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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Clintons' Terror Pardons

It was nearly 10 p.m. on New Year's Eve, 1982. Two officers on New York Police Department's elite bomb squad rushed to headquarters at One Police Plaza, where minutes earlier an explosion had destroyed the entrance to the building. Lying amid the carnage was Police Officer Rocco Pascarella, his lower leg blasted off.

"He was ripped up like someone took a box cutter and shredded his face," remembered Detective Anthony Senft, one of the bomb-squad officers who answered the call 25 years ago. "We really didn't even know that he was a uniformed man until we found his weapon, that's how badly he was injured."

[The Clintons' Terror Pardons]

About 20 minutes later, Mr. Senft and his partner, Richard Pastorella, were blown 15 feet in the air as they knelt in protective gear to defuse another bomb. Detective Senft was blinded in one eye, his facial bones shattered, his hip severely fractured. Mr. Pastorella was blinded in both eyes and lost all the fingers of his right hand. A total of four bombs exploded in a single hour on that night, including at FBI headquarters in Manhattan and the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

The perpetrators were members of Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN (the Spanish acronym), a clandestine terrorist group devoted to bringing about independence for Puerto Rico through violent means. Its members waged war on America with bombings, arson, kidnappings, prison escapes, threats and intimidation. The most gruesome attack was the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in Lower Manhattan. Timed to go off during the lunch-hour rush, the explosion decapitated one of the four people killed and injured another 60.

[The Clintons' Terror Pardon]

FALN bragged about the bloodbath, calling the victims "reactionary corporate executives" and threatening: "You have unleashed a storm from which you comfortable Yankees can't escape." By 1996, the FBI had linked FALN to 146 bombings and a string of armed robberies -- a reign of terror that resulted in nine deaths and hundreds of injured victims.

On Aug. 7, 1999, the one-year anniversary of the U.S. African embassy bombings that killed 257 people and injured 5,000, President Bill Clinton reaffirmed his commitment to the victims of terrorism, vowing that he "will not rest until justice is done." Four days later, while Congress was on summer recess, the White House quietly issued a press release announcing that the president was granting clemency to 16 imprisoned members of FALN. What began as a simple paragraph on the AP wire exploded into a major controversy.

Mr. Clinton justified the clemencies by asserting that the sentences were disproportionate to the crimes. None of the petitioners, he stated, had been directly involved in crimes that caused bodily harm to anyone. "For me," the president concluded, "the question, therefore, was whether their continuing incarceration served any meaningful purpose."

His comments, including the astonishing claim that the FALN prisoners were being unfairly punished because of "guilt by association," were widely condemned as a concession to terrorists. Further, they were seen as an outrageous slap in the face of the victims and a bitter betrayal of the cops and federal law enforcement officers who had put their lives on the line to protect the public and who had invested years of their careers to put these people behind bars. The U.S. Sentencing Commission affirmed a pre-existing Justice Department assessment that the sentences, ranging from 30 to 90 years, were "in line with sentences imposed in other cases for similar terrorist activity."

The prisoners were convicted on a variety of charges that included conspiracy, sedition, violation of the Hobbes Act (extortion by force, violence or fear), armed robbery and illegal possession of weapons and explosives -- including large quantities of C-4 plastic explosive, dynamite and huge caches of ammunition. Mr. Clinton's action was opposed by the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. attorney offices that prosecuted the cases and the victims whose lives had been shattered. In contravention of standard procedures, none of these agencies, victims or families of victims were consulted or notified prior to the president's announcement.

"I know the chilling evidence that convicted the petitioners," wrote Deborah Devaney, one of the federal prosecutors who spent years on the cases. "The conspirators made every effort to murder and maim. . . . A few dedicated federal agents are the only people who stood in their way."

Observed Judge George Layton, who sentenced four FALN defendants for their conspiracy to use military-grade explosives to break an FALN leader from Ft. Leavenworth Penitentiary and detonate bombs at other public buildings, "[T]his case . . . represents one of the finest examples of preventive law enforcement that has ever come to this court's attention in the 20-odd years it has been a judge and in the 20 years before that as a practicing lawyer in criminal cases."

The FBI cracked the cases with the discovery of an FALN safe house and bomb factory. Video surveillance showed two of those on the clemency list firing weapons and building bombs intended for an imminent attack at a U.S. military installation. FBI agents obtained a warrant and entered the premises, surreptitiously disarming the bombs whose components bore the unmistakable FALN signature. They found 24 pounds of dynamite, 24 blasting caps, weapons, disguises, false IDs and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

A total of six safe houses were ultimately uncovered. Seven hundred hours of surveillance video were recorded, resulting in a mountain of evidence connecting the 16 prisoners to multiple FALN operations past and present.

Federal law enforcement agencies considered these individuals so dangerous, extraordinary security precautions were taken at their numerous trials. Courthouse elevators were restricted and no one, including the court officers, was permitted to carry a firearm in the courtroom.

Given all this, why would Bill Clinton, who had ignored the 3,226 clemency petitions that had piled up on his desk over the years, suddenly reach into the stack and pluck out these 16 meritless cases? (The New York Times ran a column with the headline, "Bill's Little Gift.")

Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the midst of her state-wide "listening tour" in anticipation of her run for the U.S. Senate in New York, a state which included 1.3 million Hispanics. Three members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- Luis V. Gutierrez (D., Ill.), Jose E. Serrano, (D., N.Y.) and Nydia M. Velazquez, (D., N.Y.) -- along with local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights advocates, had been agitating for years on behalf of the FALN cases directly to the White House and first lady.

Initial reports stated that Mrs. Clinton supported the clemencies, but when public reaction went negative she changed course, issuing a short statement three weeks after the clemencies were announced. The prisoners' delay in refusing to renounce violence "speaks volumes," she said.

The Clintons were caught in an awkward predicament of their own making. The president had ignored federal guidelines for commutation of sentences, including the most fundamental: The prisoners hadn't actually asked for clemency.

To push the deal through, signed statements renouncing violence and expressing remorse were required by the Justice Department. The FALN prisoners, surely relishing the embarrassment and discomfiture they were causing the president and his wife, had previously declined to accept these conditions. Committed and unrepentant militants who did not accept the authority of the United States, they refused to apologize for activities they were proud of in order to obtain a clemency they never requested.

So desperate was the White House to get the deal finalized and out of the news, an unprecedented 16-way conference call was set up for the "petitioners" who were locked up in 11 different federal facilities so that they could strategize a response to the president's offer. Two eventually refused to renounce their cause, preferring to serve out their lengthy sentences rather than follow the White House script.

Mr. Clinton's fecklessness in the handling of these cases was demonstrated by the fact that none of the prisoners were required, as a standard condition of release, to cooperate in ongoing investigations of countless unsolved FALN bombing cases and other crimes. Mrs. Clinton's so-called disagreement with her husband on the matter made no mention of that fact. The risk of demanding such a requirement, of course, was that the prisoners might have proudly implicated themselves, causing the entire enterprise to implode, with maximum damage to the president and potentially sinking Hillary Clinton's Senate chances.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rican politicians in New York who'd been crowing to their constituents about the impending release of these "freedom fighters" were enraged and insulted at Hillary Clinton's withdrawal of support. "It was a horrible blunder," said State Sen. Olga A. Mendez. "She needs to learn the rules."

The first lady called her failure to consult the Puerto Rican political establishment before assessing the entire issue a mistake "that will never happen again" -- even as the cops who had been maimed and disfigured by FALN operations continued to be ignored. Tom and Joe Connor, two brothers who were little boys when their 33-year-old father, Frank, was killed in the Fraunces Tavern attack, were dumbstruck to learn that White House staffers referred to the FALN militants as "political prisoners" and were planning a meeting with their children to humanize their plight.

