Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

April 2009 Archives

President Obama will soon be able to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. Several news outlets--NPR was the first I heard--are reporting that David Souter will be leaving at the end of the term.

NPR---National Public Radio--press release with the exclusive from Nina Totenberg that Supreme Court Justice David Souter will retire at the end of the current term arrived in my e-mail in box at 10:21 p.m. eastern time.

MSNBC release with the Souter news from Pete Williams hit my e-mail inbox at 10:38 p.m. eastern

NEW YORK--April 30--At 10:57 p.m., NBC News' Pete Williams broke the news of
Justice Souter's retirement on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show."

But then MSNBC sent out a release with a revised time.

NBC News' Pete Williams Breaks Story of Justice Souter's Retirement on MSNBC
Note: Time of Breaking News corrected to 9:57 p.m.

POLITICO's e-mail with the Souter news hit my e-mail in box at 10:46 p.m. eastern.

ABCNEWS.com
Supreme Court Justice David Souter Plans to Retire at End of Current Court Term
11:30 p.m. eastern

WASHINGTON--The House approved Thursday a credit card "bill of rights" sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and steered through Congress by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), Chairman of the Financial Services' Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. Last week, President Obama called credit card company executives to the White House.

Obama said, "I will work with Congress in the weeks to come so that I can sign a credit card reform bill into law that upholds these principles and upholds the interests of the American people."

On other consumer credit issues, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), over at PoliticsDaily.com talked to me about the need for consumers to have a 36 percent cap on credit card interest and the need for a Financial Products Safety Commission.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, speaking to a group of congressional spouses on Thursday, gave a first quarter report card on how the family is doing.

MALIA AND SASHA


"And on the family track, just to let you know, because everyone always asks, that we've never been better. The girls are happy and healthy. They love their school. They're making friends. They're getting good grades. They settled in on their typical week. I feel like I've never left Chicago.

Soccer on Saturday -- yes, I'm on a soccer field all day -- just like many of you.
Slumber parties -- we had about seven girls over, screaming and yelling. And we're shuttling kids back and forth to play dates, just like usual, although now my mom does a little more of the shuttling than I do. I'm glad to have her here.

FIRST GRANDMOTHER, MARIAN ROBINSON

"And as we're speaking of the First Grandmother, Mom is also doing well. And many of you have been so important to her in reaching out. She has a very full social life, so much so that sometimes we have to plan our schedule around her schedule."

BO THE PUPPY

And the newest addition to the Obama family - -- the most famous member of the family, Bo Obama -- -- is also doing well. I have to say, he is the best puppy in the whole wide world. I love him to death. He is so sweet. But he's still a puppy. And I was just telling Jane (ph) that I -- what I -- she said, what time did you get ready? I said I got up at 5:15 a.m. in the morning to walk my puppy. That's how my day starts. Even though the kids are supposed to do a lot of the work, I'm still up at 5:15 a.m. taking my dog out. So for everyone who has a child asking for a puppy -- - you have to want the dog. As I do. I love my Bo."

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is mulling jumping in the 2010 Illinois Senate race.

Note: In an earlier version I wrote Kirk was "poised" to jump in the contest. I revised to "mulling" later.)

White House 100 Day Photo Gallery

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White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel with President Obama
(White House photo by Pete Souza)


Click for a photographic chronicle of President Obama's first 100 days, courtesy the White House.


;

Obama: Enchanted, Surprised, Humbled, Troubled


WASHINGTON--After two years of campaigning for the White House--town halls, debates, position papers--President Obama was struck Wednesday--Day 100 of his administration-- at how full his plate is on matters he never imagined having to handle.

"I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that's not the hand that's been dealt us," Obama said as he wrapped up his third prime time news conference.

WASHINGTON--What would John McCain's first 100 days in the White House have been like? Walter Shapiro at PoliticsDaily.com imagines what might have been. Carl Cannon analyzes President Obama's first quarter and Jill Lawrence goes over the GOP setbacks in the past weeks.

WASHINGTON--President Obama's promises scorecard.


WASHINGTON -- On Day 53 as first lady, Michelle Obama and her mother, Marian Robinson, traveled to the Georgetown home of Teresa Heinz Kerry for a luncheon with a small group of women.

The wife of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) put together the March 13 informal gathering -- reported here for the first time -- to welcome Mrs. Obama and her mom to town.

WASHINGTON -- The enormity of the economic meltdown -- to define much of President Obama's first 100 days in office -- was fully realized by the Obama team during a mid-December meeting at Obama's transition headquarters in the Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago.

Obama was briefed by people who would go on to be his top White House economic advisers -- Christina Romer, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner and Peter Orzag.

Obama's Chicago pals, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, were at the four-hour long presentation.

WASHINGTON--Wasting no time to embrace Arlen Specter as a Democrat, President Obama and Vice President Biden meet the Pennesylvania senator--and the media--this morning at the White House--the 100th Day of the Obama administration.

Don't forget: Obama press conference tonight, 7 p.m. Chicago time. I'll be there.


STATEMENT FROM CHAIRMAN STEELE ON SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER'S DECISION TO SWITCH TO THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

WASHINGTON - Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele released the following statement today:
"Some in the Republican Party are happy about this. I am not.
Let's be honest-Senator Specter didn't leave the GOP based on principles of any kind. He left to further his personal political interests because he knew that he was going to lose a Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.
Republicans look forward to beating Sen. Specter in 2010, assuming the Democrats don't do it first."
###

Arlen Specter switching parties.

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The Washington Post, NBC and Politico are reporting that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is switching to the Democratic party.


Over at PoliticsDaily.com, I write about 10 ways the CIA used to get a terrorist suspect to talk.

"Whether you call it "torture" or harsh methods, the CIA had ways to try to get terrorist suspects to talk-10 of them specifically for al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah.

Recently released top secret memos from the Bush Justice Department detail the variety of coercive interrogation techniques used by the CIA on detainees."

Click for more


WASHINGTON--Chris Kennedy is taking soundings for the Illinois 2010 Senate race. I heard that he's been making some calls about his prospects if he jumped in what would be a contested (probably) Democratic primary. I've heard there is some polling going on testing his electability.

Kennedy--a son of Robert--runs the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. He's long been interested in an elected office--but the right spot/right time has never presented itself.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is stepping up her interest in running for the Senate in 2010 -- a poll she took shows her in good shape to win a Democratic primary over Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Sen. Roland Burris.


Vice President Joe Biden tours an assembly line at Serious Materials Chicago, with CEO Kevin Surace, right, and worker Armoand Robles today in Chicago. AP photo


WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is stepping up her interest in running for the Senate in 2010 -- a poll she took shows her in good shape to win a Democratic primary over Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Sen. Roland Burris.

Schakowsky told me Sunday she will decide by June 8 whether she will run for the Senate or another term in the House. "The next part is the gut check," she said.

