Sunday Breakfast Menu, Dec. 1

Sunday's Breakfast MenuStephen Crowley/The New York Times

The pressure is on and expectations are high as the Obama administration’s Dec. 1 deadline to fix the problems with the website arrives. The Sunday news shows this week will delve into that topic, plus the emerging details of an interim deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

“Fox News Sunday” will feature James C. Capretta of the Ethics & Public Policy Center and Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, discussing the health care deadline and concerns that users could again overwhelm the site. Michael V. Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency, will give his take on the pros and cons of the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

Tom Donilon, former national security adviser for President Obama, stops by ABC’s “This Week” to discuss Iran, the future of United States troops in Afghanistan and China’s newly declared air defense zone.

Representatives Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and member of the Budget Committee, will appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to evaluate the Iran nuclear deal and potential trouble in Congress for Mr. Obama over the health care site’s problems. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York will discuss the effect of the Affordable Care Act on the Catholic Church.

Those subjects will be explored further on CBS’s “Face the Nation” by Senators Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will also be interviewed.

Howard Dean, former Vermont governor, and Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, will be on CNN’s “State of the Union” to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to hear an appeal concerning mandated contraception coverage under the new health care law. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Representative Rogers will talk about the threat of terrorism at home and abroad.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, will discuss her proposal to change the way sexual assault cases in the military are handled on Univision’s “Al Punto.”

Ben Nelson, former senator from Nebraska and chief executive of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, will be on C-Span’s “Newsmakers” to weigh in on how the nation’s insurance commissioners are adapting to the changes in health care laws around the country.

A White House Menu, Heavy on the Pies

President Obama and his family will have a traditional Thanksgiving meal this holiday, enjoying a menu that will look familiar to many American families: Turkey, ham, stuffing and plenty on the side. What’s remarkable is the dessert menu: the number of pies rivals the number of dishes in the dinner menu itself.

There are the Thanksgiving favorites, pecan pie and pumpkin pie. Perhaps to indulge Michelle Obama, there are the ostensibly healthier peach, apple and sweet potato pies. Cream pies are represented by banana, coconut and chocolate. Huckleberry caps the nine-pie lineup.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Obama and his family helped dish up out food at the Capital Area Food Bank in northeast Washington. As people passed the Obama family’s station at the food bank warehouse, the president handed out small bags of onions, and Mrs. Obama gave out carrots. Their daughters, Sasha, 12, and Malia, 15, were responsible for the apples and M&M’s (the latter in boxes bearing a presidential seal).

Marian Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s mother, gave out recipes for a sweet potato curry. Earlier in the day, during the traditional turkey pardoning, Mr. Obama said his family would bring “bring a couple less fortunate turkeys” to the food bank.

It should be noted that the pardoned turkeys, Popcorn and Carmel, may only be slightly more fortunate than their brethren. The blog Obama Foodorama reported last week that seven of the eight birds that Mr. Obama has pardoned only lived for a few months after the ceremony, and just one lived to see another Thanksgiving.

For those keeping track at home, here is the full White House Thanksgiving menu:

Honey-baked ham
Corn bread stuffing
Oyster stuffing
Macaroni and cheese
Sweet potatoes
Mashed potatoes
Green bean casserole
Dinner rolls

Huckleberry pie
Pecan pie
Chocolate cream pie
Sweet potato pie
Peach pie
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Banana cream pie
Coconut cream pie

Kerry Defends Nuclear Pact With Iran

Secretary of State John Kerry offered a robust defense of the interim nuclear agreement with Iran on Sunday, rejecting comparisons to North Korea and insisting that the deal would make Israel and Persian Gulf allies of the United States more secure, not less so.

Speaking on three Sunday news programs, Mr. Kerry said the deal, signed early Sunday morning in Geneva, would lock in place nuclear activities that bring Iran closer to having a bomb and subject its nuclear facilities to unprecedented international inspections.

“From this day, for the next six months, Israel is in fact safer than it was,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “We’re now going to expand the time by which they can break out, rather than narrow it.”

