Molly Norris no longer exists.

Her comics no longer appear in her local newspapers. She’s moved. Changed her name. Vanished from public view. The FBI advised her to do this, it is said. A pen, after all, can be a dangerous thing.

This spring, Norris, the former Seattle cartoonist, posted a defense of free speech on her website—a satirical poster advertising an “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day.” She’d meant it to be tongue in cheek, but, you know, the road to hell and all that. So Norris quickly backpedaled, but it was too late. She’d unwittingly smacked a hornet’s nest.


Maj. Beau Spafford (center) of Summerville, S.C., officer-in-charge, Civil Military Operations, 1-178th Field Artillery Battalion, South Carolina Army National Guard, meets with elders from the Hud Kheel village outside of Camp Phoenix to discuss election day security needs for the upcoming national elections in Afghanistan. Spafford leads a team that is responsible for executing the counterinsurgency mission in the Camp Phoenix area of operations. Photo via U.S. Army.

On Tuesday, Rick Lazio, the once-popular moderate GOP congressman from Long Island, lost his bid to become the Republicans' nominee for governor of New York. Lazio will still appear on the ballot on the Conservative Party line, but crazy, racist upstate millionaire businessman Carl Paladino will be the New York GOP's choice to take on state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. This is both appropriate and scary.

It's appropriate because Lazio wasn't much better than Paladino on what became (sigh) the key issue of the primary race. During the campaign, Lazio, like Paladino, focused much of his attention on the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," a community and worship center that a group of moderate Muslims want to build two blocks away from the site of the September 11 attacks. (Adam Weinstein has more on all that here.) The two GOPers were basically competing to see who could better stomp on the Constitution.

Lazio referred to the project as a "trophy mosque" (implying all Muslims were responsible for 9/11) and of course claimed his opposition was "not about religion." After all, he said, "There are many places for Muslims to pray throughout the city." (Why should Muslims be able to pray on private property that they own? It's not like this is America or something.) "But this site here is so close to Ground Zero," he said, adding that "it is sacred ground." Cuomo, to his credit, has rejected Lazio's calls that he "investigate" the planners and funders of the so-called mosque. The "mosque" stuff is a disgusting, hateful business, and a more courageous Republican candidate wouldn't have participated in it. I suspect Lazio wasn't lying when he said his position on the issue was "not about religion." Of course it wasn't—it was about politics, and trying to convince a radicalized, rump New York GOP to nominate him. How'd that work out for you, Rick? 

So there are a lot of reasons not to feel sorry for Lazio. But despite the mosque demagoguery, Lazio's defeat is also a bit frightening. Earlier this year, I (like many others) was convinced that a solid GOP election season would mean the return of the near-extinct Northeastern moderate Republican. (Lazio was once one of these legendary beasts.) Boy, was that wrong. What's happened instead is that tea partiers have primaried moderate Republicans all over the place. Rep. Mike Castle lost his race in Delaware Tuesday night. Lazio got crushed. Former Connecticut Rep. Rob Simmons lost to WWE mogul Linda McMahon in Connecticut. Former Rep. Charlie Bass was nearly primaried out of his bid to regain his old seat in New Hampshire. The list goes on—and pollsters, looking forward, see that moderate Maine Republican Olympia Snowe looks incredibly vulnerable to a potential challenge from the right in 2012.

Pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the 2010 primary season, tea party insurgent Christine O'Donnell defeated Rep. Mike Castle in the Delaware's Republican Senate primary. O'Donnell won 53 to 47 percent with the final ballots still being counted Tuesday night, shocking observers across the political spectrum. Castle, a veritable political veteran, appeared to have a clear path to victory until a poll from Public Policy Polling came out last week showing O'Donnell ahead by three points, having received a last-minute boost from national tea party groups that poured money and grassroots support into the race.

The question now is what the national GOP will do with O'Donnell. Just how far to the right are their national leaders willing to go to play to the tea party base and do anything to oppose the Democratic agenda? The GOP establishment poured an unusual degree of invective into its crusade against O'Donnell, casting her as completely unelectable in a reliably blue state that went for Obama in 2008 by a 25 percent margin. Without the Delaware seat, the GOP's chances of winning back the Senate majority have diminished significantly. Minutes after O'Donnell's victory was called, Beltway GOP operatives were aghast. It's the "worst night for GOP since passage of Obamacare," tweeted Republican new media consultant Patrick Ruffini. "Congratulations Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)."

Some liberals are celebrating the victory of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware's GOP Senate primary, hoping that her candidacy will hand the seat to Democratic candidate Chris Coons. But elsewhere, progressives have a primary victory of their own to cheer. In the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Paul Hodes in New Hampshire's second congressional district (Hodes is running for the Senate), liberal-backed Ann McLane Kuster clobbered more conservative Katrina Swett. (Swett committed the ultimate crime in progressive-land: she was the co-chair of Joe Lieberman's presidential campaign.) Kuster was backed by major pro-choice groups, who worried that Swett could not be trusted on abortion rights issues. That mattered. But the race was also a chance for liberals to flex their political muscles. 

