Because we are good journalists committed to bringing you the news in an evenhanded manner, the Happytown™ Mobile Election Center yes-we-can–ed our way down South Orange Blossom Trail all the way to the Kissimmee Civic Center to cover Sen. Barack Obama’s May 21 town hall meeting.

Some 1,500 hopemongers and change addicts packed the civic center to hear Obama bless them with his soaring rhetoric and kiss their collective ass after months of not campaigning here. “Si se puede!” they chanted, waving signs, shirts, stickers and other assorted forms of Obama merch. Were we going to let this enthusiasm overwhelm our objectivity?

Not this time.

Well, OK, maybe a little. “He gives me goose bumps,” said Rachel, the young lass gracious enough to accompany us.

Obama, whom we already know and love `see “Barry and me,” July 5, 2007`, wasn’t quite on fire – as he was, say, the night before in an Iowa speech announcing that he’d secured the majority of pledged delegates – but he was good nonetheless. He threw some red meat to the partisan carnivores – John McCain is the second coming of George W. Bush, etc. – and tried to endear himself to the many Hispanics both in the audience and throughout Central Florida.

Then he took some questions. One came from a guy who practically begged Obama for an invite to his inauguration ceremonies, there were a couple from folks worried about education and one came from a Kennedy Space Center worker worried about the future of the space program (which Obama supports, though not necessarily with manned missions, it turns out). Another guy tried like hell, and eventually succeeded, in getting Obama’s body man a copy of Neal Boortz’s book FairTax: The Truth, which likely ended up in the trash bin.

Obamania, Part II: Obama being in town for the first time in months gave the local media their first shot at him, and WESH-TV Channel 2 made the best of it. They asked their audience to submit questions for Hopey to answer. The questions could have been on Iraq, the economy, health care – anything, really.

So what did ace political reporter Greg Fox go with? Since some of the people who go to WESH.com were angry about Florida’s Jan. 29 primary not counting, Fox thought the best question to pitch Obama’s way was, “Shouldn’t you fight to defend rather than deny the rights of all Americans to participate in our election process?”

Here’s a little fact-checking primer for you, Greg: Obama didn’t deny the “right” of anyone to do anything.

First of all, you don’t have the “right” to participate in a party’s nominating process, since parties are private organizations and can select their nominees however they choose.

Second, Obama didn’t decide to disenfranchise Florida; that decision was made by the Democratic National Committee in 2007, back when everyone assumed Sen. Hillary Clinton would be the nominee, and the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee was dominated by Clinton supporters `see “Fiasco,” March 20`.

Third, Clinton signed the same do-not-campaign-in-Florida-and-Michigan pledge as Obama, John Edwards and everyone else, and she didn’t care about our votes until it became painfully obvious that she needed them to have a shot at winning.

Fourth, the decision to move up the primary against the DNC’s wishes was supported by state Democrats and lawmakers, many of whom are Clinton supporters.

Fifth, lots of voters didn’t vote Jan. 29 because they were told their votes wouldn’t count. In fact, we told them that ourselves `see “I didn’t vote,” Jan. 24`. So how could the results from that primary be taken seriously?

Sixth, Greg Fox is a tool.

Obama promised that there’d be some resolution, probably at the May 31 meeting of the rules committee in Washington, D.C.

If you’d like to see how real journalists do it, let’s go to St. Petersburg Times political editor Adam Smith. In an interview with Clinton, he asked about the painfully obvious hypocrisy driving her campaign these days: “Some people might say, ‘Where were you when we needed you? When the rules and bylaws committee was stripping away our delegates, you were silent, and some of your top advisors – Harold Ickes, Tina Flournoy – were voting for that penalty?’”

To which Clinton dodged, “Well, I don’t agree with that decision of the Democratic Party ….”

Take notes, Greg.

You know when you get so drunk that you cry? Or, even worse, so drunk that you die? Well, a guy calling himself “William” dialed into our tipster line last week and convinced us that we might like to do both … and soon.

The unmistakable stench of beer-soaked wood paneling at Jerry’s Tap Room on South Orange Avenue is due to be cleaned up after May 30. Why should you care? Because Jerry’s is “the oldest redneck bar in Orlando,” says William.

We should know. In a 2003 feature, we ranked Jerry’s as one of our “Neighborhood Bars of Character,” our writer then commenting on its attractiveness to those with dusty blue collars who might or might not own pigs.

Well, there will be no more fitting in here, y’all. William’s promising a big blowout full of fisticuffs when the bar tears up all its “barred for life” notices and welcomes back the riff-raff for one last go at getting blood in their beer. Friday night, May 30, scores will be settled, says William, who notes that Jerry’s has never been a friend of the MBI (y’know, like us!).

Some Lake Brantley High School kids got some Muslim proselytizing instead of the cultural awakening they were expecting when the Academy for Learning Islam was approved to speak at their school. Not one to miss an opportunity, the Orlando chapter of the United American Committee, a group dedicated to battling the evils of Islam, jumped on board, calling the show a “cultural jihad happening within the Seminole County school system.”

Keep in mind that this is the same group that led the Rally Against Islamofacism in Orlando last year, and that the Council on American-Islamic Relations won’t associate with UAC because they consider it a fringe extremist group.

The UAC, which only denounces terrorists and religious extremists, says it promptly notified news media when “the school infiltration plan” and attempts at “cultural indoctrination” became clear.

The Academy for Learning Islam had been approved to speak to a group of 35 students for a new course called “Family Dynamics.” It was supposed to be a cultural diversity lesson, but school officials admit it got out of hand and violated separation of church and state laws when elements of Islam and the Quran were discussed. The speakers apparently weren’t screened very well either, and the group was later removed from a list of approved speakers.

Of course, UAC thinks the whole thing is a little more sinister, accusing the Sanford-based Islam academy (which relocated from Canada about a year ago) of having shady ties to Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The more likely scenario is that members of the UAC have shaky ties to reality.

This week’s report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes and Deanna Morey.



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