romney.jpg Nobody is waiting until Thursday's speech to weigh in on whether or not Romney is making a smart move. Marc Ambinder has a nice list of pros and cons, but I think Ross Douthat hits it on the head.

With the Iowa caucus on January 3rd, the primary campaign basically lasts from today until Christmas Eve. That's all the time Romney has to reframe Mike Huckabee, his top competitor in Iowa, who, due to his late rise and favorable media coverage, has been able to keep his negatives off the radar. Huckabee has three "problems" that could make him vulnerable in the GOP race: a relatively compassionate history with illegal immigrants, a decidedly moderate fiscal record, and a complete lack of foreign policy chops. Romney has the money and organization in Iowa to put these things front and center.

Instead, though, a significant portion of the next three weeks will be devoted to questions of faith. And when Republican primary voters are asked to make a decision based on faith, and their options are the socially conservative former Baptist preacher who speaks eloquently and authoritatively about the Bible or a Mormon guy who doesn't even have the principles to avoid waffling on small parts of his faith in order to make it more palatable to voters, who do you think they are going to choose?

And then there's the danger that this speech brings all of Mormonism's quirks to the fore. Like the fact that it didn't allow black people to become priests until 1978. Or the fact that it technically sees all conventional Christian churches as "apostates." Or the fact that it still teaches that believers can have multiple wives in heaven. Maybe not odder than the oddities of any other faith (except the racism thing, which originates in some pretty nasty anti-black scriptures), but definitely not the stuff Romney wants in his news coverage.

If this speech had come six months ago, voters would have had time to chew it over, digest it, and then move on to something else. But now Iowans will have all this bouncing around their heads as they go to the caucuses.

Did Karl Rove fib to Charlie Rose?

Is the Bush administration preventing Congress from further investigating Rove's role in the Valerie Plame leak case and doing the same regarding the White House?

The answers: Yes, and it seems so.

Let's start with the first question. On November 21, Charlie Rose conducted an interview with Rove during which Rove claimed disingenuously that congressional Democrats in 2002, not the Bush White House, pushed for a pre-election vote on a resolution authorizing George W. Bush to attack Iraq. This comment kicked up a controversy. But in one portion of the Rose interview cut out of the TV-edit that appeared, Rove tossed out another whopper. This excerpt was posted by the Charlie Rose show on YouTube, and it covers questions Rose posed to Rove regarding former White House press secretary Scott McClellan's recent hullabaloo-causing statement about a key episode in the CIA leak case. If you just awoke from a coma, McClellan said,

I...publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. There was one problem. It was not true. I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration "were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President's chief of staff, and the president himself.

Rove claimed to Rose that McClellan had emailed him a few notes maintaining that these few sentences had been misinterpreted. Rove added that he would not have anything else to say on this until a "more full disclosure" appears in McClellan's book, which is scheduled to be published next spring. But Rove went on to insist that he had not misled McClellan, and he claimed total innocence:

I did not knowingly disclose the identity or name of a CIA agent.

Wait a minute. Let's look at an email (first disclosed by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek) that Matt Cooper, then a Time correspondent, sent to his editors on July 11, 2003--three days before the name and CIA employment of Valerie Plame Wilson was first disclosed in a column by Robert Novak.

hummer.jpg People who drive Hummers apparently like them because they look like engines of destruction. New research out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that it's not just an image thing. Hummers really do leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

According to the Institute data, Hummer owners wiped out two and a half times as many parking lot pilings and smaller cars than the average car driver. The H2 pickup was especially bad, topping the list with the worst property-damage claim record of any car on the road. The reason is fairly obvious: Hummers are enormous. With bumpers far too high off the ground, these pricey toys turn the run-of-the-mill shopping mall fender-bender into a major catastrophe.

"The Hummer is a classic example of a big mismatch with just about anything out there on the road," says Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a nonprofit research arm of the auto insurance industry. The new data suggest that those seeking relief from a midlife crisis should abandon giant SUVs and return to the classy sports car. The car generating the lowest number of property-damage claims? The Porsche 911 coupe.

There's been a minor splash because of two new polls that seemingly contradict the Obama surge in Iowa.

The first is an AP-Pew poll that has the three-way race looking like this: Clinton 31%, Obama 26%, Edwards 19%

The second is an Iowa State University poll that is even more startling: Clinton 31%, Edwards 24%, Obama 20%

Here's the catch. The AP-Pew poll was conducted November 7-25. Some of the results there are two to three weeks old. The Iowa State University poll was conducted November 6-18. All of the results there are two to three weeks old. They all predate the juvenation the Obama campaign has gotten going in Iowa these past few weeks.

More current numbers all show the race tied or with Obama leading slightly. An American Research Group poll conducted 11/26-11/29 has Obama 27%, Clinton 25%, Edwards 23%. A Des Moines Register poll conducted 11/25-11/28 has Obama 28%, Clinton 25%, Edwards 23%. A Rasmussen poll conducted 11/26-11/27 has Clinton 27%, Obama 25%, Edwards 24%.

