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February 23rd, 2004:

Defining terrorist down

Remember when no one paid any attention to Rod Paige? Boy, weren’t those the days.

Education Secretary Rod Paige called the nation’s largest teachers union a “terrorist organization” today, taking on the 2.7-million-member National Education Association early in the presidential election year.

Paige’s comments, made to the nation’s governors at a private White House meeting, were denounced by union president Reg Weaver as well as prominent Democrats.

The education secretary’s words were “pathetic and they are not a laughing matter,” said Weaver, whose union has said it plans to sue the Bush administration over lack of funding for demands included in the “No Child Left Behind” schools law.

Paige said later in an Associated Press interview that his comment was “a bad joke; it was an inappropriate choice of words.” President Bush was not present at the time he made the remark.

“As one who grew up on the receiving end of insensitive remarks, I should have chosen my words better,” said Paige, the first black education secretary.

What an utter moron. That’s also possibly the lamest use of the “just a joke” defense I’ve ever heard. Here’s a hint for the future: Try your jokes out before a sympathetic test audience before going on the road with them. Anything that makes these people flinch or recoil should be immediately dropped.

I was going to write a long indignant rant about how using the word “terrorist” indiscriminantly strips it of all meaning, but honestly, is there anyone (besides Paige) who doesn’t already know this? Haven’t we all been inundated with the same sort of rant about terms like “Nazi” and “fascist” these past few years? You know what I’m saying, so I’ll spare you the verbiage.

I just have one question: How long will it be before President Bush declares Rod Paige a “tolerant person” and never speaks of the matter again?

There’s recruiting and then there’s recruiting

Buried near the bottom of this rather pedestrian story about sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ stuff on the Bigtime College Athletics Recruiting Trail is a fairly sensible suggestion, made by UT Coach Mack Brown.

UT and A&M are in unusual positions in terms of recruiting because so many of their signees commit before their official visit, so the “selling” of the university has been done.

And with most of the players signing with the schools being from the state, the majority of them bring parents or guardians on their visits.

“You get better behavior from a guy when mama and daddy are in town with him,” Brown said. “In fact, I wish the NCAA would look at (allowing schools to pay for) parents’ visits. That would help when you bring in out-of-state kids.”

Hard to argue with that. I think the NCAA would do well to at least consider the suggestion.

Way more interesting was this companion article about an enduring anachronism, the all-female “hostess” squads that meet up with recruits during their visits.

At most schools, the moment a high school recruit arrives on campus or at the local airport, he is welcomed by a hostess from the groups of all-female students. (Reportedly, these days a few campuses around the country have male members, but none are in Texas.)

At Texas A&M, they are known as Aggie Hostesses. Texas calls them the Texas Angels. Texas Tech’s are the Raider Recruiters. Baylor has the Baylor Gold. Houston has the Cougar Cruiters. The Eagle Angels are at North Texas, and the Purple Hearts at TCU.

Legends in coaching like UT’s Darrell Royal and UH’s Bill Yeoman have said how valuable the Angels and Cruiters were to their programs in the 1960s and ’70s.

Baylor’s football media guide describes the Gold as “vital to the football program and the whole recruiting process.” Tech’s guide says the Raiders Recruiters are “the backbone of Texas Tech’s recruiting efforts.”

They are attractive, outgoing and at many schools, not necessarily representative of the makeup of the overall student body. UT’s 2003 football media guide has photographs of 37 Texas Angels, with as many as 14 who appear to be black (37.8 percent), compared to the black student population of 3.2 percent in 2002.

These are not the average girls on campus — any campus — but the groups are adamant that they are not there to use their sexuality to entice high school recruits.

“They are outgoing, charming ladies,” Dana Butterfield, a Colorado athletic department employee who oversees the Ambassadors program, told the Denver Post. “I think they have a flirtatious nature with anyone. I don’t think they turn on the sexiness for recruits.”

Organization leaders in Texas dismissed flirtation or anything like it as part of their duties.

“Using them as anything in that way is not what our organization is all about,” said Lacey Glenewinkel, a member of the A&M football support staff and sponsor of the Aggie Hostesses. “They’re here to meet with the recruits and so they have one more person on campus for the recruit to talk to and know.

“I don’t feel like what has happened at Colorado reflects on our organization.”

[…]

While the NCAA rules do not mention sexual relationships, most of the organizations have rules that call for dismissal of women who become involved with recruits.

“These are some exceptional young ladies who are there to help the families feel more comfortable,” UT recruiting coordinator Michael Haywood said. “The mothers love ’em. They are able to answer questions that we can’t answer because they live on campus and deal with college life every day.

“(Sex) is not even a thought. We have young ladies with great character that are pursuing careers and degrees. We haven’t had any issues in that area. And I don’t know any organization in the country that uses those young ladies for that purpose.”

OK, I think we’ve all got the message there. There are just so many things I never knew about, coming from a Division III school.

Making BlogAds work for future candidates

You’ve probably seen the Wired article on BlogAds and their role in helping Ben Chandler get elected to Congress by now. It’s good coverage of the story and provides a good view from inside the Chandler campaign of the ads’ impact. The big question, mentioned in the article, is now that a bunch of other candidates are running blog ads, will anyone come close to replicating Chandler’s success with them?

I think it’s pretty clear that no one will duplicate the kind of 40-fold immediate return on the investment that Chandler got, mostly because no one will ever duplicate the perfect storm of Chandler’s candidacy – special election, winnable race, pickup opportunity on the other guy’s turf, easy to see that your contribution really did have an effect, and so on. Fortunately, given the relative inexpense of BlogAds, pretty much any decent candidate can and should be able to recoup his or her investment several times over, though it may take longer to get that kind of return.

I think there’s a simple key to making this a viable long-term strategy for candidates, and that’s to grow the audience. As I noted before, the total receptive readership for these ads is in the 100,000 to 200,000 range, depending on how much overlap there is among the most popular blogs. That’s a pretty shallow well to tap into, and it won’t take more than a handful of candidates busking there to dry it out.

The good news, though, is that the size of the audience now is tiny compared to its potential size. Simon Rosenberg notes that nearly 50 million people will vote Democratic in 2004, so there’s a huge amount of room to expand. This is where the establishment, by which I mean the DNC, the DSCC, and the DCCC, can return the favor and help the bloggers by working to bring more readers into the fold.

How to do that isn’t any great mystery. What I want to see these guys do is to mention blogs – their blogs, other like-minded blogs, whatever – at every opportunity. I want them to put their blog URLs on their letterheads and in their email sigs. They should mention them every time they speak to someone, and make sure every candidate they work with knows them and is strongly encouraged to do the same. While they’re at it, start talking to state party organizations and get them to make like the Yellow Dogs, and have them push down to the county level from there. It’s just good old-fashioned networking, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that a group of paid political consultants/advisors/whatnot ought to excel at.

By raising awareness of their own efforts in cyberspace, they’ll naturally help point some new eyeballs at the quadrumvirate of Atrios, Kos, Calpundit, and Josh Marshall, which in turn should help the rest of us downstream from there. A very realistic goal should be to double each one of these guys’ daily hit counts by November, and in doing so, they’ll have a bigger group of potential responders to those blog ads that we’ll never get away from now. It’s a clearcut win-win.

I should note that in talking up blogs, it’s important to help people realize how they’re different from standard online-brochure political sites. Atrios says it well here.

What the Dean campaign tapped into was a bunch of people who wanted to feel personally invested in a campaign, but hadn’t found any way to do that. Too many state and local parties are completely ossified and don’t return calls by people offering to volunteer, and are often run by people who don’t seem to want any new blood interfering with their little fiefdoms. Between impeachment, Florida, and the Bush administration there are a lot of people new people who decided they wanted to become “involved” but didn’t know how. The internet allows a small degree of personal involvement by a large number of people, and they’re grateful for candidates who let them feel involved.

[…]

Look, a lot of the internet “personal involvement” is an illusion – and most people know that. Nobody ever thought Howard Dean read through thousands of comments on his weblog, but it nonetheless allowed them to feel they had a wee personal connection to the campaign, and that’s all that mattered. The truth is, I think it’s relatively easy for a campaign to tap into that sentiment, though not all campaigns will be comfortable doing that – and nor should they try. Blog readers are not your “typical voter” or your “typical Democrat,” and not all campaigns/candidates are necessarily well-suited for trying to tap into that particular vibe. But, some are and with a little creativity and not too much effort they might be able to get the little extra money/attention they need to put them over the line in November.

It is about making people feel a little more connected, a little more involved, a little more listened to. There’s a community aspect to blogging in general and to certain specific blogs in particular (Kos especially). Feeling like you’ve found a community of people like yourself and becoming a part of it is hugely desireable to many, many people. That’s what we’re aiming for here, and the rewards for getting there will greatly outstrip the cost.

UPDATE: Atrios adds on, and the DCCC shows that it is listening. Good!

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a WiFi-enabled bus

This is downright cool – it’s a project to bring Internet access to remote locations by means of solar power, wireless access points, and data transmissions via buses or motorcycles. Here’s a press release from one of their projects in Cambodia.

BANLUNG, Ratanakiri, Cambodia, September 1, 2003. A project launched today in one of the world’s most remote regions, Ratanakiri in northeastern Cambodia, will bring e-mail to 13 villages that have no telecommunications and can mostly be reached only by motorbike or ox-cart.

These villages have no water, electricity, phones, cell phone access nor television or newspaper delivery. They are far from health centers. Per capita annual income is under $40. But they now have e-mail.

At these villages’ new schools which are equipped with solar panels on the roof to provide sufficient energy to run a computer for six hours, there is now an e-mail link via a motorcycle delivery system.

