Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The New York Times attempts to Swift-boat contender Barack Obama on behalf of Hillary

Let's be clear about this. One reading of the NY Times article, "In '05 investing, Obama took same path as donors" (third & last article below) will tell you that the first Swift-boating of the campaign has begun -- launched from the Dem Hillary center. This front-page NY Times piece drips with hints of dark deeds, but says nothing. In fact, Barack knew nothing about the controversial shares, and when he found out about them and sold them, he made a loss. The article provides fresh evidence of desperation in the Hillary camp.

But first, a nice piece about our hero in the NY Observer.

1. It’s Obamalot!
Barack Rhetoric in Selma Suggests J.F.K. as Senator Drives Church Crowd Crazy; Hillary Says Timing 'Worked' For Her and Bill
By Jason Horowitz/NY Observer

Asked whether he had finally killed off the notion that he had trouble connecting with black voters, Barack Obama looked around him and laughed.

“It was never alive,” he said.

Mr. Obama had just delivered an impassioned keynote address at the historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma, Ala., and he was surrounded by hundreds of black men and women jostling each other for a chance to shake his hand or touch his jacket.

But while the majority of the crowds in Selma flocked around Mr. Obama, he was far from the only show in town. Down the street from the Brown Chapel, Hillary Clinton spoke to parishioners of the First Baptist Church, declaring by her very presence an intention to fight Mr. Obama for a significant stake of the black vote. To amplify her commitment, Bill Clinton, who has unparalleled appeal in the black community among white politicians, dropped in after her speech like a cotton-haired exclamation point.

Even an ostensible show of unity underscored the intensity of the competition. On Sunday afternoon, the Clintons and Mr. Obama stood together in the front line of a march retracing the steps that civil-rights activists took 42 years ago across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. In 1965, the marchers met with state troopers wielding billy clubs, bullwhips and tear gas. The savagery and bloodshed, broadcast live on national television, set the stage for the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

“We’re all amazed,” said Morgan Lewis, an 81-year-old veteran of the 1965 bridge crossing, who grinned when he added: “They are coming to the bridge crossing to gain more of our votes.”


On Saturday night, he visited the National Voting Rights Museum, where a wall of notes handwritten and signed by the original marchers reached from floor to ceiling. The uniforms and nightsticks of the Alabama state troopers hung in a showcase down the hall. The tattered shoes and plaster foot imprints of the men and women who marched lay under glass in rooms visited as piously as a chapel.

Outside the museum doors, a rollicking street fair cluttered Water Street, with booths selling everything from portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. to belt buckles and chicken-on-a-stick. Teenagers flirted and listened to Southern rap music. Many people said they were waiting to hear the next day’s speeches before making up their minds between the two candidates.

A few miles away, past many shuttered stores and dilapidated houses, previews of those speeches were already getting underway in the Elks Lodge, where U.S. Representative and civil-rights lion John Lewis was being honored.

Between poems and testimonials, and a singing performance by Dreamgirls chanteuse Jennifer Holliday, Mr. Obama’s surrogates argued his case. Kim Ballard, a white probate judge for the county with jurisdiction over Selma, told the crowd that he considered Mr. Obama the “No. 1 contender for the Presidency.”

Artur Davis, a Congressman whose district includes Selma, said that Mr. Obama’s election would give an incalculable boost to the country’s impoverished blacks.

After stepping off the stage and behind a partition, Mr. Davis said he thought it was a “smart strategic choice” for the Clinton campaign to have brought in the former President. But, he said, Mr. Obama’s campaign “was what that movement was about.”

The next morning, Mr. Obama wasted little time in making that point himself.

In a packed gym at the local community college, dressed in a dark suit and silver tie and standing a few feet away from an empty table reserved for Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama articulated his connection to the civil-rights movement in the clearest terms he has used so far.

“If it hadn’t been for Selma, I wouldn’t be here,” he said, referring to the movement that paved the way for his Kenyan father to come to the United States. “This is the site of my conception. I am the fruits of your labor. I am the offspring of the movement. So when people ask me if I have been to Selma before, I tell them, ‘I’m coming home.’”

The speech, which Mr. Obama’s campaign said he wrote himself, received shouts of “Preach!” and “Yes!” and repeated bursts of applause from the public. For the most part, he stayed away from matters of policy and focused more on establishing his civil-rights credentials with the audience at hand.

