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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Udall-Americans In The Senate

Tom is better than Mark, and it looks like he's jumping into the New Mexico Senate race. This immediately makes this a top-tier race, and certainly lean Democrat. This adds to Virginia, New Hampshire and Colorado as lean-Democratic Senate seats. Already.

Obviously it would be better with a Democratic President, but if they do get a wider majority in the Senate, as looks certain, it might be time to take a look at Harry Reid's Majority Leadership. His track record this year is almost uniformly bad. Chris Dodd only lost the Majority Leader race by one vote back in 2004.

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Just What Happened?

The lightning speed of the Mukasey confirmation on the floor of the Senate is puzzling everybody, particularly the Presidential candidates, all of whom were caught flat-footed. Greg Sargent did some digging, and finds out this:

According to sources inside and outside the Democratic leadership, Harry Reid allowed a vote on Mukasey because in exchange the Republican leadership agreed to allow a vote on the big Defense Appropriations Bill, which contains $459 billion in military spending but doesn't fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reid had wanted to get this bill passed before the end of this week, and in fact, the defense bill did come up for a vote late last night and was passed after the Mukasey vote.

One key reason Dem leaders wanted this defense approps bill passed, sources tell me, is that they wanted to be able to argue that they had sent a bill to the President funding the military, if not the war itself. The idea was that doing this would allow them to protect themselves in the days ahead when the battle over Iraq funding heats up and Republicans inevitably charge that Dems are refusing to fund the troops.

"This lets us argue, `Hey, we just sent $450 billion to the military," one leadership source tells me.

I want to pull my hair out.

For the last time, it DOESN'T MATTER what you can argue, Republicans are going to call you anti-American troop-haters, and the general public ISN'T GOING TO CARE. This has been proven for about three years going. Getting to make a symbolic argument is useless. The public isn't going to give a shit until you stop the war; that's all they want. And the Republicans aren't going to give a shit, period. No matter how many times you sit on command, they're not going to pat you on the head.

And in the process, you just allowed a guy who won't say waterboarding is torture to be the top law enforcement official in the country.

This leadership is absolutely clueless.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Bada-Bing Fallout: Your Indicted Supporters Are Worse Than My Indicted Supporters

The indictment of a close personal adviser to Rudy Giuliani has got the other Republican candidates finally taking notice. John McCain started things off by questioning Kerik’s performance in Iraq (read Imperial Life In The Emerald City for the full story on Kerik’s fiasco running the Iraqi police):

Bernard Kerik did an irresponsible job training police in Iraq, presidential contender John McCain said Friday, adding to criticism of Kerik as Rudy Giuliani’s former police commissioner surrendered to face charges in New York.

McCain cited Kerik’s relationship with his Republican presidential foe as a reason to doubt Giuliani’s judgment.

“I don’t know Mr. Kerik. I do know that I went to Baghdad shortly after the initial victory and met in Baghdad with (Ambassador Paul) Bremer and (Lt. Gen. Ricardo) Sanchez. And Kerik was there. Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left,” McCain told reporters traveling on his campaign bus.

“That’s why I never would’ve supported him to be the head of homeland security because of his irresponsible act when he was over in Baghdad to try and help train the police. One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn’t do anything and then went out to the airport and left.”

Rudy hit back by discussing McCain’s ethical lapses, in a backhanded way, referring to the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s.

Giuliani surrogate Randy Maestro, who served as Rudy’s deputy mayor and chief of staff, has responded by airing some of McCain’s own dirty laundry.

“It’s no more fair to judge Rudy Giuliani on the basis of one issue than it is to judge John McCain on the Keating scandal,” Maestro said in a phone interview with Jonathan Martin. The message to McCain: Back off.

This is the dirty primary that we’ve all been expecting. What’s funny is, if the campaign is going to come down to a battle of who has the most criminally negligent advisors, they’d have to back up the primaries by 6 months just to fit them all in. I mean, Romney piling on is absurd:

“Governor Romney believes the American people want and deserve change in Washington,” wrote campaign spokesman Kevin Madden, listing some of Romney’s ethics proposals. “They want strong ethics and accountability in government.”

Didn’t he have a staff members impersonating police officers not too long ago?

Get your popcorn, this could get fun.

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"Carbon-Free Voting"

I got this mailer today:

Apparently, voting by mail is "carbon-free"! And to prove that point, the carbon-free voting people have sent me a four-page glossy mailer to tell me so. But it's printed on soy ink! And if you vote permanent absentee, you don't have to get in your car to get to your polling place! And anyway, they puchased carbon offsets to mitigate these campaign activities!

So what the hell is going on here? Why is an environmental group sending a mailer touting "carbon-free voting," which, um, pretty much doesn't exist? Well, that would be explained by the picture of Fran Pavley on the back.

Now, Fran's great. As Assemblywoman she authored the landmark global warming law that will hopefully become a model for the nation, AB32. But she's also running for State Senate to replace the termed-out Sheila Kuehl, and obviously she's interested in raising her profile. So everyone in the Senate district, my district, got this mailer. The LA Times ran a story on it.

The mailer is being derided by some, while others are questioning whether it is improperly trying to influence a state Senate election in the West L.A. area by prominently featuring one of the candidates, former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley.

"It looks dubious," said Tracy Westen, chief executive of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based non-partisan group that promotes political reform in Los Angeles. "It's coordinated with her, it has her picture on it and it is going into that Senate district."

Her main foe in the race, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, wouldn't comment for the story.

There are about 500 good reasons for vote-by-mail, and since Republicans kind of have a head start on permanent absentee organization I'm happy to see someone on the left promoting it. But calling it "carbon-free" is a stretch. And using it as a cover to tout a Senate candidate is pretty suspect.

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House Republican Made Endangered Species By Department Of Fish And Wildlife

Jim Saxton's gone:

Rep. Jim Saxton, the twelve-term Republican from New Jersey's 3rd District, plans to retire after his current term, an announcement that could come as early as today, according to sources familiar with his decision.

Saxton's retirement opens up a seat he has held since 1984 and creates another vulnerable open seat for House Republicans. President Bush narrowly carried the district with 51 percent in 2004, and Democrats had been making noise about a potential challenge to Saxton in 2008.

Barbara Cubin's outta here.

Roll Call is reporting that Congresswoman Barbara Cubin (R-WY) will reportedly announce her retirement tomorrow.

Cubin has been absent from the House for much of the year, caring for her ill husband back home in Wyoming. Cubin had already been facing a primary challenge from state House Majority Leader Colin Simpson, the son of former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), as well as a second campaign from 2006 Democratic nominee Gary Trauner.

I'd offer my sympathies to Rep. Cubin's family, but considering she threatened to slap a wheelchair-bound Libertarian opponent last year, I don't think she'd reciprocate.

WY-AL was a very close race last year, but I think Cubin's departure actually increases Republican chances. Nevertheless, both of these races will be closely contested, expanding the playing field for the cash-strapped Republicans (can't believe I'm writing THAT) even more.

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Walking The Walk

Barack Obama is justified to make this argument, but I'm not sure he's fully on the mark.

Obama suggested Edwards had reconstituted himself since his last campaign. "John wasn't this raging populist four years ago when he ran" for the previous Democratic nomination, he said. "He certainly wasn't when he ran for the U.S. Senate. He was in the U.S. Senate for six years, and as far as I can tell wasn't taking on the lobbyists and special interests. It's a matter of, do you walk the walk that you talk?"

Fair enough. But a few points:

1) John Edwards was serving his constituents in North Carolina, at a time immediately after 9/11 when the country was firmly behind the President. North Carolina is not Illinois.

2) Despite this, Edwards' highest-profile initiative was pushing for a patient's bill of rights, a direct attack on the pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies. He was a reliable vote for labor as well.

3) Edwards hasn't wavered from his focus on anti-poverty policies and the "two Americas" theme from the 2004 campaign, out of where all of this springs.

4) Obama is still trying to fearmonger by intimating that there's a "crisis" in Social Security, so he's not exactly one to talk about walking the walk. In addition, what exactly has he accomplished that's so groundbreaking in the US Senate?

5) I don't think it's necessarily irrelevant where candidates are now and where they say they'll take the country. Edwards has been endorsed by Iowans for Sensible Priorities, a group whose sole focus is to eliminate wasteful defense projects and restore that funding to health care and education and more. You can't go after a bigger lobby than that.

6) I just don't think you can ignore this stuff. Edwards is leading by example.

“If the American people understood what’s going on all over, there would be a revolution tomorrow morning,” exclaimed the man, who said he was a retired eastern Iowa farmer.

“I’m with you, brother!” Mr. Edwards replied, nodding in affirmation [...]

