Talk about military bearing: The U.S. Army is asking male noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to go through a three-day Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training Exercise Leaders Course. The men don breast forms and 25-pound “empathy bellies” and do low-impact aerobic exercise to help them better understand how pregnant soldiers or new mothers in uniform feel during their own mandatory physical training. While some of the NCOs were receptive, reviews of the course and the body forms are, well, mixed.
“This whole thing is pretty uncomfortable. But body armor is a lot heavier,” said Sgt. Michael Braden — a helicopter crew chief who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo — to Stars and Stripes, which reported the phenomenon.
Readers who weighed in were more direct in their online messages, complaining about shifting military culture under the Obama administration and a “feminized Army.” One complained, “Patton is once again rolling over in his grave. The Army today is social experiment gone awry.” Several questioned the wisdom of using funds for the program when some units were struggling to keep their combat programs afloat.
“I have all the empathy in the world for pregnant women, but how does this aid in the defense of the nation?” demanded one reader.
UNLIKELY HE’LL WIN
Political analysts often insist that the 2012 presidential election will be excruciatingly close and ultimately hinge on the whims of swing states and independent voters. If that is the case, then President Obama may lose by a precious few percentage points. A new Harris Poll conducted through Feb. 13 reveals that 51 percent of both independent and swing-state voters say it is “unlikely” they will vote for Mr. Obama in November. Those swing states are, incidentally, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
Meanwhile, eight out of 10 Republicans and conservatives also say it’s unlikely they’ll vote for Mr. Obama. Naturally. But 20 percent of liberals, 17 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of moderates say they feel the same way. Things could change according to the prevailing winds of public opinion; we still have more than 250 days of campaigning to go. Meanwhile, see the complex numbers here: www.harrisinteractive.com.
Hurray for Hollywood. And San Francisco. And all points in between. During his whirlwind West Coast trip, President Obama enjoyed six fundraisers, glittering moments, elite dinners, eager donors, Al Green crooning, lots of flight hours aboard Air Force One. In the state of Washington on Friday, the president no doubt will roll up his shirt sleeves and visit a Boeing plant in Everett. Oh, and have two more fundraisers. Everything tallied, the trip will yield Mr. Obama an estimated $8.6 million for his campaign treasure chest.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington state Republican, wished the president had spent more time working with Congress to address the fragile economy than visiting her state.
“What concerns me most is that America is not that far behind some of the European Union countries, not that far behind Greece. As we see in Greece today, no country can avoid the consequences of big-government policies and spending that stifles the economy,” she says.
“I fear that we in America will not see economic recovery until we get our fiscal house in order. That’s why it is very important that we change the current path. The president’s policies are not working; in fact, they are making the economy even worse,” the lawmaker adds.
The 21st presidential debate is Tuesday for the quartet of Republican hopefuls, to air on CNN from Mesa, Ariz. The 22nd and 23rd debates — scheduled for March 1 and 5 — have been canceled. The candidates have better things to do than rehash old news, what with Super Tuesday looming March 6. That’s showbiz. And politics, too. Besides, there’s the big finale on March 19, when The Washington Times, PBS and NPR team up for the last debate, in Oregon. That’s still a go.
Meanwhile, the principal players are in dogged campaign mode.
The hopefuls will be in six states in the next 72 hours. Mitt Romney visits Utah and Idaho, Rick Santorum goes to Michigan and Ohio — attending not one but three Lincoln Day dinners, Rep. Ron Paul travels to Washington and Idaho, while Newt Gingrich spends the weekend in Georgia, concentrating on fundraising and local Republican rallies.
FOR THE LEXICON
(A new form of political attack that manipulates Internet search engines and other online tools to produce unfavorable public impressions of candidates that can go viral among voters. Candidates are often powerless to control them.)
“It is a distraction, and the more attention such sideshow distractions receive only takes away from politicians’ ability to get their message out,” says Kenneth Wisnefski, the New Jersey-based reputation-management expert who coined the term.
POLL DU JOUR
• 81 percent of Americans do not think “using artificial means of birth control is wrong.”
• 79 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of tea partyers, 78 percent of conservatives, 78 percent of Democrats and 88 percent of liberals agree.
• 17 percent overall say birth control is wrong.
• 20 percent of Republicans, 20 precent of tea partyers, 20 percent of conservatives, 19 percent of Democrats and 12 percent of liberals agree.
• 50 percent of Americans overall disapprove of President Obama’s policy requiring employers, including religious organizations, to pay for birth control.
• 85 percent of Republicans, 82 percent of tea partyers, 75 percent of conservatives, 26 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of liberals also disapprove.
• 44 percent overall approve of Mr. Obama’s new policy.
• 12 percent of Republicans, 15 percent of tea partyers, 21 percent of conservatives, 70 percent of Democrats and 74 percent of liberals also disapprove.
Source: A CNN/ORC poll of 1,026 U.S. adult conducted Feb. 10-13.
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