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August 2011 Archives

WASHINGTON--The subject line on the Obama campaign email--this one ostensibly from President Obama himself--said "frustrated."

The message to supporters comes a week before Obama will deliver a new jobs creation plan before a Sept. 8 joint session of Congress (the date changed from Sept. 7 on Wednesday night).

Said Obama, "Today I asked for a joint session of Congress where I will lay out a clear plan to get Americans back to work. Next week, I will deliver the details of the plan and call on lawmakers to pass it.

"Whether they will do the job they were elected to do is ultimately up to them.

"But both you and I can pressure them to do the right thing. We can send the message that the American people are playing by the rules and meeting their responsibilities -- and it's time for our leaders in Congress to meet theirs."

click below for entire note....

WASHINGTON--Caving in to pressure from Republicans, President Obama will deliver his jobs speech before Congress on Sept. 8--not on Sept. 7, when the GOP 2012 presidential rivals debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The Obama team cut its losses as the scheduling was seen as provocative--and coming just as Obama is asking Congress to compromise on major debt, spending and revenue measures when lawmakers return to work next week.

Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement about the date switch on Wednesday night, after House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republicans complained that it was not a coincidence that the Obama speech was set for Sept. 7.

The debate, sponsored by Politico and NBC, had been set for months.

Boehner said he was not consulted about the Sept. 7 date before it was announced.

"It's unfortunate the White House ignored decades--if not centuries--of protocol of working out a mutually agreeable date and time before making any public announcement," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

Carney said in his statement, "Today, the President asked to address the Congress about the need for urgent action on the economic situation facing the American people as soon as Congress returned from recess. Both Houses will be back in session after their August recess on Wednesday, September 7th, so that was the date that was requested. We consulted with the Speaker about that date before the letter was released, but he determined Thursday would work better. The President is focused on the urgent need to create jobs and grow our economy, so he welcomes the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8th and challenge our nation's leaders to start focusing 100% of their attention on doing whatever they can to help the American people."

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the timing was no coincidence.

"President Obama's decision to address Congress at the same time as a long-scheduled Republican Presidential debate cements his reputation as Campaigner-in-Chief. While the White House claims it's simply a 'coincidence,' the American people can see right through that excuse. The President has had months to get to work on the economy, but instead he chose to take a taxpayer-funded campaign trip and a cushy Martha's Vineyard vacation. If the President were serious about putting 'country before politics,' as he said in his request to speak to Congress, he wouldn't be caught in such a thinly-veiled political ploy. This is yet another reminder that the President is out of touch and out of ideas. The only job he seems to care about is his own."

Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked at the Wednesday briefing if the White House took into consideration the GOP debate when they picked a date for the speech.

"No, of course not. There were a lot of considerations that -- once you decide you want to do a speech to
Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules and other -- there are other -- there are many other factors here. And obviously, one debate of many that's on one channel of many was not
enough reason not to have the speech at the time that we decided to
have it. "

My take: The Obama team knew--or should have known about the Sept. 7 GOP debate. The team figures that Obama will be cast as taking steps to create more jobs while the big GOP field squabble among themselves--or just, as Mrs. Reagan once said in another context, "Just Say No" to anything Obama proposes.

WASHINGTON--What will Nancy Reagan think?

-President Obama will unveil his latest jobs plan on Sept. 7-- the same night the 2012 GOP hopefuls debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The GOP debate marks the first time Texas Gov. Rick Perry is on a stage with the other major Republican contenders.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the timing was no coincidence.

"President Obama's decision to address Congress at the same time as a long-scheduled Republican Presidential debate cements his reputation as Campaigner-in-Chief. While the White House claims it's simply a 'coincidence,' the American people can see right through that excuse. The President has had months to get to work on the economy, but instead he chose to take a taxpayer-funded campaign trip and a cushy Martha's Vineyard vacation. If the President were serious about putting 'country before politics,' as he said in his request to speak to Congress, he wouldn't be caught in such a thinly-veiled political ploy. This is yet another reminder that the President is out of touch and out of ideas. The only job he seems to care about is his own."

Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked at the Wednesday briefing if the White House took into consideration the GOP debate when they picked a date for the speech.

"No, of course not. There were a lot of considerations that -- once you decide you want to do a speech to
Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules and other -- there are other -- there are many other factors here. And obviously, one debate of many that's on one channel of many was not
enough reason not to have the speech at the time that we decided to
have it. "

My take: The Obama team knew--or should have known about the Sept. 7 GOP debate. The team figures that Obama will be cast as taking steps to create more jobs while the big GOP field squabble among themselves--or just, as Mrs. Reagan once said in another context, "Just Say No" to anything Obama proposes.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is asking his administration on Wednesday to identify high priority infrastructure projects the federal government can jumpstart to create more jobs. This order comes in advance of Obama's Sept. 7 speech where he will unveil his latest job plans before a joint session of Congress.

During a briefing with a senior administration official on Wednesday, reporters were told the projects should have already state and local permits and only need some kind of action from the federal government to remove any barriers.

Last October, Obama--speaking about his massive stimulus plan-said he learned "there's no such thing as shovel-ready projects" when it came to the government's ability to spend money right away to create or keep jobs.

I asked the official --given what Obama said-- how sure will the administration be that projects billed as shovel ready really are.

Just because the money was not spent right away does not mean "it is not a tool the (we) should be using," the official said.

The phone conference did not allow for a follow question. I don't think the official got the point of my question: what lessons were learned that can be applied this time around?

Click below for Obama memo on infrastructure projects...

WASHINGTON--President Obama will unveil his latest jobs plan on Sept. 7-- the same night the 2012 GOP hopefuls debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The GOP debate marks the first timeTexas Gov. Rick Perry is on a stage with the other major Republican contenders.

Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the timing at the Wednesday briefing:

Q: But the timing of the speech, there's also a Republican
debate that night in California. Did the White House specifically
choose the date and time --

MR. CARNEY: No, of course not. There were a lot of
considerations that -- once you decide you want to do a speech to
Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules and other
-- there are other -- there are many other factors here. And
obviously, one debate of many that's on one channel of many was not
enough reason not to have the speech at the time that we decided to
have it.

WASHINGTON--President Obama will unveil another jobs plan before a Sept. 7 Joint Session of Congress at 8 p.m. From White House communications chief Dan Pfeiffer, Obama Obama will "lay out his plan to create jobs, grow the economy, and reduce the deficit."


August 31, 2011
Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. Leader:)
Our Nation faces unprecedented economic challenges, and millions of hardworking Americans continue to look for jobs. As I have traveled across our country this summer and spoken with our fellow Americans, I have heard a consistent message: Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country and not what is best for each of our parties in order to grow the economy and create jobs. We must answer this call.

Therefore, I respectfully request the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on September 7, 2011, at 8:00 p.m. It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses, helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks of the Middle Class and working Americans, while still reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order. It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that.

Thank you for your consideration.

# # #

WASHINGTON--The Obama team and the 2012 GOP presidential contenders are adjusting to the new reality: Texas Gov. Rick Perry has easily made up time despite his late entry into the White House race. He's leading the pack, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are running about even with President Barack Obama. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has yet to register.

From the poll: "Among Republicans and independent voters leaning Republican, Perry gets 24 percent to Romney's 18 percent, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's 11 percent, Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's 10 percent, Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's 9 percent and businessman Herman Cain's 5 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gets 3 percent, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter get 1 percent each."

Click below for the poll....

WASHINGTON--Chicago's South Side long struggling Woodlawn neighborhood got a $30.5 million federal boost on Wednesday, as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel join Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to announce new help for the community.

Click below for release....

WASHINGTON--President Obama tapped on Tuesday tapped Barbara Bluhm-Kaul, the former wife of Chicago real estate magnate Neil Bluhm, a major Obama fund-raiser, to be a member of the nation's Cultural Property Advisory Committee.

From the White House release:

Barbara Bluhm-Kaul, Appointee for Member, Cultural Property Advisory Committee

Barbara Bluhm-Kaul is a trustee of The Art Institute in Chicago and the Aspen Art Museum. She is a benefactor of the Bluhm Family Terrace at the Modern Wing of The Art Institute as well as of the Bluhm Seminar Room. Ms. Bluhm-Kaul has sponsored art exhibitions at The Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Aspen Art Museum. She has loaned works from her collection to many major museums throughout the world including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Kunstmuseum in Basel, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Ms. Bluhm-Kaul received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Not on the White House bio: Bluhm-Kaul is also on the People For the American Way Foundation Board of Directors.

Rahm Emanuel, triathlete. Photo

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rahm triatholon.jpeg

Mayor Rahm Emanuel runs within the first mile of the (5k) 3.1 mile run of the Chicago Sprint Triathlon. On the grass path parallel and between Lake Shore Drive and Monroe Harbor. Emanuel came in 9th in his 50-54 age group. Photo by Raymond Britt

Obama on favorite youth presidential reads

Obama talks about the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks

WASHINGTON--Young reporters from Scholastic publications--part of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps--asked President Obama about how he would explain the 9-11 attacks to daughters Sasha, 10 and Malia, 13, and what books he read as a boy. The interview was conducted at the White House on July 15 by ten-year-old Topanga Sena of Orlando, Florida, and twelve-year-old Jacob Schroeder of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

What Obama read as a youth: "I think I was getting into, like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and stuff like that. And I confess that I did read comic books as well, like Spiderman was one of my favorites. And then I read what I was assigned at school.
....But by the time maybe I was Malia's age, I was starting to read more serious books like, To Kill a Mockingbird, or some of the things that I see her reading now that made you think a little bit more. They weren't just kind of adventure stories, but they were also stories that taught me about social problems and taught me about how people interact with each other, and how some people are kind and some people are cruel. And history sweeps them along, and people have a lot of challenges in their lives.

What Obama read to Sasha and Malia: "All seven of the Harry Potter books together. And we're very excited that the last Harry Potter movie is coming out, because we watched all of them together. Nowadays, they read all the time and I think they're a little too cool to sit there and have their dad read to them. But sometimes we read the same books and then we will talk about it over dinner."

On 9-11 and his daughters: "I've talked to Malia and Sasha about that day. It was a tragic, tragic moment I think for all of us. Sasha had just been born, so she was -- I was still burping her when it happened. Malia was only three years old. And I remember being with them -- they were too young to remember what happened -- but watching it while I was looking after them.

It was a moment where we saw that there were people in other countries -- a very, very small group of people, but people who had very terrible ideas and who were willing to kill thousands of people. And it was the first time that we had been attacked here in the United States in such a large scale."

Complete transcript at the click....

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a Tuesday breakfast briefing for reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor said the U.S. is "safer than we were prior to 9-11." The tenth anniversary of the attack is next month.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times and David Corn, Mother Jones and MSNBC joined guest host Michael Smerconish on MSNBC's "Hardball" on Monday to discuss former Vice President Dick Cheney's new book.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch had the scoop about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's poll. Emanuel polled Chicagoans--about himself, President Obama, former Mayor Daley, whether to blame the Tea Party for Chicago's fiscal woes, while gathering intelligence about what budget cuts are most likely to win public support.

The poll was taken as Emanuel hit his 100th day in office, which he did last week.

On Monday, Emanuel's longtime pollsters, Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research sent a memo to his donor list about the poll of 900 likely voters conducted August 17-22, 2011, weighted to reflect the geographic diversity of the city. Survey results include a margin of error of +/- 3.27 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval.

The findings that are shared with the donors is selective and has mostly to do with Emanuel's personal ratings: "Nearly 8 in 10 voters approve of the job that Emanuel is doing as Mayor. This includes extremely strong standing in every neighborhood, among all major racial groups, and among union households."

The findings that are not shared: about Obama, Daley and how Chicagoans view potential budget cuts, valuable political intelligence.

The poll was paid for jointly by Emanuel's political warchest, the New Chicago Committee and his campaign fund, Rahm for Chicago.

click below for the memo...

GOP presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) knows how to get attention. This is what she had to say about the earthquake and Hurricane Irene that hit the east coast while campaigning in Sarasota, Fl.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?'" Bachmann said Sunday.

"Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending," she said.

WASHINGTON--The nation marks the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as the east coast of the U.S. is recovering from Hurricane Irene. The Obama White House--mindful of the criticism the Bush Administration faced in the wake of Katrina, has been pro-active, and President Barack Obama made sure to cut his Martha's Vineyard vacation a day short in order to be at FEMA on Saturday, when Irene hit.

Then Sen. Obama was very vocal in 2005 about the federal government response in the wake of Katrina. On Monday, as his adminstration is grappling with the Irene damage, Obama asked the nation not to forget that the New Orleans area still has not recovered from Katrina.

Said Obama, "Six years ago today, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, upending families and ravaging communities - and no one will forget the tragic events of those days. But what's required of us is more than remembrance - what's required of us is our continued efforts to make sure that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast fully recover, and to make sure that our response to such disasters is the best it can possibly be."

Obama in 2005 saw Katrina in the frame of an underclass underserved by government. Below, the column I wrote at the time, complete with Obama's crack that emergency officials incorrectly assumed "that people would hop in their SUVs, and top off with a $100 tank of gas and [get some] Poland Spring water" and flee the storm.

Chicago Sun-Times
September 5, 2005 Monday
Lynn Sweet column

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is scheduled to be in Houston today, meeting with victims of Hurricane Katrina, joining former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, who are heading an emergency fund-raising drive.

Obama is not going there specifically because the hurricane has exposed a raw truth about race, but his travel to Texas will underscore that it was poor blacks who were left behind in New Orleans. Obama is the only African American in the Senate, and race relations are now a factor in dealing with the emergency.

We talked on Sunday, a few hours before his flight for the day trip to Houston. He is offering nuanced, but tough, criticism of the federal response, but is not taking direct aim at President Bush.

Obama sees the deplorable situation of the impoverished marooned in the flooded city more in terms of class rather than race. The federal, state and local response did not fail because New Orleans is "disproportionally black," Obama said.

