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Inside Politics

- - Sunday, April 10, 2011

WHITE HOUSE

Top aide plans Mideast visit

President Obama's top national security aide will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week, the White House said Sunday, as popular unrest continues to unsettle the region.

Mr. Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, will meet with Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and in Abu Dhabi, he will meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahayan in a visit from April 11 to 13.

"The national security adviser's visit underscores the importance of our relationship with these two key partners," the White House said in a statement.

Arab leaders allied with the United States have questioned its backing of pro-democracy movements, which have swept rulers from power in Egypt and Tunisia and continue to challenge other governments, including Saudi Arabia's neighbor, Bahrain.

The United States is also part of a United Nations and Arab League-backed military campaign against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to protect Libyan civilians after a popular uprising to end his 41-year rule.

COURTS

O'Connor faulted over ethics

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor continues to hear cases in U.S. appeals courts while also playing a role in public policy issues.

Her critics say she should do one or the other, but not both.

The 81-year-old Justice O'Connor has campaigned against the election of state court judges. She says that threatens the judiciary's independence because of increasing campaign contributions.

Most recently, Justice O'Connor hosted an after-hours reception at the Supreme Court that featured speakers who oppose a proposed Alaskan copper and gold mine. They were in Washington to lobby lawmakers and regulators against the proposed mine.

Arthur Hellman, an ethics expert at the University of Pittsburgh law school, says Justice O'Connor should consider not hearing cases if she "wants to engage in this level of political or politically related activity."

PARTY POLITICS

Actor 'depressed' by discourse tone

Legendary screen actor and director Robert Redford on Sunday likened America's political discourse to a "war zone," with Republicans and Democrats seemingly unable to discuss their ideas without shouting over one another.

Speaking on ABC's "This Week," Mr. Redford said he is "depressed" that the nation has reduced itself to playing political "games" while serious changes remain unconfronted.

Mr. Redford, who portrayed journalist Bob Woodward in the classic 1976 movie "All the President's Men," said today's journalism bears little resemblance to the craft Mr. Woodward and colleague Carl Bernstein practiced decades ago when uncovering the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon.

"The system has changed so drastically because of the Internet," he said.

Mr. Redford appeared on the show to promote his upcoming movie, "The Conspirator."

TENNESSEE

Clinton, Gore attend memorial service

NASHVILLE | Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore remembered Ned McWherter, who served as Tennessee governor from 1987 to 1995, as a politician with a special way of connecting with people.

They attended a public memorial service Saturday for Mr. McWherter, also a longtime House speaker from western Tennessee. He died April 4 of cancer at the age of 80.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, as well as several former state governors and lawmakers, also attended.

Mr. Gore, a former Tennessee senator, said Mr. McWherter "always kept a connection to working people and the rural poor."

Mr. Clinton called him a "fabulous politician" who "made us dream, and think and act."

A second service was set for Sunday afternoon on the front lawn of Mr. McWherter's Dresden home.

IDAHO

Governor signs education overhaul

SALMON | Idaho's governor signed into law Friday the final piece of a controversial Republican overhaul of education in the state, as teachers and their allies mobilized to fight the measures.

Idaho is one of several U.S. states in which public-sector workers are battling Republican leaders' drive to curb public employee unions.

The bill signed by Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter forces school districts to equip high schools with mobile computing devices and potentially shifts funds to technology from teacher pay.

It also could lead to the layoffs of some teachers and certain positions going unfilled, officials said.

The measure was the last of three Republican-backed education bills that Mr. Otter signed in recent weeks.

The other two bills ended tenure for new teachers, instituted merit pay and removed discussions of workload and class size from contract negotiations for the 12,000 teachers represented by the Idaho Education Association.

Attention has focused on a high-profile battle in Wisconsin over a law limiting public-sector unions. Proposals to limit collective bargaining are also advancing in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, and bills targeting teachers unions are under consideration in Indiana and Tennessee.