Saturday, April 12, 2008

Column links

Looking for links from this morning's column? You've come to the right place:

  • Here's the link to the home page for the Every Child Matters Education Fund;
  • Here's the link to the main "Geography Matters" page;
  • Here's the link to the "Geography Matters" report itself; and
  • Here's the link to the "Homeland Insecurity" report.

Also, here's the link to the page listing Alabama's rankings in the various measures considered in the "Geography Matters" report. At a glance, Alabama ranked:

  • 45th out of 50 states in deaths of infants per 1,000 live births;
  • 41st in deaths per 100,000 children aged 1-14;
  • 47th in deaths per 100,000 teens aged 15-19;
  • 40th in births to teen mothers (15-19) per 1,000 teen girls;
  • 25th in births to women receiving late or no prenatal care;
  • 41st in children living in poverty;
  • 15th in uninsured children;
  • 41st in juvenile incarceration rate (per 100,000);
  • 35th in child abuse fatalities per 100,000 children; and
  • 26th in per capita child welfare expenditures.

I was glad to see that Alabama wasn't considered to be one of the 10 worst states for child welfare. But my relief was short-lived: The Yellowhammer State barely missed the dubious distinction, appearing just outside the bottom 10 in the overall list -- what the ECMEF calls its Child Vulnerability Index -- at No. 40. (Live in a different state? Click here for your state's ranking; click on the arrow for the state summary.)

Ready to get involved, but don't know where to start? Click here to find your elected officials. Just enter your zip code for a list of your state and federal lawmakers. And don't forget your local council members and county commissioners; often, the best and most effective policies affecting children are made on the level closest to them. If you need assistance in determining who your local officials are, contact me; I'll be happy to help.

Once you know who to call, here are six questions ECMEF advocates urge you to ask your local, state and national officeholders and candidates this election season:

  1. 8.6 million children have no health insurance in the U.S. How do you propose to ensure that children grow up healthy and have access to comprehensive health care?
  2. More than 3 million children nationwide were reported abused and neglected in 2006. What are your plans to keep all children safe from violence in their homes, schools, and communities?
  3. Millions of children are left alone every day after school. What is your position on how to keep children safe and supervised in the late afternoon and early evening hours?
  4. Millions of children lack access to early learning opportunities. What is your position on early learning and care, including preparing children for kindergarten?
  5. 13.6 million of America’s children live in poverty. What would you do to help families with children become economically self-sufficient and able to provide for their family’s needs?
  6. Millions of children have a parent in prison. How would you address the needs of these children?

As you can see, there's plenty to be done. Don't ignore this problem. Don't turn your back on the kids who need you. Consider how you can help, and get involved. As Gandhi so aptly said, "Be the change you seek in your world."

Thank you for caring for these little ones!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Great column

If you don't already read it, I urge you to take a few minutes and read Rich Galen's column today about the furor surrounding the Olympics.

Rich also provides a link to his "Secret Decoder Ring," which will link you to all the background pieces he mentions in his column.

Rich points out that, according to the International Olympic Committee, the Modern Games were reinstated in Athens in 1896 "to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play."

Rich writes that the goal of the Olympics is "a worthy effort which, unfortunately, has been -- as Hamlet said -- honored more in the breach than in the observance."


The IOC didn't just decide Tuesday afternoon to allow China to host the 2008 Olympics. They awarded the Games to Beijing in July, 2001 with Sports Illustrated saying:

"The International Olympic Committee put aside human rights concerns in making their historic decision, hoping to foster further change in the world's most populous country."
In other words, the outcry against China's human rights record is what the IOC was counting on when it awarded the Games to China. Far from overlooking it, the IOC sought to spotlight it, in hopes that the exposure to the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by the rest of the world would inspire oppressed Chinese to demand change in their communist society.

I mention some of this in my column tomorrow.

Take a few minutes and read Rich's column. It's entertaining and informative -- and you'll want to subscribe.

The race within the race

Do you think the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is contentious?

There are more than 2,000 Californians running to be delegates to the party's national convention.

There are 241 spots.