Members of Congress viewed the clemencies as a dangerous abuse of presidential power that could not go unchallenged. Resolutions condemning the president's action were passed with a vote of 95-2 in the Senate, 311-41 in the House. It was the most they could do; the president's pardon power, conferred by the Constitution, is absolute. The House launched an investigation, subpoenaing records from the White House and Justice in an effort to determine whether proper procedure had been followed. President Clinton promptly invoked executive privilege, putting Justice Department lawyers in the impossible position of admitting that they had sent the White House a recommendation on the issue, but barred from disclosing what it was.

Twenty-four hours before a scheduled Senate committee hearing, the DOJ withheld the FBI's written statement about the history of the FALN and an assessment of its current terrorist capability. "They pulled the plug on us," said an unnamed FBI official in a news report, referring to the Justice Department decision to prevent FBI testimony.

The investigation revealed that the White House was driving the effort to release the prisoners, rather than the other way around. White House aides created talking points and strategies for a public campaign on the prisoners' behalf included asking prominent individuals for letters supporting clemency.

Jeffrey Farrow, a key adviser on the White House Interagency Working Group for Puerto Rico recommended meetings with the president and the three leading members of Congressional Hispanic Caucus who were pushing the effort, stating in a March 6, 1999 email, "This is Gutierrez's [sic] top priority as well as of high constituent importance to Serrano and Velazquez." The next day, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste sent an email to White House Counsel Charles Ruff, who was handling the clemency issue, supporting Mr. Farrow's view, saying, "Chuck -- Jeff's right about this -- very hot issue." Another adviser in the Working Group, Mayra Martinez-Fernandez, noted that releasing the prisoners would be "fairly easy to accomplish and will have a positive impact among strategic communities in the U.S. (read, voters)."

And there you have it. Votes.

While the pardon scandals that marked Bill and Hillary Clinton's final days in office are remembered as transactions involving cronies, criminals and campaign contributors, the FALN clemencies of 1999 should be remembered in the context of the increasing threat of domestic and transnational terrorism that was ramping up during the Clinton years of alleged peace and prosperity. To wit, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Tokyo subway Sarin attack, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1995 "Bojinka" conspiracy to hijack airplanes and crash them into buildings, the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing, Osama bin Laden's 1996 and 1998 "Declarations of War" on America, the 1998 East African embassy bombings, the 2000 USS Sullivans bombing attempt, the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and the 2000 Millennium bombing plot.

It was within that context that the FBI gave its position on the FALN clemencies -- which the White House succeeded in keeping out of news coverage but ultimately failed to suppress -- stating that "the release of these individuals will psychologically and operationally enhance the ongoing violent and criminal activities of terrorist groups, not only in Puerto Rico, but throughout the world." The White House spun the clemencies as a sign of the president's universal commitment to "peace and reconciliation" just one year after Osama bin Laden told his followers that the United States is a "paper tiger" that can be attacked with impunity.

It would be a mistake to dismiss as "old news" the story of how and why these terrorists were released in light of the fact that it took place during the precise period when Bill Clinton now claims he was avidly engaged, even "obsessed," with efforts to protect the public from clandestine terrorist attacks. If Bill and Hillary Clinton were willing to pander to the demands of local Hispanic politicians and leftist human-rights activists defending bomb-makers convicted of seditious conspiracy, how might they stand up to pressure from other interest groups working in less obvious ways against U.S. interests in a post-9/11 world?

Radical Islamists are a sophisticated and determined enemy who understand that violence alone will not achieve their goals. Islamist front groups, representing themselves as rights organizations, are attempting to get a foothold here as they have already in parts of Western Europe by deftly exploiting ethnic and racial politics, agitating under the banner of civil liberties even as they are clamoring for the imposition of special Shariah law privileges in the public domain. They believe that the road to America's ultimate defeat is through the back door of policy and law and they are aggressively using money, influence and retail politics to achieve their goal.

On the campaign trail, the Clintons like to say that Bill is merely supportive and enthusiastic, "just like all the other candidates' spouses." Nothing could be further from the truth. Returning Bill and Hillary Clinton to the White House would present the country with the unprecedented situation of a former and current president simultaneously occupying the White House, the practical implications of which have yet to be fully explored.

The FALN clemencies provide a disturbing example of how the abuse or misuse of presidential prerogative, under the guise of policy, can be put in service of the personal and private activities of the president's spouse -- and beyond the reach of meaningful congressional oversight.

Ms. Burlingame, a former attorney and a director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, is the sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Original here

AUDIO: Hannity Feeds Stephanopoulos Debate Question On Weather Underground»

Last night’s ABC News Democratic presidential candidates debate was co-moderated by George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson, but the unseen influence of Fox News’ Sean Hannity was also on stage.

Hannity, who for months has been aggressively pushing a story about Barack Obama’s connections to a former member of a radical anti-Vietnam 1970s organization called the Weather Underground, interviewed Stephanopoulos on his radio show on Tuesday, where he pressed the ABC host to ask Obama about this:

HANNITY: There are two questions that I don’t think anybody has asked Barack Obama, and I don’t know if this is going to be on your list tomorrow. One is – the only time he’s ever been asked about his association with Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist from the Weather Underground who on 9/11 of all days in the New York Times was saying “I don’t regret setting bombs. I don’t think we did enough.” When asked about it by the Politico, David Axelrod said that they have a friendly relationship, and that they had done a number of speeches together and that they sat on a board together. Is that a question you might ask?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I’m taking notes right now.

HANNITY: September 11, 2001 of all days, there was an article in the New York Times. And there are a number of quotes about Bill Ayers. The Politico had in there the comments from David Axelrod.

Listen here:

In the debate last night, Stephanopoulos asked a question that mirrored almost word-for-word what Hannity pressed him to ask:

STEPHANOPOULOS: A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He’s never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, “I don’t regret setting bombs; I feel we didn’t do enough.”

An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?

Watch it:

The Washington Post’s Tom Shales writes today, “ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.” The debate moderators were heckled after the debate, prompting Gibson to react. “Oh…” he declared, hands raised in defense. “The crowd is turning on me, the crowd is turning on me.”

Not everyone was upset about the debate. The New York Times’ David Brooks writes, “I understand the complaints, but I thought the questions were excellent.” So does Hannity.

Original here

Texas prison inmate cons way onto Idaho primary ballot

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A federal prison inmate got himself listed on the ballot for Idaho's May 27 primary as a Democratic presidential candidate, the state's top election official said.

Keith Russell Judd is serving time at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Institution in Texas for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999. He's scheduled for release in 2013.

Judd, 49, qualified for the ballot by submitting a notarized form and paying the required $1,000 fee, state Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said. As a result, Democratic voters will be able to choose between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Judd.

"We got conned," Ysursa told The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash.

It's Judd's second presidential bid in Idaho, the newspaper said Wednesday. In 2004 he declared as a write-in candidate for president, which requires only the submission of a declaration, and didn't get any votes.

No matter how many votes he gets this time, he won't get any national convention delegates. Idaho's delegates are chosen at party caucuses.

"The good thing is the Democratic presidential primary has absolutely no legal significance," Ysursa said.

Prison officials told the state elections office that Judd sent out about 14 checks to states seeking to get on the presidential election ballot and about half had been returned. He qualified as a write-in candidate in Kentucky, California, Indiana and Florida, but Idaho apparently is the only state where his name will appear on the ballot.

"It's a mockery of the system, and it's too bad that this kind of thing can happen," said Chuck Oxley, a state Democratic Party spokesman.

Party leaders are especially annoyed because Ysursa, a Republican, barred a Democratic state senate candidate, Matt Yost, from the ballot after determining that Yost was registered to vote in a different district.

"We have this really good candidate who can't get on the ballot, and this yahoo prisoner in Texas who coughs up a thousand bucks can," Oxley complained.

Judd paid his fee with a U.S. Treasury check drawn on his prison account, Ysursa said.

In his declaration, Judd listed as a campaign office telephone number the city desk news tip line at the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper in Texas. On a ProjectVoteSmart profile, he gave an Internal Revenue Service line in Ohio for the number of his campaign coordinator telephone.

