Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: White House takes a lonely road to openness on Crasher-gate

President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, feels the White House doesn’t need Congress to help it maintain openness on the Crasher-gate scandal. That’s why it’s chosen to eschew the limelight of a Capitol Hill hearing today. USA/

“We think we’ve really answered the questions fully,” she told ABC’s Good Morning America, while making the TV rounds to defend a White House decision not to send its social secretary to explain how a Virginia couple got into last week’s state dinner without an invitation.

“Having a full review up on the (White House) Web site, where everyone in the country — anyone who goes on our Web site — can read it, is the definition of transparency.”

By “full review,” she meant a one-page memo outlining new White House staff procedures intended to prevent any future pair of gate-crashers like Michaele Salahi and husband Tareq from getting through the security cordon.

Jarrett’s is an interesting assertion. Obama has made a point to enhance public access to the government after eight years of unprecedented official secrecy under George W. Bush and his powerful veep, Dick Cheney.

from Maggie Fox:

Stimulus package does provide some jobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 25 years into the AIDS pandemic, scientists finally have a vaccine that protects some people -- but instead of celebrating, they are going back to the drawing board.

The vaccine, a combination of two older vaccines, only lowered the infection rate by about a third after three years among 16,000 ordinary Thai volunteers. Vaccines need to be at least 50 percent effective, and usually 70 to 80 percent effective, to be useful.

Worse, no one knows why it worked.

"Additional studies are clearly needed to understand how this vaccine regimen reduced the risk of HIV infection," Dr. Eric Schoomaker, surgeon general of the U.S. Army, which helped pay for the study, told reporters.

The First Draft: Afghanistan inspires Freudian slips about that other battlefield – Iraq

President Barack Obama may have invoked Vietnam to banish that ugly specter of defeat from his shiny new Afghan strategy. But a day later, Iraq seems to be the wartime nightmare dogging two congressional veterans of the Bush wars.

Vice President Joe Biden, who was a Democratic senator from Delaware during Rummy’s “Shock and Awe” bombardment of Baghdad, let the musings of his unconscious psyche slip out Freudian style in an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America.

While refuting worries among critics that the Afghan strategy’s 18-month timeline might embolden the Taliban, Biden said: “How are they emboldened knowing that by the time we train up the Afghanis, we’re going to be gradually handing off beginning in 2003?”

The First Draft: Talk shows help drive Palin’s popularity

If Sarah Palin were elected president of the United States, would conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck wind up in her cabinet?

That’s a toughie. But Palin already tops the list of Republican Party favorites and that fact is due in part to her popularity with Limbaugh’s and Beck’s audiences, according to a Washington Post poll.
USA-POLITICS/MCCAIN-PALIN
Seventeen percent of Republicans, including 23 percent of Republican women, say they would vote for Palin if their party’s 2012 state primary election or caucus were held today.

She out-guns Mike Huckabee who got 10 percent of the vote, Mitt Romney at 9 percent and John McCain with only 7.

The First Draft: Poll shows growing U.S. support for Afghan troop increase

If President Barack Obama opts to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan next week, the decision could be underscored by something a bit unusual for his policies: growing U.S. public support. 
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Polling data have shown for a while now that most Americans don’t favor many of Obama’s policy positions, despite his enduring personal popularity.
    
A USA Today/Gallup poll depicts Obama battling headwinds on a number of fronts: Americans oppose the closing of Gitmo by more than a 2-to-1 margin; those against healthcare reform edge out those in favor by 5 percentage points; and most don’t want accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in civilian court in New York City.
    
Afghanistan is no cakewalk, either. Public opinion is divided over the question of more troops and 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of the war up to now — a reversal of his 56 percent approval rating four months ago. CANADA/
    
But the polling data, compiled Nov. 20-22, might also suggest a silver lining for the president as he nears an announcement that could send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
    
Less than half of Americans — 47 percent — favor a troop increase. But that’s up from 42 percent in a Nov. 5-8 survey.
    
Plus, the opposition is down: 39 percent of Americans now want the president to reduce the U.S. military footprint, vs. 44 percent earlier.
    
What hasn’t changed for Obama is that Republicans, not fellow Democrats, are his best buddies when it comes to increasing troops. Seventy-two percent of Republicans back a bigger U.S. force in Afghanistan, while 57 percent of Democrats say it’s time to start pulling out. USA-ELECTION/    

That could be important for Obama’s agenda in Congress as the 2010 election approaches and Democratic incumbents in tight races consider how they might fare with Democratic voters.

The USA Today/Gallup findings are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 adults. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

The First Draft: Is the US healthcare debate making Americans feel better?

The healthcare reform debate brewing in the U.S. Senate may cause dyspepsia for some special interests.
    
