Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

March 2009 Archives

Ending America's Wars

"Exclusive:" Bob Schieffer spoke with President Barack Obama about ending the war in Afghanistan, and about the alarming increase in violence along the Mexican border.

'Help Me Help You'

"Exclusive:" Bob Schieffer spoke with President Barack Obama about what it will take to fix the ailing economy and restore the American dream.

WASHINGTON--I was on The Diane Rehm Show on Friday talking about the Obama administration economic plans with Jon Ward, White House reporter for The Washington Times and Juan Williams, NPR News Analyst and FOX News Political analyst.

WASHINGTON--After a pitch perfect start, First Lady Michelle Obama's East Wing is facing a controversy involving hard boiled partisans.

The issue: changing the way tickets are distributed for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, this year a nine hour affair starting at 8 a.m. Monday, April 13 on the South Lawn.

The switch to online distribution from standing in line all night on the Ellipse the weekend before the "roll" for first come first serve tickets touched a nerve with readers of my blog,(original March 23 post) triggering a passionate debate on a subject not inconsequential to many people across the country.

WASHINGTON--Another Chicagoan joins the Obama administration, Larry Strickling, an attorney nominated Friday to be Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information, Department of Commerce. Strickling is also chairman of the University of Chicago's Court Theater Board.

Official bio:
Lawrence E. Strickling is a technology policy expert with more than two decades of experience in the public and private sectors. As Policy Coordinator for Obama for America, Strickling oversaw two dozen domestic policy committees and was responsible for technology and telecommunications issues. Prior to joining the campaign, Strickling was Chief Regulatory and Chief Compliance Officer at Broadwing Communications for three years. His private sector experience also includes serving in senior roles at Allegiance Telecom and CoreExpress, Inc. and as a member of the Board of Directors of Network Plus. In government, Strickling served at the Federal Communications Commission as Chief of the Common Carrier Bureau from 1998 to 2000. Prior to that, Strickling was Associate General Counsel and Chief of the FCC's Competition Division. During his tenure at the FCC, Strickling developed and enforced rules to foster competition and protect consumers in the telecommunications marketplace. Prior to joining the FCC, Strickling was Vice President, Public Policy at Ameritech. Before Ameritech, he was a litigation partner at the Chicago law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. Strickling earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in economics. He serves on the Board of Visitors at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of Chicago's Court Theatre, and on the Board of Directors of Music of the Baroque in Chicago.

President Obama at ceremonial swearing in Friday for Attorney General Eric Holder (AP)

Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and daughter Laura, a Harvard Law student, at the Holder ceremonial swearing in (AP)

WASHINGTON--Attorney General Eric Holder is a basketball player just as is his boss, President Obama. In past interviews Holder bragged that Obama may not be ready for his "New York" game.

Obama razzed him on this during his ceremonial installation Friday.

"Eric even had the audacity to comment to a reporter on my basketball skills," Obama said

"He said -- and I quote --- this is what he said. He said, "I'm not sure he's ready for my New York game." We will see about that, Mr. Attorney General."

Replied Holder, "Let me just depart here and say that he's never going to see my New York game. He's got 10 years on me. He works out. I'm the coach of the team, in which he will be playing, and nothing more than that. But had I been 10 years younger...."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama tapped Johnny Wright to be her exclusive hair dresser, the Washington Post reports Thursday in a Style section front headlined "He Dresses Michelle's Tresses."

The subhead: "Chicagoan shapes First Lady's hair--and keeps the details to himself."

Wright grew up on Edbrooke Ave. on the South Side and a few years ago moved to Los Angeles. He coifed Mrs. Obama during the campaign and moved to Washington a few weeks ago.

I asked the East Wing how Johnny Wright gets paid and Catherine McCormick-Lelyveld said "it's a personal expense."

Nielsen has package of real time dial testing results for President Obama's Tuesday press conference.

WASHINGTON--President Obama headlined fundraisers Wednesday night for the Democratic National Committee, headed by pal Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia.

Washington continues to be a foil for Obama.

He said of his recent travel to California, "Every once in a while we like to get out of this town. Not because I don't enjoy Washington, but because it is important to get out of the hall of mirrors here and listen to what's happening with the American people."

WASHINGTON--As of 8:44 a.m. eastern time, 82,066 people have submitted 91,075 questions and cast 3,245,022 votes on questions on the economy for President Obama to answer Thursday in his first Internet town hall.

There's a last minute surge as the submission period ends at 9:30 a.m. eastern today. As of 6:32 p.m. eastern time on Wednesday, 33,280 people had submitted 34,338 questions and cast 1,234,659 votes.

The town hall will be live at at 11:30 a.m. eastern time Thursday.

The Obama White House used Google moderator, an open source tool available to the public, to take in the questions and let people vote on the questions they want Obama to address.

From Thursday's White House guidance: the President will participate in an "Open for Questions" town hall on the economy in the East Room. The President will answer questions about the economy submitted and voted on by the public through and engage a live audience for follow-up questions afterwards. Jared Bernstein, chief economist for Vice President Biden, will facilitate the town hall, reading some of the most popular questions from the website and cueing video questions.

The audience will be composed of approximately 100 people, including teachers, nurses, small business owners, and community leaders - and an audience of thousands across the country who will watch the event via webstream at

Members of the public can pose a question or vote for a particular question until 9:30AM EDT tomorrow by visiting

To check out the site, go to

That's my arm at right. I'm writing in my notebook. AP photo.

click below for transcript

An exclusive look at inside the Obama "talkers" operation.

WASHINGTON--Some time Tuesday afternoon, if things went as planned, a cadre of Democrats often seen on cable shows--dubbed "talkers" by the Obama White House -- were drilled on their talking points in advance of the president's press conference.

A sampler from the talking points for tonight's presser, to start at 8 p.m. eastern:

"* Tonight the President will update the American people on the steps his Administration has taken to move the economy from recession to recovery -- and ultimately to prosperity.

* There are no quick fixes and no silver bullets. It's important to remember that this crisis didn't happen overnight, and it didn't result from any one action or decision. It took many years and failures to lead us here, and it will take many months and different solutions to lead us out."

Presiding over the "talkers" is Dag Vega, the Obama White House director of broadcast media who ran the Obama campaign surrogate press operation.

The "talkers" are the Democratic strategists most often booked by cable television and radio political talk shows for commentary and analysis.

"We will hold our weekly conference call on Tuesday, March 24 at 2:00 pm ET," Vega said in an e-mail sent early today. "A senior White House official will be on to talk about the President's press conference tonight, the financial stability plan, the budget, and other news-of-the-day questions."

The purpose for the "talkers" briefings is for the commentators to hear directly from senior White House about the big issues in the news and to ask questions. The White House also gets feed back on messaging. But mostly, it's to make sure the "talkers" know their talking points.

WASHINGTON--The executive who heads the company reopening the shuttered Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago was at the White House on Tuesday, at an event with President Obama focusing on energy and the environment.

Obama was introduced by Paul Holland, the vice chairman and lead investor for Serious Materials. The company is re-opening Republic--closed last year--sometime this spring. Holland's company promised to rehire all the Republic workers who lost their jobs last year.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama wants to open up the White House for everyone. She's doing it with the annual Easter Egg Roll. New rules from the White House Easter Egg Roll will allow out-of-towners to get tickets in advance and travel here for the April 13 event. The theme is "Let's go play!"

Under prior administrations, folks had to stand in line the weekend before to get tickets.

Now tickets will be distributed online. Check out beginning Thursday.

The day long egg roll is keyed towards children. "The White House will open the South Lawn to children age ten and under, along with their families, to enjoy sports, cooking classes, live musical performances, storytelling and the traditional Easter egg roll.

