Thursday, April 1, 2010

Obama Continues Presidential Tradition

A presidential tradition that dates 100 years will continue Monday: President Obama will throw out the first pitch before the Washington Nationals take on the Philadelphia Phillies.
John Odell, curator of history and research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, said President William Howard Taft was the first to throw an Opening Day pitch in Washington in 1910.
"Washington has been the historic place for presidential first pitches," he said.
When there was no baseball team in Washington, it sometimes went to other places such as Baltimore, Maryland, or Cincinnati, Ohio, long host to the first baseball game each season. "President Nixon went to his home state of California," Odell said.
Presidential pitching styles can vary, with some better than others.
"President Dwight Eisenhower may have been the best," Odell said. "It was rumored he played for a semi-pro team while at West Point."
When members of the White House press corps asked questions, Odell said, "they were told not to look into it any further."
Presidents Truman and Ford threw out first pitches both right- and left-handed. Odell said President George W. Bush "had particularly good form."
Presidents have not always thrown the first pitch from the mound. In fact, that tradition didn't start until recently. It used to be that a first toss was thrown from the box seats, as Taft did in 1910.
Although this tradition goes back a century, sometimes a president can't make Opening Day because he's just too busy. In 1912, Taft couldn't throw out the first pitch because the Titanic had just sunk.
"President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a regular habit during his early years in office," Odell said, "but during the war years, he didn't."
Many times, when the president is otherwise engaged, he sends the vice president or a member of his Cabinet. President Carter never threw out an Opening Day pitch while he was in office, Odell said. "Carter once told a friend the demands of the White House and the presidency were too busy by coincidence during those times."
Carter later threw the first pitch for a World Series game after he was out of office.
"A first pitch says a lot about how a president ought to behave," Odell said. "we want him to take the job seriously but not so seriously that he can't take a few hours to come out and be a regular guy like the rest of us and enjoy our national pastime."
As for Obama, he has a history of throwing out first pitches. He did it at a Chicago White Sox game in 2005, while he was a U.S. senator, and again at last year's All-Star game in St. Louis, Missouri.
Obama "needs to work on his form," Odell said, "but he's had plenty of time to do that, and we'll see how he does this year."

Rhode Island Flooding

Recovery from Rhode Island flooding could take months
Flood-weary residents in Rhode Island surveyed the damage as waters started receding, with officials saying Thursday the long-term recovery could take months.
"The Pawtuxet River, which impacts our community, crested," said Fire Battalion Chief Joseph Greenwell. "But at this point, there's widespread damage throughout the city from the river, which overflowed its banks."
The Northeast, particularly Rhode Island, battled flooded roads and basements for most of the week. Many of the schools in the region remained closed Thursday.
"We haven't had anything that's physically washed away yet, but the impact of the floodwaters rushing over the bridges and eroding the foundations of the bridges," Greenwell said. "The water is still too high to determine exactly what the damage is going to be once the floodwaters recede."
A rainstorm formed earlier in the week and soaked the Northeast on Tuesday, exacerbating the remaining effects of another major storm from two weeks ago. Rhode Island appeared to fare the worst.
"It's too early to tell (the financial impact of the floods), but I would guess it will be well into the millions, without a doubt," Greenwell said.
The storm dumped 8.75 inches of rain in East Providence, 7.6 inches in downtown Providence and 5 inches in Cranston, all in Rhode Island, said Tom Econopouly, a senior hydrologist at the Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Massachusetts.
All eyes were on the Pawtuxet River, which runs through Cranston. The river crested at 20.79 feet Wednesday, nearly 12 feet above flood stage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Advanced Hydrometeorological Service. The water level has started a slow decline.
"Pawtuxet River is now falling ... it will remain in major flood status until about midday on Friday," the National Weather Service said. The river will likely not fall below flood stage until Sunday.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said the city was facing "dire circumstances," even though the weather was cooperating.
In Warwick, police and fire officials said they are getting a lot of calls.
"We're still handling a lot of pump issues, utility issues," Greenwell said. "This has impacted a number of individual homes with utility issues, flooding in the basement, gas shutoffs, electrical shutoffs, that sort of thing. So it's impacted the utilities quite seriously."
Earlier in the week, President Obama extended a state of emergency for the entire state, freeing up federal dollars to help with relief efforts.
A spokesman for National Grid Energy Services said 12,000 to 14,000 customers were without electricity in the Cranston area, where a substation was underwater.
The police official said a lot of infrastructures were damaged.
"Our sewer plant, for one, is submerged. Interstate 95 has been closed down from the impact of the flood," Greenwell said. "(There are) some serious issues for the community, both in time and expense."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

