Inside the Beltway: Looming, plunging, dreaded

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No wonder the American public gets jittery. The phrase “fall off the fiscal cliff” has appeared in news coverage more than 184,000 times since early November, according to a casual Goggle News search. The press likes nothing more than a cliffhanger story that alarms the American public but allows journalists to weigh in with much drama and authority, even when there’s little to report. Yeah, well. That’s what ongoing disputes, unresolved court cases or endless political races tend to inspire in the media realm, including this very column. But wait, there’s more:

82,100: Number of times “resolve the fiscal cliff” has appeared in the news during the same time period.

62,000: Number of times “looming fiscal cliff” has appeared.

30,500: Number of times “plunge off the fiscal cliff” has appeared in the same time period.

10,300: Number of times “dreaded fiscal cliff” has appeared.

MITT AS ELVIS

Elvis Presley sightings are out, and Mitt Romney sightings are in according to the astute Twitter aggregators at Twitchy.com, who are monitoring the often incredulous Tweets of journalists who spot the former presidential hopeful going about his business in La Jolla, Calif. — his home for now. Yes, Mr. Romney went to the movies, Disneyland and the gas station. In recent days, he was seen riding his bike and shopping for Cheerios in CVS, wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a sports shirt. Like any celebrity sighting, the moment initially prompts giddy responses from the viewers, followed by the inevitable realization that, wonder of wonders, Mr. Romney is just like everybody else. How do you like that? Wow. He grins, purchases, pedals, pumps gas, escorts his spouse.

And of course, that was Mr. Romney’s intended message to America about a month ago, and one ignored by the mainstream press. Until now.

WHO’S LIGHTING WHAT

Amazingly enough, they’re still called “Christmas” trees, escaping the culture war radar that would insist that everything is “holiday” at this time of year. Indeed, House Speaker John A. Boehner gets his own brief holiday from the fiscal cliff Tuesday at dusk, when he steps forward to light the 65-foot Capitol Christmas Tree, a handsome Engelmann spruce, festooned with some 5,000 handmade ornaments.

The tree was towed on its three-week journey from Colorado behind a “clean diesel technology” Mack truck, driven cross country, incidentally, by former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Architect of the Capitol Stephen T. Ayers will be the master of ceremonies.

Meanwhile, President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and their family light the National Christmas Tree on Thursday — the 90th time the ceremony has occurred since President Coolidge started the tradition in 1923. And what a ceremony.

Also on hand: actors Neil Patrick Harris and Rico Rodriguez, singers Jason Mraz, Ledisi, James Taylor, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Colbie Caillat, cast members from “Jersey Boys,” the mighty U.S. Navy Commodores jazz ensemble plus The Fray, a rock band from Denver. See the high-energy doings streamed live here: TheNationalTree.org.

A KEMP LEGACY

Rubio + Ryan: A pair of the Republican Party’s most high-profile assets are the starring double bill Tuesday evening for the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner, a very swell affair staged at a hotel six blocks from the White House. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida receives the annual Kemp Leadership Award; keep in mind that this nonprofit group advances its namesake’s stalwart American values of “growth, freedom, democracy and hope.” Former Congressman, Cabinet member, vice presidential candidate and football hero Jack Kemp died in 2009 at age 73.

But wait, there’s more. Rep. Paul Ryan, just a month off the presidential campaign trail, will deliver the keynote address. And among the menu dainties for the auspicious occasion: pan-fried Maryland crab cakes, Caesar salad, filet mignon topped with mushroom duxelle, chermoula marinated Atlantic salmon, plus almond cake, chocolate mousse and fruit tart.

CLIFF NOTES

While the White House and Congress rattle sabers over the fiscal cliff, some hope to wrest sense out of the situation as the nation nervously awaits the outcome of the negotiations. For the thoughtful, concerned and curious, there’s FiscalCliffNotes.org, launched Monday by the nonprofit policy group Let Freedom Ring. Seen through a prism of “moral dimensions, political calculations and economic impacts,” the site intends to explain complexities with original content and curated news stories. Yes, there’s an article called “What is the fiscal cliff?” and an examination of morality and tax rates, among other things.

“There is plenty of blame for this mess,” says Colin Hanna, president of the organization. “Democrats have failed to renew the prosperity-spurring tax cuts and still refuse to rein in spending. Republicans have been too eager to cave in to Democrats on the issue of taxes.”

HOLA AMERICA

CNN has provided Spanish language news programming for 15 years. But the broadcast genre has grown far more targeted for generic Hispanic fare. In January, the network will launch CNN Latino — custom-made, syndicated programming for the U.S. Hispanic market that covers news, lifestyle, documentary, talk and debate as an alternative to “traditional” Hispanic networks.

“The U.S. market is so diverse and so large that there is room for two distinctive content options,” says CNN’s senior vice president for Hispanic programming Cynthia Hudson-Fernandez, who adds that the new outreach represents “the dual reality of U.S. Latinos today who are multi-generational and proud to be bilingual.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 85 percent of Americans give a “high or very high honesty rating” to nurses.

• 70 percent say the same of medical doctors, 58 percent say the same about police officers, 52 percent say it about clergy.

•  41 percent give a high rating to psychiatrists, 28 percent to bankers.

• 24 percent give a high honesty rating to journalists, 20 percent to state governors and 19 percent to lawyers.

• 14 percent give a high honesty rating to senators, 11 percent to stockbrokers, 10 percent to members of Congress and 8 percent to car salespeople.

Source: A Gallup poll of 1,015 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 26 to 29; see the complete survey at Gallup.com under “Congress Retains Low Honesty Rating.”

Grumbles, mumbles, grimaces to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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