Air Force Basic Military Training trainees low crawl through an obstacle course during the Creating Leaders, Airmen and Warriors course July 27, 2011, at Medina Annex in San Antonio, Texas. US Air Force photo by senior airman Marleah Miller.

Rikers at night (center).

"We are not evacuating Rikers Island," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a news conference Friday. Bloomberg annouced a host of extreme measures being taken by New York City in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, including a shutdown of the public transit system and the unprecedented mandatory evacuation of some 250,000 people from low-lying areas. But in response to a reporter's question, the mayor stated in no uncertain terms (and with a hint of annoyance) that one group of New Yorkers on vulnerable ground will be staying put.

New York City is surrounded by small islands and barrier beaches, and a glance at the city's evacuation map reveals all of them to be in Zone A (already under a mandatory evacuation order) or Zone B–all, that is, save one. Rikers Island, which lies in the waters between Queens and the Bronx, is not highlighted at all, meaning it is not to be evacuated under any circumstances.

Hurricane Irene has forced organizers to delay the dedication ceremony for the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the National Mall, which was originally scheduled for this weekend. But before the cancelation, I was a bit surprised to see BP, of all companies, tweeting about it yesterday:

Well, sponsorship of a memorial to a civil rights hero is certainly better than befouling the Gulf of Mexico or killing polar bears. But doesn't it strike you as a little odd that BP—or any corporation, for that matter—is sponsoring a monument on the National Mall? Actually, it turns out that the monument has a long list of corporate sponsors—the General Motors Foundation, Chevrolet, the Tommy Hilfiger Corporate Foundation, Aetna, Boeing, BP, Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, GE, McDonald's, Travelers, and Walmart.

I'm not entirely opposed to corporations giving support for good causes. It just makes me uncomfortable that those corporations can use this as a badge of honor, evidence that they are responsible, compassionate members of the community. They can dump money on good causes instead of actually living up to the morals that Dr. King stood for.

I'm surely not alone in wishing that BP would, perhaps, also consider compensating the victims of the Gulf oil spill that they've ignored, many of whom are poor people or members of minority groups. Or McDonalds could serve healthier food in low-income communities. Or Walmart could offer decent wages and benefits to all of its employees.

I'm not really sure how common corporate sponsorship is for memorials on the Mall these days; I sent in a few questions to the foundation behind the memorial, but haven't heard back.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic is keeping track of other gripes about the MLK memorial.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is running for president.

Newt Gingrich has officially lost the future. The former Speaker of the House raised $52 million over the last four years through his political action committee, American Solutions for Winning the Future—but now that Gingrich has jumped ship to run his own (floundering) presidential campaign, the 527 he founded and chaired has officially shut down. Per Peter Stone:

To make his bid for the GOP nomination, Gingrich had to sever his ties with the 527, as federal election law requires for candidates, and that proved to be a big blow to its growth and ongoing operations, [chairman Joe] Gaylord said...

The group was well known in conservative policy circles for promoting a "Drill Here, Drill Now," drive to increase the use of domestic energy resources and was invariably a sharp critic of government regulations. This year, the group created a website called to spur GOP lawmakers to repeal the sweeping health care reforms that the administration signed into law in 2010.

One election-law expert wasn't surprised by the group's quick demise. "Some political organizations are like one man shows on Broadway," quipped lawyer Larry Noble of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in an interview with iWatch News . "Once the stars leave, the shows often fold."

As Alex Burns notes, Gaylord had initially planned to keep the PAC afloat while Gingrich ran for president; instead, it's become yet another casualty of his disastrous campaign.

Thanks to a Republican presidential field crowded with hardline conservatives like Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Jon Huntsman is having a tough time selling himself as a credible, semi-reasonable, moderate alternative.

So it’s a little confounding that Huntsman's fundraising team in South Carolina—an ironclad conservative hotbed—includes a staunch foe of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, as Real Clear Politics reports:

One name that jumped out of the newly minted lineup of financial backers in the first-in-the-South primary state is John Rainey, a former head of the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisers and a two-time George W. Bush "pioneer," who bundled at least $100,000 for the Republican candidate in 2000 and 2004.

