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Weekly podcast: Jerry Zremski looks at week ahead in Washington

Budget talk -- for both this fiscal year and next -- takes center stage this week in the nation's capital.

Jerry Zremski, The News' Washington bureau chief, talks about both in his weekly Politics Now podcast looking at the week ahead in Washington, D.C.

Both President Obama's budget proposal and proposed cuts by Republican members of Congress will have a significant impact on Western New York.

Jerry also discusses two people with Buffalo connections who will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Take a listen to our conversation:

Dowload the mp3 here.

Make sure to also follow @JerryZremski on Twitter.

--Aaron Besecker

The News' State of the Union coverage

The Buffalo News provided in-depth coverage of President Obama's State of the Union address. Among the highlights:

* Post-speech audio analysis from News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski:

Download the audio and take it with you

* Zremski's two stories: Obama urges unity to rebuild the economy -- Area representatives generally approve of Obama's address

* Buffalo News editorial: State of the Union

* Live chat, analysis with The News' Doug Turner during the speech

Live State of the Union chat with Doug Turner begins at 8:30 p.m.

News Washington Columnist Doug Turner will be chatting during tonight's State of the Union address, which you can watch live on Join Doug beginning at 8:30, and send him your thoughts throughout the night. And look for coverage from News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski once the speech is through.

Audio: Jerry Zremski looks at week ahead in Washington

A House vote to repeal health-care reform highlights the week ahead in Washington, D.C.

I spoke with Buffalo News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski about what's happening in the nation's capital.

In addition to Wednesday's expected vote in the House, we also talked national debt, next week's State of the Union and a few other things.

Listen to our conversation:

Download the mp3 here.

Here's Jerry's recent story on the new Republican National Committee chairman. Review his live blog during the voting.

Make sure to also follow @JerryZremski on Twitter.

--Aaron Besecker

Billboard's connection to conservative activist debunked

PRESIDENT BILLBOARD It was a simple economic message that took the national media by storm, thanks to the lucky
timing of a presidential visit.

Brothers Jeff and Scott Baker rented a billboard along the Niagara Thruway to share this message: "Dear Mr. President: I need a freakin job. Period." (Photo credit: Derek Gee / Buffalo News)

The Buffalo News reported on the billboard Wednesday, followed by CNN, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC and a host of other news outlets who tied the Bakers' plea to President Obama's Buffalo visit.

The brothers said they booked the billboard weeks before anyone knew Obama was coming here -- a point confirmed by Lamar Outdoor Advertising -- but skeptics remain.

Some people think their whole story sounds too good to be true, their Web site and a video they produced look too polished and someone with an agenda must have put the Bakers up to it.

Several have called and e-mailed to point me to the liberal Web site, Crooks and Liars, which posted an item this morning claiming Scott Baker is a conservative activist and online broadcaster with

A pretty damning claim, except it's not true. There are a few clues Crooks and Liars might have picked up on:

--The Scott Baker is a former Pittsburgh TV news anchor.

--The Scott Baker who said he paid $5,500 of his own money to put up his brother's billboard lives in Akron, a point confirmed by county voter registration records going back to 2002.

That would have made it difficult, though not impossible, for him to work as a Pittsburgh TV anchor for 13 years, ending in 2006, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

--Scott Baker's "freakin job" is vice president of operations at a Buffalo-area manufacturing company and he graduated from the University at Buffalo, according to his LinkedIn profile.

The Scott Baker attended Wheaton College, where he got his start in politics, according to his bio.

--And the Post-Gazette article states the Scott Baker is married to his second wife, a former Miss America, while the "freakin job" Scott Baker said he has been married to the same wonderful -- though non-pageant-winning woman -- for years.

--Perhaps the best piece of evidence? The Scott Baker interviewed the "freakin job" Scott Baker on his show this afternoon.

Is this enough to convince the doubters? I don't know.

The guy behind Crooks and Liars posted an update to his original note, conceding that he might have had it wrong and referring to my story that ran in today's Buffalo News.

(Although he doesn't know there's an Akron, N.Y., and this leads to some more confusion.)

He writes: "Based on this additional information, I would not have made the definitive conclusion that I did last night. I would have said that given the commonality of the name no firm conclusion can be made.

"I'd also recommend Jeff Baker consider web design or video production as his next career, since he did such a splendid job on the site, the integrated Facebook page, the social media PR management and the billboard. He's obviously quite talented."

--Stephen T. Watson

Live video stream from airport

Watch live streaming video from thebuffalonews at

Later: Live video coverage of Obama's speech from Industrial Support will provide live video coverage of President Obama's speech from Industrial Support Inc. this afternoon. Check back to the Politics Now blog for a live video stream:

Obama to media: What have you done for me lately?

   WASHINGTON — Few will argue that as a candidate for president, Sen. Barack H. Obama had a lot of the print and establishment television media in his corner. Lately, a lot of their employers are fallen on hard times and layoffs and payroll trims loom.