"I think there were a set of assumptions made by federal officials that people would hop in their SUVs, and top off with a $100 tank of gas and [get some] Poland Spring water," and flee the storm, Obama said.
The tragedy, said Obama, revealed "how little inner-city African Americans have to fall back on. But that has been true for decades."

What I've learned about covering Obama, a freshman senator, is that he is very measured.
On Friday night, rapper Kanye West, during a hurricane relief concert, said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

I asked Obama if he agreed.

"What I think is that we as a society and this administration in particular have not been willing to make sacrifices or shape an agenda to help low-income people," he said.

Obama also rejected the suggestion that local and state officials were to blame for the horrific response in Louisiana.

The breakdown occurred at all levels, but "I hold the federal government primarily responsible," he said.
Obama was heading to Houston on Sunday night as a result of an invitation from Clinton.

President Bush asked his father and Clinton to reprise the roles they took on to help tsunami victims, and they agreed to lead a Hurricane Katrina fund-raising drive aimed at the private sector.

Obama, who had been phoning some Illinois-based CEOs to solicit aid, called Clinton and the invitation came in the course of their conversation. Clinton, I am guessing, immediately understood that it would be valuable to include Obama in the Houston day trip. Former President Bush's office also had to approve adding Obama, and it's easy to see why they would agree. The Bush administration is being blistered as racially insensitive.
The hurricane may well prompt, as Obama said, "a more serious conversation about the plight of people in the inner city."

He warned against using a "false dichotomy" to analyze the situation -- an incorrect assumption that there are only two answers to a question -- whereby the answer to what went on in New Orleans gets boiled down to either a failure of personal responsibility or of mutual, or societal, responsibility.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Cabinet secretaries were dispatched to the gulf region Sunday. The president and first lady make a return visit today, stopping in Mississippi.

Said Obama, "Clearly there is some damage control going on."

What Dick Cheney told Rahm Emanuel

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WASHINGTON----Former Vice President Dick Cheney, in his new book, "In My Time," revealed the advice he gave to Rahm Emanuel as he was poised to enter the White House as President Obama's chief of staff. Cheney was part of a gathering of former chiefs of staffs hosted by Josh Bolten, who was then President George W. Bush's chief of staff. Emanuel now is Chicago's mayor.

Excerpt: "On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama was elected ... [Bush chief of staff] Josh Bolten decided to host a unique session for the incoming chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, during our last weeks in office. Josh gathered all the living former chiefs of staff, about a dozen of us. Don Rumsfeld was there, Howard Baker, Jack Watson, John Sununu, and Leon Panetta, among others, and we met around the table in the office we had all once inhabited. Josh went around and asked each of us to give Rahm our most important piece of advice. By this time, of course, there'd been years of stories about how I was the evil genius controlling the Bush administration from behind a curtain, so when it came my turn I advised Rahm, 'Whatever you do, make sure you've got the vice president under control.' It was one of my better lines."

Hat tip: Mike Allen, Politico; his story on the Cheney book is here.

WASHINGTON--Feminist icon Gloria Steinem--the subject of a fascinating HBO documentary about her storied career--is teaming up with First Lady Michelle Obama and other key abortion rights activists to raise money for President Obama's re-election drive.

The event, in New York on Sept. 20, offers a unique fund-raising and messaging opportunity for the Obama team.

Joining Steinem and Mrs. Obama will be Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, and Stephanie Schriock, named president last year of EMILY's List, which supports politically viable abortion rights backing female Democratic candidates. Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who attends most major fund-raisers, will also be at the Park Ave. funder.

This will be the must-attend event for the New York area feminist crowd.

The Obama White House, some might say, has not sent a clear enough message to the womens community--about its accomplishments and what a GOP White House may mean for the cause. This type of event gives Mrs. Obama a chance to send a message in a loud and distinct voice. There have been attempts in the Republican controlled House to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding it uses to provide health services for women--not abortions.

By the way...Tina Tchen, Mrs. Obama's chief of staff is also the director of the Obama-created White House Council on Women and Girls.

Mrs. Obama is not exactly an outspoken feminist--she uses her bully pulpit very selectively--but she is supportive of the missions of the activist women she will appear with in Manhattan. The fund-raising event is a lunch; later on Sept. 20 Mrs. Obama is joining Obama in headlining a "gala dinner" fundraiser for the 2012 election where Alicia Keys will perform.

The Steinem et al funder has a sliding scale and an interesting marketing pitch, encouraging mothers and daughters, mentors and mentees to attend. Mrs. Obama runs a low-profile mentoring program for young girls from the White House.

The price is $500 for an individual; $1,000 for a Mother/Daughter or mentor or mentee; a table of ten is $5,000. An event vice chair--raise or give $10,000-- gets a photo with Mrs. Obama and a lunch; an event chair--raise or give $35,800 gets a VIP pre-reception as well as the photo op and lunch. The contributions go to the DNC and the Obama 2012 re-election campaign.

The New York Daily News first reported the Steinem et al fund-raiser.

Warren tree down.jpgTree hits house at Warren and Reno, pulling down utility pole and wires in Washington, DC (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Two big trees and utility poles and lines down on 3700 block of Yuma in Washington, DC (photo by Lynn Sweet)

yuma2.JPGIrene Damage: 3700 block of Yuma in Washington DC. The transformer on the utility line exploded when the pole fell. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

yuma3.JPGBase of toppled tree one Irene Damage: 3700 block of Yuma in Washington DC (photo by Lynn Sweet)

yuma4.JPGBase of toppled tree two, 3700 block of Yuma in Washington DC (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON---Hurricane Irene barely impacted my street. My neighbors a block away were not so lucky.

Where I left off on this blog Saturday afternoon, I was reporting on my preparations for Hurricane Irene as I braced for the storm. My neighbors invited me over for dinner as I was getting perhaps overwrought about the situation. Well, having three TV's on with Irene reports plus the all news radio station was a bit of immersion. It was good to leave the house and across the street was as far as I was willing to go.

After dinner, the rain seemed to taper off and I settled in for what I thought would be an awful night. It was not. I slept fitfully, mainly because out-of-town friends and relatives kept calling to see if I was okay.

As a precaution, I did sleep on the first floor, figuring it would be safer if the nearby trees fell on the house. Trees fall in Washington all the time from just routine thunderstorms.

My block weathered Irene just fine, but as you see from my photos above, two huge trees a block away on Yuma fell, pulling down with them utility poles and lines. From the neighbors I talked to, it seems no one was hurt. They may be out of power for at least a week. The sad irony: the city had just marked the trees for removal.

WASHINGTON--The earthquake on Wednesday took me by surprise. I've had time to get ready for Hurricane Irene.

It's strange, waiting for disaster to strike.

Irene is expected to start to hit the Washington area near 6 p.m. est. It's already started to rain. The brunt of Irene will hit further east. Still, the wind gusts could reach 50 mph and we've been warned there may likely be power outages. Pepco, the local power company, robo called me yesterday to lower expectations: Don't expect us to fix anything soon, the message said.

I've been preparing.

Four flashlights. Two radios.

I bought a nifty wind up radio which needs no batteries and has a solar power option, which I will test on another day. I just cranked it up; I'm not sure if my cell phone will charge off of it. It seems prudent to own one of these; I bought the last one on Thursday at my local Best Buy. My nearby Radio Shack had sold out the wind-ups by the time I arrived.

Moved the car out of the path, hopefully, of big trees on my block that may fall. Stocked up on food and water. I have been glued to the Washington TV stations broadcasting hurricane news non-stop and the Washington Post web site. Emergencies are times for local media to shine and remind people why we are needed. I applaud my colleagues at the local news outlets. The city and my council member (what would be an alderman in Chicago) are effectively using the neighborhood listserve to communicate--so far.

My neighborhood in northwest Washington sits on the highest ground in the city and my house is on a ridge, so it stands higher than the street. Lower areas near the Potomac River--suburban Alexandria, Va., for example--will be harder hit.

This morning, Roger, my handyman came over to inspect my gutters and make sure the earthquake did not shake them loose. He also cleared a clogged downspout. On Friday, I started to deconstruct the yard: I took the top off of the patio table, put it face down in a corner of the lawn and plopped a 50 pound bag of mulch on it. I stowed the chairs on their side in another corner so the wind can't lift them off. I secured, I hope other stuff. This morning I brought my front porch rocking chairs and other lawn furniture in the house.

I've frozen half dozen bottles of water in the freezer, so if the power goes, I can keep some things chilled for awhile. I've filled every pot in the house with filtered water. If my bathtub only held water, I would have filled it up-- in case water mains breaks, I'd have water to flush the toilets.

Food-wise, I think I'm fine for a few days, even if the power goes. I have cooked chicken, salad and sandwich stuff I can easily keep chilled. I bought some canned fruit. And I figure I will barbeque defrosted meat on my outdoor grill in everything defrosts.

After I finish this, I will gather my "go" bag. In this case, it will include my laptop, powercords and chargers. I put my passport, ID's and extra money in my purse. My cell phone and blackberry are charged and so is this laptop. I have gadgets to power and recharge these devices off my car battery if necessary. If my Comcast cable and internet goes out, my alternative for getting on the Internet will be by Sprint broadband card.

A few hours ago I showered and dried my hair because it seemed better to start off a potential disaster cleaned-up. I'll cook whatever I may want for dinner in an hour or so, in case the power goes out right away. Of course, the power and cable may stay on.

Who knows.

The worse part of the storm will hit in the late evening.

I cannot imagine I will sleep tonight.

I thought my home was collapsing during the earthquake. Read my report here.

obama michelle alicia keys.png

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle--the Democrats two top draws--will make a rare joint fund-raising appearence when they headline a Sept. 20 dinner in New York, topped with a performance by songstress Alicia Keys.

The event is billed as a "fall gala dinner" at Gotham Hall in Manhattan, with the money to go to the Obama 2012 fund-raising committee and the Democratic National Committee. The tiered pricing makes this a high end event.

x $2,500.00 Guest
x $5,000.00 Guest
With Premium Seating
x $15,000.00 Photoline Guest
Includes Photoline Reception and Dinner with the President and First Lady
x $25,000.00 Host (sponsor 1 table of 10)
Includes Photoline Reception and Dinner with the President and First Lady

My post on Warren Buffett and Austan Goolesbee Sept. 30 "economic forum" fund-raiser in New York is here.

buffett and goolsbee.png

WASHINGTON--The Obama administration picked Chicago to host an international trade negotiation meeting next month for a potentially controversial pact known as the "Trans-Pacific Partnership."

The meeting is being organized by the office of the United States Trade Representative. A USTR official told me Chicago was selected as a venue last July.

Thousands of demonstrators who are opposed to the agreement as it stands now may come to Chicago to protest, starting with a Sept. 5 rally in Grant Park.

The ongoing Asia-Pacific regional trade agreement negotiations--the Chicago meeting marks the eighth round-- are between the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Trade representatives from those countries--and stakeholders, including corporations with global interests-- will be gathering at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan. A stakeholder forum is set for Sept. 10.

"Chicago is one of America's great cities. Logistical considerations included the fact that it's an airline hub and thus easy for delegations to get to, expected good weather (and) good meeting space," the USTR official told me.

The USTR has been working with Mayor Rahm Emanuel staffers on some elements of the meeting.

Emanuel, President Obama's former White House Chief of Staff, wrangled Chicago as the site for NATO and G8 summits next May, major gatherings of global leaders. Compared to these meetings, the September trade talks are nowhere as big and the players are at the minister level--not national leaders.

Organized labor is skeptical of this deal--and other pending free trade agreements Congress may be considering later this year.

"Labor, environmental, public health, consumer and community advocates from Chicago and beyond will also be present to demand a "Fair Deal or No Deal," the Citizens Trade Campaign said in a memo issued on Friday. Labor organizations are major members of the group.

"Civil society organizations will be holding a rally on Labor Day in Chicago's Grant Park to demonstrate public opposition to business-as-usual trade policy and to make basic demands of negotiators regarding labor rights, the environment, access to medicine, financial regulations and other social and economic justice issues," the memo said.

Negotiators met in Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam last June for the last round of talks; after the Chicago meeting Peru hosts a follow-up session in October. The goal is to have an outline of an agreement by November, when APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, meets in Honolulu--with the Obama team awarding APEC to the city where Obama was born.

Local groups monitoring the trade meeting in Chicago, Obama's adopted hometown, are: the 
Chicago Federation of Labor; Chicago Jobs with Justice; Chicago and Midwest Regional Board of Workers United; Chicago Teachers Union; Citizens Trade Campaign; Communications Workers of America (CWA); CWA National Women's Committee; Friends of the Earth; HealthGAP; International Association of Machinists; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Public Citizen; Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Sierra Club; Stand Up! Chicago; United Electrical Workers (UE) and United Steelworkers.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Emanuel on Friday touted a "first-of-its-kind agreement" between the city and the University of Chicago--"to create jobs, encourage growth and increase cooperation." The U of C for years has been dealing with friction from surrounding neighborhoods as the school expanded its Hyde Park footprint. I find this pact interesting--and could pave the way eventually for the infrastructure and the community cooperation needed to support an Obama Presidential Library.

"Mayor Emanuel today announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Chicago and the University of Chicago, which creates a framework for the University and the City to work together to facilitate economic opportunity and collaboration in the Hyde Park neighborhood and surrounding communities," the city said in a statement.

No one close to the Obamas'--or the U of C--dares to talk about an Obama library-- I was told Thursday when I inquired with an insider--not until after the 2012 election. The U of C seems a natural fit--Obama taught at the U of C Law school, the Emanuel children attend the Lab School, First Lady Michelle worked at the U of C Medical Center and dozens of their close associates, including senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, have close ties to the school.

Chicago native Jonathan Alter, in his book about Obama's first year, "The Promise" revealed that the Obama was mulling an "online library."

