Follow Barack Obama prior and during his tenure as the 44th President of the United States. Read about my personal observations along with every day facts as they happen. This blog will only submit factual information about the first black President, now in his 2nd term of office.


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Democrat to take U.S. House seat for New York

Saturday, April 25, 2009

By Paul Steinhauser
CNN Deputy Political Director

(CNN) -- It took nearly a month, but Democrat Scott Murphy has won the battle for New York's 20th Congressional District.
Democrat Scott Murphy will take the U.S. House seat for New York's 20th Congressional District.

Democrat Scott Murphy will take the U.S. House seat for New York's 20th Congressional District.

Republican James Tedisco conceded Friday and called Murphy to offer congratulations.

The race was too close to call after the March 31 election. But as absentee and overseas ballots poured in over the past few weeks, Murphy's lead grew.

President Obama extended his congratulations to the Missouri-born Murphy, saying his addition to Congress bodes well for the economic challenges facing the country.

"With this hard fought win, Scott has shown he is willing to fight the tough battles on behalf of the people in his district," Obama said. "As a candidate, Scott courageously championed the economic plans we need to lift our nation and put it on a better path, and he will continue to do so in Congress. With his proven record of creating high paying jobs and standing up for upstate New York, Scott will bring to the nation's capitol the change New Yorkers need."

Murphy, 39, is a millionaire venture capitalist. Tedisco, 58, is a longtime New York state lawmaker and ranking Republican in the State Assembly.

The candidates were running to replace Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat by New York Gov. David Paterson. Clinton is now secretary of state in President Obama's Cabinet.

What normally would have been a local contest with little national interest partially evolved into an early referendum on Obama, his polices to jump-start the economy and the reputations of the Democratic and Republican parties. Both national parties and their congressional committees poured money and resources into the race.

The 20th is a moderate-to-conservative district that Republicans dominated for decades. Gillibrand won the seat in 2006 and was re-elected in November.
Don't Miss

* Congressional race may have national implications

The GOP enjoyed a wide edge in voter registration in the district, which includes portions of the Catskills, parts of the upper Hudson River valley, the Saratoga Springs area, Lake George and portions of the Adirondacks. George W. Bush won the district in the 2004 election, but Obama narrowly took the district in November.

The Republicans have fared poorly in New York in the past two elections, losing six House seats in 2006 and 2008, leaving them with just three in the 29-seat delegation.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, on the job for just three months, made recapturing the seat a priority and appeared twice with Tedisco.

But with the election so close, both parties hailed the results.

"Just a few short months ago, President Obama carried this district, and Kirsten Gillibrand won by an overwhelming margin against a well-funded challenger," said Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "For the first time in a long time, a Republican congressional candidate went toe-to-toe with a Democrat in a hard-fought battle over independent voters."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Democratic win, in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats, is a vote of confidence for the president and his policies.

"Scott's victory is a clear indication that Democrats, independents and Republicans across the country want to continue moving America in a New Direction and reject the 'just say no' policies of Washington, D.C., Republicans," Pelosi said in a statement Friday afternoon.

But while the Democrats praised their victory in the special election, analysts cautioned that the race would probably have little bearing on future races.

"There should be a healthy pause before over-analyzing the results from New York 20," said Nathan Gonzalez, political editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "Historically, these early special elections aren't good predictors. I'm not convinced that this special election will be a good predictor of what happens in 2010."


Torture pictures from President Bush's Administration to become public

It was bound to surface, ever since it was learned the President Bush and Vice President Chaney openly admitted that torture was OK in certain situations. But now, the truth of what actually happened with be out soon, as the Pentagon has agreed to release hundreds of photographs showing alleged abuse in detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost 6 years. President Bush condoned the torture treatments, even though he publicly denounced what had happened at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq when the activities there became public. At the time, he had to denounce the treatments, because the public would not take it so well that the President condoned torture. It is now known through at least 60 criminal investigations that military personnel have abused detainees, or at least that is what is alleged.
The department of defense stands by the idea that "The policy of the Department of Defense is to treat all prisoners humanely, and those who have violated that policy have been investigated and disciplined" according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. The investigations stem from the initial claim which was admitted by the ex-President and vice-President, that 'water boarding' was OK, and widely used. For someone who does not know what water boarding is, here is a summary.
It is the belief of this editor, that this treatment should be found to be against the law. The present administration denounces any form of torture, especially water-boarding. Other ways can be administered to get the answers that normally would not be given by a prisoner unless the prisoner receives something that will force him to talk.
Soon, I will predict especially when the pictures are released of the torture, that President Bush may be indicted for the use of torture. The question here is whether President Obama would forgive President Bush. I do not believe that he would forgive the President, as President Obama will show to the world that he fully supports justice, and regardless of who you are, you are obligated to obey the law. What may follow is one of the greatest criminal investigations to involve a prior President of the United States. It also is highly likely that if President Obama does not forgive the ex-president of his actions, President Bush will have to testify in court.