Watch CBS Videos Online

"Don't want to use the tax code to punish people," President Obama says on "Sixty Minutes" interview broadcast Sunday. He does not say--when asked-- if he will sign bill taxing 90 percent of AIG bonus money.

WASHINGTON--The 124th annual dinner of the Gridiron Club featured Vice President Biden and two prominent governors who can never be president because they were not born in the U.S.--Democrat Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger of California

All three are making their speaking debut at the dinner, with President Obama--who has keynoted winter and spring Gridiron Dinners--at Camp David with his family.

Keeping to the journalists' club motto to "singe, not burn,' skits--lampooning journalists and the figures they cover-- focused on the new Obama administration and how Republicans are coping.

WASHINGTON -- For her own Women's History Month assignment, first lady Michelle Obama visited Anacostia High School, on the poor side of town, where on Thursday she surprised a group of students. One of her goals is to demystify the White House and make it more accessible to the people who live here.

Mrs. Obama told the youngsters she felt isolated from an institution in her own community when she was growing up and that she suspected they may view the White House and the Capitol the way she saw the University of Chicago as a young girl -- a place for other people. She shared her story of how she was taunted for talking "like a white girl."

On Thursday, Mrs. Obama gathered what she called "an amazing group of women together" at the White House, dispatching a slew of role models -- including some stars -- to talk to youngsters at area schools.

UPDATED 12:27 A.M eastern Friday

WASHINGTON--President Obama told Jay Leno he will use the White House tennis court to play hoops and will finally get a promised dog for his daughters next month as he talked about the AIG bonuses and the economy on the late night show.

Obama booked the appearence as part of a California campaign-style swing designed to sell his fiscal 2010 proposed budget and his $787 billion economic recovery plan. But the trip was overshadowed by the ongoing uproar over $165 milliion in bonuses paid to hedge fund honchos at the bailed out AIG.

The AIG furor of course provided grist for the comic and the president on the show, taped Thursday afternoon in Burbank. The tone, while serious, was light. A wisecrack about the Special Olympics (overseen by the Ethel Kennedy clan) was off mark and Obama may regret the mention about the disabled while discussing his bowling skills.

White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, talking to reporters on Air Force One while en route back to Washington after the Leno taping said, "The President made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world."

Leno was thrilled the president was on his show

Said Leno, "Well, you know, it's interesting, when you said -- it's, like, I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said, okay, I've asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now, if you rob a bank and you go into court -- -- and you go, Your Honor, I'm going to give you half the money back. And they seem stunned that we're not jumping at this wonderful offer."

Shot back Obama, "Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood.'

First Lady Michelle Obama with Alicia Keyes (AP)


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama visited a high school here Thursday, talking about her start in life on Chicago's South Side--never stepped foot at the University of Chicago because it "had nothing" to do with her-- and how she was told "you talk like a white girl" while growing up.

Mrs. Obama's visit was one of several her office coordinated on Thursday--drawing in female role models, including some celebrities-- as part of her National Women's History Month outreach to girls, to her new city, and her drive to make the White House more accessible.

Surprising 13 students at Southeast Washington's Anacostia High School,

She told them it's National Women's History Month, her background, her upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, working class family. She said she lived near the University of Chicago, but never set foot inside when she was growing up. "It was a fancy college, it had nothing to do with me."

Other high-profile women were dispatche to similiar events at other schools in the district and its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, incuding, Sheryl Crow, Dominique Dawes, Alicia Keys, Debbie Allen, Penny Pritzker and Maggie Daley, wife of Chicago Mayor Daley.

The students were very interested in Mrs. Obama's life and lifestyle.

A student asked her who does her makeup. She said, "I do my own makeup," except for special occasions, according to the pool report.

The pool report continued, "She was asked about her clothes. She made a kind of "what, this old thing?" gesture. "This is just a little jacket and pants," she said. Of course, she looked fabulous. She was dressed in a black ensemble - black jacket, with skinny black belt, big black flower up to one side. Black skinny pants. Black patent flats. Hair down."

".......She told the kids, don't worry about what your friends say, or teachers who don't think you can do something. "Work hard, do your best."

She said: "I wanted an A, I wanted to be the person who had the right answers. People said, you talk like a white girl - I don't know what that means."

WASHINGTON--Embattled Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) is asking the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for permission to open a legal expense fund, I've learned.

Burris filed the request with the committee on Monday. The law firm handling the filing is Gonzalez, Saggio, Harlan led by Burris attorney Tim Wright, who has been advising Burris since his controversial appointment by impeached Gov. Blagojevich.

The treasurer named on the filing is Roderick Sawyer, former Mayor Eugene Sawyer's son. ( Eugene Sawyer's nephew, Kerry, is a senior advisor on the Burris Washington staff.)

The purpose for establishing the fund, according to the filing: "to pay for expenses incurred by the Senator in connection with his appointment to the US Senate on December 30th, 2008. Due to the controversy surrounding his appointment by former Illinois Governor Rod Balgojevich, Senator Burris incurred legal expenses to support his eventual swearing in on January 15th, 2009 in both Illinois and Washington, DC.

"In addition, even after he was seated, Senator Burris has continued to require representation amid accusations of perjury and other alleged improprieties relating back to his appointment to the senate seat."

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House launched a new web site to give homeowners a one-stop shop to start to research options to reduce mortgage payments and prevent foreclosures.

The new website offers free assistance to home owners who may be in trouble--or just want to take advantage of new programs to refinance at lower rates. There's also help in finding counselors to help navigate through the often complicated process.

The most important thing--don't wait if you are in trouble and are about to or are skipping payments. Another resource: HOPE Hotline (888-995-HOPE)

Over at Stephanie Valencia, the associate director of the Office of Public Liaison, blogged about the new site.

"At midnight last night the Treasury Department took a great step to ensure that everybody who can take advantage of the President housing plan can do so, helping to put the brakes on the foreclosure crisis, launching - a site where you can find out everything you need to know about the President's plan and whether you qualify. As somebody involved in conversations about this effort over the past weeks, I was excited to be able to talk about it here on the White House blog -- be sure to check out the calculator that allows homeowners to estimate the reduction to their monthly mortgage payment that they might get under the plan."

WASHINGTON --American International Group CEO Edward Liddy, during his scalping Wednesday before House members furious over $165 million in bonuses going to the bailed-out insurer, finally got the message that a company living on the charity of taxpayers has some extraordinary responsibilities.

Until his testimony, Liddy, whatever his intentions, acted as if AIG, on the dole with $170 billion in bailout money, could behave as it did when the company was solvent.

Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), a member of the House panel questioning Liddy, drilled down to the question of moral corporate citizenship that has eluded Libby when she asked him, "If the taxpayers hadn't loaned AIG any money, would the executives who received the bonuses have received them?"

Replied Liddy: "Probably not. . . . I think the company would have spiraled into bankruptcy. . . . the basic contracts would have been voided."

Liddy, who insisted Tuesday that nothing could be done about the bonuses paid to about 400 hedge fund honchos because they had contracts that legally could not be altered, came to the hearing with a symbolic concession, a request that the bonuses be voluntarily returned or reduced.


Comment on the Obama book money from a White House source who did not want his name used.....

"This was in the works for months. Finished the paperwork in January. Not a "book deal". It is just a license from Crown to the children's division covering the existing book. They are abridging Dreams for middle grade and young adults. He is approving the abridgement. Just like dozens of foreign licenses, for instance, that were issued for his books over the years."

WASHINGTON--The Washington Times is reporting that best selling author President Obama lined up a $500,000 book advance deal on Jan. 15, just before his inauguration.

