While we get dumber and dumber (God knows we couldn't get much fatter), the rest of the world is doubling down on education. Our own President knows that our children "isn't" learning which is cool with him and his ilk, because the children of the rich are and somebody's got to make the fries. The three R's receive a lot less attention here, than the one big R: religion. Intelligent design, abstinence only; seems we're more fired up about having, or not having, those things in our schools than having academic standards which are challenging and geared toward future success. That's how Japan sees education (and that's how they opened that can of econmic whoop ass on us, post-war); now that their international rankings have dipped, they're inclined to get all innovative and actually work harder. Fascinated with India's burgeoning economy, teachers and schools from that country are turning away students in Japan. From the New York Times:

Last month, a national cry of alarm greeted the announcement by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that in a survey of math skills, Japan had fallen from first place in 2000 to 10th place, behind Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. From second in science in 2000, Japan dropped to sixth place....
While China has stirred more concern here as a political and economic challenger, India has emerged as the country to beat in a more benign rivalry over education. ...India's success in software development, Internet businesses and knowledge-intensive industries in which Japan has failed to make inroads has set off more than a tinge of envy.
Most annoying for many Japanese is that the aspects of Indian education they now praise are similar to those that once made Japan famous for its work ethic and discipline: learning more at an earlier age, an emphasis on memorization and cramming, and a focus on the basics, particularly in math and science.
India's more demanding education standards are apparent at the Little Angels Kindergarten, and are its main selling point. Its 2-year-old pupils are taught to count to 20, 3-year-olds are introduced to computers, and 5-year-olds learn to multiply, solve math word problems and write one-page essays in English, tasks most Japanese schools do not teach until at least second grade.

And we never teach to far too many of our citizens. Imagine, your American five year old writing one-page essays in English (let alone in Japanese). Now, imagine what's likely going on in your kids' class room right now, unless you're very, very lucky. I found myself aghast one day when my pre-schooler cam home singing a classroom song composed entirely of fast food joint names that his school had taught him and graded him on. He's in an excellent public charter now, not least because of the dumbing down of our public schools. His school is challenging and loving and constantly checking itself for best practices to absorb from elsewhere. Sorta like Japan.

I Can't Hear YouLast week, Rolling Stone posted an extensive (6 online pages!) diatribe against sound quality in the age of mp3s. The article seems to have two, somewhat related points: a) that music is being mastered really loud these days, and b) mp3s sound crappy. RS posits that these two factors have become a kind of self-reinforcing spiral of doom for audiophiles, a "global loudening," if you will:

dead_iraqi130.gif The Iraq War remains the number one priority for Democrats (see graphic on left side here) although it has almost completely dropped off the national radar.

Perhaps that because 2007, despite reports of the situation in the country getting better and better, was the deadliest year of the war for American soldiers and was deadlier for Iraqi civilians than 2006.

The Montgomery Independent, having completed an investigation of Governor Bob Riley, has concluded that Riley may have violated campaign finance laws in 2002 and 2006. According to the Independent's reporters, the governor may have tried to conceal corporate donations during both those years, when he was running for office.

This is hardly the first time that the words "Riley" and "election" have appeared together in a suspicious way. Karl Rove is alleged to have been involved in the 2002 Alabama election, when GOP consultant Bill Canary, an adviser to Riley, worked with Rove to bring Governor Don Siegelman to prison on ethics charges.

In that very close election, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor--another of Canary's clients--clinched Riley's victory when he declared that unsealing the ballots for a recount would be a crime. The request for a recount came after there was a last-minute switch of several thousand votes in one county from Siegelman to Riley.

The Montgonmery Independent discovered that in 2006, the Riley campaign reported the use of airplanes owned by two corporations as personal "in-kind" donations from the corporations' presidents. Also listed as a personal donation was the use of an advertising billboard from the president of the ad agency. Together, these donations had a value of over $25,000, significantly exceeding the $500 limit allowed for any one corporation in a single election cycle.

Is there a mole in Huckabee HQ?

How else to explain two bizarre last-minute decisions of Mike Huckabee's campaign. First, the former Arkansas governor held a near-meltdown of a press conference on Monday, during which he decried negative campaigning but then played for the assembled camera crews the anti-Romney ad he had commissioned and had decided not to use. Then on Wednesday, Huckabee was scheduled to leave frosty Iowa--the day before the caucuses--for sunny L.A. to appear on the Jay Leno show. So he was trading a day of campaigning in the Hawkeye State for several minutes of chuckles on a national television show that probably is not watched by many of his potential voters, older social conservatives (unless these Iowans have a secret lust for Paris Hilton jokes). Huckabee certainly could reach more caucus-goers by working the Iowa media. And Iowan voters, as you know, expect to be treated like royalty by the candidates. Spurning them for laughs with Leno is not a show of respect. It looked as if Huckabee was more concerned with me-time than kneeling before Iowans--a true sin in presidential politics.