But wait! There's more:

Earlier this week, Obama’s and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign took advantage of party rules to purge scores of potential delegates in a bid to ensure that only their loyalists travel to the August convention in Denver where the party will anoint a presidential nominee.

Most of the cuts, about 900 names, were dropped by Obama, leading supporters to complain that they had been unfairly excluded. Clinton’s campaign dropped about 50 names from its list of prospective delegates.

The names were culled without explanation from the campaign or the state party.

Driven by fears that some prospective delegates might be concealing their true allegiances, the campaigns searched campaign finance data, scoured the Internet and made telephone calls to weed out people they believed to be dubious candidates.
I'm familiar with opposition research, but researching the "true allegiances" of eventual convention delegates? This is a new ballgame, and it reflects what the campaigns believe about the convention: Given Hillary Clinton's recent statements vowing to stay in the race, it's likely to become a raucous floor fight for the nod in Denver in August, and each campaign is already girding for battle through delegate selection races like this in states all over the country.

Both the Obama and Clinton campaigns have reversed course and reinstated all of the names they had purged. But bitterness will likely remain among party loyalists.

No wonder there are high numbers of Democrats who profess that they'll be dissatisfied with the other candidate if their candidate is not the nominee.

Party faithful, watch out: The feast of excitement and fervor among voters during the primary process may well translate into a famine of discontent and apathy during the general election campaign.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

L.A. mayor to ICE: Back off

You've got to hand it to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

It's not enough for him to run a sanctuary city that ties the hands of law enforcement from reporting illegal immigrants to federal authorities. No, this guy is an overachiever.

Villaraigosa sent a polite but pointed letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in which he took Chertoff and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to task for work-site raids on "non-exploitative" businesses -- raids, Villaraigosa said, that could have "severe and lasting effects" on L.A.'s economy.

"I am concerned that ICE enforcement actions are creating an impression that this region is somehow less hospitable to these critical businesses than other regions," Villaraigosa wrote ...

In his letter, Villaraigosa said ICE has targeted "established, responsible employers" in industries that have a "significant reliance on workforces that include undocumented immigrants."

"In these industries, including most areas of manufacturing, even the most scrupulous and responsible employers have no choice but to rely on workers whose documentation, while facially valid, may raise questions about their lawful presence," he wrote. He said ICE should spend its limited resources targeting employers who exploit wage and hour laws.
In other words, come on, ICE; everyone employs illegal immigrants, so let's focus on those that also violate wage and hour laws.

SIDEBAR: I heard a rumor that Villaraigosa is going to propose moving ICE out of Homeland Security and into the Department of Labor. Instead of immigrations and customs enforcement, they will now be used as a quasi-worker's rights outfit. END SIDEBAR
OK, that's not true. But it might as well be.

If I was Michael Chertoff, my response would read something like this:

Dear Mayor Villaraigosa,

Thank you for your comments regarding the activities of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Los Angeles. We are gratified to hear of your shared concern for the safety and security of American citizens.

I appreciate your suggestion and am prepared to incorporate it into ICE directives. As mayor, you no doubt have information about many of these businesses in violation of wage and hour laws, and since I know we share the same goal of enforcing the immigration laws of the United
States, I know we can count on you to pass that information along to us.

I will direct my deputy to await your telephone call, which I am sure is imminent. Simply provide us with the names of these businesses, their owners and/or their locations, and we will be pleased to dispatch our agents to those locations posthaste.

Thank you in advance for the myriad tips I know you will provide to us. It's good to know that the leadership of Los Angeles is a willing partner in the enforcement of the immigration and customs laws of the United States of America.

Sincerely yours,

Michael Chertoff
You think that's funny? Wait! There's more:

"At a time when we are facing an economic downturn and gang violence at epidemic levels, the federal government should focus its resources on deporting criminal gang members rather than targeting legitimate businesses," said Matt Szabo, the mayor's spokesman.
See, now the Chertoff letter needs editing:

P.S. Mayor Villaraigosa, I am glad that we see eye to eye on the need to deport criminal gang members. Since you feel this way, I know you are anxious to do your part. Thank you for instructing your local police officers to now identify, detain and transfer custody of those found to be in violation of U.S. immigration laws. Your decision will make deportation much easier, and it will no doubt assist us in removing from this country members of a dangerous criminal element that contributes to your city's gang problem. I look forward to working with you to eradicate gangs from Los Angeles.
Whatever else you can say about Antonio Villaraigosa, the guy has some cojones. Unfortunately, intellect and cojones rarely come in equal measure -- and L.A.'s mayor is a good example.