Biden in Chicago on Monday

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HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO ON THE SWINE FLU OUTBREAK: I want to announce today is that the Department of Health and Human Services will declare today a public health emergency in the United States. That sounds more severe than really it is. This is standard operating procedure and allows us to free up federal, state, and local agencies and their resources for prevention and mitigation; it allows us to use medication and diagnostic tests that we might not otherwise be able to use, particularly on very young children; and it releases funds for the acquisition of additional antivirals.

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Nov. 4, 2008. Election day at Hyatt Hotel on East Wacker Drive in Chicago. Obama Finance Chair Penny Pritzker and David Jacobson, deputy finance chair were making sure their top donors were taken care of during the election day festivities.

(photo by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--Chicago attorney David Jacobson, who was the Obama presidential campaign deputy finance chair-- is in play to be named ambassador to Canada.

Jacobson is already at the White House. He is a special assistant to the president in the Office of Presidential Personnel. His focus is on filling slots on executive branch boards and commissions.

Before heading to Washington, Jacobson, 57, who grew up in north suburban Highland Park, was a partner at the Chicago office of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP. He specialized in securities and complex litigation.

Canada is the U.S. largest trading partner and supplier of energy.

The idea that an Obama pal is going to Ottawa demonstrates the importance of the relationship with Canada for the Obama White House. If indeed Jacobson is nominated, this would follow in a tradition--long-standing-- of having someone in Ottawa who has the President's ear.

Like the Canadian embassy in Washington--on a premier spot close to the Capitol--the only embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue--the U.S. embassy in Ottawa is in a prime spot--a stone's throw from Parliament Hill.

WASHINGTON--With concern rising over the Swine Flu, the White House just announced an unusual Sunday briefing on the outbreak. The 12:30 p.m. (eastern) on camera briefing will feature Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security; Dr. Richard Besser, Acting Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

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President Barack Obama greets Tiger Woods in the Oval Office last Monday, April 20. White House Photo by Pete Souza

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First Lady Michelle Obama hosts Jordan's Queen Rania in the Yellow Oval Room in the
White House Residence, April 23, 2009. White House Photo/ Samantha Appleton

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated "take your child to work day" at the White House by taking questions from kids of White House staffers. Of course, there was a query about Bo, the White House dog.

Said Mrs. Obama, "Oh, my dog. Oh, the dog. Oh, he is a
crazy dog. He -- you know, he loves to chew on people's feet.

"I'll tell you a story about Bo last night. It was like 10:00 p.m. at night, everybody was asleep, and we hear all this barking and jumping around, and the President and I came out and we thought somebody was out there. And it was just Bo. He was playing with his ball. And it was like there was another person in the house. He's kind of crazy. But he's still a puppy, so he likes to play a lot."


WASHINGTON--President Obama at Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, attended by Eli Wiesel, other survivors, rescuers, members of Congress and members of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council:

"It is the grimmest of ironies that one of the most savage, barbaric acts of evil in history began in one of the most modernized societies of its time, where so many markers of human progress became tools of human depravity: science that can heal, used to kill; education that can enlighten, used to rationalize away basic moral impulses; the bureaucracy that sustains modern life, used as the machinery of mass death, a ruthless, chillingly efficient system where many were responsible for the killing, but few got actual blood on their hands."

Pool report:

By Keith Koffler
Roll Call

Pool Report #1

Limited time before the next gather and the event was open to
credentialed media so I'll keep this brief.

President appeared at the National Commemoration of the Days of
Remembrance, a somber ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in memory of the
Holocaust. President's remarks were preceded by those of a few others,
including Elie Wiesel, as well as a presentation of the flags of the
U.S. Army divisions that had liberated concentration camps - along with
a mention of the camps each had freed.

Wiesel spoke movingly - perhaps a redundancy - about some of his own
experiences and the failure of those in the free world - singling out
Washington as well as the Washington Post and the New York Times - to
warn the remaining European Jews in the early 1940s about what was in
store for them. He said it might have saved his own family, which had an
option to try to avoid the trip that turned out to be a journey to the
death camps. And Wiesel waded into present day politics as well,
condemning Iranian President Ahmadinejad as a Holocaust denier and
thanking President Obama for boycotting the recent Durban II U.N.
conference, where the Iranian leader called Israel racist.

Obama's remarks, which you will soon have, focused more on lessons going
forward and were laced with a greater sense of optimism about learning
from the past.

Keith Koffler
Roll Call


--

Keith Koffler
Roll Call White House Reporter


click below for full remarks.

Former Gov. Blagojevich, on NBC's "Today Show" on Thursday morning--facing federal criminal corruption charges--said he was disappointed a judge did not allow him travel to Costa Rica to be on the NBC reality show, "I am a celebrity, get me out of here."

"The judge did save me from eating bugs," said Blagojevich. He said he was departing for Los Angeles this morning.

From Chicago, the former Illinois governor said he wanted to do the show because he needed work and "it was presented to me."

Blagojevich, impeached and removed from office earlier this year said the show appealed to him because "in a jungle....creating a civil society...(was).not unlike being a governor."

Asked if his credibility was eroded or if he was making a fool of himself, Blagojevich said,
"I need to make a living, support my children and my family."

WASHINGTON--Foreign Policy Magazine is reporting that the Obama ambassador appointments may start flowing.

I've been told that Lou Sussman, Chicago investment banker and Democratic fund-raiser for President Obama and finance chair for John Kerry's '04 White House bid--is in line for London.

WASHINGTON--Mike Quigley was sworn into the House of Representatives on Tuesday night. The man he is replacing to represent the Fifth Congressional District of Illinois, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, was on the House floor for Quiqley's first floor speech.

Quigley: Madam Speaker, you may find that Congressman Emanuel and I have different styles, perhaps a slightly different vocabulary. But though we are different in manner, Rahm and I share the same commitment--to fight for working families, to fight for health care, to protect the environment, and of course, to help our new president make good on the promise of fundamental change.

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The entire White House family with President Obama on Monday. (White House photo)

WASHINGTON--Rebecca M. Blank--who ran the Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research and was an economics professor at Northwestern--was tapped Tuesday by President Obama to be the Under Secretary for Economics Affairs, Department of Commerce.

Blank served in the Clinton White House as a Member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, from 1997-1999.

WASHINGTON--White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on Monday night addressed the Anti-Defamation League, hosting a conference here. The ADL released several excerpts from his talk.


On Israel, Emanuel said, "We are committed to seeing the peace process through to a two-state solution, so that there will be a homeland for the Palestinians and a secure state of Israel for the Jewish people.

IMG_6583.JPG (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Above, King Abdullah of Jordan and then presidential candidate Barack Obama at the airport in Amman, Jordan last year. King Abdullah met with President Obama at the White House on Tuesday and Obama recalled that the king personally drove him to the airport.