The Popularity of President Obama

Well it's been almost 100 days since President Obama was elected, and he is doing quite well as president, as far as his popularity goes. As far as on the job rating, he fairs a little better than most presidents, and only Ronald Reagan was more popular as President after his first 100 days.
On a personal standpoint, Obama stands out above all other Presidents, even Ronald Reagan, and you can say even John Kennedy. President Kennedy actually became more famous after his death. His life was cheated from him from an assassins bullet.
As far as keeping the country safe, President Obama fairs even above our last President George Bush at 71%.
Even better than that poll, President Obama is believed to be able to understand the problems better of ordinary Americans, more than any modern President, at 71 percent. To me, that is just amazing. But if you look how he ran, what he ran for, and how he has delivered during the first 100 days of his presidency, you can understand why his popularity is pretty high. Certainly, most conservatives will tell you that he is destroying the country, destroying the economic system, and is destroying the medical and insurance industry, not to mention the auto industry. But is he really?!?!?! If he was, why then are there so many people supporting him? Look at it a different way. What if nothing was done with the economy, and if Obama didn't take charge of a problem that this country created, that extended the problem out to the entire world which is the economic meltdown. Actually, he couldn't have become President soon enough. At least as a new president, one who allot of people believed that he was not capable of making decisions as a first young black American president, has no reason now to prove anything to anyone. When he promised results in his campaign, he has delivered. He meticulously started putting together his cabinet, almost the first day after he won his election. Now 100 days after his election, he is cruising each and every day towards his goals. Sooner or later, the Republican in the House and Senate will be won over by him, especially when the country starts to feel the effects to his policies.
The international community was expected to make that accusation that the United States was responsible for creating the economic meltdown when the economic countries met a few weeks ago. But instead, they listened intently to him, even after when he told them that "I am here to listen". For a President who has taken charge in the economic crisis, he met the international community and listened to the other leading economic countries criticize the situation, and how they believe it should be handled.
It can be stated now that President Obama will be considered one of the most popular presidents in American history, especially if the results he achieves by his actions works out in a positive way. If the economy turns around within a few years, then he no doubt will considered already for re-election. With the same thought, it may be many years before another republican will be elected as president of the United States.


Interactive First 100 Days for Obama as President

Thursday, April 16, 2009

President Obama is about to complete his first 100 days in office as President of the United States. Below you can participate in an interactive time-line of these days, along with following his activities through his 12th week as President. Follow his campaign promises as he made them during his campaign, and determine for yourself how he is keeping his promises.



100 days timeline interactive
A president's first days in office can be defined by landmark victories — or memorable failures. Explore our timeline gauging hits and misses from Roosevelt to Obama.
NBC News

Image: Obama shakes hands with Corporal Christopher Bickel
  First 100 days
In his 12th week as president, Barack Obama rolled Easter eggs, met the first family’s new dog, hosted a Passover dinner, and spoke optimistically about the state of the U.S. economy.
more photos


Track 'em
Explore and track Obama's campaign pledges. See if he keeps his word, and vote on his progress.
NBC News

Video: White House  
Fighting for healthcare reform
April 15: Drug companies keep raising the prices on medicine to turn a profit, causing President Barack Obama to call for reform. CEO of The National Coalition on Health Care, Ralph Neas, talks about whether the president can beat the health care lobby.

  A historic election
Take a look back at the election and inauguration of President Obama.
Decision '08
The Inauguration


April 15, 2009
Posted: 05:00 PM ET


The White House has released the 2008 tax returns of both the first and second families on Tuesday, Tax Day.
The White House has released the 2008 tax returns
of both the first and second families on Tuesday, Tax Day.
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The White House released 2008 tax returns Wednesday for the Obamas and the Bidens.
The president and the first lady reported an adjusted gross income of of more than $2.6 million last year, and paid $855,323 in federal income tax. The Obamas also donated $172,050, to 37 different charities, including $25,000 contributions to CARE and the United Negro College Fund.
The Obamas, who donated $26,270 to Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ in 2007, did not contribute any money to the church in 2008. They donated $240,370 to 33 charities in 2007, including $35,000 to CARE, and $50,000 to the United Negro College Fund.

Read: The Obama's 2008 federal tax return

Read: The Obamas' 2008 federal form 709

Read: The Obamas' 2008 state tax return

Vice President and Mrs. Biden reported an adjusted gross income of $269,256, and an after-tax income of $183,315. They paid $46,952 in federal income taxes, and donated $1,885 to charity.

