Thursday, May 1, 2008

Moving day!!

Hey guys,

You read here earlier this week about the big announcement: The Opelika-Auburn News has picked up my blog and will now host it on its web site,!

I'll celebrate the move by liveblogging Gov. Bob Riley's appearance at the sold-out Lee County GOP dinner tonight in Opelika. Riley's been mentioned as a potential running mate for Republican presidential nominee-to-be John McCain. With the State Senate in a stalemate and rumors of a special session dominating the chit-chat among state legislators in Montgomery, Riley should be set to deliver some interesting remarks. Log on around 7 p.m. Central time to follow the action!

Follow the leader: Click here to follow me to my new location.

I look forward to meeting you there!


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hillary enters the 'No Spin Zone'

Hillary Clinton made her first appearance -- ever -- on the O'Reilly Factor tonight.

Clinton faced off with the show's self-assured, self-described "humble correspondent" namesake, Bill O'Reilly, this morning in Indiana. The interview was split into two parts, the first of which was presented tonight.

Hillary Clinton? Bill O'Reilly? Cage match fight to the death? How ugly would it get?

Once she found her footing after spending two full minutes discussing Jeremiah Wright, she was, in a word ... terrific.

Hillary went toe-to-toe with O'Reilly on taxes, oil prices, the media's coverage of the campaign and her signature issue: health care reform. He badgered her; she matched him, hit for hit. He was confrontational (I know, you're thinking: "O'Reilly? Confrontational? NOOOOO!!!!"); she deftly deflected his tone with a wide smile. He interrupted her; she kept right on talking. He tried to pigeonhole her into saying something positive about Fox News (the unforgivable in Democratic circles); she delivered the money line of the night: "Are you surprised ... that Fox News has been fairer to you than NBC News and a lot of the other liberal news networks? Are you surprised?" he said.

"I wouldn't expect anything less than a fair and balanced coverage of my campaign," she sardonically cooed.

The highlights of the interview were the segment on health care coverage, which you can see here, and the exchange about tax policy, which you can see here.

Clinton was at remarkable ease throughout the interview. She corrected O'Reilly's misstatements as necessary, laughed off his attacks and reframed her arguments to rebut his comments.

There was one curious moment when she said she had learned a lesson from Ronald Reagan about bipartisanship.

(Pause for historically relevant flashback: Barack Obama took a ton of heat from the Clintons ahead of the Nevada caucuses for saying that Reagan "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." I guess it's OK for Hillary Clinton to learn a lesson from Reagan, as long as she doesn't praise him ...? Another Clinton double standard.)
But that was a minor issue in an interview in which Clinton simply sparkled. If her goal was to reinforce her image as a fighter, she succeeded, and in a big way. It was as if she was sitting at a lunch table debating politics with a co-worker. Far from backing down, she forcefully defended and advanced her positions and challenged his without the strident tone that has so often characterized her style.

Her advisers had to have been thinking, "Where has this woman been all this time?"

Hillary on O'Reilly ... it had to have drawn a huge audience -- an audience, we can be sure, that included a whole lot of delegates to the Democratic National Convention -- and that's good news for the junior senator from New York.

One final note: Hillary Clinton may very well be the only person ever to get Bill O'Reilly to call President Teddy Roosevelt a socialist ("Was Teddy Roosevelt a socialist?" she said; "Somewhat," he replied).

This IS a history-making election!

North Carolina

As the aftershocks of Barack Obama's seismic denunciation of Jeremiah Wright continue to rattle the political landscape, new poll numbers show Hillary Clinton gaining on Obama in the Tarheel State.

Although a Rasmussen survey puts Obama's current lead as high as 14 percent, a SurveyUSA poll places it in single digits -- and just outside the margin or error -- at 5 percent. But, much like the Olympic scoring system that tosses the highest and lowest marks, the latest RealClearPolitics poll -- which averages several other polls -- pegs the spread at 10.3 percent in Obama's favor.

Take a look at the trend lines: Since April 7, when Clinton hit her low point of 31.5 percent, she's picked up 8.5 points while Obama has gained fewer than two.

It's crucial to remember that this poll is based on surveys that were completed either Sunday or Monday -- before Wright's spirited appearance before the National Press Club, and Obama's reaction to it, dominated cable news and political punditry for a day and a half.

If the next round of polls show Obama further weakened by Wright and the continuing controversy surrounding him, it could be the turning point in the race for the Democratic nomination. I know everyone is expecting Indiana to be the next battleground between these two candidates. But I think the results from North Carolina will tell us more about the long run: If he wins, it will show that he can absorb a tremendous hit (which this week has been in political terms) and retain viability. If he Obama can't pull off a win, and a comfortable win, in a state where he had a comfortable advantage just a week ago, it will spell real trouble for him with delegates and the electability argument the Clinton camp has been hammering for weeks.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama: Wright is wrong

Barack Obama weighed in on the Jeremiah Wright Traveling Media Carnival this afternoon, calling remarks his former pastor made at the National Press Club yesterday "divisive," "destructive" and "appalling."

I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people. Their situation is getting worse. And this campaign has never been about me ...

People want some help in stabilizing their lives and securing a better future for themselves and their children. And that’s what we should be talking about.

And the fact that Reverend Wright would think that somehow it was appropriate to command the stage for three or four consecutive days in the midst of this major debate is something that not only makes me angry, but also saddens me.
(Full transcript of the news conference here.)

Right-wing radio was aflame with feigned surprise, mocking with incredulity that Obama was "just coming to know" the real Jeremiah Wright. They all but accused him of lying about Wright and his extremist positions. Rush Limbaugh said Obama didn't throw Wright under the bus; he had "blasted (Obama) off the planet." He then went on to rue the way the "drive-by media" would excuse Obama's late arrival to today's strong position and characterize his outrage as courageous.

Conspiracy theorists are in overdrive. The New York Daily News broke the story that a Clinton supporter helped arrange Wright's appearance at the NPC yesterday (an NPC spokesman said the connection was chance, not conspiracy), while former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speculated that Wright continues to make a spectacle (Obama's word) of himself and this controversy to purposely damage Obama's campaign.

So what does this mean to Obama? Conspiracy or no, one week from tonight we'll be hearing election results from North Carolina and Indiana. Conventional wisdom holds that Obama wouldn't have reacted to Wright's latest performance, thus keeping it in the news, unless internal polls showed that it was critical to do so. At this point, it's almost a question of what will hurt less: ignoring Wright and hoping he'll go away, or lancing the boil at the expense of renewing the news cycle.

There's a segment of the population that will never forgive Obama for his association with Wright and always attribute Wright's statements to Obama. Right-wing radio, of course, is part of this group. They were busy today vilifying Obama for not disavowing Wright sooner, not leaving the church sooner, not rejecting his earlier comments in a stronger way, etc. For them, whatever Obama does will always be too little, too late.

And there are Obama apologists who would explain it away even if Obama had stood by everything Wright ever said.

The question is, how much room is there in the middle -- not only of the Democratic Party, but of the nation as a whole?

That's the question delegates to the Democratic National Convention will be trying to figure out over the next two months.

Who Wants to be a Senator: Celebrity Edition

First, Jerry Springer considered it. Then, Al Franken did it. Could Chris Matthews be next?

Speculation is intensifying that Matthews may make himself a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania, according to this storyfrom the New York Sun.

Matthews is offering tepid denials of his intentions to run on one hand while using his MSNBC show, Hardball, to host influential elected officials and other party leaders from the state on the other. You can read the analysis about how pundits believe Matthews would play as a Democrat -- surprise -- in the Commonwealth.

I just want to point out that if Barack Obama is elected and Matthews decide to run on the Democratic ticket in 2010, can you imagine what a rally with the two of them would look like? Matthews can hardly keep a dry bib on as it is. If Obama comes to Pennsylvania as president to campaign for Matthews, the Secret Service will have to send an advance team with rubber stage mats -- and the White House mop team.

Obama's newest adviser

Karl Rove must be bored.

Rove, the mastermind of victories that put George W. Bush in the White House and kept him there, is regarded among Democrats as the very personification of evil. They blame him for everything from the Iraq war to gas prices and accuse him of exploiting his position of power to engineer persecution of fellow Democrats (see Don Siegelman).

In a column for Newsweek magazine, Rove reaches out to Barack Obama -- who was, the last time I checked, a Democrat -- and gives him the political equivalent of brotherly advice, telling him that the "weary, prickly and distracted tone" his stump speeches have taken, his inability to address the Jeremiah Wright controversy with "one, simple explanation. And stay with it" and a "lack of achievements" in the Senate that "undercuts (his) core themes" are the reasons his campaign has taken a turn for the worse.

Rove's prescription?

  • Write a new stump speech.
  • Cozy up to Republicans.
  • Spend less time campaigning and more time in the Senate.
  • "Stop the attacks."