But the mere prospect of reform could be making the American public feel better already — about health coverage, at least. That’s according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan philanthropic organization devoted to health and healthcare issues.
    
The foundation’s consumer confidence index for healthcare climbed to a new high of 104.4 points in October, as the debate gathered pace in the Senate and House of Representatives.
    
Why? There was a big jump in people’s confidence about future access to care and coverage. Fewer worried about losing their insurance and concerns about future affordability dropped, too.
    
“During a month when there was considerable momentum around health reform, including the passage of a reform bill by the Senate Finance Committee, the American public appears to be more confident about the future,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO, Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey said.
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“Americans of every ideology know that our health care system needs to be fixed and want some type of reform,” she added.
    
That last remark — “some type of reform” — could prove prophetic.
    
Republicans seem to think reform is a terrible idea and appear to be in lock-step opposition to it.
    
That leaves it to Democrats and allied independents to forge a filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority to push legislation through. Despite sharp differences within their already frayed coalition, Democratic leaders appear to be betting that the whole bunch, in the end, will opt for “some type of reform” rather than returning home empty handed for the holidays.

Photo Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (U.S. Capitol)

The First Draft: US healthcare reform as a tale of two cities

“…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
    
Charles Dickens never met U.S. senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. But he may have inadvertently captured the partisan spirit of the U.S. healthcare reform debate when he published his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with its famous introduction, 150 years ago.
    
Democrat Chuck and Republican Kay made clear on NBC’s Today show how many in their respective parties see the sweeping overhaul legislation that reached the U.S. Senate floor over the weekend. And by the sound of things, Washington could be two different cities. 
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Chuck seemed to present healthcare reform as a vehicle for economic salvation: “The future of the country depends on getting something done or the government will go broke, private businesses will go broke and people will go broke.”  

Or could reform lead in that other direction?    

Here’s Kay: “We are in a jobless situation in our country, an economic crisis. You are going to put taxes and mandates on business that are going to make that situation even worse. One in 10 people in America today do not have a job. Now you’re putting mandates and taxes on every individual who doesn’t have healthcare and every business that we want to ask to hire people. And yet you’re putting taxes and mandates on them that makes this unaffordable. This is a terrible idea at this time.” CONGRESS JUDGES
    
Of course, partisan differences will mean little if Democrats can retain the same 60-vote, Republican-filibuster-proof sense of community that got the bill to the floor in the first place.
    
Chuck seems confident: “We will come together for this reason. The healthcare system is broken in this sense: Medicare will be broke in seven years, private insurance doubles every six years (and) tens of millions will lose it. If we don’t do anything, that is the worst situation. And we have a good bill that cuts costs, reduces the deficit and covers more people.”
    
Either way, it’s bound to be one dickens of a debate. 

Photo credits: Reuters/Chip East (Schumer); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Hutchison)

The First Draft: Palin for President?

Is she running for president? Seeking a coffee summit with Hillary Clinton? Or just selling her book?

The only clear answer about Sarah Palin’s intentions is that the questions are drawing lots and lots of U.S. media attention. 
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This week, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor is on the cover of Newsweek magazine. She’s also going on-air for separate interviews with TV’s Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters of ABC News.
    
It’s all about promoting her new memoir, “Going Rogue: An American Life,” which goes on sale Tuesday. But the notion that she also might be testing the waters for a 2012 presidential run is what’s drawing the serious attention.
    
Supporters liken her to a populist 21st century Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. But not all the coverage is as she’d like it. OBAMA/
    
Newsweek, which pictures her on its cover as an attractive young woman in running shorts, scoffs at the idea of a Palin 2012 presidential campaign.
    
“Her brand of take-no-prisoners partisanship is not good for the Republicans in the long run and not good for the country,” Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham told MSNBC.
    
“When you have a kind of ‘death panel’ ideology, where you make pronouncements that are factually untenable and tend to inflame the conversation … that’s not good for governance.”
 
She got a warmer reception from another woman of the campaign trail, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, whom Palin thinks she might like to meet over coffee.
 
“I absolutely would look forward to having coffee. I’ve never met her. And I think it would be, you know, very interesting to sit down and talk with her,” Clinton, now U.S. secretary of state, said over the weekend. USA-GERMANY/
    
But the last word is likely to be Palin’s. Her book promotion is expected to draw huge crowds across the country. And while a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of Americans don’t think she’s qualified to be president, a similar percentage of Republicans say she is.
  

Photo Credits: Reuters/Nathaniel Wilder (Palin); Reuters/Jason Reed (White House); Reuters/Jonathan Ernst (Clinton)

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)

from Global News Journal:

Does Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

U.S. President Barack Obama has won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Obama had been awarded the prize for his calls to reduce the world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons and work towards restarting the stalled Middle East peace process.

The committee praised Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

"Very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."