Monday, August 30, 2010

Obama pledges Gulf Coast recovery on anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

U.S. President Barack Obama pledged yesterday to finish restoring the Gulf Coast area hit by Hurricane Katrina, five years after the storm ravaged the region.

Mr Obama visited New Orleans - the city hardest hit by the disaster - with his family at the end of a week-and-a-half holiday on the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.

During the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Mr Obama sharply criticised then-President George W. Bush for his administration's slow response to the flooding and devastation that played out live on television.

Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina left the region submerged, killing 1,800 people. Pictured is a general view of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana, eights days after the disaster

Ahead of November's congressional elections, Mr Obama used his speech to highlight his administration's action since taking office, drawing an implicit contrast without naming Republicans or Bush by name.

'It was a natural disaster, but also a man-made catastrophe, a shameful breakdown in government that left countless men and women and children abandoned and alone,' Mr Obama said in a speech at Xavier University.

On the most recent calamity to hit the region, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr Obama promised to reverse the damage it caused and hold energy giant BP accountable.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

University must release Palin contract

California State University at Stanislaus and its private foundation violated public records laws and will have to release the speakers contract with Sarah Palin they had tried to keep secret, a judge has ruled.

The details of Palin's contract to speak at a June 25 fundraiser for the foundation became national news last spring after foundation officials refused to tell state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, how much Palin would be paid.

Yee has been trying to change a state law that shields campus foundations from public scrutiny.

The Palin story grew more bizarre in April after students found discarded pieces of the secret contract in a Dumpster on the property of the public university - after university officials told Yee and CalAware, an open-government group, that they didn't have any of Palin-related documents.

CalAware sued, and in May, the foundation released hundreds of pages of Palin-related paperwork - but not the contract. Among them were e-mails showing that Charles Reed, chancellor of the 23-campus CSU system, favored suppressing the contract to avoid news stories about its contents.

That e-mail, and the finding that the university did possess Palin documents, led Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne to order the Turlock campus to release Palin's contract

Monday, August 23, 2010

Candidates fending off reformist challengers

Tomorrow’s primaries in Arizona and Florida appear likely to deliver a few surprises for anyone who accepted the conventional wisdom of just a few months ago.

At that time, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, was considered in danger of becoming the next victim of a Tea Party movement uprising that was threatening Republican candidates who were viewed as straying from conservative orthodoxy.

In what was taken as a sign of his nervousness, he brought in his 2008 vice presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, who vouched for his conservative bona fides. Now he enjoys a double-digit lead in the polls over his challenger, former representative J.D. Hayworth.

In Florida’s Democratic primary for US senator, Representative Kendrick Meek was nearly written off earlier this summer as he was being buried under an avalanche of television ads from his wealthy opponent, political novice Jeff Greene. Today, Meek leads Greene in the polls.

The contests offer more evidence that establishment candidates can prosper in this year of the outsider. They also are a reminder that personal wealth cannot overcome personal flaws, particularly among political novices.

Long before Hayworth emerged as a likely challenger, McCain took steps to protect himself, according to advisers. He concluded soon after he lost the 2008 presidential race that his party’s base was rapidly moving into a posture of total opposition to President Obama. McCain quickly became an outspoken opponent of the president on virtually all major issues.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

President Obama begins 10-day vacation in Martha's Vineyard

WASHINGTON - President Obama on Thursday starts a 10-day vacation in Martha's Vineyard, where he can enjoy watching the sun sink below the horizon - instead of his poll numbers.

The summer playground off the Massachusetts coast is brimming with Secret Service agents and extra state police. A Coast Guard cutter will patrol the waters off the property.

"I do think that just like a lot of American people, the President is taking a little time with his family to recharge his batteries," spokesman Bill Burton said.

Not that the burdens of the presidency may not interrupt him. Obama has a knack for scheduling his break when big events intrude.

Last summer, Sen. Ted Kennedy passed away while the Obamas were on the Vineyard, and Obama went to Boston to speak at his funeral.

During their Christmas holidays in Hawaii, the underwear bomber tried to blow up a plane bound for Detroit, leaving people asking at the time who was in charge when the terrorist nearly struck.

The White House is taking steps to make sure Obama keeps plugged in, even while he's on one of the island's members-only golf courses.

"Whenever you talk about a presidential vacation, you ought to put the word 'vacation' in quotes because you can bet that there will still be work that he's doing every day," Burton said.

"He'll continue to get his daily intelligence brief from [deputy national security adviser] John Brennan, who will be there. He'll be getting constant updates on what's happening in the economy and other issues," Burton explained.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Stocks down slightly in thin trading after rally

Stocks were mostly lower Wednesday as investors find little incentive to extend the previous day's rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 30 points and all the other major indexes fell.

There was little news to motivate investors to continue the rally that sent the Dow up 103 points Tuesday. Target Corp. missed analysts' forecasts for its second-quarter revenue.