I laughed as I read Rove's open letter to Obama. The idea that the architect of two Bush victories -- and, indeed, the wildly successful overall voter outreach strategy that elected or returned several hundred other Republicans to office throughout the country -- would help a member of the party he has dedicated his life to fighting is too funny to be plausible.

In diagnosing Obama's problems and in suggesting solutions to them, Rove doesn't miss an opportunity to deliver the same familiar Republican digs against Obama, even as he purports to be helping. Let's look at Rove's "advice:"

  • Rove tells Obama to discard his old stump speech -- the one focusing on hope and change, the one that has drawn and continues to draw millions to his rallies, the one that invites comparisons to Kennedy -- in favor of a new one focused on the general election. That would be great advice -- if the race for the Democratic nomination was finished. It's all but certain that Obama will be locked in a heated battle for delegates (all delegates are, in effect, superdelegates; click here) with Hillary Clinton throughout the summer and possibly even into the convention. Ignoring that fact by assuming the nomination will alienate delegates who are looking for Obama to show some general election-worthy fight, and it will serve only to reinforce the image of him as an aloof elitist.
  • He encourages Obama to begin identifying Republicans he would name to Cabinet posts and "highlight initiatives Republicans can agree on." This would make Obama a target in his own party by giving Clinton ammunition that Obama isn't committed enough to Democratic principles. In addition to being portrayed as not black enough, not patriotic enough and not experienced enough, Obama would also be portrayed to members of his own party as being not Democratic enough. Bipartisanship is good during the general election, but it can be downright detrimental when you're fighting for the support of hard core, lifelong partisans.
  • Rove encourages Obama to leave the campaign trail, where he is meeting voters, to return to the Senate to "pick a big issue and fight for it." In addition to giving feet to what Obama calls "the fierce urgency of now," Rove argues that it will "give (Obama's) argument substance." In addition to, again, reinforcing the aloof-elitist label as discussed above, it would doom Obama to toiling in assured futility; everyone knows that for all the complaints about a "do-nothing Congress," even less gets done in an election year, when regular Washington partisanship is replaced by Washington hyperpartisanship and everything is an opportunity for direct mail.
  • Rove's next gem is simply, "Stop the attacks." This is, without a doubt, the funniest part of Rove's article. If he wasn't a uberoperative, Rove could write for Colbert. Stop the attacks? This, coming from one of the most vicious attack dogs in the GOP kennel? Stop the attacks, coming from someone who has made his living attacking Democrats? Stop the attacks? Stop it, Karl; I can hardly breathe.

Rove uses the other two points -- stick to one explanation and give concrete examples of what he'd do as president -- to simply tweak Obama with the regular GOP lines.

But Obama has an opportunity with this piece, and it's not to take Karl Rove's advice. It's apparent that the "advice" is meant not to empower Obama and right his campaign, but rather to weaken Obama to the point where Democrats turn to Clinton as the authentic, experienced, tough Democratic standard-bearer the party faithful will need in November.

If Mitt Romney was the GOP nominee, it probably wouldn't matter which candidate Democrats installed at the top of the ticket. A Romney-Obama general election campaign would look much the same as a Romney-Clinton race. But with McCain as its nominee, the GOP knows that moderates and independents will be at a premium in the fall -- especially if social conservatives recruit a candidate that saps right-wing votes from McCain, one half of the nightmare scenario for the GOP.

The other half of that nightmare scenario is Obama, because Republicans know that he would draw more moderate Republicans and independents than John McCain will draw moderate Democrats and independents. With party registrations through the roof throughout this primary season, especially on the Democratic side, it's imperative that Rove and Republican strategists like him do all they can to run against Clinton, the GOP's dream opponent.

As the Democratic race descends into a streetfight for delegates and the candidates increasingly argue their electability, Obama can capitalize on Rove's letter by showing delegates that Republicans are more concerned about running against him than facing Clinton in the fall.

They've sent their top dog out to try to ensure the matchup they want -- and that should be all Rove-hating Democrats need to hear.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A light at the end of the tunnel?

It seems that there may be a light, however faint, at the end of the tunnel for those of us who abhor the current system of financing political campaigns in the United States.

On Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Barack Obama -- who is "on pace to raise more than $300 million in the primaries" -- expressed an interest in remaining in the public finance system for the general election against GOP nominee-to-be John McCain if he is the Democratic nominee:

WALLACE: The Wall Street Journal says that you are prepared to run the first privately-financed campaign - presidential campaign since Watergate. True?

OBAMA: Look, we’ve done a wonderful job raising money from the grassroots. I’m very proud of the fact that in March, in February for example, 90 percent of our donations came over the Internet. Our average donation is $96. And we’ve done an amazing job, I think, of mobilizing people, to finance our campaigns in small increments. I have promised that I will sit down with John McCain and talk about, can we preserve a public system, as long as we are taking into account third party, independent expenditures, because what I don’t intend to –

WALLACE: If you could get that agreement you would go for a publicly financed campaign?

OBAMA: What I don’t intend to do is to allow huge amounts of money to be spent by the RNC, the Republican National Committee or by organizations like the Swift Boat organization and just stand there without –

WALLACE: If you get that agreement?

OBAMA: I would be very interested in pursuing public financing because I think not every candidate is going to be able to do what I’ve done in this campaign and I think it’s important to think about future campaigns.

It will be interesting to watch how Mr. Campaign Finance Reform responds to this. Many people believe that McCain-Feingold was a step in the right direction, but its weakness -- uneven enforcement -- was also an asset, because it exposed other avenues (READ: 527s) ripe for exploitation and abuse.

Full transcript here.

Will McCain step up and agree to plug the holes that keep McCain-Feingold from making the kind of difference it otherwise could? Or will he hide from the opportunity to create real -- dare I say it? -- change, even on one of his signature issues?

His answer will determine whether that light at the end of the tunnel is long-awaited, long-overdue relief for the weary American voter, or a freight train set to flatten them once again.

New poll

Hey everyone,

Check out the new poll question on the left. I want to know what you think about Jeremiah Wright's media tour.

Comments welcome!

Jeremiah Wright is everywhere

What's going on with Jeremiah Wright?

Wright spent weeks in near-isolation, canceling many appearances in guest pulpits across the country as those omnipresent clips of his sermons played out, nearly 24/7, on cable news and the web.

Now, over the past week, he has gone from near invisible to being ubiquitous. He's everywhere.

He emerged with an interview with PBS's Bill Moyers on Thursday; Sunday night, he gave the keynote speech at the NAACP dinner in Detroit; this morning, he appeared at the National Press Club.

(Click here for one-stop coverage from the Detroit Free Press on Wright's appearance at the $150-a-head NAACP dinner. Page includes forward and follow-up stories, video clips of Wright's speech in its entirety and other related items.)

At each of these appearances, Wright has made a series of characteristically controversial statements -- including an argument, made to the NAACP, against applying the same educational standards to young black students as are applied to young white students -- that he has mixed with comments about his dreams for racial reconciliation, healing, etc.

After Barack Obama has spent the last six weeks explaining his relationship with Wright and fending off and responding to criticism over some of Wright's most controversial statements (including that the federal government might have created HIV to destroy the black population), Obama seemed on the cusp of finally putting the powder keg that is this issue behind him.

Then, Wright's media tour began, and those clips started running all over again. But this time, there were new ones, like his education argument, that serve to give voters pause about Obama's judgment all over again.

Why does Wright choose this time, the last week, to go on the media offensive? He has mentioned a book that he is writing, but it won't be available until the fall, so it can't be to plug his product. Perhaps it's to publicize a coming summit on racial issues that will be taking place at his church, Trinity United Church of Christ, and other churches across the country in the next few weeks.

On Chris Wallace's show yesterday, Obama demurred when asked what he thought of Wright's media tour, saying he understood why Wright felt the need to defend himself but stopping short of endorsing his former pastor's efforts.

If you think you're sick of seeing Wright everywhere you look, imagine how Obama must feel. Everyone knows that whatever Wright's reasons for reappearing, the reality is that the more we see of Jeremiah Wright, the worse it is for Barack Obama.

I watched his speech last night and much of his remarks this morning and wondered about the enigma that is the fiery pastor. He is charismatic and engaging, yet he borders many times on hostile. He claims the words of the Gospel and the love of Jesus Christ, but he mocks with sardonic, unapologetic disdain his critics in the media. Obviously an learned man whose education enables him to speak with incredible clarity and passion, he argues against ensuring those same standards of education for black youth.

I was talking with someone about this subject this weekend, and we agreed that the greatest irony in all this talk about race relations would be if a black pastor ended up being the reason this nation doesn't have its first black president in 2009.

Separated at birth?

You've no doubt heard the terrible, henious story about the 73-year-old Austrian man who has reportedly confessed to kidnappping his own daughter, stashing her away in a windowless cellar and repeatedly raping her for 24 years -- and fathering seven children by her.

