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Sunday, February 1, 2009

RNC chairman can signal new GOP

By GOV. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN


Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman speaking with supporters.
Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman says the issues that seem to be the focus in choosing the next chairman of the Republican National Committee suggest the Republican Party is still firmly focused on the past.

If looking at the sea of faces gathered on the National Mall for the inauguration of President Obama did not send a clear message that the political winds have changed dramatically, then I wonder if anything will. Black and white, young and old, men and women from every religion and walk of life were there to watch a new sense of hope taking form. They may not have all voted for Barack Obama, but they certainly supported him on that day and reveled in the new vision for our country.

Unfortunately, the issues that seem to be the focus in choosing the next chairman of the Republican National Committee suggest the Republican Party is still firmly focused on the past. While most Americans are hoping that the new administration can find a way out of our economic woes, the candidates for national chairman are being asked how many guns they own. As Americans wonder about whether the country will ever see a balanced budget or the ability to access health care and quality education, the members of the national committee seem more concerned about a candidate’s firmness in their opposition to abortion.

In fact, an organization of which I was a co-founder and its members are being cast out as unwanted members of the party. The Republican Leadership Council (RLC) is being held up as a subversive undertaking, precisely the accusations the National Committee members are saying the party should avoid. The RLC was formed to support Republicans who could win no matter where they stood on the social issues. While some have accused the RLC of being a pro-choice organization, two of our three chairs were pro-life. Indeed, I was the “odd man out” on that issue; it was irrelevant because abortion was not our focus, and it was not raised on our candidate survey or our website. In fact, a quick visit to our home page makes clear our goals:

We look forward to working with Republicans across the country to build a strong coalition of individuals who want the Republican Party to return to its traditional, fiscally conservative roots. The Republican Leadership Council supports:

* Low taxes with balanced budgets;
* Strong national defense;
* Engaged foreign policy;
* Protection of the environment; and
* Less government interference in individual lives.

But the RLC’s mission is not the issue at hand; the future of the Republican Party is. Our country needs two vibrant parties. Promoting these issues used to be the party’s mission, but I fear we have gone dangerously off course. What happened to the party that used to advocate for smaller government, more local control and the responsibility for individuals to govern their own lives, the party that had balanced budgets at the core of its beliefs?

If Republicans continue to look solely for purity on a host of social issues, we are destined to be the minority for the foreseeable future. Let’s face it – the Democrats captured the hearts of the younger generation in this election. They did so with a promise of hope and opportunity. Those should be benefits that the Republicans have to offer – the promise of smaller government, reduced taxes and balanced budgets are Republican issues as is the protection of our environment. Sadly, our party has lost its course in recent years and those values are not what the electorate envisions when they hear the word Republican. Surely anyone who looks at the party’s losses in 2006 and 2008 can recognize that more of the same – or moving farther from the center where most voters are comfortable – is not the way to reverse this trend.

All is not lost. With the RNC chairman’s race this weekend our party has an opportunity to declare a bright future for our party, and in turn, for the nation. I hope the national committee voters recognize this need and take some much-needed steps to reclaim the focus on fiscal conservatism that once made our party great.

Christine Todd Whitman served as governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001 and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003.

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The Geithner Exception

Had he been judged under the current code of political justice, Timothy Geithner would be home in New York, phoning old IMF friends for a job. Instead, the former tax scofflaw is U.S. Treasury Secretary. Call it the Geithner Exception. I'm for it. Before it fades from memory, Mr. Geithner's near-death experience deserves a closer look.

[Wonder Land] AP

Working inside American politics is coming to resemble Stalinist Russia. In good standing one day, party loyalists or public officials can find themselves the next day taking a random bullet. How low the bar has fallen for summary execution became apparent during the presidential campaign.

In March, Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power was quoted by a newspaper in nearby Scotland calling Hillary Clinton a "monster." The Obama campaign immediately threw her out the window. Cowed and numbed, no one in politics raised an objecting peep at the absurd disproportion.

Next, Mrs. Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn was put on a train to the gulag. Remember why? Time's up. For going to a meeting at the Colombia Embassy in his role as head of Burson-Marsteller. Under Washington rules, this was sufficient to decapitate the Clinton campaign.