Said Obama at the top of a press conference with the king, "first of all, I just want to welcome His Majesty King Abdullah to the White House. This is a first visit by a leader of another state; in part, it's reciprocity for the extraordinary hospitality that the King and Queen showed me when I visited Jordan prior to the election -- in which the King had personally drove me to the airport. And I won't tell you how fast he was going."


WASHINGTON--Another Chicagoan, Cindy S. Moelis, joins the Obama White House. She was tapped Tuesday by President Obama as the Director for the Presidential Commission on White House Fellows.

Moelis path to the White House comes via her connections with billionaire Penny Pritzker, President Obama's presidential campaign finance chair. Moelis has been the charitable foundation established by Pritzker and her husband, the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

Among the reasons to love Washington, according the cover of Washingtonian Magazine--with a shirtless Obama--"Our New Neighbor is Hot."

Updated at 1:55 p.m. eastern with briefing transcript at click

WASHINGTON--When President Obama signs the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act on Tuesday afternoon, the former community organizer sets the stage for AmeriCorps to vastly expand.

AmeriCorps, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, under the bill is urged to grow from 75,000 to 250,000 positions. The spots would fill a variety of programs to meet "unmet" needs: an Education Corps; a Healthy Futures Corps; a Clean Energy Corps and a Veterans Corps.

I am told AmeriCorps last month received 17,000 applications, nearly triple the number from the previous March.

Obama on Tuesday tapped Maria Eitel, the President of the Nike Foundation and a Vice President of NIKE, Inc. to be the new CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service--created in 1993 by President Clinton--is the Boston based Alan Solomont, who was a major Obama presidential campaign fund-raiser.

President Clinton and Sen. Kennedy join Obama today.


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Desiree Rogers in the White House kitchen. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON -- A typical day for White House social secretary Desiree Rogers starts at 6 a.m.

She skims the papers, jumps rope for exercise, then heads to the White House for a series of meetings to help shape events that, besides being fun, assist in carrying out the messages and missions of the Obama administration.

Rogers departs from the same Georgetown building where her Chicago pals -- Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior adviser, and Susan Sher, associate counsel and first lady adviser -- also live.

Since President Obama was sworn in Jan. 20, the social office has run more than 60 events, with the Easter Egg Roll last week the most recent, a tradition on the South Lawn since 1878. Rogers accompanied Obama as he made his way through the different events.

The Obamas are out to make new traditions -- from an organic garden on the South Lawn overseen by another Chicagoan: Sam Kass, the assistant White House chef and food initiative coordinator -- to bringing in local students on a routine basis so they can be exposed to the magic of a White House visit.

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Cass Sunstein, Samantha Power at the Obama inauguration. (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--President Obama made it official on Monday--he nominated former University of Chicago law professor Cass R. Sunstein to be Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget.

The position needs Senate approval. Sunstein's job has been known for some time; I reported here on inauguration day that Sunstein was the incoming Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget. I don't know why it took so long for the White House to make the announcement.

Anyway--Sunstein was an early campaign advisor and Obama booster. Sunstein moved from Chicago last year when he jumped to Harvard Law. Sunstein and Obama were colleagues at the U of Chicago law school.

Sunstein reaped a bigger dividend from the campaign than the White House job. He met Obama advisor Samantha Power during the campaign and the two wed in Ireland last year. Power had to leave the campaign when she got in a jam after calling Hillary Rodham Clinton a monster. She is now an Obama White House foreign policy advisor.

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President Barack Obama welcomes players from the Chicago White Sox baseball team and their family members during their visit Monday in the East Room at the White House. (White House photo Pete Souza)

Updated 6 p.m. Chicago time

WASHINGTON--South Sider President Obama just wrapped up a Monday afternoon meet and greet with members of the Chicago White Sox family. The team toured the White House.

The White House folks just sent along to the Chicago Sun-Times this briefing on the White Sox visit:

*The President greeted everyone individually before giving brief welcome remarks and taking a picture with the full team.

* White Sox player, Octavio Dotel asked the president for a hug instead of a handshake. Mr. Dotel said, Mr. President, can I have a hug? The President then gave him a hug. The team laughed and acknowledged Octavio is the team resident comedian.

*The President congratulated the White Sox on their season and encouraged them to continue winning so that he can invite them back to the White House as World Series Champions.

*The President took two group pictures: One of the President with players, their wives, and managers; the second picture was taken of just the President and White Sox players.

*The White Sox presented the President with a black White Sox team jersey. The team jersey has Obama and the number one written on the back of the jersey.

*Mr. (David) Axelrod was given a hat with the White Sox logo and the Obama logo on it.

*Prior to the meeting with the President, the White Sox were given a tour of the Grand Floor, The State Floor, and the West Wing Lobby of the White House. The team left through the East Wing.


Weeks ago, Obama hosted the Chicago Bulls at the White House: get-attachment-7.aspx.jpg

WASHINGTON--President Obama is hosting his first cabinet meeting on Monday. And the message of the day is that the federal agencies are cutting costs--even while Obama is spending a gigantic $387 billion to stimulate the economy.

An example of a cut....

Branding - Since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security has spent $3 million on consulting contracts to create new seals and logos for its components. The Department is putting an end to that.

WASHINGTON--President Obama is a die hard Chicago White Sox fan. His favorite team, the White Sox, visits the White House on Monday.

The South Siders play the Baltimore Orioles April 22 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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WASHINGTON--I am guessing the East Wing is cringing on this one. The Washington Post Saturday edition has a page one story on how area tween girls are obsessed with the Obama sisters, Sasha and Malia. The article goes on about how these kids dream about one day meeting--and befriending--one of the First Daughters.


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WASHINGTON--Embattled Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) throws his first campaign fund-raiser Sunday afternoon in Chicago at N'Digo, 19 N. Sangamon.

Burris is raising money under the Burris 2010 banner, though it is quite uncertain whether Burris--appointed by the impeached and indicted Gov. Blagojevich--is going to run. Burris is also waiting for permission from the Senate to open a legal expense fund.

Burris is under investigation by the Sangamon County states attorney for perjury related to his testimony before the Illinois House impeachment panel. He is also the subject of a Senate ethics panel probe.

Who's who helping to raise money at the Burris funder:



Host: Tamera Fair

Honorary Host Committee: Ald. Lyle
Ald. Beale, Ald. Hairston, Sen. Trotter, Rep. Constance Howard

Host Committee: Jesse Brown, Steve Burris, Joseph Caldwell, Randall Caldwell, Judith Cothran, Tim King, Joe Moore Jr, Stephen Stern, Guy Summers, Everett White.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin--the former GOP Veep candidate--returned to the big political stage Thursday night, in Evansville, Ind. at a right-to-life gathering where she confessed she briefly considered abortion.

PoliticsDaily.com Melinda Henneberger reports, "In her first out-of-state political appearance since last fall's presidential election, former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin confided to 3,000 at a right-to-life event here that she had "just for a fleeting moment" contemplated seeking an abortion after learning she was pregnant with her son Trig, who will turn 1 on Saturday."

