by $600 million this year. Those who are able, such as egg producers, are passing those high corn costs along to consumers. The wholesale price of eggs in the first quarter soared 40 percent from a year earlier, according to the Agriculture Department. Meanwhile, retail prices of countless food items, from cereal to sodas to salad dressing, are being nudged upward by more expensive ingredients such as corn syrup and cornstarch.

Rising food prices have given Congress and the White House a sudden case of legislative indigestion. In 2005, the Republican-led Congress and President Bush backed a bill that required widespread ethanol use in motor fuels. Just four months ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed and Bush signed energy legislation that boosted the mandate for minimum corn-based ethanol use to 15 billion gallons, about 10 percent of motor fuel, by 2015. It was one of the most popular parts of the bill, appealing to farm-state lawmakers and to those worried about energy security and eager to substitute a home-grown energy source for a portion of U.S. petroleum imports. To help things along, motor-fuel blenders receive a 51 cent subsidy for every gallon of corn-based ethanol used through the end of 2010; this year, production could reach 8 billion gallons.

Now, however, the legislation is being criticized for making food more expensive while gasoline prices continue to climb. Rick Perry, a Republican who succeeded Bush as Texas governor, has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive half of the "misguided" ethanol requirements because of rising food costs; every penny increase in per-bushel corn prices costs his state's livestock industry $6 million a year, he said.

Although ethanol was once promoted as a way to slow climate change, a study published in Science magazine Feb. 29 concluded that greenhouse-gas emissions from corn and even cellulosic ethanol "exceed or match those from fossil fuels and therefore produce no greenhouse benefits." By encouraging an expansion of acreage, the study added, the use of U.S. cropland for ethanol could make climate conditions dramatically worse. And the runoff from increased use of fertilizers on expanded acreage would compound damage to waterways all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Development specialists have also joined the fray. "While many are worrying about filling their gas tanks, many others around the world are struggling to fill their stomachs, and it is getting more and more difficult every day," World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick said in a recent speech.

No place demonstrates the competing demands on corn better than Iowa, one of the two biggest corn-exporting states. Iowa is home to 28 ethanol plants, which consume more than a quarter of its corn crop; two dozen others are under construction or in planning stages.

Two leading oil pipeline companies are exploring the feasibility of building a $3 billion ethanol pipeline, the first of its kind, to link Iowa and other parts of the Midwest with motor-fuel markets in the East. It would carry 3.65 billion gallons a year and give another industry a vested interest in maintaining high ethanol output. Because of this domestic demand, Iowa's exports of corn are expected to shrink to less than half of current levels in the next couple of years. Nationwide, corn stockpiles are dwindling.

All that could make this cycle of corn prices different from previous ones, when prices eventually fell back. "As long as you keep that ethanol industry running, grain prices will be high," says Bruce Babcock, professor of economics and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University. "If you didn't have this large growth in ethanol corn, prices would be nowhere near where they are today."
Corn as Fuel

As consumer prices climb, more and more people are pointing fingers at ethanol plants, like the one VeraSun Energy built here just outside Charles City. VeraSun is riding the crest of the ethanol boom. Thanks to internal expansion and the purchase of a rival, VeraSun will become the nation's biggest producer of ethanol by the end of the year, with about four times as much capacity as it had in 2005.

The plant is hard to miss. Its two massive concrete silos reach 150 feet into the air; each one holds half a million bushels of corn, delivered by an average of 110 brimming trucks every day. The silos are connected to a distillery with giant shiny steel vats for milling the corn, then fermenting and distilling it into 200-proof, fuel-grade ethanol. The ethanol is shipped out by train, 84 black tanker cars at a time.

The VeraSun facility is buying up almost all the corn produced in Floyd County and much of the corn produced in the four surrounding counties. While that might seem anathema to East Coast grocery shoppers, around here it makes VeraSun pretty popular.

"From Washington where Lester Brown is sitting, agriculture can't do enough to satisfy the nation's energy needs and meet all the demands put on it for food and feed," says Matt Liebman, an agronomist at Iowa State University. "But from agriculture's point of view, [ethanol] enhances market opportunities. So it really depends on your perspective."

Some folks around here get defensive when talking about corn prices. Johnson, the corn farmer, points out that the share of household income that goes to buying food has dropped steadily over the past 50 years; U.S. government statistics say that the portion is half of what it was in the 1950s. And of that portion, farmers get about a fifth; the rest goes to middlemen, food manufacturers, transportation, packaging and advertising. Indeed, farm groups say that energy costs in transportation and packaging have boosted food prices more than the price of corn has.

"There's no doubt that food prices are going to increase, but I suggest to you that food is still reasonable," Johnson says.

Don Endres, the chief executive of VeraSun and owner of 20 percent of its shares, grew up on a farm in Watertown, S.D., where his father and grandfather raised corn. His brothers are still farmers.

Endres says ethanol plants aren't to blame for high corn or food prices. He notes that the corn used to make ethanol isn't the kind that people eat anyway. Moreover, he says, ethanol plants like VeraSun's extract the starch in corn for fermentation while producing a dry feed that contains protein and nutrients. Piles of it are collected from industrial dryers at the plant. VeraSun then sells that feed, known as dried distillers grain, back to farmers who raise animals. Much of it goes to Texas, Mexico and China; it accounts for about 15 percent of VeraSun's revenue. When the grain is mixed with inexpensive starch, such as alfalfa, farmers can save money, Endres says.

Finally, he says, yields on corn will continue to increase so that the current acreage will be able to meet both food and fuel demands. His grandfather got 40 bushels to an acre, his father got 80, and his brothers get 160. Someday, Endres says, farms will get 300 bushels an acre.

"I think we'll see this thing come back into balance," he says. "There's an ability to produce so much more at these price levels."

The Feed Price Shock

About 20 minutes' drive from Johnson's farm and the VeraSun plant, two neighbors, Bill Huebsch and Ray Avila, are raising about 15 percent of the nation's capons, castrated roosters that are popular fare on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In a shed longer than a football field, 13,000 of the birds scurry about, nibbling at a corn mixture fed through automated pipes. In a matter of weeks, each tiny bird will eat about 40 pounds of feed.

