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Donald Rumsfeld, Responsible for Yet Another Blunder

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 11:24 AM EDT

Sometimes I can't believe Donald Rumsfeld (a very committed liar, by the way) was ever in a position of power. At almost every opportunity, he showed himself to be petty, incompetent, and completely lacking in perspective. He showed those qualities most blatantly when dealing with the State Department, an entity the folks at Defense saw as an enemy.

Instead of using State's planning for post-war Iraq, the DOD ignored it. Instead of using State's long-time Middle East experts, the DOD shunned them. And we now know that instead of protecting State's diplomats that were trying to put Iraq back together, the DOD hung them out to dry, and in so doing, gave rise to Blackwater. From the Post:

The next year, as the United States prepared to return sovereignty to the Iraqis and the State Department began planning an embassy in Baghdad, Rumsfeld lost a bid to retain control over the full U.S. effort, including billions of dollars in reconstruction funds. A new executive order, signed in January 2004, gave State authority over all but military operations. Rumsfeld's revenge, at least in the view of many State officials, was to withdraw all but minimal assistance for diplomatic security.
"It was the view of Donald Rumsfeld and [then-Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz that this wasn't their problem," said a former senior State Department official. Meetings to negotiate an official memorandum of understanding between State and Defense during the spring of 2004 broke up in shouting matches over issues such as their respective levels of patriotism and whether the military would provide mortuary services for slain diplomats. […]
State chose the most expedient solution: Take over the Pentagon's personal security contract with Blackwater and extend it for a year.

(H/T Think Progress)

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Family Research Council Straw Poll Results: Romney and Huckabee Tie for First Place

| Sat Oct. 20, 2007 4:02 PM EDT

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This is big. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's tie for first place here at the Family Research Council's Washington Briefing (aka the "Voters Value Summit") should mark his emergence. It's not clear he's a first tier candidate just yet, but he has the heart of the Christian evangelicals, and that's a great base if you're seeking the GOP nod. Here are the results in full:

Mitt Romney: 1,595 (27.6%)
Mike Huckabee: 1,565 (27.1%)
Ron Paul: 865 (15.0%)
Fred Thompson: 564 (9.8%)
Sam Brownback: 297 (5.1%)
Duncan Hunter: 140 (2.4%)
Tom Tancredo: 133 (2.3%)
Rudy Giuliani: 107 (1.85%)
John McCain: 81 (1.4%)

Total votes: 5,776

Other notes, some quite stunning:

- Mike Huckabee crushed all other contenders amongst those voters who submitted their votes on-site. (FRC members have been able to vote online since August.) A whopping 51.3 percent of on-site voters pulled the lever for Huckabee, which reflects the enthusiasm that greeted his speech earlier today. Romney only got 10.4 percent of on-site votes. Fred Thompson placed third, with 8.1 percent.

- Ron Paul's third place finish puts him ahead of frontrunners Thompson, Giuliani, and McCain, but it is a product of his strength on the internet. Paul's speech had a lot of content (on the economy, on foreign policy) that was out of style during a weekend filled almost exclusively with talk of abortion, family issues, and gay rights. He took just 25 votes from on-site voters; that's 2.6 percent. The rest of his votes came online.

- The poll also asked respondents who would be "least acceptable" as president. Hillary Clinton ran away with that one. She took 71.7 percent of all votes. Second, amazingly, was Rudy Giuliani, with 9.2 percent.

- John McCain and Rudy Giuliani couldn't break two percent, which is pretty pathetic. Giuliani has a reason: he's pro-choice and multiple evangelical leaders, including Tony Perkins, president of FRC, have said they refuse to vote for a pro-choice candidate. John McCain, on the other hand, has no excuse for becoming persona non grata. Miserable weekend for the Arizona senator.

You can find MoJoBlog's summary of Huckabee's speech here; the summary of Romney's is here. Sam Brownback would have been a strong contender in this straw poll had he not dropped out; my Brownback experience from yesterday is here.

Huckabee Fever: Catch It!

| Sat Oct. 20, 2007 12:10 PM EDT

MikeHuckabeehomeboy.jpg Mike Huckabee is the closest thing to a rock star here at the FRC's WB. He is the only candidate who actually comes from the evangelical community. (That's actually a Huckabee talking point, but it's true. He's a former Baptist minister, after all.) As I've mentioned before, Huckabee is making a strong pitch for the Brownback votes. His main competitor, Mitt Romney, spoke yesterday.

