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Obama and Clinton Camps Spar Over Trust, MI/FL Situation

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 2:58 PM EDT

Sometimes it feels like both campaigns have an endless supply of spin. On a conference call today with reporters, Obama campaign aides pushed a new Gallup polls that shows just 53 percent of Americans think Hillary Clinton is trustworthy. "To head into the general election with over half the electorate not thinking you're trustworthy is a problem," said Obama's surrogates. The campaign insisted that Clinton's campaign tactics only bolster her perceived distrustfulness. They cited her newly released First Lady schedules as evidence: The schedules show Clinton in meetings intended to sell NAFTA, seemingly contradicting current claims that she is a long-time opponent of the trade agreement.

The Clinton campaign had its own conference call a few minutes later and had responses ready. "The Obama campaign is in political hot water," said spokesman Phil Singer, referencing the ongoing controversy over Rev. Wright's sermons, "and is desperate to change the subject." The discussion about trustworthiness and the First Lady schedules is a "full assault on Senator Clinton's character," the Clinton campaign insisted. It pointed to the fact that David Gergen, who moderated one of the NAFTA meetings then-First Lady Clinton attended, has said recently "Hillary Clinton was extremely unenthusiastic about NAFTA. And I think that's putting it mildly." In response to the Gallup poll, chief strategist Mark Penn took care to point out that in poll after poll, Hillary Clinton is identified as the best potential commander-in-chief in the Democratic field. Clearly voters have some kind of trust in her, Penn argued.

And then there is the issue of Michigan and Florida.

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Inflation "Walloping" Everyday Americans

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 2:44 PM EDT

For those of you who don't get the WaPo delivered every day and didn't see this morning's front page:

Inflation is walloping Americans with low and moderate incomes as the prices of staples have soared far faster than those of luxuries.

Check it out, after the jump...

Christian Right Group: "Export Homosexuals"

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

The Uniting American Families Act would allow gay Americans the same right straight Americans have to sponsor a foreign partner for citizenship. The status quo, supporters argue, forces same-sex couples to leave the United States in favor of more gay-friendly countries. The right-wing Christian group Family Research Council has no problem with that. The thoughts of Peter Sprigg, FRC's Vice President for Policy:

"I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them into the United States because we believe homosexuality is destructive to society."

You stay classy, Christian Right. (H/T Andrew Sullivan)

The Waxman Takes Action in Obama-State Dept. Flap

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 12:19 PM EDT

Three State Department contractors have been punished for improperly accessing Barack Obama's passport and other files in what State is calling acts of "imprudent curiosity." Congressman/bulldog Henry Waxman wants to make sure there isn't something more sinister going on. He wants to know exactly who these contractors were working for. Here's his letter to Secretary Rice:

Dear Madam Secretary:
Yesterday, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, the Under Secretary of State for Management, confirmed that three contract employees working for two State Department contractors gained unauthorized access to the passport records of Senator Barack Obama. When Ambassador Kennedy was asked for the identities of the contract employees and the companies, however, he declined to provide them:
Question: Are you releasing the names of any of these three contractors or the companies for which they were contracting on behalf of the State Department?
Ambassador Kennedy: In a word, no.
I am writing to request that you provide the Oversight Committee by Monday with the identities of the companies involved in these breaches. I also believe this information should be made publicly available.

Obama Camp Goes Too Far To Claim Clinton = McCain

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

In Barack Obama's latest email pitch for donations, his campaign manager, David Plouffe, writes:

Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are reading from the same political playbook as they attack Barack on foreign policy.
They have both criticized Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists if others can't or won't act.
And they have both dismissed his call for renewed diplomacy as naïve while mistakenly standing behind George Bush's policy of non-engagement that just isn't working....
Barack is facing a two-front battle against Senator Clinton and Senator McCain.

Plouffe is trying to hit Clinton (and McCain) from both the left and the right (or the dovish and hawkish sides) simultaneously. But he stepped over the line regarding the former.

On the first point, Plouffe is referring to the criticism Obama drew when he suggested he would, as president, strike unilaterally against al Qaeda in Pakistan if he possessed solid intelligence and if the Pakistani government did not act. With this claim, he was obviously trying to show that he could be damn tough--even cowboy tough--when it comes to the fight against Islamic terrorists. Critics blasted him for recklessness, but it turns out that the Bush administration has mounted these sorts of attacks to take out al Qaeda leaders.

On the second point--that Clinton has "mistakenly" stood behind Bush's "policy of non-engagement"--Plouffe is stretching the facts. Clinton did jump on Obama when Obama vowed at the CNN/YouTube debate that he would meet with the thug-leaders of Iran, North Korea, and Cuba in his first year as president. But as Clinton has repeatedly said, refusing to promise meetings with these leaders in the first year of a presidency is hardly equivalent to a policy of non-engagement. She has repeatedly slammed Bush's unilateralism and called for a vigorous revival of American diplomacy and multilateralism.

Plouffe wants to lump Clinton and McCain together to show that Obama is the candidate of change taking on two candidates of Washington conventionalism. Obama does have a case in this regard. (Both Clinton and McCain share responsibility for the Iraq war.) But this argument does not extend to Clinton endorsing Bush go-it-alone-ism. Given that the Obama campaign often complains (justifiably) about the Clinton camp's truth-twisting oppo research, Plouffe ought to be more careful.

Richardson Decides

| Fri Mar. 21, 2008 10:51 AM EDT

Bill Richardson is endorsing Barack Obama. His motivation may have been this charming little anecdote, it may have been a true affection for Obama (Richardson was reportedly very impressed by BHO's speech on race), or it may have just been an acknowledgment that the electoral math is so heavily in Obama's favor that it is time for the Democrats to move on to the general. Supporting that final theory is something Richardson wrote in an email to supporters. It is time, he said, "for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall."