The cost of that feed, three-quarters of which is corn, has risen sharply, and as a result, Huebsch and Avila are asking to be paid more for their capons -- a premium of 10 cents a pound last year and maybe another 15 or 20 cents this year -- to cover the added cost.

"Ultimately, you know where that price has to go," Huebsch says. "Ultimately, it's the consumer that's got to take the brunt of it."

He doesn't buy Endres's argument. He says that capons, like egg-producing chickens, can digest only limited quantities of the dried distillers grain. And the price of that protein-rich feed is also rising. (Cattle, which have four-chambered stomachs, can digest the distillers' grain more easily.) Some studies have also linked dried distillers grains with the bacterium E. coli in feedlot cattle.

"I think the ethanol is hurting us," Huebsch says. "It hasn't lowered our fuel prices at all, and it has increased feed costs."

The sharp rise in corn prices has confounded Avila's buying plans. Ordinarily in the fall, he buys all the corn he needs for the next season. But with prices around $4 a bushel last fall, he decided to wait. Now they're even higher, and he's buying only four days' supply, hoping that the price will go down.

"I'm just going day to day," Avila says. He says that a corn farmer friend of his bought a boat, and Avila asked whether he would name it Four Dollar Corn. Now, Avila jokes wryly, his friend would have to name it Six Dollar Corn.

Capons are a niche product, but high corn-feed prices are also giving poultry and egg producers a lot to cluck about. Iowa produces more eggs, 13.5 billion, than any other state. And chickens, like capons, mostly eat corn feed. The Charles City ethanol plant alone consumes three-quarters as much corn as the entire Iowa egg industry.

"Corn has gone up dramatically since the ethanol plants went in," says Deb Wolf, a small egg producer in Osage. "They're buying millions of bushels. That's got to come from somewhere." She and her husband, Keith, have a sign reading "Eggs 4 Sale" outside their home on Route 9, and customers often get the eggs while they're still warm. The Wolfs have tripled the price they charge for a dozen.

"We don't have to make fuel out of corn and soybeans, but we do have to feed animals," says Kevin Vinchattle, executive director of the Iowa Egg Council. "We're going to be right there bidding for feedstocks and making sure that we have the highest-quality feed available. We just don't have an alternative."
'Maxed Out'

Back in Charles City, farmer Johnson is reaping the benefits of high corn prices. He knows what the other extreme is like. His grandparents arrived from Germany in 1913 and, dirt poor, worked as farmhands before buying this land. Johnson took it over in the early 1970s, when prices, which hadn't changed much since the end of World War II, doubled and then leveled off again for most of the next three decades.

Two hundred years ago, he says, this was prairie covered with six-foot-high switchgrass. Winnebago Indians lived here, and then white settlers came in the mid-1800s.

But now the ethanol plant and 50 wind turbines that were erected over the winter have brought new energy to a town that Johnson says long lived off "the ground God created with glaciers and laid down here."

VeraSun built its plant in this area to be close to corn farms; Johnson says that he keeps part of the money that once went to trucking his corn to the barge company. "That money stays in my pocket now, and I like that."

Johnson is a one-person summary of how high corn prices are washing through the world of agriculture and climate change. Normally, he plants half of his 900 acres with corn and half with soybeans. He alternates crops on each field because it is better for the soil.

But last year he planted 500 acres of corn and 400 of soybeans, and this year he will do the same. "The market was screaming, 'Farmer Johnson, plant more corn, plant more corn,' " Johnson says.

Farmers across the country joined him. In 2007, U.S. acreage devoted to corn hit a record 93.6 million acres, up 20 percent from the year before. Farmers are expected to plant a little less than that this year.

That market response would ordinarily bring nothing but cheers, but the growing alarm about climate change casts it in a different light. In the United States last year, corn edged out some soybeans, which as a result are being grown in greater numbers on previously unplowed areas in other countries. And that releases carbon dioxide that had previously been stored in the soil as organic matter.

Johnson, along with about two dozen other people in the area, has invested in 25,000 acres of cattle-ranching and savanna land in Roraima state in northern Brazil, where they have planted 750 acres of soybeans and plan to expand. He says U.S. agriculture is a mature market. "We're maxed out," he says.

Meanwhile in Iowa, he is tilling his own soil more often, a farming trend that dismays climate experts. Usually Johnson doesn't till his soil in the fall; he points to short remnants of cornstalks that still stand in rows where soybeans will be inserted. But Johnson plans to till a piece of land where he will plant corn for a second year in a row.

Johnson also owns a small piece of land that is part of the federal government's conservation reserve program, which pays farmers for leaving land vacant. Millions of acres are in the program. The CRP parcels tend to have lower-quality soil, and they attract birds and other wildlife. In the climate-conscious era, they have the added virtue of storing carbon in the soil.

Johnson put a 10-acre parcel aside years ago and signed a 10-year contract with the government to leave it undisturbed. But the contract is running out, and he's thinking about planting corn. The CRP contract pays him $170 an acre. Johnson says, "I'm making a lot more than that now."

Toronto Star : Obama 'outraged' by Rev. Wright

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama 'outraged' by Rev. Wright

Tim Harper | WASHINGTON BUREAU | April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama, facing the biggest crisis of his 16-month campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, forcefully and angrily repudiated his former pastor yesterday, saying he was appalled and outraged by a performance by Rev. Jeremiah Wright on Monday.

The Illinois senator's press conference, called on the campaign trail in North Carolina, came after aides showed him Wright's theatrical spectacle at The National Press Club in Washington.

It was also a tacit acknowledgement by Obama of the damage done to his White House aspirations by the man who had been his pastor at Chicago Trinity United Church of Christ for 16 years, and an associate for two decades.

Obama would not say whether Wright's comments had rattled Democratic superdelegates or had hurt his support in Indiana and North Carolina, which hold primaries Tuesday, but the very public divorce may have come a day too late.

Wright's comments Monday dominated television news coverage all day and were front-page news in most major American newspapers.

Obama seemed particularly angered that Wright had implied the Illinois senator had distanced himself from the pastor's previous controversial words only for political reasons.

"At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough," Obama said.

"That's a show of disrespect to me. It is also, I think, an insult to what we've been trying to do in this campaign.''

