Daily Archives: May 23, 2011

Newt Gingrich: ‘I’m Not A Washington Figure’

“I will offer a much more dramatic alternative future than any traditional candidate will dream of.”

Huffpost | May 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — Even before he sat down for his 36th appearance at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast series — a regular gathering of journalists from the capital’s most respected publications — Newt Gingrich was scheming to make one point particularly clear.

He was, above all else, a Washington outsider.

The former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate may have spent 20 years in the House of Representatives, after which he continued to live in a cushy suburb of D.C. to earn a good salary in the world of advocacy and think tanks. But on Monday morning, as he sat in a conference room in the confines of the highbrow St. Regis hotel, those biographical details were simply catnip for critics.

“I’m not a Washington figure, despite the years I’ve been here,” Gingrich said. “I’m essentially an American whose ties are across the country and is interested in how you change Washington, not how you make Washington happy.”

“I am the people’s candidate, not the capital’s candidate,” he added later.

Making politics out of revolutionary zeal is Gingrich’s common trick. He rode anti-Washington sentiment to the speaker’s throne in 1994; and has more or less tried to reprise the act during his presidential flirtations since.

Simply saying you are an outsider does not make you one, of course. And as he yapped it up with reporters on Monday morning, it was impossible not to see Gingrich as something diametrically different: dependent on the political culture he decries.

The day before, he had partaken in another venerable press event — a taping with “Face the Nation” on CBS. A week before that, it was NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Two weeks before that, he had delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution, one of D.C’s gilded think tanks, “on health solutions for lower costs, younger lives, more independent living and more American jobs.” At various points in his Monday presentation, Gingrich noted that he had cast 7,300 votes in his lifetime, delivered 5,000 speeches, sat down for 10,000 interviews and written 23 books (which, mid-way through the hour-long question and answer session he corrected to 24, to account for the next book he will have published sometime in June).

As he brushed aside the eggs, bacon, sausage and potatoes he was offered, the former speaker appeared awestruck at his own introduction.

“That is the most different introduction. I don’t know where it comes from,” he said to the host of the breakfast, David Cook, the Senior Editor & Washington Bureau Chief of the Christian Science Monitor. “This is my 36th time having breakfast with you guys. I think this is the first time it’s been quite that elaborate.”

That may be because Gingrich has been going to the breakfasts longer than Cook has been hosting them. Later at the affair, he gently teased two other gray beards in the room, liberal columnist Mark Shields and Ralph Hallow, the chief political writer at the Washington Times.

“In terms of American civic culture and bipartisanship, to see these two guys sitting next to each other is a sign that you can have civility in America,” he said, before expressing his belief that scrambled eggs can bring even the greatest of foes to the same table.

On Monday, however, kind words for the press were few and far between. A foil was needed for an anti-Washington message to work. And for Gingrich, whose first few days on the trail were marked by sharp questions over his evolving positions on Medicare and the individual mandate, it was time for a bit of rhetorical retribution.

“I stipulate in advance: all of you can play gotcha. I’ll be glad to say ‘that was good’ and then we will go to the next question,” he said, before a single question had even been asked. “I don’t blame [Meet the Press host] David Gregory, but I’ve decided I’m going to be much more relentless in reframing things,” he said at another point, in reference to the Sunday show appearance that precipitated his early stumbles.

“[L]ook at the front page of the New York Times yesterday, which devoted one-quarter of the front page to Lindsay Lohan above the fold,” Gingrich said, when pressed about why he felt the ‘gotcha’ questions were unfair. “That should tell you all you need to know about the current state of where we are. We are in a society in which gossip replaces policy and everyone wrings their hands about how hard it is to have a serious conversation. By definition, if you run for president, anything is on the table. Ask Grover Cleveland, ask Andrew Jackson. Anything is on the table.”

Neither Cleveland nor Jackson were available for comment.

Gingrich is taking some steps to establish distance with D.C. He has whisked his way through dozens of early stops in critical primary and caucus states, chief among them Iowa. He remains, very much, a man who can draw a conservative crowd. And in terms of verbal bombast, there are few in the Republican Party — let alone the presidential field — who can drum up the type of disdain for all things Washington that he can. Without any prodding, Gingrich will recite a list of four policies or executive orders he would issue immediately as president: replacing the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environment Solutions agency; re-establishing the Mexico City policy, which requires NGOs that receive federal funds to refrain from performing abortions; enforcing the conscience clause so that no doctor can be forced to do something against their will; and instructing the State Department to place the American embassy in Jerusalem.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Gingrich can at once tout the breadth of his own, largely D.C.-based experience while simultaneously arguing that he’s the agent of change that conservatives desire.