He called the Iraq War “ill-conceived” but left the overtly negative political rhetoric to Mr. Davis, who attempted to turn Mrs. Clinton’s superior experience against her. “Longevity,” Mr. Davis said pointedly, “can make you calculate when you cast your vote on the war.”

As noon approached, Mr. Obama sped over to the historic Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church, where hundreds of people gathered outside, alternately chanting “Obama!” and “Let us in!” Dignitaries and select parishioners squeezed into the 11 pews, while the rafters sparkled with camera flashes when Mr. Obama entered.

Under an illuminated cross, gold organ pipes and hanging chandeliers, Mr. Obama closed his eyes and nodded to the hymns and prayers. He shook his head in a show of embarrassment when Bishop T. Larry Kirkland illustrated his point about racial equality by saying, “Show me a John Fitzgerald Kennedy and I’ll show you a Barack Obama.”

But for all his squirming, Mr. Obama seemed eager to encourage the comparison.

“It’s not enough just to ask what the government can do for us—it’s important for us to ask what we can do for ourselves,” he said. Later, he echoed Robert Kennedy when he talked about “ripples of hope.”

He spoke of a “poverty of ambition” to describe the lack of self-value among a consumerist black youth, an “empathy gap” to explain what he called the current administration’s lack of caring for the underprivileged, and a “Joshua generation” to characterize the inheritors of the original civil-rights activists. All of those phrases audibly resonated with the crowd.

At the end of the ceremony, he linked arms with Congressman Lewis, sang “We Shall Overcome” before greeting the masses outside.

“He has a living connection to the movement,” said Evelyn Dawson, of Atlanta, who watched Mr. Obama from the church’s pews. “That connection became clear today.”

Or, as Mr. Lewis said in a later interview about Mr. Obama’s weekend in Selma: “It tends to demonstrate more than ever before that he can, and did, relate deeply and strongly with the African-American community.”

SUNDAY ALSO SERVED AS A TESTAMENT to Mr. Clinton’s status among black voters—and to Mrs. Clinton’s willingness to use it, despite his tendency, as at the funeral of Coretta Scott King in February of last year, to overshadow her.

“Bill Clinton is an icon in the black community in the way no other white has ever been,” said Hank Sanders, a popular Alabama State Senator. “He cannot do anything but good for Hillary.”

Mrs. Clinton, dressed in a green pastel pantsuit and describing herself to parishioners of the First Baptist Church as the “beneficiary of what happened in Selma 42 years ago,” enjoyed a much more modest crush of supporters than Mr. Obama.

Neither of the Clintons was originally slated to attend.

On Feb. 26, several days after Mr. Obama announced his commitment to speak at the commemoration, the Montgomery Advertiser reported that Mrs. Clinton would speak at the church down the street from Mr. Obama and accept a civil-rights award on her husband’s behalf. On Feb. 28, a Washington Post –ABC News poll showed her lead evaporating among black voters. The following day, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign announced in a statement that she would “join President Clinton” as he accepted the award.

But on Sunday, as fans swarmed around Mr. Clinton, grasping at his hands and kissing his reddened cheeks, he told The Observer that he had committed to attend the commemoration right away—“as soon as I found out I was invited and they wanted to give me this award,” he said.

On Monday, Mrs. Clinton told Radio Iowa, “We were both invited—I to participate and he to receive the Voting Rights Hall of Fame honor—and originally he didn’t know if he could rearrange his schedule.”

Mrs. Clinton then added, “It worked out for us to be there together, and I’m glad it did.”

FOR BOTH CANDIDATES, IT WAS A WEEKEND rife with political maneuvering and posturing. Mr. Obama scored the point of sitting next to Mr. Lewis in the church, but Hillary held his hand during the march.

According to a briefing paper circulated among staffers of Mr. Clinton, the candidates intended to flank Mr. Lewis, with Mr. Obama on his right and Mrs. Clinton and then her husband on the honoree’s left. But the pandemonium surrounding the candidates rendered futile any attempt at political choreography.

Mr. Obama ended up six or, at times, eight bodies down the line from Mr. Lewis. Mrs. Clinton’s practiced press operation sensed an advantage and pounced. An aide grabbed photographers backtracking in front of the marchers and smuggled them forward, past the protesting security, so that they could get better pictures of the Clintons next to Mr. Lewis.

