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Intriguing people for January 25, 2010

By Jay Kernis, CNN

David Plouffe was campaign manager for Barack Obama's successful presidential run.
David Plouffe was campaign manager for Barack Obama's successful presidential run.
  • President Obama's campaign manager back to help Democrats in midterm elections
  • Stimulus watchdog has experience sniffing out waste
  • Actress Betty White receives recognition for six-decade career

Editor's note: Every weekday, CNN focuses on a handful of people in the news. This is a chance to find out more about what they've done -- good or bad -- what they've said or what they believe, and why we think they're intriguing.

(CNN) -- David Plouffe
President Obama and fellow Democrats got a wake-up call last week.

In a special election to fill Sen. Ted Kennedy's old seat in Massachusetts, Republican Scott Brown defeated state Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democrat. Coakley's defeat follows losses for Democrats in governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia last year.

The Washington Post reports the White House wants the Republican victories to stop, especially in the forthcoming midterm elections, and has asked Plouffe to become an outside adviser to Obama's team. Plouffe managed Obama's 2008 presidential campaign but did not become a White House staff member.

According to the Post, Plouffe -- in his new role -- will concentrate on, among other challenges, polling that warns Democrats of potential political problems.

Plouffe documented how Obama won the presidency in the book "The Audacity to Win" and wrote that technology was fundamentally changing political coverage.

"Big moments, political or otherwise, will no longer be remembered by people as times when everyone gathered around TVs to watch a speech, press conference or other event. Increasingly, most of us will recall firing up the computer, searching for a video and watching it at home or at the office -- or even on our cell phones," he wrote.

Washington Post: Former campaign manager to be White House adviser

Time: How they did it: Plouffe on Obama's victory

Earl Devaney
By this coming Saturday, the U.S. government is scheduled to post new information on to explain how it's allocating and spending $787 billion in stimulus dollars to get the economy going again. The official charged with keeping this enormous effort honest is Earl Devaney.

In his message on the Recovery Web site, he explains, "President Obama appointed me chairman of the Recovery Board on February 23. I took this job for one simple reason: As the inspector general at the Department of Interior and earlier in my career in other federal jobs, I had continually raised concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability in government. Now, I figured, I could be part of an historic exercise in transparency and accountability. For me, the opportunity was too hard to resist."

What that means is Devaney is responsible for monitoring wasteful spending and reporting it to the public, according to a Time magazine profile.

He seems like the man for the job -- a former head of the Secret Service's fraud division, Devaney later investigated criminal activity at the Environmental Protection Agency. He uncovered the activities of ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which led to a prison term. He looked into the stakeholder persuasion techniques of some Minerals Management Service workers and, according to Time, "found MMS employees were drinking and using drugs on the job and were having sexual relationships with oil industry contracts."

According to, as of November 30, the Recovery Board and federal inspectors general have received 1,006 complaints of wrongdoing associated with Recovery funds -- 106 have triggered active investigations, and 25 cases have been accepted for prosecution.

Time: 2-minute bio: Stimulus watchdog Earl Devaney Oversight actions

Romel Joseph
The Haitian-born, 50-year-old violinist was rescued after being buried for 18 hours in the remains of the New Victorian School in Port-au-Prince, according to The Miami Herald. That's the school he founded and where the blind teacher brought classical music to poor Haitian students. It's also where his pregnant wife, Myslie, died during the January 12 earthquake, the Herald reports.

The Herald said that while praying for rescue, Joseph played every concerto that he had ever performed -- in his mind. Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Mozart and others.

Both of his legs were fractured, as was his left hand, meaning the graduate of the University of Cincinnati and Juilliard School may not be able to play his violin again, according to the Herald. He's recovering at Florida's Jackson Memorial Hospital, where students from the South Miami Middle School Chamber Ensemble surprised him Friday with a hospital room performance.

Joseph told The Miami Herald that he plans to help re-establish the private, nonprofit school. "As long as Haiti has children, you have a purpose of being there,'' Joseph told the paper. "As long as there are kids there, they have to have a reasonable level of health, and they have to have an education.''

The newspaper reports that more than 100 of his students have been awarded degrees from American universities

The Miami Herald: Rescued from rubble, violinist might not play again

The New Victorial School Web site

Elizabeth Gilbert
The author of the blockbuster travel/self-help/divorce/recovery memoir, "Eat, Love, Pray" has got a new best-seller. "Committed," her new book about marriage, has hit the No. 1 spot on The New York Times nonfiction list.

In "Committed," Gilbert explores and eventually comes to terms with marriage, an institution she vowed not to re-enter after a bitter divorce from her first husband. Living happily with Felipe, the Brazilian-born man she met and fell for in Indonesia in the "Love" portion of "Eat, Pray, Love," Gilbert was jolted into action in 2006 when immigration officials stopped Felipe at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.

The couple, told that they could get married or Felipe would never be allowed to enter the United States again, chose matrimony -- very reluctantly. For Gilbert, the crisis set off a yearlong journey of traveling across Southeast Asia with Felipe and researching marriage, as the U.S. government considered his immigration application.

Gilbert, now 40 and married to Felipe for almost three years, told CNN, "Sometimes what happens is we long for the fairy-tale ending. I'm a little bit more of an advocate for the fairy-tale beginning. I think it's wonderful when a love story begins with a great deal of romance and affection, passion and excitement, that's how it should be." The fairy tale continues -- Julia Roberts will portray Gilbert in the film version of "Eat, Love, Pray."

CNN: 'Eat, Pray, Love' author tackles marriage

CNN: Interview with Gilbert Video

Betty White
On Saturday night, Sandra Bullock gave 88-year-old Betty White a Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Among her many roles, White portrayed "Happy Homemaker" Sue Ann Nivens on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," the naive widow Rose Nyland on "The Golden Girls" and the sharp-tongued Catherine Piper on "Boston Legal" and as well as appearing on countless game and talk shows.

White said the biggest change in her six decades in TV is the viewers. "I started out when television started out, and there was this magic thing in the corner that had actually people in your room with you, you know," she said. "But now the audience has heard every joke, they've heard every story, they know exactly where a program is going from the first time they hear the words. That's a hard audience to surprise."

CNN: White backstage at SAG Awards Video

What makes a person intriguing?

There are people who enter the news cycle every day because their actions or decisions are new, important or different. Others are in the news because they are the ones those decisions affect. And there are a number of people who are so famous or controversial that anything they say or do becomes news.

Some of these people do what we expect of them: They run for office, pass legislation, start a business, get hired or fired, commit a crime, make an arrest, get in accidents, hit a home run, overthrow a government, fight wars, sue an opponent, put out fires, prepare for hurricanes and cavort with people other than their spouses. They do make news, but the action is usually more important than who is involved in the story.

But every day, there are a number of people who become fascinating to us -- by virtue of their character, how they reached their decision, how they behaved under pressure or because of the remarkable circumstances surrounding the event they are involved in.

They arouse our curiosity. We hear about them and want to know more. What they have done or said stimulates conversations across the country. At times, there is even a mystery about them. What they have done may be unique, heroic, cowardly or ghastly, but they capture our imaginations. We want to know what makes them tick, why they believe what they do, and why they did what they did. They intrigue us.