...and then there's this: The L.A. City Council
has agreed to turn over the city's gang intervention and prevention programs to the Mayor's Office. Villaraigosa will now have unrestricted control of the estimated $19 million the city spends annually to address the city's gang violence; after 18 months, the City Council will review his progress.

Think a change to the city's sanctuary status will be in the offing?

Yeah ... me neither.

The REAL dream ticket

Days after the world began contemplating Dan Senor's remarks that an appearance by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Grover Norquist's high-fallutin' lunch group meant that she was "actively campaigning" for the vice presidency on John McCain's ticket, Good Morning America talked to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell, mentioned as a perennial VP possibility, seemed to come to the defense of Democratic candidate Barack Obama and the attacks on his lack of foreign affairs experience:

"He doesn't have experience at the senior levels of national government. But I've seen other individuals come along who didn't have that breadth of experience and what they do is surround themselves with people who do bring that experience.

"With Sen. Obama, he didn't have a lot of experience running a presidential campaign, did he? But he seems to know how to organize a task and he seems to know how to apply resources to a problem at hand. So that gives me some indication that (with) his inexperience in foreign affairs or domestic affairs, he may be someone who can learn quickly," Powell said.
Powell is a Republican. But that doesn't mean he's necessarily in McCain's corner:

"I'm looking at all three candidates," Powell said in an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer for Thursday's "Good Morning America" on ABC. "I know them all very, very well. I consider myself a friend of each and every one of them. And I have not decided who I will vote for yet."
The nightmare scenario for Republicans: One part Obama idealism and hope, plus one part Powell, with his lifetime of military experience and ethical repuation above reproach. Add in a dash of crossover appeal, which will draw millions of votes, and you have the power ticket that makes the McCain campaign want to buy stock in Pepto.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hillary is a Beta Girl's Camile Paglia responded to a reader's question yesterday about why Hillary Clinton seems to surround herself with "passive-aggressive, sadistic, mean, little, petty beta-male pieces of work who would not naturally succeed in a common male-type hierarchy."

"Can you conceive of a strong, leader-type male ever working under her?" he asked.

Paglia opined that by surrounding herself with males weaker than herself, perhaps Clinton is recreating the structure of her childhood home -- substituting herself for her father at the top, of course. And she offers this gem:

Postmortem analysts of this presidential campaign will have a field day ferreting out all the cringe-making blunders made by her clique of tired, aging courtiers who couldn't adjust to changing political realities. Hillary's forces have acted like the heavy, pompous galleons of the imperial Spanish Armada, outmaneuvered by the quick, bold, entrepreneurial ships of the English fleet.
There will be plenty of armchair quarterbacking to be done once the Democratic presidential nomination is in the books, and if Clinton doesn't win it, much of the speculation will center around the team she trusted with the frontrunner status she brought into the contest in early 2007. But Paglia hits here on another concern, and one that McCain strategists are no doubt already considering: If Hillary Clinton can't be counted on to incorporate input that may be contradictory into her presidential campaign structure, how can the country count on her to do so with Cabinet picks, senior staffers and the like who will manage her agenda and be charged with its advance? Dissent is a necessary irritant, especially at the highest levels of government; if no one is allowed -- and encouraged -- to play the devil's advocate, Americans could find ourselves in an unholy mess.

From a global perspective, there is something to be said for having enough confidence in one's agenda to tolerate dissent. Isn't that what the concept of the Marketplace of Ideas is all about?

Might one say that understanding that principle has to do with judgment ... say, around 3 a.m.?