British Boy Kidnapped in Pakistan Returns to UK

LONDON – A 5-year-old British boy who was kidnapped and held in Pakistan for two weeks has arrived safely back in Britain.
Sahil Saeed, of Pakistani origin, was snatched on March 4 from his grandparents' house in central Pakistan where he was vacationing with relatives. He was released unharmed Tuesday, and on Thursday he flew back to Manchester, England, where he and his family live.
The boy's father, Raja Naqqash Saeeda, says: "Sahil is doing well, is in good spirits."
Spanish police say three people have been arrested in Spain and that authorities have confiscated 100,000 pounds ($150,000) that the boy's family had paid to the kidnappers.
PARIS - Paris police have freed two suspects detained in the probe into the kidnapping of a 5-year-old British boy in Pakistan.
A police official says the suspects, a father and son, were related to two people who collected the ransom paid for the boy in Paris, but were found to have no links to the crime. The official was not authorized to be named because of police policy.
The suspects were detained in the Paris suburb of Bobigny on Tuesday and released Wednesday.
Three other suspects, including those who collected the ransom, have been arrested in Spain.
The child, Sahil Saeed, was released Tuesday, almost two weeks after being abducted from his grandparents' house in central Pakistan. He is expected to return to Britain later Thursday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Obama Pledges Renewed Backing to Haiti

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday renewed America's commitment to the recovery and reconstruction of earthquake-devastated Haiti, telling visiting President Rene Preval he knows the crisis has not passed.
After an Oval Office meeting, Obama stood beside Preval in the White House Rose Garden to praise the Haitian leader's courage and the heroic work of Americans who rushed to help as rescue workers or with generous donations.
(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama on Wednesday renewed America's commitment to the recovery and reconstruction of earthquake-devastated Haiti, telling visiting President Rene Preval he knows the crisis has not passed.
After an Oval Office meeting, Obama stood beside Preval in the White House Rose Garden to praise the Haitian leader's courage and the heroic work of Americans who rushed to help as rescue workers or with generous donations.
At the same time, he said, rebuilding must take place in a way that benefits the entire country, not just the most devastated areas.
He said spreading "health care, education and jobs for all men and women" across his country would prevent "migratory flows to the big cities" which produced the sprawling and poorly built slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Obama assured the Haitian leader that U.S. commitment "must and will endure" and that "America will be your partner."
As Preval was in Washington, the U.S. military hospital ship Comfort lifted anchor off Haiti for the return cruise to Baltimore, Md. The Comfort has been stationed off the country's coast for seven weeks, treating earthquake victims.
The U.S. military also is scaling back in Haiti, where Comfort treated more than 800 patients.
The total number of U.S. forces in Haiti is expected to drop to about 8,000 in coming days, from a peak of around 20,000 on Feb. 1.

Biden: Palestinians Deserve ‘Viable’ Independent State

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday the Palestinians deserve a "viable" independent state with contiguous territory, seeking to reassure them of U.S. support after Israel announced plans to expand a Jewish neighborhood in disputed east Jerusalem.
The Israeli move has overshadowed Biden's visit, which is meant to promote U.S.-led peace negotiations that are set to begin in the coming weeks.

At a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Biden reiterated his condemnation of Israel's plan and urged both sides to refrain from actions that could "inflame" tensions.

