Current polling data looks pretty ominous for President Obama and the Democrats. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows the president’s job approval rating sinking underwater, with 45 percent of those surveyed approving Obama’s performance but 48 percent disapproving. As the Journal’s John Fund points out, a president’s rating is a key indicator of how many seats his party will lose in a mid-term election. When Democrats lost 54 House seats and eight Senate seats in 1994, President Clinton’s job approval rating was 46 percent. Much could change between now and November, but the overall trajectory of public opinion is against the party that controls Washington. The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows 61.7 percent of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track; just 32.7 percent think the country is on the right track. These can be reversed, but the government’s handling of the BP oil spill, concerns about Afghanistan and flat-out outrage over deficit spending appear to make that unlikely.
The death of Sen. Robert Byrd at the age of 92 surely marks the end of an era in the United States Senate. The West Virginia Democrat served as the chamber’s majority leader for six years and third in line of presidential succession. He served more than 51 years and was known in later years for floor speeches that quoted the Bible and other writing from antiquity — a throwback to an earlier time when the Senate was the world’s greatest deliberative body. In his prime, Byrd wielded great power as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, steering considerable federal largesse to his relatively poor state. Since the death of his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma, in 2006, Byrd appeared increasingly frail. Yet he won re-election in 2006 with 64 percent of the vote. In all he cast more than 18,500 roll call votes, a Senate record.
A federal judge’s decision to knock down the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling is just the beginning of the argument — one that might land in the U.S. Supreme Court’s lap before long. District Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee, said the administration’s decision to halt all drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet after the BP spill was unreasonably broad and damaging to thousands of Americans who depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihoods. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger,” Feldman wrote in his decision.
Interestingly, the administration also cites uncertainty surrounding the cause of the BP spill and the potential threat to thousands of Americans (presumably different thousands than the ones cited by Feldman) to argue drilling should remain halted. The White House said it would appeal Feldman’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit and then who knows, maybe the high court will be asked to decide whose interests are the most compelling and most in need of protecting.
OK, we’ll play the ugly Americans for a minute. Soccer’s World Cup is into its second week, and while it’s truly a spectacle, the play-by-play broadcasts and their odd British grammar is getting annoying. We know: The verb in that last phrase is wrong. It should be “the play-by-play broadcasts and their odd British grammar ARE getting annoying” — because the subject is plural. That’s the beef with these WC broadcasters, who’re constantly telling us “England ARE lucky to still be alive” or “the United States ARE gearing up for a big match against Algeria.” In both cases Americans use the verb “is” — because that’s just the way it is in the Colonies. But not in World Cup. We can handle British-isms like calling the playing field a “pitch,” a team practice “training” and soccer “football,” but this grammar deal is fingernails on a blackboard. Worse, color man John Harkes, of Kearny, N.J., apparently is along for the ride, echoing the subject/verb quirkiness of his British booth-mate. Blimey! Now, about the on-screen graphics showing distances in meters …
Let’s stipulate that British Petroleum is about as radioactive as any company could be right now because of the Gulf oil spill. As such, any empathy for BP is, well, pretty dumb, politically. So Congressman Joe Barton’s apologetic words to CEO Tony Hayward during Thursday’s hearing got the Texas Republican absolutely dog-piled by just about everyone in Washington with access to a microphone — Democrats and Republicans.
Barton is an old hand and should’ve known better. He was trying to take issue with the concept and structure of a $20 billion fund for handling spill-related damage claims, to be paid into by BP. Barton said it looked like a White House “skakedown” — not the greatest word choice, to be sure. Yet, some people rightly worry about the White House ordering a private entity to do such a thing, arguing BP could address claims on its own and that there’s a court system to hash things out if claimants and the company can’t agree. Others note that as BP pays into the fund — $5 billion a year over the next four years — consumers ultimately could bear the cost in the form of higher prices.
Unfortunately for Barton, it sounded like he was siding with BP, and later he had to make one of those weasely Washington apologies — regret if anyone misconstrued his remarks. Lots of people did, proving the political lesson that if something over there is glowing white hot in broad daylight, don’t get near it, no matter how valid your argument might be.
