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Inside the Beltway

- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2010

JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS

And soon, exclusives for the Home Shopping Network and the Cartoon Channel? The White House may be loath to stage formal prime-time, question-and-answer, pad-and-pencil press conferences with the journalists credentialed to cover the big issues. But cable?

Oh yeah.

Coming Tuesday evening to TNT, President Obama's "exclusive interview" with play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, in which the president shares his "thoughts with Albert on his history and love of basketball, the future of LeBron James and the Phoenix Suns stand against the immigration law in Arizona."

Sports and policy, just before TNTs coverage of game four of the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers at 9 p.m. But Mr. Albert is happy.

"It is clearly one of the highlights of my broadcasting career, and a great honor and privilege for me personally, to interview the president of the United States at the White House and talk NBA basketball with him," the announcer said.

STRATEGIC BACKBONE

The solution is going to take more than a Senate flyover of the Gulf and official handwringing. The entrenched attitude that the nation is essentially helpless in the face of disasters like the BP oil spill is shared by policymakers — which could help explain the dithering among emergency management agencies and the White House, even as the leak continues.

"If we assume that disasters are unforeseeable or unavoidable, it is hard to generate the political will to act in advance to avoid or to mitigate their effects," says University of Southern California sociologist Andrew Lakoff, editor of the new book "Disaster and the Politics of Intervention."

He adds, "The lesson that comes from looking at different types of disasters is not a single policy prescription that will work across all of them, but a recognition of the importance of developing political interventions that are sustainable over the long term and that are achievable in the current political context."

STEELE BEAM

The daily path of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele is somewhere between minefield and hospital ward these days. Mr. Steele picks his way past incendiary devices, disarms questions about Rand Paul's take on civil rights and still tends the malaise of party members who, uh, dropped too many dollars on fan dancers and athletic equipment.

Mr. Steele's daily path may also include a corral. He's deft at harnessing the positive and resetting the main message — like framing Charles Djou's win as an "incredible victory" in Hawaiis 1st Congressional District.

"His success and this victory came in Barack Obama's hometown, a district the president carried by a margin of 70-28 percent in 2008," Mr. Steele says, in full reminder mode. "Charles' victory is evidence his conservative message of lowering the tax burden, job creation and government accountability knows no party lines. It's a message Americans want to hear from candidates across the country."

GRAND OLD PARTY

Republicans may be more in touch with American roots music than Democrats. Maybe. There are 27 Republican lawmakers on the host committee of the 7th Annual Congressional Blues Festival, and 20 Democrats - including Rep. George Miller of California, chairman of the sold-out event that has already raised $1 million to preserve heritage music and its makers.

The effort is so bodacious that it's being staged Wednesday at the National Building Museum, historic home to behemoth presidential inauguration galas.

An organizer tells Inside the Beltway that tickets provide "all you can eat and drink all night, and rocking performances by Grammy nominated headliners Robert Randolph and the Family Band — joined by Howard Gospel Choir, Sol and Funk Root, and Bobby Parker. The menu features flavorful southern-influenced fare, with vegetarian options."

NOT MINCING WORDS

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is alarmed that two United Nations officials will attend the inauguration of Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir, scheduled for Thursday.

"President Bashir is a wanted man, indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and atrocities in Darfur," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. "He should be arrested, not feted. Official U.N. participation in Bashir's inauguration would be nothing short of tragic."

Haile Menkerios, head of the U.N. mission in Sudan, and Ibrahim Gambari, joint head of the African Union/U.N. mission in Darfur, will attend the ceremony, which Mr. Harris fears "confers legitimacy" on Mr. Bashir and undermines the international court system.

"The Arab League and African Union, in a circle-the-wagons show of support for Bashir, have rejected the ICC indictment. And, to make matters still worse, several Arab and African nations have rolled out the red carpet for Bashir on official visits since the ICC action," he adds.

POLL DU JOUR

• 72 percent of U.S. voters say they are not confident that Congress "knows what it is doing" when addressing the nation's economic problems.

• 6 percent are "very confident" lawmakers can solve the problems.

• 27 percent are "somewhat confident."

• 53 percent of Democratic respondents are confident Congress can deal with the economy.

• 9 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of unaffiliated voters agree.

Source: A Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted Tuesday and Wednesday.

Murmurs, noise, insider fare to jharper@washingtontimes.com