Chicago Sun-Times
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January 2010 Archives

The hardhitting primary battles for Illinois senator and governor nominations will wind up with Tuesday's balloting. How did Democrats come to a point where they will start the November general election campaign on the defensive? Blame former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. What happened to the Illinois euphoria in 2008, when new primary voters participated for the first time, triggered by Obama excitement? For my overview on the primary contests, click here.

Where have we heard this before....

The late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.)--who represented a west suburban Chicago district--the father of the Hyde amendment--and the chairman of the House panel that impeached President Clinton--was the subject of a four-year FBI criminal probe in the 1970s, according to FBI files obtained by Gawker under the Freedom of Information Act. The investigation centered stemmed from Hyde's days in the Illinois legislature.

Excerpt from Gawker: "The probe, which was authorized at the highest levels of the Justice Department and has not been previously disclosed, involved the use of wiretaps and physical surveillance to nail Hyde for taking kickbacks from mob-affiliated state contractors when he was an Illinois state senator. Though the charges were brought before a grand jury, the Assistant U.S. Attorney overseeing the case abandoned it for lack of evidence in 1976, two years after Hyde was elected to Congress."

By Abdon M. Pallasch and Lynn Sweet
Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO--Illinois Democratic governor primary rivals Pat Quinn, the governor and Dan Hynes, the comptroller, flooded the television ad zone on Friday, with each putting up hard hitting ads in the Chicago media market in final weekend before the Feb. 2 balloting.

There's also a bit of odd news over on the GOP primary side--former Polish President and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa made his first-ever endorsement of an American political candidate Friday. Read on to find out who.

Hynes gathered a group of African-American ministers at a hotel on 26th Street near State to tout their endorsement. This comes as the Hynes/Quinn showdown may hinge on black votes. Hynes is using an ad featuring the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington criticizing Quinn when he worked for him in City Hall. Hynes was asked how his campaign got a hold of the video. "The footage, I don't even know, but I think it is out there in the public domain."


Former Polish President and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa made his first-ever endorsement of an American political candidate Friday -- for longshot Republican gubernertorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski. Though Walesa started as a union activist, he was socially conservative and economically suppportive of a free market, so he supports Andrzejewski for his stands, not just his Polish heritage, Walesa told a freezing crowd of tea partyers in the federal plaza Friday. He promised to come back and campaign for Andrzejewski in the general election.

"I wish you all success, and, if you succeed, I will show up again," Walesa told the tea partyers. In longer, indoor comments earlier, Walesa and fellow Solidarity founder Mieczyslaw Gilsaid they saw themselves in Andrzewjewski, 40, when they were his age -- a young man not willing to work within the existing system and willing to try to restructure it, they said.

Andrzejewski, moreso than any of the other five Republican candidates, has been willing to back up his threats to restructure state government with actual examples, such as zero-ing out the million-dollar budget of the Department of Commerce, which he says is under-performing.

Andrzejewski¹s grandfather came from Poland but he had never visited his ancestral home until November when Atlanta businessman Witold Zabinski brought him over and introduced him to Gil and other Walesa friends. Andrzejewski grew up bailing hay in Kankakee County where his father ran as a Democrat against then-state legislator George Ryan.

Meanwhile, just a few blocks from where the minsters endorsed Hynes, Mayor Daley lavished very warmly on Quinn. If it wasn¹t an endorsement, it came awfully close. Mayor Daley reached out and touched Gov. Pat Quinn's arm 1, 2, 3, 4 times during a 2-minute speech four days before Election Day praising Quinn for all his work over the years that helped secure millions of dollars in federal funding for a new high-speed rail corridor from Chicago to St. Louis. Daley then set off to repeat the not-quite-an-endorsement -- since Daley has made clear he does not endorse in primaries -- at other stops around the state.

Retiring Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan endorsed State Comptroller Dan Hynes Friday, on the same day that Quinn endorsed Cook County Democratic Chairman Joe Berrios to succeed Houlihan. Houlihan spent his years as assessor delivering on a promise of transparency. Property owners in Cook County can look at their properties and their neighbors' properties on-line, in contrast to the Board of Review, where Berrios sits, and where precious little is on-line. Years ago, Quinn endorsing Berrios would have been unthinkable.

Republican Peter Roskam and Democrat Barack Obama served in the Illinois state senate together. Now Roskam is a House member from a suburban Chicago district and Obama, we all know is president, who in his first year failed to yield the post-partisan era he promised during his presidential campaign.

At the GOP retreat in Baltimore on Friday, Roskam asked Obama how both sides can reduce the heat in 2010.

Asked Roskam to Obama, "So here's the question: Moving forward -- I think all of us want to hit the "reset" button on 2009 -- how do we move forward?"

click below for transcript of Roskam-Obama exchange...

Obama State of the Union address fact checked at FactCheck.org

Sun-Times 2010 election guide

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Here are the Chicago Sun-Times links to our packages for the Feb. 2 primary elections.

Main election page is here.

Chicago Sun-Times endorsements are here.

Candidates filled out questionnaires for the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. Read them here.

See video clips from the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board interviews, debates and other events here.

Read Chicago Sun-Times profiles of major candidates for Cook County Board president, U.S. Senate and governor here.

Check out the ratings on judicial candidates here.

Read Chicago Sun-Times news stories about the 2010 primary candidates and issues here.

Check out photo galleries of candidates and debates here.

WASHINGTON--The Senate voted to confirm Ben S. Bernanke to a second term as chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System on a 70-30 vote.