Read: The Bidens' 2008 federal tax return

Read: The Bidens' 2008 state tax return


Obama heads to Mexico amid escalating drug violence

By Ed Hornick

(CNN)--President Obama travels to Mexico on Thursday as the country deals with a violent surge in drug crimes.
Obama recently announced a crackdown on border violence and on the smuggling of cash and weapons into Mexico -- a step that could mark an end to a blame game over where responsibility for the violence lies.
President Obama travels to Mexico on Thursday as the country deals with a violent surge in drug crimes. The president recently designated three Mexican organizations, which he says are involved in drug trafficking, to face hefty financial sanctions under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.
The law, signed by President Bill Clinton in December 1999, authorizes the president to impose penalties against foreign drug kingpins -- and organizations that do business with them, according to the Treasury Department.
"Today's action underscores the U.S. government's support for [Mexican] President [Felipe] Calderon's courageous attack on the cartels and our attempt to attack the financial underpinnings of Mexico's cartels believed to generate billions of dollars annually," Gibbs said.
The president's action comes ahead of his trip to Mexico -- along with attending the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago later this week -- where drug violence will undoubtedly be debated.
Obama lauded Calderon as having done "an outstanding and heroic job in dealing with what is a big problem right now along the borders with the drug cartels."
Authorities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border blame powerful drug cartels for escalating bloodshed. Analysts have said the bulk of the violence takes place along the U.S. border, particularly in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and Tijuana -- as well as on Mexico's western coast.
Obama vowed that the United States can be counted on to help. "We are going to be dealing not only with drug interdiction coming north, but also working on helping to curb the flow of cash and guns going south," Obama said.
The American public, meanwhile, is divided over Mexico. Fifty-two percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Mexico, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released April 7.
Forty-six percent have a negative opinion. The poll was conducted April 3-5 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Despite those numbers, the Pentagon and the director of national intelligence have both warned recently of the national security threat that an unstable Mexico poses. Congress also has addressed the violence, holding eight hearings since coming back into session two months ago.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox on Wednesday downplayed analysts' warnings, saying the worst-case scenario is "far, far, away."
As for who is to blame for the surge in drug cartel violence, Fox refused to point fingers, saying both sides share responsibility -- Mexico, for its role as a producer and transshipment-shipment point for illegal drugs, the United States for its insatiable appetite.
"We don't have to blame each other," said Fox, "what we have to do is work together. Meet the challenge and solve the problem." Video Watch more of Fox's interview on CNN's "American Morning" »
During Fox's administration, from 2000 to 2006, he launched a crackdown on the drug lords -- what he dubbed "the Mother of All Battles." The program put thousands of people in jail, but he was criticized for leaving a power vacuum among the cartels, which erupted into the violent turf wars that rage today. Video Watch more on drug problem in Mexico »
Some of the sources of the violence are on the U.S. side of the border, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday.
"You need 'two to tango.' And as Mexico seeks to shut down the flow of drugs coming into the United States from Mexico, from South America, we need the support of the United States to shut down the flow of weapons and bulk cash," he said.
Sarukhan called the Obama administration's willingness to accept co-responsibility "a very encouraging sign."

"I think that the fact that the Obama administration is seized with the importance of this issue is a clear indication that they understand that, to defang the drug syndicates in Mexico, we have to eliminate two of their most powerful sources -- bulk cash from the United States into Mexico and illicit weapons."
It's a point with which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agrees.
"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," she said on March 26."Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians. So, yes, I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility."
During her trip to Mexico, Clinton emphasized that the United States has already appropriated $700 million in aid to Mexico, and Congress wants to see how the administration is applying it before sending more.
Sarukhan said Clinton's visit to Mexico in March -- along with other top administration officials -- has "started to push the ball in the right direction."
But Sarukhan warns that the key issue right now is how the United States can help crack down on guns and cash flowing to the Mexican drug cartels.
"We have seen a dramatic rise of assault weapons being seized in Mexico. There's a direct correlation between the expiration of the assault weapons ban and our seizures of assault weapons."
Despite the violence, Mexican officials say the country is safe and that tourist areas -- such as Cancun and Acapulco -- have a large security presence.
In a speech in mid-March, Calderon said 93 percent of the 6,500 deaths attributed to organized crime in 2008 occurred among the criminals. Most of the rest were law enforcement authorities, officials have said. Few civilians are killed, the president said.
In that same speech, Calderon ridiculed those who say Mexico is unsafe.
"It is absolutely false, absurd, that anyone indicate that Mexico does not have control over one single part of its national territory," he said. "I challenge anyone who says that to tell me what part of the country they want to go to and I will take that person there."
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who serves on the board of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a recent commentary that the United States needs to examine gun control in order to tackle the violence in Mexico.
"While the Mexican drug war has the media and Washington abuzz, there has been little mention of our role in supplying the terrorists: We need to realize that the Mexican drug cartels are arming themselves here because our gun laws have loopholes so large that criminals and gun traffickers can easily drive gun-laden trucks through them," wrote Townsend, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and daughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

"This crisis is not happening because our border is loose," she wrote. "It is happening because our gun laws allow guns to be sold by unlicensed sellers without background checks required by the Brady Bill, military-style assault weapons to be freely sold and corrupt gun dealers to thrive." Read more of Townsend's analysis
But in an opposing commentary on, National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre argued that a crackdown on guns in the United States won't -- and should not -- be the answer.
"Of course, everyone's rooting for Mexican President Felipe Calderon's government to crush the drug cartels' stranglehold. But our rights are not what's wrong," he wrote. "Nobody can substantiate claims that U.S. guns cross the border 'by the thousands' or 'account for 95 percent of weapons used by Mexican drug gangs.' Because it's not true." Read more of LaPierre's views
Instead, LaPierre argues, the United States should simply "seal the border. Punish the guilty. And use existing gun and drug laws against violent drug syndicates here and in Mexico."
"But leave American freedoms alone," he added.


Malia And Sasha Obama

Friday, April 10, 2009

Born: Chicago, Illinois
Malia: July 4, 1998
Sasha: August 10, 2001

Best Known As
The daughters of Barack Obama & Michelle Obama

The sisters attended University of Chicago Laboratory Schools until January 2009 when their father took office as President. Now they attend the Sidwell Friends school, where other famous first children have gone, including Chelsea Clinton. Their father promised both of them a puppy upon entering The White House, but the search has been stalled because Malia is allergic to pet dander. Both girls are becoming very keen in their fashion sense after wearing the cutest J.Crew outfits to their father’s Inauguration. Sasha is the youngest child to enter the White House since JFK was President. She takes takes gymnastics, while Malia does dance, drama and soccer, and both take piano and tap. Sasha is the spunkiest of the two, often seizing he spotlight from even her father, while Malia is quieter and has an obvious love of reading.


