As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gilliard In the NYT

While Matt Bai got some things wrong, I think it's tremendous that Steve Gilliard got his own profile in the NYT's end-of-the-year obits. He is still missed.

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Like In Brewster's Millions

As for the Republican side, I am more and more convinced every day that None Of The Above is poised for a landslide victory. As you know, I've been following the GOP race fairly closely at one of my other haunts, The Right's Field, and the sense you get when you pay attention is that Republican voters are sick to their stomachs from each and every one of them. That's why they simply can't decide which maroon to keep for the next year.

Dig beneath the surface of the raucous Republican presidential race and you will find even deeper turmoil: Four in 10 GOP voters have switched candidates in the past month alone, and nearly two-thirds say they may change their minds again.

This explains the meteoric rise of Mike Huckabee, and may just as much explain his fall once Republicans got a look at him (I've seen polls today showing Romney back in front). Every candidate in this GOP race has been at a high when voters didn't know crap about them, followed by a gradual decline. Therefore, the ultimate Republican candidate this cycle would be a jar of air. "Looks good from here; is it pro-life?"

I mean, as much as Drop Dead Fred Thompson revealed his own sexism in reacting to the situation in Pakistan, Huckabee made 1999-era George Bush look like Juan Cole.

This morning on MSNBC, Huckabee said that Musharraf was unable to control Pakistan’s “eastern borders” with Afghanistan:

What we’ve seen happen is that in the Musharraf government, he has told us that he really does not have enough control of those eastern borders near Afghanistan to be able go after the terrorists. But on the other hand, he doesn’t want us going in because it violates his sovereignty.

Note to Huckabee: Pakistan shares its “eastern border” with India, not Afghanistan [...]

Also yesterday, Huckabee addressed Bhutto’s death after “[striding] out to the strains of ‘Right Now’ by Van Halen.” He said the U.S. should weigh the impact Bhutto’s death would have on Pakistan’s “continued” martial law. But President Pervez Musharraf formally lifted the emergency rule in Pakistan on December 15th, nearly two weeks ago.

And when they asked a senior Huckabee aide about this (translation: some guy in Arkansas who had a clean enough suit), he admitted that his candidate had "no foreign policy credentials".

Mike Huckabee: No Foreign Policy Credentials. For America.

And I am not buying the Rudy Giuliani "don't win anything and become the nominee" strategy, or the John "I Am Legend" McCain comeback, or Mitt "My father guest-rapped on Planet Rock with Afrika Baambaataa" Romney, or the lot of them. In fact, they'd all better watch out or the guy diametrically opposed to their foreign policy beliefs might sneak in an grab a bunch of delegates.

Ron Paul -- Rival campaigns are beginning to nervously speculate that Paul will finish in the top three on January 3. Paul broke double digits in at least two polls for the first time this week and he seems particularly strong in areas of the state where the media has less of an impact on political deliberations -- especially in rural northwest and southern Iowa. Check out a Ron Paul supporters' websites and you'll see detailed discussions about caucus rules and strategy. The Paulites are more ready for caucus night than most observers realize.

Really, if you just quietly put the name "N.Oftheabove" onto the primary ballot all over the place, threw up a couple posts at Redstate saying how "This guy's a true conservative. And he hates Muslims," I'm thinking he could pull off the victory.

UPDATE: This is why all the GOP candidates are bringing the negative attacks, and I'm sure the whisper campaigns we haven't heard about are even worse. By the way, can we stop with the CW talking point that "Iowans don't like negative attacks"? Wasn't this one of only three states to switch parties in 2004, going for George W. Bush and one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory, Swift Boaters and all?

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Theories of Iowa - And Progressive Change

Well, I suppose that with the Iowa caucuses just 5 days away, it's time to pay some attention to it. First of all, I totally agree that, while it's exciting to have a race on the Democratic side that's a three-way dead heat, I hope this is the end of the Iowa primacy, once and for all. On its best day (and I think Thursday will be record turnout, actually), you have 10% of the electorate participating. With the three-way split, that means something like 35,000 people will be practically choosing the nominee for a country of 300 million. That's out of balance. And I think the taking of an entrance poll, which the media won't be able to help themselves from reporting on, but which could diverge wildly from the final results, could put a fork in it.

Imagine if the networks spend the night reporting that a plurality of Iowans decided to vote for Barack Obama. They report the win, there's much talk of what it means, everyone gets all excited. Then, Bill Richardson fails to make the 15% threshhold for viability and releases his caucusgoers to Clinton. Meanwhile, John Edwards, who's been amassing support in the disproportionately influential rural counties -- 25 caucusgoers in a small precinct have the same influence as 2,500 in a big one -- sees his strategy achieve terrific results. So Clinton comes in first, Edwards second, and Obama ends up in third -- even though a plurality meant to vote for him.

If there ever was an election that reveal the inequities and the arbitrary nature of Iowa's system, it would be this one. And traditionally, the Democrats have forced changes in the primary system (if it were up to the Republicans there probably would still be smoke-filled rooms). So I do think this is the end of small rural ethnically homogeneous states having all this undue impact. Not that Iowa and New Hampshire won't fight tooth and nail to keep the millions and millions of dollars flowing into their state.

But of course, you go to the polls with the election you have. I do think Obama will be hurt by what David Axelrod said about the Bhutto assassination, not a lot, but enough in such a close race to make an impact. Of course, Clinton's surrogate Evan Bayh said something just as stupid, saying that Bhutto's death shows we have to elect Clinton because OTHERWISE REPUBLICANS WOULD SAY WE'RE WEAK, once again showing the "don't make trouble" approach to politics. But Axelrod's quote was amplified far wider, and skillfully used by the Clinton camp to make it look like he said Hillary was somehow responsible for Bhutto's death. I think Edwards actually talking to Musharraf was notable, but didn't get a whole lot of attention.

Since you didn't ask, I'm pulling for Edwards, and I've explained why at my site. But I think the real reason I've been pulled in that direction is best explained by this post from Chris Bowers. Years after blogs and progressive movement media made their splash on the political scene, Democratic leaders are still not leveraging them for mass action. We still exist basically in the wilderness, typing away and giving voice to the frustrations I feel a majority of Americans have, yet it isn't being represented at all:

As Peter Daou predicted, when progressive media and prominent Democrats are on the same page, victories seem to happen pretty often. As Peter Daou lamented, when progressive media and prominent Democrats are not on the same page, victory seems to pretty much never happen. Without prominent Democratic validaters, we in the progressive grassroots and progressive media can't win these fights on our own. Without progressive media, prominent Democrats have virtually no hope of winning any conventional wisdom formation fights against Republicans.

...unless a new Democratic President is willing to bring new progressive media into the strategizing for the fights they will face, I doubt they will get much done. A Democratic administration that maintains a stand-offish, managed, one-way decision making approach to communication strategy will, in the end, find itself taking pretty much the same beatings the first Clinton administration faced from 1993-1994. Even with a solid electoral victory and large congressional majorities, the new President will lose almost every single fight for progressive legislation s/he will face, because the triangle of single narrative of convention wisdom will be closed against him or her. In other words, the new Democratic President will succeed in passing conservative favorites like NAFTA, but fail to pass progressive favorites like Health Care reform.

Of the major candidates, I believe that John Edwards offers the best opportunity to "close Daou's triangle" and at least give progressive media a chance to be part of the lever for change. I think Edwards' "theory of change" most closely mirrors the theory most accepted by the netroots, to forget the middle ground and take the fight to both the Republicans and the special interest. Edwards has said that his idea of change involves using the bully pulpit of the Presidency and mass popular support. That is a tailor-made strategy to involve progressive media, and Edwards has at least adopted the language of a politics of contrast and confrontation (as far as working with progressive media, I hope frequent blog reader Elizabeth Edwards will move a potential Administration in this direction).

Partisanship has, contrary to Beltway opinion, been a good thing for democracy, has engaged and energized people like little else in the past three decades. I also can't help but favor Edwards because traditional media and the Beltway establishment seems to hate him so much, and for precisely this reason. This is from Chip Reid at CBS News:

I’m a bit unhappy with John Edwards. I’ve been covering his campaign for 10 days and he hasn't made a lot of news. Let’s face it – a lot of what political reporters report on is mistakes. The campaign trail is one long minefield, covered with Iowa cow pies, and when they step in one – we leap.

