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New Poll: Obama Inspirational But Can't Win

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 11:29 AM EDT

A new Washington Post poll today has a few interesting nuggets that help answer that nagging question of the current presidential campaign: "What happened to Obama?"

Buried deep in the data is a question about which presidential candidate has the best chance of winning the White House next year. Hillary Clinton stomps on all the closest rivals, with 57 percent of the poll respondents favoring her. What's interesting, though, is that the runner up, with 20 percent, is John Edwards. Perhaps this is to be expected. After all, he's run before. But given his fundraising prowess and media prominence, it's surprising to see that Obama comes in a distant third in this category, at 16 percent. By comparison, 37 percent of those polled thought Obama was the most inspirational candidate, compared with 41 percent for Clinton and only 14 percent for Edwards.

Obama's poor showing in the polls on the electability question is probably fatal. People obviously love Obama, but don't think he can win in '08. The Post doesn't ask why people believe that, but it's hard to imagine that race isn't a big factor. It's not that Democrats won't vote for an African-American, but that they don't believe Republicans will.

One question the poll can't answer: If Obama can't win, why are so many people giving him money?

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Rush Limbaugh Compares Anti-War Vet to Suicide Bomber

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 10:52 AM EDT

It might be time for Rush Limbaugh to shut up. After he called active duty members of the armed forces who criticize the Iraq War "phony soldiers," an organization of veterans called VoteVets released an ad starring an injured Iraq veteran who told Rush, "Until you have the guts to call me a 'phony soldier' to my face, stop telling lies about my service." (See the ad here.)

Limbaugh's response was to make the situation worse by comparing the vet to a suicide bomber. And here's the final twist: the veteran revealed in a post at Daily Kos that the traumatic brain injury he suffered in Iraq was actually caused by a suicide attack.

Rush, stop digging.

Maybe The Lawyers Should Have Gone on Oprah

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 10:35 AM EDT

Author James Frey got more than just a tongue lashing from Oprah after his memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was exposed as a fraud. Disgruntled book buyers also filed a class action against Frey and his publisher asking for a refund. The case settled and Frey and Random House agreed to pay up to $2.35 million to people who got duped into buying the book.

Frey and his publisher, though, must be breathing sighs of relief. The Smoking Gun reports than despite newspaper ads urging people to claim their refunds, only about 1300 of the 4 million people who bought the book actually did, meaning that damage to Frey and Random House will be far smaller than expected. (And in case you were thinking about filing a claim now, it's too late. The deadline was Monday.) Clearly the lawyers haven't noticed that no one reads newspapers anymore. Now if they'd put the ads on say, Craigslist...

Afghanistan Seeing Most Violent Year Since 2001: Does Anyone Care?

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 10:35 AM EDT

Here at Mother Jones we've tried to draw some attention to the fact that Afghanistan is going horribly, horribly wrong right under our noses. Peter Bergen tracked the Iraqization of Afghanistan, Kevin Patterson poignantly illustrated the lack of adequate frontline medicine in that country, and Lana Slezic documented the awful plight of women there in a series of beautiful photographs.

But it doesn't seem to be working. Afghanistan is currently enduring its most violent year since the 2001 intervention, according to the U.N. Department of Safety and Security, and few members of the American press seem to care.

Thankfully, McClatchy has been paying attention, at least. Here's excerpts from their reporting:

There were 525 security incidents — attacks by the Taliban and other violent groups, bombings, terrorism of other kinds, and abductions — on average every month during the first half of this year, up from an average of 425 incidents per month in 2006.
[snip]
Guerrillas have been staging fewer conventional attacks on U.S.-led NATO forces and Afghan troops and relying more heavily on suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices, assassinations, intimidation and abductions.

Sound like any place you know?

I have no idea why the Democratic leadership in Congress and the Democratic presidential candidates don't shove this information in the faces of American voters. It serves, from my point of view, as a pretty persuasive argument for redeployment out of Iraq. But then, maybe they are afraid that voters weary of one Middle Eastern conflict don't want to see troops thrown right into another one. Even if it's one we still have a chance to win.

Vladimir Putin in Charge for Life - Someway, Somehow

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 10:15 AM EDT

You've probably heard by now that Vladimir Putin has an interesting solution to being term-limited out of the Russian presidency — become Prime Minister.

Here's an explanation from Slate:

For the past 15 years, [the Prime Ministerial post] has gone to figureheads, technocrats, and relatively unknown economists, some very young. Presidents Yeltsin and Putin both hired and fired prime ministers at will: Russia has thus had 10 prime ministers in the past 10 years, many of them unknown to the general public.
There is, however, nothing in the Russian Constitution that prevents the Russian prime minister from becoming the de facto leader of the country—if the president doesn't object. And if the president is going to be Victor Zubkov, or some other figurehead from Putin's secret inner circle, presumably he won't object. Or he'll be paid not to object. Or he'll be blackmailed not to object. Or he'll deem it in the best interests of his own personal safety not to object. Thus Putin can go on ruling Russia, presumably indefinitely.
It's quite a neat trick, if you think about it: It's as if George W. Bush decided to step down from office, run for Congress in 2008, declare himself speaker of the House, and declare that the speaker of the House would, from then on, take over the president's responsibilities, and run the executive branch. We would call that a de facto coup d'etat. In Russia, it's constitutional politics.