We now have this guy's mug shot ... am I the only one, or does he remind anyone else of another creepy fella:

Josef F. of Austria, above

Drew Peterson of Bolingbrook, Ill., above

Saturday, April 26, 2008

From the column: A big announcement!

I have waited all week to share some terrific and exciting news with you!

It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention. If that's ever been true, it's true of this blog. For months, I struggled to cram all kinds of good political news into my weekly column, which appears in print on Saturdays in the Opelika-Auburn News. The result was often frustrating: either for me, when I felt that I didn't adequately cover everything, or for long-suffering Editorial Page Editor Joe McAdory, who often felt that he could only fit the finished column on the page in 2-point font (I'm only halfway kidding -- right, Joe?).

Super Tuesday was Waterloo for that approach. I knew that news would be coming in all day, and I knew that if I tried to cover all the ins and outs of the Super-Duper Uber-Tuesday and all the postgame analysis in one column, my head would explode.

Enter the blog.

I set up a Blogger account, figuring that I could sit here on my couch and opine away to my heart's content throughout the night and into the early morning hours (like I'm doing now). It made me happy because I didn't have to feel guilty for my word count. It made Joe happy because he didn't have to tell me for the 257th time that the column didn't fit.

Super Tuesday came and went, but I kept the blog. It's been an interesting process, especially learning HTML code, but it's been a lot of fun. And I can indulge my political addiction without fear of complicating anyone else's life. I've had the unexpected pleasure of interacting with readers from all around the world as hits have slowly but steadily increased.

And that brings me to the big announcement:

This past week, OA News publisher Jim Rainey graciously invited me to bring the Clarion Caller Blog under his newspaper's umbrella: I'm moving to the OA News platform!
Essentially, what this means for you is one-stop shopping for my print and web-based work. Our content will remain the same: I'll still provide you with news and views on politics and current affairs, from Railroad to Pennsylvania avenues and everywhere in between. I'll work on developing more state and local content, and that's where you come in: If you have tips, rumors, innuendo, questions, outrage or incredulity about politics or government, I want to hear from you. Have an idea for how the U.S. can become more energy independent? Wondering what might happen to the grocery tax amendment since Alabama House members can't keep their "little grimy hands" off each other's voting machines? Want to sound off about the redesign -- and delay -- of Opelika's Frederick Road project? Drop me a line. If you're interested in it, I want to know about it!

Many of you have been reading this blog (some more regularly than others; you know who you are!) since it began, and others of you have followed my print column since it first appeared one year ago this week. To those of you who read every day, to those who just stumbled in by accident and to everyone in between, you have had a part in this, and I thank you. I look forward to the next steps in this adventure and hope you'll be along for the ride!

We're hoping to go live in the new location within the next few days. I'll provide more details about the move as they become available. Until then, check out the blog's new home at!

P.S. Thanks, Jim!


It's incredible.

Just hours after I wrote the earlier post about the reunification of an 18-year-old girl who had been abandoned at birth and the man who found her and saved her life, a retired police officer and his son stumbled upon a newborn baby boy abandoned in a patch of weeds in Palmetto, Fla., just miles from my hometown:

"It was very pink, like a dark pink, almost a red. Like when you go to Wal-Mart and see those pink dolls, that's what I thought I had," (Randy) Petroskey said. "I saw one foot move and that's when I called 911."

The naked baby was about three feet into a weeded area. His umbilical cord and placenta were still attached as he lay on his side, covered with flies and ants. The right side of his head was slightly swollen.

Petroskey immediately took off his Ohio State Polo shirt to wrap the infant. Nick stayed on the phone with Emergency Communications Center.

They were advised to wrap the baby up but make sure his face was uncovered so he could breath.

Petroskey wiped the bugs off the child's body.

They took a floor mat out of the Explorer to place the child on and went to get towels at a local restaurant to keep the boy warm until paramedics arrived.

"I just can't believe people would do this," Petroskey said. "They just didn't want it."

Palmetto Police spokesman Sgt. Scott Tyler said police were concerned about the health of the mother and questioning local businesses to see if anyone had seen a pregnant woman in the area. He said she likely gave birth in the weeds ...

If no one claims the boy, he will be placed in state custody, Tyler said.

But he marveled at the coincidence that led to the boy's discovery -- and his survival.

"It was just an act of God, a miracle, whatever you want to call it," he said.
What possesses a person to leave a defenseless infant in a patch of weeds and a pile of ants?? It is just incomprehensible to me!!

For more on this story, check out the full Bradenton Herald story, which also provides information about Florida's aforementioned Safe Haven for Newborns law, here.

Abandoning babies ... It is unthinkable, and it simply doesn't have to happen -- anywhere.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Riddle me this ...

Q. What do FM radio, McDonald's, Indonesia and plutonium have in common?

A. They're all younger than McCain.

John S. McCain, the GOP presidential nominee-to-be, was born on Aug. 29, 1936. At 71, he's ... "kinda old," according to this YouTube video.

Some of the other things that are, according to the video, YoungerThanMcCain:

    • The Golden Gate Bridge;
    • The Lincoln Tunnel;
    • Burger King;
    • Coke in a can;
    • Indonesia;
    • Pakistan;
    • Iceland;
    • Velcro;
    • Nylon;
    • Color TV, and ...
    • "Dick ... Freakin' ... Cheney."
McCain's campaign will spin his age as an asset, especially if he ends up running against Barack Obama. With age comes experience, and at 46, Obama has little of either. But his opponent, whoever it is, will assert -- either overtly, as U.S. Rep. John Murtha did recently, or covertly -- that McCain is just too old for the job.

Agism, racism, sexism ... this presidential race has it all!

Good news Friday

If you watch the news at all, you know that every segment brings the chance that you'll hear something horrible: Children murdered. Women raped. Babies abused.

We've all heard a story or two about a baby who's been abandoned. Nearly every state has a form of the so-called "Safe Haven" law, allowing birth parents to drop off their newborns in designated locations like fire stations and hospitals with no questions asked. The laws exist to protect babies who might otherwise be left in dangerous locations -- or, inconceivably, simply discarded like trash.

But there were no Safe Haven laws 18 years ago, when Baby Girl Doe, just hours old, was abandoned in a car in Texas. As Providence would have it, Bill Kotch was passing by that day. He discovered the baby and called authorities, who her into state custody. Kotch never knew what became of the little one he rescued from certain death on the morning of April 5, 1990.

But all that changed recently, when Baby Girl Doe -- who was adopted and became Bethany Laroche -- turned 18. She tracked down Kotch, contacted him and asked for a meeting. Kotch agreed and attended her birthday party. He had no way of knowing that he would be the one to end up with a gift.

What happened next will warm your hearts, if it doesn't bring tears to your eyes. See the story here.

This is an example of how certain tragedies can turn into blessings, if only people are determined not to look away. It speaks to the need for us to look out for each other -- and especially for the youngest ones among us.

Florida's safe haven foundation is representative of others around the country. It exists to ensure that no baby will be left to fate, as Bethany Laroche was 18 years ago.

The lives of 98 little ones saved in Florida alone -- so far -- are their enduring legacies.

To find out whether your state has a safe haven law, click here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Super sleuth

(Just bumping this post from Tuesday night ...)

I want to issue a global challenge to everyone out there in the blogosphere:

I have been looking for an e-mail address for Gloria Borger for at least two months. I've used all my powers, and I haven't been able to find one.

Anyone out there who can turn up an e-mail address for Gloria for me, I'll publicly recognize your super sleuthing skills here on this blog. I'll publicize your blog, if you have one, or reciprocate in some other relevant way.

Gloria is a CNN pundit. Here's a link to her anchor page at CNN's web site.

Come on, guys, help me out ... Let the race begin!

15 months ... and counting

Leave it to Barack Obama to put the long, L-O-N-G campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in perspective.

"I've been running for president for about 15 months now, which means that there are babies who are now walking and talking who were born since I announced for president," he said Wednesday during a campaign stop in New Albany, Ind. "This has been a long primary season."
It will be at least another three weeks -- and if it goes all the way to the convention, it could be another four months.

For more on the "grueling" schedules of the candidates and how they have taken their toll, check out this great AP story by Liz Sidoti.

Jenna Bush might not support McCain. ...AND?

It was brutally obvious the moment it happened.

Last night on Larry King Live, the host of the long-running talk show had just finished a wild first half with James Carville, Bill Richardson and other assorted surrogates of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. He was limping through a painfully boring interview with First Lady Laura Bush and Jenna Bush when he asked Laura Bush whether she is keeping up with the presidential campaign.

KING: Do you have a favorite between the two, the two Democrats?

LAURA BUSH: My favorite is the Republican.

KING (pointing to Jenna): Yours too, I would imagine.

JENNA BUSH: I don't know.
King nearly came out of his chair, pointing his pointy pointer finger at the First Twin and saying, "A-ha! Are you open to ..."

