Voters are heading to the polls today in Pennsylvania for the closely watched Democratic primary between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. On Monday, Clinton unveiled a new television ad invoking Pearl Harbor and Osama bin Laden in an attempt to question whether Obama is ready to be president. The ad features the first image of bin Laden to be used in a TV ad this political season.
Narrator: "It’s the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything, especially now with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis. Harry Truman said it best: 'If you can't stand the heat. get out of the kitchen.’ Who do you think has what it takes?"
Hillary Clinton: "I’m Hillary Clinton, and I approved this message."
Senator Clinton also ratcheted up her rhetoric toward Iran on Monday. During an interview that will air today on ABC News, Clinton said she would "totally obliterate" Iran if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.
The Obama campaign responded to Clinton’s new TV ad by accusing her of employing “the politics of fear.” Within hours, the Obama campaign released its own ad.
Narrator: "Who has what it takes to really bring change, to finally take on the special interests, not take their money? Who made the right judgment about opposing the war and had the courage and character to speak honestly about it? And who, in times of challenge, will unite us, not use fear and calculation to divide us?"
Barack Obama: "We are one people. All of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes. All of us defending the United States of America. I’m Barack Obama, and I approved this message."
Even if Hillary Clinton wins today in Pennsylvania, she will remain far behind Obama in both the pledged delegate count and the overall popular vote. New campaign records also show Clinton is trailing Obama in the money race. With nine contests still to go, Obama has $42 million in the bank, Clinton has $8 million.
New Pentagon statistics show the number of felons recruited by the Army more than doubled last year. Between September 2006 and 2007, the Army granted so-called conduct waivers for felonies and misdemeanors to 18 percent of its new recruits. Conduct waivers were given to recruits convicted of burglary, grand larceny, kidnapping, making terrorist threats, rape or sexual abuse, and indecent acts or liberties with a child. Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, released the statistics yesterday. Waxman said, "The significant increase in the recruitment of persons with criminal records is a result of the strain put on the military by the Iraq war."
Meanwhile, USA Today reports the Army has accelerated its policy of involuntary extensions of duty to bolster its troop levels, despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s order last year to limit it. Since last May, the number of soldiers forced to remain in the Army through stop-loss has increased by 43 percent. The reliance on stop-loss has soared as the military has sent more troops to Iraq and extended tours to fifteen months to support the so-called surge.
The Israeli government said on Monday it sees no change in Hamas’s positions after a visit by former President Jimmy Carter to the region. After a meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, Carter suggested Hamas would be willing to make peace with Israel.
Jimmy Carter: "They said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians and that they would accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door, in peace, provided the agreements negotiated by Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas was submitted to the Palestinians for their overall approval."
But Israeli government spokesperson David Baker rejected the offer.
David Baker: "Israel is targeted on a daily basis by rocket barrages from Hamas-controlled territory in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is an enemy of Israel. Today, they critically injured a four-year-old Israeli boy. Israel sees no change in Hamas’s extremist position."
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Monday that Hamas accepts the establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war but would not recognize the Jewish state.
Khaled Meshaal: "We accept a state starting from the borders of June 4 in addition to the other rights we ask for, but without recognizing Israel. We have offered a ten-year truce after Israeli withdrawal to the borders of June 4, 1967 as an alternative to the recognition. This is the clear vision of Hamas."
In other news from the region, Israel has reportedly agreed to compensate the family of a British filmmaker who was fatally shot by an Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Haaretz reports Israel will pay $3.5 million in compensation to the family of James Miller. Miller was killed while making a film about the impact of violence on children in the region.
The media advocacy group Free Press is calling on Congress to investigate the Pentagon’s propaganda program that recruited dozens of retired military officers to appear on TV to help sell the Iraq war. Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver said, "Government-sanctioned propaganda violates every conceivable standard of journalism. That it has been allowed to continue unquestioned and undisclosed for years is an indictment of both this White House and a docile American media."
In other media news, CNN has hired former White House spokesperson Tony Snow to serve as a news commentator. Snow worked as President Bush’s chief spokesperson up until September. Prior to his stint as White House press secretary, Snow worked at Fox News. Snow is the second top former Bush administration official to land a prominent television gig. Former White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove has been appearing on Fox News as a commentator since February.
President Bush’s nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development is coming under criticism, because he has no apparent background in housing issues. Last week, Bush nominated Steve Preston to replace outgoing Secretary Alphonso Jackson. Preston is currently head of the Small Business Administration. He is a former executive with ServiceMaster and was an investment banker with Lehman Brothers. Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd has questioned why Bush would select a nominee with no expertise in housing issues while the country is facing the biggest housing crisis in recent history.
Meanwhile, President Bush has set a new record. He now has the highest disapproval rating of any president in the seventy-year history of the Gallup Poll. In the most recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, 69 percent of Americans disapproved of Bush’s job performance. The previous record was held by Harry Truman, who had a 67 percent disapproval rate in 1952. Bush also holds the record for having the highest approval rating of any president in Gallup’s history. In September 2001, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s approval spiked to 90 percent.
In other news from Washington, a former high-ranking Justice Department official has been charged with criminal conflict of interest for his role in the scandal involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Up until last year, Robert Coughlin served as deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the same division handling the Abramoff probe.
For the first time since the Spanish influenza of 1918, life expectancy is falling for a significant number of American women. The Washington Post reports the life expectancy for women is now shorter than it was in early 1980s in nearly 1,000 counties across the country, including areas of the Deep South, Appalachia and the lower Midwest. The trend appears to be driven by increases in death from diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema and kidney failure. About half of all deaths in the United States are attributable to a small number of "modifiable" behaviors and exposures, such as smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise.
The Supreme Court has turned away appeals from eleven death row prisoners in seven states. The decision came one week after the court upheld the use of lethal injections in Kentucky.
Thousands of indigenous activists are gathering in New York for the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. This year’s forum focuses on the global impact of climate change on indigenous peoples. On Monday, Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the conference. He said, "If we want to save our planet earth, we have a duty to put an end to the capitalist system."
And the US Postal Service is issuing a stamp today honoring the pioneering Mexican American reporter Ruben Salazar. Salazar was killed on August 29, 1970, when he was shot by a sheriff’s deputy following an antiwar demonstration in East Los Angeles.