Category Archives: Travel

Holiday Season at the White House with the Obama’s ~ 2009

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November 27, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama and First Daughters Kick Off Christmas at White House

First lady Michelle Obama, with her daughters Sasha and Malia, as they stand with the White House Christmas tree as it is delivered to the North Portico of the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 27, 2009.

First Lady Michelle Obama, with her daughters Sasha and Malia, as they stand with the White House Christmas tree as it is delivered to the North Portico.

AP/—The White House is open for Christmas. A day after celebrating Thanksgiving, First Lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha received the official White House Christmas tree: an 18½-foot Douglas fir delivered from a farm in Shepherdstown, W.Va., by traditional horse-drawn carriage. Growers Eric and Gloria Sundback officially presented the tree to the Obamas on Friday. It’s the fourth time one of their trees has become the official White House tree.

Malia, Michelle, and Sasha Obama welcome Mark Steelhammer, left, and Eric and Gloria Sundback to the White House.

Malia, Michelle, and Sasha Obama welcome Mark Steelhammer, left, and Eric and Gloria Sundback to the White House.

It’s big enough for Sasha to climb in, I think,” Sundback joked after the Obamas walked from the North Portico of the White House to the driveway where the tree was tied up and lying in the carriage, pulled up the driveway from Pennsylvania Avenue by a pair of Belgian draft horses with red Christmas bows tied to their tails. A sign affixed to the side of the carriage said “White House Christmas Tree 2009.” “We’re excited,” Mrs. Obama told the Sundbacks. Asked by reporters whether the tree was the biggest she ever had, the first lady said: “Yeah, I think this wins.”

The 12-foot wide tree in the oval-shaped Blue Room on the State Floor of the White House, is the star attraction of Christmas at the White House, and will be oohed and aahed over by the thousands of people who will stream through in December for holiday parties and public tours of the executive mansion.

The tree, which the Sundbacks planted in 1996, was hand-picked on Oct. 20 on a visit to the Sundback’s farm by retired Rear Adm. Stephen Rochon, the White House chief usher, and Dale Haney, superintendent of the White House grounds. Besides the official tree, more than a dozen smaller trees from the Sundback farm will decorate other rooms in the White House, including the Oval Office. The Sundbacks, both in their 80s, earned the honor by winning the National Christmas Tree Association’s national contest this year for the fourth time. A tree from the winner’s farm is then chosen as the official White House tree, an annual tradition that dates to 1966. The Sundbacks have grown Christmas trees since 1956 and were thrilled by the opportunity to meet their fourth first lady.

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December 2, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Unveils White House Christmas Decorations

The First Lady debuts the 2009 White House Christmas decorations in the Cross Hall of the White House. She is accompanied by U.S. Marines as she promotes the Marine Corp's Toys for Tots program

The First Lady debuts the 2009 White House Christmas decorations in the Cross Hall of the White House. She is accompanied by U.S. Marines as she promotes the Marine Corp's Toys for Tots program

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama became the entertainers-in-chief, hosting nearly 30 parties during their first holiday season at the White House. More than 50,000 people have received invitations to attend one of the 17 holiday parties and 11 open houses at the White House that started in early December.

The Red Room of the White House, with holiday decorations, Dec. 2, 2009. This years holiday theme at the White House is reflect, rejoice and renew.

The Red Room of the White House, with holiday decorations, Dec. 2, 2009. This years holiday theme at the White House is reflect, rejoice and renew.

This isn’t just throwing open the White House doors and putting out some drinks and appetizers. The Obamas attended each party, greeted guests in a receiving line, posed for photos at most of the events and even mingled among the partygoers at a select few.

The Obamas pledged to open up the White House and make it a more open, welcoming place to average Americans. Guests at the White House holiday parties get to explore the mansion’s state floor, which holds famous rooms like the East, Red, Green and Blue rooms and the State Dining Room.

The White House tree is also lit with environmentally sound LED lights

The White House tree is also lit with environmentally sound LED lights

The theme of this year’s decorations is “reflect, rejoice and renew.” The displays are scaled down from previous seasons in an acknowledgment of the tough economic times and also to highlight the Obamas’ emphasis on recycling. Some of the decorations, in fact, are from previous administrations, but with an Obama twist.

