New poll suggests Romney is winning the China argument

In their effort to court undecided voters in industrial swing states like Ohio, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been going to great lengths to demonstrate their toughness on China, hurling attack ad after attack ad at one another.

Romney has pledged to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office and promised to balance the budget by asking whether each federal program is so important that it's worth borrowing money from China to finance it. Obama, availing himself of the power that comes with already being in office, announced a World Trade Organization complaint against China during a campaign stop in Ohio. Cracking down on China's unfair trade practices is a loaded issue -- encompassing jobs, the economy, U.S. foreign policy, and American power -- and it may very well come up during tonight's presidential debate.

So who's making the better case? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted between Sept. 26-30, indicates that the advantage goes to Romney. When asked who would do a better job "dealing with the economic challenges we face from China," 45 percent of registered voters selected Romney while 37 percent selected Obama (the poll also shows Romney slashing Obama's foreign-policy edge by more than half, from 47-32 in July to 46-40). The NBC/WSJ survey hasn't asked the China question before, but a Bloomberg poll of likely voters, conducted between Sept. 21-24, showed Obama and Romney tied at 43 percent when it came to who would do the best job of "dealing with China on trade" (50 percent of respondents in that survey were skeptical of Romney's pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator). If Romney has indeed opened up a lead on Obama on China, that would be a significant development.

Still, there are some caveats to these numbers. Democratic pollster Fred Yang pointed out on MSNBC today that Republicans in past elections have enjoyed even greater advantages on China. And while Romney has narrowed the gap with Obama in swing states such as Florida and Virginia, he's still far behind the president in Ohio -- a state where the Republican candidate's message on China should have particular resonance (indeed, a recent Zogby poll commissioned, fittingly, by Death by China Productions found that likely voters in Ohio trust Romney more than Obama to crack down on unfair Chinese trade practices). If Romney is in fact winning the China argument, it's not yet clear that the achievement will translate into electoral success.

Even so, Obama would probably like to have that eight-point lead on China. After all, all he got for his tough line on Beijing is a lousy (if legally shaky) lawsuit.

Alex Wong/Getty Images


9 and 10-year-old arrested for blasphemy in Egypt

The Egypt Independent reported on Wednesday that two children, aged nine and ten, were arrested and charged with blasphemy in the Upper Egyptian city of Beni Suef after being accused of urinating on copies of the Quran.

Ibrahim Mohammad, a local sheikh, filed a complaint about the incident, stating that the children were incited to desecrate the Muslim holy books. A prosecutor ordered that the minors be transferred to a juvenile facility on Tuesday night.

Ishaq Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told the Egypt Independent that 17 cases of religious blasphemy have been filed in Egypt in the wake of violent protests against the anti-Islam film The Innocence of Muslims.

On Sept. 27, an Egyptian court upheld a six-year prison sentence for Albert Saber, a Christian man accused of posting the controversial video to his Facebook page. In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 26, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi defended Egypt's blasphemy law, stating that "Egypt respects freedom of expression," but "one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone. One that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult."

These arrests worry activists who are concerned that free speech in Egypt is being silenced by the new government, which is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement released on Wednesday, the Arabic Network of Human Rights Information expressed its outrage at the crackdowns, calling them a "general inclination by the state to silence opponents."