Mr. Kerry acknowledged that Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region had a right to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions. But he said the United States and its negotiating partners had taken steps to address that by insisting on strict monitoring and verifications.

“You don’t trust,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “It’s not based on trust. It’s based on verification. It’s based on your ability to know what is happening.”

But there were already indications that Iran and the West were interpreting crucial parts of the six-month agreement differently. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has asserted that the agreement explicitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He also said the agreement effectively removed the threat of an American military strike.

Mr. Kerry rejected both of those contentions. “The fact is, the president maintains” the option to use force “as commander in chief, and he has said specifically, he has not taken that threat off the table,” he said on CBS.

Administration officials reaffirmed on Saturday night that the United States has not yet recognized a right to enrich uranium by Iran. But in the interim agreement, the language is more ambiguous, saying that a “comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits.”

The treatment of this question is likely to be a major focus of the next six months of negotiation. Israel and other countries have flatly opposed Iran’s right to enrich uranium because of its violation of several resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that in his reading of the interim deal, enrichment is “respected in practice but not acknowledged just yet.”

Sunday Breakfast Menu, Nov. 24

Sunday's Breakfast MenuStephen Crowley/The New York Times

Two stories are vying for the top slot on the Sunday news shows this week – one about the so-called “nuclear option” in the Senate that would limit filibusters, and the other the nuclear talks between Iran and Western nations. The potential fallout for both issues is equally dominating on the political panels this week, with in-depth discussion from experts on which sides may come out on top.

“Fox News Sunday” will feature Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland – both members of the Foreign Relations Committee – discussing how a potential diplomatic agreement could restrict Iran’s nuclear program as world leaders inch closer to a deal. Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska will appear on the program as well, arguing that any change to Senate filibuster rules is an attempt to distract the public from the struggles of the new health care law.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will sit alongside Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, on CNN’s “State of the Union” to discuss progress in fighting terrorism and potential vulnerabilities. They will also weigh in on Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to Geneva for the Iran talks. A roundtable of political experts will take on the filibuster rule changes.

ABC’s “This Week” will cover Mr. Kerry’s trip as well, with Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia and vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, debating Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia and Foreign Relations Committee member, over how to best confront the issue. They will also talk about the “nuclear option” on filibusters. Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, will be on to discuss his new push for immigration reform.

Talk of immigration reform will continue on Telemundo’s “Enfoque” as Representatives Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, and Mario Díaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, evaluate the practicality of passing legislation in the House.

Representative Juan Vargas, Democrat of California, will also be discussing immigration on Univison’s “Al Punto.” Plus, Anibal de Castro, ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United States, will talk about a recent controversial decision by the highest court in his nation to strip anyone who was born after 1929 to an undocumented immigrant of his or her citizenship.

Along with a conversation on filibuster rules with Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, and Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, CBS’s “Face the Nation” will have more coverage of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent assigned to Jacqueline Kennedy, will shed light on the historic event from his perspective.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, will be on Bloomberg’s “Political Capital” to talk about the health care rollout and the future of the Republican Party.

Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican of Texas and the House Armed Services Committee vice chairman, is leading an effort to revamp the defense acquisitions process. He will be on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” to discuss.

NBC’s “Meet the Press” will not air this week.

Breslin and Son of Kennedy Gravedigger Recall the Famous Job

“Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday,” is the way that Jimmy Breslin’s famous gravedigger column begins, kicking off a poignant account of Mr. Pollard digging President Kennedy’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery shortly after the assassination in 1963.

And it is similar to how Mr. Pollard’s stepson, Johnnie Edward Jones, 66, begins his own recollection of the day Mr. Pollard dug the president’s grave.

“My father didn’t work weekends, but he knew he was going to be called in for this,” Mr. Jones recalled when reached by phone on Friday. “They wanted him to prepare a grave for the president, so my mother got up early and fixed him breakfast, and he come home late that night.”