We decided to do something just a little different,” Michelle Obama said earlier this month. “We took about 800 ornaments left over from previous administrations, we sent them to 60 local community groups throughout the country, and asked them to decorate them to pay tribute to a favorite local landmark and then send them back to us for display here at the White House.”

Guests still will be able to admire an annual, mouthwatering White House tradition — the gingerbread replica of the president’s mansion, made over the last six weeks by White House pastry chef Bill Yosses. The 400-pound White House is made out of white chocolate and gingerbread with flourishes of marzipan to create the vegetables in the Obamas’ garden and the furniture in the State Dining Room.

The ornaments are hung on the tree with blue ribbon embroidered with the words "reflect," "rejoice" and "renew" in several different languages

The ornaments are hung on the tree with blue ribbon embroidered with the words reflect, rejoice and renew in several different languages

The largest tree in the mansion — an 18 1/2 -foot Douglas fir adorning the Blue Room — is festooned with hundreds of ornaments, all recycled from previous administrations and spruced up by groups around the country to reflect cherished landmarks. Chicagoans clearly had a vote, since the city is represented in orbs singling out the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Chicago Theatre, the Art Institute of Chicago and the DuSable Museum of African American History. “Sweet home, Chicago” is the rhapsody on another ornament. It takes its place with ornaments depicting a Georgia peach, a Maryland crab and others heralding spots from Maine (the Wiggly Bridge near York Harbor) to California (the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library).

A view of the White House Green Room

A view of the White House Green Room

Planning for the holidays began last summer, and the first of an expected 50,000-plus holiday visitors began streaming through December 1st. There were dozens of “elves” behind the decorating, which, while elaborate, was more understated than in recent years. Ninety-two volunteers from 24 states put in more than 3,400 hours of their time. Among the volunteers were some from the Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago. White House staffers and National Park Service workers also rolled up their sleeves in the effort.

The East Room is decorated with fresh garlands, blue hydrangea, seeded eucalyptus and beaded fruit

The East Room is decorated with fresh garlands, blue hydrangea, seeded eucalyptus and beaded fruit

They helped erect a large, ornate nativity scene in the East Room, graced by four fireplaces wearing opulent fresh garlands on their mantels. There, as in the other rooms on the State Floor, Mother Nature is amply represented with adornments of dried hydrangea (leftovers from White House floral arrangements), honeysuckle vine, magnolia branches, cranberries, gigantic pine cones and painted magnolia leaves. Several ruby-red wreaths were created from the magnolia leaves. Two 8-foot topiary trees were crafted from dried pepper berries, all from California. The flowers? They range from pink-tinged white amaryllis, fringed with pepper berry, to pale pink roses married with boxwood.

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December 3, 2009

The 86th Anniversary–Lighting of The National Christmas Tree

The National Christmas Tree Lighting once again provided an opportunity for all Americans to come together to celebrate the season and to share the message of peace.

Presented by the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, an all-star lineup of stars offered a diverse program of holiday music, including traditional songs with dashes of pop, folk and hip-hop.

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December 13, 2009

Christmas at the White House: An Oprah Primetime Special


Oprah Winfrey ushered in the holidays at the White House, visiting President Barack Obama and the First Lady as they prepared for their family’s first Christmas there.

The intimate, informative and entertaining hour-long special included a one-on-one conversation with the President, marking the first time Oprah had interviewed him since he took office, as well as an exclusive sit-down interview with the first couple. The special showcased behind-the-scenes preparations as the White House gets ready for the holiday season. Winfrey’s special included a tour of White House holiday decorations and an appearance by Bo, the family’s dog.

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December 16, 2009

The White House Hanukkah Party: A Special Menorah from Prague, Kosher Foods, and a Larger Guest List

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama watch as a child lights the Hanukkah candles

Obama Foodorama—December 16th was the sixth night of the Jewish Festival of Lights, and President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted their first Hanukkah party at the White House. The event spilled between the State Dining Room and the East Room, and a Jewish student choir will perform. A very special 19th century menorah was loaned to the White House for the traditional candle lighting ceremony, and it was lit by the two young children of a Jewish soldier deployed in Iraq. The special koshering of the White House kitchen was overseen by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who heads the Washington office of the American Friends of Lubavitch.