More serious was the elimination of Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank. After a media show trial that lasted several weeks, Mr. Wolfowitz lost his job running the Bank because apparatchiks inside concocted an ethics violation.

Judged by standards such as these, Tim Geithner -- a non-taxpaying Treasury Secretary -- should be toast.

Beyond these mockeries of useful standards lies Washington's double standard. Mr. Geithner is being waved through even as Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Carl Levin push their Orwellian "truth commissions" to put high Bush administration officials in the criminal dock. At this level of the game, an official doesn't just lose his job, comrade; he loses everything.

The just-issued Conyers report on "Reining in the Imperial Presidency" calls on the new Obama administration to "begin an independent criminal review (my emphasis) of activities of the outgoing administration, such as enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and domestic warrantless surveillance." As prelude, the House last February voted contempt of Congress against Bush White House officials Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers and referred them for prosecution.

Some may argue that a Tim Geithner or Eric Holder deserves no more quarter than the Democratic opposition has given former Justice Department official John Yoo or the other targets of the Democrats' calls for "criminal" prosecution of former government officials and CIA interrogators.

Others will say this is the normal rough and tumble of politics. It is not. It is more insidious than that. The system is on a downward spiral in which the notion that a sitting American government should be able to function is irrelevant.

Washington is falling to the level of a Web-based video game. Everyone is expendable. Treasury secretaries and presidential advisers are a dime a dozen. Put differently: The job-protected and gerrymandered lifers are driving out the competition. More often than not, Washington's worst people are destroying its better people.

In his report, Mr. Conyers cites a catalogue of good-government laws that flowed out of Richard Nixon's impeachment: the Federal Campaign Finance Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Independent Counsel Act, the Ethics in Government Act, and the Presidential Records Act.

Whatever the original rationale for such laws, the rankest impulses in politics soon turned them into weapons to take down officials in a government one can't overthrow by other means. You could fill the whole House chamber with men and women who since Watergate have been driven out and bankrupted by them. Criminalizing policy differences has become the modern version of bills of attainder.

President Obama has to decide whether to pursue prosecutions of former Bush officials, especially the CIA's terror interrogators. He must realize that the exterminating angels, who come in two colors -- blue and red -- are ready to chase down him and his appointees.

Thus arrives the Geithner Exception. Getting to be Treasury secretary may be more than Mr. Geithner deserves. This is an opportunity, though, to admit that giving someone's government a chance to function, assuming that's any longer possible, is a greater public good than witch-burning. Amid an economic crisis, the new president said Mr. Geithner had his confidence. Now he has him. Let voters and the markets judge their performance, not the phony and ruinous moral outrage of the Beltway.

Write to henninger@wsj.com

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Commentary: Focus on first 100 days is absurd

Editor's note: A nationally syndicated columnist, Roland S. Martin is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland S. Martin says it's wrong to judge a president based on what he can accomplish in the first 100 days.

Roland S. Martin says it's wrong to judge a president based on what he can accomplish in the first 100 days.

(CNN) -- The new president has been in office one week and already the clock is ticking as to whether or not he can get a lot accomplished in the first 100 days of his presidency.

Did I miss the memo? I thought the presidency is a four-year term.

If you turn on television or radio, commentators, correspondents and talk show hosts are speaking in breathless tones about the need for President Barack Obama to get off to a fast start and show all kinds of accomplishments in the first 100 days.

And we are given the sense that if he hasn't signed a lot of major bills into law and issued a slew of important executive orders, then he will have failed.

Oh stop it.

Lest you think this is about Obama, it isn't. I thought it was just as stupid to put Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush on some kind of silly shot clock.

This Washington, D.C., parlor game happens every four or eight years. It has gotten so silly that some folks actually analyzed Obama's first 100 hours. It took that long to figure out the quickest path from the presidential sleeping quarters to the Oval Office!

The problem with so much emphasis being placed on the first 100 days is that a premium is placed on speed as opposed to thoughtfulness.

Take the president's stimulus package.