The average, according to Real Clear Politics, is dead even: Obama 27.5%, Clinton 27.2%, Edwards 22.3%.


Zut alors and ¡ay caramba! You can now purchase Ameros, the hypothetical currency of the North American Union, the imaginary superstate conspiracy endorsed by Ron Paul in last week's GOP debate. The creator of the Amero coins describes them as "private-issue fantasy pattern coins," which is fitting, since the idea of the unified currency and the NAU is, well, a fantasy. (Why in the world would Canada want to hitch the loonie to the floundering greenback, anyway?) This isn't the only fantasy currency connected to Paul: The Feds recently busted the private mint that had been selling a "Ron Paul Dollar" and is investigating its owner for manufacturing currency. So if you had $100 to spend on a currency from an alternate reality, would you stock up on Paul Bucks, Ameros, or Linden Dollars?

Hot off the presses from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI): a long-awaited National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, entitled "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" (.pdf)

But any journalist would have told the folks at the office of the Intel Czar, the report should have had a different headline. Something like:


From the NIE, Key Judgment A:

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran's announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work.

The NIE also states:

It's entirely legitimate to wonder if Barack Obama's lack of Washington experience would keep him from effectively working the levers of power as president. It's legitimate to wonder if he would be able to create and pass major policy proposals, or handle international incidents with the right touch. But it is looking less and less legitimate to question whether his lack of Washington experience will keep him from successfully executing the political jujitsu of the general election.

Hillary Clinton has been hammering Obama with attacks of late: on the fact that Karl Rove is giving him (unsolicited) advice, on his health care plan, and on his claims that he is not running for president to fulfill long-held ambition.

And Obama has expertly fought back. His campaign has started a "Hillary Attacks" website that points out that Clinton said "I'm not interested in attacking my opponents" just days before her offensive against Obama began. The campaign has also set up a "Factcheck" website that gives the Obama side of things in rapid fashion. There are also extremely thorough pages devoted to debunking the most persistent rumors about Obama.

Admittedly, the Republican smear machine will hit Obama harder (and with dirtier material) than the Clinton camp has. But the possibility of a Swift Boat attack that goes uncontested and eventually sinks the Obama campaign is looking more like a Republican fantasy and less like a realistic possibility.

Karl Rove needs to work on his reading comprehension skills. I can say so because he's been disingenuously citing me.

During the past week, the Bush-guru-turned-Newsweek-columnist has been on the defensive regarding the claim he made during a Charlie Rose interview that the Bush White House "was opposed to voting on" the Iraq war resolution right before the 2002 congressional elections. He insisted, "We didn't think it belonged within the confines of the election." Asserting that "we thought it made [the vote] too political," Rove said that it was the congressional Democrats who pressed for the vote in the middle of the political season.

As Michael Isikoff and I reported in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, President George W. Bush met at the White House with congressional leaders on September 4 and told them he wanted a quick vote on a resolution that would grant him the authority to use military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush insisted he wanted this vote within six weeks. Senator Tom Daschle, then the majority leader of the Senate, wondered why the rush? He suspected that Rove was orchestrating a fast vote to put the Democrats on the spot right before the mid-term election. In fact, a day earlier, Daschle had been in a smaller meeting with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. During that get-together, he had asked Bush, wouldn't it be better to postpone the vote until after the election and take politics out of the debate? Bush turned toward Cheney, who shot the president a look that Daschle later described as a "half smile." Then Bush told Daschle, "We just have to do it now."

Rove now says none of that happened and he will explain all (of course) in a book yet to be written. But not only Daschle has challenged Rove's account. Former White House chief of staff Andy Card did the same, quipping, "Sometimes [Rove's] mouth gets ahead of his brain." And former White House press secretary Ari Fleishcer also chimed in, saying, "It was definitely the Bush administration that set it in motion and determined the timing, not the Congress. I think Karl in this instance just has his facts wrong."

Despite all this, Rove has stuck with his story and has gone so far as to cite me. I've been reliably informed that Rove has been pointing to an article I posted on September 25, 2002, to defend his remarks. In that piece, "Democrats Whine About War Debate", I did write that House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Daschle were "pushing for a fast vote on Bush's war resolution in order to have a chance to address other subjects prior to the November 5 congressional elections." But the article made clear that Bush (and Rove) had pushed them into the corner with a demand for a fast, pre-election vote.

The article cited examples of how the Bush gang, in the run-up to the election, was politicizing the war vote:

obama_edwards250x200.jpg I've believed for quite some time (much to the amusement of the staff around here) that John Edwards and Barack Obama would make a natural pairing on a presidential ticket because of the similarities in their messages.

