Friday, January 29, 2010

Obama's ambition to double exports

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his first State of the Union speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill as Vice-President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud.

With much of his platform under strain, President Barack Obama's first State of the Union speech this week was a closely watched affair. To the surprise of some, Mr. Obama declared he would be staying the course on his most controversial policies in health care, climate change and deficit spending.

But he did signal a new commitment in one area of great interest to Canada. The President pledged to double his country's merchandise exports over the next five years. “We need to export more of our goods,” he said, promising two million new jobs in this sector. “We have to seek new markets aggressively.”

While Canada is a serious competitor to the United States in many foreign markets, Mr. Obama's vow should be seen as very good news. If he intends to get serious about exports, the President is also going to have to get serious about imports as well. And that means fighting protectionism with rather more effort than we have seen so far

From a statistical point of view, the recent collapse in global trade may make Mr. Obama's challenge somewhat easier. On a January-to-November basis (the most recent figures available), American goods exports fell from $1.2-trillion (U.S.) to $947-billion between 2008 and 2009. A large part of any doubling will simply be catching up to previous levels.

Nonetheless, the President will face substantial challenges in expanding trade. And the biggest obstacle is Congress.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Justice Alito mouths 'not true' when Obama blasts Supreme Court ruling in State of the Union address

President Obama chided the Court's ruling in his State of the Union address -- a highly unusual move.

Members of the Supreme Court got a front row seat to President Obama's State of the Union address, and one justice used the opportunity to mouth off to the President.

"With all due deference to the separation of powers," Obama said, "last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections"

In response to this criticism of their recent ruling, Justice Samuel Alito shook his head and appeared to mouth "Not true."

As both sides of the chamber rose to their feet, the members of the Court in attendance - Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and John Paul Stevens were absent - remained seated in silence, as is customary.

The Supreme Court tore up laws against corporate and union spending in federal elections in a 5-to-4 ruling. The decision is expected to help a GOP push to win back Congress.

The President's chiding of the Court's ruling is highly unusual.

Vice President Biden defended Obama's comments in an appearance on "Good Morning America" when asked if the remarks were proper.

"The President didn't question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it," the vice president said. "I think it (the ruling) was dead wrong and we have to correct it."

Justice Alito, a member of the Court's conservative bloc, was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

John and Elizabeth Edwards Legally Separated

With John Edwards' electrifying U.S. Senate win in 1998, it was his wife Elizabeth Edwards who captivated the nation. A strong, smart, resilient woman, she became one of her husband's greatest political strengths.

"He was young and good looking and charming [and] his wife did not fit Hollywood's central casting of what a political wife should look like. She was a little bit heavy-set. She was an attorney in her own right. She was somebody who was his intellectual equal, if not intellectual superior. She let people know that," said Democratic political consultant Joe Sinsheimer. "John was the dashing figure and Elizabeth was the anchor and that's the way they sold themselves to the people of North Carolina."

But behind their public persona as the golden couple, during his second run for president, there was another side to Elizabeth Edwards who was secretly dealing with the slow leakage of her husband's affair and her cancer diagnosis.

As a torrent of fresh details from the scandal cascaded into the media today, a source close to Elizabeth Edwards told ABC News that she and John are now legally separated. Under North Carolina law they can't get divorced until at least a year later. John Edwards is no longer living at their home in Chapel Hill, ABC News has learned.

When Elizabeth learned in March 2007 that her breast cancer had returned, it became part of the couple's political calculations in his presidential run, according to Edwards' former aide Andrew Young who has written a tell-all book "The Politician." The book will be released Jan. 30.

Obama speech to focus on economy

The US president's State of the Union address is set to focus on the economy, with the announcement of a spending freeze in certain areas of the US budget, according to the White House.

Barack Obama is set to deliver his biggest set-piece speech for the year in the House of Representatives in Washington DC at 9pm local time (02:00 GMT).

It comes at a time, one year into Obama's presidency, when unemployment in the US is at 10 per cent and a the government deficit has run to about $1.4 trillion.

"In this speech, what he'll discuss more than anything is getting our economy moving again," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said.

"It's a centrist strategy going forward," Manu Raju of the website, told Al Jazeera.

But aides have also signalled that Obama will make clear he has not lowered his sights and is determined to enact planned reforms, including his signature health care initiative, now in limbo in congress.