He said Wright caricatured himself at Monday's "spectacle'' and said that was not the man he got to know at the Chicago church.

Yesterday's condemnation was much more forceful than his rather tepid response Monday as Wright's words played endlessly on cable news networks in the U.S.

"I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people,'' Obama said in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"That's in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding, to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings.

"That's who I am.

"(Monday), we saw a very different vision of America.

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw.''

He called Wright's answers to written questions from reporters "a bunch of rants.''

Wright had injected himself into the middle of the Democratic presidential race with a PBS interview, a major speech in Detroit and, then, his tour de force at the National Press Club Monday.

There, in an extraordinary question-and-answer session, he quoted the Bible to suggest the U.S. deserved to be attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, he said the government was capable of genocide by creating the HIV virus to kill African-Americans and defended Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Sunday at a NAACP speech in Detroit, which was also nationally televised, he mocked the accents of former Democratic presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Many analysts thought that Monday's performance, rather than an attempt at personal redemption by Wright, or an attempt, as he put it, to defend the black church under attack, it was a bid to sabotage Obama's presidential bid.

Many Obama supporters were outraged at the sight of a black man undermining another black man with the first legitimate shot at the White House.

Wright's performance came just as Obama was seeking the elusive support of white, industrial workers in Indiana and North Carolina, where twin victories next Tuesday could essentially knock Hillary Clinton out of the Democratic race.

Obama received another setback yesterday.

As some polls showed his lead over Clinton in North Carolina already narrowing, the New York senator picked up the endorsement of the state's governor, Mike Easley.

"Whatever relationship I had with Rev. Wright has changed,'' Obama said. "He didn't show much regard for me or, more importantly, what we are trying to do for American people.

"The insensitivity and the outrageousness and his performance in the question-and-answer period (Monday) shocked me. It surprised me."

He said Wright offended him and, quite understandably, offended all Americans.

"He caricatured himself,'' Obama said. "And that made me angry, but that also made me sad.''

By his own admission, Obama gave Wright the benefit of the doubt in mid-March in a widely praised speech on race in America he delivered in Philadelphia.

He also cut Wright some considerable slack when asked about him at a Philadelphia debate before Clinton beat him in the Democratic primary by almost 10 points.

Obama said he believed Wright had shown a complete disregard for the need of Americans to rally together to solve problems.

"What mattered to Rev. Wright,'' Obama said, "was commanding centre stage.''

His relations with the church are now strained, he said, because this has become such a spectacle.

"When I go to church, it's not for spectacle,'' Obama said.

"It's to pray and to find a stronger sense of faith.''

NYT : Wright Remains a Concern for Some Democrats

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wright Remains a Concern for Some Democrats


Senator Barack Obama picked up several endorsements by Democratic superdelegates on Wednesday in his presidential campaign, as some party leaders tried to assess the damage done to his candidacy by the controversy over his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

With a lead in elected delegates and popular vote, Mr. Obama has been closing the gap in superdelegates with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been ahead in endorsements from the party leaders and elected officials who could eventually cast the critical votes that select the party’s nominee.

But some party leaders and superdelegates said the Wright controversy has given them pause, raising questions about Mr. Obama’s electability in the general election next fall.

“From what I am seeing out there, it is creating a backlash,” said Bill George, the head of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in Pennsylvania, who announced his endorsement of Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate. If more of that happens going into the fall, it could create a problem.”

Other delegates interviewed Wednesday seemed split over the candidate’s efforts at damage control. Some who are Obama supporters praised him for his comments on Tuesday, which to them indicated a full break from Reverend Wright and his incendiary beliefs on race and other issues. Others said Mr. Obama needs to take steps to ensure the issue does not continue to shadow his campaign.

Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, who is uncommitted, said Mr. Obama’s delay in responding to Mr. Wright may have hurt the senator’s standing with many voters — in particular, the so-called Reagan Democrats who live in places like Toledo.

“Now is not a time to parse statements, now is not a time to worry about what happened 10 or 15 years ago or whether Reverend Wright was a great pastor or spiritual adviser,” he said. “Now is the time to turn your back on Reverend Wright.”

Mr. Redfern said that while many people understand that Mr. Wright and Senator Obama do not share views on many things, the “pragmatic realities of campaigns” could lead to guilt by association.

But Steve Achelpohl, the Nebraska Democratic chairman who recently endorsed Mr. Obama, called the controversy over Mr. Wright “a bump in the road” for the candidate. Mr. Achelpohl said he thought — or hoped — that Mr. Obama’s denunciation of Mr. Wright on Tuesday would move the campaign beyond the problem.

“I think it’s been blown way out of proportion, and people will realize that,” he said. “This is a media-driven thing and a presidential candidate shouldn’t have to vet every person that he has had a relationship with in his life.”

The Obama campaign has announced six endorsements in the past week, a crucial time for him coming off his loss in Pennsylvania on April 22 and the coming primaries in North Carolina and Indiana on May 6. With electability questions in the air, support from the party’s leaders could signal to voters that he was not damaged by Mr. Wright’s remarks.

Mrs. Clinton has picked up four superdelegates and still leads in those endorsements, but now by only about 15, with many of the delegates still undeclared.

One who came out Wednesday for Senator Obama was Representative Baron Hill, an Indiana Democrat. In announcing his support, Mr. Hill said he was satisfied with how Mr. Obama had “clearly and unequivocally denounced Reverend Wright’s remarks.” Mr. Hill said he planned to attend a rally for Mr. Obama in Bloomington, Ind., on Wednesday night.

“His comments regarding statements made by Reverend Wright showed me another aspect of Senator Obama’s leadership — a strength of character and commitment to our nation that transcends the personal,” Mr. Hill said in a statement. “One of the tests of a true leader is his ability and willingness to come to a new conclusion based on new events. Senator Obama did just that yesterday.”

Mr. Hill’s endorsement could be particularly potent because his district is relatively conservative and potentially a swing area in the general election. But before the presidential campaign gets to that stage, it is widely believed that Mr. Obama needs to make a good showing in Indiana, particularly among working-class Democrats who might vote Republican, to stop Mrs. Clinton’s momentum in this late stage of the nominating race.

Because of his influence, Mr. Hill immediately found himself under fire by Republicans, with Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, calling the endorsement mind-boggling.