But to his audiences, whether here in Iowa or in other early-voting states like New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr. Edwards seldom mentions Mr. Obama. As he has done in virtually all of the televised debates, Mr. Edwards is singling out Mrs. Clinton, usually far more aggressively than Mr. Obama has done.

“I don’t think we have to stand quietly by,” Mr. Edwards said. “I know it’s the political thing to do — it’s the careful thing to do — but I don’t think we have to stand quietly by and say this is O.K., because it’s not.”

So, to sum up, right for Obama to bring it up, somewhat wrong on the facts.

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Sound Policy Idea

Sonny Perdue is a major-league rainmaker.

What to do when the rain won’t come? If you’re Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, you pray.

The governor will host a prayer service next week to ask for relief from the drought gripping the Southeast.

“The only solution is rain, and the only place we get that is from a higher power,” Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said on Wednesday.

To quote Steve Benen: "It’s the 21st century. I just thought I’d mention that."

If the rain prayer doesn't work, I believe next week Gov. Perdue will paint half of his body blue to ward off evil spirits.

Dependent upon a statement of support from the legislature, of course.

(Just to make this a little bit about politics and not mockery, conservative ideology is so bereft of solutions that a "faith-based initiative" like this is about the only thing they can manage)

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Just a Bunch of Coinkydinks

When Hillary Clinton's top strategist Mark Penn was revealed to be the head of Burson-Marsteller, a PR firm that has union-busters as clients, I figured, "Hey, he's the head of the company, maybe a couple of the clients got by him." When it turned out that the firm did public relations work for Blackwater leading up to Erik Prince's Congressional testimony, I thought, "Look, he's distracted, he's running Hillary's campaign, he can't be on top of everything." When I saw the firm working for corrupt Pakistani pols, I said "Hmm..."

I'm beginning to think that the world's worst client list is not an accident.

Burson Marsteller, the PR/lobbying firm run by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, is handling crisis management for the owner of Aqua Dots, the bead toys with an adhesive coating that too easily turns into the date-rape drug, GHB.

A source directly familiar with the arrangement confirms that Aqua Dots' manufacturer, SpinMaster, based in Canada, has turned to Burson Marsteller for help.

An official of the company said that Penn has no role in the Aqua Dots contract.

"There are over 2000 clients," a company official said. "Mark had no contact with them in any way."

Far too many of these clients are shady or downright harmful. If the directive from the top is to "spin whatever you can get paid to spin" without thought of ethics or principle, then this is what you get. Mark Penn is absolutely culpable. And by extension, so is Hillary, honestly.

No more corporate Democrats.

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Wait, Come Back, We Love Your Tacos and Piñatas!

Seeing the potential for a generational decline at the polls due to alienating the fastest-growing demographic in the country, the GOP candidates abruptly changed their tune and agreed to participate in a Spanish-language debate held by Univision in December. After spurning minority voter forums repeatedly, they suddenly came around. Simon Rosenberg thinks he knows why. Republicans in Virginia based their entire appeal on stopping illegal immigration and LOST, big-time, this week, relinquishing the State Senate to Democrats and giving up four seats in the House of Delegates. Suddenly, immigration issues don't look like electoral gold for Republicans anymore. They never should have, but now there's tangible evidence that it's a short-term loser, as well as a long-term bit of electoral poison.

The GOP's decision to go to Miami next month is a good one for the country. Let us hope it signals a new era for the Republican Party, one that ends both their demonization of immigrants and their strategy of blocking all common sense immigration reform legislation. In 2006 it was the House Republicans who blocked the big immigration reform package. In 2007 it was the Senate Republicans. Perhaps their admission of defeat will allow a new era where the two parties can come together and design a new 21st century immigration system that reflects the strong values of our great nation and meets the needs of the changing modern American economy.

I think there's still a major split within the Republican Party about how to proceed, or whether they've gone so far out-demagoguing one another that their base will not allow them to return to a position besides demonization. Whatever the case, the December debate should be interesting, for purposes of chronicling flip-floppery.

UPDATE: I guess I'm a racist, because I don't see much of a problem with this on the merits.

Two ardent proponents of border security are teaming up to introduce a bipartisan bill aimed at curtailing illegal immigration through employer sanctions.

Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), who were both elected after strongly criticizing President Bush’s approach to immigration reform, are unveiling a bill Tuesday that has already attracted the support of dozens of members.

“It’s the one [immigration] bill that will pass this Congress,” said Bilbray in an interview. “We have to make this about illegal employment and crack down on employers.”

The Secure America with Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act focuses on three areas: employment enforcement, interior enforcement and increased border security.

I think the focus on border security (I think at least three border strengthening bills have already passed) is nonsense, but workplace enforcement is sensible and crucial to anyone who cares about American jobs. I agree that there are nativist concerns in this bill, and I would couple it with a massive entrepreneurial aid package for Mexico for them to build jobs at home. But overall, workplace enforcement is not an ignoble goal.

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CA-42: Caught In The Wildfires

My column at Capitol Weekly about Ron Shepston's experiences during the Southern California wildfires is up here. It's really a pretty amazing story.

As the flames closed in, and evacuation was recommended, Ron and his family packed up. One of his neighbors, a 37-year retired battalion chief with the Orange County Fire Authority named Mike, had plenty of experience with fighting fires, and with the limited official resources, he thought he could help protect the community if the fire engulfed the canyon. The problem was that his body was beaten from years of service. After escorting his family to safer ground, Ron told Mike he was willing to help. “I’ll be your legs,” he said.

Ignoring a mandatory evacuation, Ron and Mike went to work, setting up hoses, hooking into hydrants, watering down wood structures, and clearing fuel away from danger. They also provided assistance to federal, state and local firefighters about prime lookout spots to view the progress of the fire, and the local terrain. This lasted for 10 days, a non-stop firefighting effort in an attempt to protect the community. “I could hear the roar of the flames on the ridge,” Ron said, “There were flames rising 100 feet.”

Go throw me a bone and read the whole thing. There's some discussion of Orange County's failure to protect its residents by gutting firefighting operations, as well as the stark contrast between a leader like Shepston and Gary Miller, who has yet to make even one public statement about the fires. This will be an issue in the campaign.

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Friday Random Ten

Sometimes Salvation - The Black Crowes
Next Exit - Interpol
Over - Portishead
No No Ho Ho Song - Dr. BLT
Carnival - The Cardigans
Run Thru - My Morning Jacket
Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Eugene's Lament - The Beastie Boys
Cloudy Sky - The Cardigans
Ecstasy Of Gold - dj erb/Ennio Morricone/Nas

Wow. Random.

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Bonuses For Cancelling Insurance

This is the benign face of the industry that will undeniably get richer in a for-market "universal" health care approach:

One of the state's largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved.

Woodland Hills-based Health Net Inc. avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid its senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies, documents disclosed Thursday showed.

The revelation that the health plan had cancellation goals and bonuses comes amid a storm of controversy over the industry-wide but long-hidden practice of rescinding coverage after expensive medical treatments have been authorized.

Cancellation GOALS. That's right. One man's catastrophic medical and financial situation is another man's new boat.

This is of course nothing new. It's standard practice for most insurers. When you get sick and put in a claim to actually use your health insurance, your file is immediately sent to the cancellation department and people review it for the slightest rationale to dump your coverage.

Now, market reforms like guaranteed issue, which would mandate that insurance companies cover anyone who wants health insurance regardless of pre-existing condition, would stop this practice. California's latest iteration of a health reform bill includes this policy. But let's not be so naive that insurers will not find other ways to stop paying their claims, and use the spectre of "affordability" to do so:

Insurers maintain that cancellations are necessary to root out fraud and keep premiums affordable. Individual coverage is issued to only the healthiest applicants, who must disclose preexisting conditions [...]

The documents show that in 2002, the company's goal for Barbara Fowler, Health Net's senior analyst in charge of rescission reviews, was 15 cancellations a month. She exceeded that, rescinding 275 policies that year -- a monthly average of 22.9.

More recently, her goals were expressed in financial terms. Her supervisor described 2003 as a "banner year" for Fowler because the company avoided about "$6 million in unnecessary health care expenses" through her rescission of 301 policies -- one more than her performance goal.

In 2005, her goal was to save Health Net at least $6.5 million. Through nearly 300 rescissions, Fowler ended up saving an estimated $7 million, prompting her supervisor to write: "Barbara's successful execution of her job responsibilities have been vital to the profitability" of individual and family policies.

Let's not claim that "but in the future, this will be illegal" and clap our hands in self-congratulation. This is ALREADY illegal in the state of California. You can't tie bonuses to claims reviews. But they did it nontheless.

So when you make deals with a for-profit health insurance industry, don't be surprised if they ever so slightly go back on them.