Ahead of his speech Obama has appeared on local television, saying: "The one thing I'm clear about is that I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

There is no guarantee that congress will agree to a spending freeze, an idea that Obama initially rejected when it was proposed by John McCain, his then Republican rival, in the 2008 election campaign.

The proposal has been met with derision by both Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats argue a freeze would hurt the economic recovery, while Republicans dismiss the move as window-dressing after what they call an "unprecedented spending binge" by the Obama White House.

Disputed proposal

That has led to speculation that the president may be moving closer to the middle ground of American politics.

Special report

"It's a centrist strategy going forward," Manu Raju of the website, told Al Jazeera.

But aides have also signalled that Obama will make clear he has not lowered his sights and is determined to enact planned reforms, including his signature health care initiative, now in limbo in congress.

Ahead of his speech Obama has appeared on local television, saying: "The one thing I'm clear about is that I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."

There is no guarantee that congress will agree to a spending freeze, an idea that Obama initially rejected when it was proposed by John McCain, his then Republican rival, in the 2008 election campaign.

The proposal has been met with derision by both Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats argue a freeze would hurt the economic recovery, while Republicans dismiss the move as window-dressing after what they call an "unprecedented spending binge" by the Obama White House.

Reform moves

According to the administration, the proposed freeze would exclude Defence, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and as well as entitlement programmes such as Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, which make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget.

White House budget officials estimate it could amount to savings of $250bn over 10 years.

But that would be less than 3 per cent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

In his speech, Obama is also likely to touch on other initiatives including immigration reform, cap-and-trade global warming legislation, wide-ranging education reform and regulatory rules to halt risky business practices on Wall Street.

Also expected is a promise to improve national security in regard to bio-attacks, tax breaks that could ease the way to college or retirement for Americans and a framework for the US role in rebuilding earthquake-hit Haiti.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Obama to announce aid for middle class

Washington The Associated Press U.S. President Barack Obama Previewing key elements of his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is announcing on Monday a series of initiatives aimed at calming some of the economic fears of struggling middle class families.

The proposals to be unveiled by Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House, and which the president will push in his Wednesday night speech, include a doubling of the child care tax credit for families earning under $85,000 (U.S.); an increase in federal funding for child care programs of $1.6-billion; capping student loan payments to 10 per cent of income above “a basic living allowance;” expanding tax credits to match retirement savings; and increasing aid for families taking care of elderly relatives. The plan would also require all employers to provide the option of a workplace-based retirement savings plan.

The proposals are the result of the work of a middle class task force that Biden had headed. A White House official says they are aimed at the “sandwich generation” – Americans that are struggling to care for both their children and their parents. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the speech has not been finalized.

The official said that creating jobs, addressing the deficit, changing Washington and helping middle class families are the main themes of Mr. Obama's first State of the Union address. He'll also discuss his bid to take on the financial industry, energy, education and immigration – all issues the president has said fit into his plan to rebuild the economy.

White House advisers see the speech as a key opportunity for Obama to recalibrate his message to better connect with the public and reset his presidency after stinging setbacks.

Mr. Obama has promised a sharper focus on jobs and the economy as the dust settles from the punishing loss of the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts. Republican Scott Brown's victory put the seat in the hands of Republicans for the first time in decades and took away Democrats' 60-vote majority in the Senate.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Obama bank plan wins tentative support in Europe

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) - France, Britain and Germany offered support on Friday for President Barack Obama's plan to limit banks' size and trading activities but fell short of pledging to follow suit on the proposal that has stunned world markets.

Obama's dramatic proposals could rewrite the world financial order but experts said they were light on detail and could cloud the global approach fostered by the Group of 20 nations.

Obama made his proposals on Thursday, saying he was ready to fight resistance from Wall Street banks he blamed for helping cause the global financial crisis.

The plan would prevent banks from investing in, owning or sponsoring a hedge fund or private equity fund.

It would set a new limit on banks' size in relation to the overall financial sector and, perhaps most dramatically, could also bar institutions from proprietary trading operations, which are unrelated to serving customers, for their own profit.

Proprietary trading involves firms making bets on markets with their own money and has been the source of much of banks' bumper profits before and after the financial crisis.

French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde welcomed the proposal, saying it was a "very, very good step forward."

"They see that regulation, which was a taboo word that was difficult to use in financial circles in the United States, is vital to contain ... banking excesses," she said.

UK Treasury Minister Paul Myners said Britain had already acted to address problems in its banking industry.

"He's developing a solution to what he sees as the American issues, we've already taken the necessary action in the UK," Myners said in an interview with Reuters Insider TV.