Wrote Alter, "In the fall of 2009 University of Chicago officials approached the White House about housing Obama's presidential library. They were told it was too early. To the extent that he had thought about a library, he mused to a friend that maybe it should be an "online library," not bricks-and-mortar. This almost certainly won't happen; the demand for a splashy museum will likely be too great. But it said something about his state of mind."

Click below for Emanuel memo of understanding with the U of C...

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WASHINGTON--Warren Buffet and his daughter Susie have been big supporters of President Obama since he was running for a senate seat from Illinois. Superinvestor Buffett--who has tried to help Obama out recently by calling again for higher taxes on the wealthy--is headlining a fund-raiser for Obama in New York with former White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee.

The high end event is billed as an "Economic Forum Dinner" at the swanky Four Seasons in Manhattan. Goolsbee, who on Thursday night brightly sparred with Sean Hannity on his FOX News show, is the moderator. The reason the session is marketed as a "forum?" It brings in people who otherwise might not be comfortable in writing a check for a traditional fund-raiser, but who may want to drink from Buffett's fountain of wisdom.

The Goolsbee/Buffett show has a high price:

 $10,000 per guest
 $20,000 per couple
 $35,800 - Host *
 $100,000 (write /raise) - Chair * (Table of 10)

Hosts and Chairs are invited to a pre-dinner VIP reception with Buffett

Rahm Emanuel, Mike Madigan, Hurricane Irene tax havens and the Illinois Tollway rate hike are some of the topics on WLS radio "Connected to Chicago" with Bill Cameron. Guests this week are Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times; Greg Hinz, Crain's Chicago Business and Ray Long, Chicago Tribune.

Cameron also interviews Mayor Rahm Emanuel on his first 100 days and the path ahead.

Listen to the podcast of the show HERE.

Listen on the air at 6 a.m. Sunday morning.

WASHINGTON--Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, is suing the U.S. Air Force to force the disclosure of records surrounding the cost of an official trip First Lady Michelle Obama took earlier this year to to South Africa and Botswana with her mother, daughters Malia and Sasha and Leslie and Avery Robinson, the children of her brother, Craig.

"Judicial Watch is investigating the total cost of the trip to the taxpayers in the face of a ballooning federal debt and a sinking economy," the organization said in a statement. The lawsuit was filed because the Air Force "failed to produce" the requested records after a Freedom of Information Act request, Judicial Watch said.

The First Lady--no matter if the administration is Democratic or Republican--always travels on U.S. government aircraft and with staff and security personnel. The government is supposed to be reimbursed for personnel expenses.

My June post with Mrs. Obama's official schedule of meetings and speeches for her second solo international trip--and a White House briefing on her travel-- is here.

Mrs. Obama communications chief Kristina Schake said in a statement, "The First Lady's visit to South Africa and Botswana was an official trip focused on youth leadership, education, health and wellness.

"This visit to these two critical countries underscored that the United States has an important stake in the success of Africa's many nations and underscored the historic connections between the American people and those who live on the African continent. And as with all previous First Ladies who incurred personal costs when they were with their families, the Obamas and this Administration followed all rules and regulations regarding use and reimbursement of federal funds for travel, including reimbursement of personal costs incurred while on official travel."

In 2009, Judicial Watch obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act from the U.S. Secret Service documenting $11,648.17 in security costs related to President Obama's "date night" with Mrs. Obama on May 30, 2009 in New York City.

The group has an FOIA pending with the Secret Service on Mrs. Obama's Spanish trip from last year. I'm also told by the group, "in addition, we've done travel-related FOIAs on the (Obama) Olympics trip to Copenhagen, Speaker Pelosi and congressional junkets, and - most recently--- on Speaker Boehner's travel."

WASHINGTON--With Hurricane Irene looming, President Obama is departing Martha's Vineyard Friday night, instead of Saturday morning, according to White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

WASHINGTON--David Axelrod, President Obama's top strategist, is headlining a fund-raiser for Tammy Duckworth, locked in a Democratic Illinois House primary against Raja Krishnamoorthi in the suburban Chicago eighth district.

Axelrod told me when we talked last week about Duckworth that while he has "deep admiration" for Krishnamoorthi, Duckworth, a vet who lost her legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq is a "unique figure."

"As far as I am concerned, I think it is going to be an amazing day when Tammy walks out on the floor of the House. And when they debate these issues, some of these fundamental issues, she is going to have a moral authority that very few people have. ...Her voice is one that will really resonate on the floor of the Congress," Axelrod said.

The lunch will be Sept. 22 at Fulton's on the River, 315 N. LaSalle in Chicago, with admission ranging from $500 to $5,000, in giving or raising contributions to Duckworth, tapped by Obama to be Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs. She left the position to run for the House.

Last week, Duckworth won the endorsement of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Read my Aug. 15 report on the Elk Grove Village event Durbin-Duckworth event here.

Krishnamoorthi last week won the backing of the Illinois State Conference of Machinists. Carl Gallman, President of the Illinois State Council Machinists said in a statement, "Raja is the candidate best equipped to deal with the economic challenges that our working families face today. His commitment to job creation and strengthening the middle class, combined with his tremendous local and community support, make him the right choice for our members."

WASHINGTON--As President Obama formulates a new jobs creation plan, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday Obama needs to more than continuing to do "little nibbly things around the end."

"If he puts all his emphasis and focus on job creation," it is one "picture," Trumka said. "And if he continues to do little nibbly things around the end that aren't going to make a difference and aren't going to solve a problem, that will give ...another picture."

Trumka made his comment during a breakfast session with reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor in a lead-up to Labor Day as the national unemployment rate hovers at 9 percent. He also said it remains to be decided whether the AFL-CIO will fully participate in the Democratic National Convention next year in North Carolina. The convention question will heavily weigh on the details of the new Obama jobs package, Trumka said.

At the heart of Trumka's remarks was a concern that Obama--when he unveils his jobs program next month--will be letting Republicans dictate the agenda."Will he commit all his energy to offering bold solutions, or will he continue to work with the Tea Party?"

If Obama only proposes jobs plans the GOP will accept, Trumka said, "they control the agenda."

Obama made a "strategic mistake" in the past months when he co-mingled the crisis over raising the debt ceiling with the ongoing jobless problem. With the House Republicans, fueled by the Tea Party wing, linking the debt ceiling vote to cutting the deficit, Obama "started playing on Republican ground," Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO, traditionally allied with the Democratic Party, is changing strategies, creating its own "Super PAC" political action committee--rather than working with the Democratic Party-- in order to create a permanent entity to organize for elections as well as advocate and hold officials accountable in the off years. The goal is to "create a structure for working people that will be there year round."

Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and the Speaker of the Illinois House attended a fund-raiser for GOP House Speaker John Boehner in the Chicago suburb of Lemont, scoops Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Abdon M. Pallasch and Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney. Read their exclusive report here.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn "disappointed" in Madigan; read Sun-Times story here.My February, 2010 column on how Madigan--unlike 49 other state Democratic chairs--declines to run a robust Democratic organization in Illinois is here.

Madigan cares most about keeping the Illinois state House. Still, under Madigan, Illinois has a Democratic governor and both state legislative chambers. Illinois Democrats in 2010 saw four U.S. House seats held by Democrats turn over to Republicans--helping create the majority that made Boehner speaker. Nationally, Democrats are poised to make some Illinois congressional battles a 2012 priority.

Libya, Hurricane Irene and an earthquake have interrupted President Obama's Martha's Vineyard vacation, emergencies on top of the work be brought with him to the island: creating another jobs program, to be unveiled next month.

It's Wednesday, a little more than halfway through his island visit. In the late afternoon, Obama motorcaded to a nine-hole course to play golf. UPDATE Obama golfing companions were White House chef and food policy advisor Sam Kass, Chicago buddy Eric Whitaker and White House Trip Advance Director Marvin Nicholson. END UPDATE

Obama, First Lady Michelle, Sasha and Malia are still scheduled to stay at their rented home on Martha's Vineyard through Saturday--even as Irene could pass west of the island sometime this weekend. In past days, Obama visited a bookstore, rode bikes and hung out on a beach with his family.

At a morning briefing, principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said Obama has "spent a decent amount of time dealing with sort of the day-to-day responsibilities of being president but also some of the emergent situations that we've seen in the last couple of days in terms of the developments in Libya, in terms of the earthquake, in terms of the preparations for the hurricane.

"So there have been some things that have intervened. But I also -- it's fair to say that he's gotten an opportunity to spend some time with his daughters before they have to go back to school. And I -- that's something that he's enjoyed quite a bit," Earnest said.

The Republican National Committee slammed Obama for not coming home--but the president, as is well known--whether Republican or Democrat--brings his staff, communications systems, etc. and responsibilities with him no matter where he goes.

Still, the White House has been sure to detail some of Obama's calls to seek input on his upcoming jobs package and briefings with his national security and emergency management teams. That's in order to demonstrate that he is on top of the changing situations in Libya and the possibility of a major hurricane hitting the east coast.

On Sunday night, Obama, visited senior advisor and friend Valerie Jarrett at her rented Martha's Vineyard home, in Oak Bluffs and led a Libya conference call from her place with senior members of his national security team about the latest developments.

On Monday, Obama put on a suitcoat--no tie--to call on Libya's Muammar Qaddafi to step down, speaking outdoors at his rented retreat, the Blue Heron Farm.

"Although it's clear that Qaddafi's rule is over, he still has the opportunity to reduce further bloodshed by explicitly relinquishing power to the people of Libya and calling for those forces that continue to fight to lay down their arms for the sake of Libya."

On Tuesday, an hour after the earthquake struck--Obama was golfing at the time--Obama led a conference call on the earthquake and Hurricane Irene by a team that included DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards with the Department of Interior Dr. David Applegate, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Heidi Avery, and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough.

The Tuesday pool report noted that before Mrs. Obama and Sasha Obama arrived for the bikeride, "two trucks carrying Secret Service agents rode along the same narrow concrete path usually reserved for bikers and walkers. A rolling caravan of agents and staff followed on bikes ahead of the president and Malia, who were then followed by several more SUVs full of agents.

"Can you imagine living like that?" one female biker asked her fellow onlookers."

WASHINGTON---I heard a thunderous noise first. Then the house started shaking. It did not stop. I was in my bedroom on the second floor of my house, located less than a mile from the National Cathedral. I never thought it was an earthquake. These things don't happen here, right?

The shaking was growing more frequent, the waves of vibrations sweeping through the room becoming more intense, the noise louder.

It was as if a helicopter was landing on my roof.

I thought my home was collapsing, or the addition to my 1920s era house was suddenly pulling off the main structure, or my flat roof was caving for seemingly no reason on this bright and sunny day.

But I can't say I was much interested in the cause at the moments it was happening, puzzled as I was. I knew to leave because if the house was falling apart, I wanted to be outside when it happened.

I have often run the drill though my mind, what would I grab from the house in an emergency, if I couldn't get back in for awhile. Now that the day came, I knew what I wanted as I ran out: I scooped up my laptop, cellphone and my purse and ran down the stairs. My blackberry was another few steps away, but I decided it wasn't worth it to spend the seconds it would take to gather it up if calamity was about to strike.

I was midway down the stairs when I heard glass crashing from above. I didn't go back up to check.

Once outside, I locked my stuff in my car and then checked the exterior of the house; I did not see anything amiss. A neighbor told me her house was shaking, too--and she was in the shower when it was happening. At least I was dressed.

A neighbor or a passerby said it was an earthquake. I waited a bit to see if there would be an aftershock. There was no obvious visual damage I could see either in the street or on the outside of my house.

I went back in to grab some clothes and chargers to put in the car, just to be safe.

That glass noise? A bathroom clock on a shelf fell, and shards of glass were all over the floor. Stuff on top of bookshelves had toppled. Hanging pictures were tilted.

When I was an undergraduate, I lived for awhile in Berkeley, Calif., where a faultline ran practically under my street. I read pamphlets on earthquake preparedness and from time to time would indeed feel tremors, mainly when I was sitting on my roommates' water bed. (remember those?)

This earthquake topped the minor stuff I experienced in California.

I need to sweep up the bathroom. I took stuff off the walls and from the tops of shelves.

And I think I'll leave a bag with some clothes in my car tonight.

Just in case.

The Martha's Vineyard Times reported that President Obama and First Lady Michelle flew to Massachusetts for their Martha's Vineyard vacation in separate U.S. planes. Air Force One landed on Cape Cod on Thursday. READ the MVTimes story here.

Sarah Palin, in Iowa last week as she flirts with a 2012 run, crossed the Mississippi River and drove over to Dixon, Ill. last Saturday to to visit the town birthplace President Ronald Reagan grew up in and pick up some inspiration; read her report on her visit HERE. Reagan was born in nearby Tampico, Ill.

SarahPac on Friday released this highlight video of Palin's latest Iowa stops, renewing speculation about her presidential ambitions.

The Washington Post writes Friday
the video is another move by Palin to keep her hand in the game as she decides what she wants to do in 2012.

I guested on WLS' "Connected to Chicago" radio show on Friday, where the conversation focused on President Obama's bus tour and Mayor Emanuel and Gov. Quinn's wrangling over casino expansion.


"Connected to Chicago" can be heard at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning on 890AM WLS.

Panel ...

Sun-Times Lynn Sweet; Tribune's Ray Long; Crain's Chicago Business Greg Hinz

Poland's ambassador to the U.S. Robert Kupiecki is in Chicago, meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.)--and tossing out the first pitch Saturday at the Cubs game.

Kupiecki arrived in Chicago on Thursday, said the Polish Embassy spokesman, Artur P. Orkisz, a former Chicagoan.

"Our two countries share common values and have overlapping interests and shared goals. I look forward to conveying this message to Governor Quinn and to Members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation," Kupiecki said in a statement. "I am also pleased to be able to congratulate Mayor Emanuel on becoming the 55th Mayor of the great city of Chicago -- the Mayor has been a good friend and ally to Poland going back to his days in the U.S. Congress. I look forward to discussing ways Chicago can continue expanding initiatives like the sister city program that Warsaw and Chicago have shared since 1960 and to continued cooperation between Chicago and Poland."