Poll: Three-quarters favor relations with Cuba

(CNN) -- A new poll shows that two-thirds of Americans surveyed think the U.S. should lift its travel ban on Cuba, and three-quarters think the U.S. should end its five-decade estrangement with the country.
Fidel Castro led Cuba's communist revolution in 1959 and recently handed over power to his brother Raul.
Fidel Castro led Cuba's communist revolution in
1959 and recently handed over power to his
brother Raul.

According to the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted April 3 to 5, 64 percent of the 1,023 Americans surveyed by telephone thought the U.S. government should allow citizens to travel to Cuba.
And 71 percent of those polled said that the U.S. should reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, while 27 percent opposed such a move.
Both questions had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Obama administration has signaled that new rules on family travel and remittances to Cuba may be announced before President Obama goes to the Summit of the Americas on April 17.
A group of senators and other supporters unveiled a bill March 31 to lift the 47-year-old travel ban to Cuba.
"I think that we finally reached a new watermark here on this issue," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, one of the bill's sponsors.
Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana, another sponsor of the bill, issued a draft report in February that said it was time to reconsider the economic sanctions. Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Interactive: Learn more about Cuba »
"Republicans as well as Democrats favor reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba," CNN polling director Keating Holland said. "On the issue of lifting travel restrictions, Republicans are evenly divided, while independents and Democrats support the change."
A delegation from the Congressional Black Caucus traveled to Cuba earlier this week to find out if Cuba was interested in resuming relations with the U.S., said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, a member of the delegation.
"We have to remember that every country in Latin America, 15 countries, have normal relations with Cuba," Lee said. "We're the country which is isolated." Video Watch Lee discuss her visit to Cuba »
Lee said that Cuba has no preconditions on resuming relations.
The trip prompted a pair of Republican congressmen to rip the Black Caucus members for ignoring Cuba's "myriad gross human rights abuses," saying the trip to the island nation ignored the plight of political prisoners under the Castro regime.
Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Frank Wolf of Virginia also urged the Obama administration to refrain from easing trade embargo or travel restrictions until the Cuban government releases all "prisoners of conscience," shows greater respect for freedom of religion and speech, and holds "free and fair" elections.
Cuban-American members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation, have voiced outrage over the easing of relations.
Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, who was born in Cuba, doesn't want to see changes to the embargo.
"Having tourists on Cuban beaches is not going to achieve democratic change in Cuba," Martinez has said.
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat and Cuban-American, said in a recent speech that the Cuban government is "pure and simple a brutal dictatorship. ... The average Cuban lives on an income of less than a dollar a day."
Obama has said he is in favor of changing the relationship with Cuba. The $410 billion budget Obama signed in March makes it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba and to send money to family members on the island. It could also allow the sale of agricultural and pharmaceutical products to Cuba.
Three provisions attached to the omnibus spending bill loosened restrictions enacted by former President Bush after he came to office in 2001.
U.S. citizens are allowed to visit Cuba, but must apply for special licenses to do so. Though it is illegal, some citizens travel to a third country like Mexico or Canada and then into Cuba.
Fidel Castro led the 1959 revolution that overthrew Cuba's Batista dictatorship. The United States broke diplomatic ties with the nation in 1961. The next year, the U.S. government instituted a trade embargo. Both policies remain in effect.  


U.S. not lined up to defeat al Qaeda, top official warns

By Pam Benson
CNN National Security Producer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's chief counterterrorism official says despite a "seriously diminished" threat to the homeland, the U.S. government is still not properly organized to support the "team" effort needed to defeat al Qaeda.
Pakistani soldiers watch area where al Qaeda operates. A top U.S. official says al Qaeda grows stronger there.
Pakistani soldiers watch area where al Qaeda
operates. A top U.S. official says al Qaeda
grows stronger there.
Mike Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the government has made vast improvements since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but budgets, plans, programs and personnel are still set up along individual departments and agencies.
"This is a team sport, but the structures are not organized to support the team," explained Leiter.
Leiter discussed the current state of al Qaeda, and future threats, during a conference Thursday at the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
The threat al Qaeda poses to the United States homeland from its safe haven along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has "seriously diminished" over the past year, according to Leiter. But in its base region, the local threat from al Qaeda "is probably as bad as we have ever seen."
The recent attack against a police facility in Lahore, Pakistan, was cited by Leiter as an example of how militant groups in the region have aligned themselves with al Qaeda to try and undermine the stability of the weak Pakistani government. Some of those groups have also launched attacks against U.S. and coalition forces operating out of Afghanistan.
The director reiterated the often-stated concern that Pakistan wasn't doing enough to help the situation.
"There are many times the U.S. government wished the Pakistani government -- intelligence and military services -- had the greater willingness and capability to do some of the things we think need to be done," said Leiter.
Leiter attributed the reduced threat to the U.S. homeland to a series of successful actions taken by the United States.
Over the past year, the CIA has launched missile strikes from unmanned planes against suspected terrorists operating out of the ungoverned regions of Pakistan.
According the counterterrorism chief, the ability of al Qaeda leadership to train and deploy crews to attack the U.S. has diminished.
"Al Qaeda and its ability to project threats to Western Europe and the U.S. is much lower than it was last year and lower than it has been for some time," he said, but he warned, "lower does not mean the threat is not alive."
Leiter expressed concerned about the resurgence of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula in the past six to 12 months. He cited the increasing number of attacks by terrorists in Yemen and the growing influence of al Qaeda and the Islamist group al Shahab in Somalia.
The Mumbai, India, attacks late last year, where a group of terrorists used more conventional means to attack multiple locations, showed a change of tactics and raised the question of how the terrorist threat might manifest itself in the future. Leiter said the focus has been on suicide bombers, but, "Mumbai reminds us that old-school tactics like AK 47s (rifles) can be effective."
Should the United States continue to refer to the efforts against jihadists as the war against terrorism? That's what the Bush administration called it, but many in the Obama administration have been reluctant to do so.
Leiter said there has been an evolution of understanding about terrorism. Immediately after 9/11, he said, it was impossible to think of this in terms other than a war.
The battle against terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan could still be considered a war, but Leiter said the terminology can be counterproductive. He referred to it as a campaign against terror.


