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Warren Buffett, George H. W. Bush and Angela Merkel Among Obama's Medal of Freedom Honorees

Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, testifies before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission on June 2, 2010. AP Photo

What recent U.S. presidents really like about bestowing Presidential Medals of Freedom: Congress has nothing to say in the matter. The selection of recipients is entirely the decision of man in the Oval Office. And he can use the medal to honor anyone he chooses, for any reason he chooses.

The White House Wednesday announced the 15 men and women to whom President Barack Obama will present Medals of Freedom at a ceremony early in the new year.

They include a former U.S. president, a current foreign leader, a poet, a holocaust survivor, a world renowned cellist, a former labor leader and two sports legends, among others.

While no medal can compete with the honor of having been elected President of the United States, Mr. Obama will bestow a Medal of Freedom on George H. W. Bush, the one-term Republican president who served from 1989 to 1993.

Since leaving office, he has kept a low political profile, though in 2005, he co-chaired a charitable fundraising drive with former President Bill Clinton for the victims of the Asian tsunami.

Mr. Obama will also present a Medal to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, of whom he is an unabashed admirer.

"I value her wisdom and her candor, and I admire very much her leadership and her pragmatic approach to getting things done," gushed Mr. Obama about Merkel at a joint press conference with her after a round of White House talks in June of 2009. And in November of last year, Mr. Obama helped arrange for Merkel to become the first German chancellor in half a century to address Congress.

Merkel won't be the first foreign leader to be honored with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. There have been at least 18 others including Britain's Tony Blair (2009), Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic (2003), South Africa's Nelson Mandela (2002), Egypt's Anwar Sadat and even a previous German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl (1999).

Mr. Obama will also be paying tribute to Warren Buffett, billionaire investor, philanthropist and unofficial economic advisor to the White House. Just today, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Buffett thanked the U.S. Government, which for the last 22 months means the Obama Administration, for pulling the world back from the brink of another Great Depression.

Others Mr. Obama has selected to receive a Medal of Freedom:

  • Dr. Maya Angelou - author and poet, ardent supporter of Mr. Obama's run for the presidency
  • Rep. John Lewis, D-GA. - civil rights activist dating back to the days of Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963
  • Yo-Yo Ma - world renowned cellist
  • Stan Musial - baseball legend and Hall of Famer for his years as first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals
  • Bill Russell - one-time star of the Boston Celtics and five-time NBA MVP
  • John J. Sweeney - retired President of the AFL-CIO
  • Jean Kennedy Smith - advocate and activist for people with disabilities; JFK's sister
  • Sylvia Mendez - civil rights activist
  • Gerda Weissmann Klein - author and Holocaust survivor
  • John H. Adams - environmental activist; co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Jasper Johns - American artist

One of the Medals of Freedom will be presented posthumously to honor Dr. Tom Little. An optometrist, he was brutally murdered by the Taliban last August while on an international aid mission to Afghanistan.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here:
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