- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008


Shoe tosser fails to amuse first lady

First lady Laura Bush said Sunday she was “not amused” when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at President Bush during a surprise trip to Baghdad earlier this month.

“Of course I was not amused,” she told Fox News in an interview, when asked about the Dec. 14 incident. “It is an assault, and I think it should be treated that way.”

Asked whether the footwear flinger, Muntadhar al-Zeidi, should be released, Mrs. Bush replied: “I don’t know about that. And that’s going to be up to the Iraqis. And they’ll do whatever.”

“But I know that if Saddam Hussein had been there, the man wouldn’t have been released. And he probably would have been executed. So as bad as the incident is, in my view, it is a sign that Iraqis feel a lot freer to express themselves,” she said.

An Iraqi judge decreed last week that Mr. al-Zeidi, 29, would go on trial Dec. 31 on charges of “aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit,” which carries between five and 15 years in prison.


Bush briefed on Gaza fighting

President Bush on Sunday received a briefing on Israel’s campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip from National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, the White House said.

Mr. Bush, set to usher in 2009 on his Texas ranch, “spoke by phone with … Steve Hadley this morning to receive an update on the situation in Israel and Gaza,” spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

“The president will be kept updated as events warrant” and will get the latest on the crisis at his 7:30 a.m. Monday daily intelligence briefing, Mr. Johndroe said.

Mr. Bush has not spoken publicly since Israel launched punishing strikes in Gaza in retaliation for rocket fire by the Islamist movement Hamas.


Rice hails election of black president

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that while the country is not “race-blind” and “we shouldn’t deceive ourselves that we’re race-blind,” the election of Barack Obama as the first black president was a key moment in history.

“I think all Americans were quite taken with the fact that we were able, after the long history we’ve been through, that initial birth defect of slavery, that we’ve elected an African-American,” Miss Rice said in a taped interview that aired on the CBS program “Sunday Morning.” “And that’s enormously heartening for people in the country, but also people worldwide who still have trouble with differences.”

Miss Rice, who was raised in segregated Alabama and became the first black female to be secretary of state, said the United States still has problems with race.

“But I do think we’ve gotten to the place that we don’t see a person and say, ‘That’s a black person, therefore they must be …’ And that’s an enormous step forward.”


Obama adviser looks to long term

Spending government money solely to stimulate consumer spending would be a short-sighted mistake, one of President-elect Barack Obama’s top economic advisers said Sunday.

Lawrence H. Summers, a former Treasury secretary and Mr. Obama’s pick to head the White House National Economic Council, said policy needs to address both immediate job creation and longer-term investment needs.

“In this crisis, doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much,” Mr. Summers wrote in The Washington Post.

“Some argue that instead of attempting to both create jobs and invest in our long-run growth, we should focus exclusively on short-term policies that generate consumer spending,” Mr. Summers said. “But that approach led to some of the challenges we face today - and it is that approach that we must reject if we are going to strengthen our middle class and our economy over the long run.”


Tourism declines at Craig restroom

BOISE, Idaho | The men’s room at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport where Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, was arrested in a sex sting is losing its appeal as a tourist stop, an official said.

“We’re getting there,” said Patrick Hogan, director of public affairs for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “I think we’ll all be glad when there’s no special interest in that restroom.”

Mr. Craig was accused of soliciting sex in the bathroom in June 2007 and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August 2007.

One person had offered to buy the restroom stall for $5,000, Mr. Hogan said, but airport officials “don’t sell fixtures for novelty purposes.”

Though tourist interest has waned, the surge of publicity from Mr. Craig’s arrest helped end the type of activity in the restroom that had prompted lewd-conduct complaints, he said.

Mr. Craig - who is married and maintained his innocence - did not seek re-election in last month’s election for the seat he has held for 18 years. He will be replaced in January by Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, a Republican.


Obama adviser vows Middle East focus

President-elect Barack Obama is “committed” to achieving peace in the Middle East, a top aide said Sunday, after one of the bloodiest days of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since the conflict began 60 years ago.

“Obviously, this situation has become even more complicated in the last couple of days and weeks. As Hamas began its shelling, Israel responded. But it’s something that he’s committed to,” David Axelrod told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Obama “is monitoring the situation” in Gaza, Mr. Axelrod told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in another interview, adding that the Democrat was briefed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by telephone on Saturday.

“I think [Mr. Obama] wants to get a handle on the situation, so that, when he becomes president on January 20th, he has the advantage of all the facts and information leading up to that point,” Mr. Axelrod said on CBS, though he repeated the Obama team’s often-stated line that “there’s only one president at a time.”

Mr. Obama will also have to deal with a new administration in Israel, where elections are planned for February. But he has already signaled he intends to maintain strong ties between the United States and Israel.


Navy settles sonar-whales lawsuit

HONOLULU | The Navy has settled a lawsuit filed by environmentalists challenging its use of sonar in hundreds of submarine-hunting exercises around the world.

The Navy said Saturday the deal reached with the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups requires it to continue to research how sonar affects whales and other marine mammals.

It doesn’t require sailors to adopt additional measures to protect the animals when they use sonar. The agreement comes one month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Navy in another sonar lawsuit the NRDC filed.

“The Navy is pleased that after more than three years of extensive litigation, this matter has been brought to an end on favorable terms,” said Frank R. Jimenez, the Navy’s general counsel.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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