"We did some checking," Ysursa said. "There was nothing legally to keep him off."

A key reason Judd was able to make the ballot was a recent change in state election law that eliminated a requirement under which he would have had to get signatures from more than 3,000 Idaho citizens.

"We may rethink how we get on our presidential ballot next time," Ysursa said. "We'll take a look at it. We've got four years to think about it."

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

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Breaking News: Thomas Backs Obama

You heard it here first. Council member and newly elected superdelegate Harry Thomas Jr., initially a supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, is announcing in minutes that he will cast his vote at the Democratic National Convention in Denver for Sen. Barack Obama.

Thomas received more than 100 phone calls and e-mails from constituents who feared that he would use his power as a superdelegate to vote for Clinton despite the city's overwhelming support of Obama in the Potomac Primary.

"After meeting with the candidates and listening to my constituents, I have to honor the 83 percent who support Barack Obama," he said in an interview, referring to the results of the Democratic primary.

Thomas will make the announcement at 10 p.m. at a debate watch party.

Original here

Barack Obama: Democrats deserve a nominee for change

On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians will have the unusual luxury of voting in a Democratic presidential primary that promises to be truly relevant. Like two opposing armies marching to a new Gettysburg, the forces of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton come to this latest battlefield symbolizing two views of America -- one of the past, one of the future. Pennsylvania Democrats need to rise to the historic moment.

For us it is the candidates' vision and character that loom as the decisive factors in this race. For as dissimilar as they are, the two share much in common. It starts with their mold-breaking candidacies. Whoever wins the nomination will vie for a special place in U.S. history -- to be either the first African-American or the first female commander in chief.

Although their backgrounds are different, they have come to the same conclusion, one now shared by many Americans, that the Bush administration has taken the nation on a profoundly wrong course both at home and abroad. The excitement that has animated this primary season -- the surge of new voters, the change of party registrations -- is an expression of the nation's hunger for change.

For as hard as they have run against each other, both candidates are united in running vehemently against President Bush and all his works -- another common theme that came out in their visits to the Post-Gazette editorial board on successive days this week. Sen. Clinton was the more explicit in her disdain: George W. Bush "is one of the worst, if not the worst, president we have ever had."

Not surprisingly, the policies they advocate have much in common and are generally the polar opposites of those espoused by the current administration.

On the domestic front, the prescriptions they offer on issues such as health care, the environment and education declare that government must be an agent of change to benefit the lives of ordinary Americans, not a power that shrinks from regulating or directing for fear of offending a core ideology.

In their expansive plans, Sen. Obama and Sen. Clinton do have their own emphases and differences -- Sen. Clinton's health-care plan, for example, would cover more Americans than Sen. Obama's, but both would be a vast improvement on the status quo that leaves 47 million Americans uninsured and continues to soar in expense.

On foreign policy, both are united in their desire to bring the troops home from Iraq while improving the strategic situation in Afghanistan, the place of unfinished business where the al-Qaida spiders first spun their deadly web for 9/11 and are coming back thanks to the Iraq diversion.

On Iraq, for those inclined to remember, Sen. Clinton carries more baggage, for she voted to approve the war in the first place. For those inclined to forgive, she would seek to repair relations with allies strained by the Iraq misadventure, as Sen. Obama also would.

There is one last common ground for these candidates: They are both uncommonly smart, thoughtful and very well-versed in the issues. They care about people and they care about the workings of government. They are prepared.

Their strengths promise, in short, the one thing that the Bush administration has so shockingly lacked: competency. There will be no intellectually lazy president in the White House if either succeeded to it, no outsourced thinking to the vice president or the secretary of defense, no cheerfully shallow praise for unqualified political appointments, no enduring cause for embarrassment by the American people.

So forget all the primary skirmishing. Sen. Obama is every bit as prepared to answer the ring of the 3 a.m. phone as Sen. Clinton. Forget this idea that Sen. Obama is all inspiration and no substance. He has detailed positions on the major issues. When the occasion demands it, he can marshal eloquence in the service of making challenging arguments, which he did to great effect in his now-famous speech putting his pastor's remarks in the greater context of race relations in America.

Nor is he any sort of elitist. As he said yesterday in effectively refuting this ridiculous charge in a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, "my life's work has been to get everybody a fair shake."

This editorial began by observing that one candidate is of the past and one of the future. The litany of criticisms heaped on Sen. Obama by the Clinton camp, simultaneously doing the work of the Republicans, is as illustrative as anything of which one is which. These are the cynical responses of the old politics to the new.

Sen. Obama has captured much of the nation's imagination for a reason. He offers real change, a vision of an America that can move past not only racial tensions but also the political partisanship that has so bedeviled it.

To be sure, Sen. Clinton carries the aspirations of women in particular, but even in this she is something of a throwback, a woman whose identity and public position are indelibly linked to her husband, her own considerable talents notwithstanding. It does not help that the Clinton brand is seen by many in the country as suspect and shifty, bearing the grimy stamp of political calculation counting as much as principle.

Pennsylvania -- this encrusted, change-averse commonwealth where a state liquor monopoly holds on against all reason and where municipal fiefdoms shrink from sensible consolidation -- needs to take a strong look at the new face and the new hope in this race. Because political business-as-usual is more likely to bring the usual disappointment for the Democrats this fall, the Post-Gazette endorses the nomination of Barack Obama, who has brought an excitement and an electricity to American politics not seen since the days of John F. Kennedy.

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An open letter to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanapoulos

Dear Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos,

It's hard to know where to begin with this, less than an hour after you signed off from your Democratic presidential debate here in my hometown of Philadelphia, a televised train wreck that my friend and colleague Greg Mitchell has already called, quite accurately, "a shameful night for the U.S. media." It's hard because -- like many other Americans -- I am still angry at what I just witnessed, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking. Look, I know that "media criticism" -- especially when it's one journalist speaking to another -- tends to be a genteel, collegial thing, but there's no genteel way to say this.

With your performance tonight -- your focus on issues that were at best trivial wastes of valuable airtime and at worst restatements of right-wing falsehoods, punctuated by inane "issue" questions that in no way resembled the real world concerns of American voters -- you disgraced my profession of journalism, and, by association, me and a lot of hard-working colleagues who do still try to ferret out the truth, rather than worry about who can give us the best deal on our capital gains taxes. But it's even worse than that. By so badly botching arguably the most critical debate of such an important election, in a time of both war and economic misery, you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself. Indeed, if I were a citizen of one of those nations where America is seeking to "export democracy," and I had watched the debate, I probably would have said, "no thank you." Because that was no way to promote democracy.

You implied throughout the broadcast that you wanted to reflect the concerns of voters in Pennsylvania. Well, I'm a Pennsylvanian voter, and so are my neighbors and most of my friends and co-workers. You asked virtually nothing that reflected our everyday issues -- trying to fill our gas tanks and save for college at the same time, our crumbling bridges and inadequate mass transit, or the root causes of crime here in Philadelphia. In fact, there almost isn't enough space -- and this is cyberspace, where room is unlimited -- to list all the things you could have asked about but did not, from health care to climate change to alternative energy to our policy toward China to the deterioration of Afghanistan to veterans' benefits to improving education. You ignored virtually everything that just happened in what most historians agree is one of the worst presidencies in American history, including the condoning of torture and the trashing of the Constitution, although to be fair you also ignored the policy concerns of people on the right, like immigration issues.

You asked about gun control -- phrased to try for a "gotcha" in a state where that's such a divisive issue -- but not about what we really care about, which is how to reduce crime. You pressed and pressed on those capital gains taxes, but Senators Clinton and Obama were forced to bring up the housing crisis on their own initiative.

