Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Fear factor

This was definitely an Ides of March to beware of.

NUCLEAR-USA/Japan faced a potential nuclear catastrophe after explosions at three reactors at a nuclear power plant sent radiation toward Tokyo. The fear factor sent shivers through world stock markets which tumbled.

Fear also reportedly prompted some Americans to buy potassium iodide tablets and Geiger counters. Good idea?

Reuters energy correspondent Tom Doggett reports that Energy Secretary Steven Chu didn’t see the necessity. “I think there’s essentially no concern in terms of the health effects on American shores. So, I think that they really shouldn’t be doing those things quite frankly, but, you know, it’s a free country,” Chu said after a hearing.

Since the Japan nuclear crisis, the administration has kept repeating President Barack Obama’s policy for expanding nuclear power as part of the U.S. energy mix. And today was no exception.

Chu said lessons could be learned from Japan, but that was not a reason to delay expansion. “I think those things can proceed,” he said.

First draft: Obama slips into Iraq

OBAMA-TURKEY/After calling for Middle East peace and saying he believed in a dialogue with Islam, President Barack Obama ended his first international tour with a surprise trip to Iraq.

Obama took off from Istanbul and, instead of heading home to Washington, traveled to Iraq for a quick visit. He was due to meet U.S. commanders and troops and will speak to Iraqi leaders by telephone. Poor weather in the area caused him to scratch plans to take a helicopter to meet Iraqi leaders in person.

The White House said Obama — who won strong support during the presidential campaign for vowing to wind down the unpopular war in Iraq — would tell Iraqi leaders that there are political solutions to their challenges.

NCAA mystery: Why did Obama change his pick?

Call it the March Madness Mystery – why did President Barack Obama change his pick of which college basketball team would win the NCAA tournament?

Obama, an avid basketball fan and recreational player, first chose Pittsburgh to go into the semifinal against Louisville, which he predicted would win the whole thing.

NCAA/BASKETBALLBut then something changed his mind. He scratched out Pittsburgh, wrote in North Carolina to play against Louisville and then changed his choice of tournament winner to the Tarheels.

First Draft: Monday’s blue mood — AIG outrage

It’s on front pages, news shows and all over the Web: outrage at the bailout of AIG, AIG/ the troubled insurance giant that — so far — has gotten $173 billion in U.S. taxpayer money and has given out $165 million in bonuses to the very executives who brought the company to its knees.

A quick Web search of “AIG outrage” for March 2009 gets 190,000 hits, ranging from Al Jazeera (“Outrage against AIG set to mount”) to USA Today (“AIG bonus outrage plays Treasury officials for saps”). Part of the outrage stems from the Obama team’s contention that there’s nothing they can legally do to stop these bonus payments.

Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who heads the House Financial Services Committee, came up with a plan in an interview on NBC’s “Today”: AIG’s execs can keep their bonuses but they don’t have to keep their jobs. “These people may have a right to their bonuses but they don’t have a right to their jobs foever,” is how Frank put it.