Ten Democrats broke from the Obama administration and voted against Bernanke, making it a true bi-partisan vote--rare these days. Illinois Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Roland Burris voted for confirmation.

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Hi all......

Tuesday is election day.

Check out the Chicago Sun-Times election website here for news and links about the Feb. 2 primary.

And click on the eVoter widget on the right of my blog to get a list of candidates--customized to your Illinois address--running in the Democratic, Republican and Green party primaries.


BY MARY WISNIEWSKI AND LYNN SWEET Staff Reporters

Illinois will get $1.1 billion to make track improvements to enable 110 mph passenger trains between Chicago and St. Louis, under a new federal stimulus plan to be announced Thursday by President Obama.

President Obama devoted the biggest portion of his first State of the Union address on Wednesday night to various aspects of job creation. While I appreciate Obama's aspirational and inspirational speeches -- in Cairo on Islamic relations and in Oslo on waging war, to name two standouts -- I welcome some nitty-gritty coming from the president.

Obama State of the Union excerpts.

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The White House is rolling out its IPhone app--you can watch and hear the State of the Union Wednesday on your IPhone, at www.whitehouse.govor on cable, network tv or radio. The speech starts at 8 p.m. Chicago time and 9 p.m. eastern time. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is the pitchman in this slick spot promoting the new application. Not all White House videos comes with music in the background--this one does.






WASHINGTON--The Obama team is sending out text messages on Tuesday urging people to attend State of the Union watch parties on Wednesday night. The text message list, accumulated during the Obama for American presidential campaign, was transferred to the Democratic National Committee, which runs a grass-roots/net-roots operation called Organizing for America.

wax michelle.JPG (AP photo)

Madame Tussauds' in New York adds First Lady Michelle Obama to the wax museum lineup.

By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Writer

CHICAGO--In his State of the Union speech Wednesday night, President Obama will acknowledge his party's loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts and attribute the loss to distrust of Washington in general -- not Democrats, Obama senior advisor Dave Axelrod said Monday.

WASHINGTON--President Obama finally admitted on Monday that he broke his pledge to open up negotiations over health care--even have them televised on C-SPAN. This comes after administration spokesmen and top advisors for months now have been pretending that Obama was not breaking an oft repeated campaign promise.

The admission came during an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer in advance of Wednesday's State of the Union address. Obama said he would "own up" to what he called a "legitimate mistake" during his speech before a joint session of Congress. Obama's promise of opening up the backroom deals--using C-SPAN--was a standard line on the 2008 campaign trail, a crowd pleaser that always, always won him applause.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House will propose in its fiscal 2011 budget--unveiled next Monday--a freeze in non-security discretionary spending in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The White House calculates that "the savings from the three year freeze will amount to $250 billion over the next decade," a senior administration official said on Monday.

WASHINGTON-- President Obama and First Lady Michelle will be voting in the Feb. 2 Illinois primary, the White House said Monday night. The First Couple have requested absentee ballots and "they will be arriving at the White House shortly," the White House said.

While the Obamas obviously are living in the White House, their voting residence remains in Chicago. Their ballots would be issued by the Chicago Board of Elections.

WASHINGTON--President Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Wednesday, at 8 p.m. Chicago time, 9 p.m. eastern. A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & The Pressasks people how important they view the speech.


From Pew: "The survey finds that 39% of the public thinks that Obama's Jan. 27 State of the Union address will be more important than previous addresses, 45% say it will be about as important, and 9% say it will be less important. Obama's upcoming State of the Union is viewed as more important than former President Bush's last three State of the Union speeches. In January 2002, however, a higher percentage (54%) said Bush's State of the Union would be more important than say that about Obama's address today."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes, rivals for the Democratic governor nomination, face-off in their final debate Monday night on WTTW-channel 11 at 7 p.m. Chicago time.

Not sure about all the down-ballot candidates in the Feb. 2 primary? Check out the eVoter feature on the widget on the right side of this blog. Just type in your address--anywhere in Illinois--and get a list of all your options whether you pull a Democratic, Republican or Green Party primary ballot.

WASHINGTON--President Obama--a basketball player and fan since his boyhood days in Hawaii--on Sunday took daughters Malia and Sasha to a gym to shoot some hoops.

Ths morning visit to the Department of Interior gym came a day after the president attended Sasha's basketball game Saturday at the Jane Lawton Community Center in Chevy Chase. Md., just outside of Washington.

On Sunday Obama left the White House with his daughters at 10:31 a.m. for the three minute drive to the gym. With them were Reggie Love, Obama's personal assistant and a frequent hoops companion and trip director Marvin Nicholson, also part of the inner circle of staffers who golf and shoot hoops with the president.

According to the pool report, First Lady Michelle Obama was not with them.

The group left the gym to return to the White House at noon.

Thumbnail image for plouffe axelrod photo.JPGDavid Plouffe, (l) and David Axelrod (r) at the 2008 Democratic convention at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--David Plouffe, the soft-spoken Obama presidential campaign manager, is stepping up his White House role, advising on the 2010 races as Democrats are reeling in the wake of the loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat last Tuesday.

Plouffe is a senior advisor at the Chicago based political firm AKPD Message and Media, the company founded by David Axelrod, now a White House Senior Advisor. Plouffe took on advisor status at the firm after the 2008 presidential election. During the past year, he wrote a book, The Audacity to Win and has been out on the lecture circuit.