Instead, you wasted more than half of the debate -- a full hour -- on tabloid trivia that for the most part wasn't even that interesting, because most of it was infertile ground that has already been covered again and again and again. I'm not saying that Rev. Wright and Bosnia sniper fire and "bitter" were never newsworthy -- I myself wrote about all of these for the Philadelphia Daily News or my Attytood blog, back when they were more relevant -- but the questions were stale yet clearly intended to gin up controversy (they didn't, by the way, other than the controversy over you.) The final questions of that section, asking Obama whether he thought Rev. Wright "loved America" and then suggesting that Obama himself is somehow a hater of the American flag, or worse, were flat-out repulsive.

Are you even thinking when simply echo some of the vilest talking points from far-right talk radio? What are actually getting at -- do you honestly believe that someone with a solid track record as a lawmaker in a Heartland state which elected him to the U.S. Senate, who is now seeking to make some positive American history as our first black president, is somehow un-American, or unpatriotic? Does that even make any sense? Question his policies, or question his leadership. because that is your job as a journalist. But don't insult our intelligence by questioning his patriotism.

Here's a question for you, George. Is it true that yesterday you appeared on the radio with conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity, and that you said you were "taking notes" when he urged you to ask a question about Obama's supposed ties to a former member of the Weather Underground -- which in fact you did? With all the fabulous resources of ABC News at your disposal, is that an appropriate way for a supposed journalist to come up with debate questions - by pandering to divisive radio shows?

And Charlie...could you be any more out of touch with your viewers? Most people aren't millionaires like you, and if Pennsylvanians are losing sleep over economic matters, it is not over whether the capital gains tax will go back up again. I was a little shocked when you pressed and pressed on that back-burner issue and left almost no time for high gas prices, but then I learned tonight that you did the same thing in the last debate, that you fretted over that middle-class family that made $200,000 a year. Charlie, the nicest way that I can put this is that you need to get out more.

But I'm not ready to make nice. What I just watched was an outrage. As a journalist, you appeared to confirm all of the worst qualities that cause people to hold our profession in such low esteem, especially your obsession with cornering the candidates with lame "trick" questions and your complete lack of interest or concern about substance -- or about the American people, or the state of our nation. You embarassed some good people who work at ABC News -- for example, the journalists who worked hard to break this story just last week -- and you embarassed yourselves. The millions of people who watched the debate were embarassed, too -- at the state of our political discourse, and what it has finally become, at long last.

Quickly, a word to any and all of my fellow journalists who happen to read this open letter: This. Must. Stop. Tonight, if possible. I thought that we had hit rock bottom in March 2003, when we failed to ask the tough questions in the run-up to the Iraq war. But this feels even lower. We need to pick ourselves up, right now, and start doing our job -- to take a deep breath and remind ourselves of what voters really need to know, and how we get there, that's it's not all horse-race and "gotcha." Although, to be blunt, I would also urge the major candidates in 2012 to agree only to debates that are organized by the League of Women Voters, with citizen moderators and questioners. Because we have proven without a doubt in 2008 that working journalists don't deserve to be the debate "deciders."

Charlie, I'm going to sign off this letter the way that you always sign off the news, that "I hope you had a great day."

Because America just had a horrible night.

Original here

Trio in College May Hold Key Votes for Democrats

WASHINGTON -- While most of the Democratic Party's superdelegates are members of Congress, governors or senior party officials, Awais Khaleel, Lauren Wolfe and Jason Rae are still in college. Yet the votes of the three student superdelegates might help decide the Democratic nominee.

[Awais Khaleel]

As members of the Democratic National Committee, they are included among the 800 or so superdelegates to the party's national convention in Denver Aug. 25-28, and they have made it their mission to represent young voters.

The trio are unlikely members of this group of accidental powerbrokers who increasingly appear to hold the balance of power in the race for the nomination. DNC officials think they probably are the only college-student superdelegates.

Young people "aren't aware of the fact that we have superdelegates like myself who grew up with them in middle-class families and go to public universities and are financing their own education," says Mr. Khaleel, a 23-year-old political-science student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Who? Among 800 or so superdelegates to the Democratic presidential nominating convention are three college students.
How? Two represent College Democrats of America; the other was elected locally.
Special Challenge: Finding the money to get to Denver in August.

He and Ms. Wolfe, 25, a University of Detroit Mercy law student, are vice president and president, respectively, of the College Democrats of America, an organization that works with campaigns to reach out to young voters and since 1993 has held DNC seats.

With chances growing that the superdelegates might choose the nominee, Ms. Wolfe says she tries not to focus on the responsibility, putting her efforts instead into organizing young voters and hoping some compromise can be reached. Both she and Mr. Khaleel say they won't endorse a nominee until the primaries and caucuses have ended in June.

[Jason Rae]

Only a few DNC slots are allocated to groups like the College Democrats of America. The majority of the 410 DNC superdelegates were elected by their state parties. Such was the case with Mr. Rae, a 21-year-old Marquette University student who has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama.

Mr. Rae is a Wisconsin delegate to the DNC who will be voting in his first presidential election. He earned his DNC slot at 17 years old after years of avid interest in local politics. His campaign for DNC membership involved homemade stickers, fliers and a lot of handshaking, he says. "I actually had to sneak out right after voting to get to summer camp," he says.

The three student superdelegates talk with young voters about issues like health care and the economy, they review the campaigns' outreach efforts -- and then they study for their exams. Ms. Wolfe says her inbox is crammed with email from young people expressing their candidate preference.

Mr. Khaleel says some students tell him they are worried about finding a job when they graduate; others worry about whether they will be able to afford college. Many young voters either know someone serving in Iraq or have served there themselves.

But none of the three was prepared for the increased attention superdelegates have received recently as their potentially critical role has emerged. "When I got involved with it, I thought I would be attending a couple meetings in D.C. every couple months," Mr. Rae says. Instead, they have had to juggle exams and classes with, for example, phone calls from Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton or coffee with Chelsea Clinton.

Mr. Khaleel recalls the hubbub when he had coffee with Chelsea Clinton. "People are definitely looking around the coffee shop, like, 'Is it her? No it can't be,'" he says. "And somewhere in the middle I'm, like, I'm having coffee with Chelsea Clinton."

Remaining undecided hasn't been easy, Mr. Khaleel says. "There were moments where there were certain surrogates who would just ask me cold, you know, 'Would you support our candidate?'" he says, adding that it's "hard to say 'No' in the face of someone you respect."

Ms. Wolfe can't even be sure she will be seated at the convention. Michigan delegates won't be seated unless the party comes up with a compromise for the state, which has been barred from the convention for having held its primary too early. While this means she has received no phone calls from the nominees, she did hear from former Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who supports Sen. Obama. "I just go to school and go home and study -- and then you listen to your messages and the former majority leader is calling," she says.

The three also face constraints that many superdelegates don't. Mr. Rae, who works as a resident assistant in a campus dorm, says he has been saving for his plane ticket to Denver for four years. Mr. Khaleel says that when he enters the work force next month, he expects to have to let his employer know he will need a week off in August to cast his vote.

Money was also a concern for Ms. Wolfe, who plans to travel to the convention with two friends, even if she won't be seated. "I might be the only superdelegate road-tripping it over three days," she says. "But we're going to have a lot of fun."

Original here

In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC

ABC News moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos seemed to be playing a game of gotcha at last night's candidates' debate.
ABC News moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos seemed to be playing a game of gotcha at last night's candidates' debate. (By Matt Rourke -- Associated Press)

When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.

For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.

The fact is, cable networks CNN and MSNBC both did better jobs with earlier candidate debates. Also, neither of those cable networks, if memory serves, rushed to a commercial break just five minutes into the proceedings, after giving each candidate a tiny, token moment to make an opening statement. Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.

Gibson sat there peering down at the candidates over glasses perched on the end of his nose, looking prosecutorial and at times portraying himself as a spokesman for the working class. Blunderingly he addressed an early question, about whether each would be willing to serve as the other's running mate, "to both of you," which is simple ineptitude or bad manners. It was his job to indicate which candidate should answer first. When, understandably, both waited politely for the other to talk, Gibson said snidely, "Don't all speak at once."

