CNN Senior National Editor
The new administration in Washington has dipped its pita into the hummus early.
In his interview with the Arabic-language television channel Al-Arabiya, President Barack Obama said he told U.S. envoy George Mitchell to ". . . start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating – in the past on some of these issues – and we don't always know all the factors that are involved."
Mitchell likely is getting an earful from Arab leaders about U.S. military aid to Israel, particularly how Israel uses the weaponry it buys with that money.
Reporter's Note: The day before Super Bowl Sunday is traditionally known as “Free Kick Saturday” in the White House because of a long tradition of inviting citizens to attempt a field goal through makeshift uprights across the street in Lafayette Park. Not really, but it would be cool. The President has asked for advice, thus my continuing series of letters.
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
So glad the weekend is finally here! You’ve had me working quite late with all these programs you’ve been launching and frankly I can use the break. Not like I’ll get one. The elder daughter has a speech contest all day Saturday; I’m going to a father-daughter dance with the younger one; throw in some work around the house (I swear those Christmas lights are coming down,) take everyone to church, and Bob’s-your-uncle, it’s Monday again.
CNN Senior Executive Producer
Please look carefully at these two photos and ask yourself which you’d rather click on. Today’s Paris couture fashion show, above, or New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, below. The choice reminds me of the line in the movie Manhattan, when Woody Allen tells his female companion in a cab: “You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter.” As I was watching the Paris video feed in to CNN headquarters, I found myself drifting over to Mayor Bloomberg. He was explaining how New York’s financial meter was quickly running down, not up.
Bloomberg gave us a lesson about the economic domino effect that’s threatening to crush so many American cities and towns. He explained, in clear, simple terms, why he, and many others, believe a major infusion of federal government money is essential to keeping the dominoes at bay. Take just one example, education. Bloomberg explained that New Yorkers are expected to lose nearly 300 thousand jobs through next year. That’s 39 billion dollars in lost wages. Which translates into 4 billion dollars in lost tax revenues. Continuing to connect the dots, Mr. Bloomberg told us that a sharp reduction in tax revenues has led New York’s Governor to cut New York City’s education budget by 770 million dollars. That amounts to 14,274 teacher jobs. Schoolchildren cannot afford to lose that kind of ground.
The new federal stimulus bill would send more than a billion dollars in aid to New York State for education. Mr. Bloomberg is asking, pleading is more like it, for the Governor to send much of it to the city. A similar story here in Atlanta on the hunger for federal money, where the banner headline in the Journal-Constitution’s reads “Ga Schools Could Get $1 Billion.” Whatever your assessment of the entirety of the stimulus plan, the money schools are losing from reduced tax revenues will have to come from somewhere. Virtually every state government is required to balance its budget. So don’t look there.
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President Obama is fuming. And who can blame him after learning that Wall Street executives gave themselves more than $18 billion in bonuses last year as the economy tanked and they begged for taxpayer bailouts. Seriously, how many pedicures and pinky rings do they need?
I’ve decided that, if I worked on Wall Street, I could scrape by on a mere $1 billion. Granted, I wouldn’t be able to invest in as many Ponzi schemes as I’d like, but it’d be enough that my dog, Sammy, could enroll in that yoga class she’s been talking about.
It would be difficult to know where to begin, but I think my first indulgence after receiving my modest bonus would be to buy a new home. I would put in a bid for an Upper East Side penthouse but, of course, would be rejected by the pretentious co-op board, jealous of my new friendships with Puff Daddy and Susan Lucci.
Disheartened with Manhattan, I would buy a mansion in Connecticut. Where I would be closer to my Wall Street brethren and where my cadre of helper monkeys dressed like hotel bellmen would be free to roam the grounds.
Oops. There's another tax problem for one of Pres. Obama's cabinet picks. Former Sen. Tom Daschle, the nominee to lead Health and Human Services, is under scrutiny for not paying taxes on a car and driver.
A Democratic tells CNN that Daschle was loaned a car and driver by a wealthy friend and failed to disclose it on his income taxes, as he should have. Daschle has since paid what he owed, the source said. We'll have the latest developments on his breaking story tonight on AC360°.
Remember earlier this month, Mr. Obama's pick for Treasury, Tim Geithner admitted "careless mistakes" when it came to not paying some personal taxes over several years. He ended up fixing the mistake and he got the Treasury job, which makes him the boss of the IRS.
Do you think Dashchle will get the HHS post? Share your thoughts below.
We're also following the latest outrage over Wall Street bonuses. Today Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, introduced legislation that would max out employee pay for any company that accepts federal bailout money at $400,000 dollars. How did she come up with that amount? Pres. Obama's current annual salary is $400,000.
What do you think of Sen. McCaskill's proposal?
And, there are new details on the women who gave birth to octuplets earlier this week near Los Angeles. We've learned she already has six children and they live with her parents. The octuplet birth is raising eyebrows with some fertility experts. Should the high-risk pregnancy been avoided? We'll talk it over with a medical ethicist.
Join us for these stories and more starting at 10pm ET.
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News Update: The U.S. State Department will not renew the contract of security contractor Blackwater Worldwide when it expires in May, a senior State Department official said Friday. The decision was made after the Iraqi government refused to renew the firm's operating license because of a September 2007 shooting incident in which the Iraqi government says security guards employed by Blackwater fired upon and killed 17 Iraqis.
Author and CNN Executive Producer
Erik Prince couldn't have known it at the time, but September 16, 2007 was the beginning of the end for his company in Iraq. That's the day that heavily-armed Blackwater contractors set out in a convoy to clear a path for approaching vehicles after a nearby car bombing had rattled nerves. The Blackwater team – call sign Raven 23 – closed off a traffic circle in a Baghdad neighborhood and within moments, opened fire in a hail of bullets that would leave at least 14 Iraqi civilians dead, among them a 9-year-old boy. Five of the guards on that team are now under indictment in the U.S. charged with manslaughter and attempted manslaughter. Another guard has pled guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. The five charged say they were only returning insurgent fire.
Editor’s Note: You can read more Jami Floyd blogs on “In Session.”
In Session Anchor
Like a Shakespearean tragedy, the Blagojevich debacle just keeps getting better and better. Narcissism. Corruption. Colorful characters. And farce.
But it’s not funny. Not really. Because whatever really went down in this case, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. And Denmark isn’t the Prairie State. Rather, it’s a political state of mind in which entitlement and corruption have become the order of the day.