Denver news station KCNC 4 scored an interview with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday. But there was a catch, according to the reporter: "The one stipulation to the interview was that I not ask him about abortion or Todd Akin. "

Of course, Rep. Todd Akin has been a controversial topic since Sunday, when the Missouri Republican claimed that women have a magical rapist sperm blocking mechanism—or as he put it, "the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down"—that prevents pregnancy in the event of a "legitimate rape." The comment caused a number of influential members of the GOP, including Romney himself, to call on Akin to withdraw from the Senate race. Then Republican National Committee helped keep abortion politics in the news this week when it adopted a party platform that would outlaw all abortions, with no stated exceptions.

Refusing to answer questions from a reporter about this is in line with the Romney campaign's general strategy of ensuring that the candidate says as little as possible—and certainly nothing unscripted—on controversial topics.

Good news, conservatives! If the Republican National Convention gets a little too stressful, you can always unwind—gratis—in "Tampa Bay's only gay owned and gay operated, private club, resort & bathhouse." From now until August 31, the Ybor Resort and Spa, located in the heart of Tampa's sultry Ybor City party district, is offering a super promotion: "ALL RNC DELEGATES GET IN FREE!" Tea party, anyone?

"All guys 18 & up" are welcome to sample Ybor's recently opened steam room, not to mention the spa's brand-spanking new dark room, dubbed "A Shot In The Dark." Just bear in mind the house rules: It's a private men's health club; no drugs, pets, or prostitution; and always wear your towel!

(h/t Molly Ball)

When it comes to the GOP's stance on immigration, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has more say than the party's presidential standard-bearer Mitt Romney. 

Kobach, the architect of many of the country's restrictive, state-level immigration laws and an occasional Romney adviser (when the campaign isn't trying to make nice with Latino voters), pushed the GOP to adopt "self-deportation" and opposition to "any forms of amnesty" for unauthorized immigrants as part of its platform, Huffington Post's Elise Foley reports. Romney has sought to avoid the phrase "self-deportation" since taking hardline positions on immigration in the GOP Primary, and he has endorsed the Starship Troopers version of the DREAM Act, which would grant legal status only to those undocumented immigrants who join the military. The GOP's Kobach-inspired platform would prohibit even that narrow version of relief however, since it would still constitute a "form of amnesty."

Kobach insists that the platform is "consistent" with the Romney campaign's positions on immigration:

As you all remember, one of the primary reasons that Governor Romney rose past Governor Perry when Mr. Perry was achieving first place in the polls was because of his opposition to in-state tuition for illegal aliens.

Of course, writing a policy platform that was consistent with something Romney said at one time or another about immigration is actually pretty simple, because Romney has been all over the place on the issue. What Kobach has really done here is laid down a marker and dared the Romney campaign to cross it. 

Since the GOP primary, Romney has tried to moderate his rhetoric, if not his actual positions, refusing to answer specific questions and muddying his own views on what approach he would take on immigration. Now, the Republican platform commits him to a set of specific, hardline policies. But that's not all. Thursday has been a busy day for Kobach, who filed a lawsuit in Texas court (on behalf of his law firm, not the state of Kansas) representing several Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The ICE agents claim that the recent Department of Homeland Security directive that would offer deferred action and employment authorization to undocumented immigrants brought here as children forces them to violate federal law and their oath to the Constitution. In short, Kobach is trying get a court to overturn the Obama administration's temporary move to allow potential DREAM Act beneficiaries to stay in the US and work, even as Romney refuses to take a position on the matter. 

Though Romney vowed to veto the DREAM Act during the GOP primary, he has not reiterated that threat since and will not say whether he will rescind the directive. As with the GOP platform, however, Kobach's lawsuit draws a line in the sand that Romney can only cross at his peril. When it comes to the GOP's immigration policy, the anti-immigration right is in the driver's seat. Romney is just along for the ride. 

Arab American Institute President James Zogby.

A majority of Republicans have unfavorable views of Muslim and Arab Americans and don't trust them with responsibilities in government, according to a new poll from the Arab American Institute.