Mr. Obama’s press officers scrambled to get photographers to the other side of the line, and one of them actually complained at one point that Mrs. Clinton’s camp was stealing their press.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, seemed to take it all in stride. As the marchers paused before turning left on Broad Street toward the bridge, he took off his jacket, popped a piece of Nicorette gum in his mouth and happily accepted a wheelchair carrying civil-rights pioneer Fred Shuttlesworth. He then pushed it, smiling widely, to the foot of the bridge.

Once across the Alabama River, the candidates climbed atop a small, tree-shaded stage, where organizers planned to honor Mr. Clinton with his award.

After a few minutes of standing around, Mr. Obama said his goodbyes to the dignitaries, including a quick embrace with Mr. Clinton. The pair indulged the delighted crowd with a wave and then somewhat guiltily dropped their arms off each other’s shoulders. Before Mr. Obama made his way offstage, Reverend Joseph Lowery, a founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and an Obama supporter, asked everyone to stop what they were doing and close their eyes as he gave a benediction.

A few seconds in, the prayer took a somewhat uncomfortable political turn for Mrs. Clinton.

“We want to support the troops, and we know the best way to support the troops is to bring them home right now,” Mr. Lowery said. “We don’t need any long-drawn-out, structured plan. The plan is to bring them home.”

In the back corner of the stage next to the steps, Mr. Obama—perhaps not coincidentally—started to chuckle.

2. Obama Says His Investments Did Not Present a Conflict of Interest – by JEFF ZELENY and CHRISTOPHER DREW /NY Times

WASHINGTON, March 7 — Senator Barack Obama said Wednesday that he did not believe it was a conflict of interest to seek investment advice and use the brokerage services recommended by a friend and political contributor. He said he had not been aware that his broker had invested up to $100,000 in two companies backed by some of his top donors.

“At no point did I know what stocks were held,” Mr. Obama said. “And at no point did I direct how those stocks were invested.”

Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said he retained a broker at UBS recommended by a wealthy contributor, George W. Haywood, when he decided to set up a blind trust for the riskiest part of his investment portfolio.

The senator declined to identify the financial adviser at UBS, the giant financial firm. Mr. Obama said that while he told the broker he wanted an “aggressive strategy,” he did not instruct him to follow the investment patterns of Mr. Haywood, a professional investor who has taken large stakes in several speculative companies.

Still, Mr. Obama’s money ended up being invested in two of the stocks in which Mr. Haywood, a former hedge fund manager, was accumulating sizable positions.

According to pricing data released by Mr. Obama’s campaign Wednesday, it appears that his investments, both made in February 2005, included up to $90,000 in SkyTerra, a satellite communications company, and $9,000 in AVI BioPharma, a biotech company.

Both amounts are higher than previously estimated, though Mr. Obama’s aides have said he sold the stocks eight months later for a net loss of $13,000.

Records show that the SkyTerra shares were bought the same day a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission supported the company’s effort to create a nationwide wireless network and caused a temporary spike in its stock price.

The AVI BioPharma shares were bought just before Mr. Obama began to push for more federal spending to battle avian flu. At the time, the company was seeking to develop a drug to treat the disease.

But Mr. Obama said Wednesday that he had no idea that he owned the shares when he took up the flu issue, and there is no evidence that either company has benefited from his actions.

Mr. Obama said he had wanted to hold the stocks in a blind trust to avoid any conflicts of interest. He said he did not know anything about what he owned until he received a prospectus from one of the companies in the mail in the fall of 2005.

“It was at that point that I became concerned that I might not be able to insulate myself from knowledge of my holdings, that this trust instrument wasn’t working the way I wanted it to,” Mr. Obama said. “So it was at that point that I told my attorneys to go ahead and liquidate the stock and put it into mutual funds.”

Mr. Obama faced a barrage of questions about his investments Wednesday after a Washington news conference about immigration .

Before he arrived in the Senate in January 2005, Mr. Obama signed a $1.9 million book deal. As he started to receive the money that year, he opened investment accounts at four financial firms, though only the account at UBS was part of the blind trust, his aides said.

Mr. Obama’s other holdings include several hundred thousand dollars in mutual funds and a debt fund. Bill Burton, his spokesman, said the senator had not believed that such diversified holdings needed to be in a blind trust.

But rather than buying shares in mutual funds that specialize in more speculative companies, the senator turned to Mr. Haywood for advice on a broker who could suggest individual stocks.