But Britain's opposition Conservatives, tipped by polls to win an election to be held by June, offered more solid support.

"President Obama has created a lot of space for the rest of the world to come up with what I think would be a sensible system of international rules," Conservative finance spokesman George Osborne told BBC Radio.

"I have said consistently that we should look at separating retail banking from activities like large-scale propriety trading and that this was best done internationally."

Doubts remain as to whether Obama's scheme can be enacted unchanged, not least since his party lost a key Senate seat this week, depriving it of a "super majority" in that house.

But it will strike a popular chord.

Banks' return to paying massive bonuses has prompted public and media outrage in the United States and Europe after taxpayer money was used to bail many of them out.

Wall Street sold off on Thursday and the threat that other countries will follow Obama's lead rattled European lenders.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

In blow to Obama, Republican wins in Massachusetts

BOSTON (Reuters) - In a stunning blow to President Barack Obama, Republican Scott Brown won a bitter Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday and promised to be the deciding vote against his sweeping healthcare overhaul.

Brown's win robbed Democrats of the crucial 60th Senate vote they need to pass the healthcare bill and sent shudders of fear through Democrats facing tough races in November's congressional elections.

What once seemed an easy Democratic victory turned into a desperate scramble in the last few weeks as Brown surged ahead of Democratic state Attorney General Martha Coakley on voter fears over the economy, the healthcare bill and Obama's agenda.

Brown, a Massachusetts state senator, said he would be the pivotal 41st Republican vote against the healthcare overhaul in the 100-member Senate.

"People don't want this trillion-dollar healthcare plan that is being forced on the American people," Brown told cheering supporters at a Boston hotel who chanted "41" and "Seat him now."

He said voters rejected the closed-door deals that were driving the healthcare debate, and he took satisfaction in proving the experts -- and Democrats -- wrong.

"They thought that they owned this seat. They thought that they couldn't lose," Brown said. "You all set them straight."

Brown's upset with 52 percent of the vote in heavily Democratic Massachusetts raised the specter of large losses for Democrats across the country in November and left the party scrambling to find answers.

"Anyone who has been out on the campaign trail has seen the anger," Coakley, who was criticized for running a weak campaign, told a room of dispirited supporters at a Boston hotel. "I am heartbroken at the result."

Obama, who won almost 62 percent of the state's vote in the 2008 presidential election, made a last-minute appeal in Massachusetts on Sunday to try to ignite enthusiasm for Coakley's campaign to replace the late Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democratic icon and longtime champion of healthcare reform.

In Washington, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president called Brown after the result.

"The president told Senator Brown that he looks forward to working with him on the urgent economic challenges facing Massachusetts families and struggling families across our nation," Gibbs said in a statement.

New York-to-Louisville flight is diverted to Philly due to security concerns

PHILADELPHIA -- A spokesman for US Airways said a flight from New York to Louisville, Ky., has been diverted to Philadelphia International Airport because of security concerns.
Spokesman Jim Olson said US Airways Express Flight 3709 landed in Philadelphia around 9 a.m. after taking off from La Guardia airport. He would not elaborate on the security concern, referring questions to local authorities and the Transportation Security Administration.
A plane is escorted by a law enforcement vehicle to a terminal at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia. A spokesman for US Airways says a flight from New York to Louisville, Ky., has been diverted to Philadelphia International Airport because of security concerns. Spokesman Jim Olson says US Airways Express Flight 3709 landed in Philadelphia around 9 a.m. after taking off from La Guardia airport.

Olson said the plane landed without incident and that the passengers have deplaned. He said they are being put on other flights.

Airport spokesman Mark Pesce said the airport remains open and fully operational.

Calls to Philadelphia police and the FBI were not immediately returned.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

51 percent approve of Obama after first year

Washington -- As President Obama marks one year in the White House, an average of the most recent national surveys indicates that just over half of the public approves of how the president is handling his job.

According to a new CNN Poll of Polls, 51 percent of Americans give Obama a thumbs-up when it comes to his performance as president, with 42 percent saying they disapprove of the job he's doing. The survey was released Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of Obama's inauguration.

"Obama's average approval rating stayed above 60 percent until mid-June, and was at 55 percent as late as October," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But since November, his weekly approval rating, on average, has hovered around the 50 percent mark."

This most recent CNN Poll of Polls is an average of four national surveys conducted in the past week: Fox News (January 12-13), ABC/Washington Post (January 12-15), CBS (January 14-15) and the Gallup Tracking poll (January 15-17). The Poll of Polls does not have a sampling error.