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Crisis In Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto is under house arrest. With Nawaz Sharif out of the country, she is essentially the head of the pro-democracy movement. And she's been detained, with barbed wire going up around her house and thousands of her supporters arrested. The American reaction has been tepid.

The United States called for the restrictions on Bhutto to be lifted, saying it was "crucial for Pakistan's future that moderate political forces work together to bring Pakistan back on the path to democracy." A government spokesman promised she would be free by Saturday.

Bhutto twice tried to leave in her car on Friday, telling police: "Do not raise hands on women. You are Muslims. This is un-Islamic." They responded by blocking her way with an armored vehicle.

And this is perhaps the most classic reaction.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking to reporters earlier Friday on his plane en route home from a weeklong visit to Asia, said he was concerned Musharraf's emergency declaration and the protests and arrests that it spawned could affect operations in Afghanistan.

"The concern I have is that the longer the internal problems continue, the more distracted the Pakistani army and security services will be in terms of the internal situation rather than focusing on the terrorist threat in the frontier area," said Gates.

They have to fight our battles for us, don't they understand that?

In fact, the US could shut down this nonsense in a flash. But they may have given the go-ahead that no repercussions would come from imposing martial law, and all this focus on restoring elections (which are apparently reset for some time in the winter) neglects the fact that, if Musharraf doesn't restore democratic institutions like the courts, it will be child's play for him to rig the ballot boxes.

Musharraf's retention of the office of the president only would be a happy outcome for Washington too. The George W Bush administration is keen for him to give Pakistan a veneer of democracy by taking off his uniform, holding elections and renewing the interrupted partnership with Benazir Bhutto (whether Bhutto, facing her own political predicament, would consent for a second time is open to dispute).

Washington would not mind if the subsequent elections are rigged. American diplomats in Pakistan already have information about possible plans to ensure that Nawaz Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League will be denied victory irrespective of voting outcomes. Benazir's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q - that is, the pro-Musharraf faction in the ruling party) will then be allowed to battle against each other with the government intervening when this is to its advantage, leaving the leaders of these parties to fix the results themselves. For example, the Punjab regional government would ensure that certain constituency results produced enough seats in the national parliament to enable it to secure the prime ministerial position.

The United States has been showering Pakistan with aid for years, most of it in untraceable cash transfers that are supposed to be used for counterterrorism purposes, but relly could be used for anything. We are propping up a dictatorship, and as Joe Biden says, we need a new approach.

Beyond the current crisis lurks a far deeper problem. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan is largely transactional -- and this transaction isn't working for either party. From America's perspective, we've spent billions of dollars on a bet that Pakistan's government would take the fight to the Taliban and Al Qaeda while putting the country back on the path to democracy. It has done neither [...]

We've got to move from a transactional relationship -- the exchange of aid for services -- to the normal, functional relationship we enjoy with all of our other military allies and friendly nations. We've got to move from a policy concentrated on one man -- President Musharraf -- to a policy centered on an entire people... the people of Pakistan. Like any major policy shift, to gain long-term benefits we'll have to shoulder short term costs. But given the stakes, those costs are worth it.

Here are the four elements of this new strategy.

First, triple non-security aid, to $1.5 billion annually. For at least a decade. This aid would be unconditioned: it's our pledge to the Pakistani people. Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics, and roads.

Second, condition security aid on performance. We should base our security aid on clear results. We're now spending well over $1 billion annually, and it's not clear we're getting our money's worth. I'd spend more if we get better returns -- and less if we don't.

Third, help Pakistan enjoy a "democracy dividend." The first year of democratic rule should bring an additional $1 billion -- above the $1.5 billion non-security aid baseline. And I would tie future non-security aid -- again, above the guaranteed baseline -- to Pakistan's progress in developing democratic institutions and meeting good-governance norms.

Fourth, engage the Pakistani people, not just their rulers. This will involve everything from improved public diplomacy and educational exchanges to high impact projects that actually change people's lives.

Biden also smartly discussed returning to the fight for democracy in Afghanistan and immediately ceasing this nonsense about Iran as bulwarks to moderate Pakistanis that we actually mean what we say. Those, along with a hardline policy on lifting the martial law, using carrots and sticks, are the only way to get back to some equilibrium in this crisis point before it boils over.

UPDATE: Bhutto released, defiant.

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Little Napoleon

President likey the first-person shooters:

Bush saw a number of cutting edge virtual reality games that allowed recovering soldier to simulate riding a car or boat. One game simulated shooting in a Baghdad neighborhood, a game she said POTUS participated in with two other soldiers there and helped shoot the bad guys, at least virtually.

Number of Presidents who saw actual combat:
B. Harrison
T. Roosevelt
George H.W. Bush

Number of Presidents who played virtual reality combat games and got their rocks off:

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Quick And Painful

I count 44 no votes for Attorney General Michael Mukasey, if you add in all the Presidentials who were scattered across the primary states. Really we're the dumbest majority there is. There were enough votes for a filibuster. It's another case of pretending you don't have the power you actually have.

Morons. And getting it done fast, like ripping off a band-aid, doesn't make it any better.

(And any Presidential who would have come back to Washington to lead a filibuster conditioned on signing the waterboarding ban would have gotten a major bump in the polls. Non-leaders running to be leaders of the free world.)

UPDATE: Shorter Glenn Greenwald: There's only a 60-vote requirement in the Senate when it's a bill Republicans don't like. Democrats go along to get along.

It's really infuriating. And he's right, this is vomit-inducing:

[The most amazing quote was from chief Mukasey supporter Chuck Schumer, who, before voting for him, said that Mukasey is "wrong on torture -- dead wrong." Marvel at that phrase: "wrong on torture." Six years ago, there wasn't even any such thing as being "wrong on torture," because "torture" wasn't something we debated. It would have been incoherent to have heard: "Well, he's dead wrong on torture, but . . . "

Now, "torture" is not only something we openly debate, but it's something we do. And the fact that someone is on the wrong side of the "torture debate" doesn't prevent them from becoming the Attorney General of the United States. It's just one issue, like any other issue -- the capital gains tax, employer mandates for health care, the water bill -- and just because someone is "dead wrong" on one little issue (torture) hardly disqualifies them from High Beltway Office.]

Congratulations, Democratic Senate. You just mainstreamed torture.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bada Bing Indicted

Bernie Kerik, this is your life:

— Allegedly traded $165,000 worth of renovations on his house from a contractor who wanted a license from the city.

– Used the apartment donated for weary Ground Zero rescue workers into his own personal love nest to use with his mistress.

– Was named in a civil suit in 1999 as “the architect of a system to force prison guards to work for Republicans in their off-hours.”

– Had mob ties that include the best man in his wedding, Lawrence Ray, who was indicted in 2000 along with other organized crime figures in a scheme to manipulate the stock market.

And today, that ended in an indictment on multiple counts of corruption and tax evasion.

Apparently, Rudy has come out and admitted a mistake for not vetting Kerik more vigorously when he was hired as police commissioner.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani said he "made a mistake" by not vetting his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, indicted today in a public corruption case. Giuliani also said he wouldn't contribute to Kerik's legal defense fund because it "wouldn't be appropriate."

But Giuliani also said the experience would make him a better president, defended the job Kerik did as police commissioner and compared his former protégé to the late President Richard Nixon -- a man with both flaws and accomplishments.

Somehow, I don't see comparing Kerik to Nixon - you know, in a good way - is going to resonate with the public.

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Prelude To A Cave

Forgive me if I liken this latest attempt to "end" the war in Iraq (with a nonbinding goal, no less) with the same skepticism that I view Peter after the 16th time he cried wolf. There may be a way to use it as a leverage point, however, if they actually have some strategy about it.

Under pressure to support the troops but end the war, House Democrats said Thursday they would send President Bush $50 billion for combat operations on the condition that he begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

The proposal, similar to one Bush vetoed earlier this year, would identify a goal of ending combat entirely by December 2008. It would require that troops spend as much time at home as they do in combat, as well as effectively ban harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

In a private caucus meeting, Pelosi told rank-and-file Democrats that the bill was their best shot at challenging Bush on the war. And if Bush rejected it, she said, she did not intend on sending him another war spending bill for the rest of the year.

"This is not a blank check for the president," she said later at a Capitol Hill news conference. "This is providing funding for the troops limited to a particular purpose, for a short time frame."

Heard it all before, but when it comes down to it, there's always been a cave. This despite the fact that there's more opposition to the war than ever before, no matter what the Beltway elite, who are desperate to have their horrible judgment validated by the magic finding of a pony, happen to say.