Breakfast was bacon and eggs, noted Mr. Breslin’s column, which also quoted the supervisor telling Mr. Pollard on the phone, “I guess you know what it’s for.”

Mr. Breslin, now 85, said the idea to visit Kennedy’s grave occurred to him shortly after hearing about the assassination, while working in Selma, Ala.

“First thing I thought was, ‘Where will they bury him?’ ” he said, reached by phone at his home in Manhattan on Friday. He said he contacted Arlington and was told Mr. Pollard would be called in to dig the grave. He rushed that morning to the Pollard house on Corcoran Street in the Northeast section of Washington, where, as the column noted, Mr. Pollard put on khaki overalls and ate his breakfast. Then he and the columnist traveled to the cemetery, which would result in Mr. Breslin’s now-famous column for The New York Herald Tribune.

“By then, I knew I was in good shape, because there were a thousand reporters at the funeral, so no way I was going there,” Mr. Breslin recalled. “I knew it was going to be a good piece. I didn’t get excited. I just wanted to do it and get out, and hit the bar.”

When President Kennedy’s body was moved several years later, to its current spot nearby, Mr. Pollard was called upon to dig that second grave.

“He dug the president’s grave twice,” said Mr. Jones, of New Carrollton, Md., who was 16 at the time and remembers it vividly. He now works as a courier at Federal Express and as a desk clerk at a condominium complex.

“He was very upset when he heard about the assassination, but when he got the call from Arlington that Sunday, he found it within himself to put his sorrow behind him and do what he had to do, for his country,” Mr. Jones said. “It was a big part of his life.”

Mr. Pollard, a World War II veteran, worked at Arlington for more than 30 years, before retiring around 1980. He died two years later and was buried a few hundred feet from where President Kennedy now rests.

“My father and mother both liked Kennedy when he first came on the scene, and they mostly voted Democratic, so there was a lot of pride involved in digging his grave,” Mr. Jones said. “He wasn’t looking for special recognition. He considered it his duty to his country, and he took as a great honor.”

Mr. Breslin said that he wrote the column in Washington in a couple of hours before a 5 p.m. deadline – “I could write a column in a half an hour, if it was life and death” – and then hopped a train to New York and another one to Queens and went straight to Pep McGuire’s bar and began drinking.

Mr. Jones said that Mr. Breslin sent copies of the column to the Pollards, which they distributed to friends. On Friday, Mr. Breslin said he himself never even read the column once he filed it.

“To this day, I haven’t read the thing,” he said. “You just go on to the next one. What, am I going to read it and extol myself? I worked for a living. It’s ‘Where’s the bar?’ and you keep going.”

Obama Campaign Veterans Start New Advertising Venture

A few months after members of President Obama’s 2012 advertising and data teams came together to start a new firm called AMG that would bring some of his campaign’s technical savvy to corporate America, a rival faction of advertising and data strategists say they are starting a competing effort.

On Thursday the ad firm of Jim Margolis, GMMB, and the big data firm of Dan Wagner, Civis Analytics, announced the formation of a partnership that will replicate the Obama campaign’s high-tech system for placing ads on television at the right time and on the right programs for political and business clients.

The campaign’s system – called “The Optimizer “ — essentially figured out the minute-to-minute viewing habits of specific individual voters by tracking the activity of their cable or satellite television set-top boxes.

Mr. Margolis was Mr. Obama’s senior advertising strategist, and his firm was in charge of placing all of the campaign’s commercial time buys. Mr. Wagner was the data mastermind who oversaw the campaign’s secret analytics department, which set out to specifically identify every individual voter the campaign needed to sway in critical swing states.

The new firm says it will work not only for political clients but also for businesses and nonprofit organizations.

As such, it will be in direct competition with AMG. That firm was started by another senior Obama advertising strategist, Larry Grisolano, of the firm AKPD, formerly run by Mr. Obama’s former adviser David Axelrod; the Obama communications strategist Erik Smith; and several younger techies led by the former Democratic Party strategist Chauncey McLean.