So how does Obama rank compared with his most recent predecessors? George W. Bush's approval rating stood at 83 percent in January 2002, just four months after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Bill Clinton held a 54 percent approval rating in January 1994. George H.W. Bush stood at 80 percent in January 1990, and 49 percent of the public approved of the job Ronald Reagan was doing in January 1982.

"The historical comparison reminds us that a president's first-year approval ratings have little predictive value when forecasting the next election," Holland said. "The elder George Bush had a great first year in office, but lost his re-election bid.

"Ronald Reagan dropped under the 50 percent mark in the fall of his first year and stayed there for nearly two years, yet went on to a landslide victory when he ran again."

US Republicans in upbeat mood after poll victories

What an anniversary gift. President Obama ends his first year in office with Republicans popping the champagne corks - celebrating a victory in Massachusetts they hope will be a harbinger of political gains to come.

A year ago the Democrats were talking about hope and history. President Obama's agenda was ambitious, and his legislative reach impressive.

They dreamed of remaking American government. They had to switch gears to help shore up the American economy.

And as of today, Democrats are licking their wounds - still the majority party in US politics, but stunned nevertheless by that electoral blow in Massachusetts.

Not promising

The next few days will be a critical test of President Obama's strategic abilities - and nerve. Will he be defiant, or conciliatory?

Will he come out fighting for his healthcare initiative in its present form, or back off, accepting that with this vote, he has now lost vital momentum?

He needs to have the answers - and deliver them convincingly - during his State of the Union speech next Wednesday.

What will he say about his healthcare initiative, and the rest of that ambitious agenda? How does he rephrase "hope and change" to the American public now?

Above all, he needs to know he still has strong backing from the US electorate.

He needs opinion poll figures that show the Democrats matching, or outstripping, their Republican rivals. And yet the numbers are not exactly promising.

The independent Pew Research Center reports that while marginally more registered voters intend to back the Democrats in November's Congressional elections, many more Republicans describe themselves as "enthusiastic".

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Senate election pushes Barack Obama agenda to cliff edge

Voters in Massachusetts decide on a new senator today - and possibly the fate of President Barack Obama's ambitious reform agenda.

The special election to fill the seat of the late Democratic veteran Edward Kennedy could see Republican Scott Brown score a stunning upset against Democrat Martha Coakley in what was believed to be one of her party's safest seats.

The latest Public Policy Polling survey conducted over the weekend gives Brown 51 per cent to Coakley's 46 per cent, while a poll commissioned by the Politico website showed the Republican ahead 52 to 43 per cent.

Another poll showed the two neck and neck.

The stakes are huge, not so much for who will represent the northeastern state, but because a win by Brown would demolish the fragile supermajority Democrats use in the Senate to override opposition to health care reform and the rest of Obama's agenda.

With 60 Senate votes, Democrats are able to prevent Republican filibusters and push through legislation. With only 59, Democrats would need Republican support, which in today's increasingly rancorous partisan divide looks unlikely to happen.

The president showed his alarm Sunday when he took time off from the Haiti earthquake crisis and other pressing issues to campaign in Boston.

He told a noisy crowd of Coakley supporters that the big initiatives of his presidency - the health care plan, clean energy initiatives, and attempts to repair the damage from last year's financial meltdown - are on the line.

US Air Force Drops Food, Water into Haiti

The U.S. military has begun airdropping desperately needed food and water to Haitian earthquake survivors in an effort to overcome congestion at the airport and other obstacles to delivering aid.

A U.S. Air Force plane dropped more than 14,000 "ready-to-eat" meals and 15,000 liters of water into an area north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. It was the U.S. military's first such airdrop since the deadly earthquake in Haiti one week ago.

U.S. defense officials had ruled out airdrops before, saying they would cause chaos among survivors and potentially lead to riots. But the military says it has since secured certain areas for the operation.

U.S. troops also descended by helicopter Tuesday onto the grounds of the shattered presidential palace to deliver aid to people in the area.

The rest of the international community is also stepping up relief efforts in Haiti.

The United Nations Security Council is expected Tuesday to approve a request for 3,500 more troops and police to bolster peacekeeping efforts in the battered Caribbean nation.

Relief efforts have been hampered by numerous problems, including blocked roads, bureaucratic confusion, and the collapse of local authority. As aid workers struggle to meet the needs of earthquake victims, some Haitians are leaving the capital in an effort to reach the countryside.