Later in the post, Paglia answers another reader who raises concerns about Obama's judgment vis-à-vis his real estate deal with Chicago financier Tony Reszo. She rightly points out that for all Clinton's sound and fury about the maltreatment she has suffered from the mainstream media, the media have shown "amazingly little interest in exploring" the "mud mountain" of Clinton scandals:

But the splotches on Obama's record are few and relatively minor compared to the staggeringly copious chronicle of Clinton scandals ... the Clintons have gotten off scot-free over the past year from any kind of serious, systematic examination of their sleaze-a-thon history from Little Rock to Foggy Bottom.
In response to the reader's question about why he shouldn't expect experience in a president, since he expects it from his physicians, accountants, dentists and even his child's teachers, Paglia responds:

Obama has actually served longer in public office than Hillary has. It's very true that he lacks executive experience, but so does she. Her bungling of healthcare reform, along with her inability to control the financial expenditures and internal wrangling of her campaign, does not bode well for a prospective chief executive. Beyond that, I'm not sure that your analogy to
professionals like doctors, accountants and teachers entirely applies to presidents. There is no fixed system of credentialing for our highest office. On the contrary, the Founders envisioned the president as a person of unpretentious common sense and good character. Hillary may spout a populist line, but with her arrogant sense of dynastic entitlement, she's a royalist who, like Napoleon, wants to crown herself.
When all the votes have been counted and all the consultants have been paid, if Hillary Clinton is not the first woman president in U.S. history, it is likely that these two reasons will be the two biggest reasons why.

Read the rest of the Paglia post here.

More Senate handicapping

It seems that folks are starting to awaken to the realization that there ARE actually congressional elections this year, after all. Talking Points Memo provides this list of competitive Senate races, which you can compare with the RealClearPolitics list I mentioned here on Monday:

  • Alaska: Ted Stevens (i) vs. Mark Begich -- Leans GOP;
  • Colorado: Bob Schaffer vs. Mark Udall -- Tossup;
  • Louisiana: John Kennedy vs. Mary Landrieu (i) -- Tossup;
  • Maine: Susan Collins (i) vs. Tom Allen -- Leans GOP;
  • Minnesota: Norm Coleman (i) vs. Al Franken -- Tossup;
  • Mississippi: Roger Wicker (i) vs. Ronnie Musgrove -- Likely GOP;
  • New Hampshire: John Sununu (i) vs. Jeanne Shaheen -- Leans Dem;
  • New Mexico: TBD vs. Tom Udall -- Leans Dem;
  • Oregon: Gordon Smith (i) vs. TBD -- Leans GOP;
  • Virginia: Jim Gilmore vs. Mark Warner -- Likely Dem

    (Note: Republicans listed first; i=incumbent)

Several people commented to TPM that the race between Republican incumbent John Cornyn and Democratic challenger Rick Noriega should have been on the list, but the Lone Star State wasn't on RCP's list, either. Maybe Texans know something politicos don't ... but the politicos would never admit it.

In looking at this list, I would add that it's an understatement to say that races where one party hasn't yet designated a candidate "lean" toward the party that has. It's hard to be competitive when you don't have a name, a face and a platform to promote -- and a background to defend.

Also, as I said the other day, the number of these races that could go Democratic and what that would mean for Senate procedure is what has national Democratic leaders dizzy with nervousness over the continuing, and increasingly contentious, battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the presidential nomination:

Notice a trend? Republicans are in trouble. This is one of the underlying issues for Democrats who want to avoid a nasty, divisive floor fight between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the party's convention in August: They know that if they can only keep from wandering in the desert of internecine party dissent, chances are good that they will reach the 60 members that will comprise a supermajority -- the Senate's promised land.

Let's talk about faith, baby

I'm not generally a huge fan of CNN contributor Roland Martin, but he has produced an interesting piece on the gravity of Sunday's looming Democrats-talk-about-religion forum in -- where else? -- Pennsylvania.

For the purposes of Martin's credibility, you should know that according to CNN, he is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University. Politics and religion are issues with which he is familiar.

He notes that as Republicans rode the so-called "moral majority" into power in the 1990s and found success by focusing attention on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage, far from engaging (ha ha, little pun there) in the battle where politics and religion meet, the Democratic Party completely ignored it.