Target's report came a day after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. helped feed the stock rally with upbeat numbers. So investors were again presented with numbers that appeared contradictory, and that spelled more uncertainty about the economy.

Wednesday's trading was muted however, and that was to be expected after investors on Tuesday showed their first real enthusiasm for stocks in weeks and sent the Dow up 103 points. There were no big economic reports planned Wednesday. And any big gains were likely to be given back simply because investors don't trust stocks to put together a solid advance.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

California gay marriage on hold as case appealed

U.S. appeals court ruled on Monday that same-sex couples could not marry in California while the court considers the constitutionality of the state's ban on gay marriage.

But the panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals set an aggressive schedule for the case, with briefings in the fall and a hearing the week of December 6.

California's ban on same-sex marriage, known as Proposition 8, passed in November 2008, setting off emotional reactions among both opponents and supporters of the ban.

Liberals questioned how trend-setting California could fall in line with roughly 40 other states that ban same-sex unions, while social conservatives boasted that their cause had national backing.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled earlier this month that the ban was unconstitutional.

Last week he said gay marriages could resume while higher courts considered the matter. But the brief ruling by the three-judge appellate panel reverses that, prohibiting gay marriage during the appeal.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Obama to visit Milwaukee, Los Angeles on Monday

WASHINGTON — Back from his whirlwind Florida getaway, President Barack Obama returns to the road for a trip to the Milwaukee area — and Los Angeles.

The president travels to Menomonee Falls, Wis., on Monday, where he will tour ZBB Energy Corp., which makes batteries and fuel cells for renewable-energy products. Then he'll headline a $250-a-plate fundraiser for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who is in a competitive race for governor. Barrett was one of the earliest supporters of Obama when he ran for president in 2008.

Then it's off to Los Angeles, where Obama will deliver remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee finance event. The president will spend the night in Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Obama's press secretary slams professional left

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has taken aim at the "professional left" for being unnecessarily harsh on U.S. President Barack Obama and pushing for a Canadian-style health-care system.

"They will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the Pentagon," the normally affable Gibbs says in an explosive interview published Tuesday in the congressional newspaper The Hill. "That's not reality."

Those on the left who claim Obama as president isn't much different than George W. Bush, he added, "ought to be drug-tested."

The remarks sent immediate shockwaves through Washington, particularly among the very liberals who have expressed disappointment with the president since his historic election in November 2008 on a message of hope and change.

By mid-day Tuesday, Gibbs was expressing remorse about his comments in a statement aimed at attempting to explain his frustration at the criticism confronting his boss.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Primary winners highlight political inexperience

WASHINGTON — All hail inexperience the less familiarity with politics the better, no matter the party or state.

"This election is the first time my name has ever been on a ballot," appointed Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado said Tuesday night, hours after dispatching his rival in a bitter Democratic primary.

Two major mountain ranges away, first-time Republican candidate Linda McMahon said it slightly differently.

"The support of the voters of Connecticut isn't bestowed by the establishment or the pundits or the media. It isn't a birthright," the former World Wrestling Entertainment executive said after winning the GOP senatorial nomination in her first run for office.

Bennet and McMahon were two of the most distinctive winners on a busy primary night, one an incumbent who proved able to handle the type of primary challenge that has claimed lawmakers elsewhere, the other the epitome of the conservative outsider who will carry the GOP banner into the fall campaign, with control of Congress and 37 governorships at stake.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Obama attacks Bush policies in Bush's home state

President Barack Obama attacked the economic policies of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush in Bush's home state on Monday as evidence of the way Republicans would operate if given power in November 2 U.S. congressional elections.

At a fund-raising event for Democrats in Dallas, where Bush now lives, Obama said the former president's "disastrous" policies had driven the U.S. economy into the ground and turned budget surpluses into deficits.

Obama defended his repeated references to Bush's policies, saying they were necessary to remind Americans of the weak economy he inherited from Bush in January 2009.

"The policies that crashed the economy, that undercut the middle class, that mortgaged our future, do we really want to go back to that, or do we keep moving our country forward?" Obama said at another fund-raising event in Austin, referring to Bush's eight years as president.

In reminding voters about the policies of the unpopular Bush, Obama is trying to protect his fellow Democrats' majorities in Congress and limit anticipated Republican gains.

On November 2, voters will choose all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 37 members of the 100-seat Senate.

Republicans say they doubt Obama's effort to cite Bush as a reason to vote against them in November will work because Americans are more concerned about getting or keeping a job.

"When we talk about this 'going back' thing, I notice that some Republicans say, 'Well, he just wants to bash the previous administration, he's looking backwards.' ... No, no, no. The reason we're focused on it is because the other side isn't offering anything new," Obama said in Austin.

Monday, August 09, 2010

First woman to head major US intelligence agency

The United States has had three female secretaries of state _ but until now has never had a woman lead one of its 16 major intelligence agencies.

Letitia A. Long is being elevated Monday to director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in a ceremony at the agency's half-built, high-tech campus in Springfield, Va.

