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Second Choice Info: Polling News That Is Actually Interesting

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 6:35 PM EST

Zogby just released the first Iowa poll that redistributes the supporters of the second-tier candidates according to who their choice within the first tier is.

This is important because of the way the caucuses work. In the Iowa Democratic Party's system, a candidate must establish "viability" at the beginning of the caucus. The caucus chair in each caucus room counts the number of attendees, and then has people split into groups depending on who they support. Any group that doesn't represent a pre-set percentage of the total attendees (usually 15 percent) is declared unviable, meaning their candidate is out of the running to win delegates from that caucus. The caucus-goers in the unviable group can either stand strong in a symbolic but ultimately meaningless gesture, or they can disperse and join other groups around the room representing the viable candidates. (And yes, in caucuses people actually psyhically move around the room. In 2004, many Kucinich supporters left Kucinich after he was declared unviable to move to Edwards. Gephardt supporters largely refused to budge, and where not counted.)

Clinton, Obama, and Edwards will be viable, without question. Depending on how good his organization is at getting out supporters on caucus night, Richardson may also be viable in most places. But there is a good chance that Dodd, Biden, and Kucinich will not be viable.

So the second choice of Dodd, Biden, and Kucinich supporters is important to know. Will they go to Obama? Clinton? Edwards? Zogby redid their Iowa poll with second-tier candidates removed and found that Edwards gained six percent, Obama gained four percent, and Clinton gained two percent. Here are the numbers:

CandidateFirst Choice OnlyIncluding Second Choices of Those Who First Backed Unviables
Clinton28%30%
Obama25%29%
Edwards21%27%

So a tight race becomes even tighter. It will be interesting to see what other polling outfits show when they also poll with second-choicers in mind, because other polling outfits show a much closer race than Zogby's 28/25/21 split. One recent poll actually has Obama leading for the first time.

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Cause? Meet Effect: Dr. King's Niece Needs a Brain to go Along With that Doctorate

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 6:34 PM EST

Here we have a perfect example of what religion, or anyone with a hard-core, reality-be-damned agenda, can do to the discourse. Or maybe the problem here is simple nepotism. Dr. King's niece blames the undeniably high rates of abortion among blacks for their hopelessness. No, not the other way around, that the hopelessness causes a severe, cultural case of the 'fuck its', characterized by, among other disfunctions, unprotected sex and unplanned pregnancy. The abortions, and more importantly, the unprotected sex (i.e. "fuck my future. I ain't got one") just exascerbate all the other problems, but not if you're a King and untouchable black royalty. Check this logic out:

A recent Pew Research poll reported high levels of 'hopelessness' in African-American communities across the United States, a characteristic pro-life activists are linking to high abortion rates among black women.
"Children are the future. When you destroy your children, you destroy hope," Dr. Alveda King, pastoral associate of Priests for Life and the niece of the late civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said in a statement.
"The incredibly high number of abortions performed on black women in this country has to take a toll not just on the women involved, but also on their families, friends, and communities," King said. "If African-Americans feel that life will not get better, I have to believe that abortion is feeding into that hopelessness."
King was referring to a study released Nov. 13 by the Pew Research Center, which reported that only 44 percent of blacks say they think life will be better for African-Americans in the future. One in five said they think life is better for blacks now than it was in 2002.
"I know from personal experience that abortion causes depression, regret, and despair," King said. "If we love and welcome our children, optimism for the future can only increase."
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank named in honor of one of the former presidents of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, black women see higher rates of unintended pregnancy than the general population.

You can read the whole piece to relearn what you already know — sky high rates of back abortion; pro-choice as I fervently am, I, too, think that a needless tragedy. But it's a symptom, not the cause. There are many, but one major cause is an anti-intellectual, head in the sand, demonizing black religiosity. Another would be unqualified blacks assigned leadership roles based on pedigree. King should be asking why blacks are having loveless, possibly exploitative, unprotected sex at rates so much higher than other groups. That's where the hopelessness comes in, the grasping at a moment's fleeting, unprotected pleasure even while AIDS, herpes and all the other STDs ravage the black community. But that doesn't fit on a bumper sticker, does it?

There's a lot of stupidity out there these days, but nonsense like this makes me want to slap somebody. Condemnation and holier-than-thou prancing from her exalted position, while pretending to just ooze with sympathy, makes a mockery of life on the ground for dispossessed blacks. That last name may fool some, Rev. King. But not all. Go sell your mediocrity someplace else and leave the black poor alone.

Race Matters. Even on the Internet.

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 5:25 PM EST

myspace200.jpgRemember how the Internet was supposed to allow you to abandon your real-world identity in favor of a totally different virtual one?