Proof that there's no hope for the purpose of the surge, a political accomodation, to ever come to fruition can be seen in the Iraq Prime Minister's total dismissal of reconciliation in any form. Our not-really-a-strategy strategy is incapable of producing desired results:

Last week Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki mocked Iraqis calling for national reconciliation and dismissing them as self-interested conspirators. On Friday, he elaborated on his views of the current Iraqi political scene in a very intriguing, and frankly troubling, interview with al-Arabiya (I couldn't find any English-language mentions of it at all via Google News, sorry). The interview did not break any particularly new ground, but it did make one thing very clear: do not expect Maliki to pursue seriously any moves towards national reconciliation, defined in terms of legislation at the national level or agreements with Sunni political parties. The deadlock at the national political level, so clear at the time of the Petraeus-Crocker hearings in September, will not end any time soon. What that means for US strategy is something which I consider well worth publicly debating.

Maliki is actually claiming that national reconciliation has already been achieved, and that sectarian hatreds are a thing of the past. This is Baghdad Bob kind of stuff. He's defining national reconciliation as Bush would, by saying political progress will come when the Sunnis realize resistance is futile. The local "awakenings" were supposed to set the conditions for legislative reconciliation. Maliki sees them as the reconciliation itself, and he will not go a step further to satisfy Sunni complaints.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Maliki refuses to make further concessions and the national political level remains stalled, then it seems likely that Sunnis will become increasingly frustrated and rethink their political strategy. At least that's what would be predicted by, say, Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual, most political science analysis and most Sunni political leaders. There's nothing inevitable about any of this - Iraq is complex and fluid and rapidly changing, and it's not like Maliki's unwillingness to move on national reconciliation is anything new - but it certainly doesn't look promising.

There is nothing we can do about this short of overturning Maliki in a kind of coup. And the Bush Administration is happy to tout this progress at the local level as if it means anything for the future of Iraq.

That's the environment we're in, that's the case that Congress could make to a public that clearly believes Iraq is a total washout, and that would be the position of strength with which they could force a drawdown of our involvement. My optimism is tempered by years and years of history.

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You Don't Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows

When I wrote the earlier piece today about California suing the EPA over granting a waiver on tailpipe emissions, I noticed a lot of comments in the linked article from denialists, touting that "The head of the Weather Channel thinks global warming is a scam... how could it be true if the founder of the Weather Channel doesn't believe in it?" This appears to be a new denialist talking point. John Coleman, the founder in question, wrote a piece for a global warming skeptic site calling it a scam. It got the full Drudge treatment, and wingnuts are engaging in a link-fest.

John Coleman may be the "founder of the Weather Channel," but he's actually just a hack weatherman in San Diego:

John Coleman has been a TV weatherman since he was a freshman in college in 1953 and TV was brand new. He still loves predicting the weather and relating to the television viewers. "I also love working at KUSI NEWS", he adds. "It is a rare thing; a locally owned and managed TV station. And, there are dozens of wonderful people who work here."

John has predicted and shoveled his share of snow. He has been a TV weatherman in Champaign, Peoria and Chicago, Illinois; Omaha, Nebraska, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and New York City. For seven years he was the weatherman on "Good Morning, America" on the ABC Network.

It's basically like turning on scientific thought on climate patterns over to Willard Scott, or someone else who's been reading a TelePrompTer all their life.

In fact, Coleman likes to call being a TV weatherman in San Diego "outrageous scam," meaning that, in his mind, he has something in common with global warming.

Coleman ran the Weather Channel for a year. He's no longer involved in any way. And they've embraced science at this point, making the fight against global warming part of their mandate.

What's hilarious is that the right-wing, constantly trumpeting the death of the MSM and questioning every word out of the mouths of the "librul media," is now embracing a LOCAL TV NEWS WEATHERMAN as the last word on global warming. As long as he is saying what fits, I guess...

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The Bush Dogs: Conservative, Corporate, AND Stupid

The core of all the economic anxieties in the country, whether on Wall Street or on Main Street, is the mortgage crisis. You can look at increased foreclosures, difficulties in obtaining credit, the spillover into decreased consumer spending, but it all comes back to the bursting of the housing bubble. (Thanks, Alan Greenspan!) This is really impacting those exurban, aspirational-class areas that voted Republican in 2004.

Democrats are interested in doing something about this before 2 million families are out on the street and deprived of their life savings, but the Bush Dogs in their caucus are resisting.

The reason the subprime mortgage meltdown is so problematic is because homeowners can't renegotiate mortgages for primary residences in bankruptcy court. If you declare bankruptcy, you still can't get out from under your mortgage debt, which essentially enslaves people whose home value has dropped lower than their debt amount.

The good news is that Brad Miller, Linda T. Sánchez, Barney Frank, and Mel Watt have a bill in Congress that empowers bankruptcy courts to restructure mortgages for primary residences. You can find out more here and here. It's a very sane and reasonable approach that lets people declare bankruptcy and get our from under horrific levels of debt.

The interesting news is that 16 fellow Democrats are opposing this bill because it will impact the Bankruptcy Bill provisions they passed in 2005. Who are these lovely people? If you guessed 'Blue Dogs', you'd be right.

Not only is this completely counter to the interests of their constituents, who are suffering from this mortgage crisis, it's counter to the interests of banks, who are suffering from the draconian elements of the Bankruptcy bill.

Washington Mutual Inc. got what it wanted in 2005: A revised bankruptcy code that no longer lets people walk away from credit card bills.

The largest U.S. savings and loan didn't count on a housing recession. The new bankruptcy laws are helping drive foreclosures to a record as homeowners default on mortgages and struggle to pay credit card debts that might have been wiped out under the old code, said Jay Westbrook, a professor of business law at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and a former adviser to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

"Be careful what you wish for,'' Westbrook said. "They wanted to make sure that people kept paying their credit cards, and what they're getting is more foreclosures.''

If you keep offloading more and more risk onto working Americans, before long they're going to crack. I think the Bush Dogs are voting their assumptions that anything that helps consumers will obviously hurt their real constituencies, the corporate interests. But actually, the banks are getting KILLED by all the foreclosures, leading to billions of dollars in writedowns. These guys are such slaves to corporate power that they don't even know what would help their masters.

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Huckabee Double Down

Mike Huckabee is going all in in the Hawkeye State.

Ex-AR Gov. Mike Huckabee will spend most of the next 65 days in Iowa and has moved the majority of his staff to the state in an effort to capitalize on a sense that he's gaining ground here.

“Well, I certainly think even the Iowa poll numbers are reflecting that we’re in play in a very strong way and continue to move up and other candidates have stalled and are beginning to decline. I think we’re in great position there [...]

“We’re hoping to do what we essentially did with the straw poll, just doing it on steroids. We know we’ve got to get physical bodies that so committed to us no matter how cold the temperature is… no matter how good the Orange Bowl is…. Among those caucus goers who have already made up their mind, we’re in first place.. what we’re doing now is to go down to the precinct level, recruiting chairman in the precincts, getting precincts townships, counties.. We’re developing our efforts where the concentration of voters is likely o be highest…

The Republican race is shaping up very interestingly in the early states. Where Huckabee is focusing on Iowa, the newly flush with cash Ron Paul is focusing on New Hampshire. You can also argue that, since Freddie has fallen back nationally, he's the "spoiler" in South Carolina. And they're all doing quite well at this stage of the game in their regional bailiwicks. For the "national" candidates, their problem could be that they never get to fully capture the narrative or any media attention. Chris Bowers says that this favors Romney, because a weakening top tier and all these wild-cards make his early-state position even stronger.

But if you look historically, a Presidential race with all these regional candidates typically ends up in a brokered convention and a compromise candidate. Obviously, the state of things in 21st-century politics would appear to preclude that, but this is a crazy year for The Right's Field.

UPDATE: Just to tweak my California friends, Huckabee is at least the third candidate I know who is openly parking in one of the early states and ignoring... California, which was supposed to be so "relevant" with its February 5 primary. Heck, Chris Dodd MOVED to Iowa and enrolled his kids in grade school there. The primary shift was NEVER about relevance, it was about getting a term limits change on the ballot in time for incumbents to stay in power.

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The Senate joins the House in overriding a Presidential veto and passing the Water Resources Act. The President learns he isn't a king and things that he has nothing to do with can become law.

The words "lame" and "duck" come to mind.

UPDATE: The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, providing protections for LBG individuals, passed the House, too. There was a lot of controversy over this bill because of the eventual dropping of protections for the transgendered. This remains, however, the first major piece of civil rights legislation since the Americans With Disabilities Act.

It won't matter much until they do something on Iraq, but the Democratic Congress is moving the ball forward in other areas.

UPDATE II: Of course, not all is right with the world:

The House on Thursday approved a free trade agreement with Peru, the first under a Democratic majority in Congress that has declared that labor rights and the environment must be central parts of all such pacts.