U.S. commanders say more than 10,000 military personnel will be either in Haiti or just offshore in the coming weeks.

About 2,200 U.S. Marines arrived for duty Monday aboard the amphibious ship USS Bataan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says U.S. troops in Haiti will support the government there as well as the United Nations peacekeeping mission, but will not take on an expanded policing role. Gates also told reporters that U.S. troops have the authority to use force to defend themselves or others, if necessary.

World leaders have promised massive amounts of assistance to rebuild Haiti, after last Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude quake. Officials estimate that about 200,000 people may have been killed in the quake, and an estimated 3 million people - about a third of Haiti's population - have been affected.

Survivors have been living in makeshift camps on streets littered with debris and decomposing bodies. Security concerns have grown as hundreds of looters have broken into shops, taking whatever they can and fighting each other.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, visited Port-au-Prince Monday. He reviewed disaster relief efforts and met with Haitian President René Preval. Mr. Clinton also personally delivered emergency relief supplies, including water, food, medical supplies, and portable radios and generators.

Obama visits American Red Cross

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has personally thanked some American Red Cross workers for their efforts following the earthquake in Haiti last week. He also sent his first Twitter message.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama went to American Red Cross headquarters a few blocks from the White House on Monday, and toured the Disaster Operations Center.

Obama thanked the workers, all seated at computer stations, for their efforts and urged them to keep up what he said was great work.

After leaving one station where workers monitored Twitter messages, Obama said he had just "tweeted." He said it was the first time he had done so. Obama pushed the button on a message that said he and the first lady were visiting.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Obama Takes to the Pulpit

President Obama clapped to a gospel song before delivering remarks on Martin Luther King Jr. at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington.

President Obama told a black church in the nation’s capital today that the promise inherent in his election as the nation’s first African-American president has yet to be fully realized, acknowledging that partisan Washington politics continued to play a big role in governance.

But Mr. Obama promised that his health reform package — now hanging in the balance because of the Massachusetts Senate race — will soon become law. “Under the legislation I plan to sign into law, insurance companies won’t be able to drop you,” he said, to murmurs from the congregation at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, which was founded by freed slaves.

Recalling the day, almost one year ago, that he took the oath of office, Mr. Obama said “there was a hope shared that life would be better the moment I swore that oath.”

He said that “as we meet today, we know the promise of that moment has not fully been fulfilled.” He attributed the slow progress to the economic downturn and alluded to American frustration with Wall Street greed. But on the eve of the federal holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Obama noted that Dr. King suffered setbacks as well, and the president promised to continue to fight.

Mr. Obama’s address was noteworthy because he has rarely been to church since he was elected. In addition, after the furor over sermons delivered by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, during the campaign, Mr. Obama spoke to a black congregation in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

He challenged the black community to invest more in itself, and criticized a lionizing of Hollywood among both blacks and whites where “the most important thing is to be a celebrity — it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you get on TV.”

Obama scrambles to save Democratic Senate seat

President Barack Obama went on a rescue mission on Sunday to try to save an endangered Massachusetts Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate whose defeat by a Republican could imperil Obama's sweeping healthcare overhaul.

Obama appeared at a campaign rally in Boston for Democrat Martha Coakley, whose 30-point lead in the polls in December has vanished and who is now in a tight race with Republican Scott Brown before Tuesday's election.

Speaking to 1,500 supporters gathered in a basketball arena at Northeastern University, Obama ridiculed Brown for his populist campaign tactic of driving around Massachusetts in a pickup truck and attacked him for not supporting a bank bailout tax Obama proposed last week.

"We asked Martha's opponent, what's he going to do, and he decided to park his truck on Wall Street," Obama said. "Let me be clear: Bankers don't need another vote in the United States Senate. They've got plenty."

A victory by Brown would be a shock upset in the traditionally liberal New England state. At stake is the Senate seat held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy for 46 years, a fact that Coakley raised at the rally. "I need your help to follow in his huge footsteps," she said.

Aware that his healthcare push is generating some opposition in Massachusetts, Obama made little mention of his top domestic priority, choosing instead to emphasize Brown's opposition to the bank tax.

But the fact is that Obama's healthcare overhaul could be slowed if Brown wins since the Republican has vowed to vote against it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Obama approval rating hits new low

Sliding down the popularity chart, the approval rating of U.S. President Barack Obama has dropped down to a new low of 46 per cent, according to a latest national opinion poll.