Spokesman for US Diplomacy Apologizes for Remark

Washington -- The State Department spokesman apologized Tuesday for a joking remark he made about Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi that threatened to turn into a diplomatic incident between the two countries.

P.J. Crowley said he regretted any offense called by his offhand remark, which came in response to a reporter's question about Gadhafi's recent call for a Muslim holy war against Switzerland for its ban on building new mosque minarets.

At a State Department briefing late last month Crowley said the call for "jihad" reminded him of Gadhafi's lengthy speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September.
"I can recall lots of words and lots of papers flying all over the place, not necessarily a lot of sense," he said.

Last week, Libya said it might take action against U.S. business interests in Tripoli in the absence of a formal apology.
"These comments do not reflect U.S. policy and were not intended to offend," Crowley said. "I regret that my comments have become an obstacle to further progress in our bilateral relationship."
Crowley, who had previously said his remarks were not intended as a personal attack against Gadhafi, met with the Libyan ambassador to the United States last week to try and resolve the issue. Jeffrey Feltman, the top U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, will also travel to Tripoli to meet with the Libyan government.

"I told the ambassador, I hope that we can use ongoing dialogue at high levels to continue to advance the U.S.-Libyan relationship," Crowley said.
The feud between Libya and Switzerland stems from a brief 2008 arrest in Geneva of Gadhafi's son, Hannibal, and his wife for allegedly beating some hotel workers. Libya retaliated by detaining two Swiss businessmen.
The diplomatic crisis escalated when Switzerland hit back by imposing travel restrictions on Gadhafi, his family members and his ministers. Libya retaliated by imposing a trade embargo with Switzerland and barring citizens from 25 European countries from visiting the oil-rich country.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Britain Heads for Inconclusive Election

LONDON - No political party has enough support to win outright control of parliament in Britain's forthcoming election, raising the prospect of a period of unstable minority government, opinion polls showed on Tuesday.
The opposition Conservatives' poll lead has dwindled in the run up to an election expected on May 6, suggesting that the center-right party will struggle to get the votes it needs for a workable majority. Analysts say the ruling Labour party might even cling to power for an unprecedented fourth term, but a hung parliament -- where no party has more than half of the seats -- is looking the most likely scenario at present.

Investors are concerned that political gridlock will hamper efforts to cut a record budget deficit and result in a downgrade to Britain's triple-A credit rating, which could drive up borrowing costs.
Unlike much of continental Europe, Britain has no tradition of coalition governments. During two short periods of Labour minority rule in the 1970s, the government was dependent on case-by-case support from small parties to pass legislation.
Uncertainty about the election and a deficit set to top 12 percent of gross domestic product this year pushed the pound to a 10-month low below $1.50 last week.
A daily YouGov poll for the Sun newspaper put the opposition Conservatives five points ahead of the Labour government with 39 percent of the vote, a result which could leave Labour as the largest party in parliament but short of an overall majority.

Under Britain's electoral system, the Conservatives need a lead of around 10 percentage points in opinion polls to overcome Labour's current majority.
A separate poll for the Times newspaper showed the gap between the two main parties in key marginal seats has closed.
If replicated in the parliamentary election the Conservatives would gain 97 Labour-held seats, the Times said, leaving the Conservative party short of an overall majority.
The Populus poll looked at the 50th to the 150th closest marginal seats, in which the Conservatives came second at the last election, and found that both parties had about 38 percent of the vote.
The Times survey excluded the 50 Labour-held marginals considered most likely to swing to the Conservatives.

The poll of 1,500 voters between March 5 and 7 also showed voters increasingly expect no party to win an outright majority. A separate poll for the Daily Express, carried out by Opinium between March 5 and 8, showed the Conservatives with 37 percent of the vote, while Labour were up one point with 30 percent and the Liberal Democrats with 16 percent.
(Writing by Matt Falloon; Editing by Tim Pearce and Paul Taylo