As the nation's only Hispanic governor, Richardson could have been a big help to Obama in Southwestern states. Problem is, there are none left on the primary calender. The closest thing is Oregon, which is where Richardson endorsed Obama today.

In fact, John Murtha's endorsement of Hillary Clinton from earlier this week probably means more. Murtha is a long-time Pennsylvania congressman with a specialization in national security, one of the campaign's current hot-button issues. If voters in the upcoming Keystone Primary are going to be swayed by anyone, it's Murtha.

That said, it's possible that both endorsements are irrelevant. I've argued as much in the past.

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Mother Jones Nominated for Two National Magazine Awards

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 10:31 PM EDT

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Yesterday, we got the exciting news that Mother Jones has been nominated for two National Magazine Awards.

The NMAs are like our industry's Academy Awards. On May 1st, editors from all over the country gather in New York (totally coincidentally, where most editors live), get dressed up, go to Jazz at Lincoln Center, fix gracious smiles on our faces, and wait to see if we win an Ellie (a replica of an Alexander Calder sculpture of an elephant—i.e. our Oscar—that could double as a rather stylish weapon).

This year we've been nominated for General Excellence (think Best Picture, the word "coveted" is often applied) for these three issues. We're up against four other great, all very different, magazines in our circ size: Radar, Philadelphia Magazine, Foreign Policy, and Paste.

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My friend and former MoJoer John Cook emailed to joke: "We're gonna totally kick your ass! MoJo and Foreign Policy will split the 'stuff people should care about' vote leaving Radar to sweep...." But I would never count Radar out (it's so cheeky!), and then there's Paste, which I give to about 40 friends for Christmas each year (d'oh!), and Foreign Policy and Philadelphia, like us, perennial contenders that are just as good as ever. (FP won last year.)

The other nomination is for photojournalism. Specifically this awesome photo essay by Lana Šlezić on the plight of the women of Afghanistan. In this category, we're up against The New Yorker, National Geographic, Aperture, and Virginia Quarterly Review, which is edited by our MoJo contributing writer Ted Genoways, who just happened to write the text for our last photo essay. So we'll try to be extra gracious if he wins.

These nominations are a nice nod to all the hard work put in by staff over the past year, one in which we overhauled the magazine and the site (tho' more to come) and added a seven-person Washington bureau. Monika and I are really grateful to be working with such cool, hardworking, and amazingly (esp. given what we've put 'em through) sane people. So thanks to them, and we hope the rest of you keep reading.

Philip Morris Cleans Up Its Act - By Genetically Modifying Tobacco

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 9:36 PM EDT

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From the cigarette company that wants you to stop smoking comes a new frontier in tobacco consumption: the health-friendly (kind of), genetically modified chew. Researchers at North Carolina State University, funded by tobacco giant Philip Morris, are trying to take the cancer out of cancer sticks by removing the gene that turns the plant toxic when cured. As tobacco plants age, the nicotine in the leaves changes into the compound nornicotine, which in turn becomes a carcinogen when the plant is cured. Knocking out the gene that causes this change, the researchers report, leads to a 50% decrease in tobacco's most harmful toxins. No word on whether the alterations make nicotine any less addictive, but you have to give them credit for trying. h/t Wired

—Casey Miner

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user zombophoto.

Careful, Obama. Humorless Feminists Are Watching

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 5:57 PM EDT

Now that we're all catching our breath after l'affaire Wright, it's not surprising that those at the center are still freaked out. Obama is too.

As Obama told CNN's Anderson Cooper this week: "In some ways, this controversy has actually shaken me up a little bit and gotten me back into remembering that the odds of me getting elected have always been lower than some of the other conventional candidates."

Uh oh. There are at least three ways to take this, all of which make my spidey sense tingly.

1) This is just another refreshing burst of honesty and humanity from the plaster saint all candidates are required to be, Transcendo-boy most of all. Thank God he didn't tear up, though that would have only endeared him to us more.

All the President's Staff

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 5:55 PM EDT

Over the weekend, the Washington Post published a convincing, though understated, rebuttal of the presidential "experience" argument that, until recently, was the biggest issue of the campaign. Combing through records of those late-night crisis calls that Hillary Clinton's "3 AM" ad seeks to highlight, the Post determined that such situations—while certainly not uncommon—rarely require the president to charge, fully dressed, into the Situation Room. The person on the other end of the line is usually a staffer who is already fully aware of the crisis. Therefore, say a number of former presidential advisers, the calls tend to be more of an FYI, after which the president can go back to sleep and deal with the issue in the morning. Kenneth M. Duberstein, Reagan's last chief of staff, described his own rule of thumb:

I had a very simple formula: If it affected the life of a U.S. citizen, you woke the president. At 3 o'clock in the morning, unless there is a nuclear holocaust coming, there is not much the president has to decide. What you are doing is starting to put into gear the response of the U.S. government on behalf of the president, not necessarily by the president.

After nearly eight years of hearing constantly how we must act "quickly" and "decisively" against ever-encroaching threats, it makes sense that many people—and even the candidates themselves—might see the job of president as similar to that of an ER surgeon. The reality, of course, is that while a president must be aware of, and respond to, hundreds of different issues simultaneously, the decisions he or she makes are for the most part well-thought-out and methodically planned, with considerable outside input. In other words, while the president will certainly be asked to lead in a crisis, and to provide necessary direction, he or she usually doesn't have to do it right that second—or alone.

I'd argue that a better question for the candidates than, "Are you experienced enough?" might be, "Who are your advisers, what are their qualifications, and can we trust them?" The more information we can get now about what the candidates' cabinets might look like, the less likely we are to be surprised (or terrified) come January.

—Casey Miner