I’ve done very little leaping – and I blame Edwards. While other candidates misspeak, over-speak, and double-speak, Edwards (at least in these 10 days) has made so few mistakes that I end up being transported -- newsless -- from town to town like a sack of Iowa corn.

He has a remarkable ability to stay on message. Not just in “the speech,” but even in Q and A. Nothing throws him off. He turns nearly every question into another opportunity to repeat his central theme. Global warming? We need to fight big oil. Health care? Fight the big drug and insurance companies. Iowa farmers’ problems? Blame those monster farm conglomerates. And the Iowa populists eat it up. We'll see how well it works in other states.

Note how the "Iowa populists" aren't real people, just rubes falling for the Music Man. And notice how depressed Reid is for not catching a "gotcha" moment, which he appears to think what political reporting is about. The truth is that Edwards' rhetoric, about rewarding work over wealth, about improving social mobility, about a common purpose and equal opportunity, is directly opposite to the way the world works for political journalists.

That's my $.02, anyway. Feel freer than free to disagree.

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The Wisdom We Can Expect

From the Grey Lady, The New York Freakin' Times:

"I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America, that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni, or the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq has always been very secular."

Heckuva job, Pinch.

Bill Kristol in the New York Times. And what's worse, he's not behind the paywall! They should build a new paywall just for him.

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Friday Random Ten (BELATED)

So sorry for the delay, I'm pulling double duty here...

Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy - Glen Hansard
Goodnight Lovers - Depeche Mode (I had no idea I had this)
Brandy Alexander - Feist
Honky Tonk Woman - The Rolling Stones
You Don't Bring Me Flowers - Neil Diamond w/Barbra Streisand
Daylight - Coldplay
Golden - My Morning Jacket
You Were Right - Built To Spill
Hold On To Your Friends - Morrissey
Me Gustas Cuando Callas - Brazilian Girls

That is RANDOM.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Kill The Wogs

Forgetting To Hide It, Pt. II

by dday

John Deady, the "Veterans For Rudy" co-chair in New Hampshire sez:

"He's got I believe the knowledge and the judgement to attack one of the most difficult problems in current history and that is the rise of the Muslims, and make no mistake about it, this hasn't happened for a thousand years. These people are very dedicated and they're also very very smart in their own way. We need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people until we defeat or chase them back to their caves or in other words get rid of them."

I think Rudy's locked up the pro-genocide vote. I think the Atlas Shrugged lady's heart jsut exploded.

By the way, he had a chance to clean this up later in the day, and declined:

In an interview with me, Deady confirmed that when he made the comments, he was referring to all Muslims.

"I don't subscribe to the principle that there are good Muslims and bad Muslims," Deady told me by phone from his home in New Hampshire. "They're all Muslims."

I feel like the other guys in the room during "Twelve Angry Men" when the one racist goes on his tirade. Just walk away slowly...

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Hollywood Working Class

I work in TV, normally in the "obscure show on the digital cable channel you probably don't get" genre. So I've been following the Writer's Guild strike with interest. The WGA went out at least in part over allowing me and other storytellers who work in "unscripted" TV the ability to join their union. Everything I've ever worked on has had a script, so I don't get the "unscripted" moniker. And whether you wrote the script before or after the taping, whoever generated it ought to get the same kind of benefits.

That's why I'm excited that David Letterman's show struck a deal with their writers, outside the cartel of studios, to bring them back to work.

David Letterman has secured a deal with the striking Writers Guild of America that will allow him to resume his late-night show on CBS next Wednesday with his team of writers on board, executives of several late-night shows said today.

Most of television’s late-night shows are scheduled to return to the air that night after being off for two months due to the strike, but it is likely that only Mr. Letterman, and the show that follows him on CBS hosted by Craig Ferguson, will be supported by material from writers.

The reason is that Mr. Letterman’s company World Wide Pants, owns both those shows. The company announced two weeks ago that it was seeking a separate deal with the guild that would permit the two World Wide Pants show to return to the air. The talks seemed to be at an impasse until today when the deal was completed.

There's a solidarity in Hollywood that I've rarely seen since I've been here, which is to say, there's solidarity in Hollywood. Other unions like the DGA and SAG are talking about putting up a united front. The writers are on the verge of chasing the Golden Globes off the air, and their new media strategy is paying off in public opinion. Now they're creating cracks in the cartel that wants to take this as far as they can go and bust the union.

I have learned: that the CEOs are deeply entrenched in their desire to punish the WGA for daring to defy them by striking and to bully the writers into submission on every issue, and that the moguls consider the writers are sadly misguided to believe they have any leverage left. I'm told the CEOs are determined to write off not just the rest of this TV season (including the Back 9 of scripted series), but also pilot season and the 2008/2009 schedule as well. Indeed, network orders for reality TV shows are pouring into the agencies right now. The studios and networks also are intent on changing the way they do TV development so they can stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars in order to see just a few new shows succeed. As for advertising, the CEOs seem determined to do away with the upfront business and instead make their money from the scatter market.

They want to make it impossible to work your way up as a writer. They'd rather use these nonunion shows, shit like American Gladiators (it's back!), and tell the writers to piss off, thinking that they'll crack. They should hear from the fans. FDL has a great tool you can use to write the studio heads and tell them to stop being so damn greedy. They can make it on $119 billion in profit a year instead of $120, while the people they owe those billions to are fairly compensated. If a small company like Letterman's can reach a deal, the AMPTP cartel can. Tell them to get back to the negotiating table so your favorite shows can get back on the air.

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So the Democrats gave and gave and gave to get the defense authorization bill passed with what amounts to a blank check for Iraq. But now George Bush wants them to give some more.

At the behest of the Iraqi government, President Bush will veto the annual defense authorization bill, saying an obscure provision in the legislation could make Iraqi assets held in U.S. banks vulnerable to lawsuits.

The veto threat startled Democratic congressional leaders, who believe Bush is bowing to pressure from the Iraqi government over a technical provision in the bill. The veto is unexpected because there was no veto threat and the legislation passed both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly.

Democratic leaders say the provision in question could easily be worked out, but in vetoing the massive defense policy bill, military pay raises may be on hold, as well as dozens of other programs.

Steve Benen notes later in this post that Iraqi assets are probably immune to US lawsuits anyway, regardless of what this bill says. And the Democrats have a pathetic "you didn't tell us what to cave on!" plea at their website.

Why would that be the first statement out of the gate? Look what the President is vetoing here.

Keep in mind, the veto of the defense authorization bill puts a variety of key spending measures in limbo, including a pay raise for the troops, VA care for wounded veterans, a new "Truman Commission" to fight fraud and waste by military contractors, and expanded job protections for family members of severely wounded troops.

If Democrats can't make hay out of Bush vetoing a pay raise for the troops, they're useless. Plus, this bill passed with SWEEPING margins, like 400-6 kind of margins, in both houses. There's something unsaid here, and I think it's to do with the missile defense restrictions. Old Reagan-era habits die hard. But this should be used to pummel Bush for the next three months. And there's no need to pass any new bill. Not that the leading Dems will listen to me, of course.

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Big hat tip to Turkana at The Left Coaster for higlighting this story.

Mortgage lenders aren't the only ones showing more interest in your credit score these days – the health industry is creating its own score to judge your ability to pay.

The new medFICO score, being designed with the help of credit industry giant Fair Isaac Corp., could debut as early as this summer in some hospitals.

Healthcare Analytics, a Waltham, Mass., health technology firm, is developing the score. It is backed by funding from Fair Isaac, of Minneapolis; Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp.; and venture capital firm North Bridge Venture Partners, also based in Waltham. Each kicked in $10 million for the project.

The score is already raising questions from consumer advocacy groups that fear it will be checked before patients are treated. People with low medical credit scores could receive lower-quality care than those with a healthy medFICO, they argue.

