• Now some fresh pickings from the Political Grapevine:

    Pet Projects

    Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul — who is campaigning as a critic of congressional overspending — has revealed that he is requesting $400 million worth of earmarks this year.

    The Wall Street Journal reports Paul's office says those requests include $8 million for the marketing of wild American shrimp and $2.3 million to pay for research into shrimp fishing.

    A spokesman says, "Reducing earmarks does not reduce government spending, and it does not prohibit spending upon those things that are earmarked. What people who push earmark reform are doing is they are particularly misleading the public — and I have to presume it's not by accident."

    Financial Penalty?

    The conservative group Young America's Foundation is trying to get the government to take away $80 million in federal funding for the University of California at Santa Cruz because the school allowed students and faculty to harass military recruiters and essentially forced them off campus.

    The YAF is suing Defense Secretary Robert Gates seeking to compel him to enforce what's called the Solomon Amendment, which requires colleges to allow military recruiters access to their campuses to be eligible for federal aid.

    Cybercast News reports the recruiters were subjected to protests, shouts and physical harassment during job fairs in 2005 and 2006 and elected not to go in 2007. The school denies any wrongdoing.

    Burning Issue

    There is an urgent need for firefighters in the West to battle about two dozen major wildfires.

    TheDenverChannel.com reports many of the new recruits are Hispanics who speak only Spanish. That means that some of the supervisors who speak only English are being laid off or demoted. In Oregon, a crew boss is required to be able to speak the language of the firefighters — even if it's only one worker on a 20-person crew. The state says the rule is necessary for safety reasons.

    So why not require the workers to speak English? The state has no clear answer.

    Liberal Outrage

    Actor Sean Penn's recent trip to Venezuela to pal around with President Hugo Chavez has even some Hollywood liberals upset.

    Columnist Bill Zwecker of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that one major producer who asked not to be identified — and who is a big liberal and Democratic supporter — said, "It's no secret that Sean is very left-wing, even in a town where liberal or even radical politics have long been common. But as much as many people here despise President Bush, a lot of us think this trip to Venezuela by Penn was wrong. Danny Glover did it too... It isn't the proper thing and only gives ammunition to conservatives who like to point to Hollywood as being anti-American."

    —FOX News Channel's Martin Hill contributed to this report.