“Baron Hill’s decision to side with the most liberal member of the United States Senate, who recently claimed that people ‘cling’ to their religion and the Second Amendment because they are ‘bitter’ is an affront to Indiana voters,” Mr. Spain said. “In a district that will undoubtedly vote for John McCain in November, Baron Hill has just latched his political fortune to a far-left liberal extremist who opposes the ban on partial birth abortion and supports a radical government-run health care system.”

Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and backer of Mrs. Clinton, was among those who said it was impossible at this point to judge the impact of the Reverend Wright episode. “We will just have to see how it plays out,” Mr. Nelson said. “I think the first indication will be the two states next Tuesday.”

Some Democrats said they believed that Reverend Wright’s more extreme statements in recent days may have actually helped Mr. Obama, allowing him make a decisive break with a former mentor.

“I thought he handled it very well,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who backs Mr. Obama. “If Wright keeps on talking, Obama can say, ‘he is enjoying the limelight, I am not going to add to it.’ “

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a former rival of Mr. Obama who is now backing him, said that since it remained early in the election calendar for most voters, Mr. Obama has a chance to minimize the issue.

“It’s April,” Mr. Dodd said. “This could actually help. I think he was strong yesterday and will continue to be, to reject that kind of language. I think he could turn this into asset. Time will tell, though it is certainly not a welcome addition.”

Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who campaigned hard for Mr. Obama in a losing effort in his home state, said he believed the senator doing was doing as well as he could with a difficult matter.

“There is no way to prognosticate, but I think time and again when he has been under fire, I think he has shown leadership skills that have been uncommon,” Mr. Casey said. “I think people are seeing more of his heart lately and getting to know him better and I think he is going to be just fine.”

Adam Nagourney contributed reporting.

WaPo : Eisenhower Advisers Discussed Using Nuclear Weapons in China

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eisenhower Advisers Discussed Using Nuclear Weapons in China

By Walter Pincus | Washington Post Staff Writer | April 30, 2008

Senior Air Force officers proposed using 10-to-15-kiloton nuclear bombs against targets in Communist China in 1958, in the event that Beijing blockaded the Taiwan Strait, but President Dwight D. Eisenhower ruled out that option, according to a newly declassified Pentagon document.

At a Cabinet meeting in mid-August 1958, as the threat of a Chinese blockade of Taiwan was developing, Air Force Gen. Nathan F. Twining, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained "that at the outset American planes would drop 10- to 15-kiloton bombs on selected fields in the vicinity of Amoy," a coastal city on the Taiwan Strait now called Xiamen, according to the documents.

But "the President simply did not accept the contention that nuclear weapons were as conventional as high explosives," according to the now-declassified Air Force history of the Taiwan crisis.

In releasing the official history, William Burr of George Washington University's National Security Archive said Eisenhower's decision forced Air Force leaders to think more seriously about conventional warfare instead of relying on nuclear arms.

A similar discussion is underway today as the Pentagon, under direction from Congress, examines U.S. nuclear strategy as part of the debate over whether to develop a new generation of weapons in the Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

By mid-August 1958, Air Force commanders had deployed five Strategic Air Command B-47 bombers that "went on alert to conduct nuclear raids against the mainland [China] airfields," the history says. At that time, the commanders assumed "presidential approval [that] any communist assault upon the offshore islands would trigger immediate nuclear retaliation."

When informed that Eisenhower had insisted that first strikes be made with high explosives, Gen. Laurence S. Kuter, the Pacific Air Forces commander, described "this idea of limited response as disastrous . . . and warned that the United States should either be ready to use its most effective weapons -- in his opinion nuclear bombs -- or stay out of the conflict," according to the history.

On Aug. 23, the Chinese began to fire tens of thousands of artillery shells from the mainland to Big and Little Quemoy, offshore islands held by the Taiwanese. Eisenhower approved the deployment of U.S. naval forces to escort ships resupplying Quemoy, the dispatch of an air strike force to the region and a commitment to help provide Taiwan's air defense.

By early October, the Chinese government had announced a cease-fire, and after a few months the crisis dissipated.

Kuter, the history says, later "complained that the military had failed to convince civilian authorities that American forces had to be free to use nuclear bombs at the outset of any conflict." Air Force headquarters in Washington, however, accepted that political considerations "might require that initial strikes be made with conventional ordnance."

The Air Force declined to comment on the document yesterday.

IHT : aAfghan raid on suspected assassins

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Afghan raid on suspected assassins

By Abdul Waheed Wafa and Graham Bowley | April 30, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan security forces attacked a house early Wednesday occupied by people suspected of plotting the foiled assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai. Officials said the clash left three militants dead, one of them a woman, and also killed a child. Three intelligence agents were also killed during the attack, according to reports.

Government officials announced the operation at a news conference in Kabul, the capital. They said the house was in a poor district in the western part of the city. They did not give the age of the child.

One of the officials, Amrullah Saleh, director of the National Security Directorate, said the operation was based on information given under interrogation by a person who had infiltrated the security forces and was arrested shortly after Sunday's assassination attempt on Karzai. The person gave three addresses in Kabul, and all of them were raided Wednesday, Saleh said.

The two sides fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic guns at each other over several hours, The Associated Press quoted Saleh as saying.

In the attack on the hide-out of those suspected in the assassination, he said, the government troops finally destroyed the two-story house with heavy weapons fire after the third intelligence agent had been killed and it was clear that the militants would not surrender, The AP reported.

One of the dead militants had supplied weapons used in the attack on Karzai, The AP quoted Saleh as saying.

Karzai escaped unharmed during the attack on a military parade on Sunday.

On Tuesday, Saleh admitted before Parliament that there had been negligence by some in the presidential guard and in his own intelligence service and possible complicity by some police officers, making it possible for the gunmen to fire from a hotel room, killing three people and wounding 11.

The attack at the parade ground sent government officials, diplomats and legislators scrambling for cover and caused a stampede of soldiers, embarrassing the government just as it was seeking to take over security of the capital from international forces.

In the account he gave on Tuesday, Saleh said one of his intelligence officers had warned the presidential guard that three men were acting suspiciously in the hotel room that was ultimately used in the attack.