First of all, if you're looking for fiscal stability, I can't think of a better industry to imitate than the mortgage lending industry. But why stop at medFICO scores? How about we add in some subprime diagnosis and treatment, and interest-only leg surgeries, and I know, how about a whole new class of medical debt-backed securities, which banks can sell to investors, and try to get bailed out of when they turn to crap? They could call it "Big Medical Shitpile" and park it on a beach in New Jersey! (hey, I've lived in Jersey, so I can say that...)

Seriously, this is hideous. It used to be that the medical care industry, particularly the insurance companies had to use some prior injury as a basis to deny coverage. Now it's some years-old debt that hospitals can use to hang over your head and deny care. Enough. Health care is a human right. It's not a privilege of the wealthy. Willingness to pay is a metric that can be abused to the nth degree to deny treatment to the sick. It will create another tier to the medical system; you have the uninsured, the wealthy who can afford the best, and now the discount class who can't afford access to the good stuff.

I guess this is what Rudy Giuliani meant by private solutions.

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Sliding To Oblivion

It seems like every month brings the largest reduction in home prices and sales in forever. A day after the revised October statistics showed prices falling fast, today we have new home sales for November at a 12-year low.

Sales of new homes in the U.S. fell to a 12-year low in November, pointing to bigger declines in construction that will hobble economic growth throughout 2008.

Purchases dropped 9 percent to an annual pace of 647,000 and October sales were revised down to a 711,000 rate, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Last month's sales were weaker than the lowest forecast in a Bloomberg survey.

The deepest housing recession in 16 years will worsen as discounts fail to lure buyers and mounting foreclosures swell the glut of unsold properties. Falling property values may cause consumer spending to cool, increasing the odds the expansion will falter in 2008.

Not only is this impacting the economy, but population patterns, which will play out in the 2010 Census and how electoral votes and Congressional seats will be apportioned for the next decade, so the political implications are evident, too.

I do see a general unease in the country, an expectation of recession, and a bracing for the worst. These are not good times to be the party in power, because people are just fed up.

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This one's personal for me. Those who've read me before know that I have a relative who has suffered under an addiction to OxyContin since he was 14, and is only now putting his life back together. Purdue Frederick, maker of the drug, knew that they were peddling an addictive product that could be easily abused, but intentionally hid the warnings from the general public for a decade. They got off with a slap on the wrist a few months back, after the Justice Department attempted to slow down the investigation and the prosecution produced such a poor case that even the judge yelled at them for failing to jail the executives for their crimes. Today in the New York Times, Barry Meier, who wrote a great book on this subject called Painkiller, has a long piece detailing Rudy Giuliani's business involvement with Purdue Frederick.

In 2002, the drug maker, Purdue Pharma of Stamford, Conn., hired Mr. Giuliani and his consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, to help stem the controversy about OxyContin. Among Mr. Giuliani’s missions was the job of convincing public officials that they could trust Purdue because they could trust him [...]

A former top federal prosecutor, Mr. Giuliani participated in two meetings between Purdue officials and the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency investigating the company. Giuliani Partners took on the job of monitoring security improvements at company facilities making OxyContin, an issue of concern to the D.E.A.

As a celebrity, Mr. Giuliani helped the company win several public relations battles, playing a role in an effort by Purdue to persuade an influential Pennsylvania congressman, Curt Weldon, not to blame it for OxyContin abuse.

Yes, I'm sure it was difficult to get Curt "Working For the Russians" Weldon to play ball.

Purdue Frederick is still a client of Giuliani Partners, and Giuliani still draws a salary from the business, so he continues to profit on the suffering of millions of addicted teens.

Read this shill-of-the-year quote:

“I understand the pain and distress that accompanies illness,” Mr. Giuliani said at the time. “I know that proper medications are necessary for people to treat their sickness and improve their quality of life.”

By the way, at one point Rudy assured the DEA that everything was fine, he's put his top man on the job.

The D.E.A. was not only critical of how OxyContin had been marketed, its inspectors had found widespread security and record-keeping problems at the company’s manufacturing plants [...]

At two meetings, the first at Giuliani Partners in early 2002, Mr. Giuliani and Purdue’s executives argued that they were already taking steps to eliminate any problems.

(Bernard) Kerik had been sent to Purdue’s manufacturing plants to revamp internal security, they assured Mr. Hutchinson. The federal investigators, they argued, should back down and give them a chance to prove they could handle the problem on their own.

Don't worry, Bernie's on it! The plant will have a numbers racket and a love nest suitable for affairs in no time.

Rudy's dead in the water for this election, as evidenced by his resorting to more 9/11 ads to energize his campaign. But the moral blackness of defending this indefensible pharmaceutical company is perhaps the most telling example of how this guy would run the country. It also informs this quote from the other day.

"I suspect that our Democratic colleagues would get that question more often in a Democratic audience than we get in a Republican audience," he said. "Maybe more Democrats are concerned about their health care than Republicans, maybe because Republicans have health care or maybe Republicans generally like the idea of private solutions."

Private solutions like a company who poisons the country and lies about it.

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The Shallow Well of California Political Coverage And Its Implications

So there's a California Field Poll survey out about the budget crisis, which shows that either people are resigned to new taxes or that people can't live with them, depending on the spin of the article you read.

The real question is, where do these people get these political opinions? There's scant coverage of the perpetual budget problem and its root causes, there's virtually no coverage of how the Governor's borrow-and-spend policies have led us down this path. That's why he's so popular (60% approval in the poll), since the only time you get any news on him is from national magazine covers. But my fear is that the citizenry is very ill-informed and easily swayed, and will have no problem believing the Governor's fantasy spin that we can balance the budget and give everyone a "fandastick" job without raising taxes.

The hollowing out of California's political media is very dangerous.

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Let's See 'Em

We'll have to hold the EPA to their word:

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday signaled it is prepared to comply with a congressional request for all documents — including communications with the White House — concerning its decision to block California from imposing limits on greenhouse gases.

The EPA's general counsel directed agency employees in a memo to preserve and produce all documents related to the decision including any opposing views and communications between senior EPA officials and the White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

The documents should include "any records presenting options, recommendations, pros and cons, legal issues or risks, (or) political implications," said the all-hands memo from EPA General Counsel Roger Martella Jr.

They're saying that now, of course, but David Addington hasn't gotten his hands on the memo to use his red pen.

The presiding committee in the Congress on this one is Henry Waxman's House Oversight Committee.

Happy New Year, Fourthbranch. We got you Henry Waxman.

UPDATE: And I should mention that this is how a functioning Congressional oversight committee works, unlike the one over in the Senate, where Joe Lieberman spends his days playing cribbage with Susan Collins instead of doing his job. What a waste of jowls.

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Still Playing The Great Game

The major news accounts of Benazir Bhutto's death are numerous, but I really like this account of how US policy was so staked on Bhutto's return to Pakistan.

For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy -- and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism [...]

"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability, but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

But the diplomacy that ended abruptly with Bhutto's assassination yesterday was always an enormous gamble, according to current and former U.S. policymakers, intelligence officials and outside analysts. By entering into the legendary "Great Game" of South Asia, the United States also made its goals and allies more vulnerable -- in a country in which more than 70 percent of the population already looked unfavorably upon Washington.

Don't worry, though, we've got a plan B: that other former Prime Minister who was almost killed yesterday:

On Thursday, officials at the American Embassy in Islamabad reached out to members of the political party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, according to a senior administration official. The very fact that officials are even talking to backers of Mr. Sharif, who they believe has too many ties to Islamists, suggests how hard it will be to find a partner the United States fully trusts [...]

The administration official said American Embassy officials were trying to reach out to Pakistani political players across the board in the aftermath of the Bhutto assassination.

“Look, most of the people in Musharraf’s party came out of Nawaz’s party,” the official said, referring to Mr. Sharif and speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. While he acknowledged that an alliance between Mr. Sharif and Mr. Musharraf was unlikely given the long enmity between the men, he added, “I wouldn’t predict anything in politics.”

Of course, the big question is who is that senior Administration official? Does he perhaps believe he exists in a fourth branch of government?

The idea that we can find someone, anyone, acceptable to Musharraf to put an imprimatur on democracy there is, in the words of this Pakistan analyst:

“...insane,” said Teresita Schaffer, a Pakistan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, of the proposed alliance. “I don’t think Musharraf ever wanted to share power.”