President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon take questions on illegal drugs, guns, Cuba, border walls and NAFTA during a joint press conference in Mexico City on Thursday. All the topics are hot button issues in the U.S.--with impact on local elections.

IMG_9750.JPGValerie Jarrett at the White House dinner for the nation's governors. (Photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman reports on Valerie Jarrett's role as friend and top advisor to President Obama and First Lady Michelle.

Goldman writes, "Jarrett, who calls Obama "Mr. President" in the offices of the West Wing and "Barack" in the privacy of the East Wing, came from Chicago with a portfolio of power as personal as it is political. That may give her more clout with the first family than any other White House aide."

A report by Women's Voices. Women Vote details obstacles facing unmarried women when it comes to voting.

In a web ad released Thursday, the Republican Party of Illinois is hitting Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias--who is running for the U.S. Senate-- over losses in a student loan fund.

Steve Rhodes has the scoop about attorney and former Democratic fund-raiserJoe Cari--who figures in the Blagojevich scandals--blogging and on twitter.

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Thursday--before leaving for Mexico--highlighted his plans for a massive investment to develop high speed rail networks in the U.S.-- a potential very big deal for Chicago.

Under Obama's "vision" for high speed rail, Chicago is in the running to be the center of a hub network linking Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Louisville.

"What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train, in the center of a city, no racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes," Obama said.


Obama discussed his high speed plans this morning with Vice President Biden and Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has also been involved in developing high speed rail policy.

Nothing happens without legwork. Chicago's Environmental Law & Policy Center, founded by Howard Learner has been doing extensive work in pushing the nation forward on high speed rail in Congress and in the Obama administration.


The president is using stimulus money to jumpstart the projects.

" To make this happen, we've already dedicated $8 billion of Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to this initiative, and I've requested another $5 billion over the next five years. The Department of Transportation expects to begin awarding funds to ready projects before the end of this summer, well ahead of schedule. And like all funding decisions under the Recovery Act, money will be distributed based on merit -- not on politics, not as favors, not for any other consideration; purely on merit."

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WASHINGTON -- President Obama and first lady Michelle's gross income for 2008 totaled $2,736,107, most of it from sales of his best-selling books.

Highlights from the Obama tax return, released Wednesday:

• The couple paid $855,323 in federal income tax and $77,883 in Illinois income taxes.

• Obama earned $2,603,448 from book sales and $139,204 in Senate salary. Michelle Obama was paid $62,709 by the University of Chicago Hospitals.

• The Obamas had relatively few deductions and none for medical or dental. They paid $22,233 in property taxes on South Greenwood in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago.

• They gave $172,050 in charitable gifts to 37 charities. The largest donations were $25,000 each to CARE and the United Negro College Fund. Illinois charities include $5,000 each to CURE, an epilepsy foundation founded by Susan Axelrod, wife of senior advisor David Axelrod; the Central Illinois Food Bank; the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault; the Illinois Head Start Council and the Illinois Reading Council.

• The Obamas filed a schedule H for household help, paying $12,480. Tuition totaled $47,488 for Malia and Sasha at the University of Chicago Laboratory School.

• The Loop accounting firm of Wineberg, Solheim, Howell & Shain prepared the Obamas' returns.

Obama's Federal 1040 form

Obama's Federal 709 form

Obama's Illinois State income tax return

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No Bo with President Obama--stepped on his economic speech yesterday, Obama notes-as on income tax filing day he calls for a simpler tax code.

"Finally, we need to simplify a monstrous tax code that is far too complicated for most Americans to understand, but just complicated enough for the insiders who know how to game the system," Obama said.

Please share a memory....

WASHINGTON--House members are finally required to post their earmark spending requests on their websites. You'll find in this posting links to millions of dollars of projects from the Illinois House delegation.

Taxpayers for Common Sense--a watchdog group--deeply involved in earmark disclosure issues applauds the mandatory postings but notes "many members created a labyrinth that made finding their list of requests difficult or impossible, proving again a lesson learned long ago--simply posting information on the web is not transparency.

"The information has to be readily accessible, easy to understand, and available in a format that is downloadable and easy to manage."

Taxpayers for Common Sense did what the House could or would not--create a spreadsheet with the names of all the members of the House and the link to their fiscal 2010 earmark requests.

Common Sense!

I went through the spread sheet created by Taxpayers for Common Sense and pulled out the links for the 17 of the 18 Illinois House members.

(The delegation has 19 members with a recently filled vacancy. Cook County Board Member Mike Quigley was elected to replace Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on April 7. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has not requested earmarks.)

The Illinois delegation has requested hundreds of earmarks for projects. The main purpose of this post is to just get the raw data out.

Some projects look solid; some iffy and one is just baffling and needs further examination. That is, after all why this stuff is posted.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) put in vague request for a $28 million earmark for one Stephen Leach,, who is looking to be the grantee for a reading project, "Reading is Fundamental."

Earmarks are controversial because these projects often escape review. I've never been of the view that all of this spending should be lumped together and denigrated as "pork barrel."

Take a look. Let me know what you think.

Below the main list of member links--- I've cut and pasted lists of members whose web pages allowed copying.

Lawmaker requests


1. MELISSA BEAN
2. JUDY BIGGERT
3. JERRY COSTELLO
4. DANNY DAVIS
5. BILL FOSTER
6. LUIS GUTIERREZ
7. DEBBIE HALVORSON
8. PHIL HARE
9. JESSE JACKSON JR.
10. TIM JOHNSON
11. MARK KIRK
NO EARMARK REQUESTS
12. DAN LIPINSKI
13. DON MANZULLO
14. PETER ROSKAM
15. BOBBY RUSH
16. JAN SCHAKOWSKY
17. AARON SCHOCK
18. JOHN SHIMKUS


*Not included--Mike Quiqley, elected April 7.

get-attachment-8.aspx.jpeg(AP)

WASHINGTON---Attorney Laurie Mikva-- daughter of Abner and Zoe--was nominated by President Obama on Tuesday to be a board member at the Legal Services Corporation. At present, Mikva works for the State of Illinois as a staff attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

She has a long resume in working at legal assistance outlets and as a public defender in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. and in Maryland. Full bio at the click.

Abner Mikva, a revered figure in Illinois politics, was an early Barack Obama booster and mentor.

Mikva's backing--he is the gold standard for integrity in Illinois politics--was important in Obama establishing his credentials in the early days of his political career and in his U.S. Senate run.

Ab Mikva is the rare official who has worked in all three branches of government-congressman who represented districts based in Hyde Park and then the North Shore; federal appeals court judge; counsel in the Clinton White House.

WASHINGTON--President Obama delivers a major economic speech Tuesday morning where he injects enough optimism to hopefully keep the markets from diving while reminding folks--in case they don't see it all around themselves--times are still tough.