President Obama is playing golf and hitting a bookstore on Friday, the first day of a vacation on Martha's Vineyard. Obama visited a bookstore with daughters Sasha and Malia and then went on to the links at the Vineyard Golf Club.

Obama's golfing partners, per the White House, are: long time Chicago buddy Eric Whitaker, Marvin Nicholson and Michael Brush, White House senior advance lead.

Whitaker is Executive Vice President for Strategic Affilliations, Urban Health Initiative, University of Chicago Medical Center and Associate Dean for Community-Based Research, Urban Health Initiative, University of Chicago Medical Center. His wife, Cheryl, a physician, is the Chief Medical Officer at Merge Healthcare Inc. in Chicago.

From the pool report, by Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal:

"After about 20 minutes in the bookstore, President Obama and his daughters emerged to cheers from the crowd and several shouts of "2012!" Malia exited first at 12:50 pm, followed by Sasha, who was carrying a large brown paper bag, and POTUS, who was wearing jeans, a blue, short-sleeve Nike polo shirt untucked, sneakers, a watch and sunglasses.

"Malia and Sasha headed straight to the SUV, while POTUS worked the ropeline set up for him outside the store, shaking hands and making small talk. Pool was too far away to hear anything he said or that was said to him.

"At one point, some people on the street started to chant "four more years," and one of them held up a sign featuring two red boxing gloves facing each other - one said "Yes" and the other said "We can."

"POTUS turned and waved a couple times to the people in the distance to his right and left. He stopped and shook hands with two police officers standing near the door to his SUV, then slipped inside.

"Motorcade was rolling at 12:52 pm. No word yet on what books POTUS bought."

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Rahm Emanuel at North Park Village, on Peterson near Central Park, on Feb. 21, 2011. In background, against the wall, Rep. Rosa DeLauro and husband, pollster Stan Greenberg. Man in suit taking notes, Abdon M. Pallasch, Chicago Sun-Times (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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Stan Greenberg, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, at Feb. 21 Emanuel event at North Park Village (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is polling Chicagoans--about himself, President Obama, former Mayor Daley, whether to blame the Tea Party for Chicago's fiscal woes, while gathering intelligence about what budget cuts are most likely to win public support.

The Chicago Sun-Times polling scoop is by political writer Abdon M. Pallasch; his report includes details about the survey by Emanuel's longtime pollsters, Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research. Emanuel used the firm for his House race and while he helmed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Founder Stan Greenberg and wife Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.) are close personal friends of Emanuel. Emanuel lived for a time in the basement of their Capitol Hill home.

The Greenberg firm polled for Emanuel's mayoral contest and went on to handle polling for Emanuel's political operation, the New Chicago Committee, run by Tom Bowen. So far, according to records I just checked at the Illinois State Board of Elections, the Committee paid the Greenberg firm $62,700, all in March, before Emanuel was sworn in a mayor in May. Bowen also paid another polling firm in March, $15,000 to Anzalone Liszt Research, Inc.

What Rahm wants to know about Rahm: Those questions included, Pallasch reports,

◆ "Emanuel is too ready to raise taxes."

◆ "Emanuel is out of touch with regular people."

◆ "Emanuel cares more about downtown than the neighborhoods."

INTERESTING RAHM INTEL: Emanuel's political shop also paid $10,000 to 3rd Coast Research, 3130 W. Fullerton run by Will Caskey.

From the website: "3rd Coast Research provides candidates and private interests with research, rapid response and communications support. The firm has research experience with Democratic campaigns in federal, state and local elections. Additionally, 3rd Coast Research has worked with corporations, labor unions and interest groups on policy research, competitive intelligence and public affairs."


The Obama administration established a new policy on Thursday, virtually stopping deporting students who are in the U.S. illegally, taking steps even as Congress has resisted passing the DREAM Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants a chance to stay in the U.S.

The announcement came from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and was applauded by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chief sponsor of the DREAM Act and Rep Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who has been increasingly critical of President Obama's record of stepped up deportations.

The White House is acting as Hispanic groups have been stepping up complaints; in Chicago, a group of immigration rights demonstrators blocked an entrance to a highway on Wednesday to protest Obama White House policies and its "Secure Communities" program. My post on the Secure Communities program--and the growing protests over it--and the White House defense-- is HERE.

White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Cecila Munoz said in a statement, that DHS "announced that they are strengthening their ability to target criminals even further by making sure they are not focusing our resources on deporting people who are low priorities for deportation. This includes individuals such as young people who were brought to this country as small children, and who know no other home. It also includes individuals such as military veterans and the spouses of active-duty military personnel. It makes no sense to spend our enforcement resources on these low-priority cases when they could be used with more impact on others, including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes."

In a letter to Durbin and other Senators, Napolitano wrote, "we have initiated an interagency working group to execute a case-by-case review of all individuals currently in removal proceedings to ensure that they constitute our highest priorities.

"The working group will also initiate a case-by-case review to ensure that new cases placed in removal proceedings similarly meet such priorities. In addition, the working group will issue guidance on how to provide for appropriate discretionary consideration to be given to compelling cases involving a final order of removal. Finally, we
will work to ensure that the resources saved as a result of the efficiencies generated through this process are dedicated to further enhancing the identification and removal of aliens who pose a threat to public safety.
This case-by-case approach will enhance public safety. Immigration judges will be able to more swiftly adjudicate high priority cases, such as those involving convicted felons," Napolitano wrote.

Durbin said in a statement, "If fully implemented, the new process should stop virtually all DREAM Act deportations.

"The Obama Administration has made the right decision in changing the way they handle deportations of DREAM Act students," Durbin said. "These students are the future doctors, lawyers, teachers and, maybe, Senators, who will make America stronger. We need to be doing all we can to keep these talented, dedicated, American students here, not wasting increasingly precious resources sending them away to countries they barely remember. The Administration's new process is a fair and just way to deal with an important group of immigrant students and I will closely monitor DHS to ensure it is fully implemented."

Gutierrez said in a statement, "I have been vocal in my criticism of the President and his Administration over the dramatic increase in deportations on his watch and have traveled the country urging him to use his power under existing law to do what he can to help. This is the Barack Obama I have been waiting for and that Latino and immigrant voters helped put in office to fight for sensible immigration policies. Focusing scarce resources on deporting serious criminals, gang bangers, and drug dealers and setting aside non-criminals with deep roots in the U.S. until Congress fixes our laws is the right thing to do and I am proud of the President and Secretary Napolitano for standing up for a more rational approach to enforcing our current immigration laws."




Obama in Alpha, Ill.

Obama in Atkinson, Ill.

ALPHA, Ill. -- During stops at two Illinois small towns on Wednesday while wrapping up a three-day bus tour, President Barack Obama hinted at the elements of a jobs package he will unveil in September, while hearing about the real world consequences of a dithering Congress.

"Since the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington, the phones have stopped," Obama was told by LuAnn Lavine, a real estate broker in Geneseo, in western Illinois' Henry County. Obama told her it will take more than a year for the housing market to recover.

Obama came home to Illinois for the final two town hall sessions of a campaign-style rural Midwest bus trip that took him through Iowa and Minnesota.

Standing in front of tall stalks of corn during a session at the Country Corner Farm Market in this town of 671, and earlier, at Hyffels Hybrids, a corn seed company in Atkinson, population 1,100, Obama heard from people anxious about the economy, taxes, regulations and the housing/mortgage markets.

Seeming to relish visiting turf he has not seen since he was an Illinois senator, Obama made unscheduled side trips to Galesburg High School and to the Whiteside County Fair in Morrison. Obama's Illinois homecoming ended in Peoria on Wednesday night, when Air Force One returned him to Washington.

Republicans have been pressing Obama for specifics on how he would create jobs and reduce the deficit, as a "supercommittee" from both congressional chambers faces a November deadline to make massive cuts or find more revenues. The panel is the byproduct of a last-minute deal earlier this month to raise the debt ceiling and avert default.

Obama suggested that he will try again for a comprehensive package, even as Republicans, who control the House, have pressure from its Tea Party faction -- including 2012 GOP presidential contenders -- to allow for no new revenues, no matter how much is cut.

"When Congress gets back in September, my basic argument to them is this: We should not have to choose between getting our fiscal house in order and jobs and growth. We can't afford to do just one or the other. We got to do both," Obama said in Atkinson, against a backdrop of sacks of corn seeds and pallets at Wyffels large production facility.

Continuing the payroll tax cut -- a one-year break for everyone with a paycheck -- seems high on the Obama agenda, as he has mentioned it at almost every stop these past three days.

"There is no reason why we should not extend a payroll tax cut that put $1,000 into the pockets of every single family out there. That means they've got more money to spend, that means businesses have more customers, that means the economy grows and more people get hired. And we could renew it right now to give businesses certainty that they're going to have customers, not just this year but next year as well," Obama said.

Obama also seemed poised to ask Congress for more infrastructure projects; $1.3 million from his recovery grant paid for a new fire station under construction in Atkinson, a few blocks from where he spoke.

"There's no reason why we shouldn't put Americans back to work all across the country rebuilding America," Obama said.

"All those folks who got laid off from construction because the economy went south or the housing bubble burst, they're dying for work. Contractors are willing to come in under budget and on time. And interest rates are low, so we could finance right now the rebuilding of infrastructure all across America that drove not only unemployment in the construction industry down, but drove unemployment down across the board."

One area where Obama may find common ground with Republicans is on pending free trade deals, as Obama made a pitch for U.S. products.

"We should be passing trade deals right now because, look, the Koreans, they can sell Kias and Hyundais here in the United States; I think that's great. I want to be selling Fords and Chryslers and Chevys in Korea. And I want products all across the world stamped with three words 'Made in America.' That's something that we could be doing right now."

In Atkinson, Lavine, the owner of a RE/MAX agency, told Obama, "Every week I sit around the kitchen table of families that are here today and I listen to the stories of a lost job, upside down in their house."

She saw a turnaround in May and June. "My phone was ringing. I was busier than all get-out." However, "since the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington, the phones have stopped," even through interest rates are at a record low.

Obama in reply said his administration was pushing banks to do loan modifications; Lavine disagreed.

"The loan modification system has been a nightmare. Short sales are a nightmare. And the lenders are so tight and you have to be so perfect, and it's not a perfect world," she said.

Obama did not engage her on specifics. "Now, I can't excuse the self-inflicted wound that was that whole debt debate. It shouldn't have happened the way it did. We shouldn't have gotten that close to the brink. It was inexcusable."

ALPHA, Ill.--Illinois State Party chairman Michael Madigan--the state House Speaker--on Wednesday skipped the Democrat's big day at the State Fair in Springfield and President Obama's trip to two western Illinois towns.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, after attending the "Governors Day" at the fair--a day used to rally Democrats statewide-- flew a state aircraft to Galesburg and motored to the County Corner farm market and pumpkin patch in this tiny town. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) accompanied Quinn.

Madigan is an unusual Democratic party chairman in that he is massively disinterested in any kind of party building or taking part in wider Democratic National Committee activities.

Chicago Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney filed this report about Dem Day at the fair:

The day's political events also were overshadowed by the appearance of President Barack Obama about two hours away from Springfield. They took place despite a prominent absentee, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

Madigan, normally a fixture at the Democratic events at the State Fair, opted uncharacteristically to skip the rally and the Obama event in order to "spend some time with members of his family out of state," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Brown would not divulge the whereabouts of the party boss or answer anything beyond the stock statement he provided involving Madigan's apparent summer vacation.

That left Quinn as the highest-ranking state Democrat at the event, where he touted his record as governor, praised Obama and got his licks in on the evolving GOP presidential field.

Obama bus illinois.jpgObama departing Wyffels Hybrids in Atkinson, Ill. (AP photo)

ALPHA, Ill.--President Obama arrived at this bucolic spot for a town hall meeting Wednesday afternoon in his new, $1.1 million sleek black bus, an imposing vehicle with mixed U.S. and Canadian heritage.

A charge by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus that Obama is running "around in his Canadian bus" is not accurate because it does not tell the whole story.

The new bus--a road version of Air Force One--was retrofitted by Hemphil Brothers Coach Company in Nashville, Tn., with the basic heavy duty shell purchased from Prevost, a divison of The Volvo group, a manufacturer of touring coaches with its corporate headquarters in Sainte-Claire, Quebec.

Prevost has a variety of U.S. operations, including a U.S. central order desk in Elgin, Ill., a city west of Chicago. In the U.S., Prevost also has parts and service centers in New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Tennesse and California.

Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service, the agency ordering the bus, told me in a telephone interview that Prevost was selected because the model was the only one "to our knowledge that had the payload capacity, " to "handle the weight of the equipment we were going to put on it."

Hemphill Brothers used U.S. contractors and parts, Donovan said, for the security and communications equipment and other items on the two buses the agency purchased. "Everything that is retrofitted was done in the U.S.," he said.

The heavy duty motorcoach model was selected "based on our requirements to provide the most protection for the people who are going to use it."

One of the ironies in the Republican complaints: the buses will probably be used for roadtrips by the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, who will be under the protection of the Secret Service.

ATKINSON, Ill.--President Obama, winding up three day bus trip in Illinois, said it could take more than a year for the housing market to recover, urged Congress again to pass a payroll tax cut and argued that "putting people back to work" is not "inconsistent" with putting the "fiscal house" in order.

Obama made a somewhat nostalgic return to his adopted homestate, where the former Illinois senator started his remarks at Hyffel Hybrids, a corn seed manufacturer with a nod to his fellow Illinoisans: "It is good to be back -- back home!"

He made his comment in response to a question from LuAnn Lavine, the broker/owner of ReMax Hometown Advantage real estate agency in Geneseo, seven miles west of this Henry County town, who told the president the wrangling in Congress over extending the debt ceiling stalled business just as it was on an uptick.

