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Eye Opener: Dec. 17, 2008

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Good morning and Happy Wright Brothers Day! It was 105 years ago today that Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew their mechanically propelled airplane. In celebration, millions of Americans are expected to spend extra time aboard planes idling on airport tarmacs amid flight delays.

Now to the news...

Who is Ken Salazar?: "A fifth-generation Coloradan whose family settled in the West before the United States' founding and has ranched and farmed on the same land in the San Luis Valley for more than a century, has earned a reputation as a centrist during his four years in the Senate," reports The Post's Juliet Eilperin. "He has pushed to temper energy exploration in the West even as he has backed offshore oil drilling and subsidies for ranchers on public land." More: "Salazar fueled his career in Colorado by attracting bipartisan support and became the first Latino elected statewide when he won election as attorney general there a decade ago, and has worked to balance traditional energy development with a measure of environmental safeguards."

HUD Chief Calls Mortgage Aid A Failure: "Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steve Preston said the centerpiece of the federal government's effort to help struggling homeowners has been a failure and he's blaming Congress," reports The Post's Dina ElBoghdady. "The three-year program was supposed to help 400,000 borrowers avoid foreclosure. But it has attracted only 312 applications since its October launch because it is too expensive and onerous for lenders and borrowers alike, Preston said in an interview." Preston said that "Congress dotted the i's and crossed the t's for us, and unfortunately it has made this program tough to use."

Beating the Insurance Blues: "Protest works," notes The Post's Federal Diary columnist Joe Davidson. "Certainly that's one message federal employees can take away from the decision yesterday by Blue Cross/Blue Shield to revise its 2009 fee structure for non-emergency surgery by out-of-network doctors. In response to outraged workers who have the Blues standard option, and troubled members of Congress, the company announced that it will pay 70 percent of the fee it allows for such procedures, leaving the patients responsible for 30 percent, plus any difference between the allowed amount and the actual charge."

Duncan Called 'Down-to-Earth' Leader: The basketball-playing education secretary-designate "has supported a range of measures to shake up the status quo in urban education, including new charter schools, performance pay and tough accountability for struggling schools," reports The Post's Maria Glod. "He has also gained a reputation for reaching out to the teachers union and the community, helping to neutralize some potential critics and win allies." Here's more: "Under Duncan's leadership, charter schools were expanded, and a performance-pay plan was launched with the blessing of teachers. He supports a program to bring people into teaching who have little classroom experience but strong academic backgrounds. In 2006, he called on Congress to double funding for the No Child Left Behind law."

Fewer Miles, Fewer Dollars: The FedLine blog notes that Americans "drove 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007. That’s the biggest decline in American history," which might be good for the environment but "bad for the department, which depends largely on revenue from gas taxes to pay for highways and bridges. The Highway Trust Fund collected $3 billion less in 2008 than it did in 2007."

Health Officials Leaving: Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach will resign on Inauguration Day, one of several expected departures for the nation's top health officials. "Leaders of these agencies have sometimes straddled administrations, but the Obama administration is expected to make a clean sweep in part because of repeated assertions that the Bush administration allowed politics to play an unusually forceful role in science policy, and because each of the current leaders has fierce critics on Capitol Hill and in the public health community," reports The New York Times. "The Obama administration’s choice for each slot will signal how it plans to deal with issues like stem cell policy and the safety of imported drugs and foods; how it might take advantage of advances in genomic research; its approach to pandemic flu planning; and whether huge investments in bioterrorism prevention will continue."

Cool Link: The National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office has posted extensive information about weather conditions on Inauguration Days past and future. The worst weather day? In 1909, "President William H. Taft's ceremony was forced indoors due to a storm that dropped 10 inches of snow over the Capital city. The snow and winds began the day before."

By Ed O'Keefe  | December 17, 2008; 8:51 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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