It practically seems that someone calling the shots in the Huckabee command is trying to sabotage his almost-a-miracle campaign. Whom might that be? Well, longtime readers of mine know that I am usually quite skeptical of conspiracy theorizing. But in this case, let me suggest a culprit: Ed Rollins. The veteran Republican strategist and operative recently signed on as Huckabee's campaign chairman. Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan's wildly successful reelection campaign in 1984, has had a bumpy relationship with the GOP establishment. He worked for Ross Perot (as opposed to President George H.W. Bush) in 1992. But he has usually been a loyal GOPer. In the 1990 election, he ran the National Republican Congressional Committee. In 1993, he was campaign manager for Republican Christine Todd Whitman's successful gubernatorial effort in New Jersey. The following year, he helped Republican George Nethercutt, a Republican, unseat Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley. And he has assisted several Republicans since then.

It's been pretty clear--even if you don't read the National Review and watch Fox News--that the GOP elite is not keen on Huckabee ending up as the Republican nominee. So could Rollins be a double-agent? A plant of the GOP high-and-mighty, which would be delighted to see Huckabee crash and burn? Rollins does have a rep as an underhanded operative. After the Whitman race, he disclosed that he had had secretly paid black ministers and Democratic campaign workers in New Jersey to suppress the black vote. (He then partially retracted the remark, saying the comment was "an exaggeration that turned out to be inaccurate.") And in a 1996 book, Rollins claimed that he had learned (after the fact) about an illegal $10 million contribution to Reagan's 1984 campaign from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but Rollin has refused to disclose details about this supposed crime.

So is it possible that Rollins is the GOP's Man in Huckabee Land? That may be fanciful speculation on my part. (Few high-profile strategists would want to be seen losing a campaign.) But the only other explanation is that after years of skillful politicking, Rollins has lost his game and gone stupid. Can you believe that?

Ron Paul supporters are up in arms over the expulsion of their candidate from a Fox Republican candidate forum two days before the New Hampshire vote.

"If we permit Fox News Channel executives the power 'to limit a Sunday forum the state GOP party is co-sponsoring to five presidential candidates' based on polls, then this country really is in trouble," said Michael Kelly in a comment to the Nashua Telegraph this morning.

Meanwhile, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are asking ABC and the local WMUR — sponsors of the last big debate this Saturday — to let in candidates who have been included in past debates.

Under criteria set by the sponsors, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, two sitting Democratic senators, and Dennis Kucinich, a sitting congressman, are likely to be excluded. Clinton said yesterday: "I believe in the true spirit of the New Hampshire process; the candidates who have participated in past debates should not be excluded from this one."

"The voters of New Hampshire deserve to hear all the Democratic candidates' views on who can best lead America in a fundamentally new direction, and that's why I urge these networks to allow full participation in this week's debate," Obama said.

John Edwards and John McCain said they didn't want to interfere with the network decision.

"Fox News is scared of Ron Paul," wrote Eric Martin in response to a Nashua Telegraph article. "I'm not sure why, but they are. There is an opportunity for the New World Order to be overturned and for sovereignty to be given back into the hands of the people. I think that much of what Ron Paul stands for is the truth. Fox News should be scared not to allow Ron Paul in the debates. For some reason, the truth always stands in the end. It may be a thousand years from now, but at the end the truth will be standing on top of all the lies that tried to usurp it. If Fox News tries to hide the truth, it will fall, especially as a news organization, and one whose slogan is 'fair and balanced.' Fox News should include Ron Paul in there debates."

His detractors could care less "Just face it, Ron Paul is a weenie spouting crack pot ideas," said Robert Chapman in another comment. "The reason people think he has more than 5 percent support is because every crack pot is drawn to him like a full moon."

A holiday card claiming to be from "the Romney family" ended up in the mailboxes of South Carolina Republicans recently, bearing this inscription:

"We have now clearly shown that God the father had a plurality of wives, one or more being eternity by whom he begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus, his first born, and another being upon the earth by whom he begat the tabernacle of Jesus, as his only begotten in this world."

Minus 10 points for being dirty as hell. Plus 10 points for being pretty clever. The Romney campaign has condemned the card, saying, "It is sad and unfortunate that this kind of deception and trickery has been employed. There is absolutely no place for it in American politics."