Yeah, not so much.

According to a Northwestern study, college students' choice of social networking sites varies according to the the race or ethnicity with which they identify and the level of education their parents have attained. Some of the key findings:

Mormons Against Romney

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 4:54 PM EST

romney.jpg

Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on so many of the major issues in today's politics, it's clear that his behavior isn't a series of changes-of-heart. It's a fundamental willingness to do and say anything to be president. So maybe it's not surprising that Romney is waffling in small but important ways on his own religion. Nevertheless, some Mormons are pissed.

Here's why Romney has drawn their ire, according to Josh Patashnik in TNR.

(1) In a TV interview, Romney disputed the claim that Mormonism differs from evangelical Christianity by believing that Jesus will return to America instead of the Middle East. Romney said that "the Messiah will come to Jerusalem... It's the same as the other Christian tradition." Except it's not. Mormons do believe Jesus will return to the Middle East, but they also believe that Jesus will establish a new Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri. From Jackson County, Jesus will rule for 1,000 years. That's a fairly significant period of time for Romney sweep under the rug.

Breaking Campaign Laws: Crime That Does Pay

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 4:32 PM EST

Crime does pay...when it comes to breaking campaign finance laws.

A few days ago, the Federal Elections Commission settled a case against the Media Fund, a pro-Democratic 527 group that spent more than $50 million in so-called soft money in 2004 trying to influence the presidential election that year. What was the penalty assessed? $580,000. The Media Fund--which was partly bankrolled by George Soros--will have to pay that much in a fine. It sure sounds like a lot, but it's only a wee bit more than 1 percent of the money the group, which was headed by Harold Ickes, the former White House deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, pumped into the campaign.

The FEC declared that the Media Fund, which is no longer active, had violated campaign finance laws by using unlimited contributions from labor unions and other financial benefactors (soft money, that is) for ads supporting John Kerry and attacking George Bush. (Here's one critical deconstruction of a Media Fund ad.) Lawyers for the Media Fund and other 527s have argued that in 2004 such activity was believed to be legal by the folks running 527s (which take their name from the provision of the tax code that applies to them), and the FEC has stated that the Media Fund did operate in accordance with the advice it received from its attorneys. But the FEC has ruled that only political committees that register with the FEC and abide by contribution limits and public disclosure requirements can directly attempt to influence a presidential election.

The Media Fund is the latest target of the FEC's crusade against the largely unregulated 527s that were operating in 2004. It has also gone after America Coming Together, another pro-Democratic campaign group, and two pro-GOP outfits: Progress for America Voter Fund and the Swfit Boat Veterans for Truth. (After the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, groups like these became major recipients of the soft money that used to flow to the political parties.) All together, these four groups spent $200 million in what the FEC has determined to be illegal soft money. All together, these four groups have to pay $2.4 million in fines.

These punishments--while historic for the FEC--will hardly serve as a deterrent. Such fines, which come long after the offending activity transpired, can easily be considered an inconvenience, the cost of doing business. They will do little to persuade political operators on both sides to throttle back.

Is Your Vote Worth More Than an iPod?

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 3:06 PM EST
ipodvote.gif

Here's another story that will no doubt be dumped into the Those Apathetic Millenials file, so let me preemptively remind you that the youth turnout in 2006 was the biggest ever in a mid-term election.

That said, this is sad: A survey of NYU students finds that 20 percent would forfeit their right to vote in the 2008 election in exchange for an iPod. Two-thirds said they'd give it up in exchange for free tuition. Alright, politicians suck and higher education is exorbitantly expensive, so I understand why someone would see it as worthwhile to sit out this election in return for a four-year free ride at a great school (worth $140,000+ at current rates). But giving up your vote for a $300 piece of soon-to-be-obsolete electronics? That's nuts, yet considering that a vote once could be bought with free beer, this could be taken as evidence that the value of a vote has risen considerably. (The survey also found that half of respondents would give up voting forever for $1 million.) But the real question is, just how low would a vote-trading college kid (or Gen X-er or Boomer for that matter) go? I bet that would be truly discouraging. And likely would involve free beer.

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Americans' Embarrassing Short Term Memory Loss on 9/11 Attacks

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 2:02 PM EST

At the end of Missoula, MT, article on presidential poll numbers in Montana, I found this line:

Just 68 percent [of poll respondents] were able to identify the correct year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (2001).

Which reminded me of these videos:

If you've watched those videos, you'll know why I'm struggling to think up any insightful commentary. Is it worth pointing out that every society has its share of blissfully uninformed citizens, or that through the dark arts of video editing anyone can be made to look stupid? Or should I point out that we now realize the "Never Forget" slogan was at once overly optimistic and incredibly naive, considering the character and attention spans of the American people?

