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Category: government and politics

Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, who trained Obama family dog Bo, dies at 52

Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz, the trainer who prepared the Obama family dog Bo for life in the White House, has died. She was 52.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz died Wednesday of respiratory failure at a Virginia hospital, her ex-husband Paul Stasiewicz said.

Sylvia-Stasiewicz initially had no idea the Portuguese water dog that arrived at her Virginia home two years ago was destined for the Obama family.

Vicki Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, had asked Sylvia-Stasiewicz to determine if the 5-month-old puppy was suitable for a family with children. The Kennedys had previously trusted Sylvia-Stasiewicz with training their dogs, so the request wasn't unusual.

When Kennedy called to check on the puppy a few weeks later, Sylvia-Stasiewicz reported the dog was perfectly suited for a family with children. Kennedy then confided she and her husband were thinking of giving him to the first family as a gift.

Besides training the president's dog and the Kennedys' three Portuguese water dogs, Sylvia-Stasiewicz also trained former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel's dog. She lived in Hume, Va.

"For me, it's always about the dogs," Sylvia-Stasiewicz told USA Today in 2009. "There have been times when I've worked with people for a long time before realizing they were famous or high-profile or connected in some way."

Sylvia-Stasiewicz was born in Providence, R.I., in 1958. In the 1990s she founded Merit Puppy Training, which focused on training dogs through positive reinforcement. Her experience formed the basis for a 2010 book, "The Love That Dog Training Program," which she co-wrote with writer Larry Kay.

"I got a little teary-eyed when he left," Sylvia-Stasiewicz told St. Louis Magazine after Bo's debut. "You get attached. I drove him to the White House and just stayed in the background, because it was their moment."

-- Associated Press


Barry Zorthian, Vietnam War press officer, dies at 90

Barry Zorthian, a colorful U.S. diplomat who left his mark on American policy in Vietnam as a forthright and often combative press spokesman in the early years of the war, has died. He was 90.

Zorthian died Thursday in a Washington, D.C., hospital where he had been admitted a few days earlier, his son Greg said. A staph infection was the immediate cause of death.

By his own reckoning, Zorthian was the last surviving member of the original cadre of U.S. diplomats and military leaders whose policy decisions shaped events in America's longest war.

Zorthian was dispatched to Saigon in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson to defuse an increasingly acrimonious relationship between American officials and news correspondents covering the war. He used a mixture of charm, sly wit and uncommonly straight talk in trying to establish credibility for the U.S. effort.

In the first American war without formal censorship, Zorthian had no way to prevent unauthorized disclosures or stifle criticism, but he refused to be intimidated by either officials or the news media.

"He talked back," said George McArthur, who covered the Vietnam war for the Los AngelesTimes and the Associated Press.

Zorthian's candor earned him grudging admiration and respect among the journalists who were his primary adversaries. While coming to trust his word, some also found him a tough competitor at the poker table.

"Barry's door was always open and although he never shared a classified thought, he left you feeling that he had," said former New York Times and CBS reporter Bernard Kalb. "Even when he told you nothing, he was always persuasive."

Many ex-Vietnam correspondents who dealt with him say Zorthian, more than any other government spokesman of recent memory, understood and valued the role of the press in a free society.

"In postwar years, Barry Zorthian remained steadfast to his conviction about the significant role the media must play in a democratic society," said Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war reporter for the AP in Vietnam and later a CNN foreign correspondent. "His patience was tested in Vietnam, but he understood the principled motivations of the journalists working in Vietnam."

Arnett recalled that when he complained about an American military policeman threatening to shoot him during a 1965 Buddhist street demonstration in Saigon, "Zorthian shook his head in mock concern, and said ‘Damn it, Peter, you threatened him and he was just responding.’ ‘What?' I replied. ‘Yes,' Barry said, ‘you were aiming your pencil at him and that's more dangerous around here than a .45.' ''

Zorthian remained proud of his most controversial achievement — creating the daily Saigon press briefings that became known as the "Five O'Clock Follies," where officials delivered battlefield summaries and answered questions from reporters.