"Yeah, of course," she said breezily. "I mean, who isn't open to learning about the candidates and I'm sure that everybody's like that."

I looked up from the dishes. In an instant, the interview had transformed from a flowery meadow filled with innocuous niceties to a fiery pit with flames lapping at her feet. Likely sensing that she was balancing on the precipice of disaster, and as King struggled to keep from hyperventilating, Jenna didn't give him a chance to give voice to the unspeakable thought. She quickly moved to minimize the whole line of discussion -- even though it had lasted fewer than 15 seconds -- and refocus King on the TOTALLY AWESOME BOOK TOUR she was there to publicize and the SO-FUN WEDDING coming up.

"But I really -- I honestly have been too busy with books to really pay that much attention," Jenna blurted out.

And that was the end of that.

So of course the blogosphere is abuzz with "BUSH'S DAUGHTER MIGHT NOT SUPPORT MCCAIN!!" hysteria. WHO CARES?? Actually, I think that McCain's campaign is missing a good opportunity here. If I was managing him, I'd have him out in front of the cameras saying something like this:

"Well, no, to tell you the truth, I wasn't surprised by Jenna's comments. After all, we hope -- we expect -- that Americans will carefully consider their choice for president, because it's such an important, personal decision for each individual. Jenna Bush has that same right and responsibility, and that doesn't change just because her dad is the president.

"But I will make the same case to Jenna Bush that I will make to the rest of the country: that we need a leader who is tested and ready to be president on day one. I have confidence that Jenna Bush, as I do in the American people as a whole, as she examines the issues and watches this campaign develop, will agree. I look forward to earning her vote, and I wish her all the best."
What do you think?

On a side note, Jenna Bush also mentioned that she and Chelsea Clinton "are going to get together for coffee one day." That was another interesting point, but King seemed to morph into a sorority hostess as he talked about it:

KING: Do you feel a kinship with Chelsea?

J. BUSH: Yes, of course. I mean --

KING: It's a tough life.

J. BUSH: It's tough and it's amazing. I mean, the opportunities that we both had -- Chelsea's had too on the campaign trail with her mom. I mean, I saw her last night on TV, and I thought, that's a lot of fun that they get to do that together. And also, the opportunities to travel and see the world with her mother and her father. I mean, those are amazing opportunities. I do -- we're going to get together for coffee one day.

KING: You want to do that.

J. BUSH: Yes.

KING: You ought to call her.

J. BUSH: I will. She's probably a little busy right now. We'll wait.

KING: The two of you would really get along.

J. BUSH: Oh, absolutely.
Hey, Larry: I bet you can totally get the girls together at the next Delta Nu-Delta Tau Chi mixer.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

James Carville

It's late night -- time for true confessions here on the Clarion Caller Blog.

Anytime a pundit has attained the ability to be known only by first name, you know he's got it going on. Such is the case with James Carville -- who is simply known as The James. He is to politics what Oprah or Ellen is to TV talk. If there are two kinds of people in the world -- lovers and fighters -- James Carville is one of the latter. Take a Louisiana Cajun, add Irish ancestry, mix in two years as a U.S. Marine and sprinkle a bit of litigation experience on top, and you have James, who was born to fight.

And he's good at it. He's very, very good at it.

Carville is a believer in the adversarial system of politics that is this country's heritage. There's nothing negative about political combat; it's just politics. And there's something to be said for putting a candidate for public office through some fire before he (or she) takes on the heavy mantle of governance. So Carville is unapologetic, as his nickname -- the "Ragin' Cajun" -- implies.

But who has time for apologies, anyway, when you're so busy winning?

James had some notable early success in consulting, but he made his bones by taking on the sorry, sagging campaign of a candidate 40 points down. By the time James got finished taking his defibrillator to the operation, people were calling his candidate Sen. Harris Wofford.

And you know what happened in 1992.

Need a refresher? "It's the economy, stupid."

If James has a weakness (and that's a big IF), it's his partner. No, not his wife, Republican pundit Mary Matalin. It's Paul Begala, with whom Carville founded a consulting company and managed many campaigns (including the Wofford campaign). Carville is like the witty and fascinating star quarterback who is just as at home starring on the football team as he does on the Academic Team, whereas Begala is more like that annoying, smarmy kid who followed you around all the time, constantly correcting you and arguing with you about whether the sun was up, and you'd like nothing more than to just give him a good slap now and then.

I freely admit my bias where James Carville is concerned. I don't always agree with him and I don't always agree with his politics, but I simply love listening to him. I will rearrange my schedule to be in front of the TV if I know he's going to be on. Heck, I'm even watching a rerun of Larry King Live when I already saw it three hours ago.

James is already the premier political strategist on the Democratic side (as much as he would hate this comparison, he is to the Democratic Party what Karl Rove has been to the GOP, which is indispensable) and -- I believe, at least -- in the country. But if he can take Hillary Clinton's campaign from its near-death experience just a few weeks ago to victory in Denver, The James will ascend to the political equivalent of Mount Olympus.

Check out James' web site here. It's informative and entertaining ... just like James.

Update: Carville on LKL

I'm watching the rerun of Larry King Live now ... James Carville's actual quote about the New York Times was this:

"The New York Times, God bless 'em, they're good, well-meaning people over there, but they don't know anything about politics."
I love James Carville.

'The Low Road'

There's been a lot of talk today about this morning's New York Times editorial, "The Low Road to Victory," that took Hillary Clinton's campaign to task for its methods in Pennsylvania:

The Pennsylvania campaign, which produced yet another inconclusive result on Tuesday, was even meaner, more vacuous, more desperate, and more filled with pandering than the mean, vacuous, desperate, pander-filled contests that preceded it.

Voters are getting tired of it; it is demeaning the political process; and it does not work. It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.

And this was from a newspaper -- her hometown newspaper -- that endorsed her in the primary.

The Times went on to hammer Hillary for becoming "the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11" in a fear-provoking TV ad that was "torn right from Karl Rove’s playbook." But the editorial also targeted Barack Obama for "increasingly rising to Mrs. Clinton's bait, undercutting his own claims that he is offering a higher more inclusive form of politics.

"All that does is remind Americans who are on the fence about his relative youth and inexperience," the editorial said.

The Times went on to conclude that for all the sound and fury about the differences Clinton and Obama want to beat into the brains of voters -- whether their health care plans cover everyone, what they would do about bringing troops home from Iraq, who can do more to move the country toward energy independence, etc. -- it's actually an asset to the party that they share many of the same essential values and sensible policy prescriptions.

"It is their strength, and they are doing their best to make voters forget it," the Times sniffed.

In his appearance on Larry King Live tonight, Clinton supporter James Carville said (and I'm paraphrasing) that the New York Times is a good newspaper, but they don't know anything about politics. (You've gotta love The James.) He went on to scold Obama for Obama's reported unwillingness to debate Clinton in Indiana and North Carolina (those debates would be the 21st and 22nd of the series). He said later on Anderson Cooper 360 that when you're running for president, "you can't go hide behind the New York Times' editorialists' skirt" every time controversy erupts; Clintonista Paul Begala chimed in, calling the Times' editorial board staffers "ninnies," "wimps" or "wussies."

This may be a complete coincidence, but as I was listening to Paul Begala, I suddenly felt the urge to relive the days of my young childhood and break into a chorus of, "I know you are, but what am I?" or "I'm rubber, you're glue; whatever you say bounces off me and sticks on you!"

SIDEBAR: It would have been nice for Carville to have informed us when the newspaper endorsed Hillary Clinton that its writers don't know anything about politics. Or maybe he believes they've forgotten everything since they endorsed her ...? END SIDEBAR
Anyway, the Times noted in its endorsement of Clinton that "any Democrat will face tougher questioning about his or her fitness to be commander in chief," so its objection to the nastily negative turn the campaign took in Pennsylvania is not based in a desire to see tough questions go unasked. Rather, the Times is simply demanding that the candidates keep their debate above board -- and for two people who purport to have the leadership skills to take the helm of our great nation and tackle the complex problems we face, something as simple as civil campaigning should be a piece of cake.

Programming note

Last night I had to choose between American Idol and Pennsylvania primary results. As a result, I missed Brooke White restarting her song. I hate when that happens!

Tonight, I have to choose between the AI results show and Larry King Live. I'm not usually a devoted LKL viewer, but tonight's show pits James Carville against Bill Richardson. Fireworks are bound to fly, thanks to Carville comparing Richardson to Judas a few weeks back when the New Mexico governor endorsed Barack Obama. But even before that, there was no love lost between these two. They go way back, Carville having engineered Bill Clinton's successful 1992 campaign and Richardson having served in Clinton's Cabinet.

Forget WWE ... this is going to be the real smackdown.

Yes!! I can't wait!! :)

Two days to live

Kelly Reynolds has two days to live.