Obama is using this historic financial meltdown to try to rebuild the financial underpinnings of the nation on, to use his biblical metaphor, on bedrock, not sand.


The president urges patience--not instant gratification--because short term solutions don't work.

Obama, continuing to blame Washington political culture--a theme through his presidential campaign, said in his prepared remarks, "For too long, too many in Washington put off hard decisions for some other time on some other day.

"There's been a tendency to score political points instead of rolling up sleeves to solve real problems. There is also an impatience that characterizes this town - an attention span that has only grown shorter with the twenty-four news cycle, and insists on instant gratification in the form of instant results or higher poll numbers. When a crisis hits, there's all too often a lurch from shock to trance, with everyone responding to the tempest of the moment until the furor has died away and the media coverage has moved on, instead of confronting the major challenges that will shape our future in a sustained and focused way."

Excerpts at the click below.

Though it is not on the daily guidance for Tuesday, Bo the new White House dog moves in with the First Family.

get-attachment-7.aspx.jpeg (AP photo)

WASHINGTON--Under cool but sunny skies Easter bunnies and thousands of families from across the nation--including the Obamas-- played on the South Lawn of the White House Monday at the annual Easter Egg Roll. Fergie from Black Eyed Peas performed.


"It is wonderful to see all of you today. Welcome. I hope everybody had a wonderful Easter. This is one of the greatest White House traditions because it reminds us that this is the people's house. And to see so many children out here having a great time just fills Michelle and myself and the entire family with a whole lot of joy." President Obama said

"So I'm not really in charge here today. My sole job, in addition to thanking Fergie for that wonderful rendition of our National Anthem and thanking my buddy, the Easter Bunny, for being here, is to introduce my First Lady, your First Lady, Michelle Obama."


Mrs. Obama said, "Our goal today is just to have fun. We want to focus on activity, healthy eating. We've got yoga, we've got dancing, we've got storytelling, we've got Easter egg decorating. Oh, we've got basketball a little soccer, as well. And we want everybody to think about moving their bodies, get out -- we don't have tennis; it's on the tennis court -- the peanut gallery back here.

"So the goal today is to have fun, to get out and play."

I was part of the extended print pool. My report at the click.


WASHINGTON -- The much anticipated White House dog is Bo, a Portuguese water dog, who joins the Obama family on Tuesday.

As is normal in high-level Obama administration appointments, Bo had big clout behind him -- he's a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy -- but had to prove himself worthy through a vetting process that he could stand on his own four feet.

The Obama Easter outfits

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President and First Lady Obama on Easter Sunday, 2009 (AP photo)

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The Obama sisters on Easter Sunday, 2009 (AP photo)

WASHINGTON--The Obama family on Saturday night dined at the Georgetown home of Chicago friend and White House advisor Valerie Jarrett.

From the pool report: "This was a family occasion at the home of Valerie Jarrett, long-time Chicago friend of the Obamas' and now senior White House advisor. Daughters Malia and Sasha and what appeared to be three of their girls friends accompanied the president and first lady at what was described as their first private dinner party away from the White House."

WASHINGTON--The White House annual Easter Egg roll is Monday. For the first time, tickets were distributed on the Internet so more people from outside the city could make plans to attend. Here's a preview from the Washington Times Christina Bellantoni, on Sunday pool duty.

From the pool report....

Egg roll color:

Our gather time was around 10:20 and we walked to the south lawn
driveway where the motorcade was waiting.

Before getting in the van we caught an early glimpse of the egg roll
preparation for tomorrow.

Oversized cutouts in the shape of tulips framed the fountain on the
south lawn, where several makeshift fences, tents and a large stage have
been erected. Various stereo equipment and speakers have been set up in
spots on the lawn.

There's an "egg roll enter here" sign and oversized bunnies and other
signs sprinkled on the lawn.

As we waited for POTUS in the van, about a dozen young looking, barefoot
people were spotted on a colorful fabric mats on the lawn right in front
of the residence. They were stretching and doing both handstands and
headstands.

One of the agents in our van said they were doing yoga practice in
preparation for a fitness demonstration at tomorrow's egg roll. The
agent said there also will be soccer and basketball.

When we returned back, we saw more yoga demonstrating and someone was
singing on the stage for a sound check. A young woman, sorry no news on
who it was.


Christina Bellantoni
White House correspondent
The Washington Times

WASHINGTON--The Obama family attended Easter Services at
St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. Washington Times Christina Bellantoni, Sunday's pool reporter, tells us President Obama, First Lady Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia all took communion.

The Obama family has yet to settle on a new church. Last year, Obama quit his long time spiritual home, Trinity United Church of Christ in the wake of ongoing controversies with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The pool report...

From: Christina Bellantoni
Washington Times
Subject: Pool report 2

Happy Easter, folks.

News - President Obama and the First Family went to Easter Services at
St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square. All four took communion.
Also, we have a lid.

Color - Not much, but some egg roll details below.

Tick-tock - At 10:48 the First Family emerged from the residence. From
where we were in the motorcade, we could only see FLOTUS Michelle Obama
and one of the Obama daughters. At that point we could not see outfits,
but later in church Mrs. Obama and the girls appeared to be wearing
matching white or cream-colored sweaters. The first lady was wearing a
white or cream-colored floral skirt or dress. POTUS wore dark suit even
though we spotted at least 4 parishioners in seersucker suits.


WASHINGTON--The Obama family has not yet picked a new church in their new city. For Easter services on Sunday, the First Family is attending St. John's Church north of Lafayette Park, just across from White House.

They quit their long-time spiritual home, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago following a series of controversies with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

WASHINGTON--The new White House dog, Bo, a Portuguese water dog, joins the Obama family on Tuesday, a spokesman for First Lady Michelle Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times on Sunday.

The 6-month-old puppy is a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), a litter mate of one of their Portuguese water dogs. The Obama daughters named their new pet Bo because they have cousins with a cat named Bo and because Michelle's late father, Fraser Robinson, nickname was Diddley.


Since the Obama's did not get the dog from a shelter--as they thought they might at one point-- the Obamas will instead made a donation to a Humane Society.

Catherine McCormick-Lelyveld, a spokesman for the First Lady told the Sun-Times, "They were looking at shelters but in the end the Kennedys learned of this litter mate of their dog who needed a home, and they wanted to give the girls a gift - and here we are!

"He moves in Tuesday."

She added later Sunday, "Yes this dog is the litter mate of (the Kennedy) newest dog Cappy. It was previously owned but did not get along with the other dogs in its last house. The Kennedys learned of its availability and got it for the Obama girls."

The White House had a national press strategy planned to unveil the long-awaited gift for the Obama daughters, Malia, 10 and Sasha, 7.

The dog was promised to the girls during the election as a gift, whether or not dad made it to the White House. On election night in Chicago, Obama said to his kids, "I love you both more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House."