Kuster was supported by all the big progressive activist groups—especially Howard Dean's Democracy for America (DFA) and the Progressive Change* Campaign Committee (PCCC). I recently spoke to PCCC's Adam Green about the race. He said Kuster's win showed "maturity" in the progressive movement's ability to affect primaries. "A few years ago blogs would raise small amounts of money for candidates but not really have an ongoing relationship with their campaign," Green said. "But now we're at a point where we're helping campaigns find staffing, run cutting edge online campaigns, and also raise a ton of money online from lots of people." There's no doubt PCCC had an impact on the race: it mobilized its 2,800 New Hampshire members to assist her campaign, it helped her find her communications director, and it raised around $100,000—real money in a primary contest—for Kuster. The candidate called the organization a "real partner." 

Liberal groups haven't won all their primaries this year. Their candidate in Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, lost to incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln in June. But they've notched some important victories. Joe Sestak beat party-switcher and White House-backed Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. Liberal- (and Daily Kos-)backed candidate Manan Trivedi (a doctor and Iraq war vet) won a tough House primary race against a more conservative, self-funding opponent in May and will face incumbent GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach in the fall. The night Trivedi won—May 18—Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway beat a more conservative opponent for the Democratic Senate nomination in that state. And on June 22, liberal favorite Elaine Marshall beat establishment-backed Cal Cunningham (the pick of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) for the Dem Senate nomination in North Carolina. 

The real question, of course, is whether any of these progressive candidates can win in November. Swett attacked Kuster during a debate as unelectable and too progressive. She'll certainly have a hard race against former Rep. Charlie Bass—if he can survive a tough primary race of his own. (Swett would have had trouble with Bass, too.) But Green, unsurprisingly, thinks his group picked the right horse. "A lot of people have been saying Democratic voters don't vote for a progressive candidate because they can't win," he says. "We want to prove that wrong in 2010." He sure picked some year to test that proposition.

UPDATE: Reshma Saujani, who ran a Wall Street-backed campaign challenging incumbent New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney from the right, lost badly on Tuesday night. That should probably count as another victory for liberals.

*This originally said Congressional. That was wrong. Sorry.

The final primary elections of 2010 are tonight. Mother Jones' David Corn, Suzy Khimm, and Nick Baumann are covering the action on Twitter:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday pledged a vote on "Don't Ask, Don’t Tell," the controversial policy barring gays from serving openly in the military, as early as next week.

Maybe it was Lady Gaga's Tweet earlier today urging fans to call the senator and demand a vote that finally forced the issue. I'd guess that wasn't the deciding factor though, as DADT has been on the agenda for some time now and was moved slightly higher last week after a court threw out the ban. But Reid replied to Gaga via Twitter that a vote is coming next week. "Anyone qualified to serve this country should be allowed to do so," Reid said. (He also urged her to "Come back to Vegas soon!")

Reid said in a more formal statement that a measure to repeal the 17-year-old policy would be included in the Defense Authorization bill. "We will finally send a loud and clear message that everyone who steps up to serve our country should and will be welcomed regardless of sexual orientation," said Reid.

Senate removal of the ban would also take some of the pressure off the Obama administration on the issue. While Obama has pledged to end the policy, his administration has defended it in court on the argument that Congress should determine military policy. A federal judge ruled last week that the policy violates service members' Fifth Amendment rights to due process and First Amendment rights to free speech.

The Obama administration may charge an American Muslim cleric living in Yemen with terrorism-related crimes, the AP reports. That's odd, because the Obama administration already admitted earlier this year that it has targeted the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, for death. Al-Awlaki, who was born in the United States, is accused of inspiring the Christmas Day bomber and the Fort Hood shootings, as well as "recruiting and motivating terrorists." The Justice Department is considering charges against the cleric "in case the CIA fails to kill him," according to the AP. Normally, the government is supposed to charge and convict American citizens before it orders their executions. But in Barack Obama's war on terror, that's not always the case.

So just in case you don't have this straight: Plan A is just having the CIA kill this guy. If that doesn't work, Plan B is actually charging him with a crime. 

Anyway, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Consitutional Rights, two groups that are suing the Obama administration over its "targeted killing" program—including the targeting of al-Awlaki—issued a joint statement in response to the AP report:

Our organizations have long stated that if the government has evidence that Anwar Al-Aulaqi is involved in terrorist activity, it should present that evidence to a court – not authorize his execution without charge or trial. Now, months after the government announced its intent to kill Al-Aulaqi, it may finally bring charges against him. This would be a step in the right direction. The constitutional guarantee of due process relies on the critical distinction between allegations and evidence. If the reports that charges may be brought against Al-Aulaqi are true, the fact that it has taken the government this long – months after having announced his death sentence – suggests that, in this case, the government's allegations were far ahead of its evidence.