Rainey has called for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding work that [South Carolina] Gov. Nikki Haley did for a consulting firm and a Columbia hospital, and he recently shared with a reporter his blistering denunciation of the Republican first-term governor, who is seen by many as a rising star in the Republican Party.

"I believe she is the most corrupt person to occupy the governor’s mansion since Reconstruction," Rainey told The Nation in June. “The Democrats got Alvin Greene; we got Nikki Haley. Because nobody bothered to check these guys out."

Huntsman's finance team also boats five people who have donated to Democrats. Of course, as RCP points out, donating to candidates of both parties is nothing new. But in a state with as unbroken a conservative streak as South Carolina's, Huntsman's reliance on a donor with such unadulterated haterade for Haley seems a trifle…unwise. Perhaps Huntsman's staffers think that Haley's sliding approval ratings mean she's no longer the potent political kingmaking force she was once thought to be.   

Still, given the fact that Huntsman has pegged his presidential fortunes to the South Carolina primary—and foregoing the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary—you have to ask just how far his pro-life, pro-business, anti-tax record can carry him. Especially with quotes like this one, from Dem strategist Tyler Jones, floating around: "This is why liberals in South Carolina love Jon Huntsman...He hates Republicans just as much as we do."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a favorite to be the Republican presidential nominee.

On Wednesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a pledge to defund Planned Parenthood if elected President. On Thursday, he promised never to vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. On Friday, he kept the streak alive by signing another pledge—this one from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)—to support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But the pledge actually goes much further than that, committing signees to a "appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters," among other things. Here's what's in it:

  • Support and send to the states a federal marriage amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman,
  • Defend DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] in court,
  • Appoint judges and an attorney general who will respect the original meaning of the Constitution,
  • Appoint a presidential commission to investigate harassment of traditional marriage supporters,
  • Support legislation that would return to the people of D.C. their right to vote for marriage.

Really sweet of Perry to keep Washington, D.C. in his thoughts, one day after he called the city "seedy." As I noted before, Perry's two top rivals, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, have alread signed the pledge. Perry has faced criticism from the right—notably from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum—for initially calling gay marriage a Tenth Amendment issue that should be settled by the states, before quickly backtracking. Perry has also suggested gay people should live a life of celibacy, and supported a law that would make it a misdemeanor for gay couples to have sex. 

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Buried in a New York Times story today on Congressional Republicans' opposition to extending a payroll tax cut that would mostly benefit the working and middle classes is this gem of a quote from Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor:

"All tax relief is not created equal. If the goal is job creation, Leader Cantor has long believed that there are better ways to grow the economy and create jobs than temporary payroll tax relief." [emphasis mine]

This is, on its face, an accurate statement. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office noted last year, some tax cuts boost the economy more than others—cutting the payroll tax cut for employers, for instance, provides more of an immediate jolt to the economy than cutting it for employees, as President Obama is now recommending. (Mind you, of all the policy options in Congress' toolkit, the CBO ranked increased aid to jobless workers as the most effective. That option is nowhere on the GOP's radar.)

Obama's payroll tax cut extension for employees would help the economy. "The increase in take-home pay would spur additional spending by the households receiving the higher income, and that higher spending would, in turn, increase production and employment," the CBO explained. Sure, households would save some of that money, but plenty more would be spent. Economist Mark Zandi (a former John McCain adviser) said in June that extending the payroll tax cut is a "reasonable" idea that would provide a much-needed short-term jolt to the economy. "Without that payroll tax cut this year," Zandi went on, "I think we'd be skirting recession now because of the higher energy prices."

Back to Cantor's flack and the GOP's "all tax relief is not created equal" talking point. So if payroll tax cuts for employees aren't the answer for  tax-cut-loving Republicans, what is? Well, let's take a look at their record and their jobs plans. Looming large, of course, are the GOP's beloved 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts, which mostly benefitted the very wealthy and did little to stimulate the economy. Slashing taxes also features prominently in the jobs plans of GOP leaders such as Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan. In its analysis, the CBO ranked lowering income taxes dead last in its effectiveness.

Why, then, does the GOP support these ineffective tax relief plans? Could it be because the minority of wealthy Americans who do benefit are the same people who bankroll their campaigns?

