Yahoo! News and Esquire recently joined forces with pollster Gary Langer in order to survey hundreds of Americans. The questions mostly focused on voter preference, race, religion, class, personality, and values.

You know, boring things.

And then came this:The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. (According to the crosstabs, only slightly more Democrats were surveyed.) Yahoo! NewsThe poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. (According to the crosstabs, only slightly more Democrats were surveyed.) Yahoo! NewsBy a similarly wide margin, Americans surveyed in a National Geographic Channel poll in June believed that Obama would be better than Romney at repelling a large-scale alien invasion.

This is probably also a good time to revisit this James Fallows cover story:

and The Atlantic The Atlantic Tumblr

Soldiers prepare to board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter Sept. 9, 2012 in Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo.

Mitt Romney has a very simple foreign policy vision: Don't apologize for America. It's right there on the cover of his book. That's why, when the US Embassy in Cairo attempted to preempt an attack on its compound by condemning a virulently anti-Islam film, Romney was quick to not-apologize. Instead, he accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with the embassy attackers by speaking out against bigotry: "It's disgraceful that the Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

Here's what he told ABC News in an interview on Friday, though, when asked about the film:

Well, I haven't seen the film. I don't intend to see it. I you know, I think it's dispiriting sometimes to see some of the awful things people say. And the idea of using something that some people consider sacred and then parading that out a negative way is simply inappropriate and wrong. And I wish people would't do it. Of course, we have a First Amendment. And under the First Amendment, people are allowed to do what they feel they want to do. They have the right to do that, but it's not right to do things that are of the nature of what was done by, apparently this film.

Notice anything? It's pretty much the exact same sentiment expressed by the US Embassy in Cairo—the one that prompted Romney to accuse the Obama administration of sympathizing with extremists: "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims–as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions." Like Romney, the Embassy went on to explain (in a subsequent tweet) that an offensive low-budget film was no justification for attacks.

There's nothing wrong with Romney's condemnation of bigotry. The only mystery is why he ever thought there was.

"Does God really care what I wear?" That's the headline on a flyer on an exhibit table at this year's Values Voter Summit, the annual evangelical political confab sponsored by the Family Research Council. The exhibit hall is an especially good reminder that the evangelical community may be among the last bastions of American prudery.

Modesty Matters, the group behind the flyer, is a new addition to the event this year. It was founded by a modestly dressed retired pharmacist from Roanoke, Virginia named J.H. Woolwine. He gave me a leaflet showcasing some models of modest dress for young people. They look like Mitt Romney’s high school yearbook photos: Buttoned up college students from 1965 wearing knee-length dresses and neckties.

A "back porch thing" run by Woolwine and his wife, Modesty Matters is a somewhat quixotic effort to "move the media back to modesty," which Woolwine believes could be a compelling nonpolitical issue that people on all sides could agree on. He could be right about that. Anyone who has struggled to find clothes for young girls that don't make them look like hookers might agree.

Of course, the information Woolwine is handing out might put off a few potential supporters, especially the women he's seeking to persuade. On the flyer asking whether God "cares what I wear," the writer explains that women need to dress more modestly in church because "men are particularly visual. Immodesty in church can trigger lustful thoughts." It's an interesting sentiment among a crowd obsessed with the possibility that Islamic militants could impose Sharia law on America. Woolwine is also distributing a "Resolution for Women," which asks women to make a number of pledges, including "I will champion God’s model for womanhood in the face of a post-feminist culture."

But Woolwine insists that his activism isn't just aimed at women. "It's for guys, too," he says. So far though, his group hasn’t really picked up steam. He's got flyers out asking for someone to make him a website, and the table in the exhibit hall features a little box for donations. But he says he's gotten quite a few signatures for his petition to ask Congress to make the day after Labor Day national "Modesty Day," to remind kids going back to school to put some clothes on.