“He’s been a very successful investor,” Mr. Obama said. “I thought about going to Warren Buffett ,” he added. “But I decided it would be embarrassing, with only $100,000 to invest, to ask his advice.”

“At this point, I’m only invested in mutual funds or cash or money market accounts,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s my instruction to my accountant — that we are not going to own any individual stocks precisely because it raises potential questions like this.”

(Jeff Zeleny reported from Washington, and Christopher Drew from New York. Mike McIntire contributed reporting from New York.)

3. In ’05 Investing, Obama Took Same Path as Donors – by MIKE McINTIRE and CHRISTOPHER DREW/NY Times

Less than two months after ascending to the United States Senate, Barack Obama bought more than $50,000 worth of stock in two speculative companies whose major investors included some of his biggest political donors.

One of the companies was a biotech concern that was starting to develop a drug to treat avian flu. In March 2005, two weeks after buying about $5,000 of its shares, Mr. Obama took the lead in a legislative push for more federal spending to battle the disease.

The most recent financial disclosure form for Mr. Obama, an Illinois Democrat, also shows that he bought more than $50,000 in stock in a satellite communications business whose principal backers include four friends and donors who had raised more than $150,000 for his political committees.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama, who is seeking his party’s presidential nomination in 2008, said yesterday that the senator did not know that he had invested in either company until fall 2005, when he learned of it and decided to sell the stocks. He sold them at a net loss of $13,000.

The spokesman, Bill Burton, said Mr. Obama’s broker bought the stocks without consulting the senator, under the terms of a blind trust that was being set up for the senator at that time but was not finalized until several months after the investments were made.

“He went about this process to avoid an actual or apparent conflict of interest, and he had no knowledge of the stocks he owned,” Mr. Burton said. “And when he realized that he didn’t have the level of blindness that he expected, he moved to terminate the trust.”

Mr. Obama has made ethics a signature issue, and his quest for the presidency has benefited from the perception that he is unlike politicians who blend public and private interests. There is no evidence that any of his actions ended up benefiting either company during the roughly eight months that he owned the stocks.

Even so, the stock purchases raise questions about how he could unwittingly come to invest in two relatively obscure companies, whose backers happen to include generous contributors to his political committees. Among those donors was Jared Abbruzzese, a New York businessman now at the center of an F.B.I. inquiry into public corruption in Albany, who had also contributed to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth , a group that sought to undermine John Kerry ’s Democratic presidential campaign in 2004.

Mr. Obama, who declined to be interviewed about the stock deals, has already had to contend with a controversy that arose out of his reliance on a major campaign contributor in Chicago to help him in a personal financial transaction. In that earlier case, he acknowledged last year that it had been a mistake to involve the contributor, a developer who has since been indicted in an unrelated political scandal, in deals related to the Obamas’ purchase of a home.

Senate ethics rules do not prohibit lawmakers from owning stocks — even in companies that do business with the federal government or could benefit from legislation they advance — and indeed other members of Congress have investments in government contractors. The rules say only that lawmakers should not take legislative actions whose primary purpose is to benefit themselves.

Mr. Obama’s sale of his shares in the two companies ended what appears to have been a brief foray into highly speculative investing that stood out amid an otherwise conservative portfolio of mutual funds and cash accounts, a review of his Senate disclosure statements shows. He earned $2,000 on the biotech company, AVI BioPharma, and lost $15,000 on the satellite communications concern, Skyterra, according to Mr. Burton of the Obama campaign.

Mr. Burton said the trust was different from qualified blind trusts that other senators commonly used, because it was intended to allow him greater flexibility to address any accusations of conflicts that might arise from its assets. He said Mr. Obama had decided to sell the stocks after receiving a communication that made him concerned about how the trust was set up.

The investments came at a time when Mr. Obama was enjoying sudden financial success, following his victory at the polls in November 2004. He had signed a $1.9 million book deal, and his ethics disclosure reports show that he received $1.2 million of book money in 2005.

His wife, Michelle, a hospital vice president in Chicago, received a promotion that March, nearly tripling her salary to $317,000, and they bought a $1.6 million house in June. The house sat on a large property that was subdivided to make it more affordable, and one of Mr. Obama’s political donors bought the adjacent lot.