Elections weren't likely to be all that fair anyway, given that the entire judiciary was installed by the dictator. I think a military coup is likelier than just sliding over to some other national politician and expecting democracy to flourish.

The answer to that depends in part on his successor as army chief, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who, although a protege of the president, must consider whether his mentor has become an impediment to stability.

"He will listen carefully to what Musharraf has to say, but his decision will be geared to security interests of the army, and the country," (analyst Faranza) Shaikh said.

We're not going to be able to snap our fingers and come up with a magic solution in a country of 164 million where our presence is increasingly reviled.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

When Did The Golden Globes Become Such A Big Deal?

I have no idea, but if it's suddenly a high-profile event, absolutely the WGA should flex their muscle and picket it right into cable access.

Hollywood’s glamour machine has gotten stuck between a promise that the stars will still show up at next month’s Golden Globes and a threat that 3,000 picketing writers will chase them away [...]

...on Thursday, Jeff Hermanson, strike coordinator for the Writers Guild of America West and the Writers Guild of America East, was still promising a showdown on the sidewalks around the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the Globes ceremony is set to be produced by Dick Clark Productions and broadcast by NBC on Jan. 13.

“If the Globes is telecast and it is produced by Dick Clark Productions, which is a struck company, we will picket the show,” Mr. Hermanson said in one of several interviews this week.

Panicked at the prospect of having to confront strikers as they waltz up the red carpet, celebrities have sent what Hollywood publicity executives describe as a near-unanimous signal: If striking writers show up, the stars won’t.

NBC, so far, is planning to forge ahead with its telecast, according to a person involved with the network’s plans, who requested anonymity to avoid further roiling the waters.

Yet people who have dealt with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in recent days said it is considering plans to salvage a bit of glow by scratching the telecast in favor of either a Webcast or, more likely, a purely private event. The ceremony, in its 65th year, was last staged without a broadcast in 1979.

Good. We need a little street action to shake this thing up. I'm waiting for the WGA to call a general strike. Do it when I'm on deadline, could ya?

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Was Moe Green Hit At The Tropicana Too?

I had seen this earlier in the day, and forgot about it, and then a Kos diarist reminded me that Benazir Bhutto wasn't the only former Pakistani Prime Minister marked for death today.

At least four supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were killed Thursday when unidentified gunmen fired at his party's procession in the outskirts of Islamabad, local press reports said.

Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), was due to address election rallies in the eastern Pakistani city of Rawalpindi, some 30 kms south from Islamabad.

A procession was taken out to welcome Sharif when unidentified gunmen opened fire from a house at Karal Chowk on the main Islamabad airport road, the PML-N said.

Let's add these facts into the mix as well:

• In an email that was only revealed after her death, Bhutto blamed the Pakistani government for their failure to adequately protect her on the campaign trail, going so far as to say she would hold Musharraf responsible for anything that happened to her.

• Nawaz Sharif said the same thing.

• The Bhutto attack occurred in Rawalpindi, home of a large military garrison, described by Peter Bergen today as akin to having an assassination occur right next to the Pentagon.

• The ties between the Pakistani military, the ISI (intelligence services) and radical Islamist groups like the Taliban are legion.

• Obviously, knocking off the top opposition leaders makes it easier to consolidate rule, as does a terror attack that could postpone elections or lead to a restoration of martial law.

So, while you can't exactly say Musharraf pulled the trigger on Bhutto, you might be able to make a case that he was at a family baptism at the time and may have smiled a bit hearing the news from Tom Hagen.

This, by the way, is our major ally in South Asia in the war on terror, someone who stood to benefit this much from a terrorist attack.

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Not Like They'll Stop With The Voter Suppression

I know that Digby has done a lot of work on the coming Republican emphasis on bogus claims of "voter fraud," turning the tables on Democratic concerns about our elections and giving a pretense to increased voter suppression and intimidation. The Supreme Court is about to weigh in on some cases that are very central to this effort.

The Supreme Court will open the new year with its most politically divisive case since Bush v. Gore decided the 2000 presidential election, and its decision could force a major reinterpretation of the rules of the 2008 contest.

The case presents what seems to be a straightforward and even unremarkable question: Does a state requirement that voters show a specific kind of photo identification before casting a ballot violate the Constitution? [...]

"It is exceedingly difficult to maneuver in today's America without a photo ID (try flying, or even entering a tall building such as the courthouse in which we sit, without one)," Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner, a Ronald Reagan appointee, wrote in deciding that Indiana's strictest-in-the-nation law is not burdensome enough to violate constitutional protections.

His colleague on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Bill Clinton appointee Terence T. Evans, was equally frank in dissent. "Let's not beat around the bush: The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic," Evans wrote.

These cases are a solution in search of a problem. Indeed there have been virtually no credible documented cases of voter fraud almost everywhere in the country. This idea to institute this voter ID law came right out of the Justice Department and directly from the lead villian in these matters, the guy who but for 9 second pro forma Congressional sessions might be sitting on the Federal Election Commission by now.

(Hans) Von Spakovsky was the voting counsel in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division from 2003 to 2005. In that role, he supported Georgia's voter photo identification law despite the objections of four of the five government attorneys on a panel set up to make sure the Georgia law complied with the Voting Rights Act, who warned that the law would hurt minority voters because they were less likely to have photo IDs, according to former Justice Department officials. "Spakovsky played a major role in the implementation of practices which injected partisan political factors into decision making," said six former Justice staffers in a letter to senators.

Von Spakovsky, like other Republicans, argues that such strict voter ID laws are needed to combat fraud. Von Spakovsky's election administration experience includes sitting on the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections, which administers elections in the largest county in Georgia.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School asserts that von Spakovsky's partisan bias extends beyond his signing off on the Georgia bill. Citing recently released E-mails, it says that he tried to quash the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's efforts to support voting ID rules in Arizona and tried to cancel a research contract on the impact of and need for voter ID. (He would not comment for this story.)

It's a real simple plan. The idea is to put these laws in place, under-report them to the populace, and use them to invalidate the votes of hundreds of thousands of low-income and elderly citizens, many of whom vote Democratic. All this to stop the "scourge" of non-existent incidents of voter fraud. Which is a fake scourge whipped up by the Republican noise machine and absolutely tied to this sudden demonization of illegal immigrants.

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R) said voter fraud was something he was asked about "almost daily" by constituents. "At the Kiwanis Club, the chamber of commerce groups, people would say, 'Why aren't you asking who I am when I vote?' " Rokita said.

This, by the way, is why we must continue pressing for answers in the US Attorney probe. The firing of the eight federal prosecutors is intimately tied to their unwillingness to pursue B.S. vote fraud cases. If that investigation, and the look into who was giving the orders to fire, is pushed aside for the sake of bipartisan comity or a desire not to confront the President, then we'll never see the reality of the politicization of justice and the use of federal prosecutor offices as an arm of the RNC. Which will make it that much easier for these needless voter ID laws to be adopted nationwide, expanding the voter suppression.

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Own Your Own Sickness

I think the real story about this EEOC decision is that big business is more ready for government-provided health care than ever.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Wednesday that employers could reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare.

The policy, set forth in a new regulation, allows employers to establish two classes of retirees, with more comprehensive benefits for those under 65 and more limited benefits — or none at all — for those older.

More than 10 million retirees rely on employer-sponsored health plans as a primary source of coverage or as a supplement to Medicare, and Naomi C. Earp, the commission’s chairwoman, said, “This rule will help employers continue to voluntarily provide and maintain these critically important health benefits.”

Legacy costs are crushing US manufacturing and putting as much as $1,500 on the nose of every car made in this country. Meanwhile, working class Americans are unable to save for retirement, have seen their pensions turned into 401(k) plans subject to the vagaries of the stock market, and now their familiar health care can be taken away from them. This ruling puts more Americans out on their own, like practically everything in George Bush's ownership society. But it also offers the possibility to expand the only health care system that will truly be able to drive down costs.