I ask Woolwine how some political women stacked up in the modesty department. He said he thinks that Michelle Obama has served as a good role model in that department, as has former First Lady Laura Bush. Not only that but 'each has advocated good things," like reading and eating right, he adds. How about, say, Sarah Palin? Woolwine declines to express an opinion on the former vice presidential candidate. When I mention that her kids might not be the models of modesty he's looking to champion, he says, "You may have a point there." But the real winners in the political modest department, in Woolwine's opinion, seem to be the Romneys, who look a lot like the people in his flyers (although this was before Romney disclosed to Kelly Rippa that he likes to sleep in "as little as possible" and expressed his admiration for Snooki, who's hardly a paragon of feminine propriety). "I think the Romneys dress and behave modestly, as do their families," he says.

Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple (who is my husband) noticed an interesting trend this week: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has a snappy new one-liner. Palin has used the same riff repeatedly, and she did it again on Fox News Friday night. Here's what she said:

"I just pray that Americans will open their eyes between now and November when they know that they'll have to make that choice between free stuff or freedom. You can’t have both."

Wemple notes that Palin has been throwing the line around a lot lately, and traces its origin back to a February Washington Times op-ed written by Ted Nugent. But the "free stuff" meme has also been pushed by GOP presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, who has used it repeatedly in response to questions about health care. In Florida earlier this year, in response to a heckler who asked about free contraception under Obamacare, he said, "If you're looking for free stuff you don't have to pay for? Vote for the other guy, that's what he's all about, okay? That’s not, that's not what I'm about." And then shortly after he got booed at the NAACP convention this summer, he told a group of donors in Montana what he told all those black folks in the room:

I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government tell them to go vote for the other guy — more free stuff.

Romney's association of the "free stuff" meme with Obamacare suggests Republicans are desperately looking for a new way to attack the health care law, which has been the animating force of much conservative rhetoric and tea party activism over the past three years. Despite all the GOP predictions that Obamacare would usher in a new era of socialism and government tyranny, the reform law is finally making people's lives better. Voters are starting to realize that, and Republicans appear to be freaking out about it, if Palin's multiple attacks are any indication.

It's hard to generate angry crowds over a health care plan that, in the past year, has delivered health insurance to millions of additional people. Women voters, a key constituency, are finally starting to get free contraception (a part of the bill that's on the way to saving my own family at least $600 a year!). Seniors and disabled people have saved upwards of $4 billion in reduced prescription drug costs, and nearly 13 million families this year got more than $1 billion in rebates from insurance companies that were spending too much of their premiums on private jets and not enough on health care.

At a time when median income has totally hit the skids, "free stuff" is probably coming as welcome relief to people who may now be more inclined to re-elect President Obama as a result. Romney has offered no viable alternative health care solutions other than to propose repealing Obamacare. If Palin's latest offensive is any indication, Republicans are resorting to an attack on the law's beneficiaries themselves, as if Americans who take the rebate or free birth control pills are morally weak, freedom-hating slackers looking for a handout. It's hard to see how this is going to win over many voters. You can watch Palin explain all this here: 

A quick look at the week that was in the world of political dark money...

the money shot


quote of the week

"If [Republicans] win in November, we won't recognize the America they'll create."
A fundraising plea from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which previously warned big donors to "wake up" and start giving to super-PACs, decrying the "hundreds of millions in Citizens United corporate dollars" flooding into the 2012 election.


attack ad of the week

Planned Parenthood's super-PAC has spent $1.8 million on a new ad hitting back at Mitt Romney over his hostility toward the group. The spot, titled "Mitt Romney Would Turn Back the Clock on Women's Health," will run in Ohio and Virginia, according to the group. (Romney has said that as president he would slash Planned Parenthood's federal funding, but the ad takes a clip of him out of context to suggest he would "get rid of" the organization altogether.)