In Boost for Detroit, Obama to Buy Fuel-Efficient Fleet for Uncle Sam

According to the Huffington Post, President Obama announced on Thursday that he plans to buy 17,600 American-made, fuel-efficient cars and hybrids for the government fleet. With the purchase, President Obama will give the auto industry a shot in the arm, in attempt to help the automakers begin their long journey towards recovery and profitability.
This past Wednesday, approximately 5 billion dollars in aid has begun trickling down to parts suppliers. Eventually by June 1st, President Obama plans to spend $285 million in stimulus funds to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles from GM, Ford and Chrysler. President Obama's goal with the auto industry is to improve fuel efficiency by at least 10 percent. The benefit of a more fuel efficent car would be a calculated 26 million pound of carbon-dioxide that will not enter the atmosphere. Although Obama's purchases will give U.S. automakers some needed sales, it won't bring the industry back up to the boom years when Americans bought around 16 million vehicles annually.


Obama asks for $83.4 billion to fund Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through 2009

Obama is again asking for more money from Congress, this time $83.4 billion that will only be enough to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the end of September. This will be a now running total of the cost of war to $947 billion. Most of what has been appropriated so far, about $864 billion, has gone to the war in Iraq. More money will be used eventually for Afghanistan, as President Obama plans to move his troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, which will be used to battle the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. With the availability of intelligence, President Obama has determined that the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan "demands urgent attention", according to Obama in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
About $75 billion of the latest request would pay for military operations, including $9.8 billion for body armor and protective vehicles and $11.6 billion to replace worn-out equipment. The rest would go to diplomatic programs and development aid -- including $1.6 billion for Afghanistan, $1.4 billion for Pakistan and $700 million for Iraq. The supplemental spending bill is likely to be the last such request submitted to Congress to pay for the wars, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. While the Bush administration relied on supplemental spending bills to fund the conflicts, Obama began including war spending in his 2010 budget.
 Last month, Obama announced the United States plans to withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010. A residual force of between 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain until December 31, 2011. There are 142,000 American troops in Iraq now.
Obama has ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops to fight the Taliban in the south and east and 4,000 more to train Afghan troops.


From White Castle to White House: Kal Penn to work for Obama

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Posted by Jayeesha Dutta

The LA Times reports:
“Penn, 31, campaigned for Barack Obama last year. Word is the Indian American actor was a big hit on college campuses. Now Penn will become associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison, an envoy to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, to Hollywood and to young people.”
Personally, I think this is pretty cool - especially since Kal Penn just seems like a guy I could sit down and chill with. Kind of like our president, too. (I’ll just ignore the slight sense of awkwardness and irony with the fact Obama has stonewalled the extremely popular issue around the legalization of marijuana while Kumar goes to the White House.)
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="330" caption="Kal Penn shows his pariotic side"]Kal Penn shows his pariotic side
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Posted in appointments


CBS/NY Times: Obama more popular than ever

With a very tough economy, many had thought that President Barack Obama would have a shortened "honeymoon" in office, but polls seem to indicate continued high public approval.

Despite the reality of how difficult it will be for Obama to get his more important campaign promises passed by Congress does not seem to dampen the enthusiasm for the former "change candidate."

The latest CBS News/New York Times opinion poll gives Obama a 66 percent approval rating from the public, the highest of his presidency.

Behind The Numbers: Obama's Approval Rating

CBS News - ‎5 hours ago‎
The latest CBS News/New York Times poll showed President Obama receiving a 66 percent approval rating from the public, his highest since taking office in January.
Posted on April 9th, 2009 by Daniel Larison American Conservative Magazine


Sources: Obama to move ahead on immigration reform

By Dan Lothian
CNN White House Correspondent
(CNN) -- The White House is planning to start addressing the nation's immigration system as early as May, two senior administration officials said Thursday.
A fence separates the United States from Mexico in the U.S. Border Patrol's Yuma Sector in San Luis, Arizona.
A fence separates the United States from Mexico
in the U.S. Border Patrol's Yuma Sector in
San Luis, Arizona.

