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Archive for April, 2008

(NYT) – In the summer of 1996, President Bill Clinton delivered on his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” Despite howls of protest from some liberals, he signed into law a bill forcing recipients to work and imposing a five-year limit on cash assistance.

As first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton supported her husband’s decision, drawing the wrath of old friends from her days as an advocate for poor children. Some accused the Clintons of throwing vulnerable families to the winds in pursuit of centrist votes as Mr. Clinton headed into the final stages of his re-election campaign.

Despite the criticism and anxiety from the left, the legislation came to be viewed as one of Mr. Clinton’s signature achievements. It won broad bipartisan praise, with some Democrats relieved that it took a politically difficult issue off the table for them, and many liberals came to accept if not embrace it.

Mrs. Clinton’s opponent in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama, said in an interview that the welfare overhaul had been greatly beneficial in eliminating a divisive force in American politics.

Mrs. Clinton, now a senator from New York, rarely mentions the issue as she battles for the nomination, despite the emphasis she has placed on her experience in her husband’s White House.

But now the issue is back, pulled to the fore by an economy turning down more sharply than at any other time since the welfare changes were imposed. With low-income people especially threatened by a weakening labor market, some advocates for poor families are raising concerns about the adequacy of the remaining social safety net. Mrs. Clinton is now calling for the establishment of a cabinet-level position to fight poverty.

As social welfare policy returns to the political debate, it is providing a window into the ways in which Mrs. Clinton has navigated the legacy of her husband’s administration and the ideological crosscurrents of her party.

In an interview, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that “people who are more vulnerable” were going to suffer more than others as the economy turned down. But she put the blame squarely on the Bush administration and the Republicans who controlled Congress until last year. Mrs. Clinton said they blocked her efforts, and those of other Democrats, to buttress the safety net with increased financing for health insurance for impoverished children, child care for poor working mothers, and food stamps.

Mrs. Clinton expressed no misgivings about the 1996 legislation, saying that it was a needed — and enormously successful — first step toward making poor families self-sufficient.

“Welfare should have been a temporary way station for people who needed immediate assistance,” she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.”

During the presidential campaign, she has faced little challenge on the issue, in large part because Mr. Obama has supported the 1996 law. “Before welfare reform, you had, in the minds of most Americans, a stark separation between the deserving working poor and the undeserving welfare poor,” Mr. Obama said in an interview. “What welfare reform did was desegregate those two groups. Now, everybody was poor, and everybody had to work.”

Mr. Obama called the resulting law “an imperfect reform.” Like Mrs. Clinton, he called for an expansion of government-provided health care, child care and job training to assist women making the transition from welfare to work — programs he says he helped expand in Illinois as a state senator.

Asked if he would have vetoed the 1996 law, Mr. Obama said, “I won’t second guess President Clinton for signing.”

Among some advocates for the poor, the growing prospect of a severe recession and evidence of backsliding from the initial successes of the policy shift have crystallized fresh concern. Many remain upset that Mrs. Clinton, once seemingly a stalwart member of their camp, supported a law that they contend left many people at risk.

“If there is no national controversy about welfare reform, we paid an awfully high price,” said Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who has known Mrs. Clinton since her college days, and who quit his post as assistant secretary of social services at the Department of Health and Human Services in protest after Mr. Clinton signed the measure.

“They don’t acknowledge the number of people who were hurt,” Mr. Edelman said. “It’s just not in their lens. It was predictably bad public policy.”

Forcing families to rely on work instead of government money went well from 1996 to 2000, when the economy was booming and paychecks were plentiful, economists say. Since then, however, job creation has slowed and poverty has risen. The current downturn could be the first serious test of how well the changes brought about by the 1996 law hold up under sharp economic stress.

“We should have enormous concern about the lack of a fully functioning safety net for families with children,” said Mark H. Greenberg, director of the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group.

In many ways, Mrs. Clinton has sought to moderate her liberal image since leaving the White House. But on welfare, she has faced the opposite problem: accusations from some liberals that she sold out their principles for a politically calculated centrism.

On the campaign trail, Mrs. Clinton is largely focused on the middle class. Since the departure from the Democratic race of John Edwards, who had made poverty a centerpiece of his campaign, there has been little debate about social welfare policy. But in promising on Friday to establish a cabinet-rank poverty-fighting position if she is elected, Mrs. Clinton reintroduced the topic and the question of her record.

In the interview, conducted last month, Mrs. Clinton said she had followed through on her promise to address what she viewed as shortcomings in the welfare law after being elected to the Senate in 2000. She said she had pressed for legislation that would have increased financing for child care for poor mothers by up to $11 billion, seeking to expand food stamps, and allowing welfare recipients to draw cash aid while attending school.

Those provisions were blocked by the Republican leadership.

“We’ve had to mostly spend our time since President Bush came in to office preventing bad things from happening,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Many welfare advocates dispute Mrs. Clinton’s characterization. Since entering the Senate, they say, she has shown a predilection for compromise at the expense of the poor.

