Tales from the Trail

Obama: Still the big man on (high school) campus

If President Barack Obama ever needs a pick-me-up,  he can visit the campus of an American public high school, as he did on Tuesday at La Follette High School in Madison, Wisconsin, where he remains, indisputably, a rock star.

obama_youthShouts of joy and screams of “Obama! Obama!” greeted his motorcade as Obama pulled up and strode across the school’s sports practice fields to meet with members of its teams — the Lancers.  (Team motto: “Attitude, Character, Effort.”)

He first met with members of the girl’s volleyball team, who ran out in their uniforms and knee pads, and squealed with delight as he spoke with them and then posed for pictures.

Then it was the turn of the school’s three football teams — varsity, sophomore and freshman — who crowded in the middle of the field, in full uniforms and pads, holding their helmets and down on one knee with their coaches standing among them. The players greeted Obama with a “1-2-3 Clap.” Obama exchanged hugs with the head coach and then chatted with the players for a good 10 minutes.

He urged the boys to work hard on the field and in the classroom, and told them about his own experiences playing football, basketball and tennis. The players asked questions about Obama’s life, and also about last night’s NFL game between Obama’s hometown Chicago Bears and Wisconsin’s  Green Bay Packers. Obama dodged that bullet by underscoring his point that players should use their heads, telling the teen-aged players that the Packers had lost to the Bears largely because of mental errors, such as penalties.

from Reuters Investigates:

In case you missed them

Just because it was summer, doesn't mean we weren't busy here at Reuters. Here are a few of our recent special reports that you might have missed.

IRAN-OBAMA/ECOMOMYTracking Iran's nuclear money trail to Turkey. U.N. correspondent Lou Charbonneau -- who used to cover the IAEA for Reuters --  followed the money to Turkey where an Iranian bank under U.S. and EU sanctions is operating freely. Nice to see the New York Times follow up on this today, and the Washington Post also quizzed Turkey's president about it.



USA-ELECTION/JOBSBlue-collar, unemployed and seeing red -- Chicago correspondent James Kelleher went on the road for this story about the long-term unemployed and what that means for Obama and the Democrats at November's midterm elections.

from Summit Notebook:

Five weeks: It’s an eternity in the world of politics

By Christopher Doering carper

Five weeks:  It may not be a lot of time for many people, but with the pivotal mid-term elections looming on Nov. 2 Delaware Senator Tom Carper said five weeks is an eternity for Democrats to use to turn the tide in their favor.

"Today, five weeks a lot happens. A lot of minds change in five weeks," Carper, a self-proclaimed "optimist", told the Reuters Washington Summit.

"What we have to do is to be able to remind people if there is some good news here in the next five weeks of what that is and get people to focus on the future."

Wisdom of Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Kennedy and King in Obama’s new Oval Office


The first family had a little redecorating done back at the White House while they were on vacation last week, just in time for President Barack Obama to make only his second nationally televised address from the imposing — and newly redone — Oval Office.

The presidential sanctum has been decked with new and reupholstered furniture, fresh paint and new, hand-painted striped  wallpaper and a new wheat, cream and blue rug made of 25 percent recycled wool, the White House said.

In front of the fireplace, there are two mahogany armchairs that were used by President George W. Bush, but have been reupholstered in caramel-colored leather. The brown leather desk chair is new, as is the coffee table, made out of American walnut and mica. The somewhat casual-looking couches were custom-made in New York and covered with custom-made light brown cotton fabric with red, white and blue threads running through it. There are also two new table lamps with blue ceramic bases.

Politics beckon again as Obama’s Maine getaway ends

After a laid-back family getaway on Maine’s scenic shoreline, it’s back to political reality for President Barack Obama.