The vote was 285-132, a comfortable margin of victory in the House. Trade deals have always been a hard sell among House members, mainly Democrats who have equated them with job losses and soaring trade deficits [...]

Still, many Democrats, including some freshmen with ties to organized labor or from districts that have seen jobs disappear overseas, remained skeptical.

Democratic freshman Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire talked of plant closures in her state. "Why can't we have a moratorium? Why rush? Why take a chance?"

The good news is that Democrats, led by the freshman, voted against the bill by a 116-109 count.

Peru is not a good place to be a worker: they just declared a mining strike illegal despite the fact that 2 million children work in their mines and the average wage is $3.60 a day. The labor and environmental protections in the bill are largely advisory. The fact that the freshman Dems voted largely against it, however, bodes well for the future.

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The Grand Bargain: Not So Grand

So Scottish Haggis (h/t emptywheel) Arlen Specter is looking for a grand bargain on telecom immunity.

At a markup on a bill to overhaul the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plans to offer an amendment that would make the federal government — instead of the phone companies — the defendant in about 40 pending lawsuits across the country.

The mark up starts Thursday and will continue next week.

“I think it’s very important that the courthouse not be closed so there can be a judicial determination to see if there have been any violations of privacy rights,” Specter said. “I think the telephone companies were good citizens, and should not suffer from what they did. And my idea is to have the government substituted as the party.”

This is completely ridiculous. The telecoms are already using this tactic in court, arguing that the law already grants this. The problem, of course, is that the government will merely use the state secrets privilege to ensure that nobody gets to the bottom of the actual lawbreaking here. Telecoms wouldn't be able to credibly invoke this, and courts usually allow the government wide latitude in keeping things secret. So the practical effect of Specter's bargain would be to keep the truth about what kinds of spying have been accomplished on American citizens hidden from view far into the future. And the only difference for the telecom companies, as Kagro X explains, is that they would be able to keep their legal fees now being spent on pushing the exactly same legal strategy through the courts that Specter would rule by Congressional fiat.

This is a giveaway to companies that should have known better. There is absolutely no reason to compromise. The law is clear and no person or corporation is above it. The markeup in the Senate Judiciary Committee has been delayed to next week; there's plenty of time to tell your representatives NO on telecom immunity.

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Schwarzenegger, Brown Finally Sue EPA Over Tailpipe Emissions Waiver

It was scheduled to happen the week of the SoCal wildfires, but events intervened. Now, California is poised to sue the federal government over the EPA's failure to grant a waiver to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Schwarzenegger and Brown plan to file a lawsuit asking a federal court to order the Bush administration to decide whether to approve California's landmark law requiring automakers to gradually reduce tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming.

“California has a long and proud history of leadership in reducing pollution and fighting for clean air for our residents,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement yesterday. “And we are upholding that tradition by filing a lawsuit against the federal government that takes a big step forward in the battle against global warming.”

Under federal law, California must receive an EPA waiver to implement emissions standards tougher than federal levels.

But even if they prevail in court, California leaders are pessimistic that they will secure the waiver from the Bush administration, which has been slow to acknowledge warnings that human-caused global warming is a serious threat to the planet.

“Realistically, we think the chances are slim,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. “We've made the case on the merits. We're right on the law. Somehow or the other politics will intervene. We just don't know where or how.”

The strategy here has been to slow-walk the decision to avoid the negative consequences of disallowing broadly popular legislation. It should be noted that the EPA has NEVER in its history failed to grant a waiver of this kind for tighter air pollution control laws. There's not even any standing for denying the waiver under the Clean Air Act, which only should occur if the regulations are not "technologically feasible." Considering that people are making 150mpg conversions in their garages, that's just patently absurd. Automakers in this country are killing themselves slowly by refusing to adapt to the needs and desires of consumers. If they persist, states should be allowed to recognize the impact on their own air quality and demand a shift.

This is going to be a long fight, but eventually, we will get this law.

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A Date-Rape Drug In Toys?

What, do they just have factories over in China filled with dangerous crap and somebody puts on a blindfold and picks out the first thing he finds?

U.S. safety officials have voluntarily recalled about 4.2 million Chinese-made Aqua Dots toys contaminated with a powerful "date rape" drug that has caused some children to vomit and lose consciousness upon ingesting the contents.

Scientists have found the highly popular holiday toy contains a chemical that, once metabolized, converts into the toxic "date rape" drug GHB (gamma-hydroxy butyrate), U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spokesman Scott Wolfson told CNN.

"Children who swallow the beads can become comatose, develop respiratory depression or have seizures," a CPSC statement warned.

"Anyone with Aqua Dots at home should throw them out," CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said. The toy was named toy of the year in Australia and recently made Wal-Mart Store Inc's list of top 12 Christmas toys.

I could do a really cruel joke about Catholic priests and rosary beads, but... whoops, I think I just did.

Seriously, the product safety situation is almost a parody now. While the heads of the CPSC are off on 12-day safaris, conglomerates are literally letting their Chinese manufacturers get away with murder. A date-rape drug? Seriously? What's next, Malibu Barbie with absinthe?

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Romney Accidentally Advertises On

This story really isn't all that important, but reading on, I also learned that the "Join Team Mitt" banner ad wound up on, a portal for fanboys to write homoerotic stories about their favorite fictional characters. Which inspired me to write this piece of fan fiction about Mitt Romney, informed by his accidentally advertising on


The Romney campaign bus stops, and Mitt and some staffers climb out.

Boy, what a long day. I could go for a Steve Tabernacle.

Steve Tabernacle, sir?

STAFFER 2 (whispering)
It's a male Mormon version of a Shirley Temple.

STAFFER 1 (whispering)
Wow, I'm going to have to get used to this.

Mitt looks up at the sign on the bar in front of them.

Hmm... "The Manhole." I like construction workers as much as the next guy, let's go in here!

No, Governor Romney...

Mitt meets a reveler at the door.

Ooh, the serious look. I like it!

Well, I hope you'll choose me in January.

Honey, I might choose you tonight!
Good thing I'm not covered by the Writer's Guild, so I can bring that to you!

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

United Hollywood

Sitting here on my second nonunion gig of the night, I'm not really one to talk about labor solidarity, but these guys over at United Hollywood are. One major difference between the 1988 strike and today is the ability of the writers to get their message out without a corporate media filter. This is a great little sardonic vlog from some of the writers/stars of The Office:

Back when I was funny, I worked with BJ Novak a couple times in little shows around town. I'd like to support his work and the efforts of all of those who are fighting for better wages. The fact that you know this people is immaterial to the truth that this is a typical labor strike over the typical labor issues.

There have been no negotiations, and I still question a fill-the-pie versus a grow-the-pie strategy, but for the future of Hollywood and the benefit of the creative personnel getting their fair share, I wholeheartedly support the WGA. Besides, they still have a couple of my scripts registered.

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There's one man in America most qualified to answer questions about warrantless wiretapping and this push for telecom immunity. His name is Mark Klein. He worked for AT&T when he discovered a secret NSA surveillance room on Folsom Street in San Francisco. He has clearly and succinctly explained why telecom immunity would be a great tragedy for this country.

Klein explained why he traveled all the way from San Francisco to lobby Senators about the issue: if the immunity provision passes, Americans may never know how extensive the surveillance program was -- or how deeply their privacy may have been invaded.

"The president has not presented this truthfully," said Klein, a 62-year old retiree. "He said it was about a few people making calls to the Mideast. But I know this physical equipment. It copies everything. There's no selection of anything, at all -- the splitter copies entire data streams from the internet, phone conversations, e-mail, web-browsing. Everything." [...]

Its very location in San Francisco suggests that the program was "massively domestic" in its focus, he said. "If they really meant what they say about only wanting international stuff, you wouldn't want it in San Francisco or Atlanta. You'd want to be closer to the border where the lines come in from the ocean so you pick up international calls. You only do it in San Francisco if you want domestic stuff. The location of this stuff contradicts their story."

We still don't know, nearly two years after the initial revelations, the extent to which Americans have been spied upon by their own government. And without allowing the legal process to move forward, we'll never know. What's already in the public domain is shocking.

Beginning in February 2001, almost seven months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government's top electronic eavesdropping organization, the National Security Agency, asked a major U.S. telecommunications carrier for information about its customers and the flow of electronic traffic across its network, according to sources familiar with the request. The carrier, Qwest Communications, refused, believing that the request was illegal unless accompanied by a court order [...]

However, in February 2001, the NSA's primary purpose in seeking access to Qwest's network apparently was not to search for terrorists but to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government forces trying to penetrate and compromise U.S. government information systems, particularly within the Defense Department, sources said. Government officials have long feared a "digital Pearl Harbor" if intruders were to seize control of these systems or other key U.S. infrastructures through the Internet.