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

President Barack Obama with First Lady Michelle greets the crowd before his speech at Hradcansky square in Prague on April 5, 2009

The sterling silver menorah is on loan from the Jewish Museum in Prague, at the request of Mrs. Obama, who visited when she was touring Prague’s Jewish Town in April, while President Obama was on his first official visit there. The menorah dates from 1783, and is the work of Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger. On December 1, Leo Pavlat, director of the Jewish Museum, handed the menorah over to Mary Thompson-Jones, Charge d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, in a brief ceremony. Pavlat noted that the museum was pleased to loan the menorah to the Obamas, and regarded it as a symbolic connection between the Jewish communities in Moravia and Bohemia and those in the United States. When she was in Prague, Pavlat acted as Mrs. Obama’s tour guide during her tour of Jewish historical sites.

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

Pavlat and Thompson-Jones during the menorah hand off in Prague

On Dec. 11, the first night of Hanukkah, President Obama sent holiday greetings from the White House, in Hebrew and English:

הצהרת הנשיא אובאמה לרגל חג החנוכה

מישל ואנוכי שולחים את מיטב איחולינו לכל מי שחוגג בימים אלה את חג החנוכה ברחבי העולם. סיפור חנוכה של המכבים ושל הנסים שהם חוו מזכירים לנו שאמונה והתמדה הן כוחות עצומים המסוגלים לקיים אותנו בתקופות קשות ולעזור לנו לגבור על מכשולים כנגד כל הסיכויים.

חנוכה הוא העת לא רק לחגוג את אמונת העם היהודי ואת מנהגיו, אלא להעלות על נס את השאיפות המשותפות של בני כל הדתות. בשעה שבני משפחה, חברים ושכנים נאספים יחדיו כדי להדליק את הנרות, מי יתן והלקחים של חנוכה ישמשו השראה לכולנו להודות על החסד שנפל בחלקינו, למצוא מקור אור בתקופות אופל ולפעול יחדיו למען
עתיד יותר מלא אורה ותקווה

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Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama, addresses attendees at the 2009 Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony at the Ellipse, near the south grounds of the White House

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Emmanuel joined two Rabbis in a cherry picker at the top of the menorah to ignite three oil lamps marking the 3rd night of the eight-day festival

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December 16, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Delivers Toys for Tots

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the soldiers and volunteers who worked on the Marine Corps program.

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the soldiers and volunteers who worked on the Marine Corps program.


First Lady Michelle Obama visits the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve’s Toy for Tots warehouse in Stafford, VA to deliver some of the more than 500 toys collected during a White House drive. Started in 1947, the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation collects and distributes toys to less fortunate children for Christmas. The program helps make sure needy children have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. The First Lady was told about an abundance of toys for younger children. She asked the public to think about needy older children when shopping for toys to donate.

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December 17, 2009

Gloria Estefan Interviews President Obama in the White House for the Univision special “Our Christmas”


In an interview for Univision, singer Gloria Estefan interviewed the President, asking the “very important question…which chimney will Santa be coming down?”

The answer: the chimney in the Yellow Room in the middle of the Residence, “so that’s where we are going to set the cookies and the milk, because after working all night, giving the gifts…. we want to make sure when it comes to the White House that he feels like he is getting good service.” The Obamas will also set out “a little reindeer snack.”

At the end of the interview the President sent seasons greetings and a call to service to viewers and military families in the Hispanic community…en Español. “En esta temporada festiva, todos queremos estar con nuestros seres queridos, pero también podemos tomar el tiempo para ayudar a nuestras comunidades. Cada persona puede hacer una gran diferencia. Michelle y yo les deseamos una Feliz Navidad.”

Translation: “In this holiday season, we would all like to be with our loved ones, but we should also take the time to help our communities. Each person can make a big difference. Michelle and I wish you a Merry Christmas.”