The belief is heavily informed by the fact that when I was in Iowa, I saw Edwards frequently praise Obama on the stump, sometimes apropos of nothing at all. The reason I bring this up now is because Edwards did it again at the Iowa Brown and Black Forum over the weekend:

"The cause of ending poverty in America is a cause that's very central to what I want to do as president, and central to my life. … And there is at least one other candidate on this stage who has also spoken, strongly and eloquently, about doing something about poverty in America, and it's Senator Obama."

Candidates are not in the business of lavishing completely unnecessary praise on their opponents, especially not opponents beating them in the polls. It's doubly weird for Edwards to make this statement because poverty is his signature issue. In saying that Obama has spoken "strongly and eloquently" about it, Edwards dilutes his brand.

And Edwards' last line just fuels my speculation. Speaking of Obama, he said:

"I think our voices together are more powerful than our voices alone."

I think I have a legit case. Now if I could only get someone to take me seriously around here...

This weekend, the American Anthropological Association will hold an annual meeting that ought to make quite a bit of noise for such a seemingly staid body. Interestingly, international groups which oppose "this procedure" will be debating anthropologists who support it. Among the dissenters? African anthropologists who have personally undergone, and defend, female circumsicion. Organizers note in the New York Times:

The panel includes for the first time, the critical "third wave" or multicultural feminist perspectives of circumcised African women scholars Wairimu Njambi, a Kenyan, and Fuambai Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonean. Both women hail from cultures where female and male initiation rituals are the norm and have written about their largely positive and contextualized experiences, creating an emergent discursive space for a hitherto "muted group" in global debates about FGC [female genital cutting].

Well, this particular tactic is already working: much as I want to, I haven't allowed myself to type the phrase "female genital mutilation". Way to stifle debate and go all PC on us. Now it's not just blacks shutting whites up, it's Africans shutting every Westerner up.

This was one of the few issues that American blacks bothered to notice about Africa and now we find ourselves roped off in the pit of disapproval with The Man, our 'colonialist' critiques guilty until proven innocent. Having had to deal with it throughout my career as a non-conforming black public intellectual, I sincerely hate to speculate on the psychological forces at work in 'circumcised' women singing its praises. Still, I have to wonder if these womens' (there goes PC again; I really want to say 'victim/survivors') sanity might not depend on making this particular lemonade. If you've been circumcised, and you live in the West, you have two choices: celebration or mourning. Even more dangerous: anger. Who knows which any of us would pick.

Just like veiled women who embrace their robes and enforced seclusion as expressions of feminism or cultural pride, however, these women have a long way to go in creating a counter narrative that makes the West look on the bright side of female circumsicion. We might shut up and just leave Africa to its own devices (jagged soup can lids and bacteria-ridden thorns). But I doubt that even these brainy, politicized women living in the collision of two such different worlds can accomplish more than that. Which isn't to say that these well-educated culture warrior-women aren't indeed creating an "emergent discursive space" it won't be easy to speak truth back to the power of. This is what a western education can do in service of the unspeakable:

Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized "feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage." In another essay, she writes:
It is difficult for me—considering the number of ceremonies I have observed, including my own—to accept that what appears to be expressions of joy and ecstatic celebrations of womanhood in actuality disguise hidden experiences of coercion and subjugation. Indeed, I offer that the bulk of Kono women who uphold these rituals do so because they want to—they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over against men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority and particularly the authority of their mothers and grandmothers.

The "authority of their mothers and grandmothers" to mutilate their daughters in unanesthetized and unsanitary rituals meant to please men and reinforce male control over female sexuality? It appears to be Dr. Ahmadu who is doing a bit of de-contextualizing here, making the ritual stand apart from the reason, and the gendered hierarchy, in which it occurs. Ok, I'll go there—putting women in charge of circumcising other women is little different from slave masters putting loyal slaves in charge of whipping the rebels. It's no different from any other gut-wrenchingly hideous job categorized, and despised, as "women's work". That the women made something exultant from the entrails of oppression is no different than what the slaves did with chit'lins.

In the same way that this issue has reinforced how important it is to control the language of any particular debate (e.g. fgc vs. fgm), it's also helped reinforce the importance of not being guilted into silence in dealing with the Third World. If these women can prove to us that female circumsicion, whatever it used to be, isn't now barbaric and foundational to female oppression, fine. But we must not allow the debate to center on the festivities surrounding the circumsicion itself, however rockin' the party that day. The practice must indeed be culturally contextualized—do women hold office, are they educated like males, is there a dowry system, will the panelists daughters be circumcised?—however much further trauma that might cause those who survived and now support it.

Claiming that women in circumsicion cultures uphold the traditions because they want to just rhymes too closely with the good ol' boys who claimed that their 'nigras' were happy as clams until the 'outside agitators' and 'civil rightsers' got 'em all confused. Which, if memory serves, is also what the slave masters, and many slaves, said. Free your minds, African women, and your clitorises willl follow.