The report, by Christina Bellantoni and Jim McElhatton with Chuck Neubauer contributing said "the advance is against royalties under a deal with Crown Publishing, a division of Random House. The project calls for an abridged version of his book "Dreams From My Father" for middle-school-aged children, according to the disclosure."

The Washington Times reported that a "White House aide said that the deal had been in the works for weeks and that the publisher will abridge the book. The aide, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said the publisher will get half of the money while Mr. Obama will sign off on the final version."

WASHINGTON--AIG chairman and CEO Edward Liddy, testifying before a House panel probing the $165 million AIG bonus payments on Wednesday, just made a surprise announcement to placate an angry nation:

Liddy, who presides over a company 80 percent owned by taxpayers, asked the 418 bonus receipients to "step up do the right thing" and refund some of the bonus payments. Liddy proposed that those who received in excess of $100,000 in bonuses volunteer to return "at least half."

Below from the White House

Secretary Geithner finds out about impending bonuses

After 6pm, Geithner calls Liddy to express outrage and says payments are unacceptable and Liddy need to go back and renegotiate.

Secretary Geithner and Treasury lawyers look for legal solutions to not paying the bonuses.

Secretary Geithner informs the White House. Later in the day, senior aides inform the President.

Secretary Geithner and Treasury lawyers continue looking for legal solutions to not paying the bonuses.

Secretary Geithner and Treasury lawyers continue looking for legal solutions to not paying the bonuses until the last possible legal moment.

Secretary Geithner speaks with Liddy again and after some back and forth, AIG agrees to:

cut bonuses in half and to stretch the exec bonuses (that fall outside our contract with them and our FSP rules) out overtime, so that execs are more on the hook for the successful wind down of the company, which is the best way to protect taxpayers

[Rather than the Senior Partners (top approx. 50 people) getting an aggregate of $9.6M in bonus now, they will get 50% in cash now (avg. payment of approx. $112K), plus 25% on July 15 and 25% on September 15 (avg. payments of approx $56K each). However, both of the 25% payments will be contingent upon the Board finding that the steps in the disposition plan are being met at each payment date.]
renegotiate and reduce 2009 retention bonuses.
recoup the money in 30 billion AIG restructuring agreement
Following the conversation, Secretary Geithner asks for Liddy letter to codify the changes.

Following deadline on Friday, treasury attorneys continue to look at legal solutions for recoupment.

POTUS asks the economic and legal team to continue looking for ways to recoup the bonuses.

below, from the East Wing


Thursday, March 19: The First Lady will host a series of events on Thursday in celebration of Women's History Month. Twenty-one women at the top of their fields will join the First Lady in visiting local schools and speaking with students about their career goals and achieving their dreams. These events are an extension of the Obama administration's commitment to engage with the DC community and open the White House for arts, culture and educational purposes.

Following these daytime events, the group will return to the White House for an evening dinner and entertainment, with students from additional schools from the DC metropolitan area.

The First Lady's visit to Anacostia High School, which will include a roundtable discussion with students, will be pooled press. Press coverage of visits to the other schools should be coordinated by contacting the school directly. Space at the schools is limited. Media will be accommodated on a first come, first served basis at the discretion of the school.

The dinner in the evening will also be pooled.

(click to enlarge image)

WASHINGTON--President Obama filled out his NCAA brackets for ESPN. He picked Louisville, North Carolina, Memphis and Pittsburgh with the Tar Heels to win. Last week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, asked about Obama's brackets last week said, " I -- we will, in a transparent White House, release -- -- release the president's bracket next week." Well, that did not happen. Instead, the information was released by ESPN.

ESPN said on its website that President Obama had promised the brackets to an ESPN reporter during an earlier interview last year.

WASHINGTON--Read it here, the who's who of the Obama world invited to the White House to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. The party was the biggest bash yet in the Obama White House. The guests included longtime friends, major Obama fund-raisers, administration appointees, Irish officials and elected officials, incuding Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and wife Maggie.

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release March 17, 2009

Today the President met in the Oval Office with His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago and President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The President and Cardinal George discussed a wide range of issues, including important opportunities for the government and the Catholic Church to continue their long-standing partnership to tackle some of the nation's most pressing challenges. The President thanked Cardinal George for his leadership and for the contributions of the Catholic Church in America and around the world.

According to a release from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "the meeting was private. Cardinal George and President Obama discussed the Catholic Church in the United States and its relation to the new Administration. The meeting lasted approximately 30 minutes.

At the conclusion, Cardinal George expressed his gratitude for the meeting and his hopes that it will foster fruitful dialogue for the sake of the common good."

WASHINGTON--President Obama sits down with Jay Leno on Thursday, while in California to sell his stimulus and budget plans and the path for long term economic growth. At the Tuesday briefing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama is going on the late night show to talk about his economic plans.

While Obama will be doing two town halls in California--a state struggling with high unemployment and a state government funding crisis--Leno provides a "unique" audience, Gibbs said.

"We don't look at it as a process of demonstrating the president's sense of humor," Gibbs said, but rather a chance "to explain the economic situation we are in."


WASHINGTON---The O'Bama's put a Chicago touch on White House St. Patrick Day celebrations.

A fountain in front of the White House was turned green for the day. Desiree Rogers, the White House Social Secretary said on NBC's "The Today Show," "Mrs. Obama and I talked about this, coming from Chicago we thought that it would be a great way to pull the two towns together. In Chicago we annually on St. Patrick's Day dye the river green, so why not the White House fountain. They liked the idea."

Chicago's Shannon Rovers bagpipe band is playing at a Tuesday White House reception.

President Obama, welcoming Ireland's Taoiseach Brian Cowen to the Oval Office, sang the praises of Chicago's South Side Irish parade, which he called "one of the great events."

"Somewhat wistfully, he also observed that as president he probably would not be able to have as much fun at the parade as he had in earlier years, according to the pool report by George Condon of Congress Daily. As the pool was leaving, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, "I've marched in that parade. On the coldest day..."

Obama at the White House joked about his Irish roots.

"Now, before I turn it over to the Taoiseach, it turns out that we have something in common. He hails from County Offaly. And it was brought to my attention on the campaign that my great-great-great grandfather on my mother's side came to America from a small village in County Offaly, as well. We are still speculating on whether we are related," the president said.

WASHINGTON--The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has a much anticipated meeting coming up with President Obama, probably on Wednesday.

The CHC chairman is Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY). Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is also a member of the caucus. The CHC has a wide ranging agenda. Immigration is always a key issue for the group.

Meeting with a small group of reporters on March 12, Obama, asked about immigration, said he expected to have a comprehensive policy in place in a few months.

WASHINGTON--Some readers have inquired why Illinois Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth has not been confirmed yet as an assistant secretary of veterans affairs, after being tapped by Obama on Feb. 3. The answer is the process is moving slowly. Duckworth was officially nominated Monday. A confirmation hearing is April 1.

Quigley footnote
House Democratic nominee Mike Quigley hits Washington for a few days starting today. Illinois congressional Democrats host a fund-raiser for him on Wednesday night.

WASHINGTON -- In his short time in office, true bipartisanship has eluded President Obama. Now, because Obama waited to use his considerable bully pulpit, Democratic and Republican House and Senate leaders and rank-and-file members are united in denouncing bonus payments to AIG hedge fund honchos made on Obama's watch.

Somewhat tardy, Obama on Monday shared the instant outrage real people are having over the $165 million in bonuses just paid to the bailed-out American International Group. Obama ordered Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to "pursue every single legal avenue to block those bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole."

UPDATED 1:30 p.m. eastern

WASHINGTON--President Obama said Monday he will ask AIG to cancel $165 million in bonus payments paid to traders for the bailed out AIG.

