- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009


GE chief tops White House visits

Energy issues and people with a stake in them figure prominently in the latest batch of visitor records released by the White House.

Those landing meetings with aides to President Obama include General Electric Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt, who has roughly a half-dozen scheduled meetings in the records.

The records - released Wednesday - show that Mr. Immelt was among those scheduled to meet in August with Phil Schiliro, the president’s chief legislative liaison to Congress. Other scheduled visitors included climate-change specialist Jonathan Lash and Paul Hanrahan, the chief executive of major energy company AES.

The records are the latest in a series of visitor logs released voluntarily by the White House.


Obama calls for fewer secrets

President Obama has ordered the federal government to rethink how it protects the nation’s secrets, in a move that was expected to declassify more than 400 million pages of Cold War-era documents and curb the number of government records hidden from the public.

Among the changes is a requirement that every record is released eventually. Mr. Obama also directed federal agencies to review their policies on protecting information and called for the creation of a new National Declassification Center at the National Archives to assist them.

Advocates for a more open government are cheering the move, but say increased transparency will depend upon agency compliance.

In a memo to agency heads, Mr. Obama said he expects the order will improve openness and vowed to monitor the outcome.


Stamps to honor Mother Teresa, Autry

Nobel Prize winner Mother Teresa and Pulitzer Prize winner Bill Mauldin will be honored on U.S. postage stamps next year.

Joining them will be Oscar-winning actress Katharine Hepburn, singing cowboy Gene Autry, artist Winslow Homer and Adm. Arleigh Burke.

Other new stamps will honor Negro League baseball, the Sunday funnies and the Hawaiian rain forest, the Postal Service announced Wednesday.

The post office releases a series of commemorative stamps every year, honoring people, places and institutions. These stamps remain on sale for a limited period and are widely collected.


U.S. increases aid to Yemen

The United States is sharply increasing military and economic aid to Yemen, as it has been doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to fight a growing threat from al Qaeda, officials said Wednesday.

The threat has been highlighted by the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who reportedly confessed to being trained by an al Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen for his mission to blow up a U.S.-bound jet over Detroit.

“To a certain extent, you can argue that the airline incident on Christmas Day brought attention, public attention to Yemen,” a senior State Department official told Agence France-Presse on the condition of anonymity.

“Over the last year or so, there has been a renewed focus on what can we do, how can we really speed up the [aid] process,” the official said.

In fiscal 2010, U.S. development and security assistance to Yemen is expected to rise to $63 million from $40.3 million in fiscal 2009, State Department spokesman Darby Holladay said.


Astronauts talk to troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD | U.S. astronauts wished Army troops in Baghdad a happy new year while flying over Iraq aboard the International Space Station, NASA said.

Jeff Williams and T.J. Creamer spoke with soldiers Tuesday for 20 minutes via a satellite link from 220 miles above the Earth.

The astronauts, both Army colonels, had requested the video and audio link with U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, NASA officials said.

“There’s not a day goes by when we don’t remember the service and the sacrifice that so many of you are making over there,” Col. Williams said, bobbing in weightlessness alongside Col. Creamer.

One soldier asked whether the broken urine-processing system aboard the space station had been fixed. The astronauts said no and that urine was being collected and stored until the system could be repaired. Video of the conversation can be seen at NASA.gov.


TSA subpoenas bloggers over leak

As the government reviews how a Nigerian on the terrorist watch list was supposedly able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public.

Mr. Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his laptop computer. Mr. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn’t cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

“It literally showed up in my box,” Mr. Frischling told the Associated Press. “I do not know who it came from.” He said he provided the agents a signed statement to that effect.

In a Dec. 29 posting on his blog, Mr. Elliott said he had told the TSA agents at his house that he would call his attorney and get back to them. Mr. Elliott did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment. The TSA declined to say how many people were subpoenaed.


Governor fires aide for first-lady words

CARSON CITY, Nev. | Gov. Jim Gibbons fired his campaign adviser Wednesday for comments that described first ladies as “window dressing.”

Mr. Gibbons said Robert Olmer’s comments earlier this week to a Reno newspaper were demeaning and sexist, and do not reflect his own feelings.

“I again apologize for Mr. Olmer’s remarks and I am taking this action to make sure this does not happen again,” Mr. Gibbons said in a statement.

Hours after a judge Monday approved a divorce settlement between the governor and Dawn Gibbons, Mr. Olmer told the Reno Gazette-Journal that not having a first lady in the governor’s mansion wouldn’t be an issue, because any first lady “is to a large extent window dressing, just showing up for public events.”

Mr. Olmer has said his remarks were misinterpreted. “She has been a great proponent to various charities,” he told KRNV-TV in Reno on Tuesday. “I certainly didn’t mean anything negative toward Dawn.”

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