The result -- an electorate that, for better or for worse, came to view the GOP as the "Christian party" -- has been as damaging to Christian principles as it has been unfortunate and unfair to individual Democratic politicians who profess the Christian faith.

The trend will continue, Martin writes, unless the Democratic Party, and its most recognizable faces, can address their faith-based fears:

If the Democratic Party is serious about fostering a relationship with the faith community, they are going to have to come to grips with the fact that there are Democrats of faith who are pro-life and against gay marriage, but who are in agreement on other social issues such as the response to the rapid rise of HIV/AIDS and eradicating poverty.

Gay rights and pro-choice activists are clearly not going to back down from advancing their agenda, but they can be assured that people of faith are not going to be silent for the sake of a political party ...

In other words, ignore the churchgoing folks and you don't stand a prayer of winning.
Read the rest here.

Incidentally, Martin missed the opportunity to provide you with this very interesting example of his argument.

And I'll leave it alone for now, but ask yourself why the major political parties shackle themselves to all-or-nothing stances on abortion, one way or another. I'll give you a hint: I talked about it in the column last Saturday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Hillary is 'speechless'

On the eve of Gen. David Petraeus' visit to Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on the status of the troop surge in Iraq, Barack Obama made waves with this bold assertion:

“I think a lot of people assume that might be some sort of military thing to make me look more commander in chief-like. Ironically, this is an area — foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain,” Obama reportedly said.
It is extremely dangerous, politically speaking, to assert that one has more experience than someone else, especially when that someone else has five and a half years as a prisoner of war in his experience bank. But we'll leave that aside for now, if for no other reason than it is so painfully obvious.

The real reaction came from Hillary Clinton, who told reporters that she was "somewhat shocked by that since I don't see any evidence of it." She continued:

“This is, you know, kind of hard to square with (Obama's) failure ever to have a single policy hearing on the only responsibility he was given, chairing the European and NATO subcommittee on the Foreign Relations Committee.

“And as he admitted in the last debate, he was too busy running for president to pay attention to what we needed to do to improve our chances in Afghanistan and get NATO more involved. So, you know, I, I, I don’t, I don’t know, I’m speechless. I mean, you know, making an assertion like that belies the facts and the record.”
And if there's anyone who understands assertions that belie the facts and the record, it's Hillary Clinton. Fresh off of the I-was-almost-shot-to-death-by-a-sniper-in-Bosnia flap, Clinton came under figurative fire again this weekend, this time for a story about "an uninsured pregnant woman who lost her baby and died herself after being denied care by an Ohio hospital because she could not come up with a $100 fee." After the hospital challenged the story's validity, Clinton's campaign reluctantly admitted that it did not factcheck it before Clinton began telling it on the stump, and Clinton dropped it from her speech.

Hillary Clinton, speechless? All evidence to the contrary. But when it comes to stories and statements made off the cuff, Obama and his primary opponent are kindred spirits.

Hillary knows what's best for you

Hillary Clinton is wasting no time retooling her campaign after the departure of longtime strategist Mark Penn: She's already developed a new campaign slogan.

In this Washington Post story about how Hillary Clinton "often veers to the dark side" while relaying issue-related anecdotes on the campaign trail, reporter Anne E. Komblut describes how Clinton incorporated an event at one of her rallies into her stump speech:

Shortly before the Texas primary, Clinton spoke of a mother whose daughter collapsed in the crowd at a Houston rally and who, upon receiving a bottle of water from the candidate, whispered in her ear that she could not get her daughter medical treatment.

"She said, 'I don't have any health insurance -- I can't take her anywhere,'" Clinton recalled a few stops later. She said it was people like that who need for her to be president. "I'm not asking you to vote for me so much as I'm asking you to vote for yourselves," she said.
Goodbye, old campaign slogans, "Help make history" and "Hillary: The Smart Choice!" Hello, new slogan: "Vote Hillary -- It's for your own good." Trust Hillary. After all, she knows what's best for you.

(This message is brought to you in part by the National Association to Promote the Use of Sarcasm, of which I am a charter member.)

No potty mouths here

The Blog Cuss-O-Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

Thanks to everyone who reads; and to the few of you who comment, thanks for keeping it clean!