"The problem is one, partly borne I think of bigotry," said Jim Zogby, the institute's president, citing events like the controversy over the Islamic community center near Ground Zero, the anti-Shariah bans passed in conservative states, and the recent letter penned by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and a handful of other House Republicans that accused certain Muslims serving in the federal government of ties to Islamic extremists. "The numbers tell us that when you have a decade-long campaign, it takes a toll."

Although 60 percent of Republicans say they do not personally know any Arabs or Muslims, a plurality of Republicans polled by the institute expressed unfavorable views of Arab Americans and Muslim Americans (47 and 48 percent, respectively), while a majority expressed unfavorable views of Arabs and Muslims in general. Fifty percent of Republicans said that if a Muslim-American were to "obtain a position of influence in government" that their religion would "influence their decision making"; the reverse was true for Democrats, 50 percent of whom said religion wouldn't influence a Muslim-American official's decision-making. A slightly lower percentage of Republicans, 41 percent, said they think ethnicity would "influence" an Arab-American's decision-making if he were to achieve a position of influence in government. Again, fifty-percent of Democrats say it would not. 

There is one flaw I see with the question, however: Without results surveying similar opinions about other groups, it's hard to know to what extent the responses reflect a commonsense observation (ethnicity and religion influence decision-making) or bias (whites and Christians can perform their duties without such influence, but Muslims and Arabs can't). Asked about this by Mother Jones, Zogby said that next time they would seek to add a comparison to other groups in the poll, but that the numbers tracked closely with the favorable/unfavorable ratings expressed by each group.

Nevertheless, other results in the survey point to notable partisan and racial divides in how Arabs and Muslims are perceived. Non-whites are more likely to personally know Arabs and Muslims and a majority of non-whites hold favorable impressions of them. The study notes that the results for Romney voters and Obama voters are "mirror images" of each other. Favorable ratings for Arabs and Muslims among Obama voters are slightly above fifty percent, with only 29 percent of Democrats expressing an unfavorable view. It's the reverse for Romney voters, who give Arabs and Muslims 30 percent and 25 percent favorable ratings, respectively, while 50 percent express an unfavorable view towards Arabs, with 57 percent giving Muslims an unfavorable rating. Overall, 40 percent of Americans hold a favorable view towards Muslims, while 41 percent hold an unfavorable view. The numbers are almost identical for Arabs, with favorable views just edging out unfavorable ones by 41 to 39 percent.  

"It's not 9/11 that did it," said Zogby. "The numbers after 9/11 were not as significant as they are today." In 2003, for example, the same poll showed that 40 percent of Republicans held an unfavorable view of Muslims, while in 2010 (the year of the controversy over the Islamic community center near Ground Zero) unfavorable views of Muslims among Republicans rocketed to 85 percent. So the 57 percent unfavorable rating the poll found in 2012 is actually an improvement. 

While the poll focused on views of Arabs and Muslims, it also surveyed general attitudes towards other religious groups. Presbyterians and Jews come out with the highest favorable ratings among both Democrats and Republicans, 72/83 and 72/75 respectively. Only a slight majority of Americans, 52 percent, hold favorable views of Mormons, and here we also see a partisan divide: Mormons get a 45/35 favorable/unfavorable rating from Democrats, and a 58/29 favorable unfavorable rating from Republicans. (If elected, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney would be the first Mormon president of the United States.)

The results of the survey shed light on the social trends underpinning certain recent events, including the recent controversy that erupted after over Bachmann and several other GOPers accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin and other Muslims in government of ties to Islamic extremists. Though the Republican leadership (absent Mitt Romney, who was asked about it and declined to comment) repudiated those accusations, the Arab American Institute's poll numbers suggest that most Republicans actually share the suspicions underpinning Bachmann's accusations. 

"Arabs and Muslims have become, like abortion and gay marriage, part of the partisan divide in America," Zogby says.