   The organization that best represents this media group is the 65-member Gridiron Club, which throws a white-tie-and-tails dinner at which the president is the featured attraction. The bulk of the members are print reporters, columnists, and wire service editors, but lately the club has admitted journalists and anchors from CBS News, CNN and NBC News.

   In the economic crunch, some newspaper bureaus have been closed outright, and so the industry might use a little moral support like General Motors, or CitiGroup. However, this year the dinner's main attraction, President Obama, has cut out. In its 126-year history, only President Grover Cleveland, who had been mayor of Buffalo by the way, skipped the first dinner held after he was inaugurated.

    Even Richard M. Nixon came. One year he played the piano for the audience. Last March, President George W. Bush, another Republican with grievous media relations, came and sang a song from the stage with club members. Obama was the Democratic speaker in 2006 when he was readying his presidential campaign. He also sang a song then. Obama was a speaker at the club's winter dinner two years before.

     This Saturday night, however, President Obama will be elsewhere. The White House said his daughters' spring break begins this week and the president's wife, Michelle, is insisting on a family gathering "out of town." It was first reported they would spend the weekend in Chicago. However, Obama aides said they are just going to Camp David, Maryland, which is a 20-minute ride on Marine One from downtown Washington, where the party is being held.

    One prominent network anchor called Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, to inquire, but Emanuel said he wasn't going to get between the president and his wife on this one. For purposes of full disclosure, the writer of this blog is a Gridiron member who wonders what it will be like when the club president offers the only toast given at the event: "To the president of the United States."

     — Douglas Turner, News Washington Columnist

Will Blagojevich scandal hurt Obama?

Obama_illinois_governor      WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama said Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich should immediately resign for trying to sell his vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. At a press conference today, Obama categorically denied having telephone conversations with Blagojevich about who would be his successor but declined for the second time to rule out the possibility that his transition staff talked with Blagojevich, or members of the governor's staff.

     Obama said he is "absolutely certain" that "our office had no involvement in any deal-making for my Senate seat." At the same time, Obama said he has asked his staff to detail all contacts they have had with aides to Blagojevich, which is pronounced "Bluh-GOY-yuh-vich."

     U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago said Obama is not involved in any phase of the governor's "crime spree." Yet some Republicans are trying to escalate the case into a wholesale indictment of Obama and all his Chicago associations.

     Two story lines have emerged about Obama and Blagojevich. One holds that Obama was a key adviser in Blagojevich's 2002 run for goverrnor, that the governor is close to Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who succeeded him in the House and who will be Obama's White House chief of staff, and that Obama and Blagojevich have used the same Washington political consulting firm in the past.

     The other is that Obama has put an arm's length between himself and the governor, whose erratic behavior has made him extremely unpopular and that for many months they have been estranged.

     Fitzgerald has filed a 76-page criminal complaint against Blagojevich's alleged auction of a Senate seat, and other activities. However, some experienced law enforcement hands wonder why Fitzgerald didn't wait until the governor committed a finite act, meaning to do something besides talk about corruption.

--Douglas Turner


Obama faces 'mission creep' in Afghanistan

  WASHINGTON -  By keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and most likely Gates' team, President-elect Barack Obama may be sliding into a situation similar to one that beleaguered President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy inherited his predecessor's military commitments to South Vietnam and the disastrous and abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

    While Obama has tacitly signed onto the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq for three more years of occupation, Obama has specifically called for an "effective strategic partnership" with Pakistan to help fight the Taliban and terrorists in its neighbor Afghanistan.

    Referring to Afghanistan, Obama has said, "if we combine effective development, more effective military work as well as more effective diplomacy, then I think that we can stabilize the situation."

    Obama has consistently called for shifting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, and that transfer has already begun, sending troops and resources to a country that has never been conquered by a western military force in all of history. There has never been a formal declaration of war against Afghanistan, where an additional 20,000 American troops will soon be deployed.

    The troops are being sent in response to a request from Gen. David McKiernan, American commander in Afghanistan. Among them will be soldiers from the Third Mountain Brigade, who will be sent from Fort Drum, N.Y. There has been no congressional debate over these deployments, which will last at least 18 months. 

     Bush has used the congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks as his justification to punish enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the war in Afghanistan is on automatic.

   Obama will be faced with having to pay for this unannounced Afghanistan "surge" while he is trying to refrain from drawing down too quickly the 140,000 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

     Michael Crowley, writing in The New Republic, estimates that it could take as many as 600,000 troops to quell all the tribal tensions in Afghanistan - roughly 10 times the number of soldiers in the multi-national force there now. Even with more troops, sprawling, mountainous Afganistan may not be winnable. 

    The Greek warlord Alexander couldn't conquer it, nor could Queen Victoria's Imperial forces, nor the Soviet Union in 1979. The upcoming budget for the Defense Department is estimated at $584 billion, not counting the increased commitments for Afghanistan. Reportedly, the U.S. expeditionary forces have enough money to last them through June 2009. But Obama and the Democratic Congress will have to face the consequences of mission creep before then.

-- Douglas Turner


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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |