Strained Ties

Russia plans to get aggressive—in 2011—while blood still boils over AIG bonuses.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and since Obama is a little more Irish than you think, the White House is celebrating with zeal. The water in the White House fountain was dyed green, and Obama is donning a chic mint-colored tie all day. (The ‘Meter awards 100 points for the sartorial bravery, which it immediately retracts for the fashion crime.) Obama used the occasion to nominate Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney to be the U.S. ambassador to Ireland. Unfortunately, Obama will need more than a few four-leaf clovers to ride out the rage building around the AIG debacle. And a misstep in his efforts to befriend Russia isn’t encouraging, either. But a surprising jump in home construction stops Obama from going into the red, bringing the Change-o-Meter to the first-ever score of 0. Anger is mounting over taxpayer-supported AIG shelling out huge bonuses to top executives. With the insurance giant refusing to budge, that ire is finding a new target in Obama instead. While Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa recommends seppuku, Democrats in the House and Senate are demanding that Obama find a way to void the bonus checks—and the public is none too patient, either. While Obama has said he is committed to doing anything he can to squelch the bonuses (within legal bounds), his chances of garnering support for another round of bank bailouts seem slimmer than ever. The ‘Meter doesn’t blame Obama for the bonuses but deducts 10 points for the loss of confidence in his big picture.In Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is also growing wary of Obama’s promises. Unhappy with continued U.S.-led NATO expansion near the Russian border, Medvedev promised a major rearmament of Russian nuclear forces in 2011. Obama has two years to talk him down, but the tone from Russia signals a few steps backward in what previously appeared to be a warming relationship. The ‘Meter docks another 10 points.But there are glimmers of hope for the young administration, as reports show that construction of new homes spiked last month, defying economists’ predictions. Housing production is up 89 percent in the Northeast and 59 percent in the Midwest, although the Western states are still mired in the housing slump. Baffled economists are attributing the growth to February’s beautiful weather, but the ‘Meter seems to recall that at least one part of the Northeast wasn’t so sunny last month. It prefers to interpret the numbers as an indication of optimism in the housing market, and generously gives Obama his 20 lost points back. It is a holiday, after all.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.