Update, October 29, 12:29 a.m. EST: With Hurricane Sandy set to make landfall in the Mid-Atlantic, Mitt Romney's policies for federal emergency management seem as relevant as ever. And the candidate's budget, as described below, isn't the only indication Romney would slash funding: As the Huffington Post's Ryan Grim noted, the presidential candidate suggested during a GOP primary debate that he would diminish the agency's role and leave responsibility for helping imperiled Americans to the states:

When Republicans gather in Tampa next week for their national convention, they may have some unwelcome company. No, not Ron Paul's army of supporters—Tropical Storm Isaac, which is currently winding its way through the Caribbean, is expected to pick up hurricane status and slam into South and Central Florida—directly into Tampa, according to at least one model. What that means for the convention is unclear, but since a direct hit would likely flood most of the city, organizers, city and state officials, and relevant federal agencies are planning accordingly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has downplayed the threat to the city, but is reportedly preparing to mobilize to assist in the disaster response in South Florida, should that become necessary.

But under a Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan administration, FEMA's ability to respond quickly and effectively to natural disasters could be severely inhibited. In a 2012 report on Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" roadmap (which Romney has said is similar to his own), the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that, due to the severe cuts to nonentitlement, nondefense spending, the costs for things like emergency management would have to be passed on to the states—which, with just a few exceptions, are currently in an even tighter financial bind than Washington.

"FEMA also helps states and local governments repair or replace public facilities and infrastructure, which often is not insured," the CBPP report explained. "This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget. If it were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times."

The Ryan budget makes no mention of FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security of which it's a part. In fact it makes no mention of any specific cuts to non-entitlement programs. We can't say for sure, in other words, the extent to which disaster funding would be scaled back. But the overall math suggests that it would be drastic. The Ryan budget proposes reducing total non-entitlement spending from 12 percent of GDP to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2050. As my colleague Kevin Drum put it:

Defense spending alone amounts to 4% of GDP, and it's vanishingly unlikely that this will ever fall much below 2-3% of GDP. This means that all domestic spending will decline from about 8% of GDP to 1-2% of GDP by 2050. That's prisons, border control, education, the FBI, courts, embassies, the IRS, FEMA, housing, student loans, roads, unemployment insurance, etc. etc. It's everything. Whacked by about 80% or so.

Romney's own proposed budget (which like Ryan's fails to identify specific cuts) would create much the same bind. Between 2013 and 2022, Romney would cut between $2 to $5 trillion more than Ryan from programs other than Social Security or defense. As the CBPP noted, "Romney's cuts would shrink non-defense discretionary spending…to between 1.1 percent and 1.6 percent of GDP." That's on top of the scheduled cuts agreed to in last year's budget deal.

Just as Ryan's proposed Medicare expenditure would fail to keep up with rising medical costs, the GOP ticket's likely cuts to disaster management and weather forecasting budgets would come at a time in which, fueled by climate change, natural disasters are becoming increasingly more potent and expensive. There were 14 billion-dollar disasters in the United States in 2011—the most on record. For the GOP in Tampa, Hurricane Isaac isn't just a nuisance; it's the elephant in the room.

Just posted by writer Justin Fishel on Fox News' website:

EXCLUSIVE: Bin Laden raid tell-all author revealed, questions raised whether ex-Navy SEALs have freedom of speech

The author of a recently announced insider account of the raid that killed Usama bin Laden has been identified to Fox News as a 36-year-old former Navy SEAL Team 6 member from Alaska who also played a role in the high-profile rescue of an American captain kidnapped by Somali pirates.

The book, "No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden," is set to hit shelves on Sept 11. It is penned under the pseudonym "Mark Owen," according to the publisher, but multiple sources told Fox News his name is in fact Matt Bissonnette, 36, of Wrangell, Alaska...

Here's Fishel last year, flogging the Obama administration for leaking details of the OBL raid, on Fox's site:

Navy SEALs Want to Protect Their Identity Following UBL Kill

Members of Navy SEAL team 6, the Special Operations unit responsible for killing Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden in Pakistan last Sunday, have expressed concerns about their safety and the safety of their families now that details of the mission have been made public.

...Rather than keeping the details secret, intelligence officials and senior administration officials briefed members of the press. It quickly leaked out that the mission was performed by 24 members of the elite and classified counterterrorism SEAL squadron, known as SEAL team 6. Despite that leak, Gates says the government continues to protect their identities.

