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Poll: 27% of GOP Voters Would Choose 3rd Party over Rudy

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 12:53 PM EDT

A while back, we mentioned that evangelical leaders had gotten together and agreed to consider a third party candidate if pro-choice, pro-gay rights Rudy Giuliani got the GOP nod.

Maybe that decision reflected widespread sentiment amongst their base, or maybe the base is mimicking the thinking of the Christian right's honchos. Either way, a new Rasmussen poll shows 27 percent of Republican voters would rather vote for a third party candidate (from the Christian right) than for Rudy.

Not good news for a guy who makes the case, on the campaign trail, that he is the only Republican that can beat the Democrats.

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White House Gives UK Troops a Big Middle Finger on the Way Out of Iraq

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 12:42 PM EDT

Huh, that's odd. I thought you weren't supposed to criticize the troops. But I guess it's okay if you're the White House and the troops you are criticizing are (1) not from this country, and (2) pulling out of the war. From the UK's Daily Telegraph:

The [senior White House foreign policy official] added that Britain would always be "the cornerstone" of U.S. policy towards Europe but there was "a lot of unhappiness" about how British forces had performed in Basra...
"Operationally, British forces have performed poorly in Basra," said the official. "Maybe it's best that they leave. Now we will have a clear field in southern Iraq."

Thanks for the help, chaps!

North Korean Nuclear Deal Shows Wisdom of Diplomacy, Idiocy of John Bolton

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 11:41 AM EDT

Michael Hirsh of Newsweek, who got it exactly right on Petraeus long before the General's much-ballyhooed congressional testimony, hits the lesson of this North Korean nuclear deal right on the head.

Hirsh explains why we couldn't have done this deal a year ago:

The real difference is one of attitude: a willingness to give even an evil tin-pot dictator like Kim Jong Il something he can take away from the table. In his case it seems to be mostly respect that Kim is looking for. That he can never have, but in an effort to avoid war and the horrors of nuclear proliferation... it may just be worth it to pretend. To grit one's teeth, normalize relations and live with his odious regime a little longer. Yes, what Kim is doing may amount to "nuclear blackmail," as the Bush administration once called it. But it's not as if this negotiation is going to set a precedent for every other rogue nation; it took North Korea 50 years and hundreds of millions of dollars to build the popgun nuke it detonated last October.

The difference in attitude has everything to do with the absence of John Bolton, who is, not surprisingly, spitting on the deal as a commentator for Fox News. With his hawkish, don't-give-an-inch approach, Bolton essentially torpedoed any productive talks with North Korea, the very talks that have now created Bush's only significant foreign policy achievement.

Scratch that. There was a previous achievement: getting Libya to dismantle its WMD programs. Now, that had a lot to do with years of work by the international diplomatic community and little to do with the White House. But nevertheless, if you read Hirsh's article, you'll find that Bolton almost found a way to ruin that, too.

Hirsh goes on to explain that we need a willingness to go tit-for-tat with Iran.

Today there are back channels (like the one led by former U.N. ambassador Tom Pickering) and side channels (like the one being conducted by U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker). What we don't have is a senior U.S. envoy who can put all the issues on the table with Tehran at the same time.

Hopefully, this success with North Korea will show the remaining hawks in the administration that war needn't be the answer with Iran.

Another Key GOP Senator Retiring, This Time in New Mexico

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 11:07 AM EDT

Citing concerns about his health, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has announced he will not seek reelection in 2008. The six-term Republican (second most senior, to Alaska's Ted Stevens) was one of Capitol Hill's most powerful players when it came to matters of the budget.

This is just the last in a series of Republican retirements in the Senate and the House. Other retirements include Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Wayne Allard of Colorado. Larry Craig, of course, has his own problems.

Possible Democrats to succeed Domenici, according to the AP, are Representative Tom Udall, Albuquerque Mayor Martin J. Chavez, and state Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

If Udall gets the nod, it could be a big year for his family. The son of former congressman and presidential candidate Mo Udall, Tom is the cousin of current Colorado Rep. Mark Udall, who will likely vie for the Senate seat being emptied by Allard.

Update: Karen Tumulty in Time points out that the filing deadline for this race is February 8. That means if NM Gov. Bill Richardson does poorly in the Feb. 5 national primary, he can drop out of the presidential race and try for Domenici's seat. Richardson will be term-limited out of the New Mexico governorship in 2010.

Update: Udall says he's out.

Chart Beat: iTunes' Top Ten Singles

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 9:34 PM EDT

BritneyAnd now, we turn with the usual trepidation towards those thermometers up the wazoo of our nation's zeitgeist: music sales charts. What are we buying, how sick are we? Let's take a look at today's iTunes top ten songs, and for added multimedia enjoyment, open up your iTunes program and listen to the 30-second excerpts of each song. It's 1/6 of a song, for free!