The first family wrapped up a three-day mini-vacation in the upscale Bar Harbor resort and boarded a small presidential jet headed for Washington, where Obama will again face the daily pressures and policy battles. OBAMA/

In the coming week, he will weigh the latest dose of good news together with lingering concerns about the BP oil spill, sign a Wall Street overhaul into law and hold talks with new British Prime Minister David Cameron. Enduring problems like the struggling economy, high unemployment and the war in Afghanistan also remain on his plate.

A ‘critical moment’ in Afghanistan

U.S. General David Petraeus made no mention of July 2011 as he formally took command of international troops in Afghanistan fighting a growing Taliban insurgency.petraeus1

“We are in this to win,” Petreaus said at the change-of-command ceremony on Sunday in Kabul.  Petreaus is also charged with starting a drawdown of U.S. forces a year from now — President Barack Obama’s stated goal.

That date does not sit well with Republican lawmakers, who adamantly oppose any timetable for withdrawal.

First Oval Office address — an “inflection point” on spill – but which way?



To underscore how seriously he is taking the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama has chosen to make his nationwide address on the environmental disaster his first speech from the Oval Office, a setting presidents typically reserve for the gravest occasions – President George W. Bush spoke from there after the September 11 attacks, President Bill Clinton announced air strikes on Iraq, and President Ronald Reagan chose the Oval to talk about the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

Administration officials said Obama will lay out how to deal with the oil that has leaked so far and what must be done to clean up and restore the Gulf, talk about what is being done for those who have lost jobs and business because of the disaster and discuss changing U.S. energy policy to reduce dependence on oil and fossil fuel. 

As he grapples with the spill, Obama has been pushing Congress to pass a new law that would fight climate change and ramp up production of renewable fuels, but the measure faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republican leaders are sternly denouncing any effort to link provisions of the energy bill with the Gulf disaster.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

With Karzai off to Washington, Taliban talks back in focus

marjah"The effort required to bring about a compromise was indistinguishable from the requirements of victory—as the administration in which I served had to learn from bitter experience."

The quote is from Henry Kissinger on Vietnam but you could just as easily apply it to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan of aiming to weaken the Taliban enough to bring them to the negotiating table. And unfashionable as it is to compare Vietnam to Afghanistan (it was hopelessly overdone last year), it does encapsulate one of the many paradoxes of the American approach to the Taliban.

If, so the argument goes, the United States is willing to reach an eventual political settlement with the Taliban, why does it keep launching fresh military offensives? Or alternatively, if it has no intention of making a deal, why has President Barack Obama promised to start drawing down troops in 2011, signalling to the Taliban that all they need to do is wait it out until the Americans leave?

Obama calls New York street vendor-turned-hero





President Barack Obama on Monday called the street vendor who may have saved the day in New York when he alerted police to a smoking vehicle. Times Square was evacuated when a failed bomb was found in the Nissan sport utility vehicle. 

Obama wanted to thank T-shirt vendor Duane Jackson for “his vigilance in alerting authorities,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Jackson, a Vietnam veteran, saw the suspicious vehicle parked awkwardly across the street and told police. Authorities are looking into the possibility that the failed bomb attack could have been coordinated by people with foreign ties, according to the Washington Post.

Honk! Wheeze! Atchoo! It’s getting hot in Washington, and it’s not just the weather

USA/Spring in Washington means cherry blossoms, azaleas and a collective wet sneeze from the hundreds of thousands of allergy sufferers in the region. This year, a long snow-covered winter may actually have protected plants while an early burst of summer-like temperatures called forth the blossoms, creating what felt to many like a pollen bomb.

Plants that would usually have bloomed in an orderly sequence — forsythia, daffodils, tulips, cherry blossoms, dogwood, azaleas and lilacs — are all flowering together. Cars, streets, pets and other plants are covered with a gritty yellow-green sneeze-inducing residue. Allergy symptoms are the common result, and they cost a bundle.

It doesn’t help that Washington is part of a U.S. trend spurred by climate change, with the signs of spring coming about 10 days earlier than they did two decades ago. That means some missed connections in the natural world, as some plants and animals adapt better than others to the early onset of spring.