Mojo - December 2007

At GOP Debate, No Faith-Based Smackdown--and No Winner or Loser

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 5:11 PM EST

Okay, so there was no theological smackdown at the GOP presidential debate this afternoon in Iowa. This face-off was probably the most stilted event of the campaign so far. The questions from Carolyn Washburn, the editor of the Des Moines Register were mostly predictable and rarely probing. (In thirty seconds, state how would you better American education.) Consequently, not much happened.

There were no fireworks. No candidate went after another. (In one humorous aside, Fred Thompson said to Mitt Romney that he was getting pretty good at Thompson's own trade: acting.) The sniping over religion that had erupted between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney was not continued. Washburn did not ask Huckabee about a widely noted remark he made asking if Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers. Rudy Giuliani may have only referred to 9/11 once. (A record?) Romney looked grand and smooth and spoke eloquently about education accomplishments in Massachusetts when he was governor of the state; John McCain touted his years of service and involvement in national security matters, and looked old. Huckabee explained that his faith caused him to believe that all citizens deserve access to good health care and decent education. No one won; no one lost.

That may be good news for Huckabee. Though he has jumped into the lead in Iowa, no one was gunning for him (except fringe candidate Alan Keyes, who inexplicably had been invited to participate in the debate). So Huckabee pranced through the encounter no worse for the wear. And Romney, the previous leader in the Hawkeye State, remains within striking distance of Huckabee.

There were only a few interesting moments in the 90-minute-long session. Two involved Thompson. When Washburn asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believed human-induced global warming is a threat Thompson said he wasn't going to engage in any "hand-shows." The rest of the pack followed suit. Thompson declared he would only answer the question if given a minute to do so. Given that Thompson in a radio commentary last March mocked people concerned with global warming and made comments suggesting he was a global warming denier, his refusal to agree with this basic statement was suspicious.

Then when the subject of the debate turned to the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that reported Iran in 2003 discontinued a secret nuclear weapons program, Thompson indicated that he didn't accept the NIE and said that a U.S. president ought to rely more on British or Israeli intelligence then the U.S. intelligence community. A "president cannot let a piece of paper by a bureaucrat determine solely what his action is going to be," Thompson insisted. But that was a rather inaccurate description of an NIE. Such a document is not a report dashed off by one bureaucrat; it is the consensus document of the intelligence establishment, which is made up of sixteen different agencies. It can be wrong (as was the sloppy and hastily-compiled NIE on Iraq's WMDs). But Thompson's eagerness to belittle the intelligence system of the government he seeks to head might be considered troubling by voters looking for a president who will resist the I-know-best urge when deciding national security policy. But with Thompson's campaign sputtering, his skepticism toward the Iran NIE and global warming is not a pressing matter.

Minutes after the debate ended, a Thompson campaign email landed in reporters' inboxes that slammed Romney for helping to create a health care program in Massachusetts that covers abortions for a small copayment. The subject head: "Romney -- $50 Abortions in Massachusetts." The Thompson campaign is probably hoping for some viral action on this missive.

This email was a reminder. Though the candidates played nice on the stage during the debate, they still have plenty of time to throw muddy iceballs at each other before Iowa caucus goers gather on January 3.

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How Bad Do You Want It? 82nd Airborne Takes New Approach to Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 4:58 PM EST

In the Nawa district of southern Afghanistan's Ghazni Province, villagers are so poor that they cannot clothe themselves in the winter. Their children are so sick that in the best case scenario, they are merely blind. And every time the struggling government tries to help them by supplying blankets, notebooks, or medical supplies, the Taliban emerges and yanks that aid away.

In remote regions such as these, the Taliban retains both unfettered power and a determination to fight outside influence. So the 82nd Airborne has begun visiting village after village, offering basic medical care and attempting to persuade residents to resist the Taliban's brutality. By demonstrating their intent not to shoot, but to offer help, the Army hopes to win the villagers to their cause and, hopefully, improve security enough to begin building much-needed infrastructure.