"David is value added, we love him and he has been off writing a book for a year. We are happy to have his talents back with us on a more regular basis," Axelrod told CNN's John King on "State of the Union." Over at NBC's "Meet the Press," Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett told host David Gregory used the same phrase, saying Plouffe is "value added" to the White House political operation.

"David Plouffe has been a regular adviser to the president throughout the course of the year. He ran a magnificent campaign. He's been off writing a book and on a book tour, and now that that's running to a close the president asked him to come back. The president has full support of his team, and that team will work closely with David Plouffe. He's value added, and we're delighted to have him back," Jarrett said.

President Obama is critical of the Supreme Court campaign finance ruling in his weekly address. Click after video for transcript and a reply from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (a participant in the case).

WASHINGTON--President Obama visits Ohio on Friday as part of his throwing the spotlight on his administration job creation projects, with his plans expected to be highlighted in the Jan. 27 State of the Union address and his new budget. Meanwhile, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett released a report on a jobs forum at the White House in December.


In a note to the participants Jarrett wrote in an e-mail posted at whitehouse.gov, "As you can see, many of the ideas from the Forum informed his thinking, and some of them we have already put into action. You may also have heard that we broadened the efforts you initiated through Community Jobs Forums across the country involving more than 50 mayors, dozens of state legislators, and thousands of citizens - we'll be completing the report based on their feedback in the coming weeks.

"Moving forward, we are planning to continue the conversation through the President's Cabinet, who remain heavily involved in this effort. Over the coming weeks, Cabinet officials will be reaching out to participants to schedule follow-up calls or meetings on specific ideas. As you have in the past, we hope that you will find time in your schedules to stay involved, and please keep us informed of your own job creation efforts and stories,'

Obama has already led out the broad outlines of what is looking for in a jobs plan: more small business investment and access to credit so more workers can be hired: more money on big transportation infrastructure job-generating projects and creation of jobs through weatherization subsidies and grants to spur the "green" industry and employment.

WASHINGTON--The 2010 Census kicks off next week in Alaska. Most of us will get census forms in March. Census expert D'Vera Cohn keeps tabs on the count over at her new Pew Research Center blog, "All Things Census."

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday opened the door to federal corporate political donations. "Indeed, to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy. We should celebrate rather than condemn the
addition of this speech to the public debate," said the majority in the opinion. Read the entire decision here.


mayor daley, nutter newsome.jpeg Mayor Daley flanked by Philadelphia Mayor Nutter (L) and San Francisco Mayor Newsom (photo by Lynn Sweet)

mayor daley evanston.jpeg Mayor Daley and Evanston Mayor Tisdahl, left in white jacket (photo by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--Mayor Daley revved up a coalition of mayors on Thursday to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Chicago's handgun ordinance in the wake of the National Rifle Association challenge to be argued on March 2.


"For many years, the City of Chicago has had strong handgun laws in place.

The gun industry's challenge to our handgun laws has already been dismissed by two federal courts and now they have taken their case to the US Supreme Court," Daley said at a press conference at the U.S. Conference of mayors. Daley was flanked by about 20 mayors who filed friend of the court briefs supporting the Chicago ban, including Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

"This summer, the Court will decide whether Chicago's guns laws are constitutional. The case could affect or open the door to countless -- and needless -- legal challenges to local and state gun laws across the country. Today, we stand here on behalf of the people of Chicago and the United States who have been victims of gun violence, on behalf of their families and loved ones and on behalf of all those who believe Chicago's current gun law is constitutional," Daley said.

Daley added later, "America rose up about smoking...why can't we have America rise up against gun violence?"

"This is about real leadership, standing up to the National Rifle Association," Daley said.

"He's been right on this issue for many years," said Tisdahl. "I believe we have the right to determine what will keep our young people safe."

Newsom said mayors have enormous responsibility and "self-determination should be afforded those who are accountable for the people they represent."

Nutter said, "There is no reason to have an m-16 in an urban environment/. The NRA is out of control."

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

WASHINGTON--Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) fathered a daughter during the 2008 presidential campaign and after denials, admitted on Thursday the child was his and he lied about it.

NBC News Lisa Myers has the scoop in an interview with Edwards longtime political advisor Harrison Hickman and in a written statement from Edwards, who did not appear on camera in her report. Edwards finally admitted he is the father of Frances Quinn Hunter; the product of an affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer who followed Edwards on the campaign trail.

"I am Quinn's father. I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves... It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me," Edwards said in the statement.

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WASHINGTON -- "As some of you may know, one of my first jobs was in a mayor's office -- working for Mayor Daley out in Chicago," first lady Michelle Obama told the nation's mayors Wednesday, as she enlisted them as partners in her drive against childhood obesity.


WASHINGTON -- Mayor Daley took stock of the Democratic Senate defeat in Massachusetts and said Wednesday that President Obama is in danger of being seen as the president of the past.

get-attachment-2.jpgMayor Daley huddles with Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (photo by Lynn Sweet)

get-attachment-2 15-21-04.jpg Mayor Daley at press conference with other mayors, urging Washington to create jobs and to "live in the real world outside of here." Far left, Arlington Heights Mayor Arlene J. Mulder. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Mayor Daley said the Democratic loss of the Senate seat in Massachusetts should be a wake-up call for the Obama White House and Congress, where both chambers are controlled by Democrats.


"Job creation is the key and we heard it yesterday from Massachusetts very strongly," Daley said during a Wednesday press conference at the opening of the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In a stunning upset, Republican Scott Brown on Tuesday won the senate seat held for some 40 years by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.)