When the overhaul bill came up for reauthorization, Sandra Chapin, a former welfare recipient affiliated with a coalition called Welfare Made a Difference, lobbied Congress to allow more women to attend college while they received aid. Mrs. Clinton “wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Ms. Chapin said.

Ms. Chapin, now program director of the Consumer Federation of California, posted an e-mail message to a discussion board in February accusing Mrs. Clinton of having “had a hand in devaluing motherwork in this country, and no doubt sending thousands of children and their families deeper into poverty.”

In the interview, and in her memoir, Mrs. Clinton said she had serious misgivings about some of the changes proposed to the welfare system as the issue percolated through Washington in the mid-1990s.

Her husband had taken office with a pledge to dismantle the old system. He embraced time limits for cash aid and allowing states to largely decide for themselves how to spend the money. He set out to expand job training, access to health care, child care and food stamps.

When the Republicans took over Congress after the 1994 elections, making Newt Gingrich the House speaker, they seized the initiative. Twice, they passed bills seeking to impose time limits on welfare benefits while cutting other aid. Twice, Mr. Clinton vetoed the bills, with the encouragement of Mrs. Clinton.

In August 1996, three months before Election Day, Congress sent the White House a third bill. This one imposed time limits on cash benefits and barred most legal immigrants from receiving welfare. But it maintained guarantees for Medicaid and food stamps and increased financing for child care. This time, Mr. Clinton signed.

“I agreed that he should sign it and worked hard to round up votes,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in her memoir.

Mrs. Clinton remained troubled by parts of the bill, she wrote in her memoir, particularly the provision barring welfare for legal immigrants. But “pragmatic politics” had to be considered. “If he vetoed welfare reform a third time,” she wrote, “Bill would be handing the Republicans a potential political windfall.”

Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of Children’s Defense Fund, an activist group that had given Mrs. Clinton her first job, blasted the Clintons as betraying the poor, opening a rift that Mrs. Clinton called “sad and painful.” Mrs. Edelman’s husband, Peter, quit his administration post.

In the years that followed, the number of those on welfare rolls plummeted by more than 60 percent. A study last year by the Congressional Budget Office found that from 1991 to 2005, poor families with children saw their inflation-adjusted incomes climb by 35 percent, as employment climbed.

In recent years, however, low-skilled women have struggled. The percentage of poor single mothers neither working nor drawing cash assistance surged from under 20 percent before the welfare overhaul to more than 30 percent in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service. During the same period, the number of children in poverty rose to 12.8 million from 11.6 million, according to census data.

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(NYT) – VALPARAISO, Ind. – Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton managed to co-opt Mr. Obama’s message of hope and optimism, beginning a speech in Valparaiso, Ind., by talking about how positive and “fundamentally optimistic” Americans are.

“We don’t get bogged down and looking back – we’re always looking forward,” she said, as heavy applause nearly drowned out her words. “Whatever obstacle we see, we get over it. Whatever challenge we have, we meet it. We’re the problem-solvers, we’re the innovators, we’re the people who make the better future.”

For the third time since Mr. Obama’s remarks were made public Friday night, Mrs. Clinton criticized him at length, saying his comments seemed “kind of elitist and out of touch.”

“I disagree with Senator Obama’s assertion that people in our country cling to guns and have certain attitudes about immigration or trade simply out of frustration,” she said.

She described herself as a pro-gun churchgoer, recalling that her father taught her how to shoot a gun when she was a young girl and said that her faith “is the faith of my parents and my grandparents.”

She better go to church, get down on her knees and pray that God doesn’t hit her with a bolt of lightning for all the lies she’s been telling all her life!

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May 9, 1999, New York Times

Stepping up the Clinton Administration’s campaign against gun violence, Hillary Rodham Clinton used an emotional White House ceremony today to call on Americans to press Congress to ”buck the gun lobby” and pass several gun control measures.

Today’s event, pegged to Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, was held in the formal East Room of the White House and featured three parents of children killed or wounded by gunfire. They included Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed last month in the shooting rampage in Littleton, Colo. His story of waiting for word about his son’s fate brought Mrs. Clinton nearly to tears as she took the podium and gravely addressed an audience of other parents who had lost their children in shootings.

The Senate is to begin debate next week on a number of gun control measures, some of which mirror proposals offered recently by President Clinton. ”The senators need to hear from all of us,” Mrs. Clinton said. She urged voters ”to give them the encouragement to do what they know is right and to remind them that there are many, many millions of American voters and citizens who will stand behind political leaders who are brave enough to buck the gun lobby, wherever that may take us, so that they will vote for the measures that we know will save lives.”

Mrs. Clinton was as careful as her husband has been to say that there are many causes of violence and that parents need to take responsibility for their children’s behavior. But Mrs. Clinton, who is considering running for the Senate from New York, where gun control is popular, has also been more forceful than the President in directly taking on the powerful gun lobby in the aftermath of the Littleton killings.