Obama--at the top of a small business event at the White House--said it was "hard to understand" why the bonus money should be paid.

"Under these circumstances, it's hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" Obama said.

Obama asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pursue every legal avenue to curb the payments. Last week, Geithner negotiated with AIG CEO and chair Edward Libby and won some concessions--but concluded he had no legal way to break the contracts of some 400 AIG Financial Products employees.

"Now, before I talk about the new steps that we're taking to get
credit flowing to small businesses across our country, I do want to
comment on the news about executive bonuses at AIG. I think some of
you have heard a little bit about this over the last few days," Obama said.

"This is a corporation that finds itself in financial distress due
to recklessness and greed. Under these circumstances, it's hard to
understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much
less $165 million in extra pay. I mean, how do they justify this
outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?

"In the last six months, AIG has received substantial sums from
the U.S. Treasury, and I've asked Secretary Geithner to use that
leverage and pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses
and make the American taxpayers whole.

"I want -- I want everybody to be clear that Secretary Geithner
has been on the case. He's working to resolve this matter with the
new CEO, Edward Liddy -- who, by the way, everybody needs to
understand, came onboard after the contracts that led to these bonuses
were agreed to last year. But I think Mr. Liddy, and certainly
everybody involved, needs to understand this is not just a matter of
dollars and cents; it's about our fundamental values.

"Now, all across the country, there are people who are working
hard and meeting their responsibilities every single day -- without
the benefit of government bailouts or multi-million-dollar bonuses.
You've got a bunch of small-businesspeople here, who are struggling
just to keep their credit line open. They are foregoing pay, as one
of our entrepreneurs talked about. They are, in some cases,
mortgaging their homes, and doing a whole host of things, just in
order to keep things afloat. All they ask is that everyone -- from
Main Street to Wall Street to Washington -- play by the same rules.
And that is an ethic that we have to demand.

"And what this situation also underscores is the need for overall
financial regulatory reform, so we don't find ourselves in this
position again, and for some form of resolution mechanism in dealing
with troubled financial institutions, so that we've got greater
authority to protect American taxpayers and our financial system in
cases such as this.

"You know, we already have," Obama said coughing, "resolution authority --
excuse me. I'm choked up with anger here," he said to laughter.

"We always -- already have some of that resolution authority when it
comes to a, a traditional bank. But when you start getting into
AIGs and some of these other operations that have a whole bunch of
different financial instruments, then we don't have all the regulatory
power that we need. And this is something that I expect to work with
Congress to deal with in the weeks and months to come."

WASHINGTON -- Obama administration officials are fuming with the rest of us real people over $165 million in bonus payments Sunday to key employees of the bailed-out American International Group. Taxpayers own about 80 percent of AIG's outstanding shares, bought when the New York-based insurer received about $170 billion in bailout funds last year.

Larry Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, said the bonuses were "outrageous" on ABC's "This Week" and CBS' "Face the Nation."

The backstory here is remarkable.

The Obama White House's ability to intercede in a company (too big to fail) dependent on taxpayer cash is limited, apparently. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner read the riot act to AIG Chairman and CEO Edward Liddy on Wednesday over the bonuses and got some important concessions over future payments and salaries. Liddy politely called the exchange an "open and frank conversation" in a letter he sent Saturday to Geithner about how AIG's "hands are tied."

WASHINGTON--AIG Chairman Edward Liddy explains in a letter to the White House that he finds the bonus millions paid to AIG executives distasteful but argues he can't do anything about it. After all, insurance companies are supposed to honor contracts, that's what the business is about, Liddy writes. The Chicago Sun-Times has obtained copies of the Liddy letter and an AIG document describing the compension plan.

WASHINGTON--Keeping to the cheer up things will get better Obama White House economic theme, White House chief economist Christina Romer urges Americans to spend. Go out and buy that car, she told David Gregory, host of NBC's "Meet the Press."

GREGORY: Final point here. What is the responsible thing for consumers to do at the height of this global crisis?

ROMER: That, that's an excellent question. I think we know that consumers have lost a lot of wealth and that normally what you'd say is they should be saving more. I think the truth is consumers have also not done a lot of spending for the last 14 months. So what I would predict and I think would be a perfectly reasonable thing is you go out and you buy that car that you've been thinking about for 14 months and you do some of the spending. And then over the long haul I'm hoping we'll come back to probably a higher savings rate, because we know we were at kind of a historic low before this all happened. I just said, one of the things that the president is very interested in is when we get through this, coming back to a healthier economy. Not an economy fed by bubble and then where we have the bust. And that's part of the whole program of dealing with health care, dealing with energy, dealing with education, so that the economy we have three or four years from now is a much more stable, much able to have a, a sound expansion.

WASHINGTON--The Obama economic team is booked on the Sunday shows as the White House continues a multi-front publicity push to hold public support for the administration's economic rescue plans. The White House, however is on the defensive-- tried and failed to stop the taxpayer bailed out (too big to fail) AIG from awarding bonunes to top executives.

"There are a lot of terrible things that have happened in the last 18 months, but what's happened at AIG is the most outrageous," said Larry Summers, chairman of the White House National Economic Council, during an appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"What that company did, the way it was not regulated, the way no one was watching, what's proved necessary, it is outrageous," Summers said.

WASHINGTON--More from the White House lifestyle file. President Obama has yet to try out that new swing set installed at the White House for his daughters. But he is encouraging staffers kids to use the equipment and even invited the press.

Obama on Saturday was asked, "Have you tried out the swing yet, sir?"

"You know, I have not tested the swing, but I've pushed them on the swings. This is pretty spectacular," Obama said, waving towards the set.

Obama said WH staffers' kids would get to test it out, and he extended a similar invitation to children of the White House press corps, the pool report said.

WASHINGTON--White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday he "enjoyed"
Jon Stewart taking down CNBC's Jim Cramer on his show on Thursday night. And giving an insight into the Obama-Gibbs relationship and what it is they talk about when they talk, Gibbs revealed that he and Obama discussed earlier Thursday watching the show.

Footnote: Gibbs has been scornful of some of the relentless cable output and was gleefully hard on CNBC's Rick Santelli who blasted Obama's home mortgage foreclosure plan.

At the Friday briefing Gibbs was asked, "Does the White House believe that this is the obligation of journalists to call out lies, to warn the public that there are dangers ahead?"

Gibbs said, "the President and I talked earlier in the day yesterday about watching it. I forgot to email and remind him that it was on, so I don't know if he's seen it. I enjoyed it thoroughly -- (laughter) -- despite, even as Mr. Stewart said, that it may have been uncomfortable to conduct and uncomfortable to watch. I thought it was -- I thought somebody asked a lot of tough questions, and I am not surprised that the video of Mr. Cramer's appearance doesn't appear on CNBC's web site today."

WASHINGTON--At the Friday briefing, I asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs when President Obama--the hoopster-in-chief-- will make his 2009 NCAA March Madness Picks. Next week, Gibbs said.

Lynn Sweet:
....when is the president's brackets going to come out?

Robert Gibbs:
I -- we will, in a transparent White House, release -- (laughter) -- release the president's bracket next week.

WASHINGTON--President Obama will celebrate St. Patrick's Day entertaining Irish officials at the White House and heading to Capitol Hill for Speaker Nancy Pelosi's St. Patrick's Day lunch.

Chicago's famed Shannon Rovers Irish Bagpipe Band have been asked to play at the White House for the first time. Six pipers and three drummers will be traveling to Washington for the event. This is the first time the Rovers are playing in the White House.