Doctors gave the Bradenton, Fla., resident just nine months when they diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

That was three and a half years ago.

Reynolds just wasn't ready to go.

He has stretched his time and lived it on his terms -- a pattern he will extend to his death.

Reynolds has asked to be removed from his respirator Friday. He has helped his wife, Michelle, plan his funeral, which is set for Saturday at 1 p.m.

Two days from death, Reynolds isn't sitting around waiting for Friday to come. He's invited friends to his visitation, which he's holding in his Tampa hospital room until Thursday. He's still sneaking hot fudge sundaes in the hospital. He's still living life on his terms.

Kelly Reynolds will die on Friday. But in his 42 short years, the guy sure learned how to live.

Read the article about Kelly Reynolds and his family here.

Pennsylvania wrap-up

It's the morning after, and Hillary Clinton has made her appearance on CNN to reiterate her position that she isn't going anywhere until the nomination is decided, and she can't see the nomination being decided until the issues of Michigan and Florida are resolved.

CNN's Frank Sesno --

SIDEBAR: Speaking of Frank, where has he been? I used to enjoy watching him, but he's been AWOL for a long time. He's a good reporter who always plays it straight. It was good to see him back. END SIDEBAR

-- made the point that while Clinton hammers on the idea that she doesn't want to see 2.3 million Michigan and Florida voters "disenfranchised" by having their delegations penalized at the convention, it's Clinton who would disenfranchise the 14.3 million-plus people who have voted for Obama with her superdelegate argument. In other words, she doesn't want Michiganders and Floridians disenfranchised, but apparently she doesn't mind it if Alabamians, Georgians, Mississippians, South Carolinians, Louisianans and residents of the 23 other state primaries and caucuses Obama has won are.

Once again, another Clinton double standard ... and we're not even getting into the fact that Clinton's name was the only one that appeared on the ballot in Michigan ... kind of like Castro in Cuba. But I guess that's what a Clinton considers a free and fair election.

Two more good points for the road:
  • CNN's Roland Martin reminded us that there will only be seven weeks between the end of the Republican convention, which wraps up Sept. 4, and the general election -- the point being that the longer the Democratic candidates fight with each other, the more time John McCain has to define himself before the Democratic nominee, whoever it turns out to be, has a chance to define him. That's more bad news -- read: reality -- that Democrats who have been swimming in the "this-drawn-out-process-has-been-so-good-for-the-party" Kool-Aid continue to ignore.
  • And to wrap it up, longtime politico David Gergen made the statement, "There is a thing worse than losing the election," and that's damaging the party beyond repair. If Hillary Clinton manages to wrest the nomination away from Barack Obama, his lead in states won, delegates won and popular vote notwithstanding, the Democratic Party will alienate young voters and black voters in massive proportions, ultimately resulting in the complete collapse of the party itself. This is what pundits mean when they warn about a Phyrric victory: As the saying goes, "Another such victory, and we are undone."

On to Indiana, where a RealClearPolitics poll average showed a virtual dead heat, with Clinton ahead by just 2.2 percent as of April 16 (a week ago), and North Carolina, where the same average as of April 21 (Monday) shows Obama with a healthy 15.5 percent lead.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Obama's PA speech

... And some thoughts on Obama's speech from Evansville, Ind.:

  • Obama wasted no time getting out of Pennsylvania. By giving tonight's speech from Indiana, he gave the campaign a new dateline. Moving the center of the campaign's gravity away from the site of Hillary Clinton's victory has the effect of minimizing that victory. Obama made it clear that he may have taken a fall in Pennsylvania, but the bell has rung and he's ready for the next round.
  • Although, as I noted in my remarks about Clinton's speech, she did not congratulate him, Obama congratulated Clinton on the campaign in Pennsylvania. The assembled masses began booing at the mention of her name (see section in previous post about how "good" this extended primary is for the Democratic Party), but Obama shook his head and said, "No, no," gently reprimanding them. Obama chose the high road; Clinton, preferring territory that's well traveled, took the low road.
  • Obama answered Clinton's argument that she is a better general election candidate because she is winning "big blue states" by referencing the "hundreds of thousands of new voters" his campaign has drawn and registered -- voters, Obama said, who will "lead our party to victory in November." His argument goes like this: If she's the known quantity you can count on, I'm the new guy who can turn purple (and even some red) states blue. Isn't perspective a fascinating thing?
  • Also, apparently in response to the whispered argument that he is still a young man and will have another chance to run for president while this is Hillary's only shot, Obama referred to the "fierce urgency of this moment" and "this election is our chance to change" ... "the smallness of our politics."
  • Obama framed the argument for change by implying that sending Clinton to the White House would be basically the same as sending John McCain to the White House: Each represents "the same Washington games with the same Washington players."
  • Speaking of McCain, Obama sought to rise above the fray with Clinton to frame himself as the presumed Democratic nominee. He spent several minutes discussing and refuting McCain's positions on a host of issues. The war in Iraq was tops on the list, and Obama made clear that it is the one policy area where he and Clinton have discernible differences. By renewing his emphasis on the war, he reminds Democratic voters (and superdelegates) what it would look like to have a candidate against McCain who opposed the war from the start, as opposed to one who voted, like McCain, to authorize it.
  • And back to Clinton, Obama noted that "you can't be the champion of working Americans if you take money from lobbyists who drown out their voices." This was, perhaps, the most important tactical statement of the night. As I said before, Clinton needs to raise a lot of money and she needs to raise it fast to stay competitive, and that means PACs, and lots of them. Obama would do well to hammer her on this point. If she's hitting him on outspending her, he should hit her on having to take lobbyist money to keep it close. Her campaign is dehydrating, but he can poison the only well in town.

And then there were the typical gems that come as part and parcel of any Barack Obama speech. Some of my favorites:

  • Obama noted voters who were "inspired for the first time, or for the first time in a long time." He's drawing a lot of young voters, and he's drawing a lot of young-at-heart voters back to the fold. The comparisons to John F. Kennedy and a Kennedyesque idealism began in 2004, when Obama gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, and it's been a theme of his campaign since he stood on the steps of the Illinois State Capitol and announced his candidacy for president more than a year ago.
  • "It's not about whether the other party will bring change to Washington," Obama said in reference to McCain. "The question is, will we?" This is a direct challenge to Clinton and it reiterates to voters that a vote for Clinton might as well be a vote for McCain, because they are both Washington usual suspects.
  • "We can talk about not just how we can win, but why we should." This is another direct challenge to Clinton, who has been reduced to a win-at-all-costs campaign. It's been called the kitchen-sink strategy, the no-holds-barred strategy, and even the "Tonya Harding strategy," but it means the same thing: Even if it ends up being a Phyrric victory, win. And finally:
  • "We will regain not just an office, but the trust of the American people." After eight years of George W. Bush, Democrats are desperate to see one of their own back at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. With this quote, Obama reminds Americans that while the presidency is a worthy goal to which they rightly aspire, there is something more sacred, and that is the faith the American people have in their government.

Obama believes as Scarlett did: "Tomorrow is another day."

Hillary's PA speech

Some thoughts on Hillary Clinton's victory speech from Philadelphia:

  • Clinton's line, "The tide is turning" was a clear signal to pundits and superdelegates (and fundraisers) alike: She's not going anywhere anytime soon.
  • Inexplicably, Clinton used this opportunity to pledge that in her administration, America would "end the war on science" and renew its commitment to research. Federal funding for stem cell research hasn't been one of the top issues of this campaign, so it's unclear why she would take this opportunity to reiterate her position on this. Maybe it's inside baseball for Pennsylvanians and there was some reason for her to bring it up here. But if not, in my opinion, it was unnecessary. But then again, Clinton is a non-starter with people who care about sanctity of life issues; maybe she thought she had nothing to lose by poking them in the eye -- and she's likely right.
  • Overall, I thought this was a decent speech. She was strong without being strident; she was determined without being belligerent. She struck the right balance to match the argument she is making to superdelegates behind the scenes.
  • One notable absence from her speech: Traditional niceties to her opponent. It's standard fare for the winner to congratulate the loser, a sort of "good game" from one candidate to the other when all the votes have been cast. Clinton left that out. She did talk about Obama, but only in vague terms ("my opponent") and how she was outspent 3 to 1. It's interesting to keep this in mind when you hear Clinton's talking heads -- notably, Paul Begala -- talking about how she doesn't need to drop out because the extended campaign is so good for the party. The rowdy crowd (incidentally, did they have an open bar at that event or something? That crowd was out of control) booed Obama. Keep that in mind the next time you hear this business about how party faithful will kiss and make up after the convention: Don't count on it.
  • Pundits note that almost right away, right after Clinton thanked the people of Pennsylvania for delivering the victory, she asked them to deliver something else: money. She told them that the fate of her campaign depended on them and asked them to go to her web site and send money to keep her going. This is an ominous admission from a candidate: She finally seems to have found her message footing, but the money is drying up. She can't compete down the home stretch without more gas in the tank. But will Democrats find campaign gas -- contributions -- just as costly as the gas they're paying dearly for at the pump? We'll find out over the next couple of days. Begala noted on CNN that Clinton's campaign is already reporting that it has raised $500,000 in the few hours since the polls in Pennsylvania have closed.