The "Jetsons"-style rounded wedge of buildings is rising from a vast construction site near Fort Belvoir. The NGA's staff, now spread across the Washington metropolitan area, is slated to relocate there by fall 2011.

Long's 32-year career has led to a series of senior management positions: deputy director of Naval Intelligence, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and, most recently, second in command at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Long represents the vanguard of women in the intelligence community.

Women represent 38 percent of total intelligence work force, according to Wendy Morigi, spokeswoman for the Director of National Intelligence. In six most prominent agencies, 27 percent of senior intelligence positions are held by women.

Long has taken over one of the "top computer geek shops" in the national security world. The NGA synthesizes satellite imagery, using everything from the number of electric lines a city has to the density of the soil, to create three-dimensional, interactive maps of every spot on the planet. They're used by everyone from invading troops gauging whether a country's roads or deserts can handle tank tracks, to oil spill cleanup crews trying to decide where to deploy resources.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Gay Marriage Ruling a Challenge for Both Parties

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge’s decision on Wednesday overturning Proposition 8 California’s ban on same-sex marriage has tossed a largely unwanted issue into the middle of the November midterm elections.

The decision, which ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional, has complicated the political tasks before President Obama, whose aides had to explain in the wake of the decision that the president supported equal gay rights but opposed marriage rights for gay men and lesbians.

Meanwhile, Republicans said that dwelling on the issue could become a distraction in the effort to win back the House or Senate from Democrats this fall. At a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Kansas City, Mo., several party leaders and strategists said it would be a mistake for the midterm election campaign to suddenly become focused on gay marriage, immigration or other hot-button issues. The only path to winning control of Congress, they said, rested on making an economic argument.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

President Obama celebrates birthday in Chicago

CHICAGO – It wasn’t much of a party, just President Barack Obama catching up with some close friends and Oprah Winfrey over dinner in his adopted hometown. His wife and kids were away, but they called to wish him a “Happy Birthday.” His dog, Bo, made the trip, along with an aide to take him for walks. He played cards on the flight from Washington. He got to sleep in his own home.

And that’s how the president celebrated turning 49 on Wednesday, with a relatively low-key overnight stay in Chicago.

That might seem a bit ordinary for the commander in chief, but Obama has only been back to visit Chicago a handful of times since moving to Washington 20 months ago. And while he may have spent the night there without his family, he had plenty of company throughout his big day.

Obama got “Happy Birthday” wishes from AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka when he spoke to the labor group’s executive council Wednesday morning. The audience in the East Room ceremony for 2010 recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal serenaded him. A little girl in his Chicago neighborhood held a sign that was almost as big as her just to say, "Happy 49th Birthday President Barack Obama.”

McCain Coburn Spotlight Failing Stimulus Projects

Republican Sens. John released a report today profiling 100 stimulus projeMcCain (Ariz.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) cts they say represent the failings of the stimulus package.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act "passed with assurances that it would stem the loss of American jobs and keep the economy from floundering," reads the introduction of the report, Summer Time Blues: 100 Stimulus Projects that Give Taxpayers the Blues during the Summer of Recovery." "As most can see, it hasn't."

The projects spotlighted represent just a tiny percentage of the more than 70,000 stimulus projects underway. Coburn said at a press conference, however, that the point of the report is to show that the stimulus is not getting Americans the "best bang for our buck." The program, he said, has raised the national debt while funding inappropriate projects.

"There is no question that this stimulus bill has had a positive effect on the economy to a certain degree, and what our criticism is, it could have had far greater effect," Coburn said.

The report highlights projects funded by the stimulus such as a water park in New York, research into whether yoga can reduce hot flashes, and a sidewalk in Boynton, Oklahoma that leads into a ditch.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

US combat mission in Iraq to end

Barack Obama said the US strategy in Iraq will shift "from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats" by the end of this month, in the first of a series of speeches trumpeting the success of his administration's policy.

After a seven-year conflict costing US taxpayers some $700bn and the lives of more than 4,000 American troops, Obama proclaimed that the withdrawal of US forces was happening "as promised, on schedule," fulfilling his pledge as a presidential candidate to bring the conflict in Iraq to a "responsible end".

"As we mark the end of America's combat mission in Iraq, a grateful America must pay tribute to all who served there," Obama told the Disabled Veterans of America conference in Atlanta today, using a phrase that recalls George Bush's ill-fated claim on 1 May 2003 that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended".

In an attempt to avoid the premature triumphalism that damaged Bush's presidency, Obama also warned: "The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq."

Today's speech comes after a year in which Obama's administration has been concentrating on the conflict in Afghanistan and on US domestic policy, as the economy has remained the public's top concern and Democrats have wrestled with passing landmark healthcare and financial regulation reform

The withdrawal of American troops and the shift to a "civilian effort" will, however, likely include a build-up in contractors working for the US State Department, driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft and disposing of explosive devices, according to a report by McClatchy Newspapers.