But the dog roll-out was foiled after the news leaked out from a little-known site, http://firstdogcharlie.com The item was picked up by TMZ.com

That spoiled the puppy scoop that had been promised to the Washington Post in advance of the Tuesday announcement, so the Post went with the story right away. The Post got the puppy scoop because the New York Times got the exclusive about the planting of the White House garden. All of this behind-the-scenes press wrangling is gleefully recounted in the Post story.

On Nov. 7, Obama's first press conference after the election, I asked him about the dog.

He replied, "With respect to the dog, this is a major issue. I think it's generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything. We have -- we have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic.

"On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So -- so whether we're going to be able to balance those two things I think is a pressing issue on the Obama household."

According to the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America the dogs "do not shed very much but they do shed" and are considered hypoallergenic because they are single coated and have a "decreased tendency to cause allergies.


WASHINGTON--The Obama girls long awaited puppy is Bo, a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog.

The White House will make the official announcement later--the news leaked out first on a little known web site, with the Washington Post given the details.

From the Post's Manuel Roig-Franzia: 'The identity of the first puppy . leaked out yesterday . despite White House efforts to delay the news until the big debut planned for Tuesday afternoon. The little guy is a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog given to the Obama girls as a gift by that Portuguese water dog-lovin' senator himself, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The girls named it Bo . Malia and Sasha chose the name, because their cousins have a cat named Bo and because first lady Michelle Obama's father was nicknamed Diddley, a source said. Bo's a handsome little guy. Well suited for formal occasions at the White House, he's got tuxedo-black fur, with a white chest, white paws and a rakish white goatee. . A mysterious Web site called http://firstdogcharlie.com/ published a picture of a Portie yesterday morning, complete with a Q and A with the dog, which it said was originally named Charlie."


CHICAGO--As the nation waits for the delivery of the dog for the Obama daughters, President Obama on Friday said the timing was "top secret." On Thursday, First Lady Michelle Obama said "soon."


Q When is the dog coming?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, man, now, that's top secret. (Laughter.) That's top secret.

Q Exactly.

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no, no, this is tightening up. Any of you going to be at the Easter Egg Roll?

seder_hi-res.jpg (White House photo) (See below for ID's)

President Obama and his family hosted a seder at the White House on Thursday, the second night of Passover. Last year Passover fell during the Pennsylvania primary and Obama joined a makeshift seder Eric Lesser--now an assistant to David Axelrod--put together at a hotel in Harrisburg.

Some of the group at that seder were invited for the first Obama White House seder. The group used Maxwell House haggadahs--yes, named for the coffee maker-- a very basic haggadah but one that includes all the traditional elements.

Speaking of tradition....The menu included the traditional Passover fixings--matzah, charoset, brisket and chicken, along with a kugel. There were macaroons for dessert.


Who's who: From the President's left is Samantha Tubman (she came to the original one in Harrisburg and now works for Social Secretary Desiree Rogers).... Next to Tubman is Melissa Winter (deputy chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama) then First daughters Sasha, and Malia, then the First Lady.

Next to the First Lady is deputy White House counsel Susan Sher, and next to Susan Sher (out of view) are her sons Evan Moore and Michael Cohen, top White House advisor Valerie Jarrett and Obama pal and University of Chicago Medical Center honcho Eric Whitaker (who you can't see).

On the other side of the table, to the President's immediate right, is Susan Sher's husband Neil Cohen. Next to him is Laura Moser (Arun Chaudhary wife), then White House videographer Arun Chaudhary, Vice President Biden aide Herbie Ziskend (Chaudhary and Ziskend were at Harrisburg) Eric Lesser, Lesser's father, Martin Lesser, Deputy Director of Advance Lisa Kohnke, Mrs. Obama's personal aide, Dana Lewis, and Obama personal assistant Reggie Love.

Sunday update: The Obama White House new dog is a Portuguese water hound, named Bo by Sasha and Malia.

CHICAGO--The long awaited White House dog for the Obama girls is coming "soon," First Lady Michelle Obama said Thursday. Comment came at planting for kitchen garden. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were hanging outside near the Oval Office--at a picnic table near the new playset--when Mrs. Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and some local students showed up to work on the planting.

"One thing I want to let you know -- I don't know if you were paying attention, but the President and I, we went on this long trip. We were in many, many countries -- we were in Europe. And the number one question I got as the First Lady from world leaders -- they were all excited about this garden," Mrs. Obama said.

"Every single person, from Prince Charles on down, they were excited about the fact that we were planting a garden, because in many countries they really believe in the importance of planting and growing your own food. So they were fascinated and grateful to all of you for helping make this possible."

Enough!

The indictment of former Gov. Blagojevich is only the latest example of a stream of officials accused of public corruption. At the heart of the culture of corruption in Illinois--and many of the Blagojevich alleged schemes--is the unending appetite for political money.

A consortium of "Public, Civic, Business, Non-Profit, Philanthropic & Religious Groups" are sponsoring a rally Thursday in Chicago (details at the jump) to gather public support for campaign contribution limits in the state. Illinois is one of the most wide open states in the nation when it comes to political donations.

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Essence-Stills-004316_full.jpg (ESSENCE PHOTO)

WASHINGTON--Federal agents have been checking out Martha's Vineyard as the Obama family mulls a summer vacation there. The Boston Globe is reportingthat the family rented a home in Oak Bluffs the last weeks of August.

The Globe reported, "loocated on the northern tip of Martha's Vineyard, Oak Bluffs has become something of an African-American enclave. Politician and pastor Adam Clayton Powell Jr., writer Dorothy West, and Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke were all early homeowners, and celebrities such as Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey are frequent visitors."

Obama's been to the island before.

From the Globe: "Charles Ogletree, the Harvard Law professor who is a close friend and former adviser of Obama's..... has owned a place in Oak Bluffs for 15 years, has hosted Obama on several occasions. The first time was in August 2004, after the then-Illinois senator gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention."

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Actor Kal Penn worked as a floor whip during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo)

Audio of Kal Penn presser today:

WASHINGTON--Actor Kal Penn, who stumped around the country for the Obama presidential campaign, is going to leave Hollywood to work in the Obama White House, EW.Com is reporting. The White House confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times that Penn--whose real name is Kalpen Modi-- is joining the Obama administration.

UPDATES 5:50 eastern
The audio posted is of a conference call with Penn conducted Tuesday to discuss the suicide of his character in Monday night's episode of "House." I can tell from comments on my blog that the suicide is very controversial.

Also, since there is so much interest in this newest White House hire, a bio of Penn is posted at the jump.

UPDATE 1:45 p.m. eastern
Penn is enrolled in a graduate certificate program in International Security at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

UPDATE 11:20 p.m. eastern
Penn will be working with the Asian-American and arts communities, said Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman. (Penn's parents are Indian-America.) His start date is not set. (end update)

Penn told EW: "I'm going to be the associate director in the White House office of public liaison. They do outreach with the American public and with different organizations. They're basically the front door of the White House. They take out all of the red tape that falls between the general public and the White House. It's similar to what I was doing on the campaign."