We are looking at spending $900 billion, and Congress is proceeding so fast that I doubt most of the members have actually read the entire bill. We know from history that moving with lightning speed leads to all kinds of problems later on.

The Patriot Act was rushed through, and we didn't find out about some of the weird provisions until after it was already signed into law. Oops! Sorry, too late.

The same with the bailout of the banking industry. We didn't discover until after it was too late that there weren't enough provisions focused on accountability of the funds, as well as mandates to ensure banks didn't sit on the cash to buy other banks but instead used it to open up the credit lines.

These measures are too doggone important for us to act like we're watching the movie "The Fast and the Furious."

The fundamental problem with this approach is that every president operates as if he is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who set the initial standard for decisive action in the first 100 days of his presidency. Ever since then, my media comrades have tried to hold each president to this same timetable, not realizing that times are different, and the needs of the nation are different.

I believe in taking action when necessary. But I also realize that doing something for the sake of doing something is dangerous, and sets a horrible precedent. And we are seeing this now with the stimulus package.

The House is scheduled to vote on the measure today with very little discussion about the nuances of the bill. Questions of oversight, how to manage the spending of billions of dollars, and whether the right programs will be funded initially all have gone by the wayside in order to, as some have suggested, give the president a quick victory out of the gate.

As a basketball player, President Obama knows that you can have a hot first quarter, hitting every shot and grabbing every rebound, and that could very well propel you to a decisive victory. But a basketball game is four quarters, and if you only play the first half well, you can blow the game in the second half.

We need thoughtful, measured political leaders who have studied all the angles and are making the right calls. Let's focus on our long-term future, and not be bogged down in meeting a ridiculous report card for the satisfaction of the media.

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What's the Point of Talking?

Syrian President Bashar Assad. Click image to expand.Throughout his election campaign, Barack Obama promised that the United States would "engage" friends and foes alike, particularly in the Middle East where the Bush administration had sought to isolate Iran and Syria. His rationale was that "if America is willing to come to the table, the world will be more willing to rally behind American leadership" to address global problems, including Iran's nuclear program.

The Bush administration also began with an impulse to "engage" states in the Middle East with which it was on strained terms. In February 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to the region to convince Iraq's neighbors to approve "smart sanctions" against Saddam Hussein's regime. Powell won a promise from Syrian President Bashar Assad that he would turn Iraqi revenues from oil pumped through Syria's pipelines over to the United Nations. Assad never complied, and Powell ended up with egg on his face. The thrill of engagement was foiled by the region's realities.

This makes Obama's promise of engagement interesting to watch. The president has been welcomed by political "realists," whose aim has been to take U.S. foreign policy back to the dispassionate pursuit of national interests, free from the supposedly ideology-driven ways of the Bush years. This amoral approach has jarred with Obama's rhetoric of moral righteousness—demonstrating that U.S. presidents, including Bush, usually blend morality and amorality when shaping U.S. behavior overseas. However, that doesn't explain how Obama will differ from Bush in handling hard-nosed recalcitrants such as Iran and Syria.

Engagement, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. Talking to Iran or Syria just for the sake of talking, or to be different from Bush, will only give both states what they desire while bringing the United States few advantages. However, engagement now seems unavoidable, and it is disturbing that Obama's foreign policy advisers have provided few clear answers to two very basic questions surrounding this near certainty: What does America intend to get out of a dialogue with Iran and Syria? And what leverage does the Obama administration have to achieve its objectives?

For the moment, it is the United States that is in the position of wanting to talk and that is pressed to do so quickly, meaning it must get the process rolling with concessions of its own. The administration wants to open up to Iran before the Iranian presidential election this June to decrease hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election chances. It is also in a hurry to test Iranian intentions in the nuclear dispute before Tehran's building of a nuclear device becomes irreversible.

Such thinking is understandable, but is it realistic? Playing domestic Iranian politics is a bad idea. Iran's leadership is united over the nuclear program, with policy set by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Tehran will be delighted to go along with a dialogue to buy time, knowing this would make it difficult for Obama to suddenly switch to war mode if he fails to alter Iranian behavior. And if he has to rely on U.N. sanctions and military intimidation again, Obama would be acting like Bush.