The Chicago connections in the White House may have helped. Bill McTighe the Rovers band manager, told me Thursday that he was contacted for the gig by Joe Reinstein, the Deputy White House Social Secretary from Highland Park. The White House is paying for six pipers and three drummers to fly to Washington for the event.

WASHINGTON--The good news--besides the market being up--is that Larry Summers, the National Economic Council chief reminds us that eventually every economic crisis comes to an end. When this whooper will, we don't know. But take some comfort, he basically says, that today won't last forever.

Summers, in a speech at Brookings (click below for remarks) lays out in short form the essential elements of the Obama economic recovery plan.

For those looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, consider this from Summers:

For example, about 14 million new car sales are necessary for replacement and to accommodate rising population growth. Yet car sales are now running at an annual rate of about 9 million. New household formation requires something like 1.7 million new housing units a year and housing starts are now running about 400,000 a year. Once the inventory is worked off, investment will increase. Historical experience suggests that rapid inventory decline such as we have observed in recent months is followed by increased production to rebuild inventories.

WASHINGTON -- And on Day 52 of the Obama administration, first lady Michelle Obama made her first solo out-of-town trip.

Mrs. Obama on Thursday morning made a day trip to North Carolina, where she met with military personnel and their families at Fort Bragg, later speaking in Fayetteville.

The soldiers greeted her with cheers and applause, according to a pool report. Later, she read from the Dr. Seuss classic The Cat in the Hat to a dozen preschoolers at a day-care center. She also visited with four toddlers making "thank you" cards for wounded soldiers.

For a travel debut, Mrs. Obama and her team picked safe, familiar territory. During the presidential campaign, she hosted a roundtable with military spouses in Fayetteville.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, talked to ABC News Robin Roberts about her concerns for military families during their Thursday afternoon interview, conducted after Mrs. Obama met with military families at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The interview was broadcast Friday morning on "Good Morning America."

At the end of their talk, Roberts asked the First Lady what she does to relax in the evening away from the public.

"I must confess," Mrs. Obama said, "Sometimes I click on some non-important TV and just veg out.

"I'm usually asleep right after the kids go to be. I get up early and work out. That tends to be my relaxation. It happens in the morning."

Lynn Sweet footnote: I'm told by the East Wing that Mrs. Obama works out in the White House gym.

Michelle_Obama.jpg (AP)

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama--in her first out of town visit since taking over the East Wing--visits with soldiers and their families at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Thursday. She mingled with soldiers at a base mess hall, signed a chef's hat and met with more than 20 military families.

During a stop at the Prager Child Development Center on the base, Mrs. Obama read the Dr. Seuss classic, "The Cat in the Hat."

WASHINGTON--President Obama is talking to a high level CEO group, the Business
Round table on Thursday afternoon. Click below for a list of the CEO who's who.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State and former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Wednesday at the State Department

WASHINGTON--President Obama signed an omnibus spending bill for fy 2009 on Wednesday, loaded with thousands of controversial earmarks. Obama campaigned against these clout projects--many very worthy, some not, all clouted in outside the regular approps process--but did not veto the bill because it would mire him in a battle he did not want to fight now. Rather, he outlined in a speech Wednesday a process to bring some order to the allocation of special projects--next time.

Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has taken incoming because he was the sponsor or co-sponsor of 16 earmarks. Other members of the Obama administration who are former members of Congress also had their pet projects in the bill.

Obama's defenders note that the much larger stimulus bill passed with no earmarks. One bill with earmarks. One bigger bill without.

Here's a list of all Illinois earmarks. Source: Taxpayers for Common Sense.

At the White House signing ceremony for the creation of the Council for Women and Girls (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Tina Tchen, left and Valerie Jarrett, the Chicagoans in the White House who will run the Council. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--A Who's Who of the nation's feminist community--members of Congressand other notables--gathered at the White House this afternoon for President Obama's signing of an executive order to create a White House Council on Women and Girls. Among those on the stage with President Obama--Tina Tchen, the executive director of the council; Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Valerie Jarrett, the White House senior advisor who will oversee it.

One of the attendees was Teresa Ging, the owner of Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique
at 115 N Wabash in Chicago. Ging sells premium cupcakes.

For a list of the other attendees at the signing ceremony, click below.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama is using her first official trip outside of Washington as a backdrop for her, as ABC News puts it, "first network television interview" since becoming first lady. On Thursday, Mrs. Obama travels to North Carolina to visit military families at Fort Bragg, taking to its highest level yet a major agenda item, helping the kin of our nations' soldiers.

Since taking over the East Wing, Mrs. Obama has given interviews to magazines--the latest Oprah Winfrey's "O" and People, but folks slice and dice into categories when claiming firsts.

The interview with Robin Roberts will be well used with ABC News offering an attractive package: the interview on Roberts' show, "Good Morning America" and clips on "World News with Charles Gibson" and "Nightline."

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett is adding more to her portfolio: she is chairing a White House Council on Women and Girls, to be created by President Obama on Wednesday. Tina Tchen, director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, will serve as executive director of the group.

Obama will sign an executive order creating the council--run by two high level Chicagoans in the White House--designed to "provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls and to ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies consider how their policies and programs impact women and families."

According to the White House, "the Council will begin its work by asking each agency to analyze their current status and ensure that they are focused internally and externally on women."

For the First Lady, Wednesday is about displaying her feminist credentials.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden will attend the signing event at the White House, pegged to National Women's History Month.

Earlier on Wednesday, according to the White House, "Mrs. Obama will celebrate International Women's Day with a visit to the State Department where she will join Secretary Hillary Clinton in presenting the Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage."

AP photo of President Obama and UN General Ban Ki at their White House meeting on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON-- Who's who at the meeting Tuesday at the White House with President Obama and UN General Ban Ki-moon:

From the White House:
Mark Lippert
Mike Hammer
Samantha Power
Michelle Gavin

From the UN:
Under Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operation Alain Le Roy
Robert Orr
Will Davis
Michelle Montas

WASHINGTON--Mayor Daley's travels are of interest to IRS and congressional investigators as part of a larger probe started in July, 2007 of an education loan non-profit known as EduCap.

Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman reports Tuesday on how Daley finally revealed that he took "multiple trips" on a luxury corporate jet owned by EduCap--and not just one, as originally put out by Daley's City Hall.

Spielman wrote, "Daley changed his story, one week after City Hall insisted that a September, 2006 trip to Singapore were the mayor's only flights courtesy of EduCap, a multi-billion student loan charity under the microscope for allegedly abusing its tax-exempt status."

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called for the congressional probe on July 24, 2007, after a Washington Post series raises questions about the charity. That probe is continuing to this day. Click below for the full letter Grassley wrote to EduCap chairman Catherine Reynolds--who is referenced in Spielman's story--asking for information on behalf of the Senate Finance Committee.

Grassley, in his letter, asked EduCap to provide to the Finance Committee "a detailed log of all trips taken in the Gulfstream IV jet since its purchase. For each trip, include an explanation of its purpose, including whether and in what respect the trip furthered EduCap's tax-exempt purpose. Provide all passengers for each trip and an itinerary of the travel. Provide all documentation relating to whether and to what extent you or any other individual were reimbursed (or provided reimbursement) for the cost of any of these trips. Please provide all photographs and videotape of these trips. Please provide the same information for any other jet chartered or owned by EduCap."

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Tuesday, worried that the U.S. is falling behind in education, called for the nation to rethink the length of the school day and summer vacations. At the White House briefing, I asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs what Obama has in mind.

Lynn Sweet: Thank you, Robert. The President said something interesting that I think the schoolchildren of America might have listened to with great interest, given that we're getting towards the summer, today when he said we should rethink the school year and the school day. Can you give us a little more insight as to what he's thinking -- of a summer vacation of just a few weeks, or leaving intact the schedule we have, and just adding a little bit? So can you give us a little more --

Robert Gibbs: I hope my son didn't hear that portion of today's speech.

No, I think that the President has spoken before, and I think there has been discussion in the education community and in the reform community about either restructuring the amount of time that is spent each day in school, or adding time -- several weeks -- to each school year. I mean, you know, as far as 10 or 12 years ago, there were active proposals to do this, to add -- to go from, say, roughly 180 to closer to 200 school days.

The President, obviously, thinks that all avenues should be explored in order to improve our educational system. This is one that advocates have talked about as a possibility of increasing the amount of educational work that is done, that our students do each school year. Obviously, this is largely in the dominion of states and school districts.

But I think you've also heard the President talk about, and I think he would encourage students and parents alike to use the opportunity of whatever your summer vacation is to continue learning, to continue reading, to continue the activities that are necessary to prepare any student for the next school year.

Lynn Sweet: Right. That feels pretty differently when you're on vacation, as opposed to being in school. So you think he's talking more about weeks, not months, in the summer?

Well, there aren't many months in the summer.

Another reporter: Two months -- three.

Gibbs: Wow I'm glad I'm not your kids. No, I'm kidding. (Laughter.)

Again, I think the President, without getting -- without having a specific number of days that he thinks can and should be added to the school year, I think the President believes it's appropriate for us -- and for school administrators and for state school superintendents that he visited with today -- to evaluate whether or not proposals to add to that school year makes sense. Because I think -- obviously there's also data that would show you that maybe adding to that school year increases not just what you learned this year, but how you're prepared to learn and what you need to know in order to be ready for that next school year in order to improve learning.

And I think that's -- I think the overall speech today lays out a fairly ambitious plan for education reform, and I think the President, through the stimulus plan and the budget, looks to accomplish a lot of that.

Clip from the Obama inauguration documentary, "The Time has Come," the Sun-Times News Group Video

WASHINGTON--Roll out the red carpet, the Chicago Sun-Times video documentary of President Obama's Inauguration is now debuting. Order "The Time has Come" video now at

The keepsake video includes Obama's historic inauguration speech and the sights and sounds of the frigid day, Jan. 20, when Obama became the 44th president of the United States.

Included is commentary by Sun-Times photographer John White and columnists Richard Roeper, Mary Mitchell, Carol Marin, Mark Brown, Neil Steinberg and myself--Lynn Sweet.

I was interviewed by Sun-Times News Group documentary maker Jon Sall in the White House briefing room talking about the Obama presidency.

WASHINGTON--A very cautious reaction to President Obama's call for teacher merit pay from Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers,

"As with any public policy, the devil is in the details, and it is important that teachers' voices are heard as we implement the president's vision. The AFT stands ready to work with the president to make America the leader in public education."

WASHINGTON--A few weeks ago I did a column on First Lady Michelle Obama's first month. Now CBS News has a piece on Mrs. Obama's first 50 days.

Watch CBS Videos Online

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)--a champion of food and toy safety--has an interesting idea in the wake of the economic meltdown that no regulators saw coming--create a "Financial Product Safety Commission."

Durbin is the lead on a bill to "establish an oversight board whose sole objective would be to help consumers use financial products such as mortgages, credit cards, and retirement accounts safely and efficiently. The current crisis has demonstrated that the nation's current financial regulation structure has diminished consumer protections and eroded consumer confidence. This new safety commission would hold those who offer consumers financial credit accountable and ensure that they act responsibly," Durbin's office said in a statement.

"As Congress embarks on fundamental financial regulatory reform, it is imperative that the improved regulatory system focus not just on the safety and soundness of the providers of financial products, but also on the safety of the consumers of financial products. The Financial Product Safety Commission would do just that."

WASHINGTON--Some of President Obama's ideas on education are obvious but need to be said--"don't even think about dropping out." Some will be more difficult--taking on teachers unions over merit pay. And some will have the nation rethinking the American Way--long summer vacations and short school days.

"We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day," Obama said.

"That calendar may have once made sense, but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage. Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea. That is no way to prepare them for a 21st century economy. That is why I'm calling for us not only to expand effective after-school programs, but to rethink the school day to incorporate more time - whether during the summer or through expanded-day programs for children who need it."

First Lady Michelle Obama, right; White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, left in a White House kitchen.

If you envy First Lady Michelle Obama's toned upper arms--she shows them off in all her sleeveless outfits--my Sun-Times colleague Paige Wiser has an article about how to do it yourself.

And click over here for a Sun-Times photo gallery of Mrs. Obama in her sleeveless outfits.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama makes her first solo travel outside of Washington on Thursday, when she travels to North Carolina to tour Fort Bragg and meet with military spouses.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama continues her tour of federal agencies and packages it with a women's event--all at the State Department, run by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mrs. Obama and Sec. Clinton, together one stage, first time to jointly deliver the Secretary of State's Award for International Women of Courage.

WASHINGTON--In a major speech on education, President Obama On Tuesday will push merit pay for teachers and upgraded "data systems" to track student and teacher performance. Money for that will be provided through the Obama stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Key proposal, according to the White House: "The President will teacher quality by dramatically expanding successful performance pay models and rewards for effective teachers, scaling up federal support for such programs in up to an additional 150 school districts nationwide."

Embedded video from CNN Video

WASHINGTON--President Obama invited 68 members of the House New Democrat Coalition to meet with him Tuesday afternoon at the White House. The agenda, according to the office of Vice Chairman Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), will cover financial regulatory reform, trade, health care innovation and the presidential budget priorities.

The NDC is a caucus of moderate Democrats, created in 1997. Obama earlier met with the Blue Dog Democrats--a slightly more conservative group of moderates-- when he was wooing their vote for his stimulus package.

WASHINGTON--The National Journal came out with new rankings of Congress, with a great interactive map. Here are the 2008 rankings for the Illinois House delegation, including members no longer in Congress.

Illinois Democrats are all the most liberal and Land of Lincoln Republicans are all the most conservative. Democrat Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is the most liberal. GOP Rep. Don Manzullo is the most conservative. In the centrist middle: Democrat Melissa Bean and Republican Reps. Mark Kirk and Tim Johnson.

2008 rankings From Liberal to Conservative

90.7 Jesse Jackson
84.3 Danny Davis
80.5 Phil Hare
78.3 Luis Gutierrez
76.2 Jan Schakowsky
73.3 Rahm Emanuel
69.2 Jerry Costello
69.2 Dan Lipinski
55.5 Bill Foster
49.5 Melissa Bean
42.2 Mark Kirk
41.7 Tim Johnson
40.8 Ray LaHood
35.8 Judy Biggert
35.3 Jerry Weller
29.5 Peter Roskam
25.7 John Shimkus
24.5 Don Manzullo

Obama signing stem cell executive order (AP)

WASHINGTON--President Obama often talks about false choices and one of them was the 2001 ban former President Bush placed on embryonic stem cell research. On Monday, Obama issued an executive order lifting the ban before a White House audience of scientists, religious leaders and families whose lives have been touched by diseases that may be cured through stem cell research.

Obama invoked the name of Christopher Reeve, the paralyzed actor who hoped that research would one day find a way to regenerate his injured body so he could walk again. Republicans have been split over stem cell research bans. Nancy Reagan sent out a release congratulating Obama for issuing the order.

I posted the list of White House participants in the Monday event.

"But in recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent. As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research - and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly," Obama said.

"It is a difficult and delicate balance. Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. I understand their concerns, and we must respect their point of view.

"But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans - from across the political spectrum, and of all backgrounds and beliefs - have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research. That the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided."

At the Kennedy Center salute to Sen. Ted Kennedy on Sunday night. From left, Vice President Biden, White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Kennedy. (AP)


WASHINGTON--A new Glamour Magazinefeatures stars posing as American "icons" and singer Alicia Keys impersonates First Lady Michelle Obama. Keys is with two little girls who represent Malia and Sasha and is on steps that suggest the White House. And in this faux world, the Obama daughters already have their dog.

Says Keys to Glamour, "She has worked hard for everything she's accomplished, and done so with grace and humility. So many women and girls can identify with her story."--Alicia Keys, 28, whose most recent album is As I Am

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor David Axelrod gets the Jeff Zeleny treatment in this Monday New York Times story. A picture of Manny's Deli in Chicago hangs in Axelrod's office.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House¹s new tech chief is urging citizens to go
online and police government spending for waste, fraud and abuse.

But the only way government officials --the president, Congress, governors
and mayors-- will be held accountable for the billions and billions of
taxpayer dollars being spent to bail out the economy is if the mainstream
press, privately funded investigative outfits and activist citizens

President Obama campaigned on creating a more transparent government. His
administration is promising never-before-available research tools and data

"We have the ability to run an open, transparent, participatory and
collaborative government," said Vivek Kundra, last week named Obama¹s new
chief information officer, speaking in a conference call with reporters.

It won¹t be easy.

The main White House site ‹ ‹ has beautiful photo
galleries but

michelleo-prom_1361482f-1.jpgMichelle and David Upchurch

WASHINGTON--Carol Felsenthal has an articleover at HuffPo about Michelle Obama's former boy friends.

The subject comes up because, Felsenthal writes, "What made me think again of Michelle Robinson's school romances is a story in the Telegraph (via the Enquirer magazine) in which the British paper's New York correspondent writes about Michelle's high school prom date. David Upchurch, divorced and a customer service representative who lives in Colorado, was a neighbor of the Robinsons and a family friend.

"Their relationship did not survive high school graduation in 1981 and Michelle's next move--to Princeton University where she earned her Bachelor's in sociology before heading to law school at Harvard."

The First Lady's office was asked via email about the photo on Friday and Sunday and did not reply.

WASHINGTON---A few weeks ago I watched the Comedy Central crew do its thing at the Obama White House briefing with Robert Gibbs. Here's the result.

Michelle Obama wears a Michael Kors dress and Dear Cashmere cardigan. Oprah wears a dress by Rachel Roy New York.

WASHINGTON--For the first time, Oprah Winfrey shares the cover of her April "O" magazine, with First Lady Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama gave Oprah and pal Gayle King a White House tour on Feb. 17.

How Malia and Sasha now know dad's home:

"Once someone on my staff e-mailed to tell me that the president was on his way. But you could already hear the helicopter, so it was like, well, no kidding."

"The girls don't move. I'm like, 'You want to see Daddy landing in the helicopter?' 'No, that's okay. We already saw it.'"

WASHINGTON--When President Obama heads to England in a few weeks with First Lady Michelle, he has a visit with Queen Elizabeth planned at Buckingham Palace, according to The Sun.

Other highlights from the article:

*Obama gave British Prime Minister Gordon Brown "25 top US movies as a gift after talks in the US."

"Mr Brown's wife Sarah gave Mr Obama's two daughters Topshop outfits. And the First Lady gave Mr Brown's two boys toy helicopters."


Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporters

On the same December day then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich named Roland Burris to fill President Obama's U.S. Senate vacancy, Burris' right-hand political man, Fred Lebed, phoned an associate and told him, "We'll have to do some things for the governor."

That's the recollection of the associate, a health-care and political consultant named John Ruff, who went on to become one of Burris' co-plaintiffs on a January lawsuit that sought to help Burris claim his Senate seat.

Besides raising new questions about a possible quid pro quo between Blagojevich and Burris, Ruff also recalled Lebed telling him he'd had discussions about Burris' interest in the seat with Blagojevich representatives as far back as October. That claim by Ruff contradicts what Burris said in a Jan. 5 sworn statement that is now part of a state perjury investigation.


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama visited Miriam's Kitchen on Thursday, dishing out food, touting healthy eating, and volunteering at a city soup kitchen. It was a triple play merge of issues in Mrs. Obama's issues playbook.

We know that Mrs. Obama has an immediate influence on fashion (her sleeveless outfits) body image (toned arms) and hair (straight, styled and misted.) How hard or easy will it be for her to use her bully pulpit to influence what we eat?

"That's why I want to urge people who are listening that if you have an opportunity, to come by -- not just this soup kitchen but any soup kitchen in your community. And helping is an easy thing to do," Mrs. Obama said.

"Collect some fruits and vegetables. Bring by some good healthy food. You know, we want to make sure that our guests here and across this country are eating nutritious items. Today we had fresh risotto with mushrooms. We had broccoli. We had fresh baked muffins with carrots in it."

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle will make their European debut later this month when they visit the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Czech Republic March 31 through April 5.

Obama's first foreign visit was a day visit to Ottawa a few weeks ago. Mrs. Obama has not traveled overseas with him. Obama's trip is in connection with the upcoming G-20 meeting and the NATO anniversary celebration.


WASHINGTON--Photo Ops with celebs help draw attention to worthy topics otherwise not getting attention. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi co-starred with Brad Pitt to promote '"Make it Right," a project launched in 2007 to construct affordable and environmentally-sustainable housing for low-income residents of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans who lost their homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina."

WASHINGTON---A few weeks ago--on Feb. 17--Oprah Winfrey talked to First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. According to and confirmed Thursday by an Oprah spokesman, Oprah will talk about her interview with the First Lady on her Friday show and show pictures from the visit.

In this multi-platform world, Oprah snared an interview with her First Lady friend that she is using on her show and in the April issue of "O" Magazine, to hit the newsstands on March 17.

WASHINGTON--University of Chicago medical center executive Eric Whitaker--close friend of President Obama and White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett-- has a seat at the table at today's Obama White House health care forum. Whitaker was in D.C. a few days ago to take in a Wizards-Bulls game with the president.

The panel Whitacker is on is moderated by Jarrett, the former chair of the U of C medical center board--and the facility where First Lady Michelle Obama used to work. The other chair is Zeke Emanuel, the noted bioethicist who is the brother of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle

Left, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama entertained congressional leaders at a White House dinner on Wednesday night. The Obamas have carved out a new "tradition" already. Each Wednesday, they have been asking members of Congress over to the White House for cocktails or dinner.

WASHINGTON--President Obama named his e-government chief on Thursday, Vivek Kundra, Kundra's official title is Federal Chief Information Officer and he will be making his debut with the press at a conference call this morning.

For an administration promising transparency, Kundra formerly the Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia, will have a big say in how information is presented on-line. For example, will the actual guts of contracts flowing from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act be posted, or, as the wording in the legislation suggests, just summaries?

The transparency community has been eagerly waiting for Kundra's appointment.


WASHINGTON--French news is reporting President Obama may visit Normandy in April on his first European swing.

From the dispatch.....

Le nouveau président des Etats-Unis sera-t-il en Normandie le vendredi 3 avril ?

La question se pose après la visite de services de sécurité américains, ce mardi, au cimetière américain de Colleville-sur-Mer.

L'étape normande de Barack Obama entre Londres et le sommet de l'OTAN à Strasbourg pourrait aussi comprendre un passage au Mémorial de Caen.......