The president's men kept a close guard on the room while Karzai was inspecting the troops on the parade ground in an open-topped vehicle, but when he drove off to the spectator stands, they dropped their guard. It was then, as the artillery fired a salute, that the attackers opened fire, he said.

The three attackers, who were all killed, have been identified, he said. He said that the plot was hatched on March 10 and that the attackers had rented the room overlooking the parade ground 45 days before the event. The room was searched two days before the parade, and nothing suspicious was found, the police and intelligence officials have confirmed.

There may have been a fourth plotter, who locked them into their room from the outside for the last 36 hours before the attack. The three did not leave the room after that.

Two of the gunmen may have killed themselves before security forces reached them. The third was shot by the security forces, Saleh said.

NYT : Transcript: Obama’s Remarks on Wright

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Transcript: Obama’s Remarks on Wright

April 29, 2008

The following is a transcript of a press conference held by Senator Barack Obama in response to recent statements by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., as provided by Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and Federal News Service.

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: Before I start taking questions I want to open it up with a couple of comments about what we saw and heard yesterday. I have spent my entire adult life trying to bridge the gap between different kinds of people. That's in my DNA, trying to promote mutual understanding to insist that we all share common hopes and common dreams as Americans and as human beings. That's who I am. That's what I believe. That's what this campaign has been about.

Yesterday, we saw a very different vision of America. I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday.

You know, I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church.

They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought, either.

Now, I've already denounced the comments that had appeared in these previous sermons. As I said, I had not heard them before. And I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia, explaining that he has done enormous good in the church. He's built a wonderful congregation. The people of Trinity are wonderful people. And what attracted me has always been their ministry's reach beyond the church walls.

But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses. They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that's what I'm doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.

Let me just close by saying this: I -- we started this campaign with the idea that the problems that we face as a country are too great to continue to be divided, that, in fact, all across America people are hungry to get out of the old divisive politics of the past.

I have spoken and written about the need for us to all recognize each other as Americans, regardless of race or religion or region of the country; that the only way we can deal with critical issues, like energy and health care and education and the war on terrorism, is if we are joined together. And the reason our campaign has been so successful is because we had moved beyond these old arguments.

What we saw yesterday out of Reverend Wright was a resurfacing and, I believe, an exploitation of those old divisions. Whatever his intentions, that was the result. It is antithetical to our campaign. It is antithetical to what I am about. It is not what I think American stands for.

And I want to be very clear that moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign. I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks.

But what I do want him to be very clear about, as well as all of you and the American people, is that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.

And anybody who has worked with me, who knows my life, who has read my books, who has seen what this campaign's about, I think, will understand that it is completely opposed to what I stand for and where I want to take this country.

Last point: I'm particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me. It's never been about Senator Clinton or John McCain. It's not about Reverend Wright.

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that's what we should be talking about. And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage, for three or four consecutive days, in the midst of this major debate, is something that not only makes me angry but also saddens me.

So with that, let me take some questions.

Q: What are you going to do --

Q: Senator --

Q: Senator --

SEN. OBAMA: Yeah, go ahead.

Q: Why the change of tone from yesterday? When you spoke to us on the tarmac yesterday, you didn't have this sense of anger, outrage --

SEN. OBAMA: Yeah. I'll be honest with you: because I hadn't seen it yet.

Q: And that was the difference you --


Q: Had you heard the reports about the AIDS comment?

SEN. OBAMA: I had not. I had not seen the transcript. What I had heard was that he had given a performance. And I thought at the time that it would be sufficient simply to reiterate what I had said in Philadelphia. Upon watching it, what became clear to me was that it was more than just a -- it was more than just him defending himself. What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that -- that -- that contradicts who I am and what I stand for. And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that -- that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the -- the commonality in all people.

And so when I start hearing comments about conspiracy theories and AIDS and suggestions that somehow Minister Farrakhan has -- has been a great voice in the 20th century, then that goes directly at who I am and what I believe this country needs.


Q: Senator, what do you expect or what do you plan to do about this right now to further distance yourself, if you think you're going to do that? And does this say about your judgment to superdelegates, who are right trying to decide which Democratic nominee is better? Because your candidacy has been based on judgment, what does this say about it?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, as I said before, the person I saw yesterday was not the person that I had come to know over 20 years. I understand that -- I think he was pained and angered from what had happened previously, during the first stage of this controversy. I think he felt vilified and attacked, and I understand that he wanted to defend himself.

I understand that, you know, he's gone through difficult times of late, and that he's leaving his ministry after many years. And so, you know, that may account for the change.

But the insensitivity and the outrageousness, of his statements and his performance in the question-and-answer period yesterday, I think, shocked me. It surprised me. As I said before, this is an individual who has built a very fine church and a church that is well- respected throughout Chicago.

During the course of me attending that church, I had not heard those kinds of statements being made or those kinds of views being promoted. And I did not vet my pastor before I decided to run for the presidency. I was a member of the church.

So you know, I think what it says is that, you know, I have not, you know, I did not run through -- run my pastor through the paces or review every one of the sermons that he had made over the last 30 years. But I don't think that anybody could attribute those ideas to me.

Q: What effect do you think this is going to have on your campaign?

SEN. OBAMA: You know, that's something that you guys will have to figure out. And you know, obviously we've got elections in four or five days. So we'll find out, you know, what impact it has.

But ultimately I think that the American people know that we have to do better than we're doing right now. I think that they believe in the ideas of this campaign.

I think they are convinced that special interest have dominated Washington too long. I think they are convinced that we've got to get beyond some of the same political games that we've been playing. I think they believe that we need to speak honestly and truthfully about how we're going to solve issues like energy or health care.

And I believe that this campaign has inspired a lot of people. And that's part of what, you know, going back to what you asked, Mike, about why I feel so strongly about this today.

You know, after seeing Reverend Wright's performance, I felt as if there was a complete disregard, for what the American people are going through and the need for them to rally together to solve these problems.

You know, now is the time for us not to get distracted. Now is the time for us to pull together.

And that's what we've been doing in this campaign. And, you know, there was a sense that that did not matter to Reverend Wright. What mattered was him commanding center stage.