The CBS News in its latest opinion poll said only 46 per cent of the people now approve, and 41 per cent now say they disapprove Mr. Obama’s performance as U.S. President.

In last month’s CBS News poll, 50 per cent of Americans had approved of how the President was handling his job, while 39 per cent disapproved, the news channel said, adding domestic issues appears to be driving down his popularity.

“Just 41 per cent now approve of his handling of the economy, which Americans say is the nation’s most pressing issue. Forty seven per cent disapprove,” it said.“The President’s marks on handling health care, with reforms still under debate in Congress, are even lower — just 36 per cent approve, while 54 per cent disapprove.

“Both of these approval ratings are the lowest of Obama’s Presidency,” said the channel.

Meanwhile, White House press corps pressed Mr. Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs as to why the President was reluctant to respond to media’s questions in the past several months. Mr. Obama’s press conference with the media has been long due.

“I don’t see one on the schedule at least in the short term,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters when asked about the next press conference with Mr. Obama.

“Is he avoiding us?” asked a correspondent.“No. Again, the last time we had this conversation here about the President’s media strategy I was informed by many of you that the President was overexposed,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Republicans Cite Lott in Calling for Reid to Quit

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A double standard, charge Republicans vainly seeking Sen. Harry Reid's immediate resignation as majority leader. A different context than other racial gaffes, counter Democrats who want Reid to stay on in spite of his embarrassing remarks about Barack Obama.

Reid apologized to Obama and a handful of black political leaders after a new book reported that he was favorably impressed by Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and, in a private conversation, described the Illinois senator as a ''light-skinned'' African-American ''with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.''

Obama, who tries to steer clear of the political thicket of race and politics, accepted the apology and said he wanted to close the book on the episode. Republicans were eager to keep it open Sunday, comparing Reid's remarks to those that cost Trent Lott the Senate leadership in 2002 and questioning why there was different reaction now.

Lott had cheered the 1948 presidential campaign of Strom Thurmond -- a segregationist Democrat opposing President Harry Truman -- during a 100th birthday tribute to Thurmond, by then a longtime Republican senator.

Lott, R-Miss., eventually apologized but resigned nearly two weeks later after a growing number of Republicans questioned his effectiveness, especially after he told Black Entertainment Television he supported affirmative action, no longer opposed the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and would back programs aimed at minorities. He resigned from the Senate in 2007.

In Reid's case, at least so far, Democrats have been content to chide the Nevada Democrat and cast his remarks as inappropriate and, as Obama said, ''unfortunate.''

''There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own,'' Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, said Sunday. ''But if it comes from anyone else, it's racism.''

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement that Reid should step down, calling his comments ''embarrassing and racially insensitive.''

''It's difficult to see this situation as anything other than a clear double standard on the part of Senate Democrats and others,'' Cornyn said.

For is part, Reid has no intention of stepping down as majority leader and is ''absolutely running for reelection,'' his spokesman, Jim Manley, said.

''The Republicans are saying this because they know they can't beat Harry Reid,'' Manley said in an e-mail. ''The only way to get him is to try to push him out. Sen. Reid stands by the president and will continue his life's work to improve people's lives.''

Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island rejected comparisons to the Lott episode.

''I think that's a totally different context. Harry Reid made a misstatement,'' Reed said. ''He owned up to it. He apologized. I think he is mortified by the statement he's made. And I don't think he should step down.''

US Envoy Describes N. Korean Rights Situation as 'Appalling'

U.S. envoy said Monday that North Korean human rights issues can be discussed at the six-party denuclearization talks, describing the rights situation in the secretive state as ``appalling.''

Robert King, special envoy on North Korean human rights, who arrived in Seoul, Sunday, also expressed his willingness to visit Pyongyang.

``The six-party talks include a subgroup of the United States and the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea). We will hold bilateral discussions within the context of the six-party talks,'' he said after meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan at the ministry in Seoul.

He continued, ``As we have said on many occasions, the relationship with the United States and North Korea will have to involve human rights.''

Asked about his assessment of the current human rights situation in North Korea, the envoy said, ``It's one of the worst places in terms of lack of human rights. ``The State Department annually reports on human rights conditions, and the status of human rights in North Korea is considered poor.''

With an updated report set to be released in a few weeks, King said it is expected to include few changes from what has been seen in the past. The envoy also called for the improvement of human rights in the reclusive state, saying the issue is an obstacle to normalizing Washington-Pyongyang relations.