President Obama will rely on a bipartisan, diverse group of experts to help build the framework for legislation, the officials said.
One official noted that immigration will not be "on the same track" as other key initiatives like health care and energy, and "nobody's promising legislation or a vote this year."
Meanwhile, the administration is dismissing suggestions that taking on immigration this year will put pressure on Obama's already ambitious domestic agenda.
Moving forward on immigration would fulfill another campaign promise. The president acknowledges that tackling this issue will be challenging.
Last month, at a town hall meeting in California, Obama said immigration is an "emotional" and "controversial" issue that "people get riled up politically about."
But he added, "People who have been here for a long time and put down roots here have to have some mechanisms over time to get out of the shadows."
As a senator, Obama supported immigration legislation backed by President Bush, which would have increased funding and improved border security technology, improved enforcement of existing laws, and provided a legal path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants.
He also voted to authorize construction of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Thursday that Congress was willing to work with Obama on comprehensive immigration reform.
"We must solve the immigration issue and we can, even in these difficult economic times. I believe there is a real chance of passing comprehensive reform this year, and the Senate panel on immigration will begin a series of meetings and hearings later this month with an eye towards meeting that goal," said Schumer, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on immigration, in a statement.


Obama administration 'anti-religious,' Gingrich says

April 8, 2009
Posted: 05:48 PM ET

 Gingrich says the Obama administration is 'anti religious'.
Gingrich says the Obama administration is 'anti religious'.
(CNN) — Newt Gingrich said Tuesday the Obama administration is "intensely secular" and "anti-religious," the former House Speaker's second hard-hitting criticism of the new administration this week.
In an interview with FOX News, Gingrich said he strongly disagreed with Obama's choice of Harry Knox — an outspoken activist for gay rights — to the White House advisory council on faith-based initiatives.
"I think their goal is to have a very secular America in which government dominates everything," he said. "Why wouldn't you put an anti-religious, left-wing zealot on a faith-based group? It's a perfect pattern for this administration."
Since 2005, Knox has served as the director of the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization that advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. He is also a former Methodist pastor.
Obama formally named Knox to the 25-member advisory council on Monday, a move that has not sat well with some Christian conservatives. The conservative Catholic League called him "unfit to serve," especially taking issue with Knox's recent comment characterizing Pope Benedict XVI as a "discredited leader" because of his opposition to gay marriage.
In a statement released earlier this week, Knox said, "The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is eager to help the administration achieve its goals around economic recovery and fighting poverty; fatherhood and healthy families; inter-religious dialogue; care for the environment; and global poverty, health and development."

But Gingrich said the Knox appointment, along with some other moves, proves the administration is trying to "go down in history as a consistently anti-religious, secular group of people who are consciously trying to drive things out."
Two days ago, Gingrich told Politico former Vice President Dick Cheney was "clearly right" when he asserted the Obama administration's national security policies have left the country more vulnerable to a terrorist attack.


Barack Obama criticised for 'bowing' to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

President Barack Obama's overture to Muslims made in a speech in Turkey has been well received in the Arab world, but he has arrived home to a growing chorus of Right-wing disapproval for apparently bowing to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during last week's G20 summit. 

The White House denied that the president bowed during a meeting on the sidelines of the London conference, though photographs show Mr Obama at least stooped significantly before the 84-year-old monarch.
"It wasn't a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he's taller than King Abdullah," an Obama aide told
The Washington Times called [] the alleged bow a "shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate", which ran contrary to American tradition of not deferring to royalty.
"By bending over to show greater respect to Islam, the US president belittled the power and independence of the United States," the paper said in an editorial. "Such an act is a traditional obeisance befitting a king's subjects, not his peer."
"American presidents do not bow before foreign dignitaries, whether they are princes, kings, or emperors," said the Weekly Standard's blog.
State department protocol indeed decrees that presidents bow to no one, and has had to deal with similar controversies before, when then president Bill Clinton did a semi-bow to Japan's Emperor Akihito.
Muhammah Diyab, a commentator in a Saudi paper, approved of Mr Obama's gesture, and saw it as a clear bow. "Obama wished to demonstrate his respect and appreciation of the personality of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who has made one of the most important calls in the modern era, namely the call for interfaith and intercultural dialogue to defuse the hatred, conflict and wars".