Wouldn't this be the perfect time to approach key businesses and ask for their support in reducing the Medicare age to 55, with this ruling as the template allowing them to loosen their entitlement burden? They could join with unions and interest groups in an outside-in strategy to pressure the Congress. We're obviously going to get a tremendous amount of pushback from pharmaceuticals and insurance companies in the coming health care fight, but having a corporate element on our side would at least make it more fair. And I think they're ready to ask for help, finally.

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Lighten Up, Francis

I can almost hear the political consultants throughout Iowa reacting to the news of Benazir Bhutto's death with admonitions that their candidate has to "own it." But there's something rather unseemly about using it as some sort of club to bash their opponents with. The media isn't solely to blame for the politicization of absolutely everything; the candidates themselves can shoulder some of it.

Mind you, I'd much rather have candidates argue over US policy in Pakistan than, say, which candidate wrote what essay in kindergarten or did drugs or got a haircut or wore a low-cut top. But shouldn't that argument have something to do with the ACTUAL US POLICY in Pakistan and not this crystal ball formulation of how Bhutto's death reflects on various election messages and themes?

P.S. The real coup de grace of this comes from Slummy Joe Lieberman, whose campaign email for St. McCain is nicely deconstructed by Matt Yglesias. Shorter Joementum: "Bush-Cheney caused a lot of problems. That's why we need John McCain to use the same policies to fix them!"

UPDATE: Krugman:

If you’re a tough guy (or gal) who believes in exerting US power — never mind, there are just too many heavily armed people in Pakistan for anyone but Norman Podhoretz to believe that we could throw our weight around. If you believe you can bring new understanding to the world through your enlightened outlook — sorry, there are too many people in Pakistan who don’t want to be enlightened. If you believe that we’d have more influence in the world if we hadn’t squandered our resources and good will in Iraq (which I do) — well, sorry, that influence wouldn’t extend to being able to bring peace and light to Pakistan.

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What Good Democratic Consultants Do

Bill Carrick and Kam Kuwata are the anti-Chris Lehane.

The Writers Guild of America has retained veteran Democratic political consultants Bill Carrick and Kam Kuwata to provide assistance on the strategic and PR fronts of the 8-week-old strike.

"We both have friends in the WGA," Kuwata told Daily Variety. "And we have landed a lot of times on the sides that are pro-labor."

The duo came aboard earlier this month at the guild's behest in the wake of the Dec. 7 collapse of negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP, which insisted that the guild remove half a dozen proposals from the table as a condition of continuing to bargain. The WGA refused, and no new talks have been scheduled, while the Directors Guild of America is widely expected to set a start date for negotiations on its contract within the next week.

Kuwata said he and Carrick will work for the WGA for as long as needed.

Carrick ran the Angelides campaign and Kuwata has worked a lot with DiFi in the past. But at least that they understand that Democrats stand with workers, unlike Chris Lehane. I'd rather reject that corporate money and be on the side of those who just want their fair share.

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Throwing Money At The Problem

You're likely to see a lot of Republican commentators today saying that the death of Benazir Bhutto shows how radical Islam represents a dire threat, and how we must intervene in several more countries in an effort to stop this from spreading. An example:

No good answers to any of that yet. I have a very bad feeling about all of this. The potential for critically destablizing a flank that was difficult enough as it was, is huge. I’d feel slightly better if Rumsfeld had doubled the size of the Army, and wish Bush and Congress would crank that up. This war is far from over. This war is no artificial Bush creation or figment of anyone’s imagination, and should still be very much part of our own election, wishful thinking notwithstanding.

It's critical to understand how this plays out in practice rather in the abstract theories of "promote democracy and kill the terrorists!", which in the case of Pakistan at least the Cheney Administration has done the exact opposite. Here is a very important story of how "protecting freedom and democracy" actually works.

More outrageous tales from the State Department car dealership: it turns out that contractor DynCorp didn't have to even prove that it in fact purchased dozens of SUVs for which it charged the government. Try to follow the money on this one.

[O]ne Civilian Police task order [on which DynCorp is the contractor] included a requirement for 68 armored Ford Excursions at a fixed price of $113,064. The [State] Department was billed for 68 "armored vehicles" at a unit cost of $123,327. The property list contained 61 Ford Excursions, of which some were described as armored, others uparmored, and others had no notation of armoring. The costs shown on the property list for these 61 Ford Excursions ranged from $43,990 to $150,000 with nine at $122,190, seven with higher costs, and the remaining 45 with costs of $77,000 and below. Thus, OIG could not conclude that the 68 "armored vehicles" in the vouchers were the 68 armored Ford Excursions specified in the task order.

Let's just assume for a minute that they are. To do the math: 68 Excursions at the State Department contract's fixed unit price works out to $7,688,352. But 68 Excursions at the price DynCorp billed the department is $8,386,236. So that's an overcharge of almost $698,000. Nice.

But what the report's saying is that it has no way of knowing if DynCorp really spent the $8,386,236.

This is part of a series of reports obtained by Spencer Ackerman as part of an FOIA request. The sad truth is that our government continues to use the spectre of terrorism to throw enormous amounts of money at defense contractors and corrupt foreign entities in a completely unaccountable way, indirectly profiting major benefactors to campaigns across the country. This is how Iraq has been "won" in 2007 (actually, as Juan Cole will tell you, it hasn't) - by paying off Sunni tribal leaders and former insurgents to form these Awakening groups. The war on terror is the stamp on top of which a giant war machine slush fund operates.

There are certainly ways to get serious about terrorism, like declining to support dictators who work in a practical alliance with radical Islamists, for example, that don't involve blindly filling the coffers of defense contractors. But that isn't the American way, I guess.

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Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

I guess the Law and Order money dried up.

When I got a generic fundraising e-mail "from" Fred Thompson campaign manager Bill Lacy last night offering "a quick update" on the effort to get "on the air statewide in Iowa," I didn't take it literally.

I should have.

Fred has gone dark in Iowa.

With not enough cash to buy ads, he's doing all the free media he can on his bus tour. But it's a remarkable indicator of just how topsy-turvy the GOP race has been that the man once viewed as the party's savior cannot even afford to buy TV time in the final days before Iowa.

It's probably for the best, since the TV spots were 20 seconds of Grandpa Freddie dozing in a chair, until a staff aide puts a mirror under his nose to ensure that he's still breathing.

It's not a scintillating message.

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9 Seconds

Whatever you want to say about Harry Reid and his, er, uneven stewardship of Senate Democrats, he sure got this right.

A nine-second session gaveled in and out by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., prevented Bush from appointing as an assistant attorney general a nominee roundly rejected by majority Democrats. Without the pro forma session, the Senate would be technically adjourned, allowing the president to install officials without Senate confirmation.

The business of blocking Bush's recess appointments was serious. It represents an institutional standoff between Congress and the president that could repeat itself during Congress' vacations for the remainder of Bush's presidency.

In such situations, pro forma sessions also could give Bush some political cover on popular legislation he doesn't want to sign. When Congress is holding pro forma sessions and is not formally adjourned, a bill sent to a president automatically becomes law 10 days after he receives it - excluding Sundays - unless he vetoes it.

That could be the fate of two bills Congress passed last week. One growing out of the Virginia Tech massacre makes it harder for people with mental illness records to buy guns. The other makes it easier for journalists and others to obtain government documents through the Freedom of Information Act. The FOIA bill, for example, would become law on New Year's Eve if not vetoed before then, according to Senate Judiciary Committee officials.

What goes unsaid is that this doesn't just give Bush political cover, but it prevents the possibility of a pocket veto of that legislation.

The recess appointment was instituted in a time when the fastest modes of transportation were sailing ship and horseback, in case Congress couldn't get back to the capital to respond to an emergency. Every President, Democratic or Republican, has abused the privilege, and if you can't eliminate it through Constitutional amendment, then I completely support making it irrelevant through pro forma sessions. In addition, this is the kind of "block Bush" strategy progressives would like to see on a whole host of other issues.

Reid's getting a lot of goodwill out of 9 seconds. Would that he would do something constructive with the other 31,556,917.