``Improved relations between the United States and North Korea will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea. That's one of the important conditions,'' he said. King said he would be ``happy to go'' to Pyongyang if North Korea invites him.

He assumed the position of special envoy last November ― prior to his appointment, he worked for 24 years as chief of staff to Rep. Tom Lantos. Heavily involved in the planning and conducting of Lantos' human rights agenda, he played a key role in the passage of the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act.

He is scheduled to meet with South Korean officials, North Korean defectors and family members of abductees before leaving for Japan, Friday.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Revelations From The Campaign

(CBS) Asked by Barack Obama if she would be his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton - after initially turning him down - was concerned that her husband's penchant for causing controversy would interfere with her new role. Sarah Palin was so overwhelmed by the amount of information she needed to learn to debate Joe Biden that campaign staffers thought the debate might be a "debacle of historic and epic proportions."

Those are some of the revelations in "Game Change," a new book about the presidential campaigns by political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, who say they interviewed 200 Democrats and Republicans with inside knowledge.

Both men, along with Steve Schmidt, John McCain's former chief campaign strategist, are interviewed by CNN's Anderson Cooper for a story to be broadcast on 60 Minutes this Sunday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Lawmakers Want More Security Changes Out of Terror Plot Review

President Obama's push to revamp the terror watch list, improve airport screening and hold the intelligence community more accountable for tracking suspects does not go far enough, some lawmakers say, arguing that more specific steps need to be taken to avoid a repeat of the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

After National Security Adviser James Jones warned that President Obama's preliminary review of the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing would "shock" Americans, the most startling aspect of it may have been that the administration was pledging to do what seemed obvious to many -- at least in hindsight.

The president's push to revamp the terror watch list, improve airport screening and hold the intelligence community more accountable for tracking suspects had some lawmakers saying on Friday that the administration must offer more specific steps if it hopes to avoid a repeat of the alleged plot to blow up an international flight heading to Detroit.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

President Barack Obama meets with his national security team

WASHINGTON --As the White House portrays the dramatic scene, President Barack Obama summoned his national security team to the Situation Room for a lecture about accountability after the failed terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner.

"This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous," the commander in chief said.

The White House took the uncommon step of releasing that this-will-not-stand quote from a room where the secrecy usually is fiercely protected. Obama went on to say, according to the distributed account: "We dodged a bullet, but just barely. ... While there will be a tendency for finger-pointing, I will not tolerate it."Tough language, but where will it lead?

Words are not enough. What people want is action.

Five times now since a man linked to al-Qaida allegedly tried to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day, Obama has updated the nation. His message is one of a president determined for people to see he is in charge, demanding results and willing to call out his own government's flaws.

All this comes after some grumbles about a slow initial response on the part of Obama, who was in Hawaii on vacation and first spoke about the incident three days after it happened.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Obama sets $250 million partnership for education

President Barack Obama will announce a $250 million public-private partnership on Wednesday expanding a program to improve U.S. math and science education, the White House said.

The fund, which nearly doubles a $260 million initiative announced in November, involves universities, large corporations, foundations, non-profits and government agencies. It is intended to attract, develop and reward outstanding teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

One company, Intel Corp. and the Intel Foundation, said it would launch a 10-year, $200 million cash and in-kind campaign to support math and science teaching.

The United States is the world's biggest economy and its universities are considered world leaders, but it trails some Asian and European nations in educating children in math and science, fields considered essential for the U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

Iceland blocks repayment deal, sparks global outrage

Iceland President Olafur Grimsson has angered Britain and the Dutch

Until Tuesday, Olafur Grimsson's role as president of Iceland was largely ceremonial. Suddenly, it's worth billions.

In a twist to the island nation's much-watched struggle to cope with its massive debt, Mr. Grimsson blocked a $5-billion (U.S.) deal to pay Britain and the Netherlands for losses suffered by depositors in one of Iceland's banks.

The move drew outrage around the world, and handed the country's people a tough choice to make in a referendum – agree to repay the money, or say no and risk cementing the country's status as an international deadbeat.

Icelanders, resentful at paying for their banks' failings amid a crumbling economy, are widely expected to deliver a resounding “No.” One recent opinion poll suggests 70 per cent of the country's 320,000 people would oppose the settlement.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Obama unveils changes to address bomb attempt

Emerging from a meeting with his national security team, Obama singled out the intelligence community for criticism, saying they had information that could have averted the December 25 bomb attempt but failed to connect the dots.