Though they sometimes became shouting matches and were widely ridiculed, the briefings lasted a decade, the only regular forum in which U.S. and South Vietnamese officials spoke entirely on the record and were often challenged or contradicted by reporters, sometimes to their embarrassment.

"I can never recall him misleading me, even though he straddled a fine line of loyalty to the government and the public's right to know, which he strongly believed in," said George Esper, a former AP Saigon bureau chief now teaching journalism at West Virginia University. "He was always accessible and always knew what he was talking about."

Zorthian was born of Armenian parents in Kutahya, Turkey, in 1920. The family immigrated to the U.S. and New Haven, Conn., where Barry attended Yale University, edited the Yale Daily News and was a member of Skull and Bones.

He graduated in 1941 and served as a Marine Corps artillery officer in the Pacific war and retired to the USMC Reserves as a colonel.

After a postwar stint at CBS Radio, Zorthian spent 13 years with the Voice of America, reporting on the Korean War and rising to program director. He then did tours as a foreign service officer in India and Vietnam.

In 1964, he was chosen by then U.S. Information Agency director Edward R. Murrow to run the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office, which dealt with the news media. After a year, he was given the diplomatic rank of minister.

In that capacity Zorthian served as press media adviser to three successive U.S. ambassadors to South Vietnam — Henry Cabot Lodge, Maxwell Taylor and Ellsworth Bunker — and to Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the U.S. military commander there.

From 1968 on, Zorthian worked in the private sector, including 12 years as president of Time Life Broadcast and Cable and then as its vice president for government affairs in Washington.

Most recently, he worked in media affairs for Alcalde & Faye, a media consulting firm based in Arlington, Va.

In addition to his Yale degree, Zorthian had a law degree from New York University.

Zorthian's wife of 62 years, Margaret Aylaian Zorthian, died in July. He is survived by two sons, Greg and Steve, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.

-- Associated Press

Salvador Jorge Blanco, former Dominican Republic president, dies at 84

Former Dominican Republic President Salvador Jorge Blanco, who was convicted of corruption under a political antagonist's administration but later declared innocent by an appeals court, died Sunday. He was 84.

He died at his home in Santo Domingo, said his son, Orlando Jorge Mera. Jorge Blanco had been in a coma since suffering a cerebral hematoma when he fell out of bed Nov. 20. He had been diagnosed with hydrocephalus, in which liquid builds up around the brain and spinal cord.

President from 1982 to 1986, Jorge Blanco was sentenced with three other men to 20 years in prison in 1991 for misspending government funds meant for military purchases. He was the first former Dominican head of state to be convicted of corruption and served two months in prison before he was released to continue his appeal.

The conviction was overturned in 2001 by an appeals court that ruled Jorge Blanco and the three other men were never provided the right to defend themselves during the 1991 trial.

"We are proud of his legacy," his son said in a Twitter message.

Jorge Blanco, a member of the Revolutionary Party, had maintained his innocence and said he was the victim of political persecution during the presidency of Joaquin Balaguer, who held office for 10 years after Jorge Blanco's term.

Jorge Blanco's single term in office was marked by severe economic problems that lingered despite his austerity policies backed by the International Monetary Fund and rescheduling of one-third of the Caribbean country's $3-billion foreign debt.

Labor unions called repeated one-day general strikes in protest of the austerity measures, which included freezing public paychecks. Judges, government-employed doctors and agronomists went on strike over wages. Rioting that erupted in April 1984 left dozens dead.

Jorge Blanco did not seek reelection in the 1985 presidential campaign.

At the end of his term in 1986, Balaguer's lawyers announced a corruption probe and Jorge Blanco sought asylum from the Venezuelan ambassador after a judge ordered him arrested. Venezuela turned him down.

