Tales from the Trail

The First Draft, Wednesday Dec. 31

December 31, 2008

Happy New Year. It was a great political year. But most folks with a 401K retirement account and a mortgage will be glad to bid farewell to 2008 and ring in 2009 with a feeling of optimism that is natural with the start of a new year. 

The First Draft, Tuesday Dec. 30

December 30, 2008

Israel’s military operations in Gaza continue to dominate front pages of major newspapers and morning talk shows. Wall Street is looking for a positive start as oil and gold prices ease back from the price spikes that followed the onset of the Israeli strikes against Hamas.USA-OBAMA/

The First Draft, Monday Dec. 29

December 29, 2008

WASHINGTON – Israeli air attacks in Gaza dominate morning talk shows and front pages of major U.S. newspapers. The attacks pushed up oil prices by more than $3 a barrel to over $40. Gold prices also moved higher. Nevertheless, U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street in what is expected to be a light trading.tanks2

Laura Bush: Shoe-throwing incident sign of ‘freer’ Iraq

December 29, 2008

The video of an agile U.S. President George W. Bush ducking two shoes thrown at him during a news conference in Baghdad has been fodder for jokes on late-night television and a big hit on the Internet.

George W. Bush: Book-reader in chief

December 26, 2008

Just when you get your mind all made up about President George W. Bush, along comes Karl Rove trying to unsettle things.
 USA/
The president is far from being the uncultured book-burner often portrayed by his critics, his former deputy chief of staff wrote in The Wall Street Journal Friday.
 
In fact, Bush is a voracious reader and lover of books, Rove insisted.
 
The president has gone through 40 tomes so far this year. That follows 51 in 2007 and 95 in 2006. Plus the Bible from cover to cover each year.
 
History, fiction, biography. You name it, he’s read it.
 
“Team of Rivals,” the book about Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet that is shaping President-elect Barack Obama’s thinking about his own administration?
 
Bush has been there, done that. Read it back in ’06. Along with a Mao biography, Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower,” eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald and “The Stranger” by Albert Camus.
 
He went through “Khrushchev’s Cold War,” “Rogue Regime” and “The Shia Revival” in ’07. That plus his daughter Jenna’s book “Ana’s Story.” And many others.
 
This year there’s been U.S. Grant’s “Personal Memoirs,” Hugh Thomas’ “Spanish Civil War” and James McPherson’s “Tried by war: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief.”
 
“There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one,” Rove wrote.
 USA/
“Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic,” he said.
 
If the reading part wasn’t shock enough for Bush naysayers, Rove has more.
 
“Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them and is intellectually engaged by them,” he wrote.
 
How, you may ask, would Rove know so much about Bush’s reading habits?
 
It seems they have been engaged in friendly competition to see who could read the greatest number of books each year. 

The First Draft, Friday, Dec. 26

December 26, 2008

President George W. Bush heads to his Texas ranch for a holiday break Friday.
 
President-elect Barack Obama is already on vacation in Hawaii, where he paid a USA-OBAMA/visit to Marines on Christmas Day.
 
Congress is in recess until after Jan. 1.
 
With the politicians away from Washington, the morning TV shows focused on other news, including the ailing economy’s performance during the holiday shopping season.
 
Retail sales, minus gasoline, were down 2 percent from the previous year in November and 4 percent in the Dec. 1-Dec. 24 period, MasterCard Advisor’s SpendingPulse reported.
 
Some retailers generate up to 40 percent of their annual revenue during the holiday period, which typically runs from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.
 
Retailer hopes are now pinned on the post-Christmas sales, which began Friday. USA/

To salute or not to salute, that’s Obama’s question

December 24, 2008

Barack Obama went to a gym at a military base in Hawaii the other day and did something positively Reaganesque — he returned a Marine’s salute.
 
In so doing, he wandered directly into the middle of a thorny debate: Should U.S. presidents return military salutes or not?
 USA-OBAMA/
Longstanding tradition requires members of the military to salute the president. The practice of presidents returning that salute is more recent — Ronald Reagan started it in 1981.
 
Reagan’s decision raised eyebrows at the time. Dwight Eisenhower, a former five-star general, did not return military salutes while president. Nor had other presidents.
 
John Kline, then Reagan’s military aide and now a Minnesota congressman, advised him that it went against military protocol for presidents to return salutes.
 
Kline said in a 2004 op-ed piece in The Hill that Reagan ultimately took up the issue with Gen. Robert Barrow, then commandant of the Marine Corps.
 
Barrow told Reagan that as commander in chief of the armed forces, he was entitled to offer a salute — or any sign of respect he wished — to anyone he wished, Kline wrote, adding he was glad for the change.
 
Every president since Reagan has followed that practice, even those with no military experience. President Bill Clinton’s saluting skills were roundly criticized after he took office, but the consensus was he eventually got better.
 
The debate over saluting has persisted, with some arguing against it for protocol reasons, others saying it represents an increasing militarization of the civilian presidency.
 
“The gesture is of course quite wrong: Such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform,” author and historian John Lukacs wrote in The New York Times in 2003.
USA/ 
“But there is more to this than a decline in military manners,” he added. “There is something puerile in the Reagan (and now Bush) salute. It is the joyful gesture of someone who likes playing soldier. It also represents an exaggeration of the president’s military role.”
 
Garry Wills, the author and Northwestern University professor, echoed those remarks in the Times in 2007.
 