Obama wins praise from many Muslims

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

But some remain skeptical, say they're awaiting concrete action

updated 6:07 p.m. CT, Wed., April 8, 2009
CAIRO - The Middle East is finding, to its amazement, that it may actually like America's new leader. Barack Obama has impressed many Arabs and Muslims with promises to open a new page after years of distrust during his first presidential venture to the Islamic world this week.
It's a startling change for a region where they chucked shoes at his predecessor George W. Bush and still want to burn Bush in effigy even after he's out of office.
But Obama's charm has hiked expectations he will change American policies that have angered many Arabs and Muslims, and some remain skeptical. Top on nearly everyone's list: They want Washington to press for the creation of a Palestinian state to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict — something Obama has promised to do.
"Everyone is optimistic about this man," Nasser Abu Kwaik, a barber in the West Bank town of al-Beireh, said Wednesday. "He is different, and he could be a friend to the Muslim world."
'Like a fresh breeze'
Many in Muslim countries echoed the words of one Indonesian woman, "I believe him."
"For the Islamic world," Obama's comments "are like a fresh breeze," said Ikana Mardiastuti, who works at a Jakarta research institute.
Obama's visit to Turkey this week was full of gestures calculated at showing he is a friend to Muslims, all aired live on Arab satellite TV networks like Al-Jazeera. The top headliner was his sound bite that the U.S will never be "at war with Islam." In a speech to Turkey's parliament, he mentioned the Muslims in his own family, a topic he avoided back home in his presidential campaign.
A town-hall meeting in Istanbul on Tuesday was also a strong symbol, with Obama answering questions from university students. To some it sent a message that this president talks to Muslims, dramatically different from the perception many had of Bush as domineering, warlike and imposing U.S. policy.
Even an offhand comment that he had to wrap up the town-hall before the afternoon call to Islamic prayers showed an easy familiarity with the rhythms of Muslims' lives.
"He's a modest person with a humanitarian view on world issues, particularly those relating to the Arab and Islamic worlds," said Jamal Dahan, a 50-year-old resident of the Lebanese capital Beirut. "Bush, on the other hand, was an arrogant man who only knew military power."
'Positive opportunity'
Even hard-liners took notice.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country welcomes talks with the United States if Obama proves "honest" in extending the U.S. hand to Iran, one of his strongest signals yet of openness to Obama's calls for dialogue.
A cleric at the prominent Shiite seminary in the Iraqi holy city of Najaf — where disdain for Bush's policies is high — was enthusiastic. "The Islamic world should avail itself of this positive opportunity," said Sheik Nimaa Al-Abadi. "The opening chapter of Obama in the Islamic world might be a real turning point."
In Saudi Arabia, a cleric on a government committee for rehabilitating militants away from extremism said Obama's outreach diminishes the appeal of terror groups.
Obama "will make it more difficult to recruit young Muslim men to carry out terrorist acts. They (militants) no longer have the argument to do so," said the sheik, Mohammed al-Nujaimi.
Image: President Obama with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President Dmitry Medvedev at the G20 Summit in London
  First 100 days
Barack Obama spends the majority of his 11th week as president in Europe, with stops in London, Strasbourg, Prague and Istanbul.
more photos
But many say they want real action.
Their skepticism was a reminder that while the "clash of civilizations" may exacerbate tensions, the heart of Arab and Muslim anger at the West is over policies, particularly the 2003 invasion of Iraq and what is seen as U.S. favoritism toward Israel.
In his parliament speech, Obama promised the U.S. would work for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But Arabs are watching whether Obama will press the hard-line government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who so far has not expressed his support for a two-state solution.
"I will believe him only when I see his troops leave Iraq and when I see him telling the Israelis that it's time for you to leave the Palestinian territories," said Tariq Hussein, 25, a shoe salesman in the West Bank town of Ramallah. "Other than that it's all a political maneuver."
In Pakistan, doubts appeared even deeper. Civilian deaths in airstrikes by U.S. pilotless planes targeting militants have angered some in the country, along with Obama's plans to send more American troops to neighboring Afghanistan.
"Who would trust what the Americans say? Their only target is the Muslim countries," said Mohammad Ayub, owner of a cotton-processing factory in the city of Karachi. "Obama's claim that (the Americans) are the friends of the Muslims seems to be a part of their conspiracy."
Opening doors
Still, the Turkey trip suggested that style and tone at least open doors.
"He understands the issues better, he has more familiarity with Islamic culture and society." said Sheema Abdul-Aziz, a 31-year-old environmental conservationist in Malaysia. She said Obama seems "sincere."
In part, Obama's warm welcome reflected the almost rabid bitterness toward Bush, who on his final visit to Baghdad was pelted with shoes by an angry journalist. The journalist became a hero across the Mideast. Iraqi Shiite radicals plan to burn an effigy of Bush at an anti-American rally Thursday in Baghdad.
While Bush often emphasized outreach to Muslims and Arabs and he was the first U.S. president to openly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, nothing could dent the image of an arrogant, bellicose United States created by Guantanamo Bay, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and the bloodshed that reigned in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion.
Still, even those calling Obama sincere are skeptical he can resolve the Mideast's many problems.
"It's nice to see and hear," said Riad Kahwaji, director of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. "But this region is a mess, and there are a lot of hardline adversaries still out there."


Indonesians to Select Lawmakers

April 8th, 2009
Posted: 10:11 PM ET
JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) — Indonesians headed for the polls early Thursday to choose legislators for the world’s most populous Muslim nation, a vote that also will determine which parties can field candidates for July’s presidential election.
The parliament’s 700 seats are the prize for 12,000 candidates from 38 parties in a nation that for now is a largely moderate and democratic one, although Thursday’s vote is only the second direct election since since the authoritarian regime of Suharto fell in 1998, in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.
But some analysts say there are signs that it is on the path to becoming a conservative and fundamentalist nation, moving away from democracy and toward sharia law, or Islamic law.
One sign they cite is the government’s recent support for an anti-pornography bill that had had been pushed by more fundamentalist Islamic groups, including the highly influential Ulama Council.
However, Islamist parties are not expected to fare well this time around, partly because most voters are more concerned about economic issues, rather than religious or moral ones.
More than 70 percent of Indonesia’s 238 million people are expected to cast ballots.


U.S. to join nuclear talks with Iran, State Department says

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a dramatic break from previous policy, the United States will join direct talks between U.N. and European powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, the State Department announced Wednesday.

Wednesday's announcement is the latest step by the Obama administration to engage Iran diplomatically.

Wednesday's announcement is the latest step by
the Obama administration to engage Iran diplomatically.
Click to view next image The Obama administration has asked the European Union's international policy chief, Javier Solana, to invite Iran to new talks with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
"If Iran accepts, we hope this will be an occasion to seriously engage Iran of how to break the logjam of recent years and work in a cooperative manner to resolve the outstanding international concerns about its nuclear program," Wood said.
Iran so far has refused Security Council demands to halt its production of enriched uranium, which it has said will be used to fuel nuclear power plants. The United States has accused Tehran of concealing efforts to develop a nuclear bomb, and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency said it has failed to resolve questions about the aim of Iranian program.