Q: Have you had a conversation with Reverend Wright and --


Q: What's going to happen if these distractions continue?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, the -- I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don't think that he showed much concern for me. I don't -- more importantly, I don't think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we're trying to do for the American people and with the American people.

And obviously, he's free to speak out on issues that are of concern to him and he can do it in any ways that he wants. But I feel very strongly that -- well, I want to make absolutely clear that I do not subscribe to the views that he expressed. I believe they are wrong. I think they are destructive. And to the extent that he continues to speak out, I do not expect those views to be attributed to me.

Q: I remember after the story -- when the story immediately broke, Trinity Church -- the current pastor kind of defended Reverend Wright. I'm wondering -- I don't know how they reacted to the latest, but I'm wondering if you continue planning on attending Trinity.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, you know, the new pastor -- the young pastor, Reverend Otis Moss, is a wonderful young pastor. And as I said, I still very much value the Trinity community. This -- I'll be honest, this obviously has put strains on that relationship, not because of the members or because of Reverend Moss but because this has become such a spectacle.

And, you know, when I go to church it's not for spectacle. It's to pray and to find -- to find a stronger sense of faith. It's not to posture politically. It's not -- you know, it's not to hear things that violate my core beliefs. And so -- you know, and I certainly don't want to provide a distraction for those who are worshipping at Trinity.

So as of this point, I'm a member of Trinity. I haven't had a discussion with Reverend Moss about it, so I can't tell you how he's reacting and how he's responding.

Okay? Katherine (sp)?

Q: Senator, I'm wondering -- to sort of follow on Jeff's question about you, know, why it's a little different now, have you heard from some of your supporters -- you know, you have some -- (off mike) -- supporters who expressed any alarm about what this might be doing to the campaign?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, the -- I mean, I don't think that it's that hard to figure out from -- if it was just a purely political perspective. You know, my reaction has more to do with what I want this campaign to be about and who I am. And I want to make certain that people understand who I am.

In some ways, what Reverend Wright said yesterday directly contradicts everything that I've done during my life. It contradicts how I was raised and the setting in which I was raised. It contradicts my decisions to pursue a career of public service. It contradicts the issues that I've worked on politically. It contradicts what I've said in my books. It's contradicts what I said my convention speech in 2004. It contradicts my announcement. It contradicts everything that I've been saying on this campaign trail.

And what I tried to do in Philadelphia was to provide a context and to lift up some of the contradictions and complexities of race in America -- of which, you know, Reverend Wright is a part and we're all a part -- and try to make something constructive out of it. But there wasn't anything constructive out of yesterday. All it was, was a bunch of rants that -- that aren't grounded in truth, and you know, I can't construct something positive out of that. I can understand it. I, you know, the -- you know, people do all sorts of things.

And as I said before, I continue to believe that Reverend Wright has been a -- a -- a leader in the South Side. I think that the church he built is outstanding. I think that he has preached in the past some wonderful sermons. He provided, you know, valuable contributions to my family.

But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that's enough. That's -- that's a show of disrespect to me. It's a -- it is also, I think, an insult to what we've been trying to do in this campaign.

Q: Senator, did you discuss with your wife, after having seen Reverend Wright -- (off mike) -- and what was her --

SEN. OBAMA: Yeah. No, she was similarly -- anger.


Q: Reverend Wright said that it was not an attack on him but an attack on the black church. First of all, do you agree with that?

And second of all, the strain of theology that he preached, black liberation theology, you explained something about the anger, that feeds some of the sentiments in the church, in Philadelphia.

How important a strain is liberation theology in the black church? And why did you choose to attend a church that preached that?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, in terms of liberation theology, I'm not a theologian. So I think to some theologians, there might be some well-worked-out theory of what constitutes liberation theology versus non-liberation-theology.

I went to church and listened to sermons. And in the sermons that I heard, and this is true, I do think, across the board in many black churches, there is an emphasis on the importance of social struggle, the importance of striving for equality and justice and fairness -- a social gospel.

So I think a lot of people would rather, rather than using a fancy word like that, simply talk about preaching the social gospel. And that -- there's nothing particularly odd about that. Dr. King obviously was the most prominent example of that kind of preaching.

But you know, what I do think can happen, and I didn't see this as a member of the church but I saw it yesterday, is when you start focusing so much on the plight of the historically oppressed, that you lose sight of what we have in common; that it overrides everything else; that we're not concerned about the struggles of others because we're looking at things only through a particular lens. Then it doesn't describe properly what I believe, in the power of faith, to overcome but also to bring people together.

Now, you had a first question, Joe, that I don't remember.

Q: Do you think --

SEN. OBAMA: Do I think --

Q: (Off mike.)

SEN. OBAMA: You know, the -- I did not view the initial round of soundbites, that triggered this controversy, as an attack on the black church. I viewed it as a simplification of who he was, a caricature of who he was and, you know, more than anything, something that piqued a lot of political interest.

I didn't see it as an attack on the black church. I mean, probably the only -- the only aspect of it that probably had to do with specifically the black church is the fact that some people were surprised when he was shouting. I mean, that is just a black church tradition. And so I think some people interpreted that somehow as -- wow, he's really -- he's hollering and black preachers holler and whoop and -- so that, I think, showed sort of a cultural gap in America.

You know, the sad thing is that although the sound bites I've -- as I stated, I think created a caricature of him. And when he was in that Moyers interview, even though there were some things that, you know, continued to be offensive, at least there was some sense of rounding out the edges. Yesterday I think he caricatured himself, and that was a -- as I said, that made me angry but also made me sad.

STAFF: Last question.

SEN. OBAMA: Richard.

Q: You talked about giving the benefit of the doubt before -- mostly, I guess, in the Philadelphia speech, trying to create something positive about that. Did you consult with him before the speech or talk to him after the speech in Philadelphia to get his reaction -- (off mike) --

SEN. OBAMA: You know, I tried to talk to him before the speech in Philadelphia. Wasn't able to reach him because he was on a -- he was on a cruise. He had just stepped down from the pulpit. When he got back, I did speak to him. And I -- you know, I prefer not to share sort of private conversations between me and him. I will talk to him perhaps some day in the future. But what I can say is that I was very clear that what he had said in those particular snippets, I found objectionable and offensive and that the intention of the speech was to provide context for them but not excuse them, because I found them inexcusable.