“Everywhere I go across Iowa, everywhere I see people randomly, they have figured out I’m the guy who wants to change Washington and they can tell it because the people they see on TV from Washington aren’t happy with me,” said Gingrich. “And the fact is, if you look at my platform, I will clearly be the most change-oriented, the most fundamental reform candidate in this race, in either party. And I will offer a much more dramatic alternative future than any traditional candidate will dream of.”

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Gingrich “mystified” by media interest in his half-million dollar jewelry budget

When asked about coverage of candidates’ personal lives, Newt Gingrich first referred to society’s preoccupation with gossip and then said he was ‘mystified’ by interest in his jewelry credit account.

Christian Science Monitor | May 23, 2011

By Dave Cook

Washington – Which matters from a candidate’s personal life can the press report on without engaging in “gotcha” behavior?, presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich was asked Monday.

For Gingrich, the topic is a sensitive one. He is hoping to appeal to conservative voters but has been married three times.

He brands himself as a fiscal conservative, but last week Politico reported that Gingrich and his wife, Callista, had a credit account at the luxury jewelry firm Tiffany & Co. with a balance of between $250,000 and $500,000 during calendar years 2005 and 2006.

Speaking at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters in Washington, Gingrich first referred to society’s preoccupation with gossip and then said he was “mystified” by interest in the jewelry account.

“If you looked at the front page of The New York Times (Sunday) which devoted, I believe, one quarter of the front page to Lindsay Lohan above the fold, it should tell you all you need to know about the current state of where we are. We are in a society in which gossip replaces serious policy and then everybody wrings their hand about how hard it is to have a serious conversation,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich on Tiffany’s account

The former House Speaker admitted that, “by definition, if you run for president, anything is one the table. Ask Grover Cleveland, ask Andrew Jackson. Anything is on the table, I accept that, but I don’t have to participate in the conversation. I can focus on what I think the American people need to worry about.”

He then launched into a defense of his financial behavior.

“On the Tiffany’s thing, I am totally mystified. I owe no personal debts, none. Callista and I have paid off our house, we have paid off our cars, we run four small businesses, we happen to be successful. We reported accurately what we are doing,” said Gingrich.

The information about the credit account came from a financial disclosure form Mrs. Gingrich was required to complete, because she worked for the House Agriculture Committee during the period in question.

“It is all after tax income. None of it is public money,” Gingrich continued, before flipping the conversation back to politics. “You know, if Obama followed our pattern of fiscal responsibility, the United States would currently be running a surplus and buying back debt from the Chinese.”

Air Force Wants to Track You Forever With a Single Camera Click

wired.com | May 19, 2011

By Noah Shachtman

Don’t bother with the iris scanner or the fingerprinting machine. Leave the satellite-enabled locators and tell-tale scents back on the base, military manhunters. If an Air Force plan works out as planned, all you’ll need to track your prey is a single camera, snapping a few seconds of footage from far, far away.

Huntsville, Alabama’s Photon-X, Inc. recently received an Air Force contract to develop such a camera. With one snap, the company claims, its sensor can build a three-dimensional image of a person’s face: the cornerstone of a distinctive “bio-signature” that can be used to track that person anywhere. With a few frames more, the device can capture that face’s unique facial muscle motions, and turn those movements into a “behaviormetric” profile that’s even more accurate.

“The proposed work will help identify non-cooperative dismounts using remote sensors, from standoff distances that were previously impossible,” reports Toyon Research Corporation, which also got an Air Force grant for bio-signature development. “This identity information can help intelligence analysts connect specific people to events and locations, and learn about insurgent operations.”

But the combo won’t just help flesh-and-blood airmen keep tabs on their fellow humans, Photon-X adds. It “can help Humanoid Robots navigate and find objects in a cluttered room.”

And it could be used to monitor suspicious behavior practically anywhere. “A brief list of potential industries includes law enforcement, banking, private corporations, schools and universities, casinos, theme parks, retail, and hospitality.”

So the next time you’re at the Bellagio, and a real-life android walks up to you, calls you by name, and asks about what you thought was an extremely private evening — you can thank the Air Force and its tech-enabled manhunters for the experience.

Barack Obama agrees to form joint national security body with UK


US President Barack Obama speaks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on 22 May before flying off for his European tour. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Pool/EPA

US president will use visit to London to announce new co-operation to tackle long-term challenges

Guardian | May 23, 2011

by Nicholas Watt

Barack Obama will announce during his first state visit to Britain this week that the White House is to open up its highly secretive national security council to Downing Street in a move that appears to show the US still values the transatlantic “special relationship”.

A joint National Security Strategy Board will be established to ensure that senior officials on both sides of the Atlantic confront long-term challenges rather than just hold emergency talks from the “situation room” in the White House and the Cobra room in the Cabinet Office.

