Mojo - February 2008

Head Start: Dying On The Vine

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 4:16 PM EST

head%20start.jpgWhen George W. Bush took office in 2001, he came in with grand plans for Head Start, the popular early childhood enrichment and education program for low-income kids. Bush talked about beefing up standards, improving teacher training and quality, and working hard to make sure low-income preschoolers were ready to hit the kindergarten playground running. Oh, and he also wanted to turn the program into a block grant, slash its budget, and force 3-year-olds to undergo standardized testing twice a year.

Consequently, it took Congress five years to reauthorize the program, a last vestige of the Great Society poverty programs. Members of Congress from both parties saved Head Start from the block grant, better known as a stealthy way to defund the program by turning it over to the states. And in December, Bush grudgingly signed the bill that officially killed off the misguided testing regime. But one part of Bush's original ambitious plan for Head Start has actually succeeded: the budget cuts. It hasn't come all at once, but through erosion.

The new omnibus budget bill, signed just two weeks after Head Start was reauthorized in December, would put the program's budget at 12 percent below the funding level for 2002, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, mostly because Bush has failed to let Head Start funding keep up with inflation. The budget cuts translate into about 20,000 kids who may not have access to the program anymore. This is all happening at a time when child poverty is on the rise, and the number of poor kids under the age of 5 is increasing. Insert your own favorite "child left behind' kicker here...

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Live Blogging From Obama HQ in California

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 3:40 PM EST

I'll be writing to you today from the Obama campaign office in San Jose, California. It's one of six Obama offices in the Bay Area, but the battle here will be one of the most closely fought and important anywhere in the state (more on this shortly). The office is a small storefront in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood just outside downtown. Inside, posters on the wall say, "Fired up!" and, for those who've been here a bit too long, "Bang head here." The space lacks any heat (save for two space heaters--any more and the circuit breaker pops) but the 20 people packing into the place are keeping things warm enough. I've sandwiched myself into a row of clicking laptops on a fold-out table in the middle of the room. Everyone is working on getting out the vote; whenever a phone-banker convinces someone to vote Obama, he rings a bell and the room erupts in applause.

The volunteers here have their work cut out for them. San Jose's CA-15 congressional district is one of only 22 in the state with an odd number of delegates; whoever wins 51 percent of the vote in these districts will automatically pick up an extra delegate. (Most California districts are even-delegate and will likely to split between the candidates 50/50). Only about half of the odd-delate districts in the state will be truly competitive. CA-15 is one of those: Here in the Bay Area, Obama leads Clinton overall, but San Jose is predominately working class and has more Latino voters than any other county in the region--two groups that tend to support Clinton.

Anti-War Candidates Receive Most Money from Troops

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 3:38 PM EST

The Center for Responsive Politics highlights an interesting fact about the 2007 fundraising numbers:

In 2007, Republican Ron Paul, who opposes U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the top recipient of money from donors in the military, collecting at least $212,000 from them. Barack Obama, another war opponent, was second with about $94,000.

Think Progress points out that this contradicts prominent pro-war figures who use the troops and their supposed continued enthusiasm for the war as part of their rhetoric. President Bush: "Our troops want to finish the job." John McCain: "The message of these brave men and women who are serving over there is: Let us win. Let us win." Hmm...

First Winner on Super Tuesday? Huckabee!

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 3:30 PM EST

Mike Huckabee has won the West Virginia Republican caucuses. Thus begins Mother Jones' 12-hour coverage of Super Tuesday results.

Oh. How do you think Huck will do in San Francisco?

Update: Looks like there was some intrigue. McCain urged his supporters to vote for Huckabee in order to stop Romney. John McCain and Mike Huckabee are so in love.

Eli Manning: Budding Environmentalist?

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 2:56 PM EST

escalade.jpgIn his 2002 book High and Mighty, New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher wrote that automakers' own market research revealed that SUV buyers tended to be "insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others."

The research, in short, describes your average professional sports star. So no surprise, then, that on Sunday, New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning picked the enormous, six-ton Cadillac Escalade as his prize for winning the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award. But in a new twist, Manning picked a 2009 Escalade hybrid, which will get 18 miles to the gallon, compared to the measly 12 mpg of the non-hybrid version. Still, the Escalade remains an utterly gargantuan car, capable of flattening a Ford Focus and parking lot pilings with ease. But perhaps in the pro-sports world, this has to be considered progress.

Clinton's New Ploy: Debate, Debate, Debate Obama to Death

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 2:54 PM EST

Just ask us to debate. Please ask us to debate.

