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Inside the Beltway: Stringent advice from a reporter to Obama on Term 2

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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"President Obama needs to fire himself. Not literally, of course, but practically: He needs to shake up his team so thoroughly that the new blood imposes change on how he manages the federal bureaucracy and leads," says Ron Fournier, a veteran national news correspondent and editorial director for National Journal.

"A series of self-inflicted wounds during his fifth year in office, capped by the botched launch of the Affordable Care Act, have Americans questioning the president's competence and credibility. History suggests that second-term presidents rarely recover after their approval ratings fall as much as Obama's have this year," he says.

"History also suggests that there are two types of White House shake-ups. The first is mostly cosmetic and is aimed at sending a signal that the president is serious. He fires somebody, anybody, as a sacrificial lamb. The second is deep cleansing — that rare occasion when a president rebuilds his team to change himself," Mr. Fournier insists. "The latter is what Obama must do."

MR. BIDEN'S TRICKY TRIP

He's jetted off: Vice President Joseph R. Biden departed Monday for a six-day trip to Japan, China and South Korea, all meant to "reaffirm our enduring presence as a Pacific power" and the "enduring strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance," the White House says in its neutral description of the journey.

Yes, everyone can be "enduring" and maybe endearing on the visit. Crisis management skills and some sabre-rattling are likely requirements as well.

It's only been a week since China established the Air Defense Identification Zone over a disputed portion of the East China Sea, requiring all foreign aircraft to reveal their flight plans and constantly communicate. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel deemed the designation "a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo of the region"; officials in Japan, Australia and Europe voiced similar discontent. A pair of B-52s recently buzzed the airspace over islands that both China and Japan claim as their own.

"The rightist apologists of Japan's atrocious past and belligerent present find it a thorn in their side and wish the world would forget about its existence. The China-hating politicians in Washington display collective amnesia when and where it gets in the way of demonizing China," counters an op-ed published Tuesday in China Daily, the nation's state-supported, English language newspaper.

"Like it or not, the Cairo Declaration, issued 70 years ago yesterday, remains the ultimate key to sorting out the convoluted territorial dispute between China and Japan," the paper says. "In the Cairo Declaration, it was agreed that, 'all the territories Japan has stolen from China, such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China'."

The paper later concludes, "When Vice-President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister David Cameron visit this week, our new Air Defense Identification Zone may be a hard-to-navigate topic. But our leaders should review with them the Cairo Declaration, and tell them, challenging our legitimate claim to the Diaoyu Islands is an outright betrayal of the Declaration."

AND THE TRICKY NUMBERS

Mr. Biden's journey prompted the Pew Research Center to revisit its poll numbers about Asians, and their opinion of one another, even as the White House seeks to "rebalance" and rebrand its policy on China.

"China's military power is regarded with alarm in Japan and South Korea. Nearly all Japanese (96 percent) see China's power as bad for their country as do 91 percent of South Koreans," says senior editor Bruce Drake, who cites findings released six months ago.

But it's complicated. Very.

"Almost seven decades after the end of World War II, a big majority of South Koreans (98 percent) and Chinese (78 percent) believe that Japan has not sufficiently apologized for its actions in their countries during the 1930s and 1940s, according to our spring survey," Mr. Drake says.

"Sixty-nine percent of Japanese regard the U.S. favorably compared with only 5 percent who have a positive view of China," he adds. "In South Korea, 78 percent have a favorable view of the U.S. compared with 46 percent who regard China positively."

A RIDDLE WRAPPED IN A SUBSIDY

"Thanks to Obamacare's complicated scheme of subsidies and tax breaks, even after an hour of shopping I don't really know what I'm buying or how much it's going to cost me," declares Stephen Green, a Colorado-based political columnist for PJ Media who dutifully sat down to navigate HealthCare.gov over the weekend following the site's major overhaul.

"I can't really know. There's another one of those notices alerting me that 'All health plans and stand-alone dental plans may not be available at this time, due to technical issues. We'll update this information as soon as it's available.' Well, I'm certainly not going to buy anything today based on that, I can tell you," Mr. Green continues.

He had intended to find out if the Obamacare sign-up site was as problematic as it has been portrayed. Answer: it is.

"There is no more information to be gleaned. My insurance options remain a riddle, wrapped in a subsidy, smothered in regulations." Mr. Green concludes.

KNOW THY HEALTHCARE

Let us all remember that a reported $684 million in taxpayers' funds has been spent to promote Obamacare in recent months.

"Americans younger than 30, a key group targeted by the Affordable Care Act, continue to be the least familiar with it," says Frank Newport, director of the Gallup poll, upon revealing that 37 percent of those younger than 30 don't know much about Obamacare.

Ironically enough, Democrats are in second place, with 34 percent indicating they're also unfamiliar with the health care reform law.

That figure is 12 percent, incidentally, among Republicans.

"Those who are familiar with the health care law are significantly more likely to oppose it than those who are not familiar with it," Mr. Newport observes.

'WHITE HOUSE YOUTH'

Well, this could be what the doctor ordered. Or maybe not.

The White House plans a "White House Youth Summit" on Wednesday, to be attended by "young people from around the country" who can ask "senior White House officials" questions about health care reform and anything else on their minds. There is much social media involved, centered upon #WHYouth

POLL DU JOUR

$602 billion: total estimated national holiday sales spending through Christmas.

$57.4 billion: total holiday spending during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.

141 million: number of people who shopped for bargains during Thanksgiving.

92 million: number of shoppers who were in stores on Black Friday.

59 million: number of shoppers who went online to buy during the Thanksgiving time period.

45 million: number of shoppers in stores on Thanksgiving Day.

$407: average amount spent by each shopper during Thanksgiving period.

$178: average amount spent by online shoppers during the time period.

Source: A National Retail Federation survey of 4,464 U.S. adults conducted Nov. 29 and 30.

Polite applause, churlish remarks to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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