“The glorification of the president as a war leader is registered in numerous and substantial executive aggrandizements; but it is symbolized in other ways that, while small in themselves, dispose the citizenry to accept those aggrandizements,” he wrote.
 
“We are reminded, for instance, of the expanded commander in chief status every time a modern president gets off the White House helicopter and returns the salute of Marines.”
 
What do you think? Is returning a salute a common courtesy? Or should Obama reconsider the practice?
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

The First Draft, Wednesday, Dec. 24

December 24, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama’s pecs were gone from the news Wednesday, replaced by Chicago shenanigans.
 BUSH/
Newspapers and television covered the Obama team’s report detailing its contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
 
Blagojevich is charged with trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat Obama vacated after his November election victory.
 
The report cleared Obama and his aides of any misconduct. But it revealed for the first time that the president-elect sat for an interview last week with the U.S. prosecutor investigating Blagojevich. So did two of his aides.
 
President George W. Bush’s holiday pardons also made the newspapers.
 
Among those receiving pardons was Charlie Winters, who was imprisoned for 18 months breaking a weapons embargo against Israel by ferrying bombers to the new state in 1948, The New York Times reported.
 
Winters, an Irish protestant from Boston, is viewed as a hero in Israel. He died in 1984 at the age of 71.
 
Not on the pardons list: I. Lewis Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted of lying and obstructing justice during an investigation into who leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative.
 
Bush previously commuted Libby’s sentence.
 
Data out Wednesday showed new jobless claims jumped by 30,000 last week to a 26-year peak. Consumer spending posted a fifth monthly drop. Stock futures were little changed, pointing to a flat opening on Wall Street.
 
It’s Christmas Eve. Obama continued his holiday in Hawaii and Bush was at Camp David. Congress was in recess.
 
Not everyone was on holiday though. The folks at NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, were hard at work with their traditional Christmas Eve task – keeping an eye on Santa Claus.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

The First Draft, Tuesday, Dec. 23

December 23, 2008

Tuesday’s political news is all about pecs, abs and and a painful shoulder.
 
A photographer caught President-elect Barack Obama sunning in his swimsuit on a Hawaii beach. 
 USA-OBAMA/
The images drew an admiring “Fit for Office” headline from the New York Post as well as approving nods from the morning TV talk shows. 
 
The painful shoulder belonged to President George W. Bush. It got an MRI scan and a cortisone shot at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Monday as Bush paid a visit to wounded soldiers.
 
Obama’s transition team is due to release a report detailing the contacts between his staff and the office of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
 
The governor has been charged with trying to benefit personally by selling off the Senate seat that Obama vacated in November after winning the presidential election. Blagojevich has the power to appoint a replacement to finish Obama’s term.
 
ABC News said the report found that Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff, discussed the seat with the governor’s office but did not do or say anything wrong.
 
Obama’s staff finished the report last week but its release was held up at the request of the U.S. attorney investigating Blagojevich.
 
The president-elect also will attend a private memorial service Tuesday for his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who died just before the election. Obama lived with his grandmother and grandfather in Hawaii throughout his teenage years.
USA/ 
Hillary Clinton has written off $13.1 million in loans to her failed campaign for president, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
 
The New York Times also reported that the former first lady and New York senator, who was selected by Obama to serve as secretary of state, is moving to widen the role of the State Department.
 
She is seeking to build a more powerful State Department with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and a larger role in dealing with global economic issues, the Times reported.
 
The U.S. economy shrank at an annual pace of 0.5 percent, new government figures showed Tuesday. Consumer spending shrank by 3.8 percent, the sharpest drop since 1980.
 
Stock futures were little changed, suggesting a relatively flat open on Wall Street.
 
For more Reuters political news, click here.

The First Draft, Monday, Dec. 22

December 22, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama may release a report Monday detailing the contacts between his staff and scandal-tainted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. 
 
ABC News says Obama is expected to release the report sometime Monday. The Washington Post says it is due out Monday or Tuesday. 
USA-OBAMA/ 
Blagojevich has been charged with trying to sell the Senate seat that was vacated by Obama after his election to the presidency in November. 
 
The governor has power to appoint someone to serve out the remaining years of the term. 
 
Obama’s staff finished the report last week but its release was held up at the request of the U.S. attorney who is investigating Blagojevich.
 
ABC said Sunday the report found that Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel spoke once with Blagojevich and four times with Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris. ABC said the report cleared Emanuel of doing anything or saying anything wrong.
 
The fiery Continental Airlines accident in Denver, with a dramatic escape by passengers and crew, dominated the morning TV news. The icy U.S. weather ran a close second.
 
Temperatures weren’t a problem for the president-elect, who is relaxing in Hawaii for the holidays.
 
President George W. Bush has a holiday-related schedule Monday. He visits a project for the needy in Washington and later meets with wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. 
 USA-BLAGOJEVICH/
Caroline Kennedy’s bid to become a senator was back in the news on morning TV. Kennedy is trying to win appointment to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton, who is becoming Obama’s secretary of state.
 
New York Gov. David Paterson is considering a number of names, including the daughter of assassinated President John F. Kennedy. 
 
New York’s Republicans objected mightily to her consideration, with Rep. Peter King questioning her lack of political experience.
 
Stock futures were little changed Monday in what was expected to be a light trading week ahead of the Christmas holiday.
 
For more Reuters political coverage, click here.