The world's largest straw man, if I had to guess, is most likely located in central North Dakota, somewhere near the world's largest Holstein cow and the world's largest sandhill crane. But this Washington Post column, from former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, certainly has to be a part of the conversation. It's a few days old, but it presents an argument that I imagine we'll be hearing pretty frequently over the next year or so: liberals are totally paranoid when it comes to the religious views of GOP presidential candidates. (To wit: Here are Ralph Reed and Lisa Miller making that exact point.)

Gerson, who is generally credited with applying an Evangelical varnish to Bush's every uterrance, takes on the argument—promoted to various degrees by Ryan Lizza, Forrest Wilder, Michelle Goldberg, and myself—that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are part of a movement to turn the country into a Christian state. Here's how Gerson summarizes that argument:

Perry admittedly doesn't attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is "common in Reconstructionist circles."

The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.

Bachmann is prone to Tea Party overstatement and religious-right cliches. She opened herself to criticism by recommending a book that features Southern Civil War revisionism. But there is no evidence from the careers of Bachmann or Perry that they wish to turn America into a theocratic prison camp.

The Center for American Progress released a very comprehensive report Friday morning that traces the origins, extent, organs, and funding sources of the Islamophobia movement. The thesis is that there's no "vast right-wing conspiracy behind the rise of Islamophobia in our nation but rather a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts guiding an effort that reaches millions of Americans through effective advocates, media partners, and grassroots organizing." They pinpoint a handful of think-tanks and non-profits that are responsible for the intellectual (to put it generously) grist that's served as the basis for everything from mosque protests to lawsuits to legislation to hate crimes, and follow the money, revealing that a huge lump of the funding—$42 million over nine years—comes from just seven sources.

I'll be diving into this a bit more deeply later, but for now I just wanted to highlight this map, which is an updated/spiffier version of the one I created way back when:

Courtesy of CAPCourtesy of CAP

Given the deep-seated religious tensions at play here, I think the Islamophobia movement goes a bit deeper than the report necessarily gives it credit for—plenty of pastors would be talking about "Clash of Civilizations" regardless of whether Frank Gaffney gets his check from the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation. But this map, charting the mushrooming of nearly-identical bills to ban Islamic law from being applied in American courts, shows the power that a small but dedicated network—led, in this case, by Arizona attorney David Yerushalmi—can have.

2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign stop on Aug. 17, 2011.

If you say that Mitt Romney flip-flops on the issues, you might as well be saying that Lindsay Lohan is sometimes fitted with an ankle monitor. It's such an obvious, well-worn, widely noted fact at this point that it's almost pointless to keep bringing it up.

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate has notoriously gone back and forth on gay rights, immigration issues, abortion rights, and even conservative Reagan-love. More recently, Romney couldn't figure out whether or not he had said that Barack Obama made the Great Recession worse and "made it last longer." (For the record, he did say all that.)

Now the former governor of Massachusetts can add this flop to the extensive and eclectic list:

During an August 25 campaign stop in Exeter, New Hampshire, candidate Romney said this, according to Holly Shulman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party: "You know, I think it's kind of presumptuous for someone running for president to already, you know, have in mind who would be their vice president."

Now here's what the former Massachusetts governor announced at a fundraiser at the Virginia Beach home of Republican state senator Jeff McWaters on July 25, according to the right-wing website Bearing Drift:

Romney said that [Virginia Governor Bob] McDonnell has been an "incredible governor" and will be on "any candidate's short-list" for Vice President...[H]e reiterated that the short list is "McDonnell, Governor Christie of New Jersey and Marco Rubio of Florida."

I can already hear the conservative defense of Romney's latest change of heart: "Stop nitpicking at everything Mitt Romney says or does, especially something so insignificant like thinking about VP picks! What about Obama's flip-flops on the debt ceiling or closing Gitmo or Mubarak, and so on?"

Granted, no political party has a monopoly on their candidates conveniently changing their minds, and some of those criticisms of the president are indeed worth examining. But Mitt Romney can't even decide whether he should decide to decide on his preliminary VP picks. Surely those on the Obama-loathing right, who can't seem to get enough of calling the president indecisive, can see the irony in the fact that one of their 2012 frontrunners pulls this stuff so casually and so often, right? Right?