Tales from the Trail

Iranian leader’s plane shares tarmac with Air Force One

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport after a visit to Latin American countries January 14, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 – As President Barack Obama and passengers on Air Force One left for campaign events in Ohio on Wednesday, there was an unusual sight spotted from the presidential aircraft: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s plane.

At Joint Base Andrews, which houses the U.S. president’s jet, reporters traveling with Obama spotted a plane marked “Iran Air” parked on the tarmac.

The 89th Airlift Wing, which oversees the runway at Andrews, confirmed the Boeing 747 was indeed Ahmadinejad’s plane, which was used for this week’s United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York before parking at the U.S. military base.

“It is something we afford all heads of state,” said Major Michelle Lai, a spokeswoman for the 89th Airlift Wing. “It’s a courtesy that allows them a place to put their aircraft and provides a little bit of extra security,” she added.

New DNC ad questions Romney’s claim that “any president would have” killed bin Laden

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Saturday, Mitt Romney said he was “delighted” that President Obama “gave the order to take out Osama bin Laden.” It was something, Romney told Wallace, “any president would have done.”

Not so, according to a new ad from the Democratic National Committee. The video compiles praise from prominent conservatives, all of whom commend Obama for bin Laden’s death.

“I worked with a lot of these guys, and this is one of the most courageous calls, decisions, that I think I’ve ever seen a president make,” says former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Recycled newspapers, “Bo-Zilla” deck the White House halls

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The White House sometimes may not know what to do with reporters’ questions, but it appears to have made good use of their work this holiday season - using old magazines and newspapers to help deck the halls. The recycled publications were used to make sparkling golden wreaths and trees adorning the “Green Room,” which is decorated with the theme of recycling and reusing ordinary materials.

This year’s decorations at the executive mansion – with an overarching theme of “Simple Gifts” — include 19 trees. One  is covered with red, white and blue ornaments commemorating the branches of the U.S. military, and topped with a hand-made dove, symbolizing peace. Beside the tree is a basket filled with cards on which visitors can write messages, and a mailbox to send the messages to troops serving overseas.

A large figure of Bo, the Obama family dog, wearing a picture of himself on a red collar, is the focal point of an area decorated to depict “A Child’s Joy.”   A tree showcases gingerbread ornaments decorated by 300 children of members of all branches of the U.S. military. Nearby is the figure of the shaggy family pet, made of 40,000 black and white pipe cleaners.  “It’s pretty, pretty shocking,” first lady Michelle Obama told children attending a preview of the decorations. “But it’s very cool and he’s very soft.”

Senate Republicans ask: What’s the hurry on the new START treaty?

When it comes to ratifying President Obama’s nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians, Senate Republicans say: don’t rush us.

Obama has said he would like to see the Senate ratify the new START treaty with Moscow this year. But he will need some Republican support to get the 67 votes required for ratification. And Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says Republicans don’t yet have the answers to their questions about the agreement and related concerns about how much money will be spent modernizing U.S. nuclear forces.

“The only way this treaty gets in trouble is if it’s rushed,” McConnell said in an interview with Reuters. “My advice to the president was, don’t try to jam it, answer all the requests, and let’s take our time and do it right,” he said.RUSSIA/

Washington Extra

The special relationship has been upgraded. It is now “extraordinary”, “truly special” and “absolutely essential”.
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President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, both repeatedly calling each other by their first names, were at pains today to demonstrate the warmth of ties between their two nations, despite an embarrassing row about BP, the oil spill and Lockerbie.

Joking about the temperature beer should be served and the tidiness of their children’s bedrooms, the two men, both left-handers we now realize, clearly wanted to show they enjoyed a personal rapport. A deliberate contrast to the businesslike tone of the relationship with Gordon Brown?

Healthcare reform may leave some legal migrants to U.S. in limbo

Immigration, particularly what to do with millions of illegal immigrants living in the shadows, has long been a divisive issue in the United States — so it comes as little surprise that undocumented migrants are excluded from benefits under President Barack Obama’s signature drive to overhaul healthcare.
 
But legislation to reform the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system to cut costs, extend coverage and regulate insurers could also exclude more than a million legal permanent residents living, working and paying taxes in this country of immigrants from core benefits, according to a study published this month.
 
The report by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute said 4.2 million lawful permanent residents in the United States are uninsured. More than 1 million of them could be excluded from Medicaid coverage or insurance subsidies outlined in the bill — five versions of which are currently on Capitol Hill — if Congress does not remove a five-year waiting period for eligibility.
 
Congress is set to debate the legislation in coming weeks, and the prospects for the overhaul are far from certain. But if legal residents are denied eligibility for Medicaid and insurance subidies, yet are nevertheless subjected to mandates requiring them to buy health insurance coverage, the study concluded, many of them would face a “significant burden.”
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“Leaving large numbers of legal immigrants out of healthcare reform would defeat the core goal of the legislation, which is to extend coverage to the nation’s 46 million uninsured,” said MPI Senior Vice President Michael Fix, who co-authored the report.
 
The study also concluded that implementing verification systems to ensure that 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States do not receive benefits could prove expensive and may also discriminate against Americans.
 
“Document checks would be especially costly, and would have the biggest impact on U.S. citizens who cannot produce birth certificates or other forms of ID, leading to lost or delayed coverage,” said Marc Rosenblum, a co-author of the MPI study.
 
The measures denying undocumented immigrants benefits are likely to be welcomed by most Americans — one telephone survey in June found 80 percent of U.S. voters opposed providing government healthcare coverage to undocumented migrants. But activists say a bill that left many legal permanent residents in limbo would likely discourage some skilled migrants from seeking to move to the United States.
   
Aman Kapoor, the founder and president of advocacy group Immigration Voice said many high-skilled immigrants including engineers and software specialists were already wary about moving to the United States because of red tape and delays in processing applications for permanent residency.
 
“This will ring the alarm bells again around the world for the high-skilled community,” Kapoor said, adding that skilled foreign workers were “already considering other destinations like India, China and Brazil because the hassle of settling here has increased dramatically.”

Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Reed (Senator Max Baucus and Senator Olympia Snowe shake hands after Senate Finance Committee passed healthcare reform bill, October 13, 2009)

Genealogist unearths first lady’s family tree back to 1850

A genealogist working with The New York Times has traced Michelle Obama’s family tree back five generations to a 6-year-old slave girl named Melvinia who was valued at $475.

The White House said first lady Michelle Obama had not known many of the details of her family history and enjoyed reading it. She had declined to comment on the story for The New York Times because of the personal nature of the subject.

OBAMA/“I don’t believe she knew or had known all of this, but enjoyed reading about her family history,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Plan B for Afghanistan: cut and run?

In Monday’s blog, I looked at McChrystal’s recommendation for a significantly stepped up effort to stabilize Afghanistan, and a major shift in strategy to win over the Afghan people.

But many people, including influential actors within the administration and several readers who left comments on Monday, are advocating a different approach: pull out, and leave Afghans to their own devices. This blog looks at Plan B.

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“The Russians were in Afghanistan for 10 years. The Americans have been here for seven, and we will send them home in just three more years”.

An honest assessment of Afghan mistakes, but what is next?

It is encouraging that the U.S. administration finally seems to be getting a handle on what went wrong in Afghanistan these past eight years.

What is less encouraging is the fact there seems little political appetite around the globe to fix the mess.AFGHANISTAN

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s report is a stark and honest assessment of the war in Afghanistan.