So -- yeah, go ahead.

Q: The other day, on Sunday, you were asked whether -- to respond to -- (off mike) -- is this -- you said you didn't believe in irreparable damage. Is this relationship with you and Wright irreparably damaged, do you think?

SEN. OBAMA: There's been great damage. You know, I -- it may have been unintentional on his part, but, you know, I do not see that relationship being the same after this. Now, to some degree, you know -- I know that one thing that he said was true, was that he wasn't -- you know, he was never my, quote-unquote, "spiritual adviser."

He was never my "spiritual mentor." He was -- he was my pastor. And so to some extent, how, you know, the -- the press characterized in the past that relationship, I think, wasn't accurate.

But he was somebody who was my pastor, and married Michelle and I, and baptized my children, and prayed with us at -- when we announced this race. And so, you know -- so I'm disappointed.

STAFF: Thank you.

SEN. OBAMA: All right. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.

NYT : Primary Loss and Furor Over Ex-Pastor Hurt Obama in Poll

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Primary Loss and Furor Over Ex-Pastor Hurt Obama in Poll

By ROBIN TONER and MEGAN THEE | April 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — Senator Barack Obama’s aura of inevitability in the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination has diminished in the wake of his loss in the Pennsylvania primary and the furor over his former pastor, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The poll was conducted Friday through Tuesday, largely before Mr. Obama’s news conference on Tuesday denouncing his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., and may not fully capture the impact of that controversy or the response.

But the survey found that Mr. Obama, whose lead in the race for the delegates needed to secure the nomination has given him a commanding position over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton since February, is now perceived to be in a much tighter fight. Fifty-one percent of Democratic voters say they expect Mr. Obama to win their party’s nomination, down from 69 percent a month ago. Forty-eight percent of Democrats say Mr. Obama is the candidate with the best chance of beating Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, down from 56 percent a month ago.

Mr. Obama still holds an edge over Mrs. Clinton on several key measures; for example, 46 percent of the Democratic primary voters say he remains their choice for the nomination, while 38 percent preferred Mrs. Clinton, who has lost support among men in recent weeks. On that question, his margin actually grew, to eight from three points, over the past month.

Mr. Obama also has an advantage over Mrs. Clinton in ratings on honesty and integrity, in sharing the values of most Americans and in being less beholden to special interest groups.

But a month of political upheaval — including a nearly 10-point loss to Mrs. Clinton in Pennsylvania — has taken a toll, and not just on Mr. Obama: fifty-six percent of Democrats described their party as divided. In contrast, 60 percent of Republicans see their party as unified, a striking turnaround from the Republican turmoil at the start of the primary season.

Adding to the volatility of this race is the economy. Anxiety over these bread and butter issues, already high a month ago, has continued to climb. More than 4 in 10 voters cited the economy as the one issue they want the candidates to address, up from 30 percent in a CBS News Poll in mid-March. (Only the war in Iraq, cited by 17 percent, came close.)

Democrats see no early end to the Obama-Clinton battle, the poll found. About 7 in 10 Democratic voters predict that their party’s nominee will not be decided before the convention. And a plurality of voters say this will eventually hurt the Democratic Party’s chances against Mr. McCain in November.

“I don’t think either one of them would ever concede,” said Andrew Antonucci, a 66-year-old Democrat and retired firefighter from Arlington, Mass., in a follow-up interview. “It’ll go down to the wire.”

Robert Mobley, 28, a Democrat and motor coach operator in Orlando, Fla., said, “People can’t figure out who they want to choose. Sadly, I don’t think it’s really a political issue. I think it’s more like a “what kind of history do we want to set” issue. Do we want to break the race barrier or the gender barrier?”

Still, there is resistance to the idea of party leaders stepping in to resolve the fight. Even among Democrats who said a lengthy battle would hurt the party, a majority said the contest should continue until one candidate clearly wins the delegate count.

The poll was conducted as Mr. Wright dominated political news with a series of speeches and appearances; among other incendiary claims, he suggested that the United States was attacked by terrorists because it had itself engaged in terrorism.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted with 1,065 adults, of whom 956 were registered to vote; it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points over all, and plus or minus 5 percentage points among Democrats alone.

The survey suggests a very competitive race this November regardless of who the Democrats nominate. In a head-to-head race between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, both candidates are backed by 45 percent of the registered voters. In a race between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain, 48 percent back Mrs. Clinton, while 43 percent back Mr. McCain.

The weakening economy appears likely to play a critical role in the campaign, the poll found. The issue showed up in personal ways: As food and gas prices soar, more Americans say they are having a hard time saving or buying extras. Thirty-eight percent said they could do so in February, just 27 percent in the latest poll.

President Bush continues to get low marks on his overall job performance, with just 21 percent approving of his handling of the economy. Given those ratings, Mr. McCain faces a political challenge in establishing his own identity: About half of all voters say they expect him to continue Mr. Bush’s policies if elected, while another 2 in 10 say he will have policies that are even more conservative.

His challenge also shows up on foreign policy: A majority of voters said they preferred the next president to try to end the war in Iraq within the next few years; they overwhelmingly said it was more important to have a nominee who is flexible about withdrawing the troops, rather than someone committed to staying in Iraq until the United States succeeds.

On the Democratic side, Mr. Obama’s and Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are digging in, with two-thirds in each camp saying they “strongly support” their candidates. But Democrats are open to the idea of a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket. About 6 in 10 Democrats said they would like to see the eventual winner take the other candidate as their running mate.

Each of the three remaining presidential candidates has clear strengths and weaknesses. More voters have confidence in the ability of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. McCain to “wisely” handle an international crisis than feel that way about Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain, on the other hand, get higher ratings than Mrs. Clinton when it comes to “having more honesty and integrity than most people in public life.”

And both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama edge out Mr. McCain when it comes to caring about the needs and problems of average Americans.

Republicans are already trying to portray Mr. Obama as a liberal who is outside the mainstream of American values, but the poll suggests that — at least so far — he is not viewed that way by most Americans. Nearly two-thirds of registered voters said they believe he shares their values, about the same number who felt that way about Mr. McCain (58 percent said Mrs. Clinton shared their values).