In contrast with her remarks today, for example, the President, speaking at a fund-raiser in Houston Friday night, said that while he was pressing for more gun control laws, ”I hope we can avoid yet another big fight in Washington between the N.R.A. and others.” He has said in the past that the association’s campaign against certain lawmakers who supported his gun control measures had cost Democrats control of the House in 1994.

Still, a split between the National Rifle Association and ”others” — including its traditional allies — is looming. Spokesmen for the American Shooting Sports Council and the National Shooting Sports Council, which represent gun manufacturers, say they have agreed in principle to back five of President Clinton’s proposals to clamp down on access to guns, although they are waiting to see the exact language.

The five proposals would: raise the age limit for possessing a handgun to 21 from 18, while still allowing exemptions for hunting, employment and ranching; extend background checks to those who buy guns at gun shows, provided that the records are eventually expunged; ban juveniles who are convicted of violent felonies from ever owning a gun; prosecute parents if they recklessly or negligently allow a gun to fall into the hands of children who use it to commit a crime, and expand the Government’s gun tracing program, underway in 35 cities, to 75 cities.

The move signals a breach within the powerful firearms community over tactics as the manufacturers take steps to try to appease public officials and tamp down the trend among cities to sue gun makers to recover the medical and social costs of gun violence.

Such a split within the pro-gun community could isolate the rifle association and help gun opponents portray it as an extremist organization, although whether it undermines the association’s political hold on lawmakers remains to be seen. The White House seems to be trying to take advantage of that possible opening, scheduling a conference on violence for Monday and inviting the gun makers but not the high-profile officials of the rifle association.

The five proposals emerged from discussions last year between the gun industry and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The industry has been working with several of the mayors, notably Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, to try to show a good-faith effort to reduce youth access to firearms. So far, Philadelphia has held off from joining seven other cities in filing potentially expensive law suits against the gun manufacturers.

After the rampage in Littleton, the largest mass murder in an American school, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, called for a White House summit on youth violence. Robert A. Ricker, executive director of the American Shooting Sports Council, wrote to Mr. Lieberman saying his group wanted to participate in such a summit and would support certain restrictions.

President Clinton then announced a package of anti-gun measures, many of which had been advanced by the mayors. In bits and pieces, Mr. Ricker and Robert Delfay, president of the National Shooting Sports Council, backed some of those proposals, although they, with the rifle association, still oppose two that the Administration considers vital — restricting handgun sales to one a month per person and reinstituting a waiting period before a gun can be bought.

The White House then set a summit for Monday on youth and violence. In preparation, Bruce Reed, Mr. Clinton’s domestic policy adviser, invited Mr. Ricker and Mr. Delfay to the White House, and they met for 90 minutes last Tuesday to discuss the legislative proposals. Also at the meeting was Paul Jannuzzo, general counsel for Glock Inc., the pistol maker.

”For purposes of the Monday meeting, we are concentrating on just those issues where we have been able to potentially agree,” Mr. Ricker said today.

Pointedly not invited to Monday’s seminar were the figures most identified with the National Rifle Association — Charlton Heston, the association’s president, and Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president. Instead, the White Hosue invited a member of the association’s board, Bill Brewster, a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma and now a lobbyist in Washington. Mr. Reed described Mr. Brewster, who has gone duck hunting with Mr. Clinton, as ”an old friend of the President’s.”

The rifle association is planning its own event on Monday to discuss its legislative agenda. This consists primarily of calling for better enforcement of existing laws.

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Campaign Tries to Mix Hope, Concrete Plans

(WP) – READING, Pa. — James P. Hoffa stood outside the brick Hershey candy factory here one day last week and tried to sell Sen. Barack Obama to a cluster of Teamsters who are losing their jobs because the company is going to start making the York peppermint pattie in Mexico.

Obama would “change all the bad things” about the North American Free Trade Agreement, said Hoffa, the Teamsters union president, brandishing a peppermint pattie for emphasis. “I don’t know if we’re here in time for this [factory]. . . . Everybody got sold this [expletive] about free trade. But we’ve got to start somewhere. So let’s vote for Barack Obama. Let’s not have any more victims.”

Then, as if just remembering Obama’s signature message, Hoffa added: “You can’t give up. There’s got to be hope. We’ve got to have hope in the system.”

As Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton head into next Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, the reeling economy is looming as a major focus of the upcoming general election contest against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a development that opinion polls suggest will play strongly to the Democrats’ benefit. But the focus on the economy also presents a challenge for Obama and his labor allies.

After losing the Ohio primary to Clinton (N.Y.) last month, in part because of the difficulty he had connecting with Rust Belt voters worried about their jobs, Obama (Ill.) has been talking in greater detail about what he would do to repair the economy and contrasting that with McCain’s proposals. But this has sometimes come at the expense of Obama’s more abstract and inspiring message about rising above partisan pettiness to unite the country, the central call of his campaign.

At the same time, McCain and Clinton have begun a combined assault on Obama’s working-class outreach, pouncing on his remarks at a recent San Francisco fundraiser — about how many small-town Americans have grown “bitter” about their economic situation — as evidence of elitism and lack of empathy for average Americans.