That's why any U.S. opening to Iran must be thought out in complex, wide-ranging terms. The Iranians can play on several game boards simultaneously, and they have adeptly guarded against an attack on their nuclear installations by setting up multiple walls of retaliatory threats regionally. These have included striking against U.S. troops in Iraq or against pro-American Gulf states, which, with the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, could send oil prices skyrocketing. And Lebanon's Hezbollah has said that if Iran were bombed, it would fire rockets at Israel.

Does the Obama administration have a comprehensive scheme to counter this? Doubtless it is looking at contingency plans, but nothing during the campaign suggested the president had an integrated strategy. So much vigor was put into denouncing Bush that Obama never really told us how he would be different. To persuade Iran to change tack, the administration will need to coordinate Arab and international efforts to grind away at Iran's power throughout the Middle East. That means combining coercion and dialogue—not relying exclusively on talking.

One proposal circulating in Washington is to weaken Iran by engaging Syria. The logic is that normalized U.S. relations with Syria will encourage Assad to break with Iran and with nonstate actors such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Iranian and Syrian interests can diverge, particularly over Arab-Israeli negotiations. However, the Syrians know a good thing when they see it. Assad is courted by the United States and European states only because of his dangerous liaisons and his ability to destabilize states around him. If he were to abandon these, Syria would turn into a secondary state. Indeed, until now, Assad has not willingly yielded on any of the issues important to him, whether over Lebanon, Gaza, Iran, or Iraq.

For Syria, the main appeal of a dialogue with Washington is the opportunities it will create to reimpose its hegemony over Lebanon, which provided the Syrian regime with regional relevance. Assad never accepted his army's departure from the country in 2005 under international pressure after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. There is little doubt the Syrians were behind the crime, but they believe that warmer ties with Washington will push the international community to find Syria an exit from the tribunal being set up in the Netherlands.

The Bush administration recalled its ambassador in Damascus after Hariri's killing, a decision the new administration may soon reverse. Obama's vagueness on how to safeguard Lebanese sovereignty is worrisome (as was Bush's), because Damascus has spent the last three years violating every U.N. resolution destined to achieve that end. Lebanon was a verifiable success for George W. Bush. By turning engagement into a fetish without grasping its damaging consequences if badly conceived, Obama might harm not only the United States but especially those in the Arab world unwilling to be stifled by Iran and Syria.

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House Republicans Bracing for More Losses in 2010

By jwilkes

Despite the fact that House Republicans will be defending 178 seats compared to 255 for Democrats (a 41% to 59% difference), GOP Representatives on the Hill are looking at the very real possibility of falling even further into the minority in 2010.

Going into the 2006 midterm elections, Republicans held a 15-seat majority over Democrats. They lost 30 seats in that contest, flipping the majority to Democrats for the first time since the Republican Revolution of 1994. They didn’t fare any better in the 2008 elections, losing another 21 seats. Further losses in 2010 will push Democrats closer to a 2/3 majority that would make passing legislation incredibly easy for the majority party. And while the first midterm following the election of a new president tends to go against the president’s party in Congress, House Republicans are fearing the worst.

A Diageo/Hotline Poll released this week shows that 49% of American voters approve of the job Democrats are doing in Congress, with only 38% disapproving. That’s an enormous change considering that just a few weeks ago, Congress’ overall approval rating sat at a paltry 17%. The Republican report card might have a lot to do with it. According to that same poll, only 26% of voters approve of the GOP’s performance.

What should be more troubling is the generic ballot question. When asked whether they’d be more likely to support a Democrat or a Republican for Congress in 2010, Democrats garnered 46%, an astonishing 24-point advantage over their Republican counterparts, who inspired only 22% of the support.

Republicans are drawing further fire over the stimulus bill, which has been a divisive issue on the Hill over the past week. House GOP members have promised to unilaterally oppose the legislation, and in fact voted unanimously against it (the bill passed 244-188). But a Gallup poll last week showed that 52% of voters support the stimulus package, compared to just 39% against. Democrats are already planning on running ads in the Republicans’ home districts aimed at their opposition to the legislation.