-- Associated Press

Year-end obituary review by writers from the Washington Post and the Economist magazine

Charlie Another December day, another look back at news obituaries in 2010. Today we have a radio segment that aired Monday on WAMU-FM, American University's public radio station in Washington. Host Kojo Nnamdi, whose show aims to "connect your neighborhood with the world," interviewed Washington Post obit writer Matt Schudel and Economist obituaries editor Ann Wroe about stories that stood out for them in the last year.

Schudel starts off by discussing former pro basketball star Manute Bol and his ties to the Sudan, and then explains how all obit writers approach their assignments:

We're looking for the things that really make someone human. It's not just that we want to record the big events in a person's life, whether the person was a movie star, appeared in movies or on television or in case of a congressman, passed a bunch of laws. We're looking for the things that kind of set a person apart, that show both the extraordinary qualities and sometimes the foibles and the problematic character issues that you might say can sometimes lead to the downfall of a significant figure.

Ann Wroe had a memorable account of the life of Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson, a colorful character who died in February. She reads from the Wilson obituary she wrote:

He was Texas loud, 6'7" in his cowboy boots with bright suspenders, a rowdy laugh and a rugged western face. Other people in Washington might go around looking like constipated hound dogs, but he was having fun and sharing it. Partying and junketing first class all over the country on the federal dime. The apogee came in 1980 in a hot tub at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas with two strippers, naked but for their high-heeled shoes, each equipped with 10 red fingernails filled with beautiful white powder which they wafted onto his nose.

The Feds later spent a million bucks investigating whether he had inhaled it. He wasn't telling. He reviewed, however, that he wore a robe, at first, because he was, after all, a congressman.

Here's the story the Times ran on Wilson by reporter James Oliphant.

You can listen to the entire program at the WAMU website or read a transcript. The Post has more at its obit blog, Post Mortem.

 And here is the Times' picture gallery of notable figures who died in 2010.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Charlie Wilson in 1988. Credit: Associated Press

Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, architect of euro currency, dies at 70

Schioppa Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, an architect of the euro currency and a founding member of the European Central Bank's executive board, has died. He was 70.

Padoa-Schioppa died after suffering a heart attack Friday night in Rome, the newspaper La Repubblica reported.

Padoa-Schioppa, who fought for the single currency as a catalyst for European integration, served on the central bank's executive board from 1999 until 2005. He was deputy director general of the Bank of Italy for 13 years and was named finance minister under Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in May 2006, a position he kept until the government collapsed in January 2008.

"Our new currency unites not only economies, but also the people of Europe," he said in June 1999, six months after the euro's launch. "The society with these unifying bonds is now the European society, and not only a national society: this, I think, represents a profound change in human history."

Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa was born July 23, 1940, in Belluno, Italy. His father, Fabio Padoa-Schioppa, worked in insurance and was a schoolteacher. He studied at the Bocconi University in Milan, where he got a degree in economics in 1966, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was fluent in German and English.

In 1988, Padoa-Schioppa served as joint secretary to the Delors Committee, named after the then-president of the European Commission, investigated how European Union countries could remove all common trade barriers by introducing a single currency. The committee came up with a three-stage plan that was later included in a 1992 treaty that instituted the single currency.

Padoa-Schioppa called the euro "a currency without a state."

-- Bloomberg News

Photo: Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa in New York earlier this month.

Credit: Jim Lee / Bloomberg


Reactions to the death of Richard Holbrooke

Holbrooke Diplomat Richard Holbrooke was "a larger-than-life figure, who through his brilliance, determination and sheer force of will helped bend the curve of history in the direction of progress," Vice President Joe Biden said Monday. "He touched so many lives and helped save countless more."

Holbrooke, who most recently served as the Obama administration's emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan, died Monday after surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. He was 69.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that "it is almost a bittersweet bookend that a career of public service that began trying to save a war gone wrong now ends with another valiant effort to keep another war from going wrong."