Chicagoans run the OPL: Top advisor Valerie Jarrett oversees the operation, run by Tina Tchen, the chief of the Office of Public Liasion

After leaving Turkey, President Obama is making a surprise visit to Iraq, his first as president. Obama touched down in Iraq on a congressional visit last summer during the presidential campaign. First Lady Michelle Obama returned to Washington before Obama traveled to Turkey.

WASHINGTON--In a candid session, President Obama, talking to students in Istanbul on Tuesday underscored his own family Muslim ties, portrayed America as a nation with flaws but a place where anybody--even a guy with a middle name Hussein--can make it. Obama also urged the students to end Israel bashing, trying to knock down the notion in the Muslim world that "somehow everything is the fault of the Israelis."

Here are highlights from Obama's session with students:

APOLIGIZING FOR THE U.S.

"A part of that process involves giving you a better sense of America. I know that the stereotypes of the United States are out there, and I know that many of them are informed not by direct exchange or dialogue, but by television shows and movies and misinformation. Sometimes it suggests that America has become selfish and crass, or that we don't care about the world beyond us. And I'm here to tell you that that's not the country that I know and it's not the country that I love.


"America, like every other nation, has made mistakes and has its flaws. But for more than two centuries we have strived at great cost and sacrifice to form a more perfect union, to seek with other nations a more hopeful world. We remain committed to a greater good, and we have citizens in countless countries who are serving in wonderful capacities as doctors and as agricultural specialists, people -- teachers -- people who are committed to making the world a better place."


WE ARE GOOD GUYS AT HEART. ONLY IN AMERICA: BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA.

"We're also a country of different backgrounds and races and religions that have come together around a set of shared ideals. And we are still a place where anybody has a chance to make it if they try. If that wasn't true, then somebody named Barack Hussein Obama would not be elected President of the United States of America. That's the America I want you to know."


PURSUING NEW U.S. PARTNERSHIPS WITH MUSLIMS

"Here there's great potential for the United States to work with Muslims around the world on behalf of a more prosperous future. And I want to pursue a new partnership on behalf of basic priorities: What can we do to help more children get a good education? What can we do to expand health care to regions that are on the margins of global society? What steps can we take in terms of trade and investment to create new jobs and industries and ultimately advance prosperity for all of us? To me, these are the true tests of whether we are leaving a world that is better and more hopeful than the one we found."

MUSLIMS IN THE OBAMA FAMILY

"And I also think that people were encouraged that somebody like me who has a background of living overseas, who has Muslims in his family -- you know, that I might be able to help to build bridges with other parts of the world."

EVERYTHING IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE ISRAELIS

"In the Muslim world, this notion that somehow everything is the fault of the Israelis lacks balance -- because there's two sides to every question. That doesn't mean that sometimes one side has done something wrong and should not be condemned. But it does mean there's always two sides to an issue.

"I say the same thing to my Jewish friends, which is you have to see the perspective of the Palestinians. Learning to stand in somebody else's shoes to see through their eyes, that's how peace begins. And it's up to you to make that happen.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama is back in the U.S. returning before President Obama from her first international swing. By every report, Mrs. Obama was a hit overseas; even the flap over her putting her arm around Queen Elizabeth fizzled. A new CNN/ORC poll conducted April 3-5 showed that the majority of the respondents said Mrs. Obama "made people in other countries" feel much more positive toward the United States (30 per cent) or somewhat more positive (50 per cent)

If you are in trouble with your mortgage, there's an army of scammers out there waiting to con you out of your money and possibly your home.

Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission, plus phone numbers and web sites to consult for help.

WASHINGTON---As Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is pondering her next political move, she positioned herself here Monday on an impressive platform with three cabinet secretaries and a commissioner. The subject was the scum who prey on people with mortgage fraud schemes.

Madigan, in a brown pants suit, flanked by men all wearing grey, was trying on the big stage to see how it fit.

It fit fine.

Madigan, along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Attorney General E ric Holder, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Sean Donovan and Federal Trade Commission chief Jon Leibowitz outlined a series of steps the federal government is taking to crack down on scammers.

WASHINGTON--President Obama ends his week long international trip in Turkey, a country of great strategic importance to the U.S. and a majority Muslim nation. On Tuesday, Obama will be in Istanbul where he will meet with religious leaders, tour a historic mosque and basilica and host a roundtable with students.

In Ankara on Monday, Obama, with Turkish President Gul, talked about how Turkey straddles the East and West.

"This is a country that has been often said lies at the crossroads between East and West. It's a country that possesses an extraordinarily rich heritage, but also represents a blend of those ancient traditions with a modern nation state that respects democracy, respects rule of law and is striving towards a modern economy.


It is a member of NATO and it is also a majority Muslim nation, unique in that position, and so, as a consequence, has insights into a whole host of regional and strategic challenges that we may face," Obama said.

WASHINGTON--Whatever it is that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to do next--run for governor, the Senate, or stay put--she steps up to a bigger league Monday at a press conference here with Obama administration heavyweights dealing with mortgage scams. Officials are worried criminal cons and schemes will bilk people trying to use new federal programs designed to help people caught in the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Madigan will appear with Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary, Department of the Treasury
Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General, Department of Justice; Shaun Donovan, Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Jon Leibowitz, Chairman, Federal Trade Commission.

David Axelrod tells CNN's John King on "State of the Union" Sunday that former Vice President Cheney was not behaving as a statesman in his criticisms of the Obama administration national security policies.


"[President Bush] has behaved like a statesman," Axelrod told King "regarding the former president's decision not to criticize the new administration. "And as I've said before, here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president."

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David Axelrod during the campaign. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--White House senior advisor David Axelrod, the founder of Chicago based political and public affairs firms, took a $3 million buyout--spread over five years-- when he joined the Obama administration, according to newly released disclosure reports.

On top of that, last year, when Axelrod was the top advisor to the Obama presidential campaign, he hauled in a total of $1.5 million in salary and partnership income from the two companies.

Axelrod's original firm, AKP&D Message and Media, founded in 1985, is known for its political campaign work with Chicago and national candidates. Axelrod handled Obama's Senate race and is the media consultant for Mayor Daley.

The secretive ASK Public Strategies, with private sector clients, was launched in 2002 and specializes in civic and corporate controversies, addressing them through public campaigns and media consulting.

Of his haul from AKP&D, Axelrod earned $896,776 in salary and another $500,000 from his cut as a partner. The Obama campaign was AKP&D's main client during the presidential cycle.

While working basically round the clock on the Obama campaign, Axelrod's partnership check from ASK totaled $151,914.

The disclosures, required of all top level White House staff, also reveal for the first time, ASK Public Strategies clients, including the Chicago 2016 Committee, vice chaired by Valerie Jarrett, now a top White House advisor; the University of Chicago Medical Center, where First Lady Michelle Obama worked as a vice president and the Chicago Children's Museum, promoted by Mayor Daley.