1. Britney Spears – "Gimme More"
Well, as I've said before, there are good things about this song, but none of those things involve Britney Spears. The track's climb to #1 seems to be evidence of some sort of scientific breakthrough: no matter how far an American celebrity dives down to the quantum level of supposedly career-ending debasement, the axiom of "no publicity is bad publicity" still holds true. It's a unified field theory of celebutards!

2. Soulja Boy – "Crank That"
Still hanging around near the top of the charts, I still believe this is a hit only because of the "youuuuu!" part. It's not bad, there's just so little going on: some inoffensive steel drum noodling and a car-commercial-style orchestral stab. But people sure like saying "youuuu!" along with it.

3. Kanye West – "Stronger"
Mr. West apparently not greatly damaged nor greatly assisted by his goofball SNL performance; still a great song.

4. Feist – "1234"
Does everyone at Apple touch themselves when this kind of thing happens? "Look, we put Feist in our commercial and turned the song into a hit! Our power is unlimited! We are so pretty, so very very pretty!" Well, I resisted Feist's charms to no avail: I now love this song.

5. Timbaland – "Apologize" (feat. OneRepublic)
One of the three tracks on Timbo's new album to feature alt-rock dudes in an ill-advised crossover attempt, this isn't even the worst of them. It's still pretty terrible though: a maudlin emo ballad laid awkwardly over a D-level Timbaland beat. You apologize.

'School of Shock' Gets Facebook Group, College Activism

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 8:36 PM EDT

Our current issue's cover story, on a facility in Massachusetts that uses electric shock to discipline special needs and other kids, "School of Shock," has garnered a huge onslaught of responses, prompting legislation in two states and getting literally hundreds of comments on our site. One reader, Brandeis University student Nathan Robinson, was especially outraged by the painful electric shocks administered to autistic and retarded students at the school, and decided to take action himself.

Robinson, who will graduate in 2011, convened an impromptu, late-night meeting of Brandeis students to make fliers and talk about the issue. In the process, the students formed a Facebook group (Massachusetts Students United Against the Judge Rotenberg Center), which now has more than 300 members. Robinson holds regular meetings where concerned citizens coordinate an old-fashioned letter-writing campaign. The group, Robinson says, is trying "to spread the word among students as best we can."

Read more about Robinson's efforts here, and our story on the school and related articles here.

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Recall Irony Roundup

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 6:11 PM EDT

Two pieces of news about recalled products stood out today:

First off, there's RC2, the toy company (slogan: "compelling, passionate parenting and play for all ages") that recalled about 1.5 million Thomas & Friends toys in June. To the customers who surrendered their lead-laced toys, RC2 sent a consolation prize: shiny new railway cars.

The ironic twist: Last week, those "bonus gifts" were recalled because of—you guessed it—lead paint.

Then there's the line of canvas and vinyl lunchboxes made by TA Creations in China.

The ironic twist: In California, the lunchboxes are distributed to low-income families as part of the Network for a Healthy California program. The most cringe-worthy detail? The lunchboxes are emblazoned with the message, "Eat fruits & vegetables and be active" in both English and Spanish. Another cheerful health tip could read, "Throw away this lunchbox before it gets anywhere near those fruits and vegetables."

More Reggae Concerts Cancelled After Gay Rights Groups Protest

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

Elephant ManThe controversy over anti-gay lyrics in reggae music continues: performances by Sizzla and Elephant Man in Toronto have been cancelled following an outcry from Canadian organizations who came together under the "Stop Murder Music" flag. Police had already intended to monitor the concerts for "hate speech," but then promoters pulled the plug on the events, scheduled for September 28 and October 6th.

Stop Murder Music Canada founder Akim Larcher told the Toronto Star that the reggae stars "shouldn't have been allowed to get visas to perform in the country… it's not about censorship or artistic freedom. That stops when hate propaganda is involved."

We've covered the controversy over anti-gay lyrics in reggae music here before, as well as the current kerfuffle over sexist and generally nasty language in American hip-hop. While I'm inclined to side with artists, since offense and shock has always been a part of art's power, is there a qualitative difference between calling for the murder of "batty boys" and calling women "hos"? Why do white artists seem to get a free pass, with the whole "I'm singing in character" defense? And when does exercising your right to free speech by protesting another's speech interfere with their right to, um, speak? Answers to all these questions coming up tonight at 11.