Holbrooke was Kerry's top foreign policy advisor during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-Fla.), the incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, called Holbrooke a "dynamic force in American diplomacy for more than five decades."

Warren Christopher, secretary of State during the first term of the Clinton administration, said Holbrooke's death "removes from the scene one of the most memorable foreign policy figures of our generation."

Holbrooke's news obituary by Times staff writer Paul Richter can be found here.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Richard Holbrooke  in July. Credit: Shawn Thew/EPA

Stephen Solarz, former congressman, dies at 70

Solarz Former Rep. Stephen J. Solarz of New York, a foreign-affairs expert who in 1986 revealed the extravagance of Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, including her 3,000 pairs of shoes, has died. He was 70.

Solarz died Monday at George Washington Hospital in Washington after a four-year battle with cancer of the esophagus, said his son-in-law, Glen Prickett.

Solarz angered many of his fellow Democrats when in 1991 he co-sponsored the resolution authorizing Republican President George H. W. Bush to wage the first war against Iraq. A year later, he lost his seat in a dramatically redrawn New York City district that he had served since 1974.

Solarz's most well-known battle was in 1986, when he held highly publicized hearings to prove that Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos had looted the Philippine treasury of millions of dollars to buy real estate in the United States. He led the congressional movement to withhold military aid to that country until Marcos could be driven out and Corazon Aquino installed as president.

“Solarz fought for democracy in the Philippines during the dark days of martial law, even when his own government's policy was to support the Marcos regime,” Edwin Lacierda, a spokesman for President Benigno Aquino III, said. “He was a true friend of the Philippines.”

A few years later, Solarz surprised some with his willingness to play a leadership role in authorizing the first Gulf War after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Some thought because he had been an early opponent of the Vietnam War, he should have favored continuing sanctions in the gulf — the position of the Democratic Party leadership.

Solarz, who was a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the time that the Gulf War was not comparable to Vietnam. Rather, it was more like World War II.

“I would imagine that the Kuwaitis must feel today exactly the way the French felt after the Normandy invasion,” he said. “They obviously did not relish having bombs dropped on their homes and factories and fields, but they knew this was the price they had to pay to be liberated from the Nazis.”

-- Associated Press

Photo: Stephen Solarz in 1992. Credit: Associated Press

Huang Hua, diplomat and translator for Mao Tse-tung, dies at 97

Huang Hua, a former translator for Mao Tse-tung who oversaw China's formation of diplomatic ties with the United States in 1979, died Wednesday. He was 97.

State broadcaster CCTV said Huang died of an undisclosed illness.

Huang helped lay the foundation of China's modern foreign policy, meeting secretly with U.S. National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and helping draft the announcement of President Richard Nixon's groundbreaking visit to the country in 1972.

As foreign minister from 1976-1985, Huang oversaw the formation of diplomatic ties with Washington in 1979 and accompanied paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on his tour of the United States that year.

Huang joined the then-underground Communist Party in 1936 and was one of Mao's English translators in the years before the 1949 communist seizure of power, according to his official biography.

He was increasingly pivotal in China's foreign relations at a time when the communist state was largely isolated and battling for diplomatic recognition with Chiang Kai-shek's U.S.-allied Nationalists on Taiwan.

In the early 1950s, Huang was part of the Chinese delegation to drawn-out Korean War peace talks that eventually resulted in the 1953 armistice still in force.

In 1958, he took part in tentative initial contacts with the U.S. in Warsaw, Poland, that at the time were the only conduit for direct contacts between the sides.

-- Associated Press

One year ago: Nao Takasugi

Takasugi Nao Takasugi was a Republican state Assemblyman, an Oxnard mayor and held an MBA. He also was sent with his family to an internment camp during World War II. Takasugi died one year ago at age 87.

At the internment camp, he earned $16 a month as a Spanish and business tutor, he told The Times in 2003, and his family ate slices of Spam for a "Sunday treat."