Despite the new rivalry, Mr. Margolis said: “We work closely with AKPD on a variety of projects every day. Sometimes we also compete.”

Both new advertising firms are operating without the benefit of the vast – and valuable — trove of voter data the Obama campaign has collected over the years. Most of that is not being transferred to the Democratic Party, Politico reported Wednesday.

The formation of the new firm further highlights the decision by many of the most technologically sophisticated members of Mr. Obama’s data team to head into business for themselves rather than to enlist with the administration for a second term. Those decisions have stood out in recent weeks as attention has focused on the failed start of the health care website.

Food Stamp Spending and Caseload Are Declining, Report Says

The money spent on food stamps and the number of people who receive them are declining as the economy has improved, according to a report released Wednesday, even as the program remains a source of contention in congressional negotiations to complete a five-year farm bill.

The report, by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group, said that spending and the program’s caseload leveled off in 2011 and 2012 and had remained essentially flat for the past year.

The center said the number of people on food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, was declining month to month in about half the states and increasing incrementally in the other half. About a third of the states had fewer people participating in the food stamp program in August, the most recent month for which there is available data, than a year earlier, the group said.

The program is under fire in the Republican-led House, where a proposed bill would cut food stamps by nearly $40 billion over 10 years. A Senate bill would decrease spending by $4 billion over 10 years. Republicans lawmakers have said the program, which costs about $78 billion a year, has grown out of control.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Utah and North Dakota had the biggest declines, about 6 percent.

Some of the caseload decline can be attributed to the fact that stimulus funding for the program, which had temporarily increased benefits, expired Nov. 1. That cut benefits by about 7 percent on average, for a total of about $5 billion, the center found.

The Congressional Budget Office expects that the number of food stamp recipients will fall by 2 to 5 percent each year over the next decade — from 47.7 million to 34.3 million by 2023 — if the economy continues to improve.

“Further large SNAP cuts, at a time when unemployment remains above 7 percent and the economy struggles to create enough jobs, would make life harder for tens of millions of Americans who are already struggling to put food on their tables each day,” Dorothy Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst at the center, said in the report.

In an Attack Ad, an Alaskan Voter Is Really an Actress From Maryland

WASHINGTON – In a tough new advertisement from the Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, an unnamed woman looks directly into the camera and upbraids Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska.

“Senator Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again?” she asks in criticizing Senator Begich’s support for President Obama’s health care law. “It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better.”

But there is a slight problem with the commercial. The woman is not from Alaska. She is actually an actress who lives in Maryland. And to some, the elegant kitchen she is standing in, done in French country style with granite countertops, might seem out of place somewhere as rugged and frontierlike as Alaska.

The commercial, which was scheduled to start running on Wednesday, never explicitly claims that the woman is a real Alaskan voter. And actresses are used routinely in political commercials. But as far as Mr. Begich is concerned, it is an illegitimate attack from outsiders who have no business getting involved in Alaska politics.

“Today’s misleading ad from the Koch brothers is just more evidence that even billions of dollars can’t buy integrity,” said Rachel Barinbaum, a spokeswoman for Mr. Begich.

Aides to Mr. Begich, who is up for re-election next year and is expected to face a tough fight in a state where Mr. Obama lost handily in 2012, also took issue with the commercial’s claims, which attempt to tie the senator to the problems that millions of people are having in keeping their current health plans.

In a sign of how politically perilous the health care law’s problematic implementation has been, Mr. Begich’s office put out a fact sheet highlighting his support for a Senate plan that would allow people to maintain their current insurance through 2015. It also points to his impatience with the president’s claims that the problems are being addressed.

As for the actress, a woman named Connie Bowman who does voice-overs, commercials and print ads, she said she was just doing her job. “I’m just an actress,” she said Wednesday when reached by phone.

Koch Brothers’ Group Uses Health Care Law to Attack Democrats

WASHINGTON — Americans for Prosperity, the political group backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, is targeting three of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats who are up for re-election next year. The group’s efforts are part of a new $3.5 million attack advertising campaign that hammers lawmakers for supporting President Obama’s health care law.