What hurts Republicans even further is Obama’s popularity, which- though it’s less than two weeks into his fledgling presidency- shows little sign of waning. Democrats on Capitol Hill have gone to great lengths to align themselves with their charismatic party leader, and even some Republicans have expressed interest in working with the new Administration.

Their traditional small government position notwithstanding, Republicans are struggling to define themselves in an era when voters are expecting their elected representatives to do something to halt the precipitous economic slide. But as the GOP goes through a period of transition, with new party Chairman Michael Steele winning election Friday, it’s experiencing difficulty identifying itself as anything other than the opposition party.

That platform never plays well during election cycles. And unless the GOP can mount a quick turnaround, the poll numbers that show yet another year of crippling defeats just might come to fruition.

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Bumps in the Road: Obama's HHS Secretary Nominee Faces Tax Questions Over Car and Driver

Jake Tapper is ABC News' Senior White House Correspondent based in the network's Washington bureau. He writes about politics and popular culture and covers a range of national stories.

ABC News has learned that the nomination of former Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to be President Obama's secretary of health and human services has hit a traffic snarl on its way through the Senate Finance Committee.

The controversy deals with a car and driver lent to Daschle by a wealthy Democratic friend -- a chauffeur service the former senator used for years without declaring it on his taxes.

It remains an open question as to whether this is a "speed bump," as a Democratic Senate ally of Daschle put it, or something more damaging.

After being defeated in his 2004 re-election campaign to the Senate, Daschle in 2005 became a consultant and chairman of the executive advisory board at InterMedia Advisors.

Based in New York City, InterMedia Advisors is a private equity firm founded in part by longtime Daschle friend and Democratic fundraiser Leo Hindery, the former president of the YES network (the New York Yankees' and New Jersey Devils' cable television channel).

That same year he began his professional relationship with InterMedia, Daschle began using the services of Hindery's car and driver.

The Cadillac and driver were never part of Daschle's official compensation package at InterMedia, but Mr. Daschle -- who as Senate majority leader enjoyed the use of a car and driver at taxpayer expense -- didn't declare their services on his income taxes, as tax laws require.

During the vetting process to become HHS secretary, Daschle corrected the tax violation, voluntarily paying $101,943 in back taxes plus interest, working with his accountant to amend his tax returns for 2005 through 2007.

(Daschle reimbursed the IRS $31,462 in taxes and interest for tax year 2005; $35,546 for 2006; and $34,935 for 2007, a Daschle spokesperson said, adding that Daschle had asked his accountant to look into the tax implications of the car and driver five months before Obama won the presidency.)

The Daschle spokesperson told ABC News that the senator, facing questions from the committee, has said "he deeply regretted his mistake. When he realized it was a mistake he corrected it rapidly."

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has called his colleagues for a private meeting at 5 p.m. ET Monday to discuss these complications surrounding Daschle's nomination.

In the meantime, the White House and Democratic allies are coming to Daschle's defense.

"The president has confidence that Sen. Daschle is the right person to lead the fight for health care reform," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said. "In preparation for his nomination, Sen. Daschle and his accountant identified some tax issues and fixed them. They filed amended return with the IRS and made payments with interest. Sen. Daschle brought these issues to the Finance Committee’s attention when he submitted his nomination forms and we are confident the committee is going to schedule a hearing for him very soon and he will be confirmed."

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., added: "Sen. Daschle will be confirmed as secretary of health and human services. He has a long and distinguished career and record in public service and is the best person to help reform health care in this country."

But House Republicans attending a retreat in Hot Springs, Va. also were buzzing about the news of Daschle's tax problems.

In a speech to his fellow Republican House members, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., compared Daschle's issue with the tax problems that hindered the confirmation of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and those of Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who is embroiled in a controversy over payment of taxes on a beachfront villa in the Dominican Republic.

"A pattern is developing," Cantor said. "The pattern is solidified. ... It's easy for the other side to sit here and advocate higher taxes because -- you know what? -- they don't pay them."