WTTW-channel 11 and at www.wttw.com hosts a debate for the Illinois Democratic Senate candidates at 7 p.m. Chicago time Wednesday--tonight.

To check out your voting choices for the Feb. 2 Illinois primary, look at the eVoter widget on the right of this blog.


michelle greeting visitors jan. 20, 2010.jpg Michelle Obama and Bo greeting White House visitors, Jan. 20, 2010 (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and Bo, the family dog are greeting White House visitors now to mark her first year at the White House. Live streaming at 9:52 a.m. Chicago time, 10:52 eastern time at www.whitehouse.gov/live


Republicans aiming darts at the Obama White House thought they found a way to get to the president from Chicago -- and his inner circle of Chicagoans -- during the first year of the Obama presidency.


WASHINGTON -- "I think you never quite know what this tightrope will be until you are on it," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told me about her first year in the Obama administration.

President Obama marks his first year in office today. After taking stock of the first 100 days, the anniversary of his election in November and the end of 2009, noon today is another milestone of looking back and peering ahead.

Updated
to those who alerted me to fix headline: thank-you.

WASHINGTON---President Obama marked Martin Luther King day at a soup kitchen, the American Red Cross Disaster Operations Center, at the White House hosting an intergenerational event on the civil rights battles and at a Kennedy Center concert.

One year ago, Obama was preparing to be inaugurated as the nation's first African American president.

Two years ago, Obama was in the midst of his battle against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. He observed King Day in Atlanta, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Kings home church. Seeking to rally the African-American vote, Obama said from the pulpit at Ebenezer, "Unity is the great need of the hour" Unity is the great need of the hour.. Unity is how we shall overcome. What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more decided to walk the foundation might start to shake."

Obama also visited Kings grave site. For my photos and story from that visit click here and here.

WASHINGTON---I remember many nights at Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago talking politics with Carlos Gomez Hernandez, the CLTV political reporter who died Sunday night way too soon at age 36. He would call me, naturally, Dulce as we would race through the political stories of the day. As fate had it I got to know the woman he married, WGN-TV's Randi Belisomo, when she spent several months in Washington in 2006 as a graduate student at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. I was thrilled that these two found each other and was honored to be at their wedding.

Hernandez and his relentless love of political reporting will be missed.

My Sun-Times colleague Mark Konkol's post on Hernandez is here.

Rich Miller over at his Capitolfaxblog.com has been keeping tabs of many of the Hernandez tributes coming in.


 



WASHINGTON--President Obama paid tribute on Monday to CLTV political reporter Carlos Hernandez Gomez, 36, who died Sunday after battling cancer for more than a year. Obama knew Gomez from his days as a state Senator.


Said Obama, "I was saddened to hear of the passing of Carlos Hernandez Gomez. Our paths first crossed when I was a State Senator. He was a throwback in the style of Chicago's storied political reporters.

"He loved Chicago, and he relentlessly sought to tell its story with the commitment to truth and the insatiable curiosity that any good reporter has to have. I quickly learned that when you saw his sharp fedora in a crowd, hard questions were coming. But Carlos always played it straight.

"And I always enjoyed our interactions in Springfield, Chicago, or on the campaign trail. Carlos was a role model to many, and an integral part of the Chicago story he strived to tell. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Randi and his family."

Randi Belisomo Hernandez is a WGN-TV reporter.

WASHINGTON--Happy Birthday, First Lady Michelle Obama. She turns 46 today, Sunday. The Obama administration turns one on Wednesday.

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On Saturday night, President Obama took her to dinner at Restaurant Nora, one of this city's best known special occasion eateries with a gang of Chicago pals as guests. The Obamas lingered at Nora's for four hours. My spy who happened by chance to be at Nora's told me the presidential party was in the private upstairs room--and the other guests were frisked and "wanded" before being allowed in the restaurant near Dupont Circle. Nora's is well known for serving locally produced organic food. The First Couple arrived at 6:38 p.m. and departed at 10:22 p.m.

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Here's the Chicago flavored guest list:

Marian Robinson, the First Lady's mother
Valerie Jarrett, Chicago pal and Senior White House advisor
Eric and Cheryl Whitaker, Chicago pals
Eric Holder, attorney general and his wife, Sharon Malone
Mary Nesbitt and wife Anita Blanchard, Chicago pals
Susan Sher, Chicago pal and the First Lady's chief of staff
Elizabeth Alexander, former Chicagoan (University of Chicago), now at Yale, delivered poem at Inauguration.
Cindy Moelis, Chicago pal and director of the White House Fellows program..
Jocelyn Frye, Mrs. Obama Harvard Law School buddy and Director of Policy and Projects in the First Lady's office


LYNN SWEET CHICAGO-CENTRIC FOOTNOTES:
1. Jarrett, the Whitakers, Nesbitt, Blanchard vacationed over the holidays with the Obama family in Hawaii. The same group also traveled to Oslo in December to see Obama pick up the Nobel Peace Prize. The same group was also at the Nov. 24 State Dinner.

2. Mrs. Obama, Jarrett, Sher and Moelis all worked for Mayor Daley in Chicago's City Hall.

3. Moelis' husband is Robert Rivkin, a lawyer who is general counsel to the Transportation Department, working for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

4. Anita Blanchard, Associate Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology at the University of Chicago, delivered Malia, 11 and Sasha, 8.