On a personal note, I'd just like to express my relief that the Pennsylvania leg of this campaign is over, because if I had to hear Hillary Clinton talk about her grandfather who used to work in the lace mills in Scranton one more time, I would have to ... well, let's just say that the People's Elbow comes to mind.

Finally, staffers choreograph these parties very carefully, and they frequently use candidates' entrance and exit music to deliver certain messages to the public. Tonight, Hillary Clinton took the stage to Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down," whose lyrics include these:
Well, I won't back down; no, I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down
Hey, Howard: Regarding that aspirin, you might want to stock up. Take two (more) and repeat after me: "It's good for the party. It's good for the party. It's good for the party ..."

On air and on message

It's clear that the Clinton campaign's message in the wake of her win in Pennsylvania is this: "She's winning the states we have to win in November." Longtime Clintonista Terry McAuliffe had to have said it a half a dozen times in his interview with Wolf Blitzer.

Obama supporter U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is also on message: Obama's a first-time national candidate, "he's already demonstrated that he can bring the country together," and Obama's campaign "already has a real strong foundation" to run on in the fall. Casey is also folding in the argument about "free media" and how it balanced Obama's massive media buy in the Keystone State: He's saying that Clinton benefited from sharing a name with the former president, and that free media just reinforced Pennsylvanians' familiarity with the Clinton brand.

That's a weak argument, as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't say much for Pennsylvanians' ability to think for themselves, for one thing, and it discounts completely the tidal wave of interest that Obama's campaign has generated nationwide. To believe Casey's argument, one has to believe that Pennsylvania has been under some sort of media blackout for the past 12 months that has precluded residents there from getting to know Obama.

Paging Dr. Freud ...

For all the talk about the psychological implications of tonight's primary results, I feel like we need to have Sigmund Freud on the pundit desk tonight.

Clinton needed the win -- and the bigger, the better -- to help with the superdelegate argument and with fundraising. Candy Crowley is making the point right now that Clinton's camp is making the argument to superdelegates that Obama's failure to win any of the big blue states (with the exception of Illinois, his home state) indicates a potential fatal flaw in his candidacy: For all the new voters he's brought in, he isn't resonating with traditional, blue collar Democrats in blue states. And that means trouble for Democrats -- not only at the top of the ticket, but downticket, as well -- in the fall.

Thanks to the win tonight, and assuming a healthy enough win percentage to keep the dollars rolling in, we're going to be hearing a lot about that argument in the coming days.

CNN calls PA

Here it is: Just as it was getting interesting, CNN calls Pennsylvania for Hillary Clinton.

It's no surprise, of course, but everyone is waiting for the margin.

PA or AI????

I've had to take a break from politics for the last 10 minutes to watch David Archuleta on American Idol.

Election results ... or American Idol??

Election results ... or American Idol???

I'm so torn!!!!!

David sang "Think of Me" from Phantom of the Opera. I thought it was pretty good ... it didn't even sound like the same song, and for traditionalists like me, that's always tough when the original is so spectacular. But David is awesome!!

OK, back to Pennsylvania.

Hey, Lancaster!

Hey, I just saw on the mapstats that someone is reading this from Lancaster, PA. Tell us all about what you saw today! Did you vote? Was it crowded? Did you see any of the voting problems that we're starting to hear about?

Do tell!!

Polls closed in PA

CNN projects that it's too early to call the race for Clinton at this point, but exit polls seem to indicate that there aren't any surprises in store.

Clinton's top 10 celeb endorsements

... and here are Hillary's top celebs:

10. Eva Longoria Parker: "Desperate" for Hillary to win, she emceed a Texas town hall meeting the day before the Lone Star State primary.

9. The ever-politically active Barbra Streisand, though she's been less visible this time than in the past.

8. Magic Johnson: Followed Oprah's soiree for Obama with a 300-person event at his Beverly Hills home for Clinton.

7. America Ferrera: "Ugly Betty" star co-chairs "Hillblazers," Clinton's youth outreach group.

6. Mario Lavandeira, a/k/a that annoying, omnipresent celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.

5. Natalie Portman

4. Jack Nicholson: Gave his blessing to a funny video montage that used clips of his movies to make the case for Clinton.

3. Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. Danson was in the background when Clinton famously swigged beer -- or was it wine? -- on an airplane recently.

2. Sir Elton John: Professed, "I love you, Hillary," at a recent concert that raised $2.5 million for the former first lady.

1. Ellen DeGeneres: Obama has the old guard in Oprah; Clinton has the new school with Ellen, who recently overtook Oprah as the No. 1 talk show host in America.

Obama's top 10 celeb endorsements

As we await poll closures in Pennsylvania (and the presumptive call of the state for Hillary Clinton), as promised, here are the top 10 celebrity endorsements for Barack Obama, courtesy of the Huffington Post:

10. Jennifer Aniston: The former Rachel Karen Green gave $2300 to Obama's campaign.

9. Robert De Niro

8. Chris Rock: Gave $4600 to Obama's campaign.

7. Samuel L. Jackson: Gave $4300 to Obama's campaign.

6. Scarlett Johansson

5. George Clooney

4. Ben Affleck: He and wife Jennifer Garner hosted a Hollywood fundraiser for Obama in March.

3. The "Kennedy women:" Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, and Maria Shriver, his niece, have campaigned for Obama.

2. The curiously named, lead singer for the Black Eyed Peas.

1. Who else -- Oprah Winfrey. Obama is the first candidate the talk show maven has endorsed in her 25-year career, and she's made it worth her while; she hosted a $3 million fundraiser (as in, it cost $3 million to put on) for Obama at her California home.

(gasp) Common sense in the Ivy League

I've been watching this story develop over the past week, and I've resisted the temptation to blog about it until now.

Here's the short of it:

An art student at Yale University gave an interview to the student newspaper wherein she admitted "creating" her senior project out of the product of several miscarriages she suffered. The student, Aliza Shvartz, told the student press that she artificially inseminated herself with the help of a certain number of unknown sperm donors and a needleless syringe. She maintained that she then induced miscarriages by consuming herbal treatments specifically meant to cause miscarriages; she then smeared the resulting product (yes, I mean blood and tissue) over sheets of plastic, which she wrapped around a cube. "The cube was to be suspended from the ceiling of the exhibition hall, and videos of her undergoing the alleged self-induced miscarriages were to be projected on the cube and the walls," according to the Associated Press.

Pro-life groups expressed immediate outrage, not just for the blatant disregard for the pregnancies Shvartz allegedly conceived, but also for Shvartz' own mental health. Interestingly, there was no such immediate reaction from pro-choice groups (at least, not that I saw); they waited to hammer the project until Yale officials responded to the criticism with a statement that Shvartz' project was simply a work of "creative fiction" and that her claims to have conceived and aborted multiple fetuses was part of her "performance art." At THAT point, NARAL came out and said that the exhibit was "offensive and insensitive to the women who have suffered the heartbreak of miscarriage."

So Yale disputed the reality of Shvartz' exhibit, and Shvartz shot back that not only was it real, but it was in fact sanctioned by university officials. This ramping-up of rhetoric on Shvartz' part seems to have served only to harden Yale's position; the university upped the ante and is refusing to display her "artwork" until she admits, in writing, that the whole thing is fake.

No word from Shvartz, who was supposed to have been honored at a reception on Friday.

Let's step back for a moment and consider just a couple of the disturbing aspects of this story:

  • Let's begin with the idea that the definition of "art," as defined by Yale officials, includes plastic sheeting smeared with blood -- however it is collected -- and suspended from the ceiling. A university official said that the project was "designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman’s body." Um, riiight. Look, I understand that art is subjective. But shouldn't the university draw the exploration line at the point where someone inflicts bodily harm on themselves or others? If Shvartz wanted to produce this "art," Yale should have encouraged her to do it AFTER she picked up her Ivy League degree. I'm sure there would be plenty of studios that would be happy to host an exhibition for her ... right?
  • I found it interesting that NARAL apparently believes that Shvartz' claim to have induced abortions is "offensive and insensitive" only in the abstract. Had she actually done it, NARAL would have been in the position of having to defend her choice to do so. Kind of throws a whole new light on "choice," doesn't it?
Here are some links for more on this story:

The postal service delivers ... ammonium nitrate

Authorities in South Carolina this weekend busted an 18-year-old they said was intent on attacking his high school in a Columbine-style attack.

