- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2014

It is an intense itinerary: President Obama is currently on an overseas excursion that takes him to five foreign nations in five days. That adds up to about 29 hours of flying time aboard the magnificent but pricey Air Force One, which now costs $228,288 an hour to operate, up from about $179,750 in recent years. So say the meticulous watchdogs at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, who figure the total of this particular jaunt to be $6,620,352. Yes, those are taxpayer dollars.

But the organization also notes that Mr. Obama has emerged as the most traveled of the recent presidents: He has taken 31 international trips during his five years in office. In a comparable amount of time, President George W. Bush took 28 trips, Bill Clinton 27, Ronald Reagan 14 and Richard Nixon 12.

“While these figures are approximations, and do not account for the additional (and likely greater) expenses of transporting the president’s Secret Service and diplomatic entourage, backup aircraft, land vehicles, and advance security teams, it goes to show that higher Air Force One operational costs substantially change the budgetary magnitude of these trips,” the foundation concludes in its analysis.

THE HOBBY LOBBY’S LOBBY

It could be a noisy Tuesday. As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, the Tea Party Patriots will “stand for the First Amendment” in front of the nation’s highest court for five hours, whatever the weather, the grassroots group says. They are keenly interested in the trajectory of the Obamacare mandate requiring businesses to pay for birth control in their employee health plans.

Lawmakers will also take a stand outside the U.S. Capitol: Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Kevin Brady of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania and Steve Scalise of Lousiana. They will gather at high noon, and a press conference will follow.

And the Hobby Lobby? The Oklahoma-based arts and crafts concern which operates 602 stores calls the mandate “unfair, unjust and unacceptable.”

The opposition will also be on hand, however. Some 40 organizations will host a “Not My Boss’s Business” rally at the Supreme Court as well. Among the groups: Planned Parenthood Action Fund, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, American Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America supporters.

A SIGNATURE ISSUE

For those who wonder: the recent White House petition organized by Budweiser to declare Major League Baseball’s opening day a national holiday has more than 101,000 signatures. This means it has earned an official White House response as part of the “We the People” program, which guarantees an answer if the online petition tops 100,000 signatures in a month.

There are already 13 other petitions boasting such a response though, including one to pardon Edward Snowden and another that supports mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. And the petition with the most signatures? That would be the plea to deport performer Justin Bieber and revoke his Green Card — which now has close to 271,000 signatures.

HERE COMES THE STORM

Behold, here are some climate change scientists who say global warming is actually good for flora and fauna — even polar bears. “Climate Change Reconsidered” debuts next month at the National Press Club — described as a “massive” report which plumbed thousands of neglected research papers to reveal that the benefits of global warming “greatly exceed any plausible estimate of its costs.”

Uh-oh. Don’t tell Al Gore.

Among many things, the researchers contend that higher levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures actually benefit nearly all plants, which grow and produce more, and are more disease-resistant.

“Wildlife benefits as their habitats grow and expand. Even polar bears, the poster child of anti-global warming activist groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, are benefiting from warmer temperatures,” says the learned coalition.

The new report was produced by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change and published by The Heartland Institute. Among those on hand to present it on April 9: Joseph Bast, president of Heartland, S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia and Craig D. Idso, founder of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.

GORETOPIA

Please welcome Liturgusa algorei to the hallowed halls of science. Why yes. Of course. This is a new species of preying mantis named for none other than Al Gore, courtesy of Gavin Svenson, curator of invertebrate zoology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The Gore mantis is one of 19 “neotropical bark mantises” newly identified by Mr. Svenson, all fleet of foot, masters of camouflage and canny hunters who live in trees along the Amazon River.

“Among the new species, Liturgusa algorei is named for Albert Arnold ‘Al’ Gore Jr., former vice president of the United States of America, to honor his environmental activism and efforts to raise public awareness of global climate change,” Mr. Svenson declared.

A HANDLE ON ‘SCANDAL’

Looks like the Chinese adore ABC’s “Scandal.” The politically charged primetime series already boasts devoted American audiences who wallow in episodes with titles like “Kiss kiss, bang bang” and ‘We don’t touch the first ladies.” And how do we know about this new overseas demographic? Simple. First lady Michelle Obama, who returns from a weeklong trip to China on Wednesday, took a recent question about it from Caixin Online, a massive Beijing-based financial news group.

“A certain American TV series about Washington politics is a big hit among Chinese viewers, and many of those viewers are getting their primary impression of the president and first lady from said series. What is the real American first lady’s life like?” the unnamed Caixin representative asked Mrs. Obama, according to the White House.

“I hate to disappoint people, but real life in the White House is nothing like what you see in that television show,” she replied. “In real life, everyone in the White House — my husband and I and every member of our extraordinary staff — is there for one reason. Because we love our country and want to serve it. And that’s what we focus on every day: how to give more Americans a chance to fulfill their dreams, to get a good education, get a good job to support their families, and so much more.”

POLL DU JOUR

48 percent of Americans say there has been “the right amount” of coverage about the missing Malaysian jetliner.

46 percent of Republicans, 50 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents agree.

33 percent overall said there was “too much” coverage.

41 percent of Republicans, 25 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents agree.

12 percent overall said there was “too little” coverage.

9 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of Democrats and 9 percent of independents agree.

39 percent overall say there were “very closely” following the story.

43 percent of Republicans, 46 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of independents agree.

Source: A Pew Research Center survey of 1,002 U.S. adults conducted March 20-23.

Murmurs and asides to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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