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Interview with Former U.S. Intelligence Official on Bhutto Assassination

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 11:56 AM EST

I interviewed a former U.S. intelligence official knowledgeable about Pakistan about the assassination today in Rawalpindi of Pakistani opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. While his comments make clear Bhutto was an irreplaceable political figure in the country, and that her political party cannot exist in the same way without her, he also emphasized his belief that Pakistan and its institutions are far more resilient and disciplined than many people in the West may understand. Here is a summary of the interview:

Former U.S. Intelligence Official (FUSIO): Let us never forget that at least in my lifetime we had two presidents shot and one died, and a likely Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy killed and Martin Luther King Jr., all in rapid succession. Before we jump in and [scream that Pakistan is a failed nuclear state] and draw conclusions about collusion. If some guy has one hand on a lanyard and the other on a gun, and he's willing to blow himself up, whether it's in Washington or Rawalpindi, if he gets through, he can do his dirty job. It's a conspiracy theorists' dream. …

Mother Jones: There's no doubt that it was some form of Al Qaida who was behind this?

FUSIO: I hate to use that word [because it's not precise]. "Al Qaida" and the "Taliban" – everybody [in the West] can even spell them both. But it is that crowd - - militant Islamists.

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Huck You, Romney

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 10:23 AM EST

squirrel.jpeg Mike Huckabee is one passive aggressive Mo-Fo. His pheasant hunting outing yesterday was the perfect example: he was able to showcase his wily criticism, to slam Mitt Romney without ever mentioning his name. And to make broad allusions to political muscle while really only talking about varmints.

He compared killing a pheasant to trying to crossing him politically: "Don't get in my way, this is what happens." In between shots he said that he's the candidate who brings a "level of authenticity and credibility to the campaign."

And by that, of course, he meant Romney is no hunter. He criticized the Massachusetts governor, who has called himself a hunter, for only tracking "small varmints." Then, going after even the varmint vote, Huckabee added that in college he ate his fair share of fried squirrel and Coke. Greased up in his popcorn popper.

Ah, a man of the people.

Pakistani Opposition Leader Benazir Bhutto Killed

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 9:14 AM EST

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide attack along with twenty other people at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The AP reports: "A party security adviser said Bhutto was shot in the neck and chest as she got into her vehicle, then the gunman blew himself up." The Harvard and Oxford educated Bhutto had become the first female prime minister in the Muslim world. Background on her recent return from exile to Pakistan here.

Santa's Reindeer: Not as Sprightly as They Used to Be

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 9:16 PM EST

After lugging a sleigh full of Wiis and Hannah Montana dolls across the sky, the reindeer are due for their annual checkup. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen--otherwise known as Discover, Diners Club, PayPal and Visa--have been pulling increasingly huge loads in recent years, and this year was no exception. On Tuesday MasterCard Advisors reported that US holiday sales were up 3.6 percent from 2006. That our plastic reindeer carried such a heavy load through the blizzard of a mortgage crisis is a testament to the power of Rudolph and his nose of red. But is the Red-Nosed Reindeer running his team into the ground?

What's clear is that consumer debt is taking a red nose dive. This week the AP reviewed financial data from the nation's largest card issuers and found a steep rise in delinquencies among accounts more than 90 days in arrears. Some of the nation's biggest lenders reported the accounts have ballooned more than 50 percent compared to a year ago. Overall, defaults jumped by 18 percent.

Rudolph (and Santa) really are to blame for a lot of this. For most of this year consumers seemed to be coming to their senses. The national savings rate was positive for most of 2007, for the first time in years, but then it jumped back to negative leading up to the holidays. For the time being we're once more following Rudolph back to 1929. His flashing red nose is certainly comforting, but it's also why people used to call him names, and wouldn't let him play in any reindeer games.

Why the Dems Won't Fix Health Care

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 5:30 PM EST

As the Democratic presidential candidates' positions on health care policy reform have solidified, the issue of mandates has become increasingly important as it is one of the few differences between the various plans. While the right has towed the free market company line on health care, and while the Democrats' paths differ from the Republicans', the destination is the same: a huge payday for insurance companies. According to Shum Preston of the California Nurses Association (CNA), "Individual mandates are a step backward…Insurance companies support individual mandate plans because they guarantee them more customers, revenues, and influence over medical decision making. What's not for them to like?" Any health care proposal that includes mandates without addressing the problems that corporate health care and insurance companies pose maintains the status quo. Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's plans differ in that Obama's plan doesn't include mandates, while Clinton's does. What remains identical between the two candidates' plans is the desire for universal health insurance, which is not to be mistaken for universal health care. John Edwards' populist message includes a mandate and an option between public and private care, which detractors say will compromise the public option in the end.

Mandates, say Preston, "Force patients to sign up for expensive, wasteful, for-profit insurance products without guaranteeing care or protecting them from cost increases." The CNA and its national wing, the National Nurses Organizing Committee, are a major lobbying force in the health care debate, one of the only organizations pushing for a universal single-payer model.

In a whirlwind past couple of weeks, CNA and NNOC placed advertisements in 10 Iowa newspapers that made national news, went on a two day strike in Northern California, and organized a national protest against the health insurance company Cigna HealthCare, which let a young woman die by refusing to cover her liver transplant. The message they are trying to convey in all of these actions is that the problem with the health care system isn't just that not everyone is covered; it is that the companies that run it succeed financially by denying access and care. Mandated care doesn't solve this problem.

'Get Outta Our Town (Caucus Lament)'

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 3:37 PM EST

No matter how sick you get of the presidential elections, always remember—the good folks in Iowa have it worse.