For that matter, the running-mate question that Gibson made such a big deal over was decidedly not a big deal -- especially since Wolf Blitzer asked it during a previous debate televised and produced by CNN.

The boyish Stephanopoulos, who has done wonders with the network's Sunday morning hour, "This Week" (as, indeed, has Gibson with the nightly "World News"), looked like an overly ambitious intern helping out at a subcommittee hearing, digging through notes for something smart-alecky and slimy. He came up with such tired tripe as a charge that Obama once associated with a nutty bomb-throwing anarchist. That was "40 years ago, when I was 8 years old," Obama said with exasperation.

Obama was right on the money when he complained about the campaign being bogged down in media-driven inanities and obsessiveness over any misstatement a candidate might make along the way, whether in a speech or while being eavesdropped upon by the opposition. The tactic has been to "take one statement and beat it to death," he said.

No sooner was that said than Gibson brought up, yet again, the controversial ravings of the pastor at a church attended by Obama. "Charlie, I've discussed this," he said, and indeed he has, ad infinitum. If he tried to avoid repeating himself when clarifying his position, the networks would accuse him of changing his story, or changing his tune, or some other baloney.

This is precisely what has happened with widely reported comments that Obama made about working-class people "clinging" to religion and guns during these times of cynicism about their federal government.

"It's not the first time I made a misstatement that was mangled up, and it won't be the last," said Obama, with refreshing candor. But candor is dangerous in a national campaign, what with network newsniks waiting for mistakes or foul-ups like dogs panting for treats after performing a trick. The networks' trick is covering an election with as little emphasis on issues as possible, then blaming everyone else for failing to focus on "the issues."

Some news may have come out of the debate (ABC News will pretend it did a great job on today's edition of its soppy, soap-operatic "Good Morning America"). Asked point-blank if she thought Obama could defeat presumptive Republican contender John McCain in the general election, Clinton said, "Yes, yes, yes," in apparent contrast to previous remarks in which she reportedly told other Democrats that Obama could never win. And in turn, Obama said that Clinton could "absolutely" win against McCain.

To this observer, ABC's coverage seemed slanted against Obama. The director cut several times to reaction shots of such Clinton supporters as her daughter, Chelsea, who sat in the audience at the Kimmel Theater in Philly's National Constitution Center. Obama supporters did not get equal screen time, giving the impression that there weren't any in the hall. The director also clumsily chose to pan the audience at the very start of the debate, when the candidates made their opening statements, so Obama and Clinton were barely seen before the first commercial break.

At the end, Gibson pompously thanked the candidates -- or was he really patting himself on the back? -- for "what I think has been a fascinating debate." He's entitled to his opinion, but the most fascinating aspect was waiting to see how low he and Stephanopoulos would go, and then being appalled at the answer.

Original here

In Pa. Debate, The Clear Loser Is ABC

ABC News moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos seemed to be playing a game of gotcha at last night's candidates' debate.
ABC News moderators Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos seemed to be playing a game of gotcha at last night's candidates' debate. (By Matt Rourke -- Associated Press)

When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.

For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.

The fact is, cable networks CNN and MSNBC both did better jobs with earlier candidate debates. Also, neither of those cable networks, if memory serves, rushed to a commercial break just five minutes into the proceedings, after giving each candidate a tiny, token moment to make an opening statement. Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent.

Gibson sat there peering down at the candidates over glasses perched on the end of his nose, looking prosecutorial and at times portraying himself as a spokesman for the working class. Blunderingly he addressed an early question, about whether each would be willing to serve as the other's running mate, "to both of you," which is simple ineptitude or bad manners. It was his job to indicate which candidate should answer first. When, understandably, both waited politely for the other to talk, Gibson said snidely, "Don't all speak at once."

For that matter, the running-mate question that Gibson made such a big deal over was decidedly not a big deal -- especially since Wolf Blitzer asked it during a previous debate televised and produced by CNN.

The boyish Stephanopoulos, who has done wonders with the network's Sunday morning hour, "This Week" (as, indeed, has Gibson with the nightly "World News"), looked like an overly ambitious intern helping out at a subcommittee hearing, digging through notes for something smart-alecky and slimy. He came up with such tired tripe as a charge that Obama once associated with a nutty bomb-throwing anarchist. That was "40 years ago, when I was 8 years old," Obama said with exasperation.

Obama was right on the money when he complained about the campaign being bogged down in media-driven inanities and obsessiveness over any misstatement a candidate might make along the way, whether in a speech or while being eavesdropped upon by the opposition. The tactic has been to "take one statement and beat it to death," he said.

No sooner was that said than Gibson brought up, yet again, the controversial ravings of the pastor at a church attended by Obama. "Charlie, I've discussed this," he said, and indeed he has, ad infinitum. If he tried to avoid repeating himself when clarifying his position, the networks would accuse him of changing his story, or changing his tune, or some other baloney.

This is precisely what has happened with widely reported comments that Obama made about working-class people "clinging" to religion and guns during these times of cynicism about their federal government.

"It's not the first time I made a misstatement that was mangled up, and it won't be the last," said Obama, with refreshing candor. But candor is dangerous in a national campaign, what with network newsniks waiting for mistakes or foul-ups like dogs panting for treats after performing a trick. The networks' trick is covering an election with as little emphasis on issues as possible, then blaming everyone else for failing to focus on "the issues."

Some news may have come out of the debate (ABC News will pretend it did a great job on today's edition of its soppy, soap-operatic "Good Morning America"). Asked point-blank if she thought Obama could defeat presumptive Republican contender John McCain in the general election, Clinton said, "Yes, yes, yes," in apparent contrast to previous remarks in which she reportedly told other Democrats that Obama could never win. And in turn, Obama said that Clinton could "absolutely" win against McCain.

To this observer, ABC's coverage seemed slanted against Obama. The director cut several times to reaction shots of such Clinton supporters as her daughter, Chelsea, who sat in the audience at the Kimmel Theater in Philly's National Constitution Center. Obama supporters did not get equal screen time, giving the impression that there weren't any in the hall. The director also clumsily chose to pan the audience at the very start of the debate, when the candidates made their opening statements, so Obama and Clinton were barely seen before the first commercial break.

At the end, Gibson pompously thanked the candidates -- or was he really patting himself on the back? -- for "what I think has been a fascinating debate." He's entitled to his opinion, but the most fascinating aspect was waiting to see how low he and Stephanopoulos would go, and then being appalled at the answer.

Original here

HILLARY CLINTON: THE BIG MISTAKE

LOS ANGELES -- Last Thursday, about a year too late, I read the "2008 Delegate Selection Rules for the Democratic National Convention." Not a fun read, I must add, which may be the reason Sen. Hillary Clinton, or her people, and most of the press, did not read or understand its 25 dense pages.

Sen. Barack Obama, or his people, obviously studied the thing, and that is the reason he will probably be his party's nominee for president of the United States.

The document, adopted by the Democratic National Committee on Aug. 19, 2006, is filled with the kind of fairness rhetoric the party has been spouting for at least 40 years. Samples:

"State Democratic Parties shall ensure that district lines used in the delegate selection process are not gerrymandered to discriminate against African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian/Pacific Americans or women."

"Each state affirmative action program shall include outreach provisions to encourage the participation and representation of persons of low and moderate income, and a specific plan to help defray expenses of those delegates otherwise unable to participate in the national convention."

That's nice. More important is the fine print:

"Seventy-five percent (75%) of each state's base delegation shall be elected at the congressional district level or smaller ...

"Delegates shall be allocated in a fashion that fairly reflects the expressed presidential preference or uncommitted status of the primary voters or, if there is no binding primary, the convention and/or caucus participants."

In other words, using terms of political art, the Democrats have rejected "winner-take-all" elections in favor of "proportional representation." The best example of that is what happened in Texas: Clinton won 50.9 percent of the overall vote to 47.4 percent for Obama. But because of the way the votes were divided by counties, Obama won 99 delegates to 94 for Clinton.

