John Kerry sits before the Senate Foreign Relations committee in this Jan. 24, 2013, file photo on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Secretary of State John Kerry faces challenges in hot spots around the world. Syria. Iran. North Korea. And . . . New Zealand?

Perhaps thinking that he’d start out with the easy stuff — the way one eases into a workout with a few shoulder rolls — the newly minted SecState’s first public statement addressed the crucial issue of congratulating the people of New Zealand, who are celebrating Waitangi Day, the anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi (or, as Kerry notes, “Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”)

The day before — his first at State — Kerry indicated that he planned to grapple with the thorny Middle East peace process during his tenure.

But first, a little warm-up.

“This is an opportunity to reflect both upon New Zealand’s unique culture and diverse heritage and to celebrate the promise of the future as new generations carry on your rich traditions,” Kerry said in his inaugural missive, hailing the diplomatic ties between the United States and our Kiwi cousins.

We would have awarded him bonus points if he had managed to make a “Lord of the Rings” reference.

And now, back to that Israeli-Palestinian thing . . .

March 1 exit for Favreau

Departure update on Jon Favreau , President Obama’s chief speechwriter, who’s been reported for some time to be leaving his post.

Our colleague Chris Cillizza confirmed a Los Angeles Times report Tuesday that Favreau will leave his job March 1, maybe to do some screenwriting, although he’ll stay in the D.C. area.

We wrote Dec. 4 that the White House buzz was that Favreau was heading out soon, probably after the inauguration. Then in January, we reported that his deputy, Cody Keenan , one of the original team of Obama speechwriters, was likely to succeed him, which is the case.

Keenan, the Times reported, is taking the lead in writing the State of the Union address that Obama is to deliver next week.

Favreau, Loop Fans will recall, has been with Obama since Senate days and is credited with penning some of Obama’s best stuff since then.

Even in the “no drama Obama” White House, Favreau became something of a celebrity in town, being named by People magazine as one of the world’s most beautiful people. Didn’t hurt that he also dated actress Rashida Jones , the daughter of Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton.

While there was that shirtless beer pong incident in a Georgetown bar in 2010 and a long profile in GQ in June 2011, Favreau has seemed a bit more low-key of late.

Obama said Tuesday in a statement that Favreau “has become a friend and a collaborator on virtually every major speech I’ve given in the Senate, on the campaign trail and in the White House.”

Misbehaving at recess

The old line used by teenagers everywhere to justify their behavior — “but everybody’s doing it!” — might come in handy for President Obama on his much-criticized recess appointments, which were the subject of a recent court ruling.

Hundreds of recess appointments under Presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and both George Bushes would have been unlawful under the court’s decision, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service.

In Noel Canning v. NLRB, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that three of Obama’s controversial recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, made while the Senate was on a holiday break, were unlawful. When Obama made his NLRB choices, the Senate had been gaveling in every few days to prevent such appointments, but the White House contended that the chamber’s minute-long sessions didn’t really count.

Intrasession appointments (the ones made when the Senate recesses during a congressional session) are a no-no, the court said. Only intersession appointments (those made when the Senate stands in recess between sessions of Congress), are okay, it ruled. (Another appeals court reached a different conclusion, and the case seems likely to be headed to the Supreme Court.)

CRS combed through the records and found 329 other appointments by Obama and his four predecessors that would have met the now-taboo criteria.

George W. Bush was the biggest fan of the intrasession appointment, with 141 such choices. Reagan made 72, George H.W. Bush made 37, Clinton had 53, and Obama, 26. However, the report doesn’t address whether these appointments were made when the Senate was having those short, pro-forma sessions that the Obama White House called bogus.

This is all an academic exercise, of course, since “almost all” of the appointments mentioned in the report have ended, the report notes, and because the court’s ruling was limited to those three NLRB officials. But it does give a sense of just how far-reaching the ruling was.

Corps values

Washington area schools once again did pretty well in the Peace Corps’ annual rankings of colleges and universities that produced the most volunteers in 2012.

American University ranked No. 2 for all medium schools (5,000 to 15,000 undergrads), with 55 alums serving, while George Washington University ranked No. 3 (53 serving).

Georgetown University ranked eighth with 31 serving, followed by William and Mary at No. 9, with 30 volunteers, and Johns Hopkins at No. 24, with 22 alums in the field last year.

And among small colleges (fewer than 5,000 undergrads), the No. 3 school was the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., which had 21 alums serving. St. Mary’s College of Maryland, in St. Mary’s, Md., tied for eighth with 16 alums serving.

Two area schools placed in the top 25 for large schools (more than 15,000 undergraduates): the University of Virginia was tied for 21st, with 55 alums serving overseas, and the University of Maryland’s College Park campus was 24th on the list with 53 volunteers.

With Emily Heil

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