CHICAGO--The race to replace Rahm was a coming-of-age event for ProgressIllinois, the labor funded site that heavily reported on the Democratic primary contenders. Josh Kalven just posted a 300 second video wrap up on the contest, won by Cook County Board Member Mike Quigley.

(from the new issue of People Magazine)

CHICAGO--First Lady Michelle Obama's bare arms fashion continues to fascinate and make us all realize we need to do more on upper body strength. Hey, I have an excuse I broke my shoulder election night at the Obama celebration at Grant Park.

Anyway..the new People Magazine has a spread on Mrs. Obama and her call to arms.

CHICAGO--Paul Labrecque Products are not subtle at all in exploiting First Lady Michelle Obama and her straight hair look in order to sell hair mist. The company is selling an $18 product called "Straight Finish" billed in a web ad as the way to "get Michelle Obama's look!"

National Public Radio just did a piece
on Mrs. Obama's influence on black hair, and how her choices are impacting other African-American women.

CHICAGO--White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called Mike Quigley after the Cook County Board member clinched the Tuesday Democratic primary for the House seat Emanuel held before he left to join the Obama administration.

White House senior advisor David Axelrod also phoned in congratulations last night.

Quigley's plurality victory in the 5th congressional district race is tantamount to winning the seat. The April general election again nominal rivals is just a formality.

"Rahm called--good advice on constituent service," said Quigley spokesman Billy Weinberg.

Footnote: Axelrod handled media chores for three former congressmen from the fifth c.d., anchored on Chicago's Northwest Side: Emanuel, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.

Mike Quigley wins!

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get-attachment-1.aspx.jpeg(Sun-Times photo)

get-attachment.aspx.jpeg(Sun-Times photo)

CHICAGO--Cook County Board Member Mike Quigley won the Democratic primary to replace Rahm Emanuel in the House Tuesday night while being outspent 5-to-1.

Quigley had a $550,000 warchest while his main rivals raised about $3 million, according to Quigley campaign manager Tom Bowen.

Most of Quigley's money--about $350,000-- came in the last three weeks. Quigley landed the support of Bill Brandt, a major Democratic activist with some of the best fund-raising connections in the nation.

Quigley will clinch with about 23 percent of the vote.

CHICAGO--Cook County Board Member Michael Quigley won the Democratic nomination in the race to replace Rahm Emanuel in the House with a veteran political and fund-raising team.

A win in the primary in this heavily Democratic district is tantamount to victory in the April special general election.

The Quigley team







director Kelly


Top members of finance

CHICAGO--With a strong turnout in Chicago wards, Cook County Board Member Michael Quigley headed Tuesday night towards clinching the Democratic primary in the hotly contested fifth congressional district race to replace Rahm Emanuel.

Quigley's victory will be a plurality win in a district where the Democratic nominee will face only nominal GOP opposition in the special general election next month.


TC-Absentee 4,579 1.52%
TC-Precinct 39,093 13.01%
Total Registration and Turnout 300,551 43,672 14.53%
Registration Turnout
Registration & Turnout
Special Primary Ballot
Summary Report
City of Chicago

Jan H. Donatelli 602 1.48%
Frank Annunzio 496 1.22%
Carlos A. Monteagudo 316 0.78%
Victor A. Forys 4,303 10.57%
Charles J. Wheelan 2,771 6.81%
Sara Feigenholtz 6,665 16.37%
John A. Fritchey 7,163 17.60%
Mike Quigley 9,368 23.01%
Patrick J. O'Connor 5,181 12.73%
Cary Capparelli 475 1.17%
Paul J. Bryar 836 2.05%
Tom Geoghegan 2,532 6.22%
Total 40,708
DEM - Rep. In Congress, 5th 391 of 486 precincts counted 80.45%

This is primary day in the race to replace Rahm Emanuel. This is the first of a series of dispatches from Chicago Sun-Times reporters at 5th congressional district candidate election night headquarters and out in the field.

By Abdon Pallasch

Chicago Sun-Times political writer

CHICAGO--First voter I interviewed at a Northwest-side polling place this morning said he's voting for, "The guy you guys told me to vote for. I think he'll bring some independence." Though he added, "My wife's probably going to cancel out my vote. She's voting for Fritchey. She'd like to get our sewers fixed."

In my very highly scientific survey at three polling places in what is supposed to be Fritchey/O'Connor/Forys territory, here are the very surprising results: Quigley - 3; Geoghegan - 2; O'Connor -1; Feigenholtz - 1.

get-attachment-1.jpg (AP photo)
First Lady Michelle Obama with Tammy Duckworth in the background. Duckworth, Illinois Veterans Affairs Chief, is going to be nominated by President Obama for a post at the Veterans Administration.

get-attachment-2.jpg (AP photo)
First Lady Michelle Obama with Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught, USAF, Retired President of the Board of Directors of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation.

CHICAGO--First Lady Michelle Obama--who has appeared sleeveless in public these past weeks despite the chill, finally is dressing winter. On Tuesday, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center at Arlington Cemetery is bundled up in a very fashion forward outfit.

I can't pass along any information about the designer or if this is off the rack. I asked the First Lady's office and was told, "We release for big events - not everyday."

CHICAGO--The Dow is closing down only a few ticks as I am writing this Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after President Obama touted the depressed stock market as a good deal. For some, Obama said, buying stocks now may be a "good deal."

Obama turned to the miserable economy during a joint session with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

"What I'm looking at is not the day-to-day gyrations of the stock market, but the long-term ability for the United States and the entire world economy to regain its footing. And, you know, the stock market is sort of like a tracking poll in politics. You know, it bobs up and down day to day. And if you spend all your time worrying about that, then you're probably going to get the long-term strategy wrong.

"Now, having said that, the banking system has been dealt a heavy blow.

"It has to do with many of the things that Prime Minister Brown alluded to: lax regulation, massive over-leverage, huge systemic risks taken by unregulated institutions as well as regulated institutions. And so there are a lot of losses that are working their way through the system. And it's not surprising that the market is hurting as a consequence.

"In fact, you know, I think what we're seeing is -- is that as people absorb the depths of the problem that existed in the banking system, as well as the international ramifications of it, that, you know, there's going to be a natural reaction.

"On the other hand, what you're now seeing is -- is profit and earning ratios are -- are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you've got a long-term perspective on it.

NPR has an interesting report on First Lady Michelle Obama's hair--and the impact her choice of style has on other black women.

When First Lady Michelle Obama visits Arlington National Cemetery later today, it's part of her focus on military families--and women. Mrs. Obama honors Women's History Month at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Center.

CHICAGO--Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, 32, opens his exploratory bid for Senator today hoping his close association with President Obama, generational appeal, record and early start locks him in as a front-runner in what today is a very undefined field.

Giannoulias, I am told, is running no matter the election scenario or the other contenders. Last week, William Daley, the former Commerce Secretary and mayoral brother, floated his name in order to head off Giannoulias securing early endorsements. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is also mulling a run, with her chances of getting in more likely in a special election.

Though a special election is being called for by some to force embattled Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) from office, lawmakers may have second thoughts because of the cost. The regular primary and general election is in 2010 and nominating petitions are due later this year for the February primary.

Giannoulias is figuring the primary could cost $5 million and a general election at least $15 million. After a series of interviews to discuss his bid today--there is no splashy kick off--Giannoulias heads to Florida to prospect for labor support at the annual AFL-CIO Winter meeting in Miami. His initial campaign focus will be on fund-raising.

Jordan Kaplan, who directed the Obama fund-raising effort in Illinois, is assisting Giannoulias on the money front. "The goal is to get out early and start raising money," I am told. Giannoulias' has the wealth to self-fund a portion of his campaign. Eric Adelstein is Giannoulias' media consultant and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner his pollsters.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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