He left the camp after several months when a Quaker organization offered Takasugi the chance to complete his business degree (which he began at UCLA) at Temple University in Philadelphia.

His career success dissuaded him from dwelling on the negative internment camp experience.

"I don't feel angry anymore," he told the Ventura County Star in 2002. "In spite of all the shortcomings of this country, it's still a great country. Where else can you come from a concentration camp and become the mayor?"

For more, read Nao Takasugi's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Nao Takasugi. Credit: Alan Hagman / Los Angeles Times

One year ago: John J. O'Connor III


John J. O'Connor III was a successful Phoenix lawyer and husband to Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice. He died one year ago of complications arising from Alzheimer's disease.

O'Connor, a Stanford University law school alumnus, gave up a partnership at a venerable Phoenix law firm to accompany his wife to Washington after she became a Supreme Court justice in 1981.

He appeared unfazed at having to switch to a more supporting role in the relationship.

"Sandra's accomplishments don't make me a lesser man. They make me a fuller man," he once told a reporter.

In Washington, he practiced at the law firm of Miller & Chevalier but in 1988 switched to another firm, Bryan Cave, which allowed him to spend time in Phoenix and take advantage of his contacts there.

The O'Connors were fixtures on the Washington social circuit and were known for their ballroom dancing. John O'Connor was once described as "a magnificent man full of Irish humor and tales" by family friend Alan K. Simpson, a former senator from Wyoming.

For more, read John J. O'Connor's obituary by Times reporter Valerie J. Nelson.

--Michael Farr

Photo: John J. O'Connor III dances with his wife, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in 1998 at the annual Meridien Ball in Washington, D.C. Credit: Karin Cooper / Getty Images

Sandra Day O'Connor dances with her husband, John, in 1998 at the annual Meridien Ball in <runtime:topic id="PLGEO100101200000000">Washington, D.C

Robert Lipshutz, former Carter counsel, dies at 88

Robert Lipshutz, former Carter administration White House counsel, has died. He was 88.

Lipshutz died Saturday at an Atlanta hospice of complications from a blood clot, said his son, Randy.

Lipshutz served as White House counsel from 1977 until 1979. Randy Lipshutz said his father was proud of the administration for promoting Middle East peace, increasing the number of women appointed to judgeships and the inclusion of more blacks in high-level government positions.

Lipshutz, an Atlanta attorney, was introduced to Carter while the future president was a Georgia state lawmaker. After supporting Carter for Georgia governor, Lipshutz became treasurer of Carter's presidential campaign and gave the campaign space in a back office at his law firm.

--Associated Press

Argentine coup leader Emilio Eduardo Massera dies at 85

Massera Argentine coup leader Emilio Eduardo Massera died Monday after suffering for years from a heart condition and dementia that left him too ill to be tried for crimes against humanity. He was 85.

Massera, a former admiral and member of the military junta that toppled President Isabel Peron in 1976, died at the Navy Hospital, a receptionist confirmed. Massera died of a heart attack, according to local television channels. Since suffering a stroke in 2002, he was considered too ill and senile to be prosecuted for stealing the babies of jailed dissidents and other crimes against humanity committed during Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Massera, junta President Jorge Videla and other coup leaders took power at a time when Argentina was marked by leftist guerrilla violence and counterattacks by military forces and death squads. Many considered Massera to be the brains behind the junta's "Dirty War" campaign against political opponents, which resulted in nearly 13,000 deaths and disappearances according to official records. Human rights groups put the toll closer to 30,000.

Following Argentina's return to democracy, Massera was condemned in 1985 to life in prison for three killings, the torture of 12 people and the illegal confinement of 69 others, but President Carlos Menem granted him and other coup leaders amnesty in what he called a gesture of reconciliation.

In 2002, the amnesties that kept Massera and Videla from facing new trials were overturned, but Massera's stroke spared him from the multiple trials Videla and other surviving dictatorship figures now face.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Emilio Massera in 1975. Credit: Associated Press


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