Obama sponsored a $1 million earmark in 2007 to help build the Children's Museum in Grant Park; a project facing opposition over the question of whether it was appropriate use of downtown park land.

Axelrod's ASK buyout deal calls for five annual installments of $200,000 starting next December 31. AKP&D's stock purchase deal also begins at the end of the year and calls for annual payments of $350,000, $650,000, $400,000 and $600,000.

Axelrod transferred interests in a documentary film production company called Franklin Street Productions (the street where the Axelrod firms are located) to his wife, Susan on March 9. The company, listed as dormant, was founded in 2002.

WASHINGTON---At a joint press conference in Strasbourg, France on Friday, French President Sarkozy spoke warmly about the United States--but said the operation of the military prison in Guantanamo "was not in keeping with U.S. values."

Obama and First Lady Michelle are in France for a NATO summit. Sarkozy gave Obama a warm reception last summer when Obama brought his campaign to Europe. Obama also received Sarkozy--then contemplating a run for the French presidency--at his Senate office in 2006.

"I trust him. I don't need guarantees. I trust him. I trust his word. And I trust his intelligence," Sarkozy said of Obama.

Obama ordered the Cuban prison complex closed, though it is not clear where the prisoners will be sent.


Asked during a press conference about Guantanamo, Sarkozy said, "Well, there again, you know, I believe democracy makes it incumbent upon heads of state to speak the truth and to live up to what they say. I am a longstanding friend of the United States. But Guantanamo was not in keeping with U.S. values-- at least with my perception of what American values were and are. And I was proud and happy that the United States should have taken the decision that we were hoping for, which was to close down that base. We all were, here in Europe."

By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Writer

CHICAGO--The newest extortion allegation against ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich is that he tried to hold up a $2 million state grant for a Northwest Side school unless Rahm Emanuel would get his Hollywood agent brother to throw a campaign fund-raiser for Blagojevich.

As with some of the other alleged Blagojevich schemes, it's unclear whether his aides ever followed through on his purported orders to shake down then-U.S. Rep. Emanuel, now chief of staff to President Obama. Emanuel's brother is Ari Emanuel, inspiration for Jeremy Piven's brash Ari Gold on HBO's "Entourage."

The school is Chicago Academy, a Chicago Public school in which student teachers learn to teach. Rahm Emanuel was a patron saint of the school. He appeared at the dedication of the $2 million football field/track built out of a former parking lot three years ago.

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The Obamas and Sarkozys (AP)

WASHINGTON--Another Chicagoan, John Q. Easton, has been tapped for the Obama administration. Easton, the executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago, will be nominated by Obama to a six-year term as Director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

Rod Blagojevich indictment.

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That's according to a new Gallup Poll

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WASHINGTON--"We exercise our leadership best when we are listening,"President Obama said at a G-20 London press conference ongoing now, contrasting himself in a sense with former President Bush's international approach.


"Overall, I am pleased with the product," Obama said about economic agreements reached at the summit, telling a BBC reporter,"This cooperation is historic."

Speaking about a Peoria, Illinois company he visited in February--to tout his economic stimulus plan- Obama noted that even with his legislation, "Caterpillar is now in very bad shape."


Pivoting off the Illinois heavy equipment maker, Obama said, "You've seen, for example, a drastic decline in U.S. exports over the last several months. You look at a company like Caterpillar in my home state of Illinois, which up until last year was doing
extraordinarily well -- in fact, export growth was what had sustained it even after the recession had begun. As a consequence of the world recession, as a consequence of the contagion from the financial markets debilitating economies elsewhere, Caterpillar is now in very bad shape.

"So if we want to get Caterpillar back on its feet, if we want to
get all those export companies back on their feet so that they are
hiring, putting people back to work, putting money in people's
pockets, we've got to make sure that the global economy as a whole is
successful. And this document, which affirms the need for all
countries to take fiscal responses that increase demand, that
encourages the openness of markets -- those are all going to be
helpful in us being able to fix what ails the economy back home," Obama said.

In his opening remarks, Obama said, "The challenges of the 21st century cannot be met without collective action. Agreement will almost never be easy, and results won't always come quickly. But I am committed to respecting different points of view, and to forging a consensus instead of dictating our terms. That is how we made progress in the last few days. And that is how we will advance and uphold our ideals in the months and years to come."


WASHINGTON--The controversial "Prairie Parkway" is off the table for now, a victory for west suburban anti-sprawl forces.

In 2005, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) stuffed a $207 million earmark in a federal highway bill to help pay for the road, estimated to cost $1 billion to build. The 37-mile highway would roll through Kane and Kendall Counties, linking I-80 and I-88, the Reagan Memorial Tollway.


Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who replaced Hastert, said Wednesday there is "a near consensus in the area," that "the first priority for money being spent on roads is probably not in that (Prairie Parkway) corridor but rather beefing up the existing north south corridors and so on."

Since the earmark money was never spent, Foster wants to try to "reprogram" the money for other projects. Congress would have to approve, "which is normally not done, but there may be a strong enough consensus to make that happen," Foster said.



WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was back with his Illinois gang Wednesday. "Our favorite transportation secretary," said Sen. Dick Durbin.

LaHood, the former Republican congressman from Peoria, headlined a lunch with the Illinois congressional delegation hosted by Durbin.

About $938 million in stimulus spending for Illinois transportation projects was on the plate, along with an assortment of Cosi flat- breads, salad, chips, cola, coffee and cookies.

Afterward, a rare delegation news conference was served up. All the members at the lunch were invited. Here's the news:

Former Illinois Gov. Blagojevich may be indicted today or in the next few days. In any event, my Chicago Sun-Times colleague Natasha Korecki over in her blog reports that Blagojevich is at Disney World in Florida. There's no reason he needs to be in Chicago at this point, so Blagojevich took off on vacation.

Lynn Sweet talks about the expected Blagojevich indictment on a recent FOX News show.

Obama with Korea's Myung-Bak

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President Obama at the G-20 summit in London on Thursday

*Meets with Korean President Lee Myung-Bak. Pre-Meeting remarks, background readout of meeting, statement after meeting.

President Obama deals with international leaders--Medvedev of Russia, Jintau of China, Netanyahu of Israel, Britian's Brown--on Wednesday while in London for the G-20 summit. Obama and Medvedev start work on a new treaty to reduce nuclear arms and make sure terrorists do not get nuclear materials. Obama visits Russia and China later this year.

Click to jump for files on:

President Obama meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintau, transcript.

President Obama meeting with Russian Federation President Dmitriy Medvedev, background readout.

Joint Statement by President Obama and Dmitriy A. Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, Regarding Negotiations on Further Reductions in Strategic Offensive Arms

President Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, joint press conference, transcript.

President Obama call with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, guidance.

potus_queen_blog2.jpg(White House photo)

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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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