(Thanks to Dan at Daily Dixie for the tip to this tool.)

Brit makes a funny

I was flipping through the channels on an elliptical machine at the gym yesterday when I caught a segment on FNC about how Barack Obama is closing the gap on Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania.

Washington bureau chief Brit Hume explained that Obama's numbers tend to increase when he gets out among voters, as he has done over the past couple of weeks on his bus tour across the Keystone State. Such encounters allow people to be able to see for themselves the so-called "rock star quality" that has made Obama one of the only two Democratic candidates still standing.

People hear Obama speak, and they leave "dazzled," high on the "Kool-Aid excitement" of his rallies.

Brit Hume made a Kool-Aid joke. I just thought that was hilarious, especially coming from such a straight guy as he.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Senor-Norquist link?

I managed to find one link, however casual, between Dan Senor and Grover Norquist:

Norquist contributed $1000 to the 2000 Senate campaign of Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham, whom Senor served as legislative aide, press secretary and communications director.

It's not much, but it's something.

News to me!

So I've spent the last little while trying to find a client list for Dan Senor to see whether Grover Norquist is on it ... no luck in that department, but I did learn something:

Dan Senor is married to CNN's Campbell Brown.

I guess my thirst for news ends where paparazzi-style speculation on reporters' personal lives begins, so ... I didn't know that!

But now that I do, I'll look for Mrs. Brown to answer the previous question for us: Is Grover Norquist or his group one of her husband's clients?

Come on, Campbell ... inquiring minds want to know!

Condi's in! ... Condi's out!!

Is she or isn't she? That was the question being bounced around today as the world digested the curious remarks of former-Iraq-Coalition-Provisional-Authority-spokesman-turned-Republican strategist Dan Senor regarding Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“Condi Rice has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning for" the vice presidency, Senor said during an interview on an ABC Sunday morning talk show.
How was Rice campaigning? Well, Senor didn't offer much:

“There's this ritual in Washington: The Americans for Tax Reform, which is headed by Grover Norquist, he holds a weekly meeting of conservative leaders -- about 100, 150 people, sort of inside, chattering, class types,” Senor said. “They all typically get briefings from political conservative leaders. Ten days ago, they had an interesting visit -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- the first time a secretary of state has visited the Wednesday meeting.”
So, she's campaigning for VP because ... she attended a lunch meeting?

I didn't see the interview, which George Stephanopoulos did with Senor. But my first question for Senor would have been, who else has appeared before Norquist's group? Can we assume that they are all "actively campaigning" for the No. 2 spot, as well?

SIDEBAR: It irritates me that a group -- any group, but in this case it's Americans for Tax Reform -- holds such sway in either party that a simple speech to the group is received in such a dramatic and profound way. It's just lunch, people. Calm down. END SIDEBAR
Other politicos have surmised that perhaps a recent interview Rice gave to a national magazine indicated her interest in the VP spot. What was the interview about? Peace in the Middle East? The proliferation of nuclear weapons? U.S.-Russian relations in the face of the Bush Administration's pursuit of a Europe-based missile defense system? The rise of China? No, it was about -- get this -- her workout program, and it appeared in Fitness Magazine.

For her part, Rice seemed surprised, and perhaps a bit annoyed, by Senor's statement, which she had to trot her State Department spokesman out to deny:

(Sean) McCormack reiterated that Rice wants to return to Stanford University, where she is a tenured professor.

"I think what she is considering is focusing on her work as Secretary of State because -- you may have missed it -- but there's actually quite a bit to do," McCormack said. "There's quite a bit left to do here as Secretary of State ... If she is actively seeking the vice presidency, then she's the last one to know about it."
Incidentally, A+ on the sound bite, Sean!

And then there is McCain, seemingly left on the sidelines as a bride awaiting the details of an arranged marriage:

The presumptive Republican nominee professed surprise on Sunday about the reports that Rice was seeking the job. "I missed those signals," he told reporters Sunday, though he called Rice a "great American."

So if there's no validity to Rice's interest in the vice presidency, that brings us back to Senor. Why would he make this statement, apparently without anything more to go on than a lunch appearance?

