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While the economy crumbles at home, Russia continues to consolidate power in ex-Soviet nations. Also, raccoons have invaded the White House. But the news isn't all apocalyptic. The administration has gone 48 hours without a nominee dropping out because of unpaid taxes, and it has launched another transparency Web site for federal documents. A few small victories combine for a 20 on the Change-o-Meter.
The administration's rocky two days of bad PR over the failed nominations of Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer is a reminder of just how central ethics are to this White House's image. CIA Director-designate Leon Panetta disclosed more than $1 million in earnings last year ahead of today's hearing before the Senate intelligence committee, though a spokesman was quick to assert that Panetta has not had to pay any back taxes since being nominated. While Panetta's finances are a reminder of the lucrative life of an ex-White House staffer—he was Clinton's chief of staff for several years—the nomination appears at the moment to be clean. Five points, borrowed against the assumption that Panetta doesn't suddenly recall any comped limo services.
Elsewhere at home, Obama signed into law an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which extends health insurance to children in low-income families. We awarded 10 points for it when the Senate passed it, and it's good for another 10 today. Bush vetoed the legislation twice. And reader Rick Joyce points out that, at least according to one Democrat in the House, the administration is pressuring party leaders to take bipartisanship a little more seriously. We'll toss in two points for that, given that Congress' sausage-making process is in need of a little change, with more points to come if that story line flushes out. Another three go to the recently launched search engine for federal documents, which currently indexes eight of 50 document collections. (It's been in progress since 2004.)
Things to watch: A U.S.-funded plan to arm local militias in Afghanistan, reminiscent of the "awakening councils" in Iraq, is making some queasy over the prospect of infusing more arms into the country. Obama's strategy for shifting war priorities from Iraq back to Afghanistan is slowly coming into focus, but it's too soon to pass judgment on this one. Russia, meanwhile, continues to strengthen security ties with ex-Soviet nations, which will get interesting when the Obama administration addresses the touchy subject of missile defense in the region.
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