It's a fine idea, said the villagers, but how could it be done? I'd ask the same. "We would like to support the coalition forces, but if we do that the Taliban will come at night and cut off our heads," worried one villager. Said another, "I know we are supposed to stand up against the Taliban, but we are poor people. We do not have the ability to do that." The lieutenant leading this particular conversation, held town-hall style in a village mosque, took a tough-love approach. "'The truth is that you have the ability to make a change,' he said. 'You are just not willing to do it.'"

While I applaud the Army's choice to address problems in the region by rallying villagers, rather than occupying their villages, in this case I'm not sure the boot-camp approach is really the right one.

Health Care Scare Tactics: More on How Immigration is Overblown

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 1:28 PM EST

farm-worker.jpg You are aware that illegal immigrants, in addition to taking away jobs from Americans and declining to assimilate and refusing to pay taxes, are a massive drain on the American health system, right? Right??

Actually, let's all just take a deep breath on this immigrant/health care subissue and look at the facts.

...a 2006 RAND study concluded that in 2000, health care for undocumented immigrants between 18 and 64 years old cost taxpayers about $11 per household—roughly the price of a cheeseburger in Manhattan.
Part of the reason the price tag is so low is that our health care system does only the bare minimum for undocumented immigrants. The CBO reports that 1986 Medicaid reforms stipulated that immigrants could receive emergency Medicaid for must-have-care situations like childbirth. But "emergency Medicaid covers only those services that are necessary to stabilize a patient; any other services delivered after a patient is stabilized are not covered." Undocumented immigrants are only assured enough health care to make sure they don't die; so the costs of emergency Medicaid are very low.
Take the example of Oklahoma, whose legislature passed the most sweeping anti-immigration bill in the nation earlier this year... according to the CBO, in 2006 the Oklahoma Health Care Authority spent .31 percent (that's right, less than one-third of one percent) of its budget on emergency Medicaid for undocumented immigrants. And since fiscal year 2003, less than one percent of the individuals served and the dollars spent on Medicaid by the agency have been related to undocumented immigrants—they're barely making a dent in Oklahoma's system.

Take these facts and arm yourself. More after the jump.

Immigration's Disproportionate Significance: Thanks, Iowa

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 1:20 PM EST

border_fence_beach_230.jpg As you may have heard, Mike Huckabee recently got the endorsement of anti-illegal immigration wackjob and Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist. Matt Yglesias observes that this puts Huckabee in a good place: "a preacher flanked with an anti-immigrant vigilante on one side and Chuck Norris on the other is sort of the ultimate Republican primary candidate."

Huck's going to need all the help he can get on this issue. He's got a soft record on illegal immigration but a hard new stance (that includes forcing every illegal immigrant in the country to leave within 120 days). Many are stunned that Gilchrist would endorse the formerly compassionate Huckabee. (Like my framing?)

But the broader point is about immigration's insanely disproportionate significance in this race. This simply is not an issue the nation cares about. According to this chart of nationwide polling numbers, three things are important: national security, the economy, and health care. And yet, as the LA Times puts it, "More than any other question, Republican presidential candidates are asking voters to consider a single issue in the weeks before primary voting begins: Who detests illegal immigration the most?"

Why?

Will Today's Final Pre-Iowa GOP Debate Become a Theological Smackdown?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 11:29 AM EST

From AP:

Republican Mitt Romney retorted to questions about his faith by surging rival Mike Huckabee on Wednesday, declaring that "attacking someone's religion is really going too far."
In an article to be published Sunday in The New York Times, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, asks, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"
Romney, vying to become the first Mormon elected president, declined to answer that question during an interview Wednesday, saying church leaders in Salt Lake City had already addressed the topic.
"But I think attacking someone's religion is really going too far. It's just not the American way, and I think people will reject that," Romney told NBC's "Today" show.

This is some setup for this afternoon's GOP Republican presidential debate, the final candidate face-off before the Iowa caucuses. Will Romney this evening have to address that vital national issue: are Jesus and Satan half-brothers? Or might he be forced to say whether he believes the Book of Mormon is literally true? That Jesus really came to the Americas after his resurrection and established an enlightened society that lasted for several generations? That Joseph Smith in 1830 really found golden tablets that only he could read? Might Romney be asked to explain why he was a member of church that followed racist rules (by not allowing blacks to serve in its leadership) until 1978?