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December 20, 2009

The 11th Annual Christmas in Washington Concert

TNT rang in the holidays in musical style with 11th annual presentation of Christmas in Washington. Performers included were Mary J. Blige, Neil Diamond, Sugarland, Usher, Rob Thomas and Justin Bieber joined host George Lopez in this spectacular holiday celebration.

Annually attended by the President and First Lady and other Washington VIPs, Christmas in Washington is a holiday musical celebration taped at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., with proceeds going to the National Children’s Medical Center.

Before the show started, four little girls dressed as elves helped the first couple place a gift for the Children’s National Medical Center under a Christmas tree. President Obama deemed the quartet – Avery, age 4, Anna, age 6, Abigail, age 4, and Reagan, age 7 – “Santa’s little helpers,” and introduced each, replacing their last name with “Elf.”

Though Anna Elf (on the left), seemed unimpressed, telling the President: “I’ve never seen you before!” He responded, laughing, “I’ve never seen you before.”

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Sugarland's  Kristian Bush, left, Mary J Blige, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle and George Lopez sing Christmas carols

Sugarland's Kristian Bush, left, Mary J Blige, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle and George Lopez sing Christmas carols

President Obama spoke of helping those in need during the holidays, as well as honoring those in the military: “With our men and women in uniform serving far from home, in harm’s way, our fervent wish remains this season, and all seasons: Let there be peace on earth,” he said. Near the end of the show, Lopez introduced President Obama and First Lady Michelle. The President thanked the performers and offered some holiday thoughts:

This season we celebrate that sacred moment. The birth of a child, the message of the love we preach to the world. We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper. And pure in heart, we do unto others as we have them do unto us. We devote ourselves to good works. We are summoned to be peacemakers. More the 2,000 years later,that spirit still inspires us. That’s why this celebration tonight benefits Children’s National Medical Center and all the children whose lives they touch and they save.

That’s why so many of our fellow citizens struggle during tough times. We are called upon to help neighbors in need. That’s why, with our men and women in uniform serving far from home, in harm’s way, our fervent wish remains this season, and all seasons to let there be peace on Earth. To all Americans, from our family to yours, Merry Christmas and God bless.”

After addressing the crowd, the Obamas stayed on stage with all the performers to sing carols, starting with “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The president wiped a tear from his eye during the sing-along.

Mary J. Blige Sings Oh Holy Night

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Usher Sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

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Justin Bieber Sings Some Day At Christmas

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Mary J. Blige Sings the Christmas Song

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Sugarland Sings Gold and Green

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Usher Sings Peace on Earth

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Rob Thomas Sings New York Christmas

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December 21, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama and First Daughters Malia & Sasha Answer Kids’ Questions, While Bo Barks At Santa

President Barack Obama says the only Christmas presents he needs from his daughters are hugs.

During an interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Obama said he and First Lady Michelle Obama decided several years ago not to buy each other presents. Obama says that doesn’t always save him money because he makes up for that on birthdays and Mother’s Day, but it does save him some wrapping time around the holidays.

Although the President said all he wants for Christmas is hugs from his daughters, first daughters Sasha and Malia have other plans. During a Q&A with kids at the Children’s National Medical Center on Tuesday, the girls revealed they’re getting their father “sports stuff.” They also talked about how Christmas will be different now that they’re in the White House and what they’re planning for the holidays. Bo the First dog came along for the visit.

December 21, 2009

President Obama Visits Boys & Girls Club, Reads To Children

Barack Obama brought a beloved book to read. He brought a press entourage. He brought cookies shaped like Bo the dog. Hey, he brought himself.

But the president of the United States still got a little Christmas reality Monday from a bunch of kids: High-tech toys rule.

Dashing into a Boys & Girls Club in northeast Washington, Obama asked about 25 youngsters what they wanted from Santa Claus.

An Ipod. A video game. A TV. A video game. A cell phone. A video game.

Now let me ask you a question here guys,” Obama finally said. “What ever happened to, like, asking for a bike?”

For a president snowbound in the White House, a visit to this community center was a nice mix of missions: a way to give back, a nice photo opportunity with a cute collection of children, and a chance to tell the country that the holidays are about generosity of spirit – not just gifts.