ABC notes that Senor is a "Republican strategist." I'd like to know for whom he's doing this strategizing. Senor obviously has an angle. The question is, what is it, and why is he dragging Condoleezza Rice into it?

OK, that's two questions. But they're good ones.

This is just a shot in the dark, but could it be that Norquist is a Senor client, and Senor is trying to build up credibility for Norquist's Wednesday lunch meetings ahead of Norquist courting other potential VPs? How embarrassing it would be for this SUPERimportant group of "inside, chattering, class types" to be told to go take a flying leap by any of the people McCain is vetting. That would be, like, a major blow to their credibility and stuff! So if an appearance before the group can get a person mentioned as a potential VP candidate, that would increase that person's likelihood of appearing before the group, and it has the added benefit of raising the group's profile with every story.

If that's it, it's not a bad strategy, Dan Senor. But I bet Condi won't be calling you to join her on a strength circuit anytime soon.

Senate forecast

What with all the hullabaloo over the scintillating presidential race, it would be easy to overlook congressional elections. But the makeup of lawmakers on Capitol Hill will have as much to do with the success of the next president as he or she will -- or more.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the Senate, where the next president's agenda will go to thrive or die. Health care policy? Economic packages? Immigration reform? The War in Iraq? Federal judgeships? All will have to pass through the sieve of the Senate, where it's said that a prerequisite for membership is humming "Hail to the Chief" to yourself in the shower every morning.

OK, not really. But it seems like it.

And that brings us to the RealClearPolitics rundown of the hottest Senate races, separated into three tiers. Here's a quick look:

10. North Carolina: Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole vs. either State Sen. Kay Hagan or investment banker Jim Neal. (Last: Not ranked)

9. Oregon: Republican incumbent Gordon Smith vs. either State House Speaker Jeff Merkley or attorney Steve Novick. (Last: 6)

8. Maine: Republican incumbent Susan Collins vs. Rep. Tom Allen. (Last: 8)

7. Minnesota: Republican incumbent Norm Coleman versus Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken. (Last: 7)

6. Louisiana: Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu vs. State Treasurer John Kennedy. (Last: 4)

5. Colorado: This race to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Wayne Allard features Democratic Rep. Mark Udall vs. Republican former Rep. Bob Schaffer. (Last: 5)

4. Alaska: For now, Republican incumbent Ted Stevens vs. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. (Last: 9)

3. New Mexico: This race to fill another open seat will feature either Republican Rep. Heather Wilson or Rep. Steve Pearce vs. Democratic Rep. Tom Udall. (Last: 2)

2. New Hampshire: Republican incumbent John Sununu vs. former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. (Last: 3)

1. Virginia: The hottest Senate race this year continues to be the open seat in Virginia. The race will presumably feature former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, who was once rumored to be considering a presidential run, against Republican former Gov. Jim Gilmore. (Last: 1)
See the rest of the article, including background details on each of these races and the honorable mentions, here.

Notice a trend? Republicans are in trouble. This is one of the underlying issues for Democrats who want to avoid a nasty, divisive floor fight between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the party's convention in August: They know that if they can only keep from wandering in the desert of internecine party dissent, chances are good that they will reach the 60 members that will comprise a supermajority -- the Senate's promised land.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Penn exits ... finally

It took long enough, but longtime Clintonista Mark Penn has left his post as chief strategist in the former first lady's presidential campaign.

The straw that broke the camel's back was Penn's recent meeting with trade officials in Colombia. According to the AP:

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Penn, who serves as chief executive of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, met with Colombian officials March 31 to help craft strategy to move the Colombian Free Trade agreement through Congress. Penn later issued a statement apologizing for the meeting, calling it an "error in judgment."
After Barack Obama's NAFTA-Canada flap and the way Clinton hammered him for it, Penn calling his Colombian trip an "error in judgment" is like Clinton herself saying she "misspoke" when she invented the I-was-almost-shot-to-death-by-a-sniper-in-Bosnia story.