Understanding the rule, the Obama campaign campaigned everywhere, in primary elections and caucuses in even the smallest states. Two weeks before the Delaware election, polls showed Clinton ahead by 10 percent or more. Obama campaigned there, Clinton did not, and he won the state by 2 percentage points. More important, he won nine delegates to her six.

The same thing happened in small state after state, which is why Obama is ahead in the delegate count. If states still had winner-take-all primaries, Clinton, who won more votes in California, New York and Texas, would have easily won the nomination. But again, she had not read the rules and Obama had.

There was a myth at the center of the Clinton campaign, the idea that she and her husband, the former president, had a nationwide organization ready to knock on every door in America. Not so. The Clintons had many friends, but no organization. Bill and Hillary were always top-down, media candidates. Obama's manager, David Axelrod, a former Chicago Tribune reporter, did build a national knock-on-any-door campaign, an old-fashioned Chicago-style campaign -- and it worked.

It is hard not to feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. She expected her campaign to be a walkover, and there she was like a deer in the headlights when the Obama Express came roaring down the tracks. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is not a new thing in presidential politics. In my experience, the new guys, new managers, usually win. And Axelrod was the new guy, as Karl Rove was the new guy in 2000, and before him there was James Carville and George Stephanopoulos, Lee Atwater, Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell.

The new guys win because they have to learn the rules from scratch. The old guys play by old rules, run the same old campaigns that worked before -- and it is often too late for them when they realize the game has changed. Poor Hillary and her strategist Mark Penn just didn't get it.

Original here

Someone doesn't want people to see this video

Bosnia and Back Again, my latest video, is off to a strong start -- it's gotten at least 86,323 views (up from somewhere between 36,697 and 66,064 view when I first wrote this post) and is currently the #2 top rated video in YouTube's news & politics category, and #5 #8 overall. It's also generating buzz on the web -- over at The Nation, Ari Melber calls it a "devastating" video. Reddit currently has Ari's post as its #1 feature. Andrew Sullivan posted it under the headline: "No One Left To Lie To." And of course AMERICAblog, The Field, and the Daily Kos community helped it get off the ground.

The new video digg

Despite that strong positive reaction, shortly after the video was posted on Digg, some (presumably pro-Clinton) digg users buried the video, despite getting over 300 Diggs. So it seems pretty clear that someone doesn't want people to see this video.

What can you do about this? Well, someone has set up a new digg to Andrew Sullivan's post about the video. Please digg that story. E-mail the video to friends, post it on your blog, and in comments. Go to reddit, StumbleUpon, and other sharing sites -- and rate it up. Help get this video in front of as many people as possible! It's free -- and you can make an impact.



Original here

Poll shows majority find Clinton untrustworthy

As the Democratic presidential campaign has persisted, a new poll shows Hillary Clinton losing trust among voters. The latest findings from ABC News and the Washington Post finds that a majority of respondents find the former first lady untrustworthy, compared to a majority who trusted her before the campaign began.

The Post reports:

Her advisers' efforts to deal with the problem -- by having her acknowledge her mistakes and crack self-deprecating jokes -- do not seem to have succeeded. Privately, the aides admit that the recent controversy over her claim to have ducked sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia probably made things worse.

Clinton is viewed as "honest and trustworthy" by just 39 percent of Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared with 52 percent in May 2006. Nearly six in 10 said in the new poll that she is not honest and trustworthy. And now, compared with Obama, Clinton has a deep trust deficit among Democrats, trailing him by 23 points as the more honest, an area on which she once led both Obama and John Edwards.

Among Democrats, 63 percent called her honest, down 18 points from 2006; among independents, her trust level has dropped 13 points, to 37 percent. Republicans held Clinton in low regard on this in the past (23 percent called her honest two years ago), but it is even lower now, at 16 percent. Majorities of men and women now say the phrase does not apply to Clinton; two years ago, narrow majorities of both did.

Advisers argue that her positive ratings have dipped as she has been defined by her opponents -- a normal campaign occurrence -- and that her honesty problem reflects the pounding she took from Republicans in the 1990s. But the Bosnia incident and the way the campaign handled it have left advisers divided over what a candidate can do after such a steep drop in trust.

Original here

Clinton's offended Pa. voter - not

by Josh Drobnyk

Barack Obama can take some solace out of Hillary Clinton’s new television ad in Pennsylvania. At least one of her supporters featured in the spot hammering Obama for his small town comments isn’t registered to vote in Pennsylvania.

Clyde Thomas, who sports a goatee in the ad and says, “the good people of Pennsylvania deserve a lot better than what Barack Obama said,” is actually registered in New Jersey. He voted there for Clinton Feb. 5. He only recently moved to Bethlehem, Pa.

“It shouldn’t be a big deal. I explained it to the campaign,” Thomas said in an interview. “I see Pennsylvanians for what they are. I grew up with the values of Pennsylvanians.”

He added: “I am from a perspective of someone coming into Pennsylvania new like Barack Obama is, and seeing how great they are and how they welcome me.”

Thomas said he was born in Scranton, but has lived his entire life in Somerville, N.J. He is a 46-year-old unemployed environmental engineer.

He said he has been volunteering for the campaign in recent weeks, handing out literature and making phone calls. He said the campaign approached him about appearing in the ad, which was filmed in Bethlehem, a city of about 72,000 residents in eastern Pennsylvania where Bethlehem Steel once stood tall.

“They gave me no script,” he said.

Asked about the fact that Thomas isn’t registered in Pennsylvania, Clinton campaign spokesman Mark Nevins said: “Clyde has deep roots in Pennsylvania and is moving back to the state after having voted in New Jersey in their primary for Hillary Clinton.”

Thomas said he plans to register to vote in Pennsylvania ahead of the November election.

Original here

The ABC Debate: A Shameful Night for the U.S. Media

In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care and mortgage crises, the overall state of the economy and dozens of other pressing issues had to wait for their few moments in the sun as Obama was pressed to explain his recent "bitter" gaffe and relationship with Rev. Wright (seemingly a dead issue) and not wearing a flag pin -- while Clinton had to answer again for her Bosnia trip exaggerations.

Then it was back to Obama to defend his slim association with a former '60s radical -- a question that came out of right-wing talk radio and Sean Hannity on TV, but was delivered by former Bill Clinton aide Stephanopoulos. This approach led to a claim that Clinton's husband pardoned two other '60s radicals. And so on. The travesty continued.

More time was spent on all of this than segments on getting out of Iraq and keeping people from losing their homes and -- you name it. Gibson only got excited complaining that someone might raise his capital gains tax. Yet neither candidate had the courage to ask the moderators to turn to those far more important issues. Talking heads on other networks followed up by not pressing that point either. The crowd booed Gibson near the end. Why didn't every other responsible journalist on TV?

Original here

The Hillary Deathwatch

Barack Obama's "bitter" comment gave Hillary Clinton an opening. But the combination of hackneyed outrage and a fast counterpunch by Obama suggests that the "scandal" may not last. Take Clinton down 1.8 points to 12.4 percent.

On Day 4 of the controversy, journalists scramble to measure how much people care. So far, signs point to not really. A new Quinnipiac poll shows Clinton's six-point lead in Pennsylvania holding steady. The poll summary cites "no noticeable change" in the numbers on April 12-13, when the "scandal" was entering full tilt. Then again, that was over the weekend, when Pennsylvania voters were busy venting their frustrations by shooting guns and going to church. Other surveys vary: A SurveyUSA poll shows Clinton up 14 points in the state—less than her 18-point lead last week. A Rasmussen poll puts her ahead by nine points, as opposed to five last week. An ARG poll shows Clinton jumping from a tie to a 20-point lead but merits skepticism, given that it's a robo-poll and a wild statistical outlier. Expect more thorough numbers later this week.