A former White House official, who at the time was involved in network defense and other intelligence programs, said that the early 2001 NSA proposal to Qwest was, "Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?" Echelon refers to a signals intelligence network operated by the NSA and its official counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Uh, OK, it was only "hackers" you were interested in. I see. And regardless, it's still an illegal action. Their excuse was that they were only tracking "metadata" like the phone number or the length of a call, and that's not technically an invasion of privacy. As emptywheel notes, there's a ring of familiarity there.

This excuse sounds precisely like public denials about the program Hayden made after the NYT revealed the problem with the program involved data mining [...]

In January, 2006, Gen. Michael Hayden: Let me talk for a few minutes also about what this program is not. It is not a driftnet over Dearborn or Lackawanna or Freemont grabbing conversations that we then sort out by these alleged keyword searches or data-mining tools or other devices that so-called experts keep talking about.

This is targeted and focused. This is not about intercepting conversations between people in the United States. This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda.

GEN. HAYDEN: You know, I tried to make this as clear as I could in prepared remarks. I said this isn't a drift net, all right? I said we're not there sucking up coms and then using some of these magically alleged keyword searches -- "Did he say 'jihad'?

In other words, faced with the anonymous description that the problem with the warrantless wiretap program had to do with data mining, Hayden neatly parsed that it couldn't be data mining because they didn't "[suck] up coms and then [use] some of those magically alleged keyword searches." Hayden denied that they had mined content, but he stopped well short of saying that they hadn't mined metadata.

Which strongly suggests that Michael Hayden was well aware that the NSA was mining metadata, long before 9/11.

Mr. Klein and Chris Dodd sat down for an interview, and it left the Senator more convinced than ever that this would be a grave injustice and legal travesty to grant retroactive immunity. The Judiciary Committee marks up this bill TOMORROW. It's time to contact anyone and everyone on that committee and tell them that the deceptions and lawbreaking of the Bush Administration cannot be allowed to vanish from history. They cannot put telecom companies above the law.

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At Least He Has A Passing Familiarity With Jails

Ba-Da Bing Bernie... time's up.

Federal prosecutors are scheduled to seek a grand jury indictment on Thursday of Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, on a list of charges that include tax fraud, corruption and conspiracy counts, according to people who have been briefed on the case.

The grand jury, sitting in Westchester, N.Y., has been hearing evidence about Mr. Kerik for about a year as part of a broad federal inquiry into a variety of allegations, including his acceptance of $165,000 in renovations from a contractor who was seeking a city license.

Prosecutors are also seeking to charge Mr. Kerik with failing to report as income more than $200,000 in rent that is alleged to have been paid on his behalf to use a luxury Upper East Side apartment where he lived with his family around the time he left his city post, the people who were briefed said.

But hey, Kerik happened to be in the Police Commissioner's post when William Bratton's crime policies and William Jefferson Clinton's COPS program helped make New York safer, so that puts him well above the law. Even if some of these criminally indictable actions occurred before he assumed that post, and his boss Rudy Giuliani knew it, and ignored them altogether.

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There Is Still Power In What America Does

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Ergodan announced he was happy with the President's offers of support, through intelligence and military contacts, to finally help manage the situation at the border with PKK rebels. By the way, the Turks still want more done to stop the rebels, calling for Iraq and the United States to arrest the commanders. So this could still blow up big. But I want to look at something else right now.

Ergodan also had this to say.

Erdogan also criticized a U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee resolution passed last month that labeled the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I as "genocide." Under heavy pressure from Bush, House Democrats retreated from sending the measure to the full House of Representatives for a vote.

"There is no such thing as genocide. Those who claim it must prove it," Erdogan said.

Yet a day later, Turkey amended their own law restricting freedom of expression and banning "perceived insults to Turkish identity," which has been used in the past to arrest and imprison anyone speaking in public about the genocide, such as authors Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink.

There is no question in my mind that the amending of this law is a direct result of Congress' pushing to recognize the fate of the Armenians. Despite eventually derailing, this was a noble effort that bore fruit and had positive consequences for human rights globally. There is still soft power available to America, for some reason the Bush Administration has not wiped it all out. Under a Democratic President we will need to wield it more judiciously and toward the principles of justice. I hope we're up to the task.

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Parallel Lines On A Slow Decline

(Apologies to the Thers at Whiskey Fire for stealing his gimmick of using a Guided By Voices lyric as a blog title)

I feel like there are two completely different conversations happening on the major issues of the day in California. In one, there is an historic opportunity to provide quality health care to everyone in the state, which will be affordable and comprehensive and go a long way toward solving our numerous health care problems. In the other, the state is completely in the fucking toilet and nobody in a position of power has the political will to do anything about it.

Now the governor finds himself in a predicament similar to that of his predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis: staring at a crippling budget shortfall that threatens to overshadow all other business in the Capitol and tarnish his political legacy.

On Monday, Schwarzenegger ordered all state agencies to prepare plans to cut spending across the board by 10% next year. Education, transportation and healthcare will all be affected. Some programs face elimination. Layoffs may loom. The state's budget shortfall, thanks largely to the troubled housing market, has ballooned from a few billion dollars projected at the beginning of the year to $10 billion.

Experts are not surprised.

"There has been lots of talk and lots of gimmicks, but none of the state's underlying budget problems have been dealt with," said Ryan Ratcliff, an economist at the UCLA Anderson Forecast. "Even in the middle of a revenue boom, we kept spending more than we take in."

Spending has increased, but the issue is structural. There's no way California can meet the needs of its burgeoning population under the draconian revenue and spending structure we have in place, and the Governor has made no moves to fundamentally change that, just to pass the horror show on to whoever replaces him in the most hacktastic manner possible. Here's Kevin Drum.

Four years ago Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in the midst of a massive budget crisis after promising voters that he would end our "crazy deficit spending." In true Republican fashion, he did this by immediately reducing the state auto licensing fee by $4 billion a year and then insisting that we all approve $15 billion in bonds to paper over a shortfall that was now even more desperate than the one he inherited. The hope, apparently, was that nothing bad would ever happen to the economy and eventually we'd squeeze out from under the rock we were under.

I opposed the bonds at the time, and I've never regretted that vote since. Defeating the bonds would have caused immense fiscal pain, but it would also have forced Schwarzenegger and the legislature to actually fix our underlying problem by increasing taxes and reducing spending. Our nonpartisan legislative analyst made it clear from the beginning that Arnold's plan had no long-term chance of success, but he just flashed that million-dollar smile and went ahead with it anyway.

And now we'll be paying for years and years to come, with ENORMOUS pain just down the road when the bonds come due. And we're talking about providing universal health care?

The plan itself has significant things to feel good about, even if it is only a first step. It includes an individual mandate, but with all of the affordability exemptions, it's not a mandate at all. It expands public health services as much as any reform since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. And there are excellent reforms like guaranteed issue and a modified community rating for cost control. Obviously there are questions about what minimum coverage provides but the affordability requirements, capping out of pocket costs at 6.5% of income, should be a mitigating factor.

But the entire discussion is happening in some kind of alternate universe of fiscal health. The 10% across the board cuts will impact health care, particularly any public care options; is AB X1 going to account for that? The convoluted funding mechanism, which will need voter approval because the 2/3 system for tax increases is still in effect, includes 8 core parts, including "federal matching funds" and "reinvested state savings." Why don't you just add a pony, too? We're heading into a time where the state could be as much as $10 billion in the hole. The new entitlements will be the first ones crowded out by a governor wedded to anti-tax ideology. And he hasn't signed on to a new cigarette tax, by the way, still preferring PRIVATIZING THE LOTTERY, and the net income increase from which will be approximately zero dollars in the long term, at best.

And let's not gloss over the ballot-box hurdle such a plan would have to scale. Maviglio soft-sells the defeat of a tobacco tax to pay for health care in Oregon yesterday, saying that California's different, conveniently forgetting that Prop. 86, which was, um, A TOBACCO TAX TO PAY FOR HEALTH CARE, failed miserably here just last year. In fact, the Oregon ballot measure wasn't the only one that a tax-averse, skittish electorate rejected yesterday.

Cost-conscious voters rejected school vouchers for Utah students, state-sponsored stem cell research in New Jersey and increased cigarette taxes in Oregon to fund health care for uninsured children.

New Jersey voters had not killed a statewide ballot measure since 1988. The rejection was a defeat for Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who campaigned heavily for the plan to borrow $450 million over 10 years to finance stem cell research.

"The public understands the state has serious financial issues that must be addressed first," Corzine spokeswoman Lili Stainton said.

No state has more serious financial issues than California right now. And voters are listing the economy as a greater concern than Iraq at this point in time. Ballot-box budgeting ends up producing results that are popular but not necessarily effective. Painful solutions regarding revenue and spending are the only way to dig us out of the mess the so-called leaders in Sacramento have created, and voters aren't entirely likely to be informed and sanguine enough to pull the trigger on that.