It was the last Sunday in November, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was in the Oval Office for a meeting of special gravity. After reviews with his national security team, military commanders, civilian leaders in Afghanistan and other nations -- a process overseen by Emanuel -- President Obama was finalizing his Afghanistan policy. Two days later, Obama would be at West Point announcing that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan -- but after 18 months the soldiers would begin to come home.

Besides Obama and Emanuel, the group included Vice President Joe Biden; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. David Petraeus, Central Command chief, and Gen. James Jones, the White House national security adviser. Joining via video conference was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the ambassador to Afghanistan.

The day, Nov. 29, was Chicago-born Emanuel's 50th birthday.

WASHINGTON--The Obama White House is taking the unusual step of pro-actively providing a heavy amount of on-the-record details of how President Obama is handling the aftermath of the horrific earthquake in Haiti. On Friday, the White House released a minute-by-minute account of events.


Click below for the details.

Michelle Obama turns 46 on Sunday

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michelle obama birthday.jpg(White House photo) Michelle Obama staff celebrates her Sunday 46th birthday on Friday.

Obama's Haiti update. Transcript.

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Obama on helping Haiti

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David Axelrod takes on Karl Rove

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WASHINGTON--Obama White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod rips former Bush White House top strategist Karl Rove after he offered advice about how Democrats should handle the 2010 elections at the invitation of the Washington Post.

Axelrod's op-ed in the Post at the click.

WASHINGTON--The White House announced Friday morning that the earthquake in Haiti caused a slight thaw in relations: the governments agreed to let U.S. aircraft use the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay (yes, more there than the prison there) and airspace to help in Haiti relief efforts.

From White House spokesman Tommy Vietor: "We have coordinated with the Cuban government for authorization to fly medical evacuation flights from the U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay to Miami, FL through Cuban airspace, cutting 90 minutes off one-way flight time."

And this: "At approximately 10:15pm (Thursday), the President received an update from Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon on our relief efforts, the situation on the ground in Haiti, and tonight's Deputies Committee meeting.''

WASHINGTON-- First Lady Michelle Obama urged people to contribute to the Haiti relief efforts in the wake of the horrific earthquake during a Thursday visit to the Labor Department.

Said Mrs. Obama, I do want to take a moment just to express my profound heartbreak and our nation's deepest support for the people of Haiti in the wake of this just devastating disaster that they have suffered.

The destruction and the suffering that we see, the images that are coming out of that country are just overwhelming, and it is important for the people of Haiti to know that we are keeping the victims of this tragedy and their loved ones in our thoughts and our prayers. And that also includes prayers going out to all of the Haitian Americans who have families and friends there, and they're worried about them back home. It's difficult to get word. People don't know where folks are. This is a tough time for Haitian American citizens here, as well. And we also want to send our thoughts and prayers out to the American citizens who are working and living in Haiti, as well.

Right now my husband and the administration are focused on moving as many resources as possible into Haiti as quickly as possible so that we can save as many lives as we can. And later today I'll be taping a public service announcement for the Red Cross, which is providing on-the-ground support -- food, water, medicine -- that's desperately needed right now, particularly in this short period of 48, 72 hours after the disaster.

So for those Americans who are watching this, who are listening, who want to help -- and everyone's help and resources and energy at this time are critically important -- you can go to the White House Web site at www.whitehouse.gov to see what you can do to support our friends in Haiti in this time of urgent need.

And as you know, it's not just in the weeks and months ahead. This is going to be something that we're going to have to put our attention to for many years to come. So again, our thoughts and prayers go out to the country of Haiti.
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First Lady Michelle Obama ticks off some of her first year statistics in a session Wednesday with seven reporters: 200 events and visits to 14 states, eight foreign countries, and six military bases. Read my overview of the hour roundtable I was at here.

Michelle Obama on Sarah Palin

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WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, in a session with seven reporters on Wednesday, reflecting on her first year and looking ahead to 2010, was asked near the end of the hour, "just what do you make of Sarah Palin?"

Replied Mrs. Obama, "You know, I don't know her. And what I've learned in this arena is that unless I've had a chance to have a conversation with somebody and get to know them, I have no idea who she is. I didn't read her book. I've met her once. So, you know, I don't know who she is, and I wouldn't even begin to comment on somebody that I haven't had a reaction -- an interaction with."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama is taping a public service announcement to urge the nation to assist victims of the earthquake in Haiti. She is expected to commented on the tragedy while at the Department of Labor on Thursday.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the country of Haiti," she said. She urged people who wanted to make donations to check out options at www.whitehouse.gov.

Illinos GOP Senate hopeful Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) the front-runner, is refusing to debate his rivals in the Feb. 2 primary at Thursday's debate sponsored by ABC7 All the Democratic front runners showed up for their debate on Tuesday. When Kirk first ran for the House in 2000--with 11 contenders in the primary field, and he was not a front-runner--he joined in numerous debates.

WASHINGTON--The Obama administration is putting a major focus on Haiti earthquake relief efforts, pulling in former President Clinton, the U.N. envoy to Haiti in the response.Obama will provide an update on the U.S. assistance on Thursday morning.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on CNN, CBS and NBC morning shows briefed on what the Obama team was doing.

On CNN she said, "We've got a very coordinated, aggressive response going on. We have sent some of our crack search and rescue teams into Port-au- Prince. They're beginning their work. We're coordinating with the Haitian president, President Preval. Unfortunately, as you know, the government buildings were terribly damaged by the earthquake. A lot of government members unaccounted for, no communication system. We're supplying a communication system so they can begin to get up and running.

