Flying High

John McCaslin
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Posted: Feb 20, 2009 11:05 AM
Flying High

Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren are the latest to echo this columnist's question: "Does President Obama practice what he preaches?"

In other words, whether it's necessary, given the country's dire economic situation, for Mr. Obama to be spending millions of taxpayer dollars traversing the country aboard Air Force One, most recently to promote - and eventually sign - his economic stimulus package (among other personal trips and campaign-style photo-ops, like celebrating Valentine's Day in Chicago and flying 31 minutes to a Democratic retreat in Virginia).

It was Mr. Obama who pointed out this month: "If the taxpayers are helping you, then you have certain responsibilities to not be living high on the hog."

We suggested the president missed a perfect opportunity to highlight his promised "change" by addressing his recent audiences in Indiana, Florida, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona and Virginia via video hookup. The savings - and kudos - would have been equally tremendous.

On Wednesday night, Ms. Van Susteren cited Inside the Beltway, saying, "I never complained before about presidents using a 747 and Air Force One," but it's different now with the "focus on the economy."

Mr. Kyl, her Republican guest, said, "You can do the math. The president flew out here, stayed last night, went to a high school this morning ... gave his speech and then he left town. And I understand he did the same thing in Denver yesterday."

"If it's just used as a backdrop, if there's no other business, why in the world are we spending that kind of money just to sign a bill or make an announcement?" asked the host.

BUMPS AND DUNKS

The 6-foot-1 President Obama received much ink last week after he accidentally banged his head on the low doorway of Marine One as the chopper prepared to depart the White House.

Like all tough commanders in chief, Mr. Obama brushed off the slight bump and concentrated on the mission at hand - pushing his economic stimulus plan.

Former Rep. Martin Lancaster, North Carolina Democrat, is the newest senior adviser at Dawson & Associates, a top environmental lobbying firm in Washington. Once upon a time, Mr. Lancaster was appointed by President Clinton to be the U.S. Army's assistant secretary for Civil Works (overseeing the Corps of Engineers), and like Mr. Obama he grew accustomed to ducking into helicopters.

Discussing the president's minor bump (as well as the media's infatuation with such presidential mishaps), he recalls the time he attended a military conference "in some forgotten city, and as I pulled up to the hotel door a very officious colonel met me and whisked me off to the ballroom where I was to speak."

"This hotel happened to have pools and fountains that did not have any fences, borders or anything to keep people out of the water - just level marble with pool openings. He was so engrossed in telling me what a great office he had that he walked straight into the pool," recalls Mr. Lancaster.

"It was very shallow and he just kept walking for 4 or 5 feet - but a foot shorter than he had been - walked out the other side, and just kept right on walking and talking without missing a beat."

ANIMAL GERMS

Uncle Sam is short of "essential" veterinarians to control potentially catastrophic "zoonotic diseases which spread between animals and humans, such as avian influenza."

So warns the Government Accountability Office (GAO), pointing out that most federal animal doctors work in the departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Health and Human Services (still in need of a secretary, let alone vets).

"[T]here is a growing national shortage of veterinarians," says the GAO, which surveyed 24 federal entities with veterinarian work forces, analyzing pandemic plans and interviewing those who responded to four recent zoonotic outbreaks.

The GAO seeks to empanel a veterinarian work force that would be needed "during a catastrophic event."

BIPARTISAN SPIRIT

"Who says Republicans and Democrats can't unite?" quips Ben Jenkins, communications director for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, after young members of both parties joined together on Capitol Hill this week to support legislation allowing Sunday alcohol sales in three states where it's banned.