The young man was caught when his parents opened a box he had shipped to their home. Curious about its weight, they opened it -- and were stunned to find ammonium nitrate. Their further investigation revealed papers in his room that detailed his plans

Ammonium nitrate, as you probably know, was the operative explosive that Timothy McVeigh used in his 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Google ammonium nitrate for sale, and the search engine will return "about 95,400 results." Consider that we're talking about a product that accounts for 98 percent of U.S. industrial explosives sales, is readily available and has been used in highly destructive attacks. Now ask yourself this: How was the young man in South Carolina caught?

His parents called the cops.

How's that for homeland security?

One final note: The young man was arrested Saturday, as survivors marked the 13th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and a day before the ninth anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

Pennsylvania showdown ... and celebrity endorsements

It's April 22 ... FINALLY!!

The presidential primaries return today with the big showdown in Pennsylvania. The feeling I have this morning is not unlike what I felt when I learned the writers' strike was over: After weeks of reruns, it's finally showtime again.

Pennsylvanians will be going to the polls all day, so to occupy your time between now and when our anxious anchors begin breathlessly reporting exit polls bathed in six weeks' worth of pent-up adrenaline, I offer you a little game.

Bored with presidential endorsements by all the usual suspects? See if you can list the top 10 celebrity endorsements from this presidential cycle. Feel free to guess in comments ... I'll post the list tonight as results come in.

Candidates laying the smack down

I've always been a big advocate of better voter turnout in America. Nothing irritates me more than hearing someone say that they didn't vote because they didn't have time, it wasn't convenient, they couldn't get around to it, blah blah blah. Voting is a sacred responsibility for Americans, and I've written about it before.

So I don't know whether to cheer or jeer the latest outreach by our presidential candidates to American voters: their taped appearances yesterday on WWE Monday Night Raw.

Yes, Vince McMahon's wrestling kingdom has apparently reached the point that when he beckons the candidates, they will come running. (Or is it that that is what our political system has come to?) In any event, when a race is this tight, the candidates are unwilling to leave any stone unturned.

So when candidates are around, pandering can't be far behind. Pandering is par for the political course, but some candidates just do it better than others. And that was true on Monday night.

Predictably, Hillary Clinton's pandering was the worst disguised, and her performance was downright awful;

Hi. I'm Hillary Clinton. But tonight, in honor of the WWE, you can call me 'Hill-Rod' ...

I've been knocked down, but I've always gotten back up. And I know how to take a hit for the American people ...

And if things get a little tough, I may even have to deliver the 'people's elbow.'

OK, props for referencing the people's elbow, a signature move of The Rock, a/k/a Dwayne Johnson, one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of McMahon's expansive stable. But "Hill-rod?" She deserves the elbow for that. Her parting shot: "When it comes to standing up for the American people, though, I am ready to rumble." Blech.

And I'm not even going to get into discussing that scarf she had around her neck. Talk about your safety hazards.

John McCain, perhaps also predictably, was just plain goofy in his Ric Flair impression:

"Ta be the man, ya have ta beat the man," he growled. "Come November, it'll be game over. And whatcha gonna do when John McCain and all his McCainiacs run wild on ya?"
McCain gets wrestling style points for the growl, the fist pump that accompanied it, the obligatory reference to himself in the third person and the name he created for his fans. But I have to subtract a point for the way he pronounced Obama's name: "BAR-ock Obama." Why?

So that leaves us with Obama. Perhaps because he's younger and more at home (?) with a WWE/RAW-type audience, Obama nailed his appearance, also invoking Johnson's Rock character by adopting his signature line -- and it required only the most minor revision:

"To the special interests who've been setting the agenda in Washington for too long, and to all the forces of division and distraction that have stopped us from making progress for the American people, I've got one question: Do you smell what Barack is cooking?" he said with a grin.
That is awesome. Obama's self-satisfactory smile indicated that he knew it, too ... Self-confidence: Always key in wrestling.

See the candidates' tapes here.

On a final note, wrestling fans are famous for their creative signs, inexpensively produced on flashy neon posterboard and displayed prominently throughout broadcasts. The candidates' message-makers could learn a thing or two about breaking a thought down into two -- or three, four or five -- carefully selected words.

Man, I just spent 30 minutes discussing WWE-RAW on my political blog. I've become more Jim Ross than Gloria Borger.

I'm going to have to go lie down.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Larry King halftime

I've been watching the rerun of Hillary Clinton's appearance tonight on Larry King Live. She was the guest for the show's first half, and it's just wrapped up.

I have to say, she was solid. She was measured and convincing, not strident the way she is on the stump. King actually posed some decent questions, and he pressed her when she didn't answer directly, but overall, her performance was a good one.

I'm not sure why she turns into some other candidate on the stump; maybe she feels that yelling will bridge the presentation gap she has with Barack Obama (note to Hillary: It doesn't). But I bet her campaign staff has been scratching its collective head trying to figure out how to get that Hillary out on the stump.

Hey, Tony Show is a CNN contributor now. That's interesting! He is looking healthier (you'll remember that has been fighting cancer over the past few years). Tony looks like he's had a hair transplant, but other than that, he's looking like himself again. That's good to see.

Honor and voting in the Keystone State

So you've seen the post referencing that Philadelphia Inquirer article about the uncertainty surrounding the role of women in tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary. But aside from the premise of the article, did anything in it strike you as strange?

Need a minute to see it again? Find it here.

How about this:

Before hearing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stump for Clinton at Bryn Mawr College, Sophia Papavizas, 18, a freshman from Arlington, Va., said she was feeling "a change of heart." She voted for Obama in her home-state primary in February, but might switch to Clinton.
Um, so, Sophia plans to vote twice during the primary season -- once in Virginia, once in Pennsylvania?

While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spar over votes of Michiganders and Floridians being counted once, Sophia's will apparently count -- both times.

It's a logical leap of faith, but I'll make it for the purposes of this question: Let's assume that our friend Sophia met all registration requirements in both the Commonwealth and the Keystone State.

What does that say, then, about the registration requirements in the Commonwealth and the Keystone State?

What does it say about our patchwork primary system in general?

This question percolates every four years in my native state of Florida, where the proliferation of the availability of the absentee ballot enables a significant number of -- ahem, our Northern friends -- to vote in the presidential election in their home states and again in the Sunshine State. But since the state of Florida has a hard time keeping track of foster children, no one really expects elections officials to be able to take on this behemoth.

The honor system ... Who says it's outdated?

Girls' night in PA?

Political experts anticipate that the Democratic women of Pennsylvania will swing tomorrow's long-awaited primary, and conventional wisdom would hold that that would be good news for Hillary Clinton.

But this is no conventional primary (right, Howard Dean?).

In this revealing report from the Philadelphia Inquirer, women talk frankly about why all bets are off in the Keystone State. Two examples: One, a 53-year-old mother with a perfect Republican voting record, will vote for Barack Obama; another, a 19-year-old African American college freshman from West Philadelphia whose five brothers will vote for Barack Obama, will cast her vote for Clinton.

What is driving this uncertainty?

Many women said they found the candidates were more similar than not on issues, leaving their final choices to more subjective assessments of character and leadership ...

Many said that if Clinton were running against a white male, they would feel more compelled to support her as the first woman to run for president. But with Obama as her opponent, they said, their votes will be historic either way they go.
To set the statistical stage, one politico said he expects women to cast 60 percent of tomorrow's votes, up from the usual 56 or 57 percent turnout. But the clearest indication that this race is still up in the air: a staggering 47 percent of women still have not made up their minds.

The degree of vote switching, coupled with the number of undecided voters, is unusually high in this primary and opens up possibilities for both campaigns, said Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway, the pollsters who conducted Lifetime Networks' poll of women voters this month.

"This cycle is so different," Conway said. "They're undecided not because they're not paying attention - but because they are paying attention."

Sunday night TV

Last night made me want to give up TV.

CNN was rerunning the "Compassion Forum." Yes, I'm a political junkie, but not even I can stand to watch something again that is now a week old. We've had the ABC debate since then, and that superseded whatever oxygen the Compassion Forum had left in the room. Come on, CNN. Are you serious? You don't have anyone who can tell us anything about what's going on in Pennsylvania 36 hours before the primary?

So I was left with a dilemma, because Fox News Channel was running "Hannity's America." As a matter of general course, I avoid Hannity because -- well, let's just say that I appreciate at least some balance in my political news. Of course, I had already ditched the show once this weekend, when it originally aired. But since Headline News was overrun with Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears news, I felt I had no choice.

So Hannity it was. I tried to play devil's advocate, telling myself that it would be good for me to see the show, if for nothing else than to be exposed to it. But by the second commercial break, I could hardly stand it anymore. What gives? I thought. Is Sean Hannity afraid of Barack Obama? He did talk with Karl Rove long enough to Rove to mention Hillary Clinton's name a couple of times -- pretty obviously a token mention, as far as I could tell -- but then they both got back on message, which was more rehashing of those remarks from California, that pastor you've heard all about, that anti-war activist Hannity suckered George Stephanopoulos into mentioning during the ABC debate and that event in Washington in October 1995.

