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God Bless You, Jonathan Stein

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 4:25 PM EDT

There's one thing that can't be disputed about the evangelicals who attended the Family Research Council's "Values Voters Summit" in Washington D.C. this past weekend: they are all wonderfully nice people. They may view homosexuals as abominations of nature; they may want to run the United States based on biblical dictates; and they may see immigrants as a corruption of American culture, but they will wish God's blessing upon you a million times over.

As a reporter from Mother Jones at the event, I needed all the blessings I could get. My employer was a constant source of amusement to the attendees I spoke with.

"Who are you with?" asked a heavy-set attendee from Texas who I chatted with outside a Sam Brownback book signing.

"Mother Jones magazine," I said. "It's a national magazine covering prog—"

He cut me off before I could finish. "I read Mother Jones in college," he said, grinning. "Back when I was around your age, I believe. What did Winston Churchill say? 'A young man who is not a liberal is heartless, an old man who is not a conservative….'" He started laughing. I started laughing. Turns out, the end of the quote is "is an idiot" or "is a fool"—the Churchill Centre says the quote is a false attribution, so end it however you please.

Later, as I was perusing books like Last Days Madness and The Criminalization of Christianity, a skinny man standing nearby spotted my press pass and made a beeline in my direction. "Can I introduce you to a candidate?" he asked, pressing a piece of campaign literature into my hand. "Daniel Gilbert, a fourth-tier candidate who believes ordinary citizens should run against professional politicians and win. A strong conservative." I paused to read the handout, but hadn't gotten past the quote "I love America" before the man asked me what news outlet I was with.

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How Often Have You Thought, I Wish I Could Reach Two Shotguns While Lying in Bed?

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 3:33 PM EDT

In case the natives attack...

"It's the smartest money you'll spend in your life." Smarter than paying for college, for example. Or a 401k.

(Via Andrew Sullivan)

Obama and McClurkin: Two for Which Road?

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 3:28 PM EDT

Under siege by the seemingly unstoppable Sen. Clinton, is Senator Obama's campaign heading toward incoherence?

The same man who's worked hard, even bravely, to bring open but tolerant religiosity to Democratic politics, who ventured into Christian, hard right territory for an AIDS conference at Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback church, who underwent a public AIDS test there to help de-stigmatize the disease in black eyes and who surely has heard about the black church's newfound dedication to combatting AIDS - that guy is barnstorming with Donnie McClurkin, gospel star, pastor to the black elite and crusading homophobe? What on earth is he thinking? Like Bill Clinton in his day, Obama is supposed to be the smartest, most intellectual guy in the bunch but this move is dumb as a rock, transparent as Britney Spears' clothes, cynical and desperate. Times are hard for a former super star whose best case scenario now is to argue sloppy staff work.

The normally restrained commentator, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, has lost it over this move and I can't say I blame him, though I'm too busy being confused to move on to anger. Hutchinson notes:

Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama ripped a page straight from the Bush campaign playbook with his announced upcoming three date barnstorm tour through South Carolina with notorious gay basher, gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. The Grammy winning black gospel singer's last effort on the political scene was his song and shill for Bush's reelection at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Obama has hitched his string to McClurkin's high flying gay bash kite in part out of religious belief (he purports to be somewhat of an evangelical), in bigger part because he's falling further and further behind Hillary Clinton with the black vote in South Carolina and everywhere else, and in the biggest part of all because he hopes that what worked for Bush's reelection will work for him. Enter McClurkin. He's black, he's popular, and gospel plays big with blacks in South Carolina, especially black evangelicals, and many of them openly and even more of them quietly loathe gays.

Perhaps like this minister who also practices restorative, religious 'therapy' to cure gays who said in defense of McClurkin: "Telling any child that he or she is born gay and cannot change is a death sentence. Gay activists and their blind allies in the mental health, medical and educational professions have blood on their hands for condemning young people to a life mined with such suffering and disease."

So, this guy is sharing a stage with this guy?

If McClurkin doesn't suddenly come down with a sudden "schedule overlap" and 'voluntarily' cancel this appearance (he's not singing at all of them), we'll know that Senator Obama still isn't quite soup yet. If he was smart enough to distance himself from his controversial minister and to even quit smoking, let's see if he's smart enough to get himself out of this one or if he's going to pander to black intolerance.

NASA: You Can't Handle the Truth on Air Safety

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

Via AMERICAblog, check out this story:

Anxious to avoid upsetting air travelers, NASA is withholding results from an unprecedented national survey of pilots that found safety problems like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than the government previously recognized.
NASA gathered the information under an $8.5 million safety project, through telephone interviews with roughly 24,000 commercial and general aviation pilots over nearly four years. Since ending the interviews at the beginning of 2005 and shutting down the project completely more than one year ago, the space agency has refused to divulge the results publicly.
Just last week, NASA ordered the contractor that conducted the survey to purge all related data from its computers.
The Associated Press learned about the NASA results from one person familiar with the survey who spoke on condition of anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss them.
A senior NASA official, associate administrator Thomas S. Luedtke, said revealing the findings could damage the public's confidence in airlines and affect airline profits. Luedtke acknowledged that the survey results "present a comprehensive picture of certain aspects of the U.S. commercial aviation industry."

Inspires confidence, no?

All Huckabee, All the Time

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 2:17 PM EDT

Tons of Huckabee content here, I know. But Big Mike's momentum can't be ignored: he just scored the Chuck Norris endorsement!

It's over, folks. Obama in 2016?

Factory Conditions Sicken Chinese Workers

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 1:52 PM EDT

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The fact that lead-laced toys put kids at risk is bad enough, but Chinese factories also cause big problems for another population—workers.

A few of the ways factory employees risk their lives to produce goods bound for the U.S., according to the Salt Lake Tribune's series on the hazards of manufacturing plants in China:

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Huckabee Rising

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 12:55 PM EDT

Over at TNR's campaign blog, The Stump, Noam Scheiber makes a very astute observation. I'll summarize in short form. The Republican primary has four frontrunners, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain. None of the four has a perfect conservative record. Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney have dealt with their respective apostasies by covering them up and vying to be the most conservative candidates in the race. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have stood by the stances they've taken that put them at odds with the conservative base and are hoping the honesty and integrity this displays will matter more than complete fealty to conservative values.

What's the better option? Neither, it appears. None of the candidates have caught fire, possibly because both approaches open up the candidates to attacks—they are either flip-floppers or RINOs, and their opponents are more than happy to point this out. Every indication from the Republican base shows that it isn't satisfied with any of the available options.

That's why I think the next month or two will be focused on the rise of Mike Huckabee. The Arkansas governor is a true conservative, and always has been, so he isn't faced with the dilemma faced by the four frontrunners. He's got the evangelical vote, he's got a long history of executive experience, he's achieved some significant results in Arkansas—if he can manage to start raising some cash, he might be the top candidate in this race before long. And that's not a good thing for Democrats.

Reporting the Redactions

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 12:29 PM EDT

plame.jpg Just Out: my 80 page reported afterword to Valerie Plame Wilson's spy memoir, Fair Game. Nice review here. First chapter here.

Stay tuned, Mother Jones may be publishing some excerpts soon.

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)

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.