The senators — Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana — are all from conservative-leaning states that voted to elect Mitt Romney in 2012. The ads will start running in those states on Wednesday.

Americans for Prosperity is also targeting three Democratic members of the House who are in danger of losing next year: Ron Barber of Arizona, Joe Garcia of Florida and Patrick Murphy, also of Florida.

With the health care law’s flaws now front and center, Republicans and their allies have been trying to ratchet up the pressure on Democrats, especially where voters are most likely to respond negatively to the Affordable Care Act.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, said that reminding voters about problems with the way the law had been carried out so far was part of a much larger strategy.

“We want to make sure Obamacare is the No. 1 issue they’re thinking about,” he said. “We believe repealing Obamacare is a long-term effort, and a key part of that effort is keeping it in front of the American people night and day.”

The ads are specifically aimed at women because the group’s research has shown that they are not only more undecided than men about the merits of the Affordable Care Act, but that they also tend to make the decisions about their family’s health care.

Women are featured as narrators in the ads.

“Health care isn’t about politics,” one of those narrators says in an ad that will be broadcast in North Carolina. “It’s not about a website that doesn’t work. It’s not about poll numbers or approval ratings. It’s about people. And millions of people have lost their health insurance.”

In the commercial that will run in Alaska, a woman talks about the unfulfilled promises made by Mr. Obama and senators like Mr. Begich: “Senator Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better.”

Another Website, Another Problem for Obama

WASHINGTON — Some supporters who tried to log in to hear President Obama defend his embattled health care law on Monday night were unable to hear him because the website of the group behind the call, Organizing for Action, failed to work for them.

The website problems were an inconvenient moment for a president who has spent the last six weeks trying to explain the failure of, the online marketplace for Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

The event on Monday was intended to offer Mr. Obama’s most ardent supporters a chance to hear directly from him. It was the latest conference call to be hosted by Organizing for Action, the nonprofit group that grew out of the president’s 2012 campaign organization.

“I want to cut through the noise and talk with you directly about where we’re headed in the fight for change,” Mr. Obama had said in one of many emails sent to supporters over the past several days. The emails urged supporters to log onto an Organizing for Action website at 8:15 p.m. to listen to the president’s remarks.

Mr. Obama told those who could hear that there had been “a lot of misinformation” about his health care plan and noted that nearly a half-million people had signed up for Medicaid or for new insurance despite the problems with the health care website.

“I am confident that by the end of this month, it’s going to be functioning for the vast majority of folks,” Mr. Obama said. “Despite all the noise out there, despite all the criticism, despite all the setbacks, I’ve never lost faith in our ability to get this done.”

But many people who logged in said they could not hear anything, with the website reporting “connection failure” over and over again. It was unclear how many people could listen to the call. An official with the group gave a New York Times reporter, who also could not hear anything on the website, a telephone number to call and listen in.

At the same time, a chat board on the website began filling up with messages:

“I can’t hear any audio?”

“Is everyone getting the ‘reconnecting’ message?”

“I did refresh twice — still no sound.”


One supporter pleaded, “Don’t tell me there are troubles with this live event like there were with the Obamacare website!!!!!”

Organizing for Action officials said at the beginning of the call that more than 200,000 people had signed on to listen to the president. Katie Hogan, a spokeswoman for the group, said that technicians noticed a spike in traffic at the beginning of the call and that there was no indication that large numbers of people were unable to hear the president.

Ms. Hogan said the “vast majority” of those who logged in were able to listen in, and she pointed to the quick popularity of a Twitter hashtag — #ofacall — that was announced on the call as evidence.

Whether or not people could hear may not have mattered much.


The glitch was at the very least inconvenient for a White House that has been struggling to combat the perception that it cannot get things done.

“Just like, this site doesn’t work either,” another supporter said. “It is tougher and tougher to defend all of this mr president.”