"We're working with the United Nations, which was equally devastated by the collapse of their headquarters.

"So the authorities that existed before the earthquake are not able to fully function. We're going to try to support them as they reestablish authority.

"The U.N. peacekeepers, about 7,000 of them, commanded by a Brazilian general, are beginning to clear the roads.

"Our Coast Guard has been unbelievable. They got there first, as you might guess, being in the area. We've got the 82nd Airborne and other military assets coming in. We had a military team reopen the airport so we can start to handle the big, heavy planes.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama does not want Chicago to take it personally that she has only been home once in the last year since her husband was sworn in as president last Jan. 22.

"Just tell Chicago, 'nothing personal.' It's kids," said Mrs. Obama, who turns 46 on Sunday.


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama downplayed having three people crashing the Obamas first state dinner on Nov. 24, on Wednesday calling the security breaches at the event for the Prime Minister of India "a footnote to what the State Dinner actually was."

"The State Dinner was an outstanding success; it's just the follow up after it.

"I look at the reporting on the State Dinner and go, 'is that all that happened, really' because I sat in a phenomenal dinner where the Prime Minister and his wife were--felt so connected to the United States and they were so proud to be there and the evening so wonderful and just so well orchestrated that to me, the other stuff that everybody is talking about is a footnote to what the State Dinner actually was," Mrs. Obama said.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010 will become the lead Obama White House spokesman in an administration-wide battle against childhood obesity, taking on her first substantial role in advancing an Obama initiative.

In a Wednesday session with reporters at the White House, Mrs. Obama said dealing with childhood obesity will be a "major" project for her this year, and did not rule out testifying before Congress, if need be.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama said Wednesday that embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) "had no need to apologize to me" because of racial remarks he made about President Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Harry Reid had no need to apologize to me, because I know Harry Reid. And I measure people more so on what they do rather than the things that they say," Mrs. Obama said during a round table session with reporters.

"I think each and every one of us around the table has probably said something in their lifetime that they regret or did not accurately reflect what they actually meant at the time and was taken out of context," she said.

Updated schedule to reflect President Obama actions on the Haitian earthquake. Obama remarks on the tragedy at 10 a.m. eastern.

from the White House...

At 7:15 AM today, the President received two memorandums updating him on the earthquake in Haiti.

The President received an update from the DHS National Operations Center (NOC), as well as a memo from the National Security Advisor which described further background, key decisions that have been made, and actions that have already been taken.

Currently, the President is receiving an additional update from his National Security Staff. The President will speak about the situation in Haiti at 10:00 AM this morning.

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By Abdon M. Pallasch
Political Reporter/apallasch@suntimes.com

CHICAGO--State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias was ready in his second major debate to answer charges from rival David Hoffman about Giannoulias' management of the state's college-savings program and his family bank's loans to figures linked to organized crime.

"David Hoffman is in third place. He's based his whole campaign on attacking me. I understand that. It's politics," Giannoulias, the front-runner in the Feb. 2 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate said, staring straight ahead and never looking at Hoffman. "He talks about corruption and Blagojevich and Daley, but what he doesn't talk about is jobs."

Giannoulias and Urban League President Cheryle Jackson focused like lasers on promising to create jobs and free up capital for small business.

Photo gallery here of President Obama and First Lady Michelle at Tuesday funeral for mother of Vice President Biden.

obamas biden funeral.jpeg

The contenders in the Feb. 2 Democratic Illinois Senate primary debate tonight at 7 p.m Chicago time over at ABC7 in Chicago's Loop. There will be a web simulcast; the debate will be shown at 11:05 p.m. Chicago time.


President Obama and First Lady Michelle hosted their first White House dinner of 2010 on Monday night, inviting the nations' top military commanders and spouses over, as well as six soldiers wounded in combant---one from each service branch.

One of Mrs. Obama's agenda items is helping military families. The White House said the dinner would give the First Couple "the opportunity to hear directly from our commanders, troops in the field and their spouses about the challenges that our military and military families face on a day-to-day basis."

There was no entertainment except for a military band. The entrée was a chicken dish with winter vegetables; also a soup and cherry cobbler.

Looks like the Bleacher Bums at Wrigley Field are dishing on politics, in this funny spot by Robert Schillerstrom, running in a crowded field in the Feb. 2 GOP primary for governor.

WASHINGTON--President Obama marks his first year in office on Jan. 22. Politifact, the non-partisan fact check operation, keeps a scorecard of Obama's promises--and found most a work in progress in their latest analysis, released on Tuesday. Check out the Politifact widget on my blog.


The Obameter Scorecard

Promise Kept 91
Compromise 31
Promise Broken 12
Stalled 71
In the Works 256
Not yet rated 45

Early voting is now available for Illinois voters--who don't want to wait until Feb. 2 to vote in the primary election. To find out information about your choices--and to see who is running in your area--just type your address in the Sun-Times/eVoter widget on the right of this blogand get your customized list of your candidate choices, from the top of the ticket--governor and senator--down to the most local sub-circuit judicial candidate.


Watch CBS News Videos Online

WASHINGTON--President Obama was interviewed Monday by Chicago's Roland Martin, for his new show, Washington Watch with Roland Martin. In the interview, to be played on the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Obama said embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) was a "good man" when asked about him calling him--during the 2008 campaign--a "light-skinned'' African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The comments came in the book about the 2008 presidential season, "Game Change."