Dems Lose in Ohio and Virginia Special Congressional Elections

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 1:41 AM EST

If you are waiting with bated breath for the results of today's special elections in Ohio and Virginia, here they are. In Ohio, Democrat Robin Weirauch lost pretty badly in a solidly conservative district. Final tally: Republican Bob Latta 57%, Weirach 43%. The only good news out of Ohio is that the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spent $428,000 on the race, which totals nearly one-fifth of its entire cash-on-hand.

In Virginia, it was even more lopsided. Another inexperienced Democrat was unable to take a conservative district away from the Republicans. Final tally here: Republican Rob Wittman 61%, Democrat Philip Forgit 37%. Forgit, an Iraq War veteran with no political background, would have been an interesting figure in Congress, but the moderate Wittman proved too tough. Turnout was just 16 percent.

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One Small Step for Gay Science, One Giant Step Back for Gay Rights?

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 8:27 PM EST

Scientists recently determined how to make gay fruit flies straight, and vice versa. The findings published in Nature Neuroscience this week conjure up disturbing images of big pharma manufacturing drugs that erase homosexual desire while the religious right markets them.

This discovery makes Gary Greenberg's "Gay By Choice?" published in Mother Jones in September/October 2007 all the more relevant. The gay rights movement has been hoping science would vindicate it for far too long. But what if science proves that gayness is not an immutable trait, or worse, finds a way to "cure" it? Isn't it time, as Greenberg argues, "to find reasons other than medical science to insist that people ought to be able to love whom they love"?

—Celia Perry

Two Inconsistencies from Obama's Past

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 6:32 PM EST

obama-flag.jpg A survey asking for positions on almost three dozen issues that Barack Obama filled out in 1996 as a state senate candidate shows that Obama has been a strong progressive for his entire (albeit relatively short) political career. On two issues, however, he held bolder and more liberal positions than he does currently. Here's Politico:

"Do you support … capital punishment?" one question asked.
"No," the 1996 Obama campaign typed, without explaining his answer in the space provided.
"Do you support state legislation to … ban the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns?" asked one of the three dozen questions.
"Yes," was Obama's entire answer.

The PDFs of the survey are available on Politico's site. Obama now says that he does support the death penalty, but only in limited circumstances, such as for a particularly awful crime. On handguns, he says he is for "common-sense limits" but not bans.

Is it troubling that Obama switched his position on these issues? Somewhat, yes. Obama is supposed to be the purist candidate in the Democratic race, the one who doesn't change his beliefs based on possible political advantages. But that said, if these two shifts, which are relatively minor, are the biggest inconsistencies his opponents can point to, they probably ought to look elsewhere. Like at the fact that his political career began in just 1996.

Nurses on Cheney: "He'd Probably Be Dead by Now"

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 4:02 PM EST

nurses-cheney.jpg These nurses have sass. The California Nurses Association (CNA)/National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC) are running this newspaper advertisement in the top 10 Iowa newspapers, cheering universal health insurance and poking Dick Cheney with a sharp stick. In case you can't read the fine print, I'll type some of it here.

"The patient's history and prognosis were grim: four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, angioplasty, an implanted defibrillator and now an emergency procedure to treat an irregular heartbeat.

"For millions of Americans, this might be a death sentence. For the vice president, it was just another medical treatment. And it cost him very little.

"Unlike the average American, the president, vice president and members of Congress all enjoy government-financed health care with few restrictions or prohibitive fees. They are never turned away for pre-existing conditions or denied care for what an insurance company labels "experimental treatments."

"The rest of us deserve no less."

The Candidates Go Negative - All of Them

| Tue Dec. 11, 2007 2:14 PM EST

It's getting dirty out there.

Obama has released an opposition research paper on Edwards, Clinton has released an opposition research paper on Obama, Romney has released an attack ad on Huckabee, McCain has issued a statement slamming Romney for attacking Huckabee, and a Clinton deputy campaign manager has sent out an apparently drunk email requesting dirt on Obama's work as a South Side organizer in Chicago.

If this sort of stuff turns your stomach, go ahead and turn off your television for the next two months. From now until February 6, it's crunch time.