The mixed reception Hoffa got during his tour through Pennsylvania last week suggests that party and union surrogates are still learning how to yoke Obama’s larger themes of reconciliation and uplift to the more concrete pocketbook issues that Democrats traditionally emphasize. In Obama, they have someone whose background as an African American is unique among candidates and whose strengths and weaknesses are different than those of the conventional Democrats they have supported in the past.

Riding through Pennsylvania in a caravan of three tractor-trailers, occasionally shouting “Obama!” to people he passed, Hoffa acknowledged the challenge. But he expressed confidence in his ability to turn out many of the union’s 83,000 members in the state.

Hoffa, son of legendary Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975, said that since the 1.4 million-member union’s February endorsement, he has encountered little resistance to Obama on racial grounds, adding that he sees Obama as the Tiger Woods of politics. As “unusual” as Obama is, Hoffa said, he offers a huge opportunity because of his ability to draw millions of new voters and thousands of new donors.

“The Democratic Party has to adjust to it,” said Hoffa, 66. “You can’t change what he is. . . . He’s a new phenomenon, and we have to basically say: We have a star and we have to play to a star like this. It’s like having a great running back, and you change the offense so you can maximize him.”

The troubles facing average Americans had been a staple of Obama’s stump speech for months, but his discussion of health-care costs and flat wages had been cast in the broader framework of his call for a new kind of politics that puts candor and results over gamesmanship, a message that resonated most with higher-income voters. And his attempts to project empathy by describing the plight of voters he met often came across as tentative, lacking the punch that Bill Clinton, for one, could summon.

Obama has since reverted to the town hall format he relied on in Iowa, talking more in high school gymnasiums instead of big arenas and truncating his stump speech to allow time for questions.

On a recent visit to Fort Wayne, Ind., he gave an in-depth answer to a United Auto Workers member, explaining his plan to curb foreclosures and make it easier to organize workers. While he said he “can’t promise to bring back all the manufacturing jobs” lost by Indiana, since many of the losses were caused by automation, he said he would create many new jobs with investments in infrastructure and renewable energy.

And when given a closing question that seemed perfectly suited to his trademark riff about hope and change — “What inspired you to run for president?” — Obama instead gave a rundown of his plans for expanding health care, taxing energy profits and closing tax loopholes for offshore companies, concluding with a promise to “wake up every single day thinking about how to make your life a little better.”

“He did a nice job of speaking directly to us. That was one of my biggest concerns . . . if he knew what he was talking about with respect to” the economy, said Marianne Deitche, a high school teacher. “There are so many ways you can gloss over it, but he didn’t gloss.”

Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, which endorsed Obama in February, said the candidate has to spend more time talking about pocketbook issues, even if it means cutting back on his usual uplift. Voters in Pennsylvania, she said, “need to connect first, and then they can be inspired.”

“At the beginning of the campaign, he was able to inspire people to lift themselves above their problems to think of a better America,” Burger added. “In Pennsylvania, they want to know, ‘Yes, but how are we going to do it?’ “

It was this question that Obama seemed to be addressing at the San Francisco fundraiser when he said that skeptical voters in distressed areas demand more specific proposals for how their situation could be improved. Yet he also argued that such planks must be combined with a more transformational message if voters are going to overcome their lack of trust in Washington.

“So the questions you’re most likely to get about me [are], ‘Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What is the concrete thing?’ ” Obama said, in remarks recorded by the Huffington Post. “But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives.”

David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, sounded a similar note Saturday, saying Obama’s lofty message is linked with the meat-and-potatoes issues he is increasingly focusing on. “Solving real problems in people’s lives is of a piece with ending the polarization of the country,” he said.

Some Obama supporters dismiss questions about his ability to connect on economic issues by pointing to his biography: He has lived in far more modest circumstances than either Clinton or McCain, and he began his career as a community organizer in a South Side Chicago neighborhood hit hard by steel plant closings. The campaign recently launched an ad highlighting that part of Obama’s résumé, with the candidate standing in front of an abandoned steel plant in a black leather jacket. But his Chicago work was in a largely African American community, and whether mentions of it can translate into support among white workers remains to be seen.

Campaigning for Obama last week, Hoffa started his pitch by talking about the union’s recent organizing successes and the weak economy, and only then brought up his candidate, saying Obama would make it harder for companies to ship jobs overseas and would pass legislation making it easier for unions to organize.

And, over and over, Hoffa tacked on his own version of Obama’s message, minus any soaring rhetoric. “There’s a saying that if you don’t believe in something, then you don’t believe in anything,” he told drivers at a truck depot outside Reading.

Several union members responded with catcalls and tough questions, and some said afterward they were still undecided, partly because of concern over reports of the incendiary comments of Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But others said they were coming around to Obama and starting to view him as the most clued-in on the economy.