This is why I continue to maintain that universal health care ideas on the state level are doomed almost by definition, and particularly in a state with the looming budget troubles like we have here.

The history of state health reform initiatives (and there’s quite a history) is a tale of false hopes and great disappointments. The deck is stacked from the start, and the house—in this case the insurers, the providers, and other agents of the status quo—always wins. The new raft of reforms may prove different, but they probably won’t. Universal care advocates must be realistic about that, and think hard about how to convert the energy in the states into a national solution before the current crop of novel experiments fail—because fail they almost certainly will [...]

One of the great things about state governments is that they have more freedom than the federal government does to test new policy ideas. But it pays to look honestly at what the results of those tests actually say. And in this case, the results are pretty clear: states are no good at delivering universal health care.

No one can doubt the role Massachusetts and California have played in reinvigorating the debate over national health care. And if the reforms currently percolating at the state level help provide momentum for a national health care system in the next few years, all the effort will have been worth it. If they don’t, however, they may ultimately prove detrimental. If high-profile efforts like those in Massachusetts and California can’t be properly implemented, or are launched and then collapse, they’ll become powerful weapons in the hands of protectors of the status quo.

There is a world in which bad policy ideas can actually be worse than now policy at all. We have to tread very lightly and ensure that doesn't happen in California.

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A Liberal Is A Conservative Who's Seen Their Royalties Stolen By Corporate Conglomerates

Oh, is this funny.

Five authors have sued the parent company of Regnery Publishing, a Washington imprint of conservative books, charging that the company deprives its writers of royalties by selling their books at a steep discount to book clubs and other organizations owned by the same parent company.

In a suit filed in United States District Court in Washington yesterday, the authors Jerome R. Corsi, Bill Gertz, Lt. Col. Robert (Buzz) Patterson, Joel Mowbray and Richard Miniter state that Eagle Publishing, which owns Regnery, “orchestrates and participates in a fraudulent, deceptively concealed and self-dealing scheme to divert book sales away from retail outlets and to wholly owned subsidiary organizations within the Eagle conglomerate.”

These frivolous lawsuits are what's undermining American capitalism, I tell you! Constraining private enterprise with all these silly regulations will destroy our markets! But that's what libs like the guys who wrote the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth book want! They want us to live in some Marxist dystopia!!!1!

The authors argue that in reducing royalty payments, the publisher is maximizing its profits and the profits of its parent company at their expense.

What, do you guys have a problem with PROFIT?

The hilarious thing is that this is actually an outgrowth of the wingnut publishing scheme which artificially increases sales by pawning them off on book clubs where they're probably converted back into pulp:

Traditionally, authors receive a 15 percent royalty based on the cover price of a hardcover title after they have sold enough copies to cover the cost of the advance they receive upon signing a contract with a publisher. (Authors whose books are sold at steep discounts or to companies that handle remaindered copies receive lower royalties.)

In Regnery’s case, according to the lawsuit, the publisher sells books to sister companies, including the Conservative Book Club, which then sells the books to members at discounted prices, “at, below or only marginally above its own cost of publication.” In the lawsuit the authors say they receive “little or no royalty” on these sales because their contracts specify that the publisher pays only 10 percent of the amount received by the publisher, minus costs — as opposed to 15 percent of the cover price — for the book.

Mr. Miniter said that meant that although he received about $4.25 a copy when his books sold in a bookstore or through an online retailer, he only earned about 10 cents a copy when his books sold through the Conservative Book Club or other Eagle-owned channels. “The difference between 10 cents and $4.25 is pretty large when you multiply it by 20,000 to 30,000 books,” Mr. Miniter said. “It suddenly occurred to us that Regnery is making collectively jillions of dollars off of us and paying us a pittance.” He added: “Why is Regnery acting like a Marxist cartoon of a capitalist company?”

Because nobody wants to buy your shitty books in a bookstore, is why. They're sent out to nonprofits so it looks like you have a platform, raising your profile and your rank on the bestseller list and your speaking fees. And further, corporate Marxism of this type exists in practically every American industry. You're only discovering this one because it impacts you.

Why do conservative book authors hate capitalism?

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Democracy: Dispensable

Dictators who tolerate jihadism? Indispensable.

On Capitol Hill, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Musharraf is an "indispensable" ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism and that "partnership with Pakistan and its people is the only option." [...]

While he acknowledges an ongoing review of U.S. aid to Pakistan in light of the crisis, Negroponte does not announce any changes to U.S. policy.

Musharraf "has been indispensable in the global war on terror, so indispensable that extremists and radicals have tried to assassinate him multiple times," Negroponte said. "The bottom line is, there's no question that we Americans have a stake in Pakistan."

They also tried to assassinate a leading reformer, too, and since the declaration of emergency the only Pakistanis jailed have been judges, lawyers and political dissidents.

Plus, Commander Guy wants elections "as soon as possible" because the only needs in a democratic society are elections. Haven't we all seen how well that's worked out in Iraq?

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They Call It Horse Trading

Ted Kennedy, who I mentioned earlier in reference to NCLB, was nothing short of brilliant yesterday in smacking down the ridiculous rationalizations from torture-lovers Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer.

Schumer and Feinstein said they took solace in Mukasey's assurances that he would enforce any future waterboarding ban passed by Congress. That argument prompted a robust retort from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

"He will, in fact, enforce the laws that we pass in the future? Can our standards have really sunk so low?" Kennedy said. "Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general. It's a prerequisite, not a virtue."

The answer, of course, is yes. Our standards have sunk deep to the bottom, and Congress has found themselves inadequate to the task of restoration.

As for this "new law" that is suddenly needed to ban waterboarding by the CIA, well, none is needed. Several international treaties and conventions as well as federal statutes already ban the practice. But if closing the made-up "loophole" that allows the CIA to continue the practice would work, then there's no reason to move forward on the Mukasey nomination until it's in place. Senators are certainly calling for a new law, and people like Huckleberry Graham SOUND good:

One of the most emotional moments yesterday came from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a military lawyer who supported Mukasey but criticized his answers on waterboarding. Graham, who has frequently clashed with the Bush administration on interrogation and detention policies, said Mukasey is "a good man of the law" but also urged Congress to pass legislation specifically outlawing the use of waterboarding by all government entities, including the CIA.

"The world is not short of people and countries who will waterboard you. There's not a shortage of people who will cut your heads off in the name of religion," Graham said. "There is a shortage of people who believe in justice, not vengeance."

But once the "Torture-Haters Are America-Haters" rhetoric hits the Capitol, does anyone realistically think that they can get a 2/3 vote with significant Republican support? It's shameful for me to say "No." I think it's great that John Kerry wants to end torture, along with Kennedy and Biden and Reid and all the others. But the fact is that you have to use your leverage points, and the Mukasey nomination is it. Without such a bargain, we'll continue to read about moral depredations like this.

Sometimes the music was American rap, sometimes Arab folk songs. In the CIA prison in Afghanistan, it came blaring through the speakers 24 hours a day. Prisoners held alone inside barbed-wire cages could only speak to each other and exchange their news when the music stopped: if the tape was changed or the generators broke down.

In one such six-foot-by-10-foot cell in February 2004, equipped with a low mattress and a bucket as a toilet, sat a man in shackles named Ibn al Sheikh al Libi, the former al Qaeda camp commander described by former CIA director George Tenet in his autobiography last year as "the highest ranking al-Qa'ida member in U.S. custody" just after 9/11.

In this secret facility known to prisoners as "The Hangar" and believed to be at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul, al Libi told fellow "ghost prisoners," one recalled to me for a PBS "Frontline" to be broadcast tonight, an incredible story of his treatment over the previous two years: of how questioned at first by Americans, by the FBI and then CIA, of how he was threatened with torture. And then how he was rendered to a jail cell in Egypt where the threats became a reality [...]

Under torture after his rendition to Egypt, al Libi had provided a confession of how Saddam Hussein had been training al Qaeda in chemical weapons. This evidence was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations a year earlier (February 2003) to justify the war in Iraq. ("I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al Qaeda," Powell said. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.")

But now, hearing how the information was obtained, the CIA was soon to retract all this intelligence. A Feb. 5 cable records that al Libi was told by a "foreign government service" (Egypt) that: "the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq...This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story."

The lesson here is that torture is DESIGNED to extract false confessions, in this case providing a fake evidentiary basis for war with Iraq. Standing up against that takes more than filing a petition and trying to get 51 votes for a bill. It takes shutting everything down until this moral stain is removed.

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NCLB Go Bye-Bye?