Huckabee's speech today had an anger and ferocity to it that is well outside the conventional wisdom on Huckabee. The guy who is commonly described as easygoing, warm, and funny seemed seriously pissed that the "holy word of God" is being violated, according to Huckabee, on abortion and on gay marriage. He emphasized that America needs to "make it constitutionally clear that life begins at conception" in order to end the "holocaust of liberalized abortion." Yikes.

He also railed against candidates who "lip sync" the hymnals of the evangelical Right. You listening, Rudy? And he raged against candidates who have more positions on the core issues than "Elvis had waist sizes." You listening, Romney?

After a sea of biblical stories, Huckabee had this core point to make: "I do not spell G-O-D as G-O-P. Our party may be important, but not as important as our principles." He urged the attendees not to conflate their loyalty to their Christian values with their loyalty to the party that most frequently represents them. If the Republican Party doesn't speak for the Christian Right, said Huckabee, stand up, do something, stay true. (When I heard that, all I could think was, "Let's go third party!")

The crowd ate it up. Can Giuliani win this nomination without the evangelical vote? Can Huckabee win it without anything else?

Photo courtesy of mikehuckabeeismyhomeboy.com.

Latino Head of RNC Resigns in Frustration

| Sat Oct. 20, 2007 11:33 AM EDT

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Hispanics were supposed to be a key part of Karl Rove's permanent Republican majority. The comprehensive immigration reform plan pushed by President Bush was both the product of the president's immigrant-friendly views and Karl Rove's belief that allowing Hispanic immigrants a path to citizenship would lead thousands of those immigrants (and their kids) into the arms of the GOP. Instead, the issue of immigration has been so bungled by the GOP (and so captured by the rabid anti-immigrant portion of the party's base) that Mel Martinez, the Cuban-born senator from Florida, is resigning his post as head of the RNC.

Rudy Giuliani's Appearance Before the Value Voters: A Mixed Bag

| Sat Oct. 20, 2007 9:58 AM EDT

rudy_giuliani_drag.jpg Rudy Giuliani just faced his toughest crowd of the campaign to date. After some waffling early in the campaign, Giuliani has been honest about his pro-choice and pro-gay rights beliefs. In so doing, he's written off the folks who are likely to attend the Family Research Council's Washington Briefing (aka the Value Voters Summit).

So how did Rudy handle the situation? Unimpressively. He spent as much time apologizing for not pandering to the crowd on abortion and gay rights as he did making the case for why he ought to be the next president of the United States. Let's dig in.

Rudy started by saying, "I've come here to speak to you about our shared values and our shared goals. What unites us is far greater than what divides us." Any suspicion that he would ignore the tension between his positions and the crowd's by raving about "Islamic fascism" went out the window immediately.

Early in the speech, he said, "Christians and Christianity are all about inclusiveness." He went on to explain the early Christians drew people to the faith by accepting doubters, sinners, and outcasts. There are two reasons why this is a dicey line of rhetoric. First, Rudy explaining Christian history to some of America's most devout Christians is kind of insane. In addition to sounding unauthentic, he had no room for error. Second, it's unclear if he was trying to say that the crowd here ought to accept him (as a candidate that doesn't "check their boxes"), or that the crowd here ought to accept gays, immigrants, and other folks that these Christians don't like so much. Either way, he's telling these folks how to improve themselves, which is a bit presumptuous, no?

Giuliani explained that because he too often finds himself failing his moral and religious beliefs, he is reluctant to hold himself up as a model of faith. And that he comes from a background that keeps religion out of public life. Despite that, he said, "You have nothing to fear from me." That's a pretty stunning statement for any presidential candidate to make.

Few campaigns are won on the defensive, but that's where Rudy found himself. "Isn't it better that I tell you what I really believe," he said, "than to change all my positions to fit the prevailing wind?" It isn't leadership in any meaningful sense to pander, he explained, and so, if you'll forgive him, he's not going to pander to you. But don't write him off as a result. "Ronald Reagan said, 'My 80 percent friend is not my 100 percent enemy,'" Rudy pointed out. To rephrase that: "I know we don't agree 20 percent of the time, but please don't hate me as a result." The unspoken but universally acknowledged truth here is that the 20 percent on which Rudy and the crowd disagree are the 20 percent that are most important to the crowd.

Bear Stearns Traders Deserve Rogue Tag

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 9:14 PM EDT

In the competitive world of hedge funds, it's all about numbers, games, and strategy. But most recently, hedge funds seem to be about crisis. The risky investing by Bear Stearns rogue traders, which skirted established practices and hid true intent from investors, precipitated the global credit crisis and subprime mortgage collapse of late. It has affected families across America whose dream of buying a home came crashing down—entire blocks of towns and suburbs have emptied out.