Obama took off his suit coat and read “The Polar Express,” a magical Christmas classic, holding it forward so the seated children could see the pictures.

The children paid quiet attention throughout. Obama rewarded them by grabbing his red velvet-wrapped basket of cookies and offering the children a choice of shapes: Bo the family dog, a gingerbread man or a Christmas maple leaf.


December 22, 2009

Photostream: Holidays at the White House

Holiday season at the White House began with a very simple idea: to include as many people, in as many places, in as many ways as possible. In this spirit, they’ve posted a video tour of this year’s decorations and the making of the gingerbread White House; now see the holidays through the lens of the White House Photo Office.
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December 23, 2009

The Official White House Christmas Portrait of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a formal portrait in front of the official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a formal portrait in front of the official White House Christmas Tree in the Blue Room of the White House, Dec. 6, 2009


December 23, 2009

First Lady Michelle Obama Reads The Night Before Christmas

First Lady Michelle Obama visits Children’s National Medial Center in Washington D.C. to read “The Night Before Christmas“. Joined by daughters Malia and Sasha, along with dog Bo, the First Lady continues this tradition of visiting with patients which dates back to Bess Truman.

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December 24, 2009

President Obama’s Weekly Address: Celebrating Christmas and Honoring Those Who Serve

For the first time in a weekly address, the President is joined by the First Lady as they celebrate Christmas. They both honor those serving overseas, those who have sacrificed for their country, and the families that stand by them. December 24, 2009.
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December 24, 2009

Mele Kalikimaka: The Obama Family’s Annual Christmas Vacation

Hawaii’s home-grown president, Barack Obama and the First Family traveled back in Honolulu on Dec. 24. They celebrated both Christmas and New Year’s in the islands.

In the past, Obama made a point of celebrating Christmas with his grandmother Madelyn Payne Dunham. The woman who raised Obama when his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was working and studying in Indonesia, died last November.

Also in past years, Obama would spend time with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng. The President’s sister and her husband, Konrad Ng, are also expected back in Honolulu. They were living in Washington, D.C., this year while Ng, a University of Hawaii professor, was scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American program.

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their children Sasha and Malia leave the White House

The First Family Arrives In Honolulu, Hawaii

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet soldiers and their family members for Christmas during a visit to Marine Corps Base Hawaii on December 25, 2009 in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii



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Mele Kalikimaka: The Obama Family’s Annual Christmas Vacation

Honolulu Star Bulletin/Richard Borreca—Hawaii’s home-grown president, Barack Obama, is expected back in Honolulu on Dec. 23, according to sources in Washington.

The president and his family are expected to stay until Jan. 2, meaning he will celebrate both Christmas and New Year’s in the islands.

In the past, Obama made a point of celebrating Christmas with his grandmother Madelyn Payne Dunham. The woman who raised Obama when his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was working and studying in Indonesia, died last November.

Also in past years, Obama would spend time with his sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

Soetoro-Ng and her husband, Konrad Ng, are also expected back in Honolulu. They were living in Washington, D.C., this year while Ng, a University of Hawaii professor, was scholar-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian Pacific American program.

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A Very Hawaiian Health Care Bill?

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Christmas 2008

TPM/Christina Bellantoni—The White House has long been saying President Obama wants a health care bill on his desk this year.

That’s the messaging used by the DNC’s Organizing for America, pro-health reform groups and, as Brian reported this week, the Democratic leadership is prepared to work “right through Christmas.”

TPMDC followed up asking Gibbs about the First Family’s annual Hawaiian vacation. The dates aren’t public yet, but Obama will be in the Aloha state for a good chunk of time in late December.

If the bill is passed the president would be happy to sign it in Hawaii – I could think of any number of picturesque locations,” Gibbs said.

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‘America’s First Pacific President’ Reaffirms U.S.-Japan Alliance

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Audience members take pictures of President Barack Obama in Tokyo, Japan

Audience members take pictures of President Barack Obama in Tokyo, Japan

ABC/Jake Tapper—Calling himself “America’s first Pacific president,” President Barack Obama reaffirmed the alliance between the United States and Japan as one based on “equality and mutual respect,” and vowed to deepen the partnership moving forward.