Sharron Angle, winner of the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Nevada and now tasked with knocking off Majority Leader Harry Reid in November, is making the rounds in Washington this week — mainly enlisting foot soldiers for the fall campaign and beating the bushes for financial support. With a reported $25 million in the bank, Reid won’t go quietly or cheaply. So Angle is dialing for dollars and, though she doesn’t say it out loud, reassuring listeners she’s not a nut from the right-wing fringe — certain to be Reid’s line of assault. Though Angle has in the past taken positions on Social Security and other issues that certainly would invite liberal attacks, she is wisely characterizing the race as a referendum on Reid and his record. The Nevada contest is likely to turn on the diminutive former teacher’s ability to keep the focus there.
You’d have to be friends with Helen Thomas to know for certain, but we’ll assume the former UPI White House correspondent/Hearst columnist was kind, gracious and generally good to be with around the office. Squaring that version of Thomas with the one that said Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine,” forcing her abrupt retirement last week, clearly is upsetting to Thomas’ friends and colleagues. There’s been an outpouring of regret for her self-inflicted demise — generally, that her remarks didn’t reflect her true nature.
Others contend otherwise. The fact remains that until Thomas’ self-destruction, too many dismissed her growing public bias, which The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz writes signaled a shift from journalism to activism. Others have noted how Thomas’ determination to make little speeches followed by uncomfortable questions made her a joke, easy for officials to ignore — a crutch, even, for a White House press secretary needing some levity to change the subject from other more serious, problematic lines of questioning.
Maybe it is too bad Thomas’ long career ended as it did, but as Kurtz notes, she long ago “shed any pretense of fair-mindedness,” which is important even in someone paid to express opinions. Maybe friends and colleagues sad to see her gone now should’ve done more to pull her back from the line she so clearly crossed recently. If there’s to be concern, how about some for David Nesenoff, the camera-toting rabbi whose question to Thomas about Israel apparently lit her fuse. Nesenoff reportedly has received more than 25,000 e-mails — many obscene, anti-Semitic and hate-filled — simply because he asked a question and got the explosive answer on video.
You gotta figure if then-Sen. George Allen’s thoughtless use of a derogatory term cost him his 2006 race for re-election in Virginia, then U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) must really be toast after he was captured on amateur video gettin’ physical with two videographers who claimed to be working on a student project. According to a number of reports, the incident occurred last week after Etheridge, a seven-term congressman, left a Washington, D.C., fundraiser that featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Encountering Etheridge on the sidewalk, one of the men asks the Democrat if he fully supports President Obama’s agenda. Etheridge demands that the men identify themselves and tries to swat a cellphone from one man’s hand. He then grabs the man by the wrist and says, “I have a right to know who you are.” Later Etheridge collars the man around the neck. What was the congressman thinking? It’s still a mystery after his office issued a fairly generic apology in which Etheridge says he regrets his reaction: “No matter how intrusive and partisan our politics can become, this does not justify a poor response.” Hard to believe that’ll be the end of it. The only intrusion most people will see in the video is Etheridge getting inside the other guy’s personal space. Bottom line: Angrily grabbing people on the street — even if you think they’re being intrusive or partisan — doesn’t play well, especially in an election year.
Too bad they don’t have live television cameras in the courtroom where former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is on trial for corruption. It sounds like some O.J. Simpson-like entertainment is going on. Jurors got an earful of Blago in December 2008, yelling at his campaign chief older brother, Robert, about the need for more campaign cash. What a pair! Robert can be heard yelling back that if Rod is so worried about funds he could nix sending out poinsettias and Christmas pictures. The Rod & Rob Show took another funny turn when the judge in the case told Rod to sit still and stop gesturing during the testimony of former chief of staff Alonzo “Lon” Monk. Blago sit still? Maybe if they put him in a straitjacket.
Globalization refers to the interconnectivity of the world through various means including trade and communications. And oil spills. The Gulf of Mexico gusher isn’t just an American concern. While the British no doubt care about environmental damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast, they’re really exercised about the plunging value of British Petroleum stock, currently at a 13-year low. The London Evening Standard reports the Brits think President Obama is partly to blame for billions of dollars in lost stock value. The newspaper says a number of leading Conservative Party members wish Obama would just knock if off already with criticism of BP. One Tory called Obama’s conduct “despicable,” and London Mayor Boris Johnson demanded an end to “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name-calling.” They can save their breath. So far, BP hasn’t generating much sympathy in the colonies and besides — no matter what the sign on the president’s desk says — the oil spill buck is too large for Obama not to send BP’s way.