"Get out of our town, get off of my phone / Don't wanna to be pushed, don't wanna to be polled." Bravo, sir. (H/T PrezVid)

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New Face of Lawsuit Abuse Looks A Lot Like the Old One

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 1:25 PM EST

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is apparently gearing up for a new round of legislative fights over the nation's civil justice system. The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform has unveiled a slick new PR campaign to convince Americans that the little guy, and not, say, the enormous corporations that fund the campaign, is at risk of personal disaster at the hands of a greedy trial lawyer. Not surprisingly, the campaign is headlined by the now-famous Chungs, the owners of a D.C. dry cleaners sued for $54 million for losing a man's pants.

The Chamber raised more than $70,000 for the Chungs' legal bills, and has turned them into the poster children that corporate America has been waiting years to find. They are featured prominently in YouTube videos and Internet ads that link to the Chamber-sponsored site I Am Lawsuit Abuse. What happened to the Chungs is tragic and indefensible. It's also extremely rare, and very little of the Chamber's legal "reform" agenda would have prevented it, either.

While the medium is new for the Chamber, the new lawsuit abuse videos consist of the same old corporate propaganda bashing the civil justice system, and most of it is highly misleading. One of the segments features a "victim" that was actually a plaintiff in a lawsuit. Particularly egregious is a video of a Georgia professor who specializes in studying "play." She sweetly contends lawsuits are making children obese because they've taken dangerous playground equipment out of the school yard. The junk food companies that fund the Chamber should be especially pleased with that one.

Hillary, Romney Up in Iowa, We Think

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 10:12 AM EST

The latest statewide survey in Iowa shows that Hillary Clinton is up five points to 34 percent of voters, with a surging John Edwards at 20 percent and Barack Obama falling into third close behind at 19 percent. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee lost five points, dropping to 23 percent to Mitt Romney's bump up four points to 21 percent.

Worth noting that the American Research Group may not be the bellweather for accurate polling. A little digging shows that the group is backed by New Hampshire pollster Lafell Bennett, and that ARG was widely off the mark in New Hampshire in 2004 when it called a victory for Bush, only to see John McCain take the state by an 18-point margin.

Also, turns out ARG doesn't believe in including cell phone numbers in its random draws, which of course lops off a chunk of Obama supporters. He defended his rationale telling the New Hampshire Business Review that he omits cell phones because mostly young people "don't vote."

Bottom line here is that polls are polls, and while they give us all something to talk about they are by no means the beating pulse of a horserace.

Another Baad, Baad Santa

| Mon Dec. 24, 2007 1:53 PM EST

I didn't want to laugh at this, but in the end, I had to.

Ashton Kutcher and his production company made a far too vulgar, but irresistible, video about a drunk, horny Santa looking for work during the writer's strike. Don't watch this at work, but it's Xmas Eve; if you're at work today, nobody's caring what you're watching.

Why Not Smoke 'Em Since you Got 'Em?: The "Boys of Satire" Returning to Work Much, Much Too Soon

| Mon Dec. 24, 2007 11:07 AM EST

For an armchair sociologist and culture critic, I'm hilariously wrong about how people will behave.

When I heard that Stewart and Colbert were returning to the air just after the New Year, I had two responses: bafflement and fear. First, my bafflement.

Given the pace, the stress, the monstrous pressure of being funny four nights a week about stuff that had happened only hours before, I'd thought the 'talent' would be secretly thanking the gods for this unplanned vacation from their own success. I assumed that was why they were being so ostentatiously generous with their support of the writers - so they could stay out til spring and the big names could sleep for six months and luxuriate in their ignorance for a change. I pictured Colbert and Stewart showering their gleeful families every morning with confetti made of unread NY Times, then spending the day in their jammies ginning up fake emails from the network brass dissing the writers and threatening their families. Instead, these guys are so desperate to get back on the air, they're willing to humiliate themselves to do so. I know these guys are innately funny, but nightly-broadcast-with-no-help funny? Why on earth are Letterman, Colbert et al so desperate to get back on the air?

Y'all know I love me some satire shows. So much so that, pre-strike, I worried about my boys spiraling into drugs, drinking and sordid sex scandals - VH1 Behind the Music-style - from all the pressure. Turns out that they're as addicted to what they do as we are to watching them do it. I 'spoze I shouldn't be so surprised. God knows I churn out book after book, post after post for far less money and with every chance of being either ignored or excoriated (see: your comments). Wrong again. Note to self: performing is as much an irrestible calling as punditry. Who knew?

Now, my fear. I'd been trying to wean myself off television for a looong time now. With a personality as addictive as mine, It's such a time waster; I want my kids to grow up watching only in moderation, unlike their mother. I'd sooner show you nude, secretly snapped photos of me than tell you what, and how much, I watch. So, once the strike hit, I cravenly made the plunge, knowing I wouldn't miss much this time of year. Smugly, I dragged my 'leventy-seven boxes back to the cable folks. You'd have thought I was donating both kidneys to Iraqi war refugees the way I carried on. No one expected the strike to be over before the end of January by which time I figured I'd have detox'd enough to resist the siren call of Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock and...never mind. I couldn't wait to lord my cultural ignorance over you lowly TV gawkers at dinner parties - "The Office? What office, I don't understand. Oh. TV. I'm reading Proust" - obnoxious as those wankers who spend a semester abroad (in Canada) and come back pretending to have forgotten English.

I could never have given up TV with late night satire still airing, never.

What the f*&^ am I supposed to do now?