Our alliance has endured because it reflects our common values — a belief in the democratic right of free people to choose their own leaders and realize their own dreams; a belief that made possible the election of both Prime Minister Hatoyama and myself on the promise of change,” the president told a crowd of Japanese leaders and citizens at Suntory Hall in Tokyo. “And together, we are committed to providing a new generation of leadership for our people, and our alliance.”

Obama said his commitment extends beyond Japan to the entire Pacific region, and that the U.S. is bound to these nations by a common past, prosperity and people.

He invoked his upbringing as a native of Hawaii with ties to Indonesia, telling the group that “the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world.”

The president said what happens in the region has a direct impact on American citizens.

 President Barack Obama  talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during the Gala Dinner at the APEC Summit in Singapore

President Barack Obama talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during the Gala Dinner at the APEC Summit in Singapore

This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process,” Obama said.

The president also spoke about common challenges, focusing on the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea.

As he has in the past, the president said Pyongyang has a clear choice: continue to pursue weapons and further isolate itself, or return to the six-party talks on a path to peace.

We will not be cowed by threats, and we will continue to send a clear message through our actions and not just our words: North Korea’s refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security — not more,” Obama said.

Before departing Japan, Obama will sit down for lunch with the emperor and empress.

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South Carolina Needs to Stop the Stupidity by Brian Hicks

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Op-ed by Brian Hicks

michelle-obama-white-house-portraitPost and Courier/Brian Hicks—Let’s get this straight: The White House has allowed first lady Michelle Obama to tool around Moscow, the Czech Republic and even Ghana in the past year, but officials are a little worried about her coming to South Carolina.

They consider the atmosphere here too dangerous.

Just when it seemed the summer of shame was over, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn dropped this bombshell on The Post and Courier’s Yvonne Wenger on Friday. Clyburn says the White House is wary of bringing the first lady to the state because of the attitude of some of its residents.

Even if they are overreacting, or if Clyburn is overstating the case, it’s embarrassing.

If security professionals, who apparently have reservations, actually believe it is too dangerous for the first family to visit a U.S. state, then we have dropped below the status of a Third World country.

It makes us look like buffoons, racists and backwater morons.

A loudmouthed minority of Neanderthals and sore losers have so poisoned the national discourse with their racist rantings, crude jokes and veiled threats that they have sullied South Carolina’s reputation more than any governor, congressman or senator could ever imagine.

So, thanks for that.

If unemployment holds at its current rates, you can thank these same idiots. Think any international company, any major business, will locate to a state where the president’s own wife might not be safe?

This is not about politics or that socialism baloney cooked up by politicians and insurance companies. It is about respect for the office.

This is the bottom of the barrel.

U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn

U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn

This all came about when Clyburn, who has close ties to the White House, asked that the first lady attend an event at South Carolina State University. There have been more than 100 requests for the first lady to visit.

Clyburn quoted Valerie Jarrett, adviser to the president and a friend of the Obamas, as saying, “It’s not always our decision to make.” The implication is that the Secret Service has concerns about the state. A lot of it, Clyburn said, has to do with the climate in South Carolina.

He wasn’t talking about the humidity, just the stupidity.

Clyburn was talking about Rusty DePass, a South Carolina Republican activist, who earlier this year said a gorilla that escaped from the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia was an ancestor of Michelle Obama. Some rubes thought that was hilarious.

Clyburn was talking about the reaction to U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson’s rude outburst of “You lie!” to President Barack Obama. Wilson has been hailed as a conquering hero by some for doing little more than embarrassing many of this state’s residents.

He was talking about the knucklehead cowards who anonymously post vitriolic comments online.

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Note: Neither the first lady’s press office nor the Secret Service provided comment for the original The Post and Courier story.

Brian Hicks

Brian Hicks

Brian Hicks is a senior writer with The Post and Courier. In his 10 years with the paper, he has covered a wide variety of subjects, including politics and news of the weird (also known as politics). His reporting has won 20 S.C. Press Association Awards, including Journalist of the Year in 1998. He is also the author or co-author of four books, including the local history yarn “Raising the Hunley,” which was so popular it was even translated into Czechoslovakian. Really.

