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Inside the Beltway: United we’re not

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The past four years have taken a serious toll on the "united" part of the United States: "There has been an across the board rise in the number of people saying that the country is more politically divided than it was in the past. Currently, 80 percent view the country as more politically divided — the highest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey," Pew researchers report.

When President Obama took office in January 2009, that number was 46 percent. For once, there's no partisan divide: 81 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democarts agree that the nation is more politically divided. It's also getting personal.

Six out of 10 Americans say people they know also are more politically divided, a finding that has jumped by 13 percentage points since Mr. Obama's inauguration. And the parties are crabby: 67 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of Democrats also say their acquaintances are "more divided over politics than in the past."

FOXIFIED

There is simply no escaping the power of Fox News. The network is the most-watched cable news channel among total viewers and among that coveted audience of adults ages 24 to 54 for the 11th consecutive year, according to Nielsen Media Research. In prime time, Fox News drew an average of 2.071 million viewers, up by 11 percent in the past year; CNN averaged 670,000 viewers; and MSNBC 913,000 in the time period.

Fox rounds out the year with the top 11 programs in total viewership, Nielsen numbers reveal. The big winners: "The O'Reilly Factor" was in first place, drawing nearly 3 million viewers a night, followed by "Hannity" (2.3 million); "Special Report With Bret Baier" (1.9 million); "On the Record With Greta Van Susteren" (1.9 million) and "The Five" (1.8 million).

RHYME AND REASON

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that a tax plan soon would be there.

"The holiday treats were stale and bland, after Mrs. Obama had sugar plums banned.

"The president was sleeping — for the hour was late, he was tired and groggy, like the Denver debate.

"He dreamed of the year and his bruising campaign, Romney was tougher, it seems, than McCain."

- (Excerpt from 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: 2012 White House Press Basement Version" by Salem Radio News correspondent Greg Clugston, who has penned similar parody verses each year since 1998.)

SKINNY CITY

Nanny mayors: What works for the Big Apple works for the Windy City, apparently. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has borrowed a big fat page out of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's playbook. Mr. Emanuel plans to ban most high-calorie goodies from city vending machines. Only a quarter will offer drinks that contain 25 calories or more per 8 ounces, and they'll be limited to 12-ounce containers. And forget comforting lattes: No hot drinks can contain high-calorie ingredients.

"These new vending machines will make it easier than ever before for city employees and the public to make healthy lifestyle decisions. When city employees take their wellness into their own hands, we can reduce health care costs and also serve as a model for the residents of Chicago," Mr. Emanuel said in his proposal to local officials.

The mayor also insists that at least 75 percent of vending-machine food should contain 250 calories or fewer. Nut-free and gluten-free options also are on Mr. Emanuel's wish list. Big Brother is watching, too. A tracking device will be installed on new vending machines during the next two months to monitor public tastes. There could be a run on the remaining fat and delicious goodies, though.

"What if this tracking device is showing that folks are all still buying just that 25 percent? Do you just make bigger machines and people can keep buying more unhealthy stuff?" wonders local Alderman Brendan Reilly.

FLACKTOPIA

A nice round of applause, please, for spokespersons in the nation's capital — an often vilified group. They are banding together Monday at Bullfeathers, a more or less infamous Capitol Hill watering hole, to raise money for their uniformed counterparts in harm's way. Flacks for Flacks Who Wear Flak Jackets raises money for military public-affairs officers serving in Afghanistan.

The event is hosted by Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer and Democratic National Committee communications director Brad Woodhouse; among those on the vast host committee: Poltico's Mike Allen, USA Today's Susan Page and The Washington Times' own Joe Deoudes.

'WHY I AM A CONSERVATIVE'

A thoughtful 700-word answer to the aforementioned topic could snare some youthful conservative a $1,000 VIP package during the annual Conservative Political Action Committee gathering in March. The pass includes priority seating, express check-in line, tickets to major receptions and banquets, plus a one-year membership to the American Conservative Union.

Alternatively, there also are three prizes for a video contest, "The Future of the Conservative Movement: Timeless Principles, New Challenges." Both competitions are open to home-schooled, high school, college and graduate students; entries are due in February. See http://conservative.org/cpac2013 for additional details; hopefuls should check under the "participate" heading.

POLL DU JOUR

• 59 percent of Americans say their personal financial situation will improve over the next year; 39 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats agree.

• 26 percent overall say their financial situation will get worse; 44 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats agree.

• 13 percent overall say their situation will stay the same; 15 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats agree.

• 37 percent overall say U.S. economic conditions will get better; 10 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Democrats agree.

• 36 percent say U.S. conditions will stay the same; 42 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats agree.

• 25 percent say U.S. conditions will get worse; 47 percent of Republicans and 7 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Pew Research Center poll of 1,503 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 5-9.

Tipline always open at jharper@washingtontimes.com

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