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The Huckabee Double Bind

Were it not for the Bhutto assassination, I think this hit piece on Mike Huckabee would have been a pretty big story, and it still might be. The fact that the Huck is still giving paid speeches for up to $25,000 while running for President is at the least unseemly. What's more, his reply that "unlike people who are independently wealthy, if I don’t work, I don’t eat,” when he's getting $25 grand per speech, and after a litany of stories about loads of gifts and perks he took while Governor of Arkansas, is just out of touch.

Huckabee is clearly getting a mess of oppo research thrown his way by those who control the money strings in the Republican Party and who fear his populist rhetoric. He's so short on cash that he had to leave Iowa a week before the caucuses to raise money in Florida. And now Novakula is spreading that the insiders have drifted to John McCain as the "last man standing" to challenge the Huckabee campaign.

And this of course shows what a bind the GOP is in with this nomination. Either the torrent of negative ads and information stops Huckabee, at which point his social conservative base, which is already none too happy with getting nothing but lip service from the party all these years, gets so depressed that they either stay home in November or back a Judge Roy Moore-type third-party candidate; or, Huckabee prevails, and the GOP winds up with a candidate completely at odds with major portions of the rest of its base, particularly the econocons and neocons.

We've been expecting this train wreck for some time, and Huckabee became the match that lit the tinderbox. We even see these "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenarios within the Huckabee campaign itself.

Hispanic activists who viewed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee as a voice of moderation on illegal immigration say they've been taken aback by the hard-line stance he's adopted as a presidential candidate.

While governor, Huckabee gained favor with Hispanic leaders by denouncing a high-profile federal immigration raid and suggesting some anti-illegal immigration measures were driven by racism. He advocated making children of illegal immigrants eligible for college scholarships.

Huckabee's Republican presidential rivals have tried to make an issue of the scholarship plan, portraying him as soft on illegal immigration, an important issue for many GOP voters.

Huckabee responded this month by unveiling a plan to seal the Mexican border, hire more agents to patrol it and make illegal immigrants go home before they could apply to return to this country.

He's also touted the support for his candidacy of the founder of the Minuteman Project, an anti-illegal immigration group whose volunteers watch the Mexican border.

Though he still defends the scholarship provision, Huckabee's new tone bothers Hispanic leaders like Carlos Cervantes, the Arkansas director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"He's trying to be tougher on immigration than we've ever seen him before," Cervantes said. "That's kind of worrisome now. He was willing to work with the communities. I don't see that he's willing to work with us now."

The Republican coalition isn't likely to survive this Presidential election. I've seen more "I'll never vote for x" stories on the right than ever before. In a sense, Mike Huckabee might be the greatest gift progressives have received in a generation.

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Better For Republicans

It always is. And now they're getting specific. Apparently the death of Pakistan's opposition leader is good news for Rudy Giuliani.

Let's start by remarking how pathetic it is to veer from an international incident into the horse race. Joe Scarborough probably can't locate Pakistan on a map, yet he knows implicitly which Presidential candidate chaos there would reward. And why Giuliani? Because he happened to be coincidentally in the city of record on 9/11, while he proved himself a fool in emergency management by placing the command center in the same building hit by terrorists eight years earlier and providing faulty radios to firefighters?

I think it'd take about a minute and a half to come up with a reasonable (for cable news) argument for any candidate to benefit from the assassination of Bhutto. "It'll help McCain because of his foreign policy experience!" "It'll help Ron Paul because he wants to isolate us from a dangerous world!" "It'll help Mitt Romney because of his managerial steady hand in a time of crisis!" "It'll help Mike Huckabee because he can appeal to a higher power in these dangerous times!" "It'll help Fred Thompson because he'll sleep through it!"

None of these statements have much basis in fact. That's why they are reasonable cable news opinions.

P.S. Just in case you think this kind of instantly insipid analysis is confined to cable news, Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post wrote pretty much the same thing.

UPDATE: It should be noted that Giuliani sent a press release out to this effect before the palace courtiers started reporting on it as if it were fact. So this wasn't only a stupid thought, it was an UNORIGINAL stupid thought.

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RIP Benazir Bhutto

I actually write quite a bit about Pakistan, usually with the headline "Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update." This is why.

Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide attack at a campaign rally that also killed at least 20 others, aides said.

Bhutto's supporters erupted in anger and grief after her death, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.

The death of the charismatic 54-year-old former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections into chaos and created fears of mass protests and violence across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

I literally just woke up and don't know what the speculation is about who pulled off this attack, but just like in this country, the fallout will certainly tend toward autocracy. I don't expect there will be parliamentary elections now, or a return to normalcy with restoring independent media or the judiciary. I just heard a Pakistani professor on NPR say "there are people who support the dictatorship and don't like her, and (Pervez) Musharraf will not be able to escape complicity," and I'm really glad that was said. Let's remember that Musharraf instituted the state of emergency to stop just this type of violence, and lifted it because he thought there was relative safety. Musharraf has a long history of standing by idly while politicians are killed, including at least a few by his own security forces. After the assassination attempt on Bhutto earlier this year, Musharraf claimed that he would take control of the security detail.

Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are seen in this country as popular opposition leaders more than in Pakistan, where their corruption problems were well-known. But clearly, somebody perceived her as a threat. And now a real democracy movement may rise to break the dictatorship.

There are riots throughout the country and the police is out in force. This is very bad.

UPDATE: Submitted without comment:

U.S. Troops to Head to Pakistan
Beginning early next year, U.S. Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan, as part of an effort to train and support indigenous counter-insurgency forces and clandestine counterterrorism units, according to defense officials involved with the planning.

These Pakistan-centric operations will mark a shift for the U.S. military and for U.S. Pakistan relations. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the U.S. used Pakistani bases to stage movements into Afghanistan. Yet once the U.S. deposed the Taliban government and established its main operating base at Bagram, north of Kabul, U.S. forces left Pakistan almost entirely. Since then, Pakistan has restricted U.S. involvement in cross-border military operations as well as paramilitary operations on its soil.

But the Pentagon has been frustrated by the inability of Pakistani national forces to control the borders or the frontier area. And Pakistan's political instability has heightened U.S. concern about Islamic extremists there.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ron Paul and the Foreign Policy Disconnect

At the risk of inciting a riot in the comments and eliciting a lot of responses with multiple exclamation points in them, I'm going to write a post about Ron Paul. For some reason, you have to take up sides on Ron Paul to remain a member in good standing in the liberal blogosphere. You either stress only the good side, and love what he brings to the national debate, touching on subjects like imperialism and civil liberties and executive power which ought to get a wider hearing in public, or you stress only the bad side, rightly pointing out his overt racism and anti-Semitism, and believing it was Abe Lincoln's fault that Southern states started seceding from the Union and firing on federal garrisons, etc. Josh Marshall gave a rare balanced take today, which was more concerned with trying to understand the phenomenon.

A while back I was peppered for a few days by emailers pointing me toward an article detailing Paul's alleged history of anti-Israel politics and slurs and goading me to 'disavow' him. I told these good souls that I found it hard to disavow him since I hadn't avowed him in the first place. And the response I got was that it was a matter of all the liberals and Democrats who were on the Ron Paul bandwagon.

But who are these people? The Democrats and liberals who are on the Ron Paul bandwagon?

And this is what I mean: the alternative Ron Paul universe, supporters and critics, all living in a some sort of bubble, alternative reality, in which Paul is a key driver in our national politics, notwithstanding the fact that he barely registers in the polls and does not seem to have moved the needle one notch the GOP nomination contest in terms of shifting the terms of the debate toward his views on foreign policy.

I think it's pretty clear, actually. We're involved in a war with no end in sight, which both parties have had the opportunity to end and have failed. Nobody on either side of the political aisle is speaking with any kind of clarity about ending the Iraq war other than Ron Paul, and about the Washington consensus on foreign policy in general. Dennis Kucinich is to a certain extent, but his effort to ape the Paul money-bomb ended up with maybe a hundred grand or so. Ron Paul has a clear message that is a part of American history, one of isolationism. And he critiques American foreign policy in a way that is never done in public discussion.

That's why his Meet The Press appearance is almost a cultural artifact, an example of how wedded to the institutional narratives and consensus opinions the modern Beltway media has become, and how baffled they are by any differing opinion. Tim Russert was attacking Paul, sometimes giving up all pretense of neutrality, but he did so in his same narrow fashion, and when the subject turned to Paul challenging the core arguments of foreign policy and imperialism, Russert had to ignore them for a lack of knowing what else to do.