(I won't mention any of these things by name, because as far as I'm concerned, they've all been covered enough. I refuse to be a part of furthering the discussion about any of these things; the more we talk about these, the less we're talking about the real issues.)

I survived "Hannity's America" only to be greeted by "Strategy Room," live with Bret Baier. Gov. Ed Rendell appeared in a focus group (more on those later) on Hillary Clinton's behalf, and he made some statement about how voters are "drinking the Kool-Aid" when it comes to Obama. Frank Luntz said something to the effect of, "You're telling them that they're being suckered." And Rendell, sensing danger, quickly replied, "I just meant because they don't look past the words."

Maybe it's just me, but that statement from Rendell about the Kool-Aid sounded more than a bit condescending. One might even say it was -- dare I say it? -- elitist!

Back to focus groups ... FNC's focus group segment with Frank Luntz gets my vote for the most useless feature this campaign season. Aside from the leading questions that Luntz uses to bait the participants, the participants seem confused and even befuddled at times when he's interviewing them. And then there are those aggravating little dials that people are supposed to turn up or down to reflect their response to a debate, a commercial being screened or whatever else Luntz puts in front of their faces. Talk about your unreliable feedback. Ugh. Every time I see these things, I have these fantasies of sneaking into one of those focus groups and just twisting that dial back and forth, back and forth, just to see what it would do to the results. Ha ha. :)

Arrgh. Is it morning yet?

P.S. As far as obnoxious FNC personalities, let's make it an even three: Greg Gutfeld and his ridiculous "Red Eye" program take the cake. For an example of his forward-thinking, groundbreaking and eloquent political analysis, click here ... then please tell me how someone like this can get picked up by a national cable news network. The good news is that not many people see "Red Eye;" the bad news is that at least a few people still do.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

No endorsement from Gordon Brown

Speaking of Brown, he met privately with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Thursday after having met with John McCain a few weeks back. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall for those talks? I’d love to get Brown’s take on each of the candidates; his perspective would be interesting, given that he followed Tony Blair and had to deal with Iraq, much as Bush’s successor will have to do. I wonder, which one of them would he want answering the phone at 3 a.m. ... especially since he might be on the other end of the line?

Brown didn't give much of a hint with his answer to a reporter's question on this point at a White House press availability this week ... or did he?

It is for Americans to decide who their President is going to be. I was delighted to meet the three presidential candidates who remain in the field. What I was convinced of after talking to each of them, and talking about the issues that concern them and concern the world, is that the relationship between America and Britain will remain strong, remain steadfast; it will be one that will be able to rise to the challenges of the future. And I look forward to continuing my discussions with all three of them over the next few months.
Brown said he will be talking "with all three of them over the next few months." If his comments are any indication, Brown doesn't have any insider information that Clinton intends to drop out anytime soon.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

OPEC and oil prices

So, you saw in the "From the Column -- More About Gas Prices" post below that the cost of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is up 51 cents over this time last year, and a gallon of diesel is up $1.18 over the same period.

That is unbelievable.

Here's something else it is: Inexcusable. It's inexcusable for the world -- especially the United States -- to be held over a barrel (sorry) by OPEC. They are doing this to us because they can, and because we put up with it. The question shouldn't be, "How do we get OPEC to increase production?" The question should be, "How long are we going to put up with this?"

The failure of leadership that has put us in this position is the fault of politicians of both parties, along with the president and the Congress (which, I might add, has been led by both parties during Bush's administration). Yes, Bush and the Republicans are responsible for instituting and defending multi-billion tax breaks for Big Oil. But so are Pelosi, Reid & Co. responsible for blocking efforts to cope with the crude crisis -- efforts that would include drilling, at least temporarily, in the much-ballyhooed Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and tapping this country's strategic oil reserves. If Bush and the Republicans are the lap dogs of Big Oil, so are Democrats held hostage by unreasonable environmental advocacy groups.

So what are we going to do about it? It's time to tap the reserves, drill in ANWAR, drill in the Gulf of Mexico, do whatever we can to tell OPEC that we'll be happy to buy as much oil from them as we can get for the equivalent of, say, $40 a barrel (maybe $45 if we're feeling generous), a respectable increase from the $31 a barrel oil cost when Bush took office in 2001. We'll make up the difference with domestic supply. In the meantime, let's put every available scientist (and reassign a bunch more) on developing an alternative to oil-based gasoline. Auburn University is a leader in this area with its research into switchgrass. It's not hard to imagine the gains we could make if we emphasized this area of research as a national priority.

My guess is that it wouldn't take long for OPEC to re-evaluate supply and demand -- as in, a lot more supply and a lot less demand -- and next month's Monthly Oil Report would read a lot differently.

Incidentally, it was all but forgotten in the excitement about the Pope's visit to the United States this week, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was also in Washington on Wednesday to meet with President Bush. According to the Montreal Gazette, Brown planned "to discuss collective action to bring down oil prices."

What does that mean? Brown said this in a press availability at the White House on Thursday:

We agreed to work, and President Bush has just referred to this, for an early world trade deal that will give new confidence to the international economy at this time. An enhanced dialogue between oil consumers and oil producers, with rising output from the oil-producing countries, should help stabilize and then cut the price of oil, now at over $110 a barrel.
Um, yeah, except OPEC doesn't intend to increase production, what with those obscene profits being what they are and all.

So, we're on our own.

From the column: Iraqi information minister

If you read the post below about gas prices, you will need a good laugh. Never fear. Ask yourself, "What would MSS do?"

MSS is Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf -- better known in Western circles as "Baghdad Bob." He made a name for himself by holding press conferences in the runup to the invasion of Iraq wherein he would make statements that were directly contrary to obvious reality. As coalition soldiers invaded Iraq and American soldiers were taking over Baghdad, MSS continued to declare things like, "I triple guarantee you, there are no American soldiers in Baghdad!" and his insistence that American soldiers were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city gates.

Ummmmm ... no.

If he was still giving news conferences, he would likely say something along the lines of, "Gasoline does not cost $3.39 a gallon! That is a fabrication of the American infidels! Gasoline is very affordable at just 40 cents a gallon! Gasoline has never cost more than 40 cents a gallon!"

MSS came to be known as "Comical Ali" -- a takeoff on the very not-funny nickname of "Chemical Ali," an Iraqi official charged with the development of chemical weapons in the Saddam Hussein regime -- and developed a fan following on the Internet. For a good laugh, check out either of two fan sites (the appropriately named " and something called Croque Fan).

Why love MSS? One fan writes:

"In an age of spin, al-Sahaf offers feeling and authenticity. His message is consistent -- unshakable, in fact, no matter the evidence ... His lunatic counterfactual art is more appealing than the banal awfulness of the Reliable Sources ... He stands superior to truth."
MSS is living in the United Arab Emirates with his family. A bio of him says he studied journalism.

Wait ... does ABC need a correspondent in the UAE? I have just the guy for them ...

Friday, April 18, 2008

From the column: More about gas prices

I found a great web site this week that provides all kinds of information about oil and gas prices.

For everything you ever wanted to know about the price points of petroleum products but were petrified to pursue (pretty peppy prose, eh?), check out "This Week in Petroleum," a project of the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration.

Although its title conjures up images of bespectacled, pocket protector-wearing bean counters, the site is written in a conversational style, and the data is laid out in an approachable and easily understandable way.

For example, this week's report says that "while gasoline prices have risen above $3 per gallon mostly due to high crude oil prices, increasing gasoline demand will likely take retail gasoline prices to $3.50 per gallon and above, even if year-over-year gasoline demand is negative."

I said it was approachable and easily understandable. I didn't say it was pleasant to hear.

A glance at comparison charts on the site shows that the average retail price (ARP) for a gallon of regular gasoline is just under $3.39 this week, up 5.7 cents from last week and a staggering 51.3 cents from this time last year. Similarly, the ARP for a gallon of diesel fuel is just under $4.06, up 10.4 cents from last week and -- get this -- a nauseating $1.18 from this time last year.

Something has to be done about this. Check back for more on that point later today.

Someone get Howard an aspirin

Pennsylvania or no Pennsylvania, Howard Dean has had about enough of the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination. According to CNN:

An increasingly firm Howard Dean told CNN again Thursday that he needs superdelegates to say who they’re for – and “I need them to say who they’re for starting now.”

“We cannot give up two or three months of active campaigning and healing time,” the Democratic National Committee Chairman told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “We’ve got to know who our nominee is.”
So, Michigan and Florida are in the corner for having their primaries too early ... Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Montana and South Dakota apparently have theirs scheduled too late ... the majority of the contests fell in between and found themselves well timed by luck alone. So, here's my question: For scheduling purposes, when is the time for a presidential primary "just right?"

Watch out, Howard. We might start calling you Goldilocks.