In Reading, Dale Pszczolkowski, 55, said he does not expect any candidate to be able to prevent the closing of the factory where candy has been made for more than a century, where he has repaired machines for the past 29 years and where 350 people will lose their jobs this year. But he said he is warming up to Obama, even though he knows that Obama’s target audience tends to be younger and more cosmopolitan.

“I relate to him,” he said. “I have nothing against him.”

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Oh, please; oh, please; oh, please. I know it’s undignified to beg, but please let John McCain pick Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.

I know that this campaign has already bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon those of us who are paid to watch and listen. With its vivid, compelling characters, its abrupt reversals of fortune and its ever-rising stakes, the presidential contest has been the best reality show on television. It seems almost greedy to hope for yet another infusion of star power so late in the season.

And, yes, I’m aware that it probably won’t happen. Then again, this campaign season hasn’t shown much regard for probability. A couple of years ago, what sort of odds could you have gotten from Vegas bookmakers on the scenario that Barack Obama, the first viable black presidential contender, would be leading Hillary Clinton, the first viable female candidate, for the chance to run against McCain, long considered a pariah by his party’s activist base?

Rice’s name was tossed into the mix by Dan Senor, a Republican “strategist” who is best known for his “What, me worry?” performances a few years ago as spokesman for the U.S. civilian authority in Iraq. On ABC’s “This Week,” Senor noted that Rice recently appeared at one of right-wing activist Grover Norquist‘s regular meetings for the conservative “chattering class” — an unusual foray into domestic politics for a sitting secretary of state — and claimed that Rice “has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning” for a spot on the ticket with McCain.

The notion drew laughter from Sean McCormack, Rice’s spokesman, who told reporters that if Rice is indeed campaigning for the vice presidential nomination, “she’s the last one to know about it.” Then he dusted off the formulation that Rice always uses to deflect questions about her possible political ambitions, which is to ask “how many ways” she can say no.

The thing is, though, that — understandably — Rice doesn’t go all the way and make an airtight, Shermanlike statement. Why should she foreclose her options? Given the craziness of this political year, who knows what might happen? And looking down the road, the quiet groves of academe — where she vows to retire, like a latter-day Cincinnatus — may prove less than stimulating after the heady experience of running the world. I’ve always thought it more likely that she would eventually be tempted to run for the Senate from California, rather than jump right into presidential politics.

Asked about picking the nation’s top diplomat as his running mate, McCain was diplomatic — but totally noncommittal. “I think she’s a great American,” he said. “I think there’s very little that I can say that isn’t anything but the utmost praise for a great American citizen.”

She wouldn’t bring any political base to the ticket, since she doesn’t have one. She wouldn’t bring any regional advantage, since McCain is almost certain to beat either Democrat in Rice’s native state of Alabama, and almost certain to lose to either Democrat in Rice’s adopted state of California. And while McCain has tied his candidacy to the Iraq occupation, he maintains some distance from the Bush administration by charging that until recently the war was woefully mismanaged. Rice, as national security adviser in Bush’s first term, was one of the mismanagers.

She would, however, provide three things that McCain could really use: relative youth, undeniable pizzazz and photogenic diversity. The Republican Party is in danger of presenting a ticket that looks like a tintype portrait of yesterday — while the Democratic Party shows the nation a YouTube video of tomorrow.

All right, there’s another problem. Rice has described herself as “mildly pro-choice” on abortion and pronounced her support for affirmative action “if it does not lead to quotas.” Given McCain’s apostate views on immigration, global warming and campaign finance, it’s hard to see how he could pick someone with so little regard for the Republican Party’s bedrock views.

So I won’t hold my breath. But I can’t help but imagine having another controversial, larger-than-life character wade into the fray, one who not only raises McCain’s big wager on Iraq but also takes us further into terra incognita on issues of race and gender. Whatever you think of Condoleezza Rice, she’s a formidable woman with more qualifications than almost any other vice presidential choice I can think of. We’d get to watch another brilliant political novice try to take the country by storm. And, as a bonus, there would be the piano recitals, the early-morning workouts, the skybox appearances at football games, the impromptu lectures on Russian history (in Russian), the daily fashion show. . . . Pleeeeeease?

By Eugene Robinson

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(WP) – BARCELONETA, Puerto Rico, April 7 — The four sound trucks filed onto potholed streets at 8 o’clock Monday morning, weighed down by the 800-pound speakers rigged to their roofs. They drove past the pineapple plantations, past the black-sand beaches, past the multicolored tiendas downtown.

All morning, the trucks blasted the same short message, as if repetition might make it more believable: “Sí! Bill Clinton está aquí!”

Yes, a few hours later, Bill Clinton did come to this farming town 1,200 miles from the U.S. mainland, bringing with him the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign. The former president walked into the humid courtyard of a university to a drumroll from boys banging on steel garbage cans, past security guards in Hawaiian shirts and women dancing to salsa music, to make the case for his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It may have been the first U.S. presidential campaign rally in Puerto Rican history, but more are sure to follow. On June 1, the U.S. commonwealth will hold a Democratic primary that will help determine 63 delegates — more than the number awarded to 24 of the 50 states. About 2.5 million voters are eligible to participate in the primary, and both Hillary Clinton and her Democratic challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, are expected to visit the island to woo them.

