- - Sunday, December 25, 2011

IRAQ

Biden calls Iraqi leaders after wave of violence

Vice President Joseph R. Biden reached out to Iraq’s leaders to discuss recent violence there and the country’s tenuous political climate.

Mr. Biden spoke Sunday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and on Saturday with the president of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani. The White House said Mr. Biden expressed condolences for the recent violence in Baghdad and discussed the political climate in Iraq.

Mr. Biden’s calls follow a wave of bombings in Baghdad earlier in the week that left at least 60 people dead. There are also concerns of a sectarian split in the government after Mr. al-Maliki’s Shiite-led coalition issued an arrest warrant for the country’s top Sunni political leader.

U.S. officials are closely watching the developments in Iraq, which follow the withdrawal of all American troops.

WHITE HOUSE

U.S. appears to soften ban on online betting

The Obama administration appears to have softened a U.S. ban on Internet gambling.

In a legal opinion posted Friday, the Justice Department said online betting unrelated to sporting events falls outside the reach of federal law. The U.S. government has long considered such gambling illegal when it crosses state lines.

The gambling industry is worth billions worldwide, but many operators are based overseas. Washington has cracked down on some of them, and a 2006 law forbade financial institutions from processing funds for most online wagering.

Because of the difficulty in enforcing age and other requirements, the issue has divided lawmakers and the industry. But several states have been studying plans for Web betting within states.

WHITE HOUSE

Obamas mark Christmas with gifts, carols, church

HONOLULU — President Obama exchanged gifts with his family, sang carols and attended church services as he celebrated Christmas in Hawaii.

The president and his family woke up early Sunday to exchange gifts, the White House said, then had breakfast and sang Christmas carols at the multimillion-dollar house they are renting in Kailua Beach, near Honolulu.

Later in the morning, the Obamas made the short trip to the chapel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii for Christmas church services. The White House said the president and first lady Michelle Obama would return to the base later in the day to visit with service members and their families, as they have done in past years.

The president also called 10 service members stationed around the world on Christmas Eve. The White House said he thanked them for their service and the sacrifice of being away from their families at the holidays.

IOWA

Callista Gingrich steps up presence on the trail

MOUNT PLEASANT — Newt Gingrich’s wife has stepped up her presence as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, especially in Iowa, where social conservatives hold powerful sway.

While Callista Gingrich is a visible reminder of her twice-divorced husband’s past infidelity, she’s also a symbol of his newfound devotion to family.

Mr. Gingrich’s campaign is betting that anyone who doubts whether he truly has mended his ways need only look to his wife, who stands at his side, ramrod straight and smiling. She is being dispatched strategically and appears with Mr. Gingrich in a cheery Christmas ad, and the couple frequently hosts his-and-her book signings after campaign events.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama gets political uptick, but momentum fickle

President Obama has capped a bruising year by winning a tax-cut extension for millions of Americans, but his momentum may be hard to maintain in the coming election year.

The president’s victory in a tax fight with House Republicans overshadowed Washington’s deepening dysfunction and the slow progress of the economy on his watch.

He left Friday for Hawaii with the look of a president who was back in command of the political stage.

The lasting impression was of Mr. Obama presiding over a two-month extension of a payroll-tax cut after House Republicans caved on demands for a longer-lasting deal.

Yet on this issue, as on many, much work remains for Mr. Obama after the new year, just when voters begin choosing a Republican nominee to try to defeat him.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Biden: Romney content with limited success stories

TILTON — In a likely preview of the general-election argument to come, Vice President Joseph R. Biden and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney traded barbs Friday over whose economic policies are best for the country. Mr. Biden said Mr. Romney’s agenda would leave most people behind, while the Republican said Mr. Biden and President Obama live in “fantasyland” for thinking their policies are helping.

Mr. Biden singled out the former Massachusetts governor in an opinion piece published Friday in the Des Moines Register in Iowa, where the first votes of the GOP presidential nominating contest will be cast in eight days.

The vice president said Mr. Romney’s economic proposals “would actually double down on the policies that caused the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression and accelerated a decades-long assault on the middle class.”

“Romney also misleadingly suggests that the president and I are creating an ‘Entitlement Society,’ whereby government provides everything for its people without regard to merit, as opposed to what he calls an “Opportunity Society,” where everything is merit-based and every man is left to fend for himself,” Mr. Biden wrote.

“The only entitlement we believe in is an America where if you work hard, you can get ahead,” the vice president said.

CIA

Watchdog finds no problem in police partnership

The CIA says its inspector general has found nothing wrong with the spy agency’s close partnership with the New York Police Department. The inspector general concluded that no laws were broken and there was no evidence the CIA was conducting domestic spying.

The inspector general decided to do a preliminary investigation after a series of stories by the Associated Press revealed how after the 9/11 attacks, the CIA helped the NYPD build domestic intelligence programs that were used to spy on Muslims.

The revelations troubled some members of Congress and even prompted the U.S. director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., to remark that it did not look good for the CIA to be involved in any city police department.

JUSTICE

FBI computer upgrade not ready until May

A Justice Department audit has found that the launch of the FBI’s long-delayed computer upgrade has been pushed back to the middle of 2012.

The FBI’s Sentinel program was launched to build a paperless case-management system. It was supposed to be completed by December 2009.

But now the FBI’s chief technology officer tells the Justice Department inspector general that the system’s deployment is now scheduled for May. The audit from the inspector general’s office says an October exercise identified “deficiencies” in Sentinel’s performance. That forced cancellation of the scheduled January launch.

The FBI has struggled for years to modernize its computer systems.

The IG audit released Friday also expressed concern that the bureau would be able to stay within its estimated $451 million budget for the new system.

From wire dispatches and staff reports