Chart of the Week

It's too big to cram onto this page, but head over to the Texas Tribune for a great visualization of the Lone Star State's deep-pocketed donors funding some of the country's biggest super-PACs. Topping the chart: billionare businessman (and "Dallas' most evil genius") Harold Simmons, whose favorite super-PAC (to the tune of $11 million) is Karl Rove's American Crossroads, and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who's given $8.75 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future, among other groups.


stat of the weeK

$570,000: The minimum amount raised by the Coalition of Americans for Political Equality, a super-PAC run by a former Arizona GOP county chair that put up a series of websites disguised as candidate homepages in an apparent effort to trick prospective donors. After the National Journal reported on the websites last Sunday the super-PAC's front sites briefly disappeared, but the group chalked it up to a GoDaddy outage. NJ snapped some screenshots just in case (note the disclaimer in the top-right corner):


more must-reads

• The dark-money group attacking Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), revealed. ProPublica
• "Changing corporations, not the Constitution, is the key to a fairer post-Citizens United world." Democracy Journal
• Milllions of dollars from outside spending groups have flooded into the presidential race, but House candidates may have more reason to fear the groups. Center for Public Integrity
• Mitt Romney still hasn't disclosed all of his, but the New York Times has a list of President Obama's biggest bundlers.

David Corn and Joan Walsh joined host Al Sharpton on MSNBC's Politics Nation to discuss why Mitt Romney refuses to apologize for politicizing the recent attacks on US embassies.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Back in 2009, America had an economy-tanking fever, and the only prescription was more Barack Obama.

Or so says this guy:

Actor Christopher Walken thinks that President Obama deserves another term in the White House. 

"I think what [Bill] Clinton said the other night is absolutely true: Nobody could fix this in four years," he recently told Moviefone. "Obama's really done remarkably. The Dow Jones -- look at how things have come along. The auto companies are back. It's interesting that nobody gives him credit."

"How could he [fix it] when you think about what it was?" Walken went on. "I remember very clearly because I was worried about it myself. People were scared. Now they're concerned, but they're not scared. It could have really been bad. I do believe that everything is getting better now."

Game. Changer.

The man famous for serenading John Travolta, shooting Dennis Hopper in the face, and delivering a stunning rendition of "Poker Face" has officially endorsed the president.

Walken's endorsement echoes Snoop Dogg's recent, similarly Clinton-esque endorsement of Obama, albeit with significantly less swearing.

In related news, the actor who plays The Most Interesting Man In The World in Dos Equis beer ads is hosting an Obama fundraiser next Tuesday.

These are indeed things that are happening in real life.

What's going on?

On Tuesday, September 11, clashes erupted at the United States embassy in Cairo and a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The incident in Libya was much more deadly, bearing the hallmarks of a deliberate, coordinated attack. Fighters armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the consulate, leading to the deaths of four American personnel—including the US ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. In Cairo, an outer wall of the embassy was breached, but no Americans were harmed. However, protests at the Cairo embassy have continued into Thursday; according to CNN, Egyptian police have fired tear gas at protesters who threw rocks and Molotov cocktails. There were also calls for protests at the US embassies in Tunisia and Algeria. The LA Times reported Thursday that protesters breached the security perimeter at the US embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, before being turned back by local security forces.

Keep reading for the rest of our primer, or jump to our recent updates:

Why is this happening?

Media reports have speculated that the catalyst for the protests was a YouTube trailer for a poorly produced film that portrayed Islam and its prophet Muhammad in a negative light. Another possible explanation is that local political forces are jockeying for power and influence by manipulating anti-American sentiment. The incidents may also have different origins—although fundamentalist Muslim groups had been planning protests at the US embassy in Cairo for weeks, US officials have told various media outlets that in Libya, protests sparked by the video may have been cover for a planned armed assault on the facility

How could an American ambassador have been killed? What happened to security?

Though US officials have said he doesn't appear to have been targeted specifically, Stevens was the first American ambassador killed in service since Adolph Dubs was kidnapped and shot in Afghanistan in 1979. The facility in Benghazi was a consulate, not an embassy, and possessed few of the security features that a modern embassy would have. "That means it had no bulletproof glass, reinforced doors, or other features common to embassies," a US official told Politico. The consulate also did not have the Marine guards typical of full-scale American embassies. Libyan security forces were reportedly outnumbered and overwhelmed by the militants. However, Libyan Interior Minister Wanis al-Sharef told CBS News that government security forces might have tipped off the militants to a second building where American personnel had hidden after fleeing the compound.