The 4 million residents of Puerto Rico are not allowed to participate in the general election, so they plan to press their issues during their brief turn in the national spotlight. They want better health care, higher wages and a final determination of their murky status with the United States.

Most of all, they want to inject themselves into the national conversation — a process that started with Bill Clinton traveling Monday to five events across the island. He never came here as president — no U.S. president has visited in 45 years — but he spoke Monday as though he may be back soon.

“You might actually determine this election,” he told the crowd in Barceloneta. “If you vote for [Hillary] and give her a big margin, she’ll be the nominee and she will always honor your support.”

But on Monday, the culture gap between Clinton and Puerto Ricans, who were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917, sometimes seemed insurmountable. When Clinton walked into the rally in Barceloneta, he sat on a stage and listened as four local politicians introduced him in Spanish. One introducer, among 18 local politicians at the event, turned away from the microphone and looked back at Clinton, eager to interpret for him.

“When I say ‘presidente,’ ” the mayor said, “that means I’m talking about you.”

Clinton flashed a thumbs-up and smiled wanly, but he looked distracted during the Spanish speeches. Then he walked to the microphone, shielding his eyes against the 90-degree sun. He rattled off a thank-you list of Spanish names and mispronounced two of them.

As about 1,000 people crowded under white awnings to escape the heat, Clinton proceeded to give a jargon-heavy speech in English about health care and energy efficiency. Nobody interpreted, and only a handful of audience members seemed to understand him. The crowd — raucous and dancing a few minutes earlier — remained mostly silent during the 10-minute speech. Some people left. Others chatted on their cellphones.

“What is he saying? Do we clap now?” asked Jerry Nieves Rosario, a college student who speaks only Spanish. “If I had known about this, maybe I would have stayed home.”

Anticipating that kind of reaction, local advisers spent the past week offering Hillary Clinton’s campaign a crash course in Puerto Rican politics. More than 80 percent of registered voters usually turn out for local elections here, and big political rallies held in stadium parking lots routinely attract more than 130,000, local politicians said. During mayoral campaigns, candidates often walk door to door while carrying boomboxes, dancing to music while meeting voters.

Politics is often referred to as the “national sport” in Puerto Rico — one that is played by three main teams. There are those who want the island to become a U.S. state, those who want it to become an independent country and those who support it staying a commonwealth. Clinton and Obama both hope to cater to all three with a neutral position: the promise of a status resolution, based on Puerto Rico’s preference.

Each candidate recently released a policy letter about Puerto Rico, and local politicians have spent weeks dissecting them to determine a preference. Clinton’s letter was three pages long; Obama’s was one. Clinton, by promising a status resolution by the end of her first term, became the popular choice for statehood supporters. Obama, by saying he would consider all three possibilities, tends to be popular among those who like being a commonwealth.

“If a candidate just picked one status option or the other it would be too dangerous, because you alienate half of the voters,” said Kenneth McClintock, president of the Puerto Rican Senate and a superdelegate who supports Clinton. “They both want statehooders and commonwealthers. They need both.

“There’s going to be a lot of questions about the policies there. Puerto Ricans are smart voters. You can’t talk down to us. We know how democracy works. We do it better than you do, so you should follow our lead.”

For Bill Clinton’s visit, the campaign mostly acquiesced to the Puerto Rican model. He packed seven events, five of them public, into 30 hours on the island. Disc jockeys played at most of the venues. Dozens of local politicians made introductory speeches. On his right wrist, Clinton wore a woven friendship bracelet.

By arriving in Puerto Rico before Obama, the Clinton campaign hoped to solidify an already-strong advantage here. Clinton represents more Puerto Ricans as a senator from New York than any other stateside politician, and Spanish-speaking voters in Texas and California voted overwhelmingly for her. Obama’s campaign, meanwhile, has yet to recover from the indictment last month of Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilá, his most prominent Puerto Rican supporter.

“With a few good Clinton events, some more local press, this thing could be pretty much locked up,” said Francisco Domenech, a Puerto Rican superdelegate who supports Clinton.

Domenech and other local Clinton organizers urged Bill Clinton to loosen up during his time on the island. Domenech described the mainland campaign tradition of a staid, 1970s classic-rock music introduction followed by a halting campaign speech as a recipe that is “just too tired and boring compared to things here.” McClintock, the Senate president, told the Clinton campaign how one U.S. politician managed to thrive in Puerto Rico: Appearing at a fundraiser for McClintock in San Juan, the late senator Paul Simon persuaded his wife to dance the macarena.

Barceloneta set the stage for that kind of party. Two local bands alternated songs while hundreds of Puerto Ricans clapped to the beat. The stage became a makeshift dance floor, with dozens of couples twirling in the heat.