Video Watch how U.S. policy on Iran is changing »

The Bush administration had insisted that Iran first stop its nuclear program before any talks with the United States or its allies could go forward. Wednesday's announcement is the latest step in the Obama administration's efforts to engage the Islamic republic diplomatically after nearly three decades without formal ties.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, briefly addressing the administration's decision Wednesday, told reporters that "pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense."
"And there's nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon," Clinton said at the State Department, where she was meeting Panama's foreign affairs minister. Her comments came in response to a reporter's question about engaging Iran.
Washington, which has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, has participated in previous talks only as an observer. Wood would not speculate about whether a meeting involving Iran and the rest of the group might lead to direct one-on-one meetings of U.S. and Iranian officials.
"It's a little early to talk about that right now," he said.
Iran has so far responded coolly to the American overtures. In a statement carried on Iranian state television Wednesday evening, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Washington "has no right to suggest how other nations should live."
"Those who have nuclear bombs are backward nations, because the time for threats is over," Ahmadinejad said.
And in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency, Ahmadinejad said Iran was "ready to cooperate" toward nuclear disarmament, as long as those efforts did not create obstacles for countries that wish to produce nuclear fuel for civilian power.
No date has been set for the next meeting of the "P-5 plus 1" group, which includes the five Security Council permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- as well as Germany. But Wednesday's announcement comes amidst a variety of signals from both sides that a major diplomatic shift was in the winds.
In March, President Obama delivered a televised message to the Iranian people offering new diplomatic engagement. And Clinton sat down with an Iranian official at a recent conference in the Netherlands on Afghanistan, but the two diplomats had no one-on-one contact.
During his presidential campaign, Obama called for talks with Iran without pre-conditions -- a proposal sharply criticized by Clinton, then his chief opponent for the Democratic nomination, among others.
Big obstacles to a U.S.-Iranian thaw remain, including reports from Tehran on Wednesday that Iranian authorities have charged an American journalist with espionage. Clinton told reporters that the the U.S. had asked the Swiss -- who represent U.S. interests in Iran -- for up-to-date information about Roxana Saberi, who has been jailed for nearly three months.
During the March 31 meeting in the Netherlands, the United States delivered a note to Iran that asked for a response on the status of Saberi and American citizens detained or missing in Iran. U.S. officials say they are still awaiting a response from the Iranians to the note.


U.S. President meets Troops in IRAQ - confirms 18 Months More Stay

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

(CNN) -- President Obama lauded the U.S. military in Baghdad on Tuesday during an unannounced visit to Iraq, reminding troops that the next 18 months will be difficult as the United States plans to start withdrawing its forces.

President Obama greets troops during a visit to Camp Victory on Tuesday.
President Obama greets troops during a visit to
Camp Victory on Tuesday.
"I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it's something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis," Obama said, according to a transcript from the White House. "They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty.
"And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations. They're going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means. They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens."
Obama reiterated that Iraqis must do those things themselves, and "we can't do it for them."
"But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success," he added.

Video Watch Obama thank the troops »

Obama said that in terms of training the Iraqi security forces, the U.S. must make sure "they know that they have a steady partner with us."
Obama's visit to Iraq was the last stop on his first trip overseas as president.
The president thanked the troops for giving Iraq "the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country."          Read the transcript
The president addressed about 1,500 service members, civilians and contractors who gathered in the rotunda of the Al Faw Palace, one of dozens of palaces that were used by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The palace is now headquarters for the Multi-National Corps.
Obama last month announced the United States' plan to withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010. A residual force of between 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain until December 31, 2011. There are 142,000 American troops in Iraq now.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, met Obama shortly after Air Force One landed Tuesday in Baghdad at about 4:42 p.m.
The troops "are doing extraordinary work," Obama said shortly after landing. "They're just putting their heart and soul into this."
About 600 troops assembled to greet the president at Camp Victory, near the Baghdad airport.
Yassin Majid, the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said Obama met with the prime minister, and they discussed bilateral relations and other issues. Obama also was to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the nation's two vice presidents.
Ali Jalal, a businessman, called Obama's visit "a good sign to Iraqi people, and will solve the political crisis."
"If God wills, he [Obama] should know that Iraq belongs to Iraqis," Jalal said, then added, "I ask the U.S. President Barack Obama to solve the problems of Iraqi people and to speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops."
Government employee Nazar Sami-a said, "His visit is for Americans' interest and not for Iraqi interest."
Obama arrived in Europe last week for a series of summits, initially meeting with world leaders at the G-20 summit in London, England, to discuss the global financial crisis.
At the NATO summit in France and Germany, the president was hoping to get a boost in resources for the war in Afghanistan. He did get allies to pledge about 5,000 troops, but in the form of police and security trainers, not combat troops.
During the campaign season, Obama visited Iraq on a multi-stop overseas trip. That trip also included stops in Afghanistan, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll found that 79 percent of Americans surveyed feel that Obama has had a "more positive" effect on how people in other countries view the United States. Only 19 percent of those surveyed thought he's had a "more negative" effect.
The poll also indicated that only 35 percent of Americans currently approve of the U.S. war in Iraq; 65 percent disapprove.
Almost seven in 10 Americans agree with Obama's plan to remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by next August, while leaving a residual force of between 35,000 and 50,000 troops.
CNN's Ed Henry and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.


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