Murmurs in Moscow

A secret note from Obama to Russia’s president could kindle better relations.

The Change-o-Meter is now a widget. You can add it to your blog, Web site, or profile with just a few clicks. (Shortcut for Facebook here.)Each time we publish a new column, the widget will automatically update to reflect the latest score.

Obama’s been caught passing notes to Russia during class, but he still gets an A in foreign diplomacy. The new administration is busy pointing fingers at the old one’s shady dealings, and while Obama is able to toughen D.C.’s snowstorm game face by mere suggestion, he still can’t seem to get away from tax trouble in the nomination process. It all adds up to a score of 30 on the Change-o-Meter.

Senior administration officials have revealed that Obama sent a secret letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in February that offered a trade of sorts: The United States will put the brakes on development of a missile shield in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russian cooperation in diffusing the threat of an Iranian nuclear program. In response, Medvedev suggested he was open to a discussion and used warm, fuzzy words like “positive” and “partnership” to describe the future relationship between the two nations. Obama’s proposition is a significant shift from previous attitudes about Russia, and murmurs in Moscow suggest Obama’s extended palm is a welcome change from Bush’s clenched fist. The ‘Meter slides up 25 points for burying old assumptions and engaging with a nation whose power and prominence is steadily growing.

Here at home, the new administration is busy putting dirt under a microscope. The Justice Department released previously unseen counterterrorism memos from the Bush administration and condemned many of the opinions presented therein (like John Yoo’s suggestion that the First and Fourth Amendments are optional in wartime). Meanwhile, government lawyers announced yesterday that the CIA destroyed almost 100 video recordings of the harsh interrogations of al-Qaida suspects in 2005. No heads will roll as a result, and it’s certainly easy to air the other guys’ dirty laundry. But the ‘Meter still awards 15 points for contributing to the record of the Bush administration’s legal mischief.

Finally, it turns out Obama’s pick for U.S. trade representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, neglected to pay about $10,000 in income taxes over the past three years. The ‘Meter has run out of things to say about Obama nominees unable to fill out their tax forms correctly, so we’re just shaking our heads and docking 10 points.

There’s a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.