Obama will arrive in London on Tuesday from Dublin on the second leg of a European tour that will also take him to Warsaw and the G8 summit in Deauville in France on Thursday and Friday. The president, who will stay at Buckingham Palace with his wife, Michelle, will hold separate meetings with David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

The main talks between Cameron and Obama on Wednesday will cover Afghanistan, Libya and counter-terrorism. The two leaders, who will serve the food at a barbecue hosted by their wives in the Downing Street garden for US and UK military veterans, will make two major announcements:

• Tom Donilon, the US national security adviser, will work more closely with his British counterpart, Sir Peter Ricketts, to examine longer-term issues on the new National Security Strategy Board. Ricketts is to be replaced in the summer by Kim Darroch, currently Britain’s permanent representative to the EU.

• A new service personnel joint taskforce, involving the veterans minister, Andrew Robathan, will co-ordinate work to help veterans on both sides of the Atlantic. Britain believes it can learn from the US which has an excellent track record in helping veterans settle into civilian life. The US is keen to learn from Britain’s work in helping veterans with mental problems.

Britain believes that co-operation between the British and US national security councils marks a significant step. One British government source said: “The US and UK already work closely together on many national security issues. The new board will allow us to look ahead and develop a shared view of emerging challenges, how we should deal with them, and how our current policy can adapt to longer-term developments.”

The new board is a rare step by the White House, which guards the secrecy of the national security council. Founded in 1947 by Harry Truman, the NSC was in 1949 placed in the executive office of the president, who chairs its meetings.

Cameron tried to replicate the council when he established a body with the same name on his first full day as prime minister. It is chaired by the prime minister and designed to co-ordinate the work of the three Whitehall departments responsible for foreign affairs – the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development.

One government source said that Ricketts and Donilon would have to tread with care. “There is a little bit of disconnect between the two. The US national security adviser is a political appointment, whereas Sir Peter Ricketts is a civil servant. But this does make sense. We have a highly developed relationship with the USA where our military and intelligence officials work closely together. This is a useful move.”

The main discussions between Obama and Cameron will focus on Afghanistan, on which they have a similar outlook. They both aim to draw down combat troops and recognise that elements of the Taliban will have to be involved in a political settlement.

Obama told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1: “I agree with – and what I think prime minister Cameron would be the first to say – is that we’re not going to militarily solve this problem. We can’t expect Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, suddenly to have the same institutions that an advanced and well-developed democracy has. What we can do, I think, is use the efforts that we’ve made militarily to broker a political settlement that ensures the Afghanistan constitution is abided by, that elections remain free and fair, that human rights including women’s rights are respected.”

Asked whether this would mean talking to the Taliban, Obama said: “Ultimately, it means talking to the Taliban, although we’ve been very clear about the requirements for any kind of serious reconciliation. The Taliban would have to cut all ties to al-Qaida. Renounce violence. And they would have to respect the Afghan constitution. Now those are some fairly bare-bones requirements.”

Obama warned that he would be prepared to launch another raid into Pakistan, following the shooting of Osama bin Laden, if that was necessary “to secure the United States”. Jack Caravelli, an official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, told BBC Radio 5 Live on Sunday that Washington had contingency plans to undertake operations in Pakistan if a perfect storm occurred in which terrorists gained control of its nuclear weapons.

The Cameron and Obama talks on Libya will be mildly less friendly. Britain recognises that Washington made clear from the outset that its military involvement would be brief.

But one government source said: “Some people in Europe and Britain think that if only the US had continued with the heavy lifting then this might have been brought to a speedy conclusion. But the US military think: the bloody Europeans have bitten off more they can chew and once again expect us to do the heavy work.”

Obama fond of British royal family, ‘very proud’ of the Queen

seattlepi.com | May 22, 2011

President Barack Obama’s appearance on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” Sunday gave the president a chance to discuss a number of the world’s trouble spots – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, among others – and to express admiration for the British royal family.

“I think,” the president said, “what the Queen symbolizes – not just to Great Britain but to the entire commonwealth and obviously the entire world – is the best of England. And we’re very proud of her.”

The president was to depart late Sunday for a European trip to Ireland, England, France and Poland, with a stop at the G-8 summit incorporated into his visit to France. He is to meet with, among others, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Polish President Lech Walesa.

While in England, the Obamas will stay at Buckingham Palace. Marr noted Obama seemed to “have a bit of chemistry” with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.

“They are extraordinarily gracious people. They could not have been kinder to us,” Obama said.

“One of the great aspects of this job is it gives you an opportunity to meet with people from all walks of life,” he said. “You’ve had a chance to talk to the Queen of England on one day, and the next day you have the chance to talk to somebody in a diner off a highway here in the United States. And what you find is that there’s a lot of wisdom to be found – if you’re willing to listen. And I think most politicians spend most of their time talking instead of listening. That’s a habit that I try to break.”