While bringing charges against Al-Aulaqi based on credible evidence would be a step in the right direction, it would not mean that he could now be targeted for killing without trial. It is well established that the government cannot use extrajudicial killing to punish people for past acts, but only to prevent grave and imminent threats. A criminal charge for past crimes does not provide a license to kill.

We continue to believe that the courts must play a role in establishing legal standards for when the government can take the life of one of its own citizens without charge or trial. For that reason, we will continue with our litigation.

The rights groups are probably just pissing into the wind. Their lawsuit doesn't have much hope. In a world when the just-the-facts-please Associated Press can describe the government's plans to bring someone to court "in case the CIA fails to kill him," and the public barely blinks, it's hard to feel confident about the fate of any civil liberties litigation. 

The fact that the possibility of charging al-Awlaki leaked does suggest that the Obama administration may not be entirely united on the issue. Their actions are certainly confused and incoherent: if they believe they can kill a man without trying him, why should they worry about trying him at all, even if he's captured alive? How can the government have the right to kill one of its own citizens without trial and not have the right to do anything else it wants to him? I asked the ACLU whether anyone there wanted to talk about what the Obama folks might be thinking. "All we know is what's in the AP story," a spokeswoman said. "We aren't prepared to speculate beyond that."

Starring in a reality show is a good way to become an actor, a swimsuit model, or a prison inmate—so why not a member of Congress? "I've gotta put this on my dude resume!" MTV's Real World: Hollywood contestant David Malinosky once said, in a quote that referred to a foursome...but could also summarize these political times. Three former reality-show stars are seeking seats in Congress this year; two of them face primaries today. Their television fame will boost their name recognition but not necessarily their credibility, especially in the cases of two former Real World contestants who've starred in hours of dudely video footage.

Sean Duffy, the leading GOP candidate for the House seat of retiring Wisconsin Democrat David Obey, appeared on Real World: Boston in 1997. In one segment, he dances on a pool table in his boxer shorts while drinking beer. In another, he attends a drag-queen show. It's provocative stuff for a candidate who's backed by the tea party. Duffy's Republican primary opponent, Dan Mielke, used the footage to criticize him for being gay-friendly. But the video seems to show the opposite. After the drag show, Duffy says that he "felt out of place the whole time" and then grabs a woman's behind in an apparent reaffirmation of his masculinity.

In Brooklyn, former Real World: New York star Kevin Powell is running for the second time for the seat of Democratic Rep. Ed Towns. Even before Powell was outed for owing the IRS upwards of $615,000, he was carrying some political baggage. In episode 11 of the show, co-star Julie Gentry accuses him of throwing a candleholder at her (the video is not available online). "She is scared of Kevin, thinks he is a psycho, and never wants to be alone with him again," says MTV's summary of the segment. "Kevin denies brandishing the candleholder and says the fight wasn't his fault."

The Democratic nominee in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District, Surya Yalamanchili, may have an easier time turning his reality show past to his advantage. He was a contestant on season six of Donald Trump's The Apprentice, where he had the chance to show off his business chops. Nevertheless, his final episode involved a brutal mutiny by his teammates that convinced Trump to axe him. "I happen to think you are going to be a very successful guy," Trump concludes, "but for now, Surya, you're fired!" 

The Iranian government has ordered the release of Sarah Shourd, one of the three American hikers it has detained since they allegedly wandered over the country's border with Iraq more than a year ago. Shourd, Josh Fattal, and Mother Jones writer Shane Bauer were accused of spying, and Fattal and Bauer are set to be detained for at least another two months. Shourd had to post $500,000 bail to win her release. (It's unclear who paid the bill—the Shourd family said earlier this week that they couldn't afford it.) President Barack Obama issued a statement Tuesday on the latest developments:

I am very pleased that Sarah Shourd has been released by the Iranian government, and will soon be united with her family. All Americans join with her courageous mother and family in celebrating her long-awaited return home. We are grateful to the Swiss, the Sultanate of Oman, and other friends and allies around the world who have worked tirelessly and admirably over the past several months to bring about this joyous reunion.

While Sarah has been released, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal remain prisoners in Iran who have committed no crime. We remain hopeful that Iran will demonstrate renewed compassion by ensuring the return of Shane, Josh and all the other missing or detained Americans in Iran. We salute the courage and strength of the Shourd, Bauer, and Fattal families, who have endured the unimaginable absence of their loved ones. We have gained strength from their resolve, and will continue do everything we can to secure the release of their loved ones.

And here's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

I welcome Sarah Shourd’s release from detention in Iran, and am pleased that she will soon be reunited with her family. I appreciate the efforts of all those who have worked for her release, in particular the Swiss Protecting Power in Tehran, the Omani Government, and the many other world leaders who have raised this case and the cases of other detained or missing American citizens. Sarah’s fiancé Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal, and other U.S. citizens remain detained or missing in Iran. We urge Iranian authorities to extend the same consideration to them by resolving their cases without delay and allowing them to immediately return to their families.

It's great news that Shourd has been freed. Let's hope that Bauer and Fattal are released as soon as possible.