Wild Style Turns 25

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 5:04 PM EDT

Wild StyleIt's been nearly 25 years since the movie Wild Style brought New York's burgeoning hip-hop culture to a wider audience (and blew this little Nebraska boy's mind). Now, director Charlie Ahearn has compiled a book of photographs and stories about the creation of the now-legendary film. Called, appropriately, Wild Style: The Sampler, the book features luminaries like Fab 5 Freddy and shots of their early graffiti work; check out a gallery of pictures from the book at The Guardian.

It's kind of crazy to see all these pictures from 1983; the colorful style, nutty short-shorts and skinny ties could not be more hot right now. Where can I get a Fab 5 Freddy baseball cap?!

Anyway, here's a clip from the original movie. Look at Grandmaster Flash go, and in the kitchen no less. As hard as I've tried, I've never been able to do that thing where you go back and forth between two records, creating a one-measure loop; it's still awe-inspiring to watch.

Blackwater by Numbers: A Statistical Index

| Wed Oct. 3, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

In a rare appearance before Congress yesterday, Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince answered questions about his company's operations in Iraq; by mutual agreement, details of the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which reportedly left 17 Iraqis dead and another 24 wounded, were not discussed. The following statistics were culled from Prince's testimony, as well as from various internal Blackwater documents obtained by Congressional investigators.


  • Total number of Blackwater "movements" (i.e. protected convoys) In Iraq since 2005: 16,000
  • Number of movements in 2006: 6,058
  • Number of times Blackwater operators fired their weapons in anger: 38
  • Number of reported movements so far in 2007: 1,873
  • Number of times Blackwater operators fired their weapons in anger: 56
  • Percentage increase: 400
  • Number of Blackwater operators killed in Iraq: 27
  • Number of Blackwater-escorted dignitaries killed in Iraq: 0
  • Number of warnings given before Blackwater operators shoot to kill oncoming drivers: 7 (lights, sirens, air horns, hand signals, pen flares, shots to oncoming car's radiator, "spider web" shot to windshield)
  • Average compensation paid by U.S. military to families of Iraqis killed by mistake: $3,000
  • Compensation paid by Blackwater for "random death" of an "innocent Iraqi citizen" in 2005: $5,000
  • Extra compensation: $2,000, "given the nature of the incident," followed by the fact that the Blackwater operator "failed to report the incident, causing the family additional pain."
  • Compensation paid to family of an Iraqi vice presidential guard killed by a drunken Blackwater operator in the Green Zone last Christmas Eve: $20,000
  • Penalty exacted on Blackwater operator: Termination of employment, cost of plane ticket back to U.S. ($1,630), and forfeiture of outstanding pay ($7,067), of Fourth of July bonus ($3,000), and of Christmas bonus ($3,000)
  • Total financial penalty for killing Iraqi vice presidential guard: $14,697
  • Compensation originally suggested by a State Department official in response to Blackwater's accidental killing of an Iraqi bystander in December 2006: $250,000
  • Compensation actually paid: $15,000
  • Blackwater's reasoning: "A sum this high will set a terrible precedent. This could cause incidents with people trying to get killed by our guys to financially guarantee their family's future."
  • Number of security companies now operating in Iraq: 170
  • Value of Blackwater's federal contracts in 2001: $736,906
  • Value in 2002: $3.4 million
  • Value in 2003: $25 million
  • Value in 2004: $48 million
  • Value in 2005: $352 million
  • Value in 2006: $593 million
  • Total value of all Blackwater contracts at the end of 2006: $1 billion
  • Percentage growth since 2001: 80,453
  • Current number of Blackwater's federal contracts, according to Erik Prince: "More than 50."
  • Percentage of Blackwater holding company Prince Group's revenue derived from federal contracts: 90
  • Number of Blackwater helicopters downed in Iraq in 2006: 3
  • Average daily pay for a Blackwater operator, according to Erik Prince: $500
  • Daily pay, according to government invoices: $1,221.62
  • Number of State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security agents in Iraq: 36
  • Number of Blackwater operators in Iraq, primarily engaged in guarding U.S. diplomats: 1,000
  • Number of Blackwater administrative support staff for company's Iraq operations: 50
  • Blackwater tooth-to-tail ratio (i.e. number of trigger pullers to support and administrative staff): 20:1
  • U.S. military tooth-to-tail ratio, according to Erik Prince: Anywhere from 1:8 to 1:12
  • Blackwater's profit margin: 10.5 percent
  • Erik Prince's income in 2006: "More than a million dollars."
  • Amount Erik Prince has contributed to the GOP and Republican candidates: $225,000
  • Number of Erik Prince's sons, heirs to the Blackwater fortune: 5
  • Slogan chanted by Code Pink protesters as Erik Prince departed hearing: "War criminal"