"Since the debt ceiling fiasco in Washington, the phones have stopped. We have no consumer confidence after what has just happened. Interest rates are at a record low. I should be out working 14 hours a day, and I am not," Lavine told Obama, wanting to know about his plans.

A problem with the housing market is that banks are setting bar very high--too high Lavine said--so that it is very difficult for homebuyers to qualify for a mortgage.

"One of the things we've talked about is, can we encourage banks now to take a look at customers who are good credit risks but are being unfairly punished as a consequence of what happened overall," Obama said.

"There are some other ideas that we're looking at on the housing front, but I'll be honest with you. When you've got many trillions of dollars' worth of housing stock out there, the federal government is not going to be able to do this all by itself. It's going to require consumers and banks and the private sector, working alongside government, to make sure that we can actually get housing moving back again.

"And it will probably take this year and next year for us to see a slow appreciation again in the housing market.
What we can do is make sure we don't do any damage. And that's what happened in this last month."

After Atkinson, Obama--and his new $1.1 million bus--hits the hamlet of Alpha, Ill. before heading to Peoria, where he will fly Air Force One to Washington. Obama held town halls Monday and Tuesday in Minnesota and Iowa. Unlike those potential 2012 swing states, Obama is seen as having no re-election problem in Illinois.

Obama, as he has since the congressional melt down over raising the debt ceiling and cutting spending and perhaps adding revenues, made another plea--they have been coming regularly--for Congress to find common ground on job creation programs. A high unemployment rate is one the biggest threats to Obama winning a second term in 2012.

Jobs, Obama said, "traditionally, that hasn't been a Democratic or a Republican issue. That's been an American issue. We've taken pride in rebuilding America. The only thing that's holding us back right now is our politics. We should be passing trade deals right now because, look, the Koreans, they can sell Kias and Hyundais here in the United States. I think that's great. I want to be selling Fords and Chryslers and Chevys into Korea.

"And I want products all across the world stamped with three words: Made in America. That's something that we could be doing right now."

ALPHA, Ill.--Gov. Pat Quinn praised President Obama as the "hardest worker in America when it comes to jobs" while talking to reporters before Obama appears at an outdoor townhall at an agri-tourism business in this tiny town, Country Corners. Quinn said he was "not too optimistic" when it came to Republicans and Democrats in Congress working together when they return to Washington in the fall.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) also was pessimistic about congressional cooperation--even as the new so-called "super committee" is charged with finding massive cuts--and potentially revenues--by November.

"The House, you can't get anything through it," Davis said. Davis represents a district anchored in Chicago.

Quinn was at the State Fair in Springfield this morning, flew to Galesburg and motored from there to the event in a town with a population of 651--smaller than Obama's first stop in Atkinson, Ill, population 1,100.

ATKINSON, Ill.--Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, a former GOP House member from a nearby Peoria based district, is here for President Obama's town hall. His son is state Sen. Darin LaHood--recently appointed to the seat, running to keep it next year. Darin LaHood represents Atkinson and Alpha, Obama's next stop.

Also in the house, as Obama puts it%


Turns out the bus is made part in the U.S. and part in Canada. Calling it a "Canadian" bus is not accurate because it does not tell the whole story. My fact check on this is here.


Click below for RNC release...

IMG00930-20110817-1148-1.jpg (photo by Lynn Sweet)

ATKINSON--The White House reached out to Wyffels Hybrids to host a town hall meeting with President Obama just a few days ago. A good guess why the company was picked for the Wednesday event: it is a large area employer, family owned with an obvious rural connection--and plenty of room to hold people, press and the president.

Wyffels makes corn seed and stacks of bags on pallets surround the area in the production facility where Obama is going to speak. The company is 65 years old this year. The company is a large local employer--about 110 in Atkinson and at its headquarters in nearby Geneseo. Most of the product is sold in Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and Minnesota.

Obama made an unscheduled stop at the Whiteside County fair just a few minutes ago, and checked out the dairy cow competition. Obama stops at an agri-tourist farm in Alpha this afternoon.

IMG00923-20110816-2026-1.jpgFire station under construction in Atkinson, Ill. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

ATKINSON, Ill.--Down the road from where President Obama is speaking Wednesday morning is a tangible result of his stimulus package: a $1.3 million new fire station being constructed with a federal grant. Driving by the site this morning, on Rte. 6 near Hyffels Hybrid, a seed company, where Obama is hosting his town hall, I see real people working, the point of the legislation. A big sign proclaims that the facility is the result of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

ANNAWAN, Ill.---President Barack Obama, returning to Illinois Wednesday morning for a pair of town halls, will offer "new ideas" for job creation in a September speech, Ben Feller of the Associated Press is reporting. After Feller's dispatch was out, Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent out a link to a Dec. 8, 2009 Washington Post story headlined, "Obama preparing new push to add jobs, tackle deficit."


WASHINGTON--Seeking a jolt for a wilting economy, President Barack Obama will give a major speech in early September to unveil new ideas for speeding up job growth and helping the struggling poor and middle class, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The president's plan is likely to contain tax cuts, jobs-boosting infrastructure ideas and steps that would specifically help the long-term unemployed. The official emphasized that all of Obama's proposals would be fresh ones, not a rehash of plans he has pitched for many weeks and still supports, including his "infrastructure bank" idea to finance construction jobs.

atkinson.jpegAtkinson, Ill. decked out for a presidential visit.(photo by Lynn Sweet)

atkinson obama.jpegSarah Adam, Linda Combs, Darla Matlick in Atkinson, Ill. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

ATKINSON, Ill. -- A trail of U.S. flags, newly planted in the ground, runs from I-80 to the buildings housing a seed company's production facility, where President Barack Obama will hold a town meeting on Wednesday, rolling into this small town in his new $1.1 million big, black bus.

Nothing this big has happened here before, said Sara Adam, 22, an Army spouse. Her son, Brayden, 5, was playing on the lawn nearby -- on the street where Obama's motorcade will pass en route to Wyffels Hybrids -- and I asked her what her son thought of the president's visit.

"In our house, Obama is Dad's boss. He had a lot of questions," said Adam. Her mother, Linda Combs, 58, a title clerk at Shabbona Creek RV -- her sons are Marines -- was tying a fresh gold ribbon to the maple tree on her front lawn on the occasion of a presidential stop.

A neighbor, Darla Matlick, 40, a registered nurse, said whether a "Democrat or Republican, it doesn't matter. The man who is running your country is coming to your town."

After a series of stops in Minnesota and Iowa, Obama wraps up a three-day bus trip with a pair of town hall meetings in two small Henry County towns in western Illinois: Atkinson, population 1,100 (143 miles west of Chicago) and Alpha, population 671. At Alpha, Obama will appear at Country Corner Farm, an "agri-tourism" business.

While Obama needs to work to keep Minnesota and Iowa in his 2012 win column, the former Illinois senator is not seen as having any re-election problem in his adopted homestate.

I asked Obama strategist David Axelrod why Obama was swinging through Illinois and it was not, he told me, a matter of looking at electoral maps or polling. "Illinois is very much in the heartland and these small towns he is going to are very representative of communities all over the country," Axelrod said.

The bus trip is official government business -- White House advance staffers were at Wyffels on Monday. But the Republican National Committee has been sniping that it is a thinly disguised campaign run.

Obama's real problem remains job creation.

In Iowa, he promised to unveil a new jobs package in September, without offering specifics, giving Republicans an opening to jump all over him. At the same time, Obama is stepping up pressure on Congress to get something done when they return after the summer break.

Not to be lost, however, are moves Obama is taking that do not require congressional approval, on this trip tailored to rural America: more biofuel funding and having the Small Business Administration making more rural loans.

"The country wants a spirit of cooperation, of trying to solve problems," Axelrod said. "Not heightened partisanship, not heightened ideology, not my way or the highway."

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, interviewing President Obama on Tuesday asked him what he would get daughters Malia and Sasha if he wins a second term. The girls got Bo, the dog after the Obama family moved to the White House.

BLITZER: What are you going to get them the next time, if you're reelected?

OBAMA: When I'm reelected, what I'll be getting them is a continuation of Secret Service so that when boys want to start dating them they are going to be surrounded by men with guns. That's their gift.

While President Obama is personally focusing on rural America, his White House, under attack by immigration rights groups for deportations--there were some demonstrations on Tuesday, including in front of his Chicago 2012 re-election headquarters--defends and explains Obama's immigration record. Read a column on the immigration and deportation debate by Cecilia Muñoz, the White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, posted late Tuesday afternoon.

excerpt: "The Secure Communities Program is a powerful tool to keep the government's immigration enforcement resources focused where they belong - on those who fit within DHS's highest enforcement priorities, such as those who have committed crimes in the United States."

The Sun-Times story about a Wednesday town hall in Chicago on deportations hosted by the Department of Homeland Security.

I asked President Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, in an interview Tuesday morning his reaction to GOP 2012 contender Texas Gov. Rick Perry's comments--on the third day of his campaign-- about how Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be treated "pretty ugly" in Texas--while suggesting it may be "treasonous" if Bernanke "prints more money before now and the election."

"I never, ever thought a guy would come along who would make the others look almost responsible, but here he is and in three days he has certainly raised, he set a new standard for irresponsibility," Axelrod said.

On Day Three of his presidential campaign Perry said in Iowa:

"If this guy prints more money between now and the election," Perry said, a reference to Bernanke, "I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we -- we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or treasonous in my opinion."

Fact Check: Perry makes false claims

What's the fallout on Tuesday for new GOP 2012 contender Texas Gov. Rick Perry....who said Monday in Iowa Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be treated "pretty ugly" in Texas--while suggesting the Bernanke's future moves may be "treasonous."

ABC News political unit's MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER sum it up:

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- In the space of less than 24 hours, the 2012 presidential race's newest candidate -- Rick Perry -- managed to call President Obama the "greatest threat to our country," raise questions about rival Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts and suggest that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke might be close to committing a "treasonous" act.

It was a busy Monday for the Texas governor on his third official day as a Republican presidential contender, and he wasted no time firing a series of opening shots.

"If this guy prints more money between now and the election," Perry said at an evening meet-and-greet here, referring to Bernanke, "I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we -- we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or treasonous in my opinion."

Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney teamed with the Better Government Association to report on the latest potential abuse of the tuition grants state lawmakers get: The Tuesday story focus is on State Rep. Dan Burke (D-Chicago), Ald. Ed's brother and the tuition waiver he gave to the daughter of a secretary whose residence in his district (needed to qualify) is questionable. Time to end the program, the subject of abuse for years.

The Democratic National Committee have two big words to say about the Republican 2012 field: Tea Party. Does the phrase test well? Just asking. See the emphasis on calling the GOP field--Mitt Romney new in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry--Tea Party all in a new web video out Tuesday. The video is called "A Good Week for the Tea Party", all in the wake of the Iowa Straw poll last Saturday and the GOP debate last week.

Script at the click.....

President Obama's three-state bus tour is giving him a chance to show off his new $1.1 million superduper black bus. The Secret Service purchased two new buses, one for the president and the other for the GOP 2012 nominee. Politico's Josh Gerstein and Talking Points Memo have the story.

Billionaire businessman and Obama ally Warren Buffett's New York Times op-ed--where he wrote the super rich should be paying more taxes--(a point he has made before)--worked its way into the political bloodstream on Monday. President Obama cited the op-ed during his stop in Decorah, Iowa. Meanwhile, Buffett told Charlie Rose people are "very, very upset" about how government works.

Buffett's rational conclusion: "I mean, the job of government is to govern."

UPDATED Obama Monday on Buffett's call for shared sacrifice:

"Warren Buffett had an article published today in which he said, "Stop coddling billionaires." He pointed out that -- I think he made about $36 million on income; it was, I guess, an off-year for him -- -- but he pointed out that he paid an effective rate of 17 percent when it came to taxes, which meant that he paid a lower tax rate than anybody else in his office, including his secretary, because most of his income came in the form of capital gains.

"And he made a simple point. He said, look, nobody's income has gone up faster than the top 1 percent. In fact, nobody's gone up faster than the top one-tenth of 1 percent. There's nothing wrong, when it comes to closing our deficit and managing our debt, to say that we should ask a little bit of help from everybody. I don't want a tax cut if it means that senior citizens have to pay an extra $6,000 a year for their Medicare. That's not fair, and that's not right."

Below, excerpt from Charlie Rose show....

Warren Buffett: I think people are very, very upset about how their government works, and, particularly, how it worked during this, raising the deficit ceiling period. I mean, so, as I talk to people, they're very disillusioned. Howard Schultz of Starbucks came up -

Charlie Rose:Right.

Warren Buffett:-- an article just the other day on that. So, I think it's important that whatever is done restores to a degree, and you can't do it overnight, but restores to a degree people's faith in the fact that their government can work. Now, I also think fairness is important, and I think getting rid of promises that you can't keep is important. I don't think we should cut spending dramatically now. I don't think that what I'm talking about on taxes solves the deficit gap at all. But, I think fairness is important. I think having a sensible, long-term plan is important to explain. And I think having it be believable is terribly important, because people don't believe these out-year things generally with Congress. They think too much of what's happened.

Charlie Rose:You want to start a conversation about the reality of taxes?
Warren Buffett:Sure.

Charlie Rose:And the reality of balance and fairness?

Warren Buffett:Yeah. I think it's, I think the American people deserve to be educated what fellows like me are paying in taxes, for example. But, they have to be educated on the reality of future promises. They have to be educated on it as a necessity of running significant deficits when the economy is weak. I mean, there's a lot of things in terms of economic education. But, this is the time to do it. If we don't do it now, if these 12 members who have been appointed now to the super-committee, if they come back with something that's a lot of mush, you know, the American public's had it.

Charlie Rose:And what's happens to the country?
Warren Buffett:It isn't good. It isn't good. The country will still come through. Believe me.
Charlie Rose:Right.

Warren Buffett:We can, we'll rise to whatever occasion demands eventually, but we are wasting so much in the way of potential output in terms of the opportunities for people that we ought to get on with it. I mean, the job of government is to govern.

