The Saudi judiciary is defending its punishment of a 19-year-old rape victim--that's right, a victim--because she was in a car with a man not related to her when the crime occurred. The woman's original punishment was 90 lashes, but she has since committed another crime: She spoke with the news media. Now, her sentence is six months in prison and 200 lashes.

Islamic law forbids a woman to associate with males who are not part of her family. As for speaking with reporters, the official Saudi press agency explains that "whoever has an objection on verdicts issued, the system allows an appeal without resorting to the media." Add 110 lashes and six months in what I feel certain is not a "rehab" prison.

In the meantime, the court also doubled the sentences of the seven men who committed the rape.

It is horrific enough that rape victims are punished in Saudi Arabia, but there are other problems with the system that are just as disturbing. Individuals on trial are often not permitted to have defense attorneys present, and there are no sentencing guidelines other than the judges' discretion.

Women in Saudi Arabia have no freedom of movement and may not even drive a car. First Lady Laura Bush recently wore an abaya in Saudi Arabia and declared--to the astonishment of millions--that the garb was "traditional" and "a religious choice," without addressing the social roots of how that "choice" came to be. It is estimated that the Saudis have invested over $750 billion in the U.S., and--as we know--at least several thousand directly into the hands of George W. Bush. There has never been much enthusiasm among Western nations to support women's rights in their own countries, much less in very oppressive countries. Now the relationship between the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia--not to mention the relationship between the Bush administration and U.S. women's rights goals--makes it impossible to do anything but look the other way when a young gang-rape victim is tortured by her own government.

Arianna Huffington has a simple question: "Are polls measuring the 2008 election or are they driving it?"

With that in mind, she's launched the Polling Project, a attempt to shine a bright light on the polling industry and its effects on the American political discourse. "We want to get to the bottom of how pollsters conduct their surveys, how they gather and build their stats, how they target who they contact, and, ultimately, how they reach their conclusions," says Arianna.

It's a worthy endeavor in part because it gets beyond what you would find in a well-researched book on the subject, through the magic of citizen participation. If you've been contacted by a pollster, the Polling Project wants to hear about your experiences. All of the project's cosponsors, which includes, in addition to Mother Jones, Talking Points Memo, Instapundit, Politico, and the Nation, are putting a button on their websites that direct you to this form.

If enough people participate, the project will be able to determine if midwesterners are being asked different questions than their coastal counterparts, if blacks and Hispanics hear questions no one else does, and if push polls are popping up around the country. Perhaps most importantly, we'll find out if polls are creating buzz instead of just reporting it.

So if you get a call from a pollster, click the link on our left sidebar the next time you visit Your name and contact info won't be revealed. So help out if you can!

Lots of corporate money is making an exodus from the GOP and resurfacing in various Democratic campaign coffers this year. Yet there's still plenty of evidence that the Democratic presidential candidates are going to rely heavily on trial lawyer funding, even with a few of the old reliables either in jail, under indictment or facing other criminal charges.

The latest report comes from Mississippi, where Bill Clinton will headline a fundraiser at the home of Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, trial lawyer extrordinare and, incidentally, Trent Lott's brother-in-law. Scruggs is best known for his role in initiating the tobacco litigation in the 1990s that led to an enormous settlement between the states and the cigarette companies. The litigation also netted Scruggs several billion in legal fees and a Hollywood portrayal in the movie "The Insider."

But Scruggs is in a spot of trouble these days. He's facing criminal contempt of court charges in Alabama for allegedly violating a protective order in a case involving Katrina-related insurance claims. Apparently, though, the charges aren't serious enough to scuttle the Clinton fundraiser. No word yet on whether Scruggs' friend and fellow Mississippi trial lawyer John Grisham will make an appearance, but no doubt he's on the invite list. Last year, Grisham gave the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee nearly $27,000, and the former Mississippi state legislator was active in Democratic politics long before he was a bestselling author....

1_xldoublewhoppercheese.jpgNews from the fast-food world: Burger King is about to roll out a $1 double cheeseburger. The new promotion is designed to challenge McDonald's rein over the rock-bottom food market. McDonald's has had a $1 double cheeseburger for years now on its "value menu," which according to the Wall Street Journal, accounts for nearly a quarter of its sales, but Burger King's double has sold for twice that much. Experts predict that BK's new burger-for-a-buck campaign will set off a price war. Who knows how low it could go!

This is probably good news for all you beef eaters out there, but it can't be good for the nation's collective waistline. Someday someone will study whether the race to the bottom burger pricing produced a corresponding increase in obese Americans. After all, BK will be making it even easier for people to consume more than 1,000 calories and 67 grams of fat in one sitting, for just a buck. If there was ever a good case to be made for a junk food tax, this might be it.

Reality PMC


Ever wonder what it's like to stalk poachers in Africa, spy on mobsters, or rescue hapless aid workers from Third World war zones? (Really? You have? Me, too.) For the moment, you've still got to send your resume to Erik Prince for such thrills. But soon all you'll have to do is crack open a beer and ease into your comfy chair. The History Channel has greenlighted production on a new reality show, tentatively called "Eyes on Target," which will feature "the best private military operators in the world, using the most advanced equipment conducting real missions," says one of the producers. The eight-part series will offer "unparalleled access" to private military operators in the field, depicting in detail how special operations are conducted "from start to finish."

The show's creators say it will only cover "legally sanctioned operations." I guess we'll have to subscribe to premium cable for the other stuff...

When Rachel Paulose was sworn in as the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota in March, she sparked a mini-scandal with her investiture ceremony, which is usually a demure affair held at the federal courthouse. She got free use of the University of St. Thomas Law School's atrium, which usually rents for $1500. Three hundred people showed up for the event, which included a municipal choir and military color guard, and it earned her a "diva" title from law-gossip blogger David Lat. But all that pomp and circumstance now looks like an ill-fated wedding, with the couple headed to divorce court.

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

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.

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.


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.

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.