In 2004, Dennis Kucinich told his supporters to caucus for John Edwards if Kucinich was not viable in their precincts. (Here's an explanation of viability and the caucus system.) That recommendation helped propel Edwards to a second place finish in Iowa.

This year, Edwards won't receive the same boost. Barack Obama has secured Kucinich's second-place recommendation. Not every second- and third-tier candidate will identify a leading candidate for their supporters to caucus for should he or she fail to meet the 15 percent threshold for viability. But for some, it's not hard to see where there supporters will go.

According to Pollster.com, Obama, Edwards, and Clinton are the only candidates polling over 15 percent. Here are the numbers:

Clinton — 29.4 percent
Obama — 27.0 percent
Edwards — 25.1 percent

Richardson has 5.5 percent; he has not indicated who he wants his supporters to caucus for should he be unviable, which makes sense because Richardson has the strongest chance of being viable of the second-tier candidates. If a Richardson supporter were trying to make up his or her own mind, he or she might see Richardson's strong anti-war stance and look to Edwards or Obama. But he or she might look at Richardson's lengthy resume and decide to support Clinton. We'll call that a wash.

Biden is at 4.4 percent. His supporters like his experience and foreign policy credentials. If forced to choose one of the top three to support, they will likely support Clinton. (Though perhaps Edwards.)

Dodd and Kucinich poll at 2 percent or below in most polls. Gravel polls at zero. Their supporters will likely be spread across the top three, with a heavier proportion going to Obama and Edwards. The Kucinich-Obama agreement is obviously in play there.

There are a couple other factors to keep in mind. Edwards has been in Iowa forever, and he did well there in 2004. Iowans seem very comfortable with him. From some second-place polling I've seen online, he will likely benefit the most from second-choicers. Many voters are ABCs, anybody-but-Clintons. It is widely assumed Clinton will gain the least from second-choicers.

What does this mean? Clinton, Edwards, and Obama may all get just about 30 percent. Don't trust anyone who tells you they know who's going to win this thing.

ABC and Fox are limiting the New Hampshire primary vote by denying candidates they deem non-competitive the right to participate in the last big debate here after the Iowa caucuses.

The way things stand now, Democrats Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel won't be allowed to participate in the Saturday, January 5 debate sponsored by ABC News, Facebook and WMUR. On the Republican side, Duncan Hunter has been kicked out.

Republicans Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter are to be excluded from a Sunday, January 6 Fox News GOP forum as well.

But Fred Thompson, who is nowhere in the New Hampshire race, is to be included by Fox.

ABC and WMUR have set the following criteria for getting into their Saturday, January 5 debate to be held in Manchester, according to this morning's Manchester Union Leader:

- Place in the top four in the January 3 Iowa caucuses

- Poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four reputable random sample New Hampshire telephone surveys sponsored by an established news organization and conducted and released by 9 a.m. on Friday, January 4.

- Poll 5 percent or higher in one of the last four reputable random sample national telephone surveys sponsored by an established news organization and conducted and released on or before 9 a.m. Friday, January 4.

WMUR News Director Andrew Vrees told the Union Leader, "Right now, Dodd has a half of a percent in our most recent poll. That's two in 512 telling us they'd vote for Chris Dodd. Gravel has zero and Dennis Kucinich has 2 percent, and we're rounding up."

"Historically," said Vrees, "candidates with these types of numbers a week before the primary don't fare much better on Election Day."

Republican state chairman Fergus Cullen said Fox News has invited John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee to the Sunday forum. "No one else was invited," Cullen said.

In a statement, Cullen was critical of all sponsors of the debates and the forum. "Limiting the number of candidates who are invited to participate in debates is not consistent with the tradition of the first-in-the-nation primary," he said. "The level playing field requires that all serious candidates be given an equal opportunity to participate — not just a selected few determined by the media prior to any votes being cast."

Paul spokesman Kate Rick said the Paul campaign "has called Fox a half-dozen times" and received no response. In the past Paul has said Fox is "scared of me," and that they were propagandists for the Iraq war, and not real conservatives. "We have been here in New Hampshire a fair amount. We have raised $19 million this quarter, and we're polling at 8 percent here, which is ahead of Mr. Thompson," Rick said. "We are at a loss as to what criteria we are not meeting."

Over the weekend, the Kucinich camp was scrambling, madly trying to get the candidate's polling figures up to 5 percent. Chris Collier, Kucinich spokesman, said an August poll had his candidate at 7 percent.