Penn has long been under fire from other high-level Clinton staffers. Jealous of his unlimited access to and implicit trust from the candidate and frustrated with a message that just didn't resonate the way it should have, they constantly scrapped with Penn for control and -- ironically -- change. Those of you who enjoy political inside baseball will love this story from the Washington Post. It documents much of the rumblings that have been commonplace in the Clinton campaign for several months and shows why Penn's exit was not a matter of if, but when.

One final note: Penn and his consulting firm will stay on to provide "polling and advice to the campaign." (Penn's firm has been paid $10.8 million by Clinton's campaign so far.)

So, they are concerned about his judgment ... just not enough to stop taking his advice.

I would say that is typical Clinton doubletalk, but then, I don't want to waste your time by pointing out the obvious.

The five percent rule

As members of the media digested the stunning numbers of the Clintons' tax returns, The New York Times designated a reporter or two to consider how the Clintons' philanthropy stacks up against their instruction on it.

Mr. Clinton last year earned $6.3 million from “Giving,” a book on philanthropy, and reported giving $1 million of that to charity.
(Let's stop right there for a minute. Wouldn't you expect that Clinton would "give" away the proceeds of a book about -- giving? Maybe he should add a subtitle: "Giving ... a fraction.")

In the book, Mr. Clinton espouses his own formula for charitable donations, recommending that people give away 5 percent of their income to charitable causes. “If giving by the wealthiest Americans even approached these levels,” he wrote, “I’m convinced it would spark an enormous outpouring of contributions from Americans of more modest means.”

The pace of the Clintons’ own charitable giving, which peaked last year at $3 million, has not always kept up with their income, and by at least one measure, has sometimes fallen short of the spirit of the 5 percent goal, which is to get money into the hands of charities that do good works.

In 2002, for instance, they reported income totaling $9.5 million and $115,000 in gifts to charity. In other years, they have given much larger amounts to their family foundation, but it has yet to disburse all of the money.

The Clintons took a tax deduction in 2004 for $2.5 million in charitable gifts, $2 million of which went to their family foundation, which as a tax-exempt nonprofit is considered a charity under the tax code. That same year, the foundation gave away just $221,000 to charitable groups, according to its tax return.

A representative of the Clintons said that when they and their foundation filed their 2007 tax returns, the records would show that all of the $3 million they gave to the foundation last year had been passed on to other charities. That will account for more than half of all the charitable donations that the foundation has made since 2001, according to a review of its tax returns.
There's nothing like writing a book wherein you make suggestions for everyone else to follow, ignoring your own suggestion, diverting the amount you do donate to a foundation you control, then taking a tax break on it.

Ah, the Clintons. No one quite does it like they do.

Fixing the national disgrace

Last week, I told you about a report that documents the worsening national disgrace that is this country's education system:

Seventeen of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, according to a report released Tuesday ... The report also found that about half of the students served by public school systems in the nation's largest cities receive diplomas.

I said earlier this week that public schools in Urban America have been on a downhill spiral for many years, and that maybe this report is the sobering reality check this country needs to stop playing politics with education.

I promised you more on this issue in my column yesterday; unfortunately, I didn't have room to hit on it. I was going to say that everything about the way our country does school should be up for debate -- everything. That includes, but is by no means limited to:

  • The tax structure we have relied on to fund it;
  • Our assumptions about student readiness;
  • How homeschooling and private schools, which embrace alternative educational philosophies successfully, can be viewed as a complement to public schools and as another option for students whose talents and abilities may not be best served by traditional public education strategies;
  • The availability of and access to supplemental services and programs that complement what goes on in the classroom;
  • Curriculum development and management, and how and whether it's relevant to today's job market;
  • Parent involvement;
  • How behavior expectations and discipline procedures can be made clearer and implemented more consistently;
  • Teacher training, recruitment, salary and retention policies (yes, performance-based policies, too);
  • The use of standardized tests to gauge students' progress, and even the development of those tests themselves;
  • The concept of social promotion, and how what we may preserve in the short term in social esteem is superseded by what it costs the student in educational advancement; and
  • Assumptions about college versus vocational and technical training.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things that should be considered -- and reconsidered -- as the public education system in this country is remade. Nothing should be sacrosanct; nothing should be above examination as we seek to make American education all it should be.

We owe nothing less to the young Americans who are depending on us to make it right.