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Book Review: Lustrum by Robert Harris

Posted by Audiegrl

Best-Selling Author Robert Harris

Best-Selling Author Robert Harris

Times Online–In recent years, ancient Rome has provided the setting for dozens of historical crime novels. In their pages, whole posses of classical private eyes prowl the city’s mean streets. Robert Harris’s Lustrum, the second, enthralling volume in what he promises will be a trilogy set in the last decades of the Roman republic, opens with a scene that suggests this might be just another one to add to the genre. A young slave has been found murdered and eviscerated, his body dumped in the Tiber. Consul-elect Marcus Tullius Cicero is called to the scene. When he learns that the boy has been killed as a human sacrifice, it seems that Cicero might be taking on the role of a toga-clad Philip Marlowe in tracking down the murderers.

Yet it soon becomes clear that Harris has no interest in that kind of story at all. His focus instead is firmly upon the dangers and temptations of politics. Over the course of the next 400 pages, the gritty and tortuous realities of power take precedence over the contrived puzzles of crime fiction.

lustrombookcoverIt is not difficult to see why Harris was so drawn to the years between 63BC and 58BC when the novel is set (Lustrum means “five-year period” in Latin). The stakes then, in a period when the Roman republic was perpetually at risk of disintegration, were so much higher than they are now. Plunge to catastrophic defeat in modern British politics and the worst that awaits you is an early elevation to the House of Lords; failure in Roman politics could result in exile, assassination or an inescapable invitation to open your veins in a warm bath.

It is against this background of the ever­present potential for violence and death that Harris’s gripping narrative unfolds. Within a few chapters, readers learn who killed the slave and why. He was the victim of Catilina, one of Cicero’s beaten rivals for the consulship, who offered the boy up as the sacrificial seal on an oath taken by a group of decadent aristocrats to murder Cicero and take control of the state.

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Other Best-sellers by Robert Harris

pompeiicoverPompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris

Harris’s historical novel begins in August, 79 B.C., two days before the eruption of Vesuvius. The hero is Marcus Attilius Primus, an aqueduct engineer who is investigating a mysterious blockage, apparently related to recent tremors, in the aqueduct that runs from Misenum to Pompeii. In addition

Ancient wall painting in Pompeii (Photo by Audiegrl)

Ancient wall painting in Pompeii (Photo by Audiegrl)

to landing this prestigious job—it’s the Empire’s longest aqueduct—he has met a young woman who has the “same darkness of hair” and the “same voluptuousness of figure” as his dear departed first wife. The only problem is her father, a corrupt and powerful millionaire who is stealing from the water supply. Although the plot seems to owe more to “Chinatown” than to Pliny, Harris garnishes the action with seductive period detail, and the novel comes alive in the main event, a cataclysmic explosion with a thermal energy equal to a hundred thousand Hiroshimas.~~The New Yorker

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imperiumbookcoverImperium : A Novel of Ancient Rome by Robert Harris

Bestselling British author Harris (Pompeii; Enigma) returns to ancient Rome for this entertaining and enlightening novel of Marcus Cicero’s rise to power. Narrated by a household slave named Tiro, who actually served as Cicero’s “confidential secretary” for 36 years, this fictional biography
Rome Coliseum            (Photo by Audiegrl)

Roman Coliseum (Photo by Audiegrl)

follows the statesman and orator from his early career as an outsider a “new man” from the provinces to his election to the consulship, Rome’s highest office, in 64 B.C. Loathed by the aristocrats, Cicero lived by his wits in a tireless quest for imperium the ultimate power of life and death and achieves “his life’s ambition” after uncovering a plot by Marcus Crassus and Julius Caesar to rig the elections and seize control of the government. Harris’s description of Rome’s labyrinthine, and sometimes deadly, political scene is fascinating and instructive. The action is relentless, and readers will be disappointed when Harris leaves Cicero at the moment of his greatest triumph. Given Cicero’s stormy consulship, his continuing opposition to Julius Caesar and his own assassination, readers can only hope a sequel is in the works. Until then, this serves as a superb first act.
~~Publishers Weekly

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