It's colossal, it's stupendous: the upcoming Republican National Convention is expected to draw 50,000 election-minded revelers to Tampa, where the eager city council has just opted to allow local bars to remain open until an unheard-of 3 a.m. during the four-day extravaganza at the end of August. The council also approved $829,000 for new police equipment — gas masks, mostly — a phenomenon that disturbed councilwoman Mary Mulhern, who says it did not set "a great tone for our expectations for the convention."
Yeah, well. Protesters are expected. The city blocks around the convention site are now being called "The Event Zone" by officials charged with keeping order. Meanwhile, all the ballyhoo has attracted the entrepreneurial attention of the city's neighbors, who would like to skim off a few GOPers for themselves.
"If you plan on attending the historically groundbreaking Republican National Convention this summer, I encourage you to take some time to escape the congressional chaos and experience nearby St. Petersburg and Clearwater," suggests a marketing spokeswoman for the two cities. Among the suggested sites for weary Republicans: the Salvador Dali Museum, kite boarding in the waters off Fort De Soto Park and sunrise yoga at the Sandpearl Spa.
Republicans are getting showbiz treatment for the big presidential event in the meantime. The 670,000-square foot Tampa Bay Times Forum has been refitted with 20,000 new theater-style seats; there's special lighting to enhance high-definition TV broadcasts, new eateries and an outdoor deck created to "offer unobstructed views of the city's dazzling nighttime skyline," the Republican National Committee says.
Sen. Tom Coburn is unhappy with the glitz, given public reaction to the General Services Administration's recent $850,000 taxpayer-funded romp in Las Vegas. The Oklahoma Republican has asked both the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee to return the $17.7 million each received from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to help procure such things as entertainment, catering, transportation, hotel costs and candidate biographical films.
The lawmaker has good timing. The Office of Management and Budget has just issued new policies for federal agency conferences that directs senior officials to review and approve spending for any event that costs more than $100,000.
"Can we agree once and for all the party is over when it comes to travel and meetings paid for by the taxpayers?" a stern Mr. Coburn says in an open letter to Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus .
"To demonstrate that both of our parties are committed to fiscal discipline, it would be a great act of statesmanship to return these funds," he suggests.
RUSH TO JUDGMENT
Irate feminists continue to protest the presence of talk radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh on the airwaves. This very weekend, the National Organization for Women has planned rallies outside three radio stations that carry his syndicated show, including WMAL in the nation's capital. Mr. Limbaugh is still among the top-20 "most powerful celebrities" in annual rankings issued by Forbes magazine, however. He is, in fact, No. 19 on the 100-person list — flanked by Tyler Perry at 20 and Simon Cowell at 19.
"Think Limbaugh is mellowing after 40 years on the radio? Fat chance. The conservative host demonstrated both his impact on culture and his intemperance with his attacks on a female law student and birth-control advocate. The resulting boycott by many advertisers didn't have much of an immediate financial impact," Forbes notes.
BEWARE THE PHA
Don't get nervous, now. NASA has quantified how many "potentially hazardous asteroids" — that's "PHAs" in space lingo — could one day hit Earth. The federal agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer spacecraft reveals that 4,700 PHAs with diameters larger than 330 feet hurtle along within five million miles of our planet. And holy moly. They're big enough to pass through the atmosphere and "cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale," NASA says.
But hey. We can always land on them. Or just have another martini.
"We've many more to find, and it will take a concerted effort during the next couple of decades to find all of them that could do serious damage or be a mission destination in the future," observes Lindley Johnson, program executive for NASA's Near-Earth Object Observation Program.
A RUBIO MOMENT
"I think the U.S. government's decision to grant the daughter of Raul Castro a visa to come to the United States and spread the propaganda of her father's regime is outrageous and an enormous mistake. It sends a terrible message to the democratic movement in Cuba, to those brave people in Cuba who every single day resist and speak out against the tyranny of the Castro brothers. Meanwhile, we are granting a visa to his daughter, who is...an arm of his regime, an outspoken supporter, and she is coming to the United States to spread their anti-American propaganda."
(Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, on the decision to grant a visa to Mariela Castro, who arrives in the U.S. next week to chair a panel on sexual diversity at a Latin American Studies Association conference).
POLL DU JOUR
• 82 percent of Americans say it will be harder for young people to find a job than it was for their parents.
• 75 percent do not think that college costs in general are "affordable"; 22 percent disagree.
• 57 percent say the higher education system in the U.S. fails to provide students with "good value" for the money they spend.
• 35 percent say the system provides "good" value, 5 percent "excellent" value.
• 48 percent say students and families should pay for most college costs.
• 30 percent say federal and state governments should pay the costs, 11 percent say both should pay.
Source: A Pew Research Center analysis of a survey of 2,142 U.S. adults conducted March 15 to 29; the analysis was released Thursday.
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