Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:


ABC News is getting hammered by the mainstream and liberal media for its execution of last night's debate between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, in which Obama was grilled at lengt h about the recent controversies affecting his campaign.

Left-leaning Washington Post TV writer Tom Shales said anchors "Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos turned in shoddy, despicable performances," that dwelled on what he called "specious and gossipy trivia."

Greg Mitchell at the liberal Huffington Post Web site said the debate is "perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years."

Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic's Daily Dish blog called it "petty, shallow, process-obsessed ... utterly divorced from the actual issues that Americans want to talk about."

Walter Shapiro at Salon.com said what he called the "fizzle in Philly ... could have convinced the uninitiated that Americans politics has all the substance of a 'Beavis and Butt-Head' marathon."

Flag Flap

Senator Obama insisted Wednesday night, "I have never said that I don't wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins. This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with."

However, this is what Obama said last October when asked why he was not wearing a flag pin. "Right after 9/11, I had a pin... shortly after 9/11 ... that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won't wear that pin on my chest. "

Got His Back

Democratic Senate colleagues seem to be rallying to the defense of 90-year-old Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who has various health issues and has been hospitalized twice this year. Critics have suggested he is no longer fit to run the powerful appropriations committee.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday as Byrd returned to chair a hearing on Iraq war funding that Byrd will be "back to his old fighting self."

Senator Charles Schumer said Byrd’s performance was "a good sign."

And Majority Whip Dick Durbin called the attention surrounding Byrd by reporters "macabre."

As for Byrd — when asked about his critics — he responded "shut up."

Unintended Consequences

And the movement to convert San Diego schools to solar power has stalled — because it has led to a huge increase in energy costs. The San Diego Union Tribune reports electric bills went up $20,000 a year after solar energy systems were installed in 28 schools. So a plan to put solar in a total of 50 schools has run out of steam.

The administrator who runs the solar project for the Lemon Grove district says schools went solar not just to save money but to provide a lesson in planetary stewardship.

But one school board member says the unanticipated costs have taken money away from the classroom and put it into the hands of the utility companies.

School officials are hoping that an electricity rate change coming in May will work to their favor — but will not propose any more solar panel installations until they see what happens.

FOX News Channel's Martin Hill contributed to this report.