President Obama's new helicopter: A V-22 Osprey?

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The much-maligned Marine Osprey, after 27 years and $54 billion spent on its development -- and 30 deaths incurred along the way -- is said to be improving so much that its manufacturer, Boeing, will offer it for the presidential helicopter.

After a public presentation last week at the Navy League's annual conference, Boeing's Gene Cunningham told Colin Clark, editor of the must-read online publication DoD Buzz, that Boeing intends to bid the trouble-plagued aircraft, which can take off and land like a chopper but fly like a plane, for the White House mission.

Asked whether the craft can land on the White House lawn, Marine Col. Greg Masiello, the program manager for the Osprey, said: "It fits, by the way."

But given the aircraft's history, will the Obama administration go for it? No question. The Osprey, "when landing, will unleash high-speed sod clumps in all directions," said Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information. So the Osprey "will have the added -- much to be desired -- effect of scattering the White House press corps to end those pesky shouted-out questions as the POTUS ambulates to the White House back door."

What was that sound? Ah, yes. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs lunging for an order form.

That was then . . .

Senators on both sides of the aisle are contorting to work out their positions on the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) opposed Kagan 14 months ago when she was nominated for her current job -- the only one in government that requires a candidate to be a lawyer.

Specter worried then, inter alia, whether her "strongly held" views would impede her ability to be an effective advocate for the administration. (See, the GOP was very concerned that the Obama administration do well at the high court.)

Having switched to the Democratic Party to save his seat from a Republican primary challenge, Specter now has to explain how Kagan didn't qualify to be the administration's mouthpiece but is qualified to be on the court. No problem. She "has a varied and diverse background outside the circuit court of appeals," he says, meaning she's a great pick because she has no experience as a jurist.

Then there are all those Republicans working a no-judicial-experience rap on Kagan. They have to deal with their having effusively praised Bush White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers when she somehow got nominated (for just three weeks) to the Supreme Court in 2005.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said Miers, who had no judicial experience and was lacking in other areas, was an excellent, even more "desirable" choice precisely because she didn't have any experience on the bench.

Fact is, Kagan is a brilliant lawyer, and we think she's eminently qualified for the court. We know this because she worked on a couple cases for The Washington Post 20 years ago when she was at Williams & Connolly.

Seems The Post had written about one Craig Allen Williams, who was charged in some killings after his accidental release from the D.C. jail in October 1988. (He was convicted in 1990 in two murder cases, each carrying a mandatory minimum 20-to-life sentence.)

Williams maybe didn't like the media coverage. He sued The Post and its writers -- including Kagan's former Daily Princetonian colleague Bart Gellman -- and the D.C. police for violating his civil rights. Although memories are dim as to precisely what Kagan did in the nine months before the suit was thrown out, she clearly bested the opposing counsel.

Of course, the opposing lawyer may not have been a formidable litigator: Williams, filing his legal motions from the federal pen, was representing himself.

Kagan also represented The Post and WRC (Channel 4) in a successful bid to compel the public release of unredacted transcripts of audiotapes to be used in a criminal trial.

So, where are you from?

Speaking of Kagan, although she was born and raised in New York, the White House transmittal to the Senate lists her as being from Massachusetts, apparently because she had been living in Cambridge as dean of Harvard Law School. Does this mean that Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) will join Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and do her the customary honor as home-state senators of introducing her to the Senate Judiciary Committee?

Judge for yourself

Good news for devotees of Afghan politics. The guy who may have won the August presidential election, Hamid Karzai, is in town this week. The other guy who may have won the election, Abdullah Abdullah, is in town next week, doing a luncheon chat at the Brookings Institution on Monday.

Plenty of time to catch them both.

Going home to stay

Word is that Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill, who promised only to do a year or so in beautiful downtown Baghdad, is hanging up his pinstripe suit after 33 years in the Foreign Service. Hill had been ambassador to Macedonia, Poland and South Korea, an assistant secretary of state, and a key participant in the Bosnia peace accords negotiations. More recently, he tried to talk sense to the lunatic North Korean regime about its nukes.

Hill agreed to stay in Baghdad until the formation of a new government, which should be done in the next few months, and is then headed to academia and writing a long book, which, one hopes, a good editor will pare down.

And the State Department is getting another special rep. Barbara Shailor, director of international affairs at the AFL-CIO, has moved over to Foggy Bottom to be the special representative for international labor affairs, which is part of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. She's to lead the department's efforts to promote workers' rights, coordinate with international labor groups and improve what a spokesman called "the labor officer function" at the embassies.

Research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company