What makes real town hall meetings interesting--the unscripted ones--is that people ask what is on their mind. In Minnesota on Monday, President Obama was asked, "if you can't legalize marijuana, why can't we just legalize medical marijuana, to help the people that need it?"

Said Obama, "Well, you know, a lot of states are making decisions about medical marijuana. As a controlled substance, the ssue then is, you know, is it being prescribed by a doctor, as opposed to, you know -- well -- -- I'll -- I'll -- I'll -- I'll leave it at that."

If President Obama flew Air Force One to Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois this week for town hall meetings on the economy, it may have been harder for Republicans to argue the trip was political and should have been paid for out of campaign funds. But Obama took a bus, and a bus is associated more with retail campaigning, thus opening the door for the GOP complaints.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News, "We are going to come out swinging. We are not going to sit around and let this joke continue of a bus tour, paid for by the taxpayers of this country, paid for by people who are suffering with unemployment through the sky, debt out of control, deficits out of control, and a president who is really the Campaigner-in-chief here of America. All he's doing is campaigning. That's what this bus tour is, it's a campaign trip. It's paid for by taxpayers and we are not going to sit around and let it continue without at least responding."

During a Monday briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked to "explain what the difference is from what people see between an official trip and a political trip?"

Replied Carney, :Well, the President, as you know, has taken some trips where he's raised money for his reelection campaign. The fact is that the President is not engaged in a primary election and he is doing what Presidents do, which is go out in the country and engage with the American people, have discussions about the economy and other policy issues. He's having a Rural Economic Forum tomorrow, for example, as well as meeting with a host of local business leaders and private sector players in the economy -- local economy. And that would be -- to suggest that any time the President leaves Washington it's a political trip would mean that Presidents could never leave unless they were physically campaigning on their own behalf, and he's not; he's out here doing his job and meeting with the American people.

"I think that Americans are fully aware of the intensity with which the President was working in Washington, in the White House, during the days and weeks that led up to the resolution of the debt ceiling crisis. He's also -- part of his job is not just sitting down with leaders of Congress or around the table in the Cabinet Room, but engaging with Americans from different parts of the country and different walks of life and different sectors of the economy to talk about his ideas to grow the economy and spur job creation, and to hear from them what they're hearing and seeing, and their ideas as well."

duckworth, durbin.jpegTammy Duckworth, Sen. Dick Durbin at Bley LLC in Elk Grove Village. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, ILL.--At an event designed to emphasize job creation, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Monday endorsed the Democratic primary House bid of Tammy Duckworth over rival Raja Krishnamoorthi in the newly remapped eighth congressional district.

Durbin rarely takes sides in Illinois primaries--he's made two exceptions in the past years: for Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential run and in 2006, when Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet, made her first bid for a House seat, which she lost. She went on to become the Illinois veterans agency chief and the Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"I don't usually get involved in primaries," Durbin said after he and Duckworth toured the manufacturing floor of Bley LLC in this northwest Chicago suburb. It's not the smartest thing for someone to do, because, you know, friends will be on the other side."

Bley was picked as the backdrop for the endorsement because the precision machinery, fabrication, manufacturing and machine building company was able to expand and hire more workers with the help of a federal $5 million grant, generated as part of Obama's stimulus package. The machine Bley purchased with $1.7 million of the grant --a giant computerized precision tooling device, the MAG VTC 2500--is used to make parts for, among other things, wind turbines. (Bley had to put up $5 million of its own money in the matching program.)

Durbin, who met Duckworth when she was recovering from her wounds at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, launched her on her political career. On Monday, he said she was like a daughter to him.

"Tammy is a candidate for Congress and I am proud to endorse her."

Dubin said he will campaign and fund-raise for Duckworth, who started the contest months behind Krishnamoorthi.

Krishnamoorthi downplayed the Durbin endorsement. "I respect Senator Durbin, but the economic suffering millions of Americans face today means this election will be decided by the candidate who best demonstrates a depth of experience, passion, and ideas for creating jobs and helping the middle class. I respectfully submit that candidate will be me," he said in a statement.

President Obama on Monday kicks off a three day bus tour through Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, an official government trip the Republican National Committee is attacking as thinly disguised taxpayer paid campaigning. The Iowa stops come as GOP 2012 presidential campaigning intensifies in Iowa, the home of the first Republican caucus, with the Ames straw poll taking place last Saturday.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Minnesota Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton hold a press conference Monday morning in Cannon Falls, MN to hammer home their point.

Obama holds town halls in Alpha and Atkinson, Ill. on Wednesday. Illinois is not seen as a battleground state in 2012; Minnesota and Iowa may be up for grabs.

The RNC will run radio ads in the three states attacking Obama mainly on jobs and the economy. LISTEN TO THE ILLINOIS AD HERE.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will take sides in a Democratic House primary and endorse Tammy Duckworth over rival Raja Krishnamoorthi on Monday during a press conference in Elk Grove Village, several sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Durbin endorsement was expected and is not surprising, as the contest in the newly remapped northwest suburban eighth congressional district heats up. Durbin's move comes as Krishnamoorthi, a business executive and former deputy treasurer and Duckworth head into what may be the marquee Illinois Democratic match-up in the March primary.

Durbin is a long-time political patron of Duckworth, a former Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs, who ran the Illinois state veterans department. Durbin recognized Duckworth's political potential when he met the Iraq war vet in January 2004, while she was recovering from wounds -- she lost her legs and shattered an arm when a missile hit her helicopter in Iraq-- and launched her on her first political campaign--a House bid in 2006 where she was beat by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.).

Krishnamoorthi downplayed the Durbin endorsement. "I respect Senator Durbin, but the economic suffering millions of Americans face today means this election will be decided by the candidate who best demonstrates a depth of experience, passion, and ideas for creating jobs and helping the middle class. I respectfully submit that candidate will be me," he said in a statement.

Durbin's endorsement helps particularly at this stage on the fund-raising front. Krishnamoorthi was in the race months before Duckworth and secured the backing of blue chip Democratic names from the Chicago area, which proved helpful to him in fund-raising.

Illinois Democrats drew the new map to create an eighth district with a Democratic tilt. Illinois Republicans are challenging that map in federal court. Under the current map, Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) --of Tea Party fame--represents the eighth district, but he has been contemplating running from another district if a federal judge does not toss out the map.

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If all goes as planned, President Obama returns to Martha's Vineyard next week with First Lady Michelle, daughters Sasha and Malia for a vacation.

From Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Friday: "Well, you've covered the White House long enough to understand that any time that Presidential travel plans are made that they are subject to change. But I'll tell you at this point that this President is planning to spend some time with his wife and two daughters in Martha's Vineyard before his two daughters go back to school later this week."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hits the Chicago suburbs for two fund-raisers: Friday in Hinsdale to benefit the Illinois House incumbents, fighting the Democratic remap in federal court (I reported this on Aug. 8) and this is new, Saturday in Lemont, to build his own political warchest.

The Lemont $2,000-a couple fund-raiser is hosted at the home of Terrence A. Duffy, Executive Chairman of the CME Group, (the CME's roots are in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) and his wife, Jennifer. The proceeds go to
BOEHNER FOR SPEAKER, a joint fundraising committee authorized by and composed of Friends of John Boehner, the National Republican Congressional Committee, The Freedom Project, and the Ohio Republican Party State Central & Executive Committee (ORP Congressional Fund).

President Obama swings through Minnesota, Iowa and northwestern Illinois next week--he will told townhall meetings in tiny Atkinson and Alpha, Ill. before returning to Washington.

From deputy press secretary Josh Earnest on Friday:

On Monday, the President will travel to Minnesota to begin his three-day bus tour in the Midwest. While in the Midwest, the President will discuss ways to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class, and accelerate hiring in communities and towns across the nation, and hear directly from Americans, including small business owners, local families, private sector leaders, rural organizations, and government officials.

The President knows we must do everything we can to promote economic growth, restore confidence in our nation's future, and enhance the sense of optimism for future generations.

After arriving in Minnesota, the President will host a town hall event in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, at Lower Hannah's Bend Park. Later that day, the President will hold a town hall in lovely Decorah, Iowa. I highly recommend it for those of you that have not been there.

On Tuesday, the President will hold a Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa.

On Wednesday, the President will hold town hall meetings in Atkinson and Alpha, Illinois, before returning to Washington, D.C.

(from KATU)

First Lady Michelle Obama is in Oregon, visiting brother Craig Robinson, the Oregon State University basketball coach and his family. This is her first visit to her brother's Corvallis, Oregon home. The vacation, not announced by Mrs. Obama's office, was reported by Oregon's Register Guard and other news outlets. TV station KATU said her mother, Marian Robinson, is also traveling with her. Big tip Mrs. Obama is in town: a plane lands Monday at the Eugene, Ore. airport with, as the paper notes, "a U.S. flag on its tail and the words "United States of America" across its side."

In June, Mrs. Obama took Avery Robinson, 19, and niece, Leslie Robinson, 15, to South Africa along with her daughters Sasha and Malia and her mother.

The Wisconsin recall elections are Tuesday, with major labor and Democratic forces sending troops and money to Wisconsin in the fight triggered by Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union moves against state workers.

The Atlantic has an over-view of the six state senate seats up in the recall here.

With Dr. Jill Biden in Kenya on Monday a mission to help deal with the East Africa famine and drought, the Obama White House announced an extra $105 million to help the region.

From the White House: "Amid the worst drought in East Africa in 60 years, the United Nations has declared that famine now affects five regions in Somalia and predicts that famine could soon expand throughout southern Somalia. Thousands of Somalis are fleeing the famine and seeking refuge in Kenya and Ethiopia, which are also affected by the drought. According to the United Nations, more than 12.4 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance."

Take this, Standard & Poor's, from President Barack Obama on Monday in the way of a downgrade from AAA to AA+"

"Markets will rise and fall, but this is the United States of America. No matter what some agency may say, we've always been and always will be a AAA country. For all of the challenges we face, we continue to have the best universities, some of the most productive workers, the most innovative companies, the most adventurous entrepreneurs on Earth. What sets us apart is that we've always not just had the capacity, but also the will to act -- the determination to shape our future; the willingness in our democracy to work out our differences in a sensible way and to move forward, not just for this generation but for the next generation."

Click below for the transcript....

The White House announced Monday morning that President Obama will deliver a statement at 1 p.m. est from the State Dining Room. Obama has not yet commented in person on the Standard & Poor's downgrade or the shooting down of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan.

On Monday, S & P also downgraded the paper issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the private/public government sponsored giants in the mortgage markets.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is hitting the fund-raising trail during the congressional summer break, headlining an event on Aug. 12 in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale to benefit Illinois House Republicans federal court challenge to the Democratic-drawn new district map--with lines putting Republicans at a severe disadvantage. Boehner makes the appeal for the "Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map."

I'm also told that Boehner this month will "going out to support fellow Republicans," because he wants to be "as helpful as possible.

Both Boehner--and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and their Senate counter parts help raise money for individual House and Senate members and the campaign funds of the House and Senate GOP and Democratic political operations.

WASHINGTON---The Obama White House issued new measures on Friday to prevent genocides and mass atrocities, creating an "Atrocities Prevention Board" in the wake of the failure of the "Never Again" vow taken following the German Holocaust to stop the murders of entire populations.

Obama's directive forming the board states: "Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America." The directive creates an important new tool in this effort, establishing a standing interagency Atrocities Prevention Board with the authority to develop prevention strategies and to ensure that concerns are elevated for senior decision-making so that we are better able to work with our allies and partners to be responsive to early warning signs and prevent potential atrocities. The directive recognizes that preventing mass atrocities is a responsibility that all nations share and that other countries must also be enlisted to respond to particular crises. Therefore, the directive calls for a strategy for engaging key regional allies and partners so that they are prepared to accept greater responsibility for preventing and responding to crimes against humanity."

The Obama White House efforts to address genocide is headed by Samantha Power, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. Power won a Pulitizer Prize for her book, "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"and worked briefly for President Obama when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois.

.Excerpt from an essay at by Power and David Pressman, Director for War Crimes and Atrocities.

"First, governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide often arrives late, when opportunities for prevention have been missed. Second, senior decision-makers are often not personally engaged because there is a government-wide assumption that there is little that can or will be done. And third, too few other international players step up to try to prevent atrocities, and come under little domestic pressure to do so. As a result, too often, we and the rest of the international community have later regretted not taking diplomatic, political, economic, legal, and military steps that might have prevented the loss of tens of thousands of lives."

The list of presidents who turned 50 while in office is here, courtesy of the Obama White House. President Obama's 50th birthday was Aug. 4.

WASHINGTON---In the wake of the Standard & Poor's downgrade--the first in U.S. history, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) called for Congress to return from its five-week vacation to deal with escalating borrowing. S & P cited the political wrangling over raising the debt ceiling as a part of its reason for lowering the nation's credit rating from AAA to AA+

Kirk tweeted, "President should recall Congress to reduce borrowing."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who has been leading bi-partisan compromise efforts said in a statement the downgrade was partly the result of "political gamesmanship."

White House Press Secretary James Carney in a statement noted that the path to the deal to raise the debt ceiling took too long and at times was "too divisive."


Statements below...

Office of the Press Secretary

Statement from the Press Secretary

The President believes it is important that our elected leaders come together to strengthen our economy and put our nation on a stronger fiscal footing.
The bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction was an important step in the right direction. Yet, the path to getting there took too long and was at times too divisive. We must do better to make clear our nation's will, capacity and commitment to work together to tackle our major fiscal and economic challenges.
Over the past weeks and months the President repeatedly called for substantial deficit reduction through both long-term entitlement changes and revenues through tax reform, with additional measures to spark jobs and strengthen our recovery. That is why the President pushed for a grand bargain that would include all of these elements and require compromise and cooperation from all sides.
Over the coming weeks the President will strongly encourage the bipartisan fiscal committee as well as all members of Congress to put our common commitment to a stronger recovery and a sounder long-term fiscal path above our political and ideological differences.