The disclosure forms show that the Obamas also placed several hundred thousand dollars in a new private-client account at JPMorgan Chase, a bond fund and a checking account at a Chicago bank.

But he put $50,000 to $100,000 into an account at UBS, which his aides say was recommended to him by a wealthy friend, George W. Haywood, who was also a major investor in both Skyterra and AVI BioPharma, public securities filings show.

Mr. Haywood and his wife, Cheryl, have contributed close to $50,000 to Mr. Obama’s campaigns and to his political action committee, the Hopefund. Mr. Haywood declined to comment.

Within two weeks of his purchase of the biotech stock that Feb. 22, Mr. Obama initiated what he has called “one of my top priorities since arriving in the Senate,” a push to increase federal financing to fight avian flu.

Several dozen people had already died from the disease in Southeast Asia, and experts were warning that a worldwide pandemic could kill tens of millions of people. Mr. Obama was one of the first political leaders to call for more money to head off the danger, which he described as an urgent public health threat.

His first step came on March 4, 2005, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his request for $25 million to help contain the disease in Asia; the full Senate later approved that measure. And in April 2005, he introduced a bill calling for more research on avian flu drugs and urging the government to increase its stockpiles of antiviral medicines.

Mr. Obama repeated this call in a letter that Aug. 9 to Michael O. Levitt, the health and human services secretary. And in September 2005, Mr. Obama and Senator Tom Harkin , Democrat of Iowa, succeeded in amending another bill to provide $3.8 billion for battling the flu.

Meanwhile, the drug company in which he invested, AVI BioPharma, had been working to develop its own medicine to treat avian flu victims. In a conference call with Wall Street analysts on March 8, 2005, the company’s chairman, Denis R. Burger, said the firm was “aggressively going forward” with its avian flu research and hoped to work with federal agencies on it.

The company, which is also developing medicines in a number of other areas, provided several updates on its avian flu research in 2005, including one on Oct. 21 saying the company was likely to develop a treatment for avian flu “in a relatively short time.”

Mr. Obama sold what appears to have been about 2,000 shares of the company’s stock a week later, when it traded at about $3.50 a share, or about $1 a share more than when he bought it. Company officials said they never talked to the senator about his work on avian flu. And while the company has received millions of dollars in federal money to develop drugs for treating ebola and other serious diseases, it still has not received any federal money for its avian flu research.

The company’s stock briefly surged to nearly $9 a share in January 2006 when it announced promising research findings on the flu drug. But the company still has not applied for federal approvals to test and market the drug.

Unlike his investment in AVI, which yielded a small profit, Mr. Obama’s stake in Skyterra Communications went in the opposite direction, despite a promising start.

He bought his Skyterra shares the same day the Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of the company’s effort to create a nationwide wireless network by combining satellites and land-based communications systems. Immediately after that morning ruling, Tejas Securities, a regional brokerage in Texas that handled investment banking for Skyterra, issued a research report speculating that Skyterra stock could triple in value.

Tejas and people associated with it were major donors to Mr. Obama’s political committees, having raised more than $150,000 since 2004. The company’s chairman, John J. Gorman, has held fund-raisers for the senator in Austin, Tex., and arranged for him to use a private plane for several political events in 2005. Mr. Gorman declined to comment.

In May 2005, Mr. Abbruzzese, who was vice chairman of Tejas and a principal investor in Skyterra, contributed $10,000 along with his wife to Mr. Obama’s political action committee — a departure from his almost exclusive support of Republicans . Eight months earlier, for instance, he had contributed $5,000 to the Swift Boat group, and he has given $100,000 to the Republican National Committee since 2004.

Last year, Mr. Abbruzzese, a major investor in several high-tech companies in New York and elsewhere, emerged as a central figure in the federal investigation of the New York State Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno . The inquiry is examining Mr. Bruno’s personal business dealings, including whether he accepted money from Mr. Abbruzzese in return for Senate approval of grants for one of Mr. Abbruzzese’s companies. Both men have denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Abbruzzese did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Skyterra’s share price was lifted into the $40 range for a time on the strength of the F.C.C. ruling, but eventually drifted down into the low 30s, and was at $31 when Mr. Obama sold his shares for a $15,000 loss on Nov. 1, 2005. A few months later, it plunged into the $20 range, and today trades below $10 a share. A spokesman for Skyterra said the company’s top officials had not been aware of Mr. Obama’s investment.


Post a Comment

<< Home