And the Russians don't really seem to mind. Witness this quote from an ABC News story: "What would you expect? He's a fit man of only 55, raised the country from ruin to prosperity," said Rita Aliyev, a teacher. "It never crossed my mind that he'd retire. It's great that at least he's now looking for a democratic way to stay in power."

Putin's approval rating is at 77 percent, ruling out the possibility of Dick Cheney trying this ploy.

Does the Virtual World Need Virtual Lawsuits?

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 10:14 AM EDT

A Pennsylvania lawyer has sued the creator of the online virtual universe Second Life after the company banned him from the game and confiscated his virtual winnings. Apparently he'd been cheating in the game's land-auction process. The lawyer is asking for $8,000 in restitution. Maybe the game needs to be expanded to include "virtual litigation," complete with jury pools and subpoena power...

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New Evidence: Republicans Losing Key Chunk of Their Base

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 9:54 AM EDT

Put this in the Schauenfreude department:

The Republican Party, known since the late 19th century as the party of business, is losing its lock on that title.
New evidence suggests a potentially historic shift in the Republican Party's identity -- what strategists call its "brand." The votes of many disgruntled fiscal conservatives and other lapsed Republicans are now up for grabs, which could alter U.S. politics in the 2008 elections and beyond.
Some business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don't share. In manufacturing sectors such as the auto industry, some Republicans want direct government help with soaring health-care costs, which Republicans in Washington have been reluctant to provide. And some business people want more government action on global warming, arguing that a bolder plan is not only inevitable, but could spur new industries.

In addition to citing several major long-time GOP donors who are now supporting Democrats, the WSJ has numbers: "In the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in September, 37% of professionals and managers identify themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, down from 44% three years ago."

And, "Hedge funds last year gave 77% of their contributions in congressional races to Democrats, up from 71% during the 2004 election... Last year the securities industry gave 45% of its money to Republicans, down from 58% in 1996."

The end result of all this is a near-bankruptcy for the party that is going to seriously hamper its national campaign efforts. It's amazing they could screw things up this badly just seven years after taking the White House and five years after taking Congress.

Mellencamp Sings the News

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 10:20 PM EDT
mellencamp.gif

With a career making songs about the working class and rural America, country/folk/pop singer John (Cougar) Mellencamp has similarities to Woody Guthrie, a guy who, in 1941 was singing for Dust Bowl refugees. Mellencamp even received the 2003 Woody Guthrie Award for "exemplifying the ideals" of the man. In his newest song, "Jena," Mellencamp appears to be embodying his hero's ideals again.

"Jena" is a quiet, restrained folk song written about the Jena 6, a group of six black teenagers that were arrested in December after an attack on a white student in Jena, La. Racial tensions have since flared.

The song is one of nearly 20 that Mellencamp recorded in August for a new album with T Bone Burnett that currently has no title, no label, and no release date, according to his publicist. But Bay Area folks might get lucky and hear "Jena" performed live this week when Mellencamp sits in with Burnett at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

A Huffington Post blogger suggests that Mellencamp take his politics to the next level and run for governor of his home state of Indiana. Um, I'm thinking Woody Guthrie would say stick with the guitar, sir.

Ozone Shuts Down Immune Response

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 9:42 PM EDT

We already know that exposure to ozone, a major component of urban air pollution, increases cardiovascular and pulmonary hospitalizations, and deaths. Now Duke University Medical Center finds that inhaled pollutants impair the immune system, making mice, at least, more susceptible to subsequent foreign invaders, such as bacteria. This just as the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the standards for levels of ozone in the air. The current standard is 85 parts per billion. Many medical groups, including the American Thoracic Society, recommend a stricter standard of 60 parts per billion.

(BTW, have I mentioned that we should build a memorial the size of Kansas to all the lab rodents who've unwilling sacrificed themselves so you and I can get fat, do no exercise, make pollution, and still live to 90? I'm thinking a giant white, faux Swiss cheese rat, inscribed with the names all the little lab pets were never given. You and I can write them in with Sharpies.)

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Acid Rain Recovery Falls Far Short Of Expectations

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 9:24 PM EDT

Thought we were done with this problem? A new study from Britain finds that the acid rain pollution of the 1970s and 1980s is still largely with us. Action taken over the last 20 years across Europe to clean up acid pollutants (from power generation and industry) in rivers has fallen far short of expectations. Apparently the problem is more stubborn than we'd imagined (read why it's even more stubborn in the U.S). Recent studies in Galloway, the Scottish Highlands and Wales reveal that many streams are still highly acidified. Biological recovery has been particularly poor, with more than two thirds of all streams sampled still acid enough during high flow to cause biological damage, and with metals at toxic concentrations. . . Oops. Further proof that the not-paying-attention thing never really works.—Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.