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence is mounting: Clinton gets shouted down when she brings up Obama's remarks at a forum; Pennsylvania booster in chief Gov. Ed Rendell downplays the significance of the comments, saying it won't cost Obama more than "a couple of points at the margin" (this could be more expectations gaming, but still); undecided superdelegates seem largely unconcerned.

Still, Clinton is pushing this angle hard. Some would say too hard. Her campaign released a new ad showing the good citizens of Pennsylvania expressing how shocked, shocked they were to hear Obama calling them bitter. The spot feels awfully cardboard—almost on par with Ron Paul's famous New Hampshire ad—and it's not helped by the fact that nearly every word out of the mouths of these "citizens" has also come out of Hillary's. (If you want to see an effective Clinton spot, watch "Jewel.")

And this is the problem with Clinton's response—it feels forced. Voters have a nose for BS, and even if they found Obama's remarks condescending, nothing reeks worse than manufactured outrage. Obama, meanwhile, has mastered the counterpunch. The last few days have given his rapid-response team a workout. Almost enough to persuade superdelegates previously concerned that Obama wouldn't be able to weather general-election attacks.

To step back for a second: The only way the "bitter" flap could save Clinton would be if it helped her persuade superdelegates to swing her way. So far, that doesn't seem likely. Given that Clinton needs to sway such a huge number of the remaining uncommitted superdelegates—at least 70 percent, in the most favorable scenarios—we're willing to say that this scandal doesn't have the necessary steam.

And just when the dropout drumbeat was starting to soften, another Clinton supporter, Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, suggests that whichever candidate is "trailing" should drop out in June. "Probably sooner," he added. (Frank also defended Obama on the "bitter" issue: He had "a very legitimate point to make," he said, but it came out wrong.)

Remember how Obama decided not to hand out "street money" to Philadelphia party workers? At the time, we thought it might cost him support. But now Clinton is following suit. Gov. Rendell (he's everywhere!) pled poverty: "Sen. Clinton has no street money," he said. "We barely have enough to communicate on basic media. Sen. Obama has money to burn."

Maybe that's why the Clinton team is still pushing its claim that a loss in Pennsylvania would be a "significant defeat" for Obama—despite the fact that it's been handicapped in favor of Clinton just about forever. And now, after the "bitter" flap, no one expects him to win. Ironic, eh?

Original here

ABC Hosts Heckled After Debate: "The Crowd Is Turning On Me"

Reflecting what seemed to be the main consensus of the night - that ABC botched this debate, big time - Charlie Gibson tells the crowd there will be one more, superfluous commercial break of the night and is subsequently jeered.

"OH..." he declares, hands raised in defense. "The crowd is turning on me, the crowd is turning on me."

Off camera, observers let out their frustrations. Watch it:

Visitors to ABC's site weren't much kinder. Here's a sampling on page 1:

...This is AWFUL. Thank goodness for Jon Stewart and Comedy Central. He does a better job of interviewing and asking relevant questions of his guests in 5 minutes than these 2 yahoos have in more than an hour. ABC should be ashamed. George should be ashamed. Charlie should be ashamed. This isn't a debate. This is a hit job.

...Asinine questions - abysmal debate. Fire these silly moderators NOW. They insult the intelligence of the American people.

...I haven't watched ABC "news" in a few years. I see I haven't been missing much! MORE THAN half the debate turned over to Bittergate, Rev Wright, the Weathermen, Tuzla, FLAG LAPEL PINS? Most of the televised debates I've seen this campaign season have been lame, but this one takes the prize. Either you guys are morons or you think that we are. Either way, I'm glad to have seen the last of you. Really, really bad.No winners in this debate, but a definite loser: ABC "NEWS"

...This is the WORST debate I have ever watched. Never in my life have I been more disenchanted with the news media as a whole, especially a news organization such as ABC that I believed to have some sense of purpose to bring substantive information and perspective to the American people. Americans are tired of the snipping between the candidates and the lack of discussion about what each candidate will do to help the country. ABC News should be ashamed for presenting such a failure of a debate.

...Are you kidding me? "We don't have much time left. Let's have a MINUTE to talk about gas?" Charlie and George, you need a crash course on the distinction between "issues" and an "agendas." Hint: The candidates have the former; you have the latter.

...ABC News . . you should be ashamed of this debate. Where did you get these questions?? Where are the ISSUES. We have heard enough about Rev Wright and what Hillary did or didn't do in Bosnia. Let's hear about issues that matter such as the cost of Health Care, the war in Iraq, the Energy Crisi, the Crisis in Our Schools, and THE ECONOMY, STUPID!!

...Geoirge and Charlie= narcissistic elite "journalists" trying to score a rating point, but asking questions that would yield a "F" in middle school journalism. This debate may be used for years in journalism classes, on how to not run a debate. Disney-who owns ABC- get better cartoon characters to run a debate. Elmer Fudd would do much better.

...Has ABC News noticed that your so called "debate" has been universally panned? Charles Gibson is a pandering person more fit for the National Enquirer than a responsible news program. Stephanopoulis is barely better. I am so disappointed but not surprised.

Original here

Judicial Watch Calls on FEC to Investigate Elton John’s Fundraising Concert on Behalf of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign

“Sir Elton John is not a citizen of the United States and is therefore prohibited from making any contribution to Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign.”

(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) related to a fundraising concert by musician Sir Elton John on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Elton John, a foreign national, is prohibited by federal law from making any contribution to a federal, state or local election campaign.

“Recent news reports suggest that Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton for President have accepted an in-kind contribution from a foreign national, Sir Elton John, in contravention of federal electon laws,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton stated in an April 14 letter to the Office of the General Counsel for the FEC. “On behalf of Judicial Watch and its supporters, I hereby request that the FEC investigate this matter.”

According to a press release issued by the Clinton campaign, the expressed intent of the concert was to raise funds for Hillary’s campaign for president. In the release, Elton John is quoted as saying, “I'm excited to support Hillary by performing at what will be a truly memorable night.”

Press reports also show that Sir Elton John, on March 17, 2008, through the Clinton campaign, sent out a mass email announcing the concert and soliciting support. The Elton John concert took place on April 9, 2008 and raised more than $2.5 million (from the sale of 5,000 tickets) for Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton for President.

However, according to 2 U.S.C. § 441e, “Contributions and donations by foreign nationals,” it is illegal for any foreign national to “make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value…in connection with a Federal, State or local election.” The Washington Times reported March 27, 2008, that a “1981 FEC decision prohibited a foreign national artist from donating his services in connection with fundraising for a U.S. Senate campaign.”

“It looks as if Elton John, a foreign national, gave a valuable, in-kind contribution to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, which is prohibited by law. The FEC and other authorities need to take appropriate action and investigate Hillary Clinton, her campaign, and Elton John,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

To read Judicial Watch’s FEC complaint in its entirety, please click here.

Original here

Three More Pennsylvania Newspapers For Obama

In this morning's editions, three Pennsylvania newspapers formally endorsed Barack Obama — the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Bucks County Courier-Times and the Patriot News. All three editorial boards cited Barack's unqiue ability to bring people back into the political process and move the country forward.

See the full list of over 100 newspapers that have endorsed Barack . . .

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:



On Tuesday, Pennsylvanians will have the unusual luxury of voting in a Democratic presidential primary that promises to be truly relevant. Like two opposing armies marching to a new Gettysburg, the forces of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton come to this latest battlefield symbolizing two views of America -- one of the past, one of the future. Pennsylvania Democrats need to rise to the historic moment.

... Sen. Obama has captured much of the nation's imagination for a reason. He offers real change, a vision of an America that can move past not only racial tensions but also the political partisanship that has so bedeviled it.

... Sen. Obama is every bit as prepared to answer the ring of the 3 a.m. phone as Sen. Clinton. Forget this idea that Sen. Obama is all inspiration and no substance. He has detailed positions on the major issues. When the occasion demands it, he can marshal eloquence in the service of making challenging arguments, which he did to great effect in his now-famous speech putting his pastor's remarks in the greater context of race relations in America.