That was the message the Clinton campaign sent to the MSM this afternoon. During a conference call with reporters, Mark Penn, the campaign's chief strategist, and Howard Wolfson, its communications director, called for at least one debate a week between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the next month. They announced that the Clinton campaign has already accepted invitations from ABC News (this Sunday), Fox News (this Monday), CNN (February 27), and MSNBC (February 28). "It's critically important we continue the debate," Penn remarked.

Obvious point alert: The Clintonites believe Clinton does better than Obama during the debates. They're probably right. He beats her on oratory. His rallies are bigger and better. But she can talk policy details well. At the debates, she demonstrates she's in command of facts and ideas. Usually, it's the trailing candidate who demands debates during a campaign, for he or she needs the attention. But in this case, the Clinton campaign is most likely looking for an insurance policy. If Obama happens to surge after Super Tuesday, each debate will give Clinton a chance to slow him down. And if a whole series of debates are scheduled, he will have to spend time off the campaign trail prepping for the face-offs--that is, there will be less time for those impressive, inspiring rallies.

"A lot will depend on the one-on-one debates," Penn commented. Such debates, he added, "will determine some of the outcomes" of the big states coming down the road, such as Ohio and Texas (March 4). The voters, he suggested, need and deserve them.

So, the Clintonites signaled to the big media outlets, just get those debate invitations in ASAP, we're willing to say yes to almost anything. ("ESPN3 Presents the Democratic Presidential Debate.") It's a smart ploy for the Clintons. And it will be hard for Obama to say no.

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Hear My PRI "Fair Game" Election 2008 Discussion...

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 2:49 PM EST

...with Faith Salie. Smart host, good interview that made me think. Didn't call anyone a sphincter.

Note: PRI = Public Radio International. Quality stuff.

Happy Anniversary, Colin Powell

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 12:51 PM EST

Today is not only Super Tuesday; it's the fifth anniversary of Colin Powell's important speech to the U.N., during which he greased the way to George W. Bush's war in Iraq with his own prestige. In our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I detail how the speech came to be: how Scooter Libby and others at the White House tried to fill the speech with even more dubious allegations than it ended up containing, how Powell ignored complaints from State Department intelligence analysts who told him that parts of the speech were inaccurate, how Powell's claim of a "sinister nexus" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was based on bad information obtained from an al Qaeda suspect during violent interrogations. We also published on-the-record comments from Powell, in which he complained he had been unfairly tagged by this speech. What about members of Congress? he asked. What about President Bush? They all said the same things that he had said. Why, he groused, do people still keep blaming him?

Fair or not, Powell went to bat for Bush's war at the United Nations. Every major WMD charge in that speech—not most, but every—turned out to be wrong. (Jonathan Schwartz details it all here.) And Powell then stuck by the president through the initial mismanagement of the war and through the election in 2004—helping Bush to win reelection. What a public servant.

Today is a good moment to reflect on where Powell is now: nowhere. He has largely left public life. He makes speeches at how-to-succeed conferences—no doubt, pulling in $50,000 to $100,000 (or more) a pop. But he has no voice in the national discourse. He barely weighs in on policy debates. He doesn't hit the op-ed pages much. He's not on television. He doesn't write books. Perhaps he's decent enough to feel shame over his role in the fiasco.

And are any of the candidates seeking his endorsement? Would it help any of them? Powell was once one of the most popular men in America. He seemingly could have waltzed into the White House, but chose not to run. Were he to endorse Barack Obama, that would clash with Obama's antiwar street cred. Were he to endorse John McCain, that would remind voters of the war's start—and two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they believe the war was a mistake.

It's true that many others bear culpability for the war—Bush and Dick Cheney foremost among them. But Powell enabled them all. He was the front man. So if he did become the fall guy, he was a guilty one.

Erik Prince: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Author?

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 11:46 AM EST

557-US-NEWS-USIRAQ-BLACKWATER-R.standalone.prod_affiliate.91.jpg

Erik Prince, the founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide, accused of multiple unlawful killings in Iraq, will defend his company in a new book, due out this summer. Conservative newspaper Human Events reports on its website that Prince has signed a book deal with Regnery, a publisher of conservative political screeds. According to Human Events:

Prince's book, tentatively titled We Are Blackwater, will be released this summer. It is the only insider's account of the controversial company that has supplied bodyguards and support-and-rescue personnel to hot spots around the world, including the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Prince, a former Navy SEAL, will reveal how he created Blackwater, refute criticisms of the company, and take the reader on thrilling Blackwater missions into hostile territory, from rescuing teenage missionaries in Africa, to helicoptering wounded Marines to safety, to inventing, testing, and manufacturing armored vehicles to better protect our troops in the field.

Additional Details on Bush's Budget

| Tue Feb. 5, 2008 11:15 AM EST

Following up on our discussion of Bush's budget from yesterday, you can find more details here and here.