Shorter Fox News: In order to save operational security, we had to destroy it.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m. EDT, Thursday, Aug. 23: Mother Jones just received this email from the publisher of No Easy Day:

For Immediate Release

Mark Owen, like every SEAL he has served with, has put his life on the line time and again for his country for more than a decade. Sharing the true story of his personal experience in NO EASY DAY is a courageous act in the face of obvious risks to his personal security. That personal security is the sole reason the book is being published under a pseudonym. We respectfully request that all news organizations and all Americans consider these facts when deciding whether to pursue or publicize his real identity.

Contact: Christine Ball
VP, Director of Marketing & Publicity

All storm-watching aside, if you're a non-conservative heading to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, you may feel a bit intimidated. All that red meat and cheesy tea-party pageantry in one place! What bars are safe? Which crowds are blue?

Fear not: Nonprofit Progress Florida has assembled an online "Progressive Guide to the RNC." From the "Patients Over Politics" bus-tour kickoff to a plug for Cafe Hey, "Tampa's official oasis of chill," the site offers progressives a host of activities and safe spaces during Romneypalooza. Most important: The sidebar lists a bunch of Florida-based journos and blogs that are worth including in your must-reads, for the RNC and beyond.

"Here is the definitive guide for progressives who want to stand up for the middle class, oppose the Republican Party's extremist agenda, and get the unscripted, behind the scenes play-by-play," PF writes. If you'd like to check out the guide, do so here.

Army Pfc. Kathy Simmons, 56th Engineer Company, Vertical, 2nd Engineer Brigade, engages a 10-meter target with an M2 .50-caliber machine gun on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 14, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Percy Jones.

American Vision, a Christian nonprofit formed to "restore America to its biblical foundation," is accusing Republicans of committing "political gang rape" against Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.).

Akin landed in the middle of a controversy this week after he remarked that women who are the victims of "legitimate rape" can't get pregnant because "the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down." Many of his fellow Republicans joined the ensuing chorus of condemnation, and GOP leaders begged Akin to quit the Missouri Senate race. American Vision, in an article posted on its website and authored by the group's research director, Joel McDurmon, says Republican calls for Akin to step aside are basically like forcing someone to have sex against their will, repeatedly, with numerous perpetrators—politically-speaking, of course:

We expect leftists, liberals, and other miscreants to pounce opportunistically, to lie, cheat, and twist (all the while drooling) over a phrase like "legitimate rape" when uttered by a strong conservative Christian politician. But should we expect the same from alleged conservatives?
Yet this is exactly what we’ve seen from several prominent conservatives in the wake of a media gaffe from U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin (R-MO) in regard to alleged “legitimate rape” and abortion.
What could have been quickly and easily handled with a consolidated response correctly interpreting Akin’s unfortunate phrase was instead a rare cause of bipartisan hazing.

The piece goes on to argue that Akin was actually accurate in his statement that it's rare for women to become pregnant as a result of "legitimate rape," a view shared by a lot of anti-abortion activists. McDurmon also argues that even if in few cases when a rape victim does become pregnant, an abortion is still unjustified. Treading into full-on misogyny, he claims that if abortion were outlawed except in cases of rape, many women would cry rape in order to "kill out of convenience."

Liberals may wish us to believe that no woman would ever stoop so low as to lie about being raped. But this simply does not comport with what we Christians know about fallen human nature. We, conservatives, all agree that millions of women annually conspire to commit murder on their unborn babies. So do you expect me to feel it unacceptable to believe they would lie about why? This is political correctness run amok. Why, after all, would someone willing to kill out of convenience not also lie for various reasons out of convenience?

Commentaries like McDurmon's are really doing the GOP no favors. It's pretty hard for the party to disassociate itself with Akin's views when it's becoming clearer by the day that a number of social conservatives share them.

A team of medics led by Cpl. Eric Smith, assigned to the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, negotiate a wire obstacle while transporting a “casualty” to a waiting helicopter during the best medic competition this week. The annual event pits candidates against one another to earn a chance to compete in a national competition held at Fort Sam Houston. Photo by Capt. Michael Greenberger.