That's what The NY Times has said. This is for the best, there were elements of Rep. George Miller's reauthorization that were noble, but it was the wrong framework for improving education in America, and sought to turn our schools into test-taking factories instead of institutions to prepare young minds for the future. Sen. Kennedy is talking about "postponing" the bill, but something this big is unlikely to be reauthorized in a Presidential election year.

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Day 3 On The Picket Lines

Other labor leaders are coalescing around the writer's strike because they know that a hig-profile action like this will have positive benefits for them, and might actually start a conversation about union representation in America. If the adage of "If it's not on TV, it didn't happen" holds true, then "If it's stopping TV, it's REALLY happening" holds even truer. Joss Whedon explains:

“The trappings of a union protest…” You see how that works? Since we aren’t real workers, this isn’t a real union issue. (We’re just a guild!) [...] this IS a union issue, one that will affect not just artists but every member of a community that could find itself at the mercy of a machine that absolutely and unhesitatingly would dismantle every union, remove every benefit, turn every worker into a cowed wage-slave in the singular pursuit of profit. (There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.) This is about a fair wage for our work. No different than any other union. The teamsters have recognized the importance of this strike, for which I’m deeply grateful. Hopefully the Times will too.

I love the cross-union solidarity that this strike has engendered. It's not just the Teamsters; Steve Carell single-handedly shut down The Office, for example. And now Hillary Clinton has joined other Democratic Presidential hopefuls with a strong statement of support.

"I support the Writers Guild's pursuit of a fair contract that pays them for their work in all mediums. I hope the producers and writers will return to the bargaining table to work out an equitable contract that keeps our entertainment industry strong and recognizes the contributions writers make to the success of the industry."

No talks have been scheduled, as the studios appear to be preferring a "bleed them out" strategy, despite the WGA already conceding on expanding DVD residuals. While I still feel that jurisdiction and expanding membership should be a strong part of any final deal, clearly the writers deserve a fair share of the profits they are instrumental in creating.

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ADL: Stop Playing The Holocaust Card

Remember a couple weeks ago, when Mike Huckabee compared a woman's choice in determining their own medical care as a holocaust? And when I posted this over at The Right's Field, some of the more pointy-eared, living-under-a-bridge commenters claimed that Huck was just talking about any ol' holocaust, not THE Holocaust, and so making the comparison to mass genocide was completely in the bounds of political discourse?

Tell that to the Anti-Defamation League.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called on presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to refrain from invoking Holocaust imagery, following his recent use of the term "holocaust" to refer to abortion.

The former Arkansas governor was speaking at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C. when he referred to the "…holocaust of liberalized abortion…".

In a letter to Governor Huckabee, ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said: "The Holocaust was a unique tragedy in human history – an attempt by the Nazis to exterminate the Jewish people that led to the deliberate murder of six million Jews. We find the use of analogies to the Holocaust in other contexts deeply painful, disturbing and offensive. Such analogies can only trivialize and diminish the horror, and cause further pain to Holocaust survivors and to those alive today who lost friends and loved ones."

Indeed, all of these analogies on the right to Nazism and calling the guy who runs the traffic in Tehran the next Hitler cheapen the deaths of millions. We have challenges in the world, but they are only exacerbated by such distortions.

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The Silent Majority

It appears that, despite anti-immigrant activists being the loudest, they aren't the strongest at the ballot box, at least in Virginia, where Republicans made their entire pitch based on hating the brown:

Voters across Virginia chose candidates in state and local elections yesterday not out of anger over illegal immigration but based on party affiliation, a preference for moderation and strong views on such key issues as residential growth and traffic congestion.

With a few notable exceptions, the trend benefited Democrats and not those who campaigned the loudest for tough sanctions against illegal immigrants.

Fairfax County continued its transformation into solid Democratic territory, with as many as five legislative seats poised to fall out of Republican control. In Loudoun County, Democrats who campaigned on a promise to slow residential growth took over the county board. Even in Prince William County, where the board's chairman, Corey L. Stewart (R), won easily on a vow to crack down against illegal immigrants, the volatile issue was tempered by the victory of state Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Manassas), who had been painted as soft on the issue.

The returns provided the sharpest evidence yet that Democratic gains in recent state elections represented more than a temporary dip in Republicans' popularity. Yesterday's initial results showed that a more long-term structural realignment may be occurring and that voters are increasingly drawn by Democrats' promises to improve schools and ease traffic and away from Republican conservatism on such issues as taxes and social policy, particularly in fast-growing Northern Virginia.

"I did not think that immigration in and of itself would carry the day," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax), who would become majority leader under Democratic control. "The results are proving that, while immigration is a concern to people -- and it should be -- it is not returning the votes that they thought that it would."

This is a nation of immigrants. Thinking that the whole country would walk through the doors of citizenship and then decide en masse to slam it shut behind them was stupid. Not only that, but their policies are counter-factual; 45% of the undocumented enter this country on tourist visas and overstay them, not by jumping fences. Is the plan to ban tourism? Have you notified the economy on that one?

There are simply too many other issues that impact people's lives on a daily basis where Republicans have absolutely no answer and a demonstrated failure to govern. Hate is not a platform.

UPDATE: This is very much about housing worries, and I think that's trumping any worries about illegal immigrants.

UPDATE II: The most important thing any Democrat running for Congress can say about the immigration issue is this.

"My opponent doesn't want to end illegal immigration. He loves it. He can talk about it on the stump and pretend to get tough, and it keeps him from talking about the loss of good jobs abroad, or the soaring costs of healthcare and college, or our crumbling infrastructure. He can paint immigrants as a boogeyman without taking any steps to enforce the workplace, because that would hurt his friends at the Chamber of Commerce. Illegal immigration is the best thing that ever happened to Republicans. It gives them a place to hide."

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Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

It's true that this whole depressing scenario of martial law in Pakistan endangers the whole region by threatening a collaboration between Islamist militants and pro-democracy reformers, as we saw during the Iranian revolution. Pervez Musharraf's main enemy is democracy, as can be seen by his aborting the plan to kill bin Laden after deposing Nawaz Sharif in a coup, and using Islamist parties to forestall any efforts by Sharif or Benazir Bhutto to return to prominence.

Washington is more concerned with Islamic extremism than Musharraf, who as military chief in 1999 sent jihadi fighters into Kashmir to challenge Indian troops. He pays lip service to democracy but views the Constitution as an impediment and elections as a threatening menace. Little wonder that while presenting a secular image to the West, Musharraf has looked to Islamic parties to upend democracy and keep former prime ministers Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif out of politics. Musharraf engineered the unexpected electoral success of Islamic parties in the 2002 elections and helped them form governments in two provinces.

As a price for their cooperation, Islamic parties got protection for their Taliban and extremist allies and a free hand to impose more Islamic laws on Pakistanis. Since 2001, Musharraf has selectively cooperated in the war on terror but resisted cutting all ties with extremists.

Being, well, extremists, the jihadis have not seen this as enough of a concession and began to strike at Musharraf and particularly the Army. Musharraf responded by sacking the judiciary and jailing reformers. He's not even trying to hide it much by claiming that this is being done in the name of fighting extremism. And the danger is what comes next.

Musharraf's interests are no longer those of his military, and the two are now on a collision course. Generals can still end this crisis by going back to the deal Washington brokered with Ms. Bhutto, but only if it does not include Musharraf. Removing Musharraf will send demonstrators home and the Army to its barracks.

The longer Musharraf stays in power the more Pakistan will look like Iran in 1979: an isolated and unpopular ruler hanging on to power only to inflame passions and bring together his Islamic and pro-democracy opposition into a dangerous alliance.

A disastrous outcome in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state with weak institutions and rife with extremist ideologies, violence, and deep ethnic and social divisions, will be far worse than what followed the Iranian revolution.

Our leverage over Pakistan is in the form of foreign aid, which US lobbying groups paid by Musharraf are fighting to protect. We obviously ought to come down on the side of democracy, but even that is hard to figure. Benazir Bhutto may write op-eds in US media and threaten large-scale protests in Islamabad, but it's unclear whether she has a megaphone to the West because of her American education or because she has a legitimate role in a post-Musharraf Pakistan. As Matt Yglesias notes, Bhutto lost to Nawaz Sharif the last time there were legitimate elections in Pakistan. It was Sharif who was deposed. It's Sharif who has been barred from the country. It's unclear whether Bhutto has power or influence inside the country, other than the fact that she says so on CNN. And of course, she was the handpicked successor by the Bush Administration in a unity government with Musharraf, which doesn't inspire confidence.

It's important that the West gets this right, and doesn't leave behind a caretaker government that's ripe for a subsequent takeover They should be pushing for new elections with full access for all participants, including Sharif. The Pakistani people need to decide the future of their democracy.

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