[SPRINGFIELD, IL] - US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) released the following statement after the S&P downgraded the US credit rating from AAA to AA+:
"S&P's decision to downgrade the US credit rating due to our ongoing debt crisis is unfortunate and underscores the need for a balanced, bipartisan and comprehensive solution to the problem. In the coming weeks, a Joint Committee of Congress will begin its work to reach just such an agreement. Their work will be incredibly important and must balance spending cuts with revenue increases."

"Last night's downgrade is also a political one. Partisan gamesmanship over the debt has left global markets, rating agencies and the American public searching for stability. Until we agree that bipartisan leadership is the only path forward, our economy and America's faith in its leaders will continue to be at risk of downgrade."
Last year, Senator Durbin served on the President's Bipartisan Fiscal Commission and voted to support its debt reduction proposal. Since January, Durbin has worked with a bipartisan group of Senators, in a group known as the "Gang of Six," to craft a proposal to cut the nation's debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

Standard & Poor's lowered the U.S. credit rating for the first time from AAA to AA+ in part because of "political risks," a warning to Congress and the White House that there was a consequence to the messy debate to raise the debt ceiling and the two-step solution that puts off deep cuts until November. Reminder S & P is one of three major credit rating agencies. Still, this historic drop is not good.

Read the S & P research report for yourself here: "America Long-Term Rating Lowered To 'AA+' On Political Risks And Rising Debt Burden; Outlook Negative."

Excerpt from S & P report:

· The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan
that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of
what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's
medium-term debt dynamics.

· More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness,
stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political
institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic
challenges to a degree more than we envisioned when we assigned a
negative outlook to the rating on April 18, 2011.

· Since then, we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the
gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy, which makes us
pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the Administration to be
able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal
consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics any
time soon.

President Obama turned 50 on Thursday and one of his closest friends and advisors, Valerie Jarrett, noted in a Huffington Post column posted Friday that she has known him for 20 of those years.

"Twenty years ago last month, I met a remarkable young man named Barack Obama. Since then, I've been honored to join him along his journey, from the Illinois State Senate all the way to the Oval Office," writes Jarrett,
Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement.

More from Jarrett: "I remember the very first conversation I had with Barack and Michelle, over dinner in Chicago. Even back then, it was clear that the president had a remarkable clarity of vision, and an abiding faith in the power of ordinary individuals to do extraordinary things. He spoke about growing up around people of different cultures. He told me he believed that even though we all come from unique backgrounds, we can still form strong and lasting bonds with one another."

Read Jarrett's column here.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel is here, partying last night at the White House Rose Garden to celebrate President Obama's 50th birthday. He remains in Washington on Friday and probably through at least part of the weekend. Emanuel has no public events on his schedule.

My post on the Obama 50th birthday party is here.

li>chris rock twitter.jpg(Screen grab of Chris Rock's Twitter feed)

WASHINGTON--President Obama celebrated his 50th birthday Thursday night with a celebrity-filled bash, as entertainer Chris Rock reported on his Twitter feed: "Just left the Presidents birthday party at the White House. Herbie Hancock played, Stevie Wonder sang and yes they did the electric slide. A great night."

Daughter Malia, 13 just arrived home from summer camp in time for the Rose Garden party as she was joined by her sister, Sasha, 10, First Lady Michelle, grandmother Marian Robinson and their godmother, Eleanor "Mama Kaye, Wilson," who flew to Washington from Chicago on Air Force One with Obama when he returned from his Thursday fund-raiser back home.

Obama's party--paid for, the White House said, by the First Couple--was closed press and not on his official schedule. Obama's team was not eager for pictures of the bash, coming as the stock market was plunging and a new jobless report comes out Friday morning.

Eddie Gehman Kohan, who presides over Obama Foodorama, the website of record about entertaining in the Obama White House, put together a detailed report about the five-hour barbeque, based on interviews of people who were there. Read her entire article here.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former Chief of Staff, was also at the party. END UPDATE

From Kohan's article
: "Stevie Wonder gave a "surprise" performance during the celebration; his hit "You and I" was the President and First Lady Obama's wedding song. Revelers included Jay Z; Tom Hanks; Chris Rock; hoops legends Charles Barkley and Grant Hill; Whoopi Goldberg; Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith; and actor Hill Harper. He's one of the President's closest chums from Harvard law school, and star of CSI: NY. Jazz great Herbie Hancock and his ensemble played; R & B singer Ledisi dazzled the crowd.

"The night was balmy, and when dinner was done, a DJ spun dance tunes--"like at a Bar Mitzvah," said one guest. The twenty tables for ten in the Rose Garden were pushed aside so guests could dance, led by the President and Mrs. Obama.

"...Also on hand to mark the Presidential milestone were former governors Bill Richardson and Tim Kaine, and Mr. Obama's staunchest allies in the debt battle--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Senior White House staff also celebrated: Chief of Staff Bill Daley, Cecelia Munoz, John Brennan, and Valerie Jarrett. Mrs. Obama's former Chief of Staff, Susan Sher, flew in from Chicago, as did two of the President's closest pals: Dr. Eric Whitaker, University of Chicago Hospital Vice-President, and The Parking Spot President and CEO Marty Nesbitt. Campaign fundraiser Andy Spahn was spotted, too."

to follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--Chicago Jewish leaders were among the 170 meeting with Obama White House officials last Friday to discuss domestic social justice issues.

The program is part of a summer drive organized by the White House Office of Public Engagement to host "Community Leaders Briefings," weekly events, according to the White House, intended to "bring together leaders and activists from communities all across the country for an opportunity to discuss common challenges and learn how the government can help them as they work to improve their neighborhoods."

The White House called the event the "Jewish Social Justice Roundtable."

The Chicagoans at the July 29 session were a delegation from the Jewish Council of Urban Affairs: Jane Ramsey the JCUA Executive Director; Irene Lehrer Sandalow, JCUA Director of Strategy and Jewish Affairs; Rabbi Bruce Elder, Senior Rabbi of Congregation Hakafa and JCUA President; Steve Keen, President,Dale Alan,Inc. and JCUA Past President; Gerry Keen; Nikki Stein, Executive Director of the Polk Bros.Foundation; Ira Azulay, Attorney, Azulay Seiden Law Group and JCUA Board; Leah Shefsky,Student and JCUA Or Tzedek teen leader; Rabbi Joshua Salter, Associate Rabbi, Beth Shalom B'nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation (where the rabbi is First Lady Michelle Obama's cousin Capers Funnye) and Rabbi Michael Siegel, Senior Rabbi, Anshe Emet Synagogue.

Ramsey told me, "We felt these meetings were an exceedingly valuable opportunity to share with the White House our concerns for the domestic social justice agenda including issues such as affordable housing, immigration, and health care, including Medicare and Medicaid.

"We found the interchange with the White House officials to be productive and promising. We shared our deep concerns regarding the attempts in Congress to cut vital social programs, crucial especially for those most vulnerable in our society.

"We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the White House and having avenues to voice our concerns regarding our country's future. Finally, the presence of 170 Jewish leaders in meetings with the White House on these important issues sent a strong message that we are not a one issue community but rather our agenda is broad, and tied inextricably to the diverse fabric of the neighborhoods and cities in which we live."

Meeting with the group were Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement; Jon Carson, Office of Public Engagement Director, the National Field Director for Obama's 2008 campaign who managed Tammy Duckworth's 2006 general election House campaign; Michael Strautmanis, Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor for Strategic Engagement to Jarrett; Danielle Borrin, Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement who handles Jewish affairs; Cecilia Munoz, Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs and Tina Tchen, chief of staff for First Lady Michelle Obama who is also Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

WASHINGTON -- Illinois Republicans, challenging the Democrats' congressional remap in federal court, filed their own proposal on Thursday that creates a second Hispanic district, leaves Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski without a home base and is more compact and contiguous than the Democrats' convoluted version.

The main plaintiffs in the lawsuit are 10 of 11 incumbent GOP House members from Illinois.

The Illinois Democrats drew a map protecting all eight Illinois Democratic lawmakers, giving Lipinski in effect two big breaks: a district tailored for him and another to lure away a potential primary opponent.

The GOP-drawn map "stands in stark contrast to the contorted map passed by the Democrats, which is so gerrymandered that it can have no goal but to maximize partisan advantage by disregarding the will of Illinois voters," the 10 GOP incumbents said in a statement.

I've learned that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will help them raise money for their legal fight, headlining a fund-raiser in Hinsdale on Aug. 12 with admission ranging from $500 to $10,000.

The GOP map creates a second Hispanic district -- also anchored in Chicago --and does not chop up communities and counties in order to dilute Republican voting power.

The Democratic map would likely yield 6 Republicans and 12 Democrats, the GOP lawmakers assert in their lawsuit. The Republican map would likely result in the election of 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats in 2012.

Illinois will lose a seat in 2012. At present, Illinois sends 11 Republicans and 8 Democrats to Congress.

Under the GOP map, only one pair of Republican incumbents, Rep. Tim Johnson and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, are pitted against each other. Johnson is the only Illinois House Republican who did not join in the lawsuit.

The case is just getting started, only weeks before the window opens on Sept. 6 to begin to circulate nominating petitions for the March primary.

The Republicans want a court order asking the Illinois State Board of Elections not to let petitions be passed before the lawsuit is resolved because the district lines may be changed.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) loosened up some by wearing a purple tie when he guested Thursday on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but there just is not much humor in talking about the tense negotiations over raising the debt ceiling that led the nation to the brink of economic disaster.

Contrast that with Wednesday night, when Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the White House Office of Economic Advisors was on the same show--his exit interview, pegged to his departure at the end of this week to return to the University of Chicago.

As Stewart noted, Goolsbee was, well, giddy at the prospect of getting home.

"I just feel bad. The president has to stay there," said Goolsbee, who has honed his wit in Washington these past years.

Durbin on Thursday seemed recovering from the brutal last weeks in Congress. No zingers on this segment, from the host or guest.

"What we have just seen was embarrassing," said Durbin of the partisan mess Congress made of dealing with raising the debt ceiling, faced with the Aug. 2 deadline. A deal was finally struck and President Obama signed the bill just-in-time on Tuesday.

Durbin served on the Bowles Simpson bi-partisan deficit commission and was one of the Senate's bi-partisan "Gang of Six." Durbin told Stewart all told, he's been working on bi-partisan stuff to deal with the debt and deficit for the past 18 months.

He had some advice for the 12-member joint committee created in the debt ceiling deal whose job it is to chop at least $1.2 trillion -or raise revenue--by Nov. 23.

Durbin said he's been to that movie. And "it always ends the same way."

Bloomberg Business Week just posted a long profile about Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his first months in office. Emanuel "has been well served by his combativeness," concludes the piece, by Devin Leonard.

Read it here: The Reinvention of Rahm Emanuel: The old Washington slash-and-burn artist is making nice as Chicago's mayor and trying to save his city--one job at a time

WASHINGTON--Shame on Congress, going home for a five week vacation without reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration, forcing the furlough of some 4,000 FAA workers--including 145 in the Chicago area--and sidelining about 70,000 contractors employed on airport related construction projects.

What were the members of Congress thinking, to skip town, collect their paychecks and benefits while real people suffered because of a partisan disagreement over FAA policy?

Today--Thursday--congressional leaders announced a deal to people can get back to work. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood helped broker the deal.

Earlier in the day I was at a session with other reporters and LaHood--a former House member from Peoria-- where he was urging Congress to come back and get to work. "This is not the way to run the best aviation system in the world," he said. LaHood said he has been working "24/7" to get a deal.

President Obama said in statement: I'm pleased that leaders in Congress are working together to break the impasse involving the FAA so that tens of thousands of construction workers and others can go back to work. We can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward."

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement: "Extending FAA authorization will put an estimated 74,000 Americans back to work and help keep airports and air operations in Illinois and around the country safe. I support this extension.

"Congress' failure to reach a deal to extend FAA authorization before going home this week is no way to run a government. We can have our political battles, but we should not have them at the expense of working Americans."

"The most recent FAA authorization extension expired on July 23rd. Since then, the FAA has lost an estimated $200 million each week in fees paid by airlines into a trust fund that supports important airport infrastructure projects directly benefiting the flying public. Without authorization, the FAA cannot collect the funds from airlines, though there are reports that several airlines are still charging the fees and keeping the extra funds for themselves."

rahm romney front page.jpg

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel smacked GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney after Romney focused on Chicago's shortcomings in a video attacking President Obama released before his Wednesday fund-raiser in the city.

The Chicago Sun-Times Fran Spielman reports
"Emanuel, who spent 18 months as Obama's White House chief-of-staff, considers Romney's video taunt the height of hypocrisy and an insult to both Chicago and its presidential resident.

"......The mayor joked that he is "out of the fund-raising business." Then, he turned serious.

"He is willing to do the unpopular things, the necessary things, to keep this country moving forward. And I have great admiration for his determination, his grit, his willingness to not do the political easy thing -- to do the tough things," Emanuel said.

"I can say that because, sometimes, I was advising him to do the politically easier thing to do. And he has rejected that advice because it was not good for the country in the long-term."

My note: Emanuel is NOT out of the fund-raising business; he was recently in New York to headline a fund-raiser for Obama.

I reported that the Romney video, "Obama Isn't Working: Chicago," opens with a scene from Grant Park, where Obama celebrated on election night in 2008. "The video highlights President Obama's failure to improve the economy, even in his hometown of Chicago," the campaign said.

The spot highlights the sagging housing market in Chicago, layoffs and lingering unemployment.

wh BBQ.jpeg (photo by Lynn Sweet)

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--The White House press area is not far from the White House kitchen---and the outdoor space where chefs set up the barbeque grills. I was working at one of the basement press desks when the fumes of a delicious barbeque wafted through--chicken and hamburgers. The White House kitchen, turns out, is staffing the grills right now--five of them--perhaps cooking for President Obama's 50th birthday bash tonight in the Rose Garden.

