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First thoughts: Another big week

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Another big week: As the country returns from its long Thanksgiving weekend, as everyone obsesses over those White House party crashers, and as the strange Tiger Woods story dominates the water-cooler talk, President Obama embarks on yet another important week in his young presidency. In fact, it very well could rank right up there as his most important week so far, given that it involves the two issues that could make or break him: war and jobs. Today, he meets with Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to discuss (among other things) Afghanistan and climate change. Then, tomorrow night at West Point, Obama delivers his long-awaited announcement on Afghanistan. On Thursday comes the president's jobs summit, and on Friday, he talks jobs in Allentown, PA as the new unemployment numbers are released. And just to add to the agenda, the Senate this week begins debating its health-care bill. "Is this a historic week? Yes," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said yesterday, per the Wall Street Journal. "It's a historic week within a historic year."

*** Previewing tomorrow night's speech: As for Obama's Tuesday night speech on Afghanistan, the New York Times front-pages that in addition to announcing sending some extra 30,000 troops there, the president will lay out a time frame for winding down the war. "It's accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion," a senior official tells the paper. "He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down." Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the U.S. is offering Pakistan a strategic partnership that includes additional military and economic assistance. "'We can't succeed [in Afghanistan] without Pakistan," a senior administration official involved in the White House review said. 'You have to differentiate between public statements and reality. There is nobody who is under any illusions about this.'" The president, it seems, has so many audiences he'll be speaking to in tomorrow's speech. From the domestic folks (like many in his own party who don't want a troop escalation) to the leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as NATO allies, he's got to simultaneously reassure folks in America he's got a plan to get out while letting the world know we're not going anywhere anytime soon. Is that even plausible, let alone possible?

*** Reaching the (jobs) summit: As for Thursday's job summit, the White House yesterday released a partial list of the approximately 130 folks who will attend. The list includes Google's Eric Schmidt, AT&T's Randall Stevenson, Qwest's Surya Mohapatra, Fed Ex's Fred Smith, Comcast's Brian Roberts, Disney's Bob Iger, Boeing's James McNerney, Dow's Andrew Livens, economists Paul Krugman (who today offers what he'd like to see to create jobs) and Joe Stiglitz, and union leaders Anna Burger and Leo Gerard. "The Obama administration and U.S. business leaders will meet at the White House this week to ponder ways to boost employment. Their ideas, though, don't overlap much," the Wall Street Journal says. "Businesses of all sizes are brimming with proposals they say would spur economic growth. The most commonly voiced are tax cuts and boosting access to credit… But many of the nostrums floated by business would increase spending or reduce tax receipts, unpalatable moves for the White House as the nation's huge deficit becomes a political liability." The challenge for the White House on this event: to make sure it isn't simply a well-named photo-op. Can something concrete come out of this summit in a timely fashion?

*** Shame, shame, shame: And just in case you thought today -- as well as this week -- wasn't busy enough, here is this story: "The Obama administration on Monday plans to announce a campaign to pressure mortgage companies to reduce payments for many more troubled homeowners, as evidence mounts that a $75 billion taxpayer-financed effort aimed at stemming foreclosures is foundering. 'The banks are not doing a good enough job,' Michael S. Barr, Treasury's assistant secretary for financial institutions, said in an interview Friday. 'Some of the firms ought to be embarrassed, and they will be.' Even as lenders have in recent months accelerated the pace at which they are reducing mortgage payments for borrowers, a vast majority of loans modified through the program remain in a trial stage lasting up to five months, and only a tiny fraction have been made permanent." 

*** Guns a-blazing: In fact, it seems the White House has used the day after the holiday weekend to come out guns a-blazing on all the big issues. This morning, it has released a video on health care that features Vice President Biden asking whom do you trust -- the defenders of the status quo or the nurses and doctors who are backing reform? Speaking of the vice president, the New York Times magazine yesterday ran a lengthy profile of Biden, which called him the second-most powerful VP ever behind Cheney. (And before Cheney, didn't folks argue that VP Gore was the most influential VP in some time?)

*** Forget about Huck in 2012? This news can't help Mike Huckabee's 2012 chances, if he's thinking about another White House run. The suspect in yesterday's slaying of four Washington state police officers "was paroled in 2000 after then-Gov. Mike Huckabee commuted his 95-year prison sentence," the Washington Post says. Huckabee has released this statement: "Should he be found to be responsible for this horrible tragedy, it will be the result of a series of failures in the criminal justice system in both Arkansas and Washington State. He was recommended for and received a commutation of his original sentence from 1990. This commutation making him parole eligible and was paroled by the parole board once they determined he met the conditions at that time. He was arrested later for parole violation and taken back to prison to serve his full term, but prosecutors dropped the charges that would have held him. It appears that he has continued to have a string of criminal and psychotic behavior but was not kept incarcerated by either state. This is a horrible and tragic event and if found and convicted the offender should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

*** Remember Wayne Dumond? NBC's Chris Donovan reminds us of another controversial commutation that hurt Huckabee during last year's presidential contest. "Wayne Dumond, a rapist who was convicted, sentenced in Arkansas, the parole board voted not to parole him in September of--in August of '96. You announced that you were going to commute his sentence, and then the parole board reversed course and agreed to parole him, and you supported their decision to parole. He was, was freed, left the state, killed and raped someone else in Missouri. Do you regret supporting that parole?" the late Tim Russert asked Huckabee on "Meet the Press" in 2007. Huckabee answered, "You know, looking back, certainly I wish that I had known more than I knew, but here's what I knew: I never commuted his sentence; his sentence was commuted by my predecessor. When he was parole eligible, he had not yet made parole. And I supported that he was parole-eligible. Later, the parole board did, in fact, give him their parole, supervised." Remember, Huckabee never truly received front-runner scrutiny in 2008; his candidacy flamed out just as news organizations were preparing more detailed looks at his pardons and other controversies -- including the petty cash-like expenses he seemed to regularly charge the state when he was governor.

*** Gone in 15 minutes? A final word on Tiger Woods, the party crashers, and Balloon Boy: It was more than 40 years ago when Andy Warhol helped coin his "15 minutes of fame" phrase. Forty years! And the phrase gets truer by the minute. Every time we think we've dug deeper into the abyss of tabloid nuttiness, we as a society somehow go one step lower. Let's start with those party crashers: The fact is they did it to get on TV (!!!) -- not just for interviews, but to get a show. While many are rightfully outraged about the security breech in the White House, realize that the folks assigned to protect the president deal with far more unknown members of the public when, say, the president works a ropeline. At least the party crashers went through a magnetometer, something many town hall attendees do NOT. But what really has so many folks in the intelligentsia so up-in-arms about this episode is that they may get rewarded for this behavior which, in turn, will only inspire the NEXT person to do something even crazier to get a reality TV series. It's truly bizarre stuff. And it's in that same vein we bring up Tiger Woods. Why did Tiger send out such a detailed pushback? Because of all the reporting by TMZ, an entity that pays sources, one of whom may ACTUALLY have been an EMT who came to Tiger's care at the scene of the accident. So whether it's for fame or fortune, everybody wants their 15 minutes of something. Wherever the bar was, it seemed to get lowered just a tad over the weekend.

Countdown to MA Special Primary: 8 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 50 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 337 days

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