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A respectfully respectful greeting in Japan

President Obama shook hands with Japan's Emperor Akihito while bowing -- a redundant salutation.
President Obama shook hands with Japan's Emperor Akihito while bowing -- a redundant salutation. (Charles Dharapak/associated Press)

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By Al Kamen
Friday, November 20, 2009

There was much media chatter about President Obama's deep bow to Emperor Akihito in Japan over the weekend. Critics, especially the overwrought on the Web, even likened it to treason.

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But the real problem was not the bow. People in Japan bow all the time in greeting. The real problem was the bow and the handshake, which is simply not done. You bow or you shake, but not both. (Maybe that's why Akihito was grinning so much.)

Reporters asked State Department spokesman Ian Kelly whether State had "any role in terms of protocol preparing the president in how he should greet the emperor."

Kelly, who may be tapped next month as ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna, said he would check. This defensive answer came a few hours later: "The Office of the Chief of Protocol, working closely with the White House, provides advice on protocol matters for presidential travel abroad. Protocol, in general, is about respecting the customs and traditions of a host country. The president was simply showing respect."

Maybe, given the kerfuffle in April when he shook hands with and bowed to Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, they'll end the bowing business?

Meanwhile, deputy spokesman Robert Wood is said to be off to Vienna soon to be deputy chief of mission at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

And that mattress tag . . .

Halloween's scary ghosts and goblins have now departed until next year. But the Senate Finance Committee's report Wednesday on its lengthy vetting of Treasury Department nominee Lael Brainard is likely to terrify anyone considering a top finance job in the Obama administration.

Brainard's March 23 nomination to be undersecretary for international affairs, an especially important policy job these days, has been stalled because of committee concerns about late payments on taxes she owed for a weekend place in rural Virginia, forms she had filled out regarding household help, and a home-office tax deduction.

Brainard's tax payments for the Virginia property for 2005, 2006 and 20007, the committee found, "were all paid late. Five payments were less than one month late; five other payments ranged from one month to 13 months late." Brainard paid "interest in the amount of $121.75 and penalties totaling $1,279.34."

But wait! There's more! There was a "late payment for 2007 of a tangible personal property" on a 2001 Dodge pickup truck. "A penalty of $44.12 was paid," the committee found.

If that weren't enough, while Brainard apparently employed no illegal workers, the committee found certain "irregularities" on forms she was required to keep -- though not to file with anyone -- that raised red flags. For example, there were "two different forms for the same employee on which the employee signatures do not match, with one of the signatures appearing to be [Brainard's]." She signed another form but her husband's name was "in the employer certification section." And two forms had "times lapses of 32 days and 65 days, respectively," between the date she signed them and the employee signed them.

We can't get into the lengthy jousting over the propriety of Brainard's taking 16.7 percent of her household expenses as a home-office deduction. (See the discussion in the report.) The committee report notes that "The nominee again stated that the home was 3,211 square feet in size, including the basement, all storage spaces, finished rooms, bathrooms and hallways," the committee said, but "staff has identified at least 3,619 square feet in the home, counting the basement recreation room with 324 square feet and an in-law suite with 84 square feet." (Kinda cramped for the in-laws, no?)


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