Then Bill Clinton entered through a side door, glasses low on his nose, and the festivities abruptly stopped.

“You have to be ready to adapt to some craziness over here,” McClintock said. “It’s a different political world, and everybody is finally going to see it.”

What a cluster-fuck. Bill needs to either up his meds or get off them. No translator, lackluster speech, some of the audience left while others talked on their cell phones. Wow, that was special.

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PITTSBURGH, (CNN) – Hillary Clinton used her trademark laugh Thursday to deflect a question about the $800,000 her husband earned in 2005 giving speeches for a Bogota-based group that supports the Colombia free trade agreement — the same trade deal she currently opposes.

Asked by CNN if those earnings represented a conflict of interest given that she has dipped into her family’s pocketbook to pay campaign bills, Clinton threw up her hands and laughed loudly for several seconds.

“How many angels dance on the head of the pin?,” she responded, continuing to giggle. “I have really, uh, nothing to … I mean, how do you answer that?”

The New York senator explained there are different sides to the argument over trade, and re-emphasized her own opposition to the trade deal, assailing the Colombian government’s “outrageous” record of “targeting labor leaders.”

“I am against the Colombia free trade deal,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who talks to me. It doesn’t matter any circumstances. I have been against it. I am against it. I will be against it absent the kind of changes in behavior that I have been calling for from the Colombian government.”

Earlier in the press conference, describing her husband’s advocacy for the trade deal, Clinton said: “Everyone is free to express their opinion.”

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(DM) – Forget about her claim to have dodged sniper’s bullets in Bosnia, or that she was named after Sir Edmund Hilary, or that she met a woman who was denied health care and died.

All of these Hillary Clinton fibs and exaggerations are basically harmless. But her current attempts to lie about her record and to pretend that she always opposed free trade agreements and disagreed with Bill on NAFTA is a serious distortion of her record as she searches for blue collar support in Pennsylvania.

Hillary was a strong sup porter of NAFTA. Her official schedule reveals that she attended meetings designed to promote its passage and her memoir, Living History betrays no hint of any opposition to her husband’s key legislative accomplishment of his first two years in office — the ratification of NAFTA.

Hillary and I spoke frequently through all of 1993 and 1994 and together we plotted to help NAFTA ratification. She was deeply involved in the decision to enlist past presidents in supporting the bill and followed the vote count with heightening anxiety as it appeared closer and closer.

That she could totally reinvent her record, turn it around 180 degrees, and expect us to fall for it, shows her arrogance and her continuing belief that she can sell us on anything, no matter how obviously false.

Trade was no side issue in the Clinton administration; it was central to his key world view — that he had to lead America to compete successfully in the new global economy. His refusal to submit to protectionism or to legislation to reduce layoffs — his commitment to the free market — was a singular badge of courage in his presidency. For Hillary to indicate now so fundamental a disagreement with a policy so integral to her husbands’ presidency is transparently phony.

And when Hillary entered the Senate, before she started to run for president, she was a reliable vote for free trade, supporting a host of bi-lateral agreements negotiated by her husband and by the Bush Administration. She even took the lead in urging the admission of China to the World Trade Organization, the key counter-protectionist step of the past two decades.

Hillary spoke at a meeting to promote NAFTA in November of 1993. Participants told ABC News that Hilary was “100 percent pro-NAFTA” and expressed “not a hint of waffling” on the deal. In 1996, she said that NAFTA was giving Americans a chance to compete. “That’s what a free and fair trade agreement like NAFTA is all about. I think NAFTA is proving its worth.”

And in 2002, the AP reports that she told the Democratic Leadership Council praising Bill’s economic policies: “The economic recovery plan stands first and foremost as a testament to both good ideas and political courage. National service. The Brady Bill. Family leave. NAFTA. Investment in science and technology. All of these came our of some very fundamental ideas bout what would work. The results speak for themselves.”

Does she really believe that we are about to forget history and buy that Hillary was opposed to NAFTA all along?

NAFTA has worked very well. It has improved Mexico and the United States. Without it, we would be burdened by millions of more immigrants from Mexico. It was one of the stellar achievements of the Clinton administration. For Hillary to try to sell us on a revised history speaks to her confidence that she can make us believe anything.

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ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. (AP) – Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning in a former mill town struggling with job losses, said Friday the United States can bring back the manufacturing industry – as long as the nation can enforce trade laws.

“We can bring manufacturing back to America now,” Clinton said on an outdoor stage, with the now-closed mill that was featured in the 1979 Sally Field movie “Norma Rae” looming behind him. “But we have to have a commitment.”

Clinton did not mention the North American Free Trade Agreement during the campaign event for his wife, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. The NAFTA trade pact was adopted while Bill Clinton was in office, but Hillary Clinton has repeatedly said she wants to change it.

Many have blamed NAFTA for accelerating the decline of North Carolina’s once-vibrant manufacturing sector.

The former J.P. Stevens plant that served as Clinton’s backdrop was the South’s first major unionized textile mill, and the inspiration for “Norma Rae.” The movie won Field her first Academy Award for her portrayal of a minimum-wage textile worker-turned-union organizer.