Nor is he any sort of elitist. As he said yesterday in effectively refuting this ridiculous charge in a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, "my life's work has been to get everybody a fair shake."

Pennsylvania ... needs to take a strong look at the new face and the new hope in this race. Because political business-as-usual is more likely to bring the usual disappointment for the Democrats this fall, the Post-Gazette endorses the nomination of Barack Obama, who has brought an excitement and an electricity to American politics not seen since the days of John F. Kennedy.

From the Bucks County Courier Times:



We can't remember the last time a presidential election generated so much excitement. And by excitement we mean people who've been inspired to act, folks who've sat out past elections but have been driven to get involved this time.

... While the Courier Times Editorial Board usually sits out primary elections, we're motivated to get involved this year and offer an endorsement.

... Barack Obama inspires like no other candidate; indeed, like no other individual on the national stage. He has mobilized new voters and young people in general to get involved in the political process for the first time. And his themes of hope and change, which ring so authentic, have likewise invigorated many who otherwise might have sat out the election.

... Obama is intelligent, articulate and has demonstrated a strong ability to understand the issues. He's also shown character under fire. And he's run an incredibly savvy campaign for a first-time presidential candidate.

In fact, the professional way he's conducted his campaign and the deft organization he's put together, which has outmaneuvered Clinton, is impressive. We believe Obama would bring the same professionalism to the executive branch of government since he isn't tied into lobbyists and special interests.

Perhaps most importantly, Obama is more likely to get us out of Iraq since, unlike Clinton, he didn't vote for the war in the first place and has been a constant critic of the war. And, more so than Clinton, we believe he'd be successful in spearheading a diplomatic solution to the war by drawing friends and enemies into the discussions, something he has openly advocated. Finally, we believe Obama's gift for oratory would inspire unity in a nation that is now — and too often in the past has been — divided.

For these reasons we are inspired to endorse Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for president.

From the Patriot News:


Obama has managed to transcend politics in a way that has attracted interest and enthusiasm from people across the political spectrum. And perhaps most impressive of all, he has won over young people and brought them into the discussion on a scale that may be unprecedented. It is amazing how many adults have said it was their kids who got them to take a deeper look at the Illinois senator.

That is a hopeful development. But it also is instructive. Young people are the future. And they see and sense something in Obama that coincides with their hopes and aspirations for themselves and for the kind of world they want to live in.

Running in 1992, presidential candidate Bill Clinton was fond of referring to himself as "the candidate from Hope," a reference to his hometown in Arkansas. In Obama, the Democrats have "the candidate of hope," and their best prospect of running a competitive and uplifting campaign against McCain this fall.

The Patriot-News editorial board endorses Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination.

For Pennsylvanians, next Tuesday is your chance to seize this historic moment. But now matter where you live, you can join this incredible movement, and inspire other like yourself to do the same, by making a matched donation now:


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Poll Shows Erosion Of Trust in Clinton

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton talks to journalists in Washington. Her story of sniper fire in Bosnia appears to have intensified existing doubts about her honesty.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton talks to journalists in Washington. Her story of sniper fire in Bosnia appears to have intensified existing doubts about her honesty. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

PHILADELPHIA, April 15 -- Lost in the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign's aggressive attacks on Barack Obama in recent days is a deep and enduring problem that threatens to undercut any inroads Clinton has made in her struggle to overtake him in the Democratic presidential race: She has lost trust among voters, a majority of whom now view her as dishonest.

Her advisers' efforts to deal with the problem -- by having her acknowledge her mistakes and crack self-deprecating jokes -- do not seem to have succeeded. Privately, the aides admit that the recent controversy over her claim to have ducked sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia probably made things worse.

Clinton is viewed as "honest and trustworthy" by just 39 percent of Americans, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, compared with 52 percent in May 2006. Nearly six in 10 said in the new poll that she is not honest and trustworthy. And now, compared with Obama, Clinton has a deep trust deficit among Democrats, trailing him by 23 points as the more honest, an area on which she once led both Obama and John Edwards.

Among Democrats, 63 percent called her honest, down 18 points from 2006; among independents, her trust level has dropped 13 points, to 37 percent. Republicans held Clinton in low regard on this in the past (23 percent called her honest two years ago), but it is even lower now, at 16 percent. Majorities of men and women now say the phrase does not apply to Clinton; two years ago, narrow majorities of both did.

Advisers argue that her positive ratings have dipped as she has been defined by her opponents -- a normal campaign occurrence -- and that her honesty problem reflects the pounding she took from Republicans in the 1990s. But the Bosnia incident and the way the campaign handled it have left advisers divided over what a candidate can do after such a steep drop in trust.

Some of her aides believe that after Clinton told the Bosnia story -- of having run from her military aircraft into a hangar to avoid sniper fire -- when television images of the event showed otherwise, the campaign had no choice but to say she "misspoke." Communications director Howard Wolfson first did so on a conference call with reporters, and Clinton repeated the explanation over the course of several days.

Other Clinton advisers thought that response did not come quickly enough -- and that when it did, without further explanation or talking points for surrogates to use, it only worsened the perception that she had lied. Making the situation more difficult was a split within the campaign over whether Clinton had exaggerated, or simply confused the landing with another trip. One Clinton insider announced in a strategy meeting it was ridiculous to have imagined the first lady ever having been in danger, or for Clinton to have thought she was -- a slap at the senator from New York that other advisers described as disrespectful.

At the same time, die-hard Clinton loyalists thought her communications operation did not defend her heartily enough, which press aides said they thought was impossible. "Continuing to say it did happen when it didn't happen is not a strategy," one adviser said.

The problem was exacerbated when Bill Clinton, in defending her confused memory of the Bosnia event, got key details of the incident wrong, before later saying his wife had told him to stay out of it.

Two staffers from the Clinton White House years, Lissa Muscatine and Melanne Verveer, wrote a New York Times op-ed article recalling the perils of the trip, trying to justify why Clinton had gotten the story wrong. "As has been reported, Mrs. Clinton's trip to Bosnia included a U.S.O. component with the comedian Sinbad and the singer Sheryl Crow. The helicopters that carried them to performances at American base camps zigzagged just above the trees to avoid potential ground fire, according to Carey Cavanaugh, who was then a State Department official traveling with Sinbad, and helicopters flew alongside to deal with the threat of anti-aircraft fire or snipers. These facts explain why many of us, including the first lady, believed that the conditions on the ground were precarious. We were worried about sniper fire and were prepared to rush off the tarmac when we landed," they wrote.

Senior Clinton advisers argued that the Bosnia story would not have developed the way it did if it were not for a story line about Clinton that goes back to the 1990s, when scandals involving the first lady, including the firings in the White House travel office and her financial dealings, resulted in widespread doubts about her trustworthiness. That framework, they argue, made it easier for Clinton to be perceived as dishonest, a problem that first arose in her presidential campaign in a debate last fall when she gave conflicting answers on whether she supports allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

The new poll suggests that much of her problem is with men. Nearly two-thirds of men said Clinton is not honest and trustworthy (an increase of 19 points), compared with 53 percent of women (up 12 points). Democratic men, in particular, have shifted: About four in 10 now do not believe Clinton to be honest and trustworthy, nearly triple the percentage saying so in 2006.

The percentage calling Clinton honest has dropped steeply among whites with higher incomes and levels of education. And while majorities of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across demographic lines said she is honest and trustworthy, the class divisions remain: The percentage of white Democrats without college degrees calling Clinton honest hardly budged in two years, while those with college degrees have dropped off significantly on the question (from 82 percent to 53 percent).

Among whites, the percentage saying Clinton is honest and trustworthy has declined 10 points, compared with 26 points among nonwhites. That number has declined more sharply among liberals (down 30 points) than among moderates (down 13) or conservatives (down 4 points). Head to head with Obama on honesty among Democrats, Clinton faces a 23-point deficit overall, 17 points among whites and nearly 50 points among African Americans.

Cohen reported from Washington. Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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