MR. RUSSERT: Let's talk about some of the ways you recommend. "I'd start bringing our troops home, not only from the Middle East but from Korea, Japan and Europe and save enough money to slash the deficit."

How much money would that save?

REP. PAUL: To operate our total foreign policy, when you add up everything, there's been a good study on this, it's nearly a trillion dollars a year. So I would think if you brought our troops home, you could save hundreds of billions of dollars. It's, you know, it's six months or one year or two year, but you can start saving immediately by changing the foreign policy and not be the policeman over the world. We should have the foreign policy that George Bush ran on. You know, no nation building, no policing of the world, a humble foreign policy. We don't need to be starting wars. That's my argument.

MR. RUSSERT: How many troops do we have overseas right now?

REP. PAUL: I don't know the exact number, but more than we need. We don't need any.

MR. RUSSERT: It's 572,000. And you'd bring them all home?

REP. PAUL: As quickly as possible. We--they will not serve our interests to be overseas. They get us into trouble. And we can defend this country without troops in Germany, troops in Japan. How do they help our national defense? Doesn't make any sense to me. Troops in Korea since I've been in high school?

He tried to "nail" Paul because he didn't know that exact number of American troops overseas (and by the way, neither would Russert if it wasn't on the TelePrompTer), but by saying it out loud, he almost made Paul's argument for him. What reason is there for over a half-million Americans to patrol the rest of the world, in 140-plus countries? Shouldn't the public have the ability to question the wisdom of that policy? Shouldn't at least someone with the Presidential platform give a dissenting viewpoint?

Matt Stoller had a great post about these "untouchable symptoms" that ought to be up for mainstream debate. Here are two of them that relate to the nexus of the excitement Ron Paul has been generating:

Subject: End American empire
Factoid: As of 1998, America had troops stationed in 144 countries around the world.

There are any number of ways to talk about this issue, from disparities of foreign aid to complaints about the IMF to the war in Iraq to the CIA and blowback. The bottom line is that America has troops everywhere in the world, it's expensive, the way it is done now is a bad idea, and we need to bring them home and return to being a republic. That or we need to figure out how to be a responsible international power again and get rid of the Blackwater-style military we are building and the gunrunning vigilante CIA-style Cold War and post-Cold War nonsense.

Subject: End the war economy:
Factoid: Money for Iraq keeps passing in 'emergency' legislation to avoid being subject to budget rules.

For some reason, Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans argue that they are fiscally responsible while ignoring their votes to spend 700-800B a year on war. Libertarian charlatans like energy expert Amory Lovins think that the corporate sector and the military sector are legitimate parts of the state, but that other spending is wasteful. The whole notion of the military not being a part of the overall government is crazy, and reflective of a huge, corrupt, and Soviet-style misallocation of capital through secret budgets and fear.

Until some progressive takes to a big platform and makes these same arguments in a coherent way, there will always be room for an isolationist paleocon like Ron Paul to make it for them. Yet it can certainly be folded into a progressive foreign policy critique, one that recognizes the virtue of diplomatic relations, one that understands how comforting the afflicted and surging against global poverty is far more effective than sitting men with guns all over the world. Edwards and Obama have done this to an extent, but Ron Paul has opened the Overton Window on this enough for them to be much bolder.

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Don't Mess With Texas

The death penalty statistics cited in this article are skewed because of a de facto moratorium while everyone waits for a Supreme Court ruling on the Constitutionality of lethal injections. Still, this is a telling statistic:

This year’s death penalty bombshells — a de facto national moratorium, a state abolition and the smallest number of executions in more than a decade — have masked what may be the most significant and lasting development. For the first time in the modern history of the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions took place in Texas.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of executions nationwide performed in Texas has held relatively steady, averaging 37 percent. Only once before, in 1986, has the state accounted for even a slight majority of the executions, and that was in a year with 18 executions nationwide.

But enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas has dropped sharply. Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas. The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people. Many legal experts say the trend will probably continue.

Indeed, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death-row inmates, the day is not far off when essentially all executions in the United States will take place in Texas.

“The reason that Texas will end up monopolizing executions,” he said, “is because every other state will eliminate it de jure, as New Jersey did, or de facto, as other states have.”

I don't know about that; all it takes is one trigger-happy governor who mocks inmates by saying "Please, don't kill me," and that doesn't necessarily have to confine itself to one state (Brother Jeb did his share of killing in Florida). In addition, Texas has followed the nationwide trend of far fewer death sentences, suggesting that people may approve of the death penalty in polls but not when they have to face it up close. But what does come through in this article is the swift and brutal prosecution of the practice in the Lone Star State.

The rate at which Texas sentences people to death is not especially high given its murder rate. But once a death sentence is imposed there, said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, prosecutors, state and federal courts, the pardon board and the governor are united in moving the process along. “There’s almost an aggressiveness about carrying out executions,” said Mr. Dieter, whose organization opposes capital punishment [...]

“Execution dates here, uniquely, are set by individual district attorneys,” Professor Dow said. “In no other state would the fact that a district attorney strongly supports the death penalty immediately translate into more executions.”

Texas courts, moreover, speed the process along, said Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas who has represented death-row inmates.

“It’s not coincidental that the debate over lethal injections had traction in other jurisdictions but not in Texas,” Professor Steiker said. “The courts in Texas have generally not been very solicitous of constitutional claims.”

Maybe the wheels of justice in Texas are greased so nobody will notice the brutal inequities in the system, which include defense attorneys falling asleep during trials, elected judges with an interest in appearing tough on crime ignoring the law to ensure quick executions, the lack of a public defender system (the judges appoint the defense lawyers, and most of them are incompetent), and a spectacularly failed appeals process.

The prison crisis and how it cuts against the poor is one of the great untold stories in America right now. But in Texas, people are being killed to pump up judges' political track records. That's out of step with the prevailing trend of the nation.

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Anti-Endorsement II: The Anti-Endorsening

The New Hampshire Union-Leader joins in on the fun started by the Concord Monitor.

THERE IS A reason Mitt Romney has not received a single newspaper endorsement in New Hampshire. It's the same reason his poll numbers are dropping. He has not been able to convince the people of this state that he's the conservative he says he is.

Like a lot of people in New Hampshire, we wanted to believe Romney. We gave him the benefit of the doubt. We listened very carefully to his expertly rehearsed sales pitch. But in the end he didn't close the deal for us. Now, two weeks before the primary, the same is happening with voters.

In a sense, this is self-serving for the Union-Leader, who has endorsed McCain and has an interest in being right. But it's amusing to me that the establishment elites were so keen on lining up behind Romney because he could keep the fragile coalition together, but any actual voter who takes a look at him can smell the inauthenticity.

Mitt Romney has not. He has spoken his lines well, but the people can sense that the words are memorized, not heartfelt.

Last week Romney was reduced to debating what the meaning of "saw" is. It was only the latest in a string of demonstrably false claims -- he'd been a hunter "pretty much" all his life, he'd had the NRA's endorsement, he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. -- that call into question the veracity of his justifications for switching sides on immigration, abortion, taxes and his affection for Ronald Reagan.

In this primary, the more Mitt Romney speaks, the less believable he becomes.

Tagg Romney reportedly responded by saying, "Oh yeah? Well,... um... you too!"

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Maybe We Can Leverage This World Wide Web Thing

I'm not Bill Richardson's biggest fan, but his online phone banking tool is one of the first smart uses of the Internet by a Democratic candidate. And putting up a list of top callers provides a kind of social networking angle to it as well.

Hopefully the other Dems will catch on. One of the more disappointing elements of this election cycle has been Republican candidates leapfrogging the Democrats in using the Internet to their advantage.

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Those Goddamned Dirty Hippies

With their brand completely trashed, the Republicans have finally found their platform for the 2008 elections: the GOP is the party that doesn't spend $1 million dollars on cultural museums! "The Republicans: Proudly Defending Your Kids From Social Studies..."