WASHINGTON--White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said Monday morning he will stay on the job as long as President Obama wants him, with the question of his tenure sparked by rumors that he may want to return to Chicago to run for mayor.

WASHINGTON--Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich--awaiting trial on his criminal corruption charges-- goes on a tear for writer Scott Raab in a piece in Esquire Magazine where, among other things, he said he is "blacker than Barack Obama." He also zings White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (who replaced him in Congress when he ran for governor) and White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod, claiming he once tried to encourage him to run for president.

Update... Blagojevich apologizes in Channel 2 interview. end update
Excerpt....(I toned down the swear words)

"It's such a cynical business, and most of the people in the business are full of s--- and phonies, but I was real, man -- and am real. This guy, he was catapulted in on hope and change, what we hope the guy is. What the f---? Everything he's saying's on the teleprompter. I'm blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up."

It's nearly impossible to imagine Rod Blagojevich on the witness stand, but it's wholly impossible to imagine that Rahm Emanuel and Barack Obama -- who has had ties with Chicago real estate developer, alleged Blago coconspirator, and convicted felon Tony Rezko -- have not pondered that very prospect."


WASHINGTON -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel praised Mayor Daley on Saturday and urged him to run for re-election in 2011 in a statement designed to quash gossip that Emanuel is considering a City Hall bid.

"Mayor Daley is a great mayor for a great city. He has my full support and it is my hope that he will seek re-election," Emanuel said in a written statement.

WASHINGTON--President Obama on Saturday accepted an apology from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) who is quoted in a new book about the 2008 presidential campaign calling Obama in private a "light-skinned" black with no "Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Reid's quote is in a new book "Game Change" by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, released on Monday.

Rahm Emanuel on the road

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The Chicago Sun-Times endorsed this week in the Feb. 2 primary for governor. Gov. Patrick Quinn won the paper's endorsement for the Democratic nomination; state Sen. Kirk Dillard earned the Sun-Times backing to be the Republican nominee. Read the editorials here.

WASHINGTON--The nations jobless rate for December was 10 percent, the same as November, according to the Department of Labor report released on Friday morning. The number was 10.2 percent for October.


WASHINGTON -- The failure of the U.S. intelligence system to prevent the attack on Northwest Flight 253 is not a repeat of the breakdowns that preceded the Sept. 11 attacks.

After 2001, the 9/11 Commission found that a fatal flaw was the lack of information-sharing by the various agencies that collected intelligence. On Christmas Day 2009, despite many clues and tips, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, a Nigerian, was allowed to board the plane in Amsterdam because the system was, in effect, overwhelmed with data.

President Barack Obama released the White House security report text this afternoon.

Summary of the White House review

Directive for corrective actions

WASHINGTON-- "Ultimately the buck stops with me....when the system fails, it is my responsibility," President Obama said Thursday, in the wake of the Christmas attack on Flight 253--and the failure of the U.S. intelligence community to put together clues that could have prevented it.

President Obama said Thursday he is cracking down on his agency heads but he is
"interested in passing out" blame than in fixing the system.

"We are at war," Obama said.

Updated and clarified....

WASHINGTON--Illinois GOP Senate hopeful Rep. Mark Steven Kirk on Thursday said
"All the major leaders" of the Taliban opposition in Southern Afghanistan are former Guantanamo prisoners who have been released.

The Obama White House, asked to reply, made the point that the detainees released on their watch--about 42 in the past year--are not the detainees who have gone back into the terrorism business.

Sun-Times Political Writer Abdon Pallasch's report on Kirk speaking in Chicago Thursday here.


A senior administration White House official, who did not want his name used, e-mailed me this is response to my request for reaction to Kirk's statement.

"The Guantanamo Bay detention facility has been used as a rallying cry and recruiting tool by Al Qaeda and its affiliates - including Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - and closing it is a national security imperative.

"We have been presented with no information that suggests that any of the detainees transferred by this administration have returned to the fight. The President created the Guantanamo Review Task Force to conduct the thorough work that had not been done before: to review the relevant information about each detainee, including the threat they pose, to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained, or transferred. Decisions about detainees are made on an individual basis only after all of that information is considered by an interagency group that includes the Defense Department, law enforcement, and the intelligence community."

WASHINGTON--GOP House hopeful state Rep. Beth Coulson, running in the 10th Illinois congressional district primary, picked up the endorsement of former Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.) who for many years represented the district.

"This is the gold seal because John Porter is one of the most respected Republicans in the 10th," former Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood told me on Thursday. Wood herself is a key Coulson backer.

Porter last ran for Congress in 1998--so there is a generation of voters in the district who may not know him. But since GOP primary voters will probably trend older, the backing of Porter--and former Gov. Jim Edgar-- give Coulson a leg up. After Porter announced his retirement, his endorsement of Mark Kirk in 2000 helped Kirk win in a crowded primary field. Porter had a top reputation as a moderate deeply involved in Human Rights causes.

At present, Porter is a partner and lobbyist at a Washington law firm.

WASHINGTON--Former 9-11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton said Thursday the U.S. will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks as long as the underlying problems exist that spawn Islamic extremists.

Watch it here.

UPDATED
President Obama's remarks have been rescheduled to 3 p.m. and the briefing is now at 3:45 pm.


1:30PM Briefing by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan, and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs

Listen here.

WASHINGTON--Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Wednesday was indicted on six counts for the Christmas Day foiled terror attack on Detroit bound Northwest Flight 253.


