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Clinton to join forum via Net

President Clinton will use the Net to join a forum about Social Security, similar to Franklin Roosevelt's use of the radio in his "Fireside Chats."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt drew the nation in for his Fireside Chats by broadcasting them on the radio. These days, when President Clinton wants to reach the people, he takes to the Net.

Of course, it's just a sign of the times, but Clinton increasingly is joining online town hall meetings or having his speeches broadcast over the Net. On Saturday, he'll patch into an interactive forum where 1,200 citizens from 10 cities nationwide are linking up for a teleconference on Social Security that will be broadcast over the Net as well as public and cable television.

The event was set up by Americans Discuss Social Security, a nonprofit group that aims to get people talking about the future of the government program. This week's four-hour teleconference is the group's first event and will be followed with similar meetings in all the states.

The diverse group of citizens will gather in studios set up in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Boise, Idaho; Boston; Denver; Detroit; Lexington, Kentucky; Minneapolis; San Francisco; Tallahassee, Florida; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The president will listen to the moderated discussion and answer some participants' questions.

Netizens can log on to watch the live video feed or listen to audio. They also can visit a chat room to post questions, which could be addressed by Clinton as well.

The organization was set up in response to Clinton's challenge in his state of the union address to foster public dialogue on Social Security. He called for nonpartisan forums to be held across the country. By next year, Clinton said he wants to work with Congress to overhaul the system.

A Republican leader, who has yet to be named, also will plug in from Washington.

"We worked hard to make sure that this actually reflects the American public," Carolyn Lukensmeyer, executive director of the organization, said today. "This is a lot more than has ever been done before."

The group worked with the Census Bureau to develop a matrix of the age and incomes of the people living in the ten cities to create a list of invitees who represented different socioeconomic groups and generations.

The chat room set up for Netizens who want to pose questions will be moderated. At three points during the meeting, the main moderator based in Washington will relay some questions or comments from the chat to the large teleconference.

"We're treating the Web as if it's the eleventh city," Lukensmeyer said. "A lot of this in terms of the democratic use of the Web is experimental."