Actually, no. You know what? These videos are a great indication that the terrorists didn't win. If the terrorists wanted to intimidate the American public or create a paradigm shift in the public's thinking, they completely and utterly failed. Terrorism is the most important issue in the upcoming election for one percent of Democrats and five percent of Republicans. And, apparently, some of us think the September 11th attacks happened on August 16th. Take that, Osama.

Iraqi PMC Involved In Latest Civilian Shooting

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 12:33 PM EST

The news this morning is that 43 foreign contractors have been detained in Baghdad in relation to yesterday's shooting of an 18-year old woman in the city's upscale Karrada neighborhood. The contractors were reportedly working in association with Almco, a Dubai-based firm that performs construction work for the U.S. military.

The Washington Post reports that four of the company's vehicles came under attack by an Iraqi mob as they passed through Karrada, apparently en route to Baghdad's airport, where the group of contractors—Sri Lankans, Indians, and Nepalese—were scheduled to depart Iraq. The convoy was protected by a security detail composed of 10 Iraqis and 2 Fijians, both carrying U.S. Department of Defense identity cards.

It was unclear from news reports if the security detail worked directly for Almco, or if it was comprised of subcontractors from a separate private security company. To find out, I spoke with Almco's Chairman and CEO Namir El Akabi. I reached him by phone earlier this morning in Baghdad. He assured me that Almco hires its own security contractors and declined further comment. I then reached his brother Surmid El Akabi in Almco's London office. Surmid said he was aware of "commotion about some kind of incident." Despite what his brother Namir may have said, he told me that Almco typically subcontracts an Iraqi company to provide security for its convoys. I emailed Namir to confirm this information. In response, he identified a local Iraqi firm—Al Iraq Al Moaser Security Company—as having provided security for yesterday's convoy to the airport.

If true, the incident would demonstrate that its not only Western private military firms that stand accused of unlawful use of force. Its unclear from press reports whether the shooting was done by Iraqi security contractors or by the two Fijians. If the former, would they be covered by the blanket immunity granted to other security contractors operating in Iraq? If the latter, will the Iraqi government pursue the Fijians as aggressively as they've gone after U.S. security contractors?

Almco plans to release an official statement tomorrow.

EPA Removes Everglades Expert From Restoration Project

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 12:24 PM EST

everglades200.jpgHow do you reward an employee for years of faithful service on a project? A new watch? A raise? At least a pat on the back? Nah. If you're following the lead of the EPA, you remove him from the project.

Richard Harvey has been serving as an EPA representative on the Everglades restoration since it began in 1999. The project has been plagued by environmental problems since the get-go, and Harvey hasn't been shy about pointing them out. When water authorities diverted excess water from polluted Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, Harvey warned that this wasn't a great idea.

The most recent scuffle started last fall, when officials wanted to install an underground pipe to shunt excess water from the lake. A pipeline is not a magician, though, and dirty water has to go somewhere. In this case, Harvey said, the water would flow into Biscayne National Park. Another not-so-great idea. At a meeting, via conference call, he said:

Once again we're routing dirty water....We are extremely concerned because the track record when the district and the corps move dirty water around is some resource gets trashed.

Little did Harvey know, a reporter was also at the meeting, and she quoted him in print. A few months later, Harvey's supervisor removed him from the project.

The restoration is now almost a decade old, and some people seem to think that the park is all better. Last summer, for example, the U.N. World Heritage Committee removed the Everglades from its list of endangered places. But most experts agree with Harvey—the River of Grass still has a long way to go.

Five Bullet Points of the Latest IPCC Report

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 12:00 AM EST

global_intro_240x394.gif Thanks to Nature, here are the highlights of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The UN body won the latest Nobel Peace Prize (along with Al Gore), and maybe that emboldened them to take off the gloves in this round. The five talking points of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007:

• Warming of the world's climate is "unequivocal" — 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) rank among the 12 warmest years since 1850. • It is "likely" (meaning a 66% likelihood) that there has been significant man-made warming on every continent except Antarctica over the past half-century. • Continued greenhouse-gas emissions at or above current rates would induce climate changes that would be "very likely" (meaning a 90% likelihood) to exceed those observed during the twentieth century. • Fossil fuels will dominate the world's energy portfolio until at least 2030, and emissions look set to rise by 25-90% during that time. • Given our current understanding, it is too difficult to estimate the extent of future sea-level rise.

The real question: will this overdue urgency translate into anything resembling action at next month's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali? Or will it go the way of Kyoto, stymied by American, and now (inspired by our example) Chinese, stonewalling?Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.