From the Justice Department: Count one of the indictment charges Abdulmutallab with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Count two of the indictment charges him with attempted murder within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count three of the indictment charges him with willful attempt to destroy or wreck an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Count four of the indictment charges Abdulmutallab with willfully placing a destructive device on an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States, which was likely to endanger the safety of such aircraft. This violation carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Count five of the indictment charges him with use of a firearm/destructive device during and in relation to a crime of violence, which carries a consecutive mandatory 30 years in prison. Count six of the indictment charges the defendant with possession of a firearm/destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence, which carries a consecutive mandatory 30 years in prison

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Carrie Underwood and Tyra Banks are featured in a new ad campaign by PETA, the animal rights group. PETA used Mrs. Obama's image without White House permission; PETA's president said they don't need it. Mrs. Obama, does not wear fur; PETA said the ad was intended as a compliment. To read my column on this, click here.

WASHINGTON--Outside his Connecticut home, Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd explains why he is dropping his 2010 re-election bid. Polls showed he faced an uphill battle to keep his seat. He also address that standard "pathetic" fallback many politicians use when they quit a post, retreat from public life, or are fired: that they are doing so to spend more time with their family.



"Now there is nothing more pathetic than a politician who announces they are only leaving public life to spend more time with their family. The result of this announcement today will, I hope, create that opportunity - but it is not the reason for my decision," Dodd said.


WASHINGTON--White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just said at his Wednesday briefing that the unclassified version of the review of U.S. "detection capabilities"---in the wake of the foiled terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253--will be released on Thursday.

A new Chicago Sun-Times web tool, powered by eVoter.com, will put all Illinois voters only one click away from finding out the names of candidates on their ballots for the Feb. 2 primary election, from the top of the ticket to the most local contest. To get started, look at the right side of my blog for a widget headlined "2010 Illinois Primary."

This is a web tool that will make it much easier and faster for a person to be part of the civic and political process, which in Illinois is confusing, especially for first-time voters.

All you have to do is type in any address in Illinois--and out will come a listing of your polling location and a sample ballot for the Democratic, Republican and Green parties. You don't have to know more than that to get started. Illinois has the nation's leadoff 2010 primary; early voting starts Monday and absentee balloting is already underway.

WASHINGTON---Tough political day--week--maybe months-- for Democrats ahead. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) are pulling out of their 2010 contests.

hero_christmasflight_meeting.jpg (White House photo)


The Washington Post's Sally Quinn--a columnist who is the voice of the Washington establishment--on Tuesday wandered into the Chicago precincts of the Obama White House. She's floating White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for Chicago mayor--and predicting he will stay on the job for only 18 months.

WASHINGTON--A popular stump line for then Sen. Barack Obama--while on the presidential campaign trail--was a pledge to have negotiations over health care reform take place on C-SPAN in order to bring sunshine to the back room deals. On Monday--as House and Senate negotiations begin to merge the chambers different versions of the legislation--C-SPAN asked congressional leaders to allow their cameras at the sessions. Read the C-SPAN letter here. Read my column on Obama's broken promise when it comes to transparency and the health bill here.

Rahm Emanuel's India journey

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While President Obama was marking the holidays in his native Hawaii with his family and friends--and handling the fallout of the Flight 253 terrorist attack--White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel was vacationing in India with his wife and three children.

I'm told by the White House the Emanuel trip "was personal family travel, not official, and he did not hold any official meetings." Emanuel departed the U.S. on Dec. 21st and returned Jan. 1.

Over at the Daily Beast, a story about the Wilmette raised Emanuel brothers--Rahm, the White House Chief of Staff; Ari, the Hollywood superagent and Zeke, the physician and bioethics maven who is a White House health policy advisor. The headline on the piece calls the Emanuel clan "The Jewish Kennedys."

WASHINGTON--How did a third person crash the Obama White House Nov. 24 state dinner for the Prime Minister of India? Read my report here to find out--and why the Secret Service decided to go public with its discovery of the third intruder. The State Department goofed on this one.

Obama's working Hawaii vacation

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obama and denis in hawaii.jpg (White House photo) President Obama and top national security advisor Denis McDonough working in Hawaii, where the Obama family was vacationing over the holiday break. The family returned to Washington on Monday.

WASHINGTON--The Transportation Security Administration on Sunday announced stepped up security screenings on U.S. bound international flights--especially looking at passengers who have traveled through any country on the U.S. list of nations sponsoring terrorist activity.

Below, from the TSA:

"Today, the Transportation Security Administration issued new security directives to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the U.S. effective January 4, 2010.

The new directive includes long-term, sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners.

Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights."

On background from a senior official: the list developed between DHS and the State Department, using the latest intelligence.

Countries of interest: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, or Yemen

Countries designated as a state sponsor of terrorism: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

A palindrome Saturday to you. It's 01-02-2010, a date thats the same even when the numbers are reversed!

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama and Executive White House Chef Cristeta Comerford are featured in a Sunday special episode of Iron Chef of America, in a Food Network show taped last October. Comerford is teamed with Bobby Flay; they are matched against chefs Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali. It's on 8 p.m. eastern, 7 p.m. Chicago time.

WASHINGTON--Former President Clinton's global foundation released a list of donors through 2009 on Friday, New Years Day and posted the names on its website.

The biggest donor is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, contributing more than $25 million. Major Chicago givers includes media magnate Fred Eychaner (range only listed, between $10 million and $25 million) and the family foundation funded by businessman J.B. Pritzker and his wife, M.K. (range somewhere between $1 million and $5 million.)

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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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