Gregg says he couldn't support Obama 100%

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican Sen. Judd Gregg said Friday that he pulled out of the job of commerce secretary after realizing that "I'm just going to be a little too conservative" for President Barack Obama's administration.

If you're going to be on a football team, "you've got to pull out and block on every play, you can't do it on every other play," the senator said.

"I didn't feel comfortable going forward because of my individuality, for lack of a better term," Gregg said during an appearance Friday morning on CNBC.

Gregg said he thinks Obama is on the right track in attempts to stabilize the shaky financial system and that the proposal of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner - much criticized as being too vague - is going to be an extremely strong initiative once it is filled out with details.

At the same time, Gregg said his conservative inclinations would show up in terms of fiscal spending.

Regarding the $790 billion economic stimulus plan, "I think there was a tactical error made ... in that you allowed the appropriators to write the package," said Gregg.

He said he thinks the stimulus plan "should be focusing mainly on trying to stabilize the real estate markets, and promoting small business and getting jobs."

On the other hand, Geithner's proposal has been misjudged, said Gregg.

"You are talking over a trillion dollars ... to clear off the books in the areas of consumer credit and commercial-backed real estate loans. That's big," Gregg said of Geithner's plan. "You are talking very strong initiatives in the area of foreclosure abatement. And you're talking a significant commitment to capital into the banks coming in either a direct infusion or through buying bad debt off their books."

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Obituaries in the news By The Associated Press

Estelle Bennett

NEW YORK (AP) - Estelle Bennett, one of the Ronettes, the singing trio whose 1963 hit "Be My Baby" epitomized the famed "wall of sound" technique of its producer, Phil Spector, has died. She was 67.

Bennett's brother-in-law, Jonathan Greenfield, said police found her dead in her apartment in Englewood, N.J., on Wednesday after relatives had been unable to contact her. The time and cause of death have not yet been determined. Greenfield is the manager and husband of Bennett's sister, Ronettes lead singer Ronnie Spector.

The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007; its Web site hails the group as "the premier act of the girl group era." Among their admirers were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; their exotic hairstyles and makeup are aped by Amy Winehouse.

The Ronettes - sisters Veronica "Ronnie" and Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley - signed with Spector's Philles Records in 1963.

Their recording of "Be My Baby" hit No. 2 on Billboard magazine's pop music chart that year. Among their other hits were "Walkin' in the Rain" and "Baby I Love You."

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Hugh Leonard

DUBLIN (AP) - Hugh Leonard, the Irish playwright and commentator who won a Tony Award in 1978 for his bittersweet father-and-son drama "Da," has died. He was 82.

Leonard died Thursday. He had been hospitalized for more than a year battling various illnesses.

Irish President Mary McAleese lauded Leonard as a writer who "infused his work with a unique wit, all the while demonstrating a great intuition, perceptiveness and forgiveness of human nature."

He was born John Keyes Byrne, but took on the pen name Hugh Leonard in the arch-conservative Catholic Ireland of the 1950s to hide from his Irish civil service employers his double-life as an aspiring, outspoken writer. He quit his day job in 1957 after the Abbey Theatre triumph of his first play, "The Birthday Party," the year before.

In the 1960s, Leonard became Ireland's most accomplished adapter of classic works and short stories to the Irish stage and screen, and a driving force in the promotion of modern Irish stagecraft. He wrote 16 plays specifically for the Dublin Theatre Festival, starting with "A Walk on the Water" in 1960, and served as the festival's program director from 1978 to 1980.

Leonard's talents reached an international stage when his play "Da" made a triumphant two-year run on Broadway in 1977-78.

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Shirley Jean Rickert

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) - Shirley Jean Rickert, who starred in five "Our Gang" comedies as a child and later became a burlesque performer, has died. She was 82.

Rickert - who later went by her married name, Measures - died Feb. 6 at a nursing home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., after a long illness, said her daughter, Melody Kennedy.

Rickert appeared in the "Our Gang" films in 1931 with Jackie Cooper and other pre-Spanky and Alfafa characters, playing a coquettish Mae West-type character with a short blond bob. She later played Tomboy Taylor in five Mickey McGuire comedies alongside Mickey Rooney in 1933 and 1934.

She had roles in several other films, including "Neath Arizona Skies" with John Wayne and "Singing in the Rain" with Gene Kelly. After her movie career, Rickert worked in burlesque in the 1950s as "Gilda and Her Crowning Glory," named for her long blond hair. As Gilda, she performed in theaters and nightclubs across the United States and Canada.

She left burlesque in 1959, going on to work a variety of jobs including bartender, secretary and sales director for a regional theater in Springfield, Mass. In the mid-70s, she launched a career as a traveling industrial hardware saleswoman.

She remained active late in life, performing in local theater productions, helping maintain a Web site for her fans and even doing occasional appearances at film festivals and conventions.


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