Obamafoodorama has the scoop that Herbie Hancock will be performing at the bash tonight.

ABC's Ann Compton(@AnnCompton) is reporting that the the Rose Garden has about 20 round tables set up--and audio speakers are in place. Some 200 are expected.

WASHINGTON--Today of President Obama's 50th birthday, and First Lady Michelle is sending out an e-mail asking people to sign a web card for her husband. Mrs. Obama's appeal is a strategy for the Obama 2012 campaign to collect emails from supporters and engage them in the re-election effort.

Mrs. Obama observed in her note that the president is getting gray hairs.

"Every day, I see Barack make choices he knows will affect every American family. That's no small task for anyone -- and more proof that he's earning every last one of those gray hairs," she wrote.

"This has been a busy week in Washington, but today happens to be Barack's 50th birthday. I'm writing to you because this year, the girls and I would like to do something a little different.

"I'm asking friends and supporters of this campaign to wish him a happy birthday by signing his card, and sharing why you're on this journey with us.

"Your names and notes will become part of a book that tells the story of this campaign -- who's building it, why we're in this thing, and what he means to us. We'll deliver a copy to Barack and send one to our campaign offices across the country."

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet

WASHINGTON--President Obama and First Lady Michelle are hosting pals Wednesday night at a Rose Garden birthday bash to mark Obama's 50th--and the First Couple are paying for it themselves.

Included in the Chicago gang at the Rose Garden will be University of Chicago Hospital Vice-President Dr. Eric Whitaker and The Parking Spot President and CEO Marty Nesbitt, who is the treasurer of Obama's 2012 relection campaign.

Coming off the debt ceiling crisis, the White House has not been eager to throw any spotlight on partying--even for a milestone birthday. The Rose Garden party -handled by the White House Social Office--was left off of Obama's official schedule for Wednesday (not that everything is always on it, but this omission seems telling.)

At the end of an interview Wednesday with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi with a few other reporters, I asked her if she was going to the Rose Garden birthday party for Obama--and if she was bringing him a gift.

She is attending and quipped it was the debt ceiling legislation, which Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

A White House official told me Obama will spend the morning working out of the Oval Office; in the afternoon he will be toasted by senior staff in the Blue Room with the family and friends gathering in the evening. Another person confirmed for me it was the Rose Garden. The official also said the Obamas' will pay the tab.

Obama will spend the weekend with close friends and family at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Last year, Obama marked his 49th birthday in Chicago with pals at the graham elliot restaurant; (the restaurant uses lower case in its name) Oprah Winfrey was among the guests along with Nesbitt, Whitaker and Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Obama celebrated his 48th birthday in the White House. He turned 47 during the campaign and started the day in Chicago and then headed to Lansing, Mich.

obama chicago funder.jpeg(Chicago Sun-Times photo by Tom Cruze)

Obama rallys supporters at a big fund-raiser in Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times political writer Abdon M. Pallasch has the story, read it here.

obama jennifer hudson emanuel.jpgJennifer Hudson, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama (Sun-Times Photo by Tom Cruze)

President Barack Obama laid out the rationale for his re-election bid during a fund-raising concert in Chicago on Wednesday night, the eve of his 50th birthday.

"And it's true that I turn 50 tomorrow -- -- which means that by the time I wake up, I'll have an email from AARP -- -- asking me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare."

Click below for the transcript....

*Note: the transcript has Obama giving a shout out to one Jan Murkowski....I bet the correct reference is to Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) (I have not had a chance to review the video or audio; Obama may have said Schakowsky; Sen. Lisa Murkowski is an Alaska Republican.

WASHINGTON--With the debt ceiling raised and Congress gone for the rest of the summer and no immediate crisis for a change, President Obama can relax and enjoy his 50th birthday on Thursday--which I learned will be celebrated at a party in the White House Rose Garden.

The invites were sent out by the White House Social Office a bit ago; details were kept mum since the White House wanted the message focus to be on the intense negotiations over the debt ceiling and what had been a looming default deadline Tuesday night.

follow on Twitter: @lynnsweet
On Wednesday, Obama makes a quick trip home to Chicago to headline fund-raisers at the Aragon Ballroom on the North Side--in Uptown--to benefit his re-election bid and the Democratic National Committee, pegged to his 50th birthday.

He will also talk to supporters at 1,167 house parties across the nation via an interactive web video conference at events designed to help build the field organization.

Meanwhile, surrogates will fan out in seven cities to headline funders on Wednesday also pegged to Obama's birthday:

The deployment:

Robert Gibbs
Jen O'Malley Dillon

Washington, DC
DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

David Plouffe
Marlon Marshall

New York City
Patrick Gaspard
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Curtis Martin

Los Angeles
David Axelrod
Council President Eric Garcetti

Mitch Stewart
Mayor Lee Leffingwell

Donna Brazille

(White House photo)

WASHINGTON--President Obama--with no fanfare--averted a default by signing the debt-ceiling bill into law on Tuesday.

Noteworthy in the photo of the signing the White House released: Unlike other bill signings, the president was pictured alone, not surrounded by the House and Senate lawmakers who were pivotal in passing the compromise legislation.

Also noted: Obama was signing with multiple pens--you can see them in the picture--so someone may be getting a souvenir.

What Obama signed:

S. 365, the "Budget Control Act of 2011," which provides for authority to increase the public debt limit by between $2.1 trillion and $2.4 trillion; establishes discretionary spending limits for FYs 2012-2021; requires the House and Senate to each vote on passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; and establishes a congressional Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.

WASHINGTON--GOP Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney takes aim at President Obama the day before he returns to Chicago for fund-raisers to mark his 50th birthday on Thursday, with a punch aimed at his gut. The video highlights unemployment in Chicago and the sagging housing market.

The campaign is releasing on Tuesday a new web video, "Obama Isn't Working: Chicago," which opens with a scene from Grant Park, where Obama celebrated election night, 2008.

"The video highlights President Obama's failure to improve the economy, even in his hometown of Chicago," the campaign said.

By taking on Obama in Chicago, Romney is risking the wrath of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, whose brother, Richard, is the former mayor.

On another front, the Republican National Committee is also planning to throw a few jabs at Obama, tied to the fund-raisers at the Aragon Ballroom in Uptown.

RNC chairman Reince Priebus and Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady will hold a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the fund-raiser.


DNC: "While residing in the "Mittness" protection program and hiding from the issues and voters, Mitt Romney has released another video attacking the President,"....statement from DNC Press Secretary Melanie Roussell:

"Sent from somewhere in the 'Mittness Protection Program', Mitt Romney's video is just more of the same rhetoric aimed at currying favor with the extreme wing of the Republican Party. As Mitt phones in his message, he only continues to promote the failed GOP policies that sent the country to the brink, while President Obama and Democrats turn the page to focus on putting Americans back to work."

Senate passes debt deal 74-26

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senate debt ceiling vote.jpg(photo courtesy C-SPAN)

WASHINGTON--The Senate passed and will send to President Obama the bill to raise the debt ceiling on Tuesday on a 74-26 rollcall. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was presiding during the vote.

Obama will be speaking in a few minutes.

The House passed the measure on Monday.

WASHINGTON -- This column was going to be about the Monday House vote on the debt-ceiling bill and the animosity that has gripped Congress -- and how people are deluding themselves if they think the deal has bought any peace to Congress.

Then, out of the nowhere, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shows up during the vote and for a few minutes, at least, changes the tone of the place.

I was surprised when I caught sight of her as I rounded a corner, just before she entered the House chamber with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, and their friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. House Speaker John Boehner left the floor to greet Giffords in the hallway. Her hair was short and dark; she looked frail.

This was the first time Giffords has been in the House chamber since the January assassination attempt on her life where she was shot in the head outside a Tucson supermarket.

It took a few moments for members -- and the spectators in the gallery above -- to realize that Giffords was back in the House and as they did, you could feel the electricity as she was greeted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation. She came to cast a yes vote for the compromise agreement to raise the debt ceiling, arriving with a few minutes left in the 15-minute voting time.

Vice President Joe Biden was here for the vote. He mingled with House members after it passed, buoyant as the measure advanced to the Senate on a 269-161 roll call. Democrats provided 95 yes votes to 174 for the GOP.

I asked Biden to comment on the joyous reception Giffords received and what that says, what with all the rancorous wrangling surrounding the debt-ceiling debate.

"Here I am hugging Gabby and Michele Bachmann," Biden said with a big grin.

Biden seemed to relish the retelling of the scene that played out a few moments before: Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican running for president, fueled by Tea Party activists; Biden, the man she wants to defeat; and Giffords, the wounded lawmaker.

All hugging.

You hugged Bachmann?

"I'm being literal. I like Michele Bachmann," Biden said. The former Delaware senator added, "There is a basic humanity here that matters."

I also saw Biden and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi hugging in the hallway after the vote. Pelosi had been told earlier Monday that Giffords was returning for the vote. On the House floor, Pelosi said they were hugging.

"Girl hugs," she said.

Reporters asked Pelosi if the Giffords return marked a mending of the partisan bitterness.

"I hope so. She's a symbol of that," Pelosi said.

How the vote went down

I hardly saw much humanity in the past weeks, as the brinksmanship over the debt ceiling issue became the worst I have seen since I started covering Congress at the end of 1993, taking the country to the edge of potential economic disaster.

The Democrats used Monday's vote as a small exercise in making the other side sweat. Neither side wanted to claim credit or -- depending on your perspective -- take the blame for the agreement, the subject of much criticism from the left and the right.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the chief deputy whip (a whip is someone who goes around to members and asks how they will vote beforehand), told me in advance of the roll, "There is an expectation, because there is an agreement, both parties will be participating in passing the bill."

Democrats and Republicans ran a "structured" roll call in order to let some of their members who did not really want to vote yes -- but would have if they were needed -- off the hook.

The Republicans control the chamber and the Democrats -- including the Obama White House -- wanted to force Republicans to ante up more votes than they really wanted to give. That's why, during the roll call, Democrats were asked to keep their powder dry and not show their hands until GOP votes were on the board.

WASHINGTON--Illinois lawmakers were divided on the debt ceiling bill, with members on the left and right voting against the compromise agreement.

The Illinois roll call:



Jerry Costello, Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Dan Lipinski, Mike Quigley and Bobby Rush


Judy Biggert, Bob Dold, Adam Kinzinger, Don Manzullo, Peter Roskam, Bobby Schilling, Aaron Schock and John Shimkus



Jesse Jackson, Jr., Jan Schakowsky


Randy Hultgren, Tim Johnson, Joe Walsh

WASHINGTON-- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will vote for the debt deal in order to avoid a default, her spokesman just told me, despite concerns she had about the impact the measure would have on Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

That should send a strong signal to progressive Democrats--who are weighing what to do as the vote draws near--a few hours from now.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) will vote for the debt deal, even though he very much dislikes the compromise and thinks it may hurt the people in his district. On the other hand, Gutierrez concluded, a financial default is not worth the risk.


In announcing his decision, Gutierrez cites a conversation we had last Friday, which I wrote about in a column:

From Gutierrez:

Today, announcing his intention to vote for the debt ceiling compromise when it comes before the House, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL-4) recalled a conversation he had Friday with Lynn Sweet, Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Sun-Times (which she quoted from in her Sun-Times blog on Saturday). Gutierrez told Sweet that the difference between his rabid reform mentality as a freshman in the House in 1993 and the attitude of House Freshman Tea Partiers today is that "I came to change the institution; I didn't come to burn it down." Today, Congressman Gutierrez released the following statement on why he intends to vote for the debt ceiling compromise.

The Tea Partiers and the GOP have made their slash and burn lunacy clear, and while I do not love this compromise, my vote is a hose to stop the burning. The arsonists must be stopped.

The damage this bill will do to the people of the Fourth District, Chicago, and the country is real and lasting but pales in comparison to the damage the GOP was willing to do to the American and world economies to make a political point. It isn't worth the risk.

We have a choice - compromise or chaos, and I'm choosing compromise. I will vote for the bill and hope we can close this distasteful chapter in American politics. I urge every reasonable legislator in this House to choose an imperfect compromise over a perfect catastrophe. This manufactured crisis that has cost billions already and could have cost the country many trillions more. Compromise in the face of a lunatic's demands is an act of sanity. Let's move on.

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WASHINGTON--Former First Lady Chief of Staff Susan Sher, who returned to Chicago earlier this year, will be rejoining the University of Chicago, where she worked before joining the Obama White House.

Sher will be the executive vice president for corporate strategy and public affairs at the U of C Medical Center. She will also serve as a senior advisor to the university president.

Sher had been the vice president for Legal and Governmental Affairs and General Counsel at the University of Chicago Medical Center before leaving for Washington.

My January, 2009 post about Sher's White House appointment is here.

WASHINGTON--House and Senate members on Monday meet to learn more details of the deal to lift the debt ceiling their leaders negotiated with the White House and announced on Sunday night. As I write this, Vice President Biden is with Senate Democrats as Senate Republicans also huddle.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) coming out of the meeting said he had concerns about the potential of defense cuts but in general, the deal was getting a positive reception. Asked how he will vote, Kirk said, "in the end, I will vote for it."

Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) on Monday issued a statement saying he is a no vote. A progressive Democrat, Jackson said While I will not support the proposed "compromise" gained by extortion and a weak defense, my constitutients will have to live with the consequences of a bad deal should it pass the House and the Senate today as expected."


Dick Durbin (D)
Mark Kirk (R)

Rep. Joe Walsh (R)
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D)

Bob Dold (R)
Judy Biggert (R)
Luis Gutierrez (D)
John Shimkus (R)
Peter Roskam (R)

Jan Schakowsky (D)

WASHINGTON--The pending Budget Control Act, as agreed to by House and Senate leaders on Sunday raises the deficit ceiling and puts in place a two-step process to force federal spending cuts. The House and Senate must vote to approve the measure and send it to President Obama to sign to become law. READ THE TEXT HERE. DEBT_016_xml.pdf

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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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