This is the second Cabinet nominee of President Obama's to face questions of tax malfeasance. Geithner paid more than $34,000 in taxes during his vetting process for income earned at the International Monetary Fund. Earlier, Commerce secretary nominee Bill Richardson withdrew his name from consideration after reports of a federal investigation involving whether his office engaged in "pay to play," a charge Richardson denied.

The spokesperson said, by way of explaining how it was this happened: "In 2005, Sen. Daschle's close friend Leo Hindery, who lives in New York, offered him the use of a car and driver in Washington when he was not using it. That same year, they began a formal business relationship where he was an independent consultant and chairman of the external advisory board to InterMedia Advisors. The car was not provided as part of his compensation. So it never occurred to him that it should be considered income. The senator simply and probably naively considered its use a generous offer by a longtime friend."

Hindery did not have any comment. Daschle has personally refrained from commenting.

Daschle came before the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee for a hearing on Jan. 8, 2009, and it was a veritable love-in, with the respected former colleague praised to the high heavens.

But staffers at the Senate Finance Committee are generally a little more exacting -- witness the stormy weather faced by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner for his back-tax snafus -- and they have been delving into the issue and exploring all the ramifications before holding a committee vote on his nomination.

The Daschle spokesperson insisted that the former senator is the one who should get credit for discovering, fixing and disclosing the tax issue.

"In June 2008, Sen. Daschle mentioned the use of the car to his personal accountant and asked him if there were any potential tax consequences," the spokesperson said. "His accountant said that there could be tax consequences and said he was going to fix them as part of Daschle's 2008 filing. So when he got down to vetting, Sen. Daschle decided to amend his returns for 2005, 2006 and 2007, and he paid all the taxes. At the urging of Daschle, the accountant was very conservative in his estimates."

Regardless of how the information came to light, a spokeswoman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said the public should be aware.

"Sen. Grassley’s position for this nomination is the same as it has been for every other nomination processed by the Finance Committee since 2001, that all relevant information about a nominee must be made public in order for the confirmation process to go forward in the committee," the spokeswoman said. "The public’s business ought to be public, and committee members must weigh all the facts of a nominee’s record."

Daschle has long been one of President Obama's closest advisers, so it was no surprise when the mild-mannered pol was named Obama's nominee to be HHS secretary shortly after Obama won election; his official nomination came Dec. 11, 2008.

Should Daschle have difficulty being confirmed -- a prospect that seems unlikely given the benefit of the doubt senators frequently extend to one another, not to mention the Senate's Democratic majority -- he doesn't have to worry about finding another job in the administration, since President Obama has also appointed him to serve as director of the new White House Office on Health Reform.

-- Jake Tapper, with reporting by ABC News' Jonathan Karl

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Are those Barack Obama's hands on cardboard cutout?

Barack Obama cardboard cutout



It seems a certain cardboard cutout of President Barack Obama has white hands. Or does it?

Advanced Graphics, a Utah company in its 25th year of producing cardboard cutouts, released its Obama during election season. Many fans have posed for photos next to the life-size model of Obama, which is popular at sites around Washington, D.C. The cutout even made it to a funeral home in Jersey. Then the online magazine The Root published the story "Black President, White Hands?" in which the author said the body on the cutout appeared to have been grafted from a heavier, white man.

Not true, said Steve Hoagland, vice president of Advanced Graphics. The cutout's hands "certainly were not white," he said.

The cutout was pulled from the line recently, Hoagland said, because the firm learned that Obama does not wear glasses. (The original Obama cutout is holding a pair of glasses and isn't wearing a wedding ring.) As Hoagland tells it, a retailer contacted Advanced a couple of weeks ago to report he had heard from a customer who said the real Obama signed his cutout and remarked that he knew the hands weren't "his" because he wouldn't be holding glasses.

"Seconds after getting the call we pulled them," Hoagland said of the original cutouts, although "tens of thousands" had been sold to distributors. "It's really about respecting the man himself. We take this as serious as can be."

Advanced Graphics ordered up two new sets of cutouts: one with the president behind a lectern and another with Obama standing with arms folded in front of him.

Hoagland said he checked both original photos to be sure the cardboard body was indeed the president's.

He doesn't know what happened the first time around.

"I don't know whose hands they were," he said.

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