- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009


Obama: Troop decisions ‘difficult’

President Obama on Wednesday said that “difficult decisions” lie ahead on Iraq and Afghanistan, after meeting with his top civilian defense and military officials at the Pentagon.

“We’re going to have some difficult decisions that we’re going to have to make,” the president said, after meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff for nearly two hours.

It was the president’s second meeting with top military commanders during his first eight days in office, as he seeks to follow through on his campaign promise to pull combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months.

There are roughly 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and another 36,000 in Afghanistan, complemented there by a multinational force under NATO of 32,000 troops, according to a Pentagon official.

Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has asked for 30,000 more troops. The president is set to hold one more meeting with military commanders soon focused strictly on Afghanistan, which Mr. Obama has called the real front in the war on terrorism.


Obama to visit Canada next month

President Obama will make his first foreign trip, to Canada, on Feb. 19, the White House said Wednesday.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs announced the date in his daily briefing with reporters. The White House previously announced that Mr. Obama was going to make his first international trip to Canada.

Mr. Gibbs released no other information about Mr. Obama’s trip.


Ex-lobbyist wins continued support

The White House on Wednesday defended Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s choice of Mark Patterson - an ex-lobbyist from Goldman Sachs — to be his chief of staff.

The selection is at least the third high-profile exception to a policy by President Obama that says no one who has lobbied on a set of issues within the past two years can take a role in his administration that deals with the same subject matter.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated his claim that that rule is the “strongest that any administration in the history of our country has had.”

Until April, Mr. Patterson, a Goldman vice president for government relations, acted as a lobbyist on a wide range of issues that could come under his purview in his new job. Under Mr. Obama’s restrictions, Mr. Patterson would be severely hampered in the new job unless he gets a waiver from the White House on grounds that it is in the public interest.

Mr. Patterson’s former Wall Street firm has benefited from $10 billion in government bailouts in the current recession.


Peanut plant ignored warnings

Roaches, mold and signs of a leaking roof were among numerous problems federal inspectors uncovered at a Georgia plant that kept shipping peanut butter even after it was found to contain salmonella.

A senior lawmaker on Wednesday quickly called for a criminal investigation of the plant, which has been implicated in the national salmonella outbreak.

Salmonella had been found previously at least 12 times in products made at the plant, but production lines were never cleaned up after internal tests indicated contamination, a government report said. The tainted products initially tested positive, were retested and then shipped out.

Peanut Corp. of America’s plant in Blakely, Ga., had 10 separate problem areas, Food and Drug Administration inspectors said in a report posted on the Internet.


CQ is put up for sale

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. | Congressional Quarterly Inc., with its flagship CQ Weekly magazine and other information services, is up for sale.

The Times Publishing Co., which also owns the St. Petersburg Times, said Wednesday it will seek bids for the company.

The move comes amid a historic decline in advertising revenue that has prompted a slew of media companies to sell assets. Times Publishing said the sale is part of a decision to focus more of its resources in its home market in Florida.

Founded by Nelson Poynter in 1945, Congressional Quarterly has a loyal readership among Capitol Hill insiders. The company also puts out a daily publication, CQ Today, and other products, including CQ.com, CQ Homeland Security, CQ Budget Tracker, CQ HealthBeat, CQ MoneyLine, CQ Politics and Governing Magazine.

Times Publishing is owned by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, the nonprofit journalism organization Mr. Poynter started before his death in 1978.

The company has retained the New York investment bank Jordan, Edmiston Group Inc. to handle the sale.


Charges filed against Abramoff ex-deputy

A former deputy to Jack Abramoff was charged Wednesday in the lobbyist-corruption scandal, accused of wining and dining public officials and showering them with other gifts to win favors for clients.

The government says Todd Boulanger gave government aides “a stream of things of value,” including all-expense-paid travel, tickets to professional sporting events and concerts and nights out at expensive restaurants, to reward and influence actions that would benefit his clients. He was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The charge was outlined in a federal court document known as an information - a document normally filed as part of a plea deal. His attorney did not return messages seeking comment.

Mr. Boulanger worked as a deputy to Abramoff after spending several years as an aide to former Sen. Bob Smith, New Hampshire Republican. He worked with Abramoff at two lobbying firms - Preston Gates & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig - representing clients including the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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