How have the countries responded?

The attack in Libya was more deadly, and the Libyan government has been much more forceful than Egypt's rulers in its condemnations of the incident. On Wednesday, Libyans openly protested against those who carried out the attack. In Egypt condemnations from came late, as President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, waited until Thursday to criticize the breach of the US embassy compound in Cairo. He did so only after President Barack Obama described the Egyptian government thusly to Spanish-language network Telemundo in an interview: "I don't think that we would consider them an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy." The attack in Benghazi appears to be the work of an extremist fringe, whereas in Egypt and elsewhere the protests may be more reflective of popular sentiment. The United States also has a better relationship with Libya's more moderate government than it has with the Islamist civilian leadership in Egypt.

What's up with this video, anyway?

None of the actors in the extremely amateurish production appear to have known of the intent behind it. Most of the cast and crew say they believed they were participating in a film called Desert Warriors and had no idea it was meant to be an inflammatory anti-Islam diatribe, telling CNN in a letter that they "were grossly misled about its intent and purpose." The man behind the film, who identified himself as "Sam Bacile, claimed to be an Israeli Jew who raised the money for the film from "100 Jewish donors" for the purpose of showing that "Islam is a cancer." However, "Bacile," the Associated Press reported Wednesday, has a phone number that is traced to an address belonging to Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian from California who said he participated in the making of the film because he was concerned about the persecution of Christians in Egypt. 

What is the United States doing?

A contingent of elite US Marines was sent to the US embassy in Tripoli, Libya's capital, Wednesday; two US destroyers have also been dispatched to the waters off Tripoli. CBS News reports that a team of FBI investigators has been sent to sift through evidence at the destroyed consulate in Benghazi. Obama has promised to bring the "killers to justice," though it's unclear for now what the administration plans to do about the protests swelling elsewhere in the region.

UPDATE: 8:26 AM PST, Friday, September 13: Protests escalate across the region The New York Times reports that the Libya attacks came in two parts, "the first one spontaneous and the second highly organized and possibly aided by anti-American infiltrators of Libya’s young government." Meanwhile, protests have escalated across the region: The Toronto Star also reports that rioters have breached the US Embassy compound in Tunisia "breaking windows and setting fires," as well as taking down the American flag and replacing it with a black one, according to CNN. Another elite group of Marines has been sent to reinforce the US embassy in Yemen, along with the one that was sent to the US embassy in Libya. 

The German embassy in the Sudan was also attacked. Demonstrators set fire to the embassy and raised a black flag that, at least based on the description given by Reuters, superficially resembles one used by extremist groups like al Qaeda in Iraq. There have been reports of black flags at other protests as well. The German embassy appears to have been targeted over "allowing a protest last month by right-wing activists carrying a caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad and for Chancellor Angela Merkel giving an award in 2010 to a Danish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet in 2005."

The Atlantic Wire has created a fantastic Google map showing how many protests are occuring and where

View Muslim Protests in a larger map

Voice of America is reporting that there has been gunfire near the US embassy in Khartoum, while in Lebanon Reuters reports that "one demonstrator was killed and two others were wounded in clashes with security forces" in protests coinciding with a visit from the Pope. Christians make up a large percentage of Lebanon's population.

UPDATE 2: 11:00 AM PST Friday, September 13: Obama administration asks YouTube for a solid In a move that may anger civil liberties groups, the LA Times reports that the administration asked YouTube to review whether the anti-Islam video that appears to have been a catalyst for the protests violates the websites' terms of service. YouTube refused.  Meanwhile, the man who appears to be the filmmaker, Egyptian born Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, NBC News reports, has a history of trouble with the law that includes drug offenses and financial crimes, and his activities may have violated the terms of his probation.

Marines with 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, begin a patrol out of Forward Operating Base Shamsher, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 6, 2012.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jason Morrison.