But the scandal is hitting home for Bear Stearns executives as well. Co-Chief Operating Officer Warren Spector has been fired, and the reputation of the bank may never recover. Yet Ralph Cioffi, the trader who set up these funds, is still on the payroll as an adviser.

Cioffi was able to set up two hedge funds on an extremely shaky foundation because they were getting results. It was a structure that was doomed to crash in any minor downturn in the market, as it was leveraged to the hilt with almost eight times as much money borrowed against what was invested, including $275 million in capital from Barclays. This meant that Barclays had the power to pull its capital from the funds at any time, which would collapse the structure. On top of that, only one percent of the total investment was kept as reserve cash, compared to the usual ten percent that hedge funds keep around for emergencies.

The devastating results of rogue traders are compounded when they are not recognized as such. When they hide under the legitimacy of a major investment bank, the stakes are higher because they are seen as trustworthy and they have more resources at their disposal. If this crash is going to teach traders anything, it should be that their actions resonate beyond the world of the market, their bank, and themselves.

—Andre Sternberg

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That's Why It's Called the Nobel, Not the Noble

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 8:55 PM EDT

James Watson, a geneticist who won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA, was suspended this week from his position at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York state, after being quoted in the Times of London saying he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa," because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really."

Even if Watson, who seems believably mortified by his own words, is in fact a horrible bigot, he's far from the only award-winner to have a less-than-illustrious record. Consider Menachem Begin, who won the Peace Prize in 1978 for helping to negotiate the Camp David Accords and who went on, in the 1980s, to authorize Israel's invasion of Lebanon. And then there is the notorious Henry Kissinger, who received the prize in 1973 for his work on the Vietnam Peace Accords, and yet also orchestrated the secret carpet-bombing of Cambodia.

Perhaps this is all fitting somehow, considering that Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite.

Romney Makes His Pitch for the Values Voters: Family! Family! Family!

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 8:31 PM EDT

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It's Romney Time! The former Massachusetts governor takes the stage to a standing ovation here at the Washington Briefing. Let's go with a quasi-liveblog, shall we?

He starts hammering the family values message right from the beginning. With little prelude, he says, "I think those that know me would say that I am pro-family on every level, from the personal to the political." He then mentions his 45 children and 8,000 grandkids. Wait, it's more like five and 11. But it's high.

Romney is Mike Huckabee's top competitor for the free-floating Brownback votes. His gameplan for winning them: family, family, family. He's been speaking for fifteen minutes already, and it's been nothing but extolling the virtues of family. Apparently, the strength of America's families will determine our place in the "family of nations." (I could have sworn that had something to do with the military-industrial complex. But what do I know? I don't have 45 kids.) Also, "it really is time to make out-of-wedlock birth out of fashion again." So don't buy illegitimate kids for your fall wardrobe.

Que e Technobrega?

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 6:15 PM EDT

mojo-photo-tecnobrega.jpgToday's New York Times features an article on the northern Brazilian "tecnobrega" scene, and while the focus is the "piracy" and decentralized distribution model, they don't really talk about the music itself, which makes it seem like it must be almost unfathomably exotic. Well, in fact, the opposite is true: the whole point of brega is the cheesy accessibility, and the "tecno" prefix is a little misleading, since this is no, uh, 808 State. Actually, it sounds a lot like reggaeton, and the loping rhythm will be familiar to anyone who turns on the radio in LA (a kind of "boom-chicka-booom-chick"). I found a couple videos to check out after the jump.

Speeches of the Living Dead: Santorum, Blackwell, and Gingrich

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 6:01 PM EDT

It's a real horror show here at FRC's WB. Former senator Rick Santorum came out to slam Hillary Clinton on abortion, former Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell came out to jabber about civilization or ideas or something, and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich came out to talk about how Americans support certain things in massive majorities (prayer in schools, the pledge of allegiance, etc.) only be see their near-consensus on these issues overruled by the courts and the elites in Washington. Newt also selectively chose a bunch of historical facts to make it appear the Founders were strong supporters of faith in government. That's been debunked, fortunately.

Newt also thinks we're going to have a sea change in this country, because large swaths of the country can obviously see we're heading to hell in handbasket. I can't warn you about this conservative revolution because my brain is fried. Completely fried. I can hardly type.

And I still have Romney in two hours. Jesus.