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Berlusconi ‘paid £300,000 protection money to Mafia’


Giovanni Brusca told the court that the Mr Berlusconi paid to have ‘things kept in order.’ Photo: AP

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi paid Mafia leaders £300,000 a year in protection money, a mobster informant has told a court.

Telegraph | May 22, 2011

By Nick Pisa, Rome

Mr Berlusconi, 74, has long been the subject of claims that he was associated with the Mafia ever since he began his business career more than 30 years ago from humble origins.

Giovanni Brusca, 54, known as il Porco (the Pig), became an informant after his arrest in 1996 and he told the court that the Mr Berlusconi paid to have “things kept in order.”

Mr Brusca, who was testifying in the case of two policemen in Italy accused of corruption, made his claim in a Rome courtroom where the trial is being heard.

He said: “In the early 1980s, the Mafia through Stefano Bontade (a Mafia leader in Palermo, Sicily) invested a lot of money through Berlusconi.

“I then heard through various people Berlusconi was paying pizzo (protection).

“It came to about 600 million old lire a year (£300,000) – it was all tied to his business activities in Sicily.”

Mr Brusca then added how the money had then been paid to chief Mafia leader Toto Riina after Bontade was gunned down by a rival mobster on his 42nd birthday in 1981.

Mr Brusca said: “He (Berlusconi) then stopped paying so we had to arrange a hit so that he would start to pay again.”

Mr Brusca did not go into details of what the “hit” was but it is thought to have been a 1986 bomb attack on a Milan villa where Mr Berlusconi used to live, which caused minor damage.

Mr Brusca, who says he murdered “between 100 and 200 people” gave his evidence from behind a screen and was surrounded by balaclava-wearing police officers.

He was convicted of the 1992 car bomb murder of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone and he also ordered the kidnapping of a fellow mobster’s 11 year old son, who he later had killed and dissolved in acid.

Mr Berlusconi’s alleged Mafia links go back to the 1970s when he started out with a fledgling building company in Milan. His close friend, Sicilian Senator Marcello Dell Utri, has been convicted of mob association.

Mr Berlusconi has always denied any involvement with the Mafia – insisting that his only personal dealings were when it emerged that they had plotted to kidnap his son Piersilvio in the 1970s.

During the 1970s Mr Berlusconi employed at his home a stable manager called Vittorio Mangano, a Mafia figure from Palermo who was later convicted of two murders and died in jail eleven years ago.

Mr Berlusconi has always denied knowing Mangano was with the Mafia.

Modern life has made British children weaker in the last decade


Children can do fewer sit ups, are less able to hang from wall bars and are generally less muscular than those brought up in the 1990s Photo: Photolibrary

Modern Britain is raising a generation of weaklings as computer games and health and safety rules are curtailing rough and tumble outdoor play, a new study finds.

“Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have contrived to knock the sap out of our children,” said Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation.

Telegraph | May 23, 2011

By Richard Alleyne

A shift away from traditional activities like climbing trees, ropes and wall bars has made modern 10-year-olds physically weaker than their counterparts a decade ago.

They can do fewer sit ups, are less able to hang from wall bars and are generally less muscular than those brought up in the 1990s.

The findings, published in the child health journal Acta Paediatrica, have led to fresh concern about the impact on children’s health caused by the shift away from outdoor activities.

“This is probably due to changes in activity patterns among English 10-year-olds, such as taking part in fewer activities like rope-climbing in PE and tree-climbing for fun,” said Dr Gavin Sandercock, the lead author at Essex University.

“Typically, these activities boosted children’s strength, making them able to lift and hold their own body weight.”

Dr Sandercock, a fitness expert, and his team studied how strong a group of 315 Essex 10-year-olds in 2008 were compared with 309 children the same age in 1998.

They found that even though children had the same height to weight ratio, they were becoming weaker, less muscular and unable to do physical tasks that previous generations found simple, research has revealed.

In particular, the number of sit-ups 10-year-olds can do declined by 27.1 per cent between 1998 and 2008, arm strength fell by 26 per cent and grip strength by seven per cent and twice as many children (one in 10) could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars.

Dr Sandercock said some of the findings were “really shocking”.

Previous research has already shown that children are becoming more unfit, less active and more sedentary and, in many cases, heavier than before.

But the new study also found that children in 2008 had the same body mass index (BMI) as those a decade earlier.

The authors want ministers to reduce their reliance on the National Child Measurement Programme, which surveys primary schoolchildren’s BMI, and introduce fitness testing in all schools – a call made last year by the then-chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson.

“Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have contrived to knock the sap out of our children,” said Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation.

“Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place.”