When Republican U.S. Senate candidate Anne Evans Estabrook wanted to make a point about wasteful government spending, she reached for an example that has popped up in several other races: a museum in Woodstock, N.Y.

Estabrook is running a primary campaign aimed at convincing Republican voters she is the best person to beat the incumbent, Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.).

This month, she asked: "Who would spend $70 million dollars for peanut storage, $20 million for cricket eradication, and voted to use our tax dollars on a hippie museum in Woodstock? This Congress and Frank Lautenberg just did."

Lautenberg did vote to give $1 million to the Museum at Bethel Woods, N.Y., the location of the August 1969 Woodstock Music Festival and Art Fair, as well as cricket eradication. A Lautenberg staffer noted the cricket bill also included aid to New Jersey farmers and the Women, Infants and Children food program. He did not vote on peanut storage; it died before it got to the Senate.

A million dollars out of a trillion-dollar budget. This is all they've got. Seriously.

Let's take a look at an amount roughly 5,000 times that much that appears to have been completely wasted.

After the United States has spent more than $5 billion in a largely failed effort to bolster the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, some American officials now acknowledge that there were too few controls over the money. The strategy to improve the Pakistani military, they said, needs to be completely revamped.

In interviews in Islamabad and Washington, Bush administration and military officials said they believed that much of the American money was not making its way to frontline Pakistani units. Money has been diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, not Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the officials said, adding that the United States has paid tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs [...]

Civilian opponents of President Pervez Musharraf say he used the reimbursements to prop up his government. One European diplomat in Islamabad said the United States should have been more cautious with its aid.

“I wonder if the Americans have not been taken for a ride,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The amount of funding for Pakistan since 2001 in military aid totals up to almost the entire amount of earmarks in the 2007 budget bill. And you can choose which is more pernicious.

But of course, this has nothing to do with federal spending or earmarks or anything; of course not, since the Woodstock museum actually never got the money. It has everything to do with demonizing those dirty hippies, and painting the Democrats as just the type who would build a monument to them. This is the same identity politics we've seen for the last 40 years.

In the summer of 1969, Estabrook was 25, married, and working in her family's commercial development business. Lautenberg was 45 and making his fortune as a cofounder of Automatic Data Processing Inc., the payroll company. Republican Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio was 14 and "working my butt off" in a Brooklyn pizza parlor for $1 an hour, he said.

"Going to Woodstock or being a flower child wasn't on my radar," Estabrook said.

"Republicans: killing the hippies dead for once and for all!"

I know this may work for the baby boomers in the media who think America is still obsessed by these battles. But about 35-40% of the country weren't alive for Woodstock. It's just not a part of their world. And yes, young people do vote. Mostly I think that the only ones still concerned about Woodstock are those buttoned-up Republicans who are angry that they missed out on all the fun. I guess that's why they're so into free love these days.

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President Bush's legacy.

Sitting in the front row for Bush's final press conference of 2007 on Thursday, I was struck by how it's a mixed bag for the president on three key issues -- his relationship with the Democratic Congress, the state of the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the health of the U.S. economy.

How true. On the one hand, his results on the issues suck.

On the other hand, they SUUUUUUCCCKKK.

(apologies to Jon Stewart)

P.S. Memo to CNN, political victories - especially those against a pliant Democratic leadership - have nothing to do with legacy. Legacy is the long-lasting impact of policy decisions. And the record on those, with a disastrous war, global terrorism on the rise, soaring health care and energy costs, and a looming recession, is not "mixed." Try to keep your eye on the ball.



A Tale Of Two Candidates

Four years apart, two Presidential candidates have gone hunting days before a major election. One looked obviously inauthentic as he pandered for votes in a crude stereotype of the heartland voters he secretly hates. The other was a proud symbol of our shared American heritage, boldly shrugging off the criticism of Eastern elites to just be himself.

Can you guess who is who?


Still can't figure it out?

I'll give you a hint. The authentic one is the one with the tiny "R" under the earflap.

I eagerly await the mocking Sportsmen for Huckabee website, but I probably won't see it. After all, what could possibly be deserving of mockery? It's not like he made a big show out of hunting just for the benefit of the cameras.


UPDATE: By the way, Huckabee is hilarious:

Of four birds flushed by the party, three were felled. Huckabee claimed the third with his .12-gauge shotgun. He proudly displayed the birds and said jokingly, "See that's what happens if you get in my way." [...]

"It's an opportunity to experience Iowa at its best," he said. "Hopefully we'll just shoot pheasants and not each other. We'll name the pheasant for the other candidates. It gives us a real incentive."

This I guess is a step up from typical Republican jokes, which are typically about hunting and killing liberals instead of Republican primary opponents.

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How Fourthbranch Works

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff has posted a fascinating interview with J.William Leonard, the head of the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which deals with classified documents from the executive branch. He was the major figure in the fight by Dick Cheney to define his office as a fourth branch of government existing outside executive branch accountability. I've been calling him "Fourthbranch" ever since (like the Taco Bell ad: "think outside the Constitution"). In the interview, Leonard details just how uniquely Cheney and his minions see their responsibilities to other government agencies.

NEWSWEEK: Explain how all this happened.

Leonard: Up until 2002, OVP was just like any other agency. Subsequent to that, they stopped reporting to us…At first, I took that to be, 'we're too busy.' Then we routinely attempted to do a review of the OVP and it was at that point in time it was articulated back to me that: 'well they weren't really subject to our reviews.' I didn't agree with it. But you know, there is a big fence around the White House. I didn't know how I could get in there if somebody didn't want me to.

So how did matters escalate?

The challenge arose last year when the Chicago Tribune was looking at [ISOO's annual report] and saw the asterisk [reporting that it contained no information from OVP] and decided to follow up. And that's when the spokesperson from the OVP made public this idea that because they have both legislative and executive functions, that requirement doesn't apply to them.…They were saying the basic rules didn't apply to them. I thought that was a rather remarkable position. So I wrote my letter to the Attorney General [asking for a ruling that Cheney's office had to comply.] Then it was shortly after that there were [email] recommendations [from OVP to a National Security Council task force] to change the executive order that would effectively abolish [my] office.

Who wrote the emails?

It was David Addington.

No explanation was offered?

No. It was strike this, strike that. Anyplace you saw the words, "the director of ISOO" or "ISOO" it was struck.

Here we have the Fourthbranch way. Assume the laws don't apply to you; when pressed, threaten to abolish the law or the agency that attempts to execute it. And since Cheney is not a lawyer, his appointed henchman in these matters is now David Addington. There's always one degree of separation for Fourthbranch, be it Libby or Addington or whoever. And the new firewall may get torched by the ongoing torture tape investigation.

The House Intelligence Committee has scheduled a hearing on January 16 (pdf) regarding the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes of two al Qaeda suspects held in secret overseas prisons, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

The order to destroy the tapes allegedly was given by Jose Rodriguez who at that time was head of the CIA’s clandestine service. Rodriguez, who has hired lawyer Robert Bennett to represent him, has no intention of being the scapegoat.

The TimesonLine reports Rodriguez is seeking immunity for his testimony. Who might he give up?

Four names in the White House have surfaced so far. My money is on Cheney lawyer (now his Chief of Staff) David Addington.

Reports have cited four White House and OVP staffers as having discussed the tapes with the CIA, and have gone out of their way to assure that three of them advised against destruction. Only Addington is left hanging out to dry. And of course, the CIA ignored the advice of everyone but Addington.

It's hard to understate the level to which Fourthbranch runs this government without being subject to regular government scrutiny. Just this week he's been implicated in denying a waiver to California to set their own greenhouse gas emissions targets. You can add that to the secret energy meetings, enabling the Enron energy blackouts in California in 2001, the Plame leak, official secrecy including making up a classification for his own documents, the tax cuts ("This is our due!"), war in Iraq, the looming threat of war in Iran, environmental policy, and well, everything in the Angler series.

The Office of the Vice President is a relic of the compromise that forged the Constitution, almost wholly unnecessary in the function of a 21st-century state. While it seemed a useless honorific only given meaning when a President died in office (and there are plenty of other ways to create a line of succession), it lingered because nobody could fathom anything bad arising from it.

They never met Fourthbranch.

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