He promised changes in particular in the government's terrorist "watchlist" system, which came under fire for failing to identify the threat of the Christmas Day attack.

"I want our additional reviews completed this week," Obama said at the White House. "I want specific recommendations for corrective actions to fix what went wrong. I want those reforms implemented immediately so that this doesn't happen again and so that we can prevent future attacks."

On Obama's first full day back from his Hawaii vacation, he faced the challenge of spotlighting national security -- suddenly pushed to the top of his agenda -- while not looking distracted from other pressing public concerns like reducing double-digit unemployment.

The administration was on the defensive after intelligence failures allowed a Nigerian with alleged links to Yemen-based al Qaeda operatives to board a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam. The man is accused of trying to blow up the Detroit-bound plane with explosives hidden in his underwear.

U.S. spy agencies and the State Department had information about the suspect, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but never collated the information to put him on a no-fly list.

Obama, who returned on Monday from 11 days in his home state, has been lambasted by Republicans who accuse his Democratic administration of being weak on terrorism and unable to fix intelligence gaps that have lingered since the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks.

Republicans hope to score points for November elections to help challenge the Democrats' control of Congress.

"We have to do better and we will do better," Obama said as he sought to counter critics of his counterterrorism policy and grab control of the debate.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Barack Obama effigy found hanging in Jimmy Carter's home town

The effigy, with a rope around its neck, was placed in front of a red, white and blue sign that said: "Plains, Georgia. Home of Jimmy Carter, our 39th President" in the town's Main Street on Friday night.

It was removed by police on Saturday morning and local media said few people saw it before it was taken down.The incident has caused disquiet in the small rural town. Local business owners feared it would give the town a bad name and affect tourism.

"We wish it hadn't happened," said Jan Williams, who manages the Plains Historic Inn on Main Street."It's not the kind of publicity the town of Plains likes," Ms Williams said of the city of about 600.

"Plains is a nice quiet town."However, some residents were not surprised."It's wrong with what they did to Obama but I'm not shocked by it. It's a nice place to live but some people still out there don't like it," Trevor Sims said.

In Washington, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan confirmed the agency was investigating the case. Mr Donovan said the doll was removed on Saturday. He declined further comment.

Census Working Overtime With Advertising

The first year of a new decade brings, for Americans, the decennial census. The census for 2010 will be the subject of what is being called the most elaborate advertising and marketing effort to date from the Commerce Department.

The campaign got under way on Monday with an appearance on “Today” on NBC along with a news conference in Times Square featuring Gary Locke, secretary of commerce, and Robert Groves, director of the census, who appeared with Michael R. Bloomberg, the New York City mayor.

The first phase of the campaign is centered on a “road tour” of vehicles, sponsored by the census, that will travel across the country to encourage participation in Census Day on April 1. The behemoth of the lot is a 46-foot trailer that made its debut on “Today.”

The tour — officially, the 2010 Census Portrait of America Road Tour — can be followed online at and will be promoted with numerous elements of the new media that were not around for the 2000 census, among them Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.

The Commerce Department will spend an estimated $340 million on the campaign, which also includes television commercials, print and outdoor ads, online advertising, events like the road tour and public relations initiatives. The commercials will include a spot during Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7 on CBS.

The ads will appear in 28 languages, the most ever, according to the census executives. By comparison, ads ran in 17 languages a decade ago to encourage citizens to take part in the 2000 census.

The campaign is being handled by a batch of agencies owned by the Interpublic Group of Companies, among them Draft FCB, GlobalHue, Jack Morton Worldwide (for the road tour and other events) and Weber Shandwick.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New-look US Olympic hockey roster picked

Not since NHL players started going to the Olympics 12 years ago has the U.S. team featured so many fresh faces.

Of the 23 players chosen Friday for next month's games, only New York Rangers captain Chris Drury, New Jersey counterpart Jamie Langenbrunner and Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski have Olympic experience.

Aging stalwarts such as Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and Scott Gomez will all be able to rest during the long break in February because they were left off the team that will head to Vancouver.

The infusion of up-and-coming players is hardly a surprise. Team USA general manager Brian Burke made it clear last summer is was time to turn the page on those who represented the United States time and time again.

"We're going there to win," said Burke, the Toronto Maple Leafs' GM.

He thanked those "warriors" when most veterans weren't invited to the team's orientation camp in August. Modano, the longtime Dallas Stars forward, and Montreal's Gomez were in attendance, but didn't do enough during the first half of the NHL season to earn a spot on the team.