Early every morning, five Honda motorcycles leave the hub in the provincial capitol of Banlung where a satellite dish, donated by Shin Satellite, links the provincial hospital and a special skills school to the Internet for telemedicine and computer training. The moto drivers equipped with a small box and antenna at the rear of their vehicle, that downloads and delivers e-mail through
a wi-fi (wireless) card, begin the day by collecting the e-mail from the hub’s dish, which takes just a few seconds.

Then, as they pass each school and one health center, they transmit the messages they downloaded and retrieve any outgoing mail queued in the school or health center computer that is also equipped with a similar book-sized transmission box, and go on to the next school. At the end of the day they return to the hub to transmit all the collected e-mail to the Internet for any point on the globe.

Each school also has a computer and e-mail-trained young teacher graduated from the Future Light Orphanage in Phnom Penh, including four women, who are the village computer teacher and e-mail postmaster. The children in the village are being trained to take over this function in a couple of years.

You may wonder what good this will do for a village that has no water, electricity, or phones. Well, I’ll tell you.

Children in the school are able to communicate with their donors overseas and tell them what they need for their school and studies; they can also communicate with other children in other villages via attachments typed in the Khmer font; teachers can send and receive reports and directives from the ministry of education; the village health worker can report instances of illness and send digital photos of such patients to obtain guidance from the provincial referral hospital and beyond from the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope in Phnom Penh and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in the U.S. which is already linked into a telemedicine program with the provincial hospital; any villager can send a message or grievance directly to the governor who has such an e-mail unit in his office and welcomes village communications to which he has pledged to respond. Newspapers can transmit their pages to the villages; villagers can announce their handicraft products and order goods from the market. Many other uses of this system will be developed by the villagers themselves.

Like I said, pretty doggone cool – the friend who emailed this to me said “think UUCP, but with cars instead of modems”. Cheap, too – check the specs and ordering info. Nice to know that it is possible to actually make the world a better place, isn’t it?

Fill ‘er up!

My, my. The TRMPAC scandal investigation continues to expand, as Travis County DA Ronnie Earle’s office sends out dozens of subpoenas over the next few days.

Nine subpoenas were officially filed Friday. They went to House Speaker Tom Craddick and eight other people, including six Republican House members.

The subpoenas seek documents related to the 2002 speaker’s race, which ended in 2003 with Craddick becoming the first Republican speaker since Reconstruction.

[…]

The subpoenas went to Craddick and six of his top lieutenants: Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple; Kent Grusendorf of Arlington; Phil King of Weatherford; Mike Krusee of Round Rock; Arlene Wohlgemuth of Burleson; and Beverly Woolley of Houston; all Republicans. Another went to Bill Ceverha, a former state representative and treasurer for the Republican majority group.

They were ordered to produce pledge cards — which speaker candidates and their allies typically collect from House members during a race — and any e-mails or other correspondence related to the speaker’s race. The documents are supposed to be delivered to the grand jury Feb. 26.

Beverly Wooley will wake up today to see a front page story about her fundraising activities on behalf of TRM.

Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, swept through [Reliant Energy’s] Houston corporate offices on Sept. 9, 2002, raising money for targeted House races as well as for Texans for a Republican Majority, according to an itinerary of her travel obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

Notes on her itinerary indicate she spoke to some donors about what types of legislation they would like.

[…]

Notations on Woolley’s itinerary indicate that one energy executive said property taxes are “outrageous” and another energy executive wanted to take the “volatility out” of “severance tax policy.” A banker who agreed to make $22,000 in donations directly to TRM-sponsored candidates wanted “to clean up home equity lending.”

For financier Charles Hurwitz, it was noted he had an interest in improving the Texas horse racing industry, which he helped sponsor. The note said he had “retained (lobbyist) Elton Bomer — Talked to (lobbyist Michael) Toomey.”

At the time, Bomer was a horse racing lobbyist and Toomey was a lobbyist for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. TLR was one of five organizations targeting Republican House races.

[…]

A hand-written note on the itinerary called the trip a “36Kday + 25 Reliant.” That meant $36,000 raised directly for candidates plus $25,000 in corporate money from Reliant.

The donation to TRM was made by then-Reliant Senior Vice President Bruce Gibson. Gibson now is chief of staff for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Gibson said he remembers meeting with Woolley but nothing that was discussed. Gibson said it was not unusual at the time for political organizations to seek corporate “soft money” to finance state and federal campaign funds.

“There were all kinds of soft-money accounts. I got hit hard,” Gibson said. “They usually were not involved in races. They were for other expenses.”

According to the itinerary, Woolley spent the rest of the day raising money directly for specific House candidates from Houston executives on behalf of TRM.

Woolley went on to be named the chairman of the House Calendar Committee, which is the panel that decides which bills to debate on the House floor. Not that this will stop anyone from attempting the lame “no quid pro quo” defense. Who would ever stoop so low as to think that the person in charge of prioritizing legislation might remember who handed her an envelope full of unmarked bills along with a word in her ear about severance tax policy? The very idea is just so tacky.

The grand jury gets to pore over these documents on February 26. Mark it on your calendar.