But Mr. Obama has vulnerabilities. Only 29 percent of registered voters said they considered him “very patriotic,” compared with 40 percent who described Mrs. Clinton that way. Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war, was considered “very patriotic” by 70 percent of the registered voters.

The underlying political landscape continues to favor the Democrats, despite their current divisions. Over all, 52 percent of adults said they had a favorable opinion of the Democratic Party, compared with 33 percent who felt positively about the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party was viewed as better able to handle the economy, more likely share the respondent’s moral values, more likely to improve the health care system and more likely to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq. The Republicans, however, maintained their advantaged in ensuring that American military defenses were strong.

Marina Stefan, Marjorie Connelly and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.

NYT : An Angry Obama Renounces Ties to His Ex-Pastor

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Angry Obama Renounces Ties to His Ex-Pastor

By JEFF ZELENY and ADAM NAGOURNEY | April 30, 2008

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Senator Barack Obama broke forcefully on Tuesday with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., in an effort to curtail a drama of race, values, patriotism and betrayal that has enveloped his presidential candidacy at a critical juncture.

At a news conference here, Mr. Obama denounced remarks Mr. Wright made in a series of televised appearances over the last several days. In the appearances, Mr. Wright has suggested that the United States was attacked because it engaged in terrorism on other people and that the government was capable of having used the AIDS virus to commit genocide against minorities. His remarks also cast Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, in a positive light.

In tones sharply different from those Mr. Obama used on Monday, when he blamed the news media and his rivals for focusing on Mr. Wright, and far harsher than those he used in his speech on race in Philadelphia last month, Mr. Obama tried to cut all his ties to — and to discredit — Mr. Wright, the man who presided at Mr. Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters.

“His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” Mr. Obama said, his voice welling with anger. “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.”

One week before Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, contests that party officials are watching as they try to gauge whether Mr. Obama or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the stronger nominee, the controversy surrounding Mr. Wright again erupted into a threat to Mr. Obama’s ability to show that he could unify the Democratic Party and bring the nominating contest to a quick and clean end. With Mrs. Clinton having shown particular strength among working-class white voters in recent big-state primaries, the racial overtones of Mr. Obama’s links with Mr. Wright have been especially troublesome for the Obama campaign.

Asked how the controversy would affect voters, Mr. Obama said: “We’ll find out.”

At a minimum, the spectacle of Mr. Wright’s multiday media tour and Mr. Obama’s rolling response grabbed the attention of the most important constituency in politics now: the uncommitted superdelegates — party officials and elected Democrats — who hold the balance of power in the nominating battle.

Eileen Macoll, a Democratic county chairman from Washington State who has not chosen a candidate, said she was stunned at the extent of national attention the episode has drawn, and she said she believed it would give superdelegates pause.

“I’m a little surprised at how much traction it is getting, and I do believe it is beginning to reflect negatively on Senator Obama’s campaign,” Ms. Macoll said. “I think he’s handling it very well, but I think it’s almost impossible to make people feel comfortable about this.”

It was the second straight day that Mr. Obama had responded to Mr. Wright, a former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago whose derisive comments about the United States government have become a fixture of cable television. Saying that he had not seen or read Mr. Wright’s remarks when he responded to them on Monday, Mr. Obama said he was “shocked and surprised” when he later read the transcripts and watched the broadcasts, and he felt compelled to respond more forcefully.

“I’m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said. He added: “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”

The press conference came in what may well be the toughest stretch of Mr. Obama’s campaign as he grapples with questions about Mr. Wright as well as the fallout from his defeat last week in Pennsylvania. He set out this week to reintroduce himself but instead found himself competing for airtime with Mr. Wright and trying to bat away suggestions that he shared or tolerated Mr. Wright’s views.

As he answered question after question here, Mr. Obama appeared downcast and subdued as he tried to explain why he had decided to categorically denounce his minister of 20 years. His decision to address reporters not only stretched the Wright story into another day but also marked at least the third time he has sought to deal with the issue, including his well-received speech on race last month in Philadelphia.

“The fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me,” Mr. Obama said.

Even amid the wall-to-wall news coverage about Mr. Wright, Mr. Obama won the support of two more superdelegates, including Representative Ben Chandler of Kentucky. Meanwhile, Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri and Gov. Michael F. Easley of North Carolina announced their support for Mrs. Clinton.

The first real evidence of whether the controversy has extracted a political price could come on Tuesday. Superdelegates suggested that they would watch closely to see how voters respond in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries and beyond.

Bob Mulholland, a superdelegate from California, said the difficulties Mr. Obama had experienced put a premium on results in the remaining contests.

“We’ve got nine elections to go through June 9,” Mr. Mulholland said in an interview. “I’ve never been involved in a successful presidential race where the candidate had no trouble in the primary. It’s challenging to him. He is a young man, and this is the first time he’s run for president. I see this as a learning experience.”

Asked how he thought Mr. Obama was doing, Mr. Mulholland paused before responding. “Getting better,” he finally said.

The appearances by Mr. Wright, which began Friday and concluded Monday, were anticipated by the Obama campaign, but aides said they were taken aback by the tenor of the remarks. His first interview, with Bill Moyers on PBS, offered few hints of what he intended when he arrived at the National Press Club on Monday.

“At a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.”

Mr. Obama became a Christian after hearing a 1988 sermon of Mr. Wright’s called “The Audacity to Hope.” Joining Mr. Wright’s church helped Mr. Obama, with his disparate racial and geographic background, embrace not only the African-American community but also Africa, his friends and family say.

Mr. Obama had barely known his Kenyan father; Mr. Wright made pilgrimages to Africa and incorporated its rituals into worship. Mr. Obama toted recordings of Mr. Wright’s sermons to law school. Mr. Obama titled his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention “The Audacity of Hope,” and gave his next book the same name.

As Mr. Wright’s more incendiary statements began circulating widely, Mr. Obama routinely condemned them but did not disassociate himself from Mr. Wright. In his speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Obama tried to explain his pastor through the bitter history of American race relations.

Five weeks later, the men seem finished with each other.

“Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday. “I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. More importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we’re trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people.”

Jeff Zeleny reported from Winston-Salem, and Adam Nagourney from Indianapolis. Jodi Kantor contributed reporting from New York.