Textile mills once provided 5,000 jobs in Roanoke Rapids, but the last mill closed several years ago.

Hillary Clinton has criticized NAFTA while campaigning for blue-collar votes in North Carolina and elsewhere. She said this week she has a long record of differing with her husband on trade policies, including opposing NAFTA as her husband championed the trade deal and pushed for its passage in Congress.

But White House records show that when Hillary Clinton was first lady, she attended several meetings designed to build congressional support for NAFTA. She says she had reservations about the pact at the time, and made her feelings known in such gatherings.

Bill Clinton, who also spoke in Rocky Mount, said the nation can boost the manufacturing industry by keeping national security manufacturing jobs in the United States and ending tax breaks to those who may ship jobs overseas. He also said deficits to countries like China don’t allow the country to enforce trade laws.

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(NYT)-SAN DIEGO — In a reprieve for the pharmaceutical industry, California regulators agreed on Tuesday to delay by two years a requirement that all prescription drugs be electronically tracked as a means of thwarting counterfeiting.

The California plan was to take effect next Jan. 1. And given California’s size and the ambitiousness of its plan, some experts expected the California system to become the de facto standard for the nation.

But in a meeting here on Tuesday, the California State Board of Pharmacy voted to delay the requirement until Jan. 1, 2011.

The vote was a response to complaints from drug manufacturers, distributors and retail pharmacists that they could not possibly be ready by next January. And rather than violate the law, they said, they would have to stop selling drugs in California.

“The vast majority of product will not move starting Jan. 1, 2009,” Ronald N. Bone, a senior vice president at McKesson Pharmaceutical, a large distributor, warned the board before its vote. He said only 100 of 650 drug manufacturers surveyed by McKesson would be ready to put the tracking system into effect by the deadline.

Some board members were skeptical of the industry’s arguments, saying a delay would leave patients at risk of getting fake or adulterated drugs.

“All I’m getting is ‘We can’t do it, we can’t do it, it’s too expensive,’ ” said a board member, D. Timothy Dazé. “And I ask, ‘What value do you folks put on a life?’ ”

Still, Mr. Dazé, who is a deputy city attorney in Los Angeles, voted reluctantly for the delay, saying later that he feared depriving Californians of drugs they needed. No board member voted against the delay.

The California plan would require that drugs be tracked electronically from the manufacturer through the wholesaler to the pharmacy. Each bottle of pills sold to a pharmacy would have to have a unique serial number, encoded in a bar code or a radio-frequency identification tag.

The ability to track and trace drugs would make it harder for counterfeiters to introduce fake, contaminated or watered-down drugs into the supply chain.

The board’s vote comes at a time of growing concern about drug counterfeiting and adulteration. For example, 19 Americans have died after being treated with contaminated heparin, a blood thinner, from China.

But some board members and pharmaceutical executives said that the California system would not have prevented the contaminated heparin from reaching consumers because that contamination occurred in the raw material. At best, the California system might have allowed the recall of the heparin to be more focused.

California enacted the legislation requiring the tracking system in 2004, after some well-publicized incidents in which counterfeit or adulterated versions of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, the anemia drug Procrit and some other products made their way to pharmacies and in some cases to patients.

With some drugs now selling for thousands of dollars a vial, the lure of counterfeiting has grown. The Food and Drug Administration has opened 30 to 60 investigations into counterfeiting each year since 2003, up from 11 or fewer a year in the late 1990s.

Other states, too, are working on plans to track drugs and fight counterfeiting. Florida, for instance, requires a tracking system starting with the wholesaler, not the manufacturer.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers told the California board that putting a unique serial number on each container would require changing their packaging lines, which would cost millions of dollars and take years.

Because the companies do not know which bottles or vials would end up in California, they would have to make the change to all their lines meant for the United States.

Pharmacies and wholesalers, meanwhile, said they could not install the software and the equipment needed to read the serial numbers until they knew what systems the drug manufacturers would use.

Drug companies also said they wanted a uniform national system, not a different one for each state. The F.D.A. has said it would develop a standardized identification numbering system for drugs by March 2010. The California delay will potentially allow the California and federal standards to be the same.

The delay is the second one for the California program, which was initially expected to be operating on Jan. 1, 2007.

Whether the new deadline will stick is somewhat in doubt. The drug maker Pfizer, for instance, has told the board it would take five to seven years to put serial numbers on all its products.

But the company has already done so for the impotence pill Viagra, its most counterfeited product, and for the pain reliever Celebrex.

Some companies have argued that the tracking system should be phased in, starting with the drugs most likely to be counterfeited, while leaving other drugs, like cheap generics, for later. California’s legislature is expected to discuss modifications to the plan later this year.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, industry representatives promised not to let up on efforts to adopt the system, despite the new delay. And they said they supported the California plan in principle.

That led William Powers, the president of the pharmacy board, to quip: “That reminds me of a saying that everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”

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