Political MoJo

Sorry Pakistanis- This is How We Do It

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 6:23 PM EDT

American foreign policy is predictable: say one thing and do another. And what is said is usually just a half-assed attempt to satisfy critics, like the "nonbinding resolutions" on the war in Iraq. Take the new developments in Pakistan. Two weeks ago, I blogged about the massive protests that have raked Pakistan as a result of General Musharraf's decision to sack the too independent chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry.

Yesterday, more than 200 people were arrested, prior on the eve of today's protest where thousands of Pakistani opposition supporters rallied throughout Pakistan. In total, more than 1000 Pakistani protesters have been arrested.

Officials from the religious party Jaamat-e-Islami have even chimed in. Secretary General Syed Munawar Hasan:

"Gen Pervez Musharraf is subjugating all state institutions including the judiciary with the help of military power and he has dealt a deadly blow to the judiciary by suspending Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad."

Hasan said the worst victims of Gen Musharraf's era were the constitution, law and justice and all of them had been buried alive.

"The military rulers have enslaved 160 million people of the country at gunpoint and the crimes being committed on the people and sacred state institutions are the worst in the history of the country...It is ironic that Gen Musharraff always bows before the US but fires bullets at his own people."

The US response? Nada. Oh, sure, some members of Congress are "reaching out" to the Pakistani people and "there should be more than one phone number there to dial," but nothing substantial. Some members wrote a letter to Musharraf, asking him to hold fair and free elections while still wearing his uniform.

You don't ask a military dictator to enact democracy. But the U.S. doesn't really care if democracy reigns in Pakistan. If we did, the administration would have given explicit support to the protesters, organizations, parties, and the legal community in Pakistan which are demanding democracy.

Instead, the administration simply says that the situation is a "sensitive" issue. Plus, Congress isn't exactly moving to halt military aid to Musharraf either.

Musharraf has requested that the issue not be politicized: "I appeal to all lawyers that they should let this constitutional and legal process be completed. It should not be made a law and order or political issue," he said. Pakistani protesters may not comply, but the US sure will. After all, this is how we do it.

—Neha Inamdar

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Birth Control Costs On Campus Double Thanks to Medicaid

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 2:00 PM EDT

The cost of birth control sold at student health centers on college campuses nationwide are skyrocketing and women can thank Medicaid for costs that have now doubled from around $10 a pack to $22 for a month's worth of pills. The price hike comes after of a change in a Medicaid rebate law that means pharmaceutical companies are no longer providing large discounts on some drugs to universities, including, surprise, contraceptives.

Previously, pharmaceutical companies often sold drugs at deep discounts to colleges, the discounts made business sense for the companies in that they created brand loyalty for the company, plus they didn't count against the drug makers in a formula calculating rebates they owed states to participate in Medicaid.

But the 2005 Medicaid bill, which went into effect in January, means that drug manufacturers who provide any discounts to colleges mean drug manufacturers need to pay more to participate in Medicaid. The result, fewer companies are offering discounts, meaning the pills are less affordable.

About 40% of female undergrads use oral contraceptives, according to a recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association. Many colleges tried to maintain costs for contraceptives for a few months by buying in bulk before the new law took effect, but now their stocks are low and they have had to increase prices.

ACHA said that the Medicaid bill should have included an exemption for companies to provide prescription drugs to college health centers and the group has supported a proposal to change the law. And for those who are anti-contraceptives, know that this rule change affects all discounts. For example, for the 16% of college students who have been diagnosed with depression—a 56% increase since 2000— their prescription costs are up as well.

Prosecutor Purge, Sort Of Like Anna Nicole Smith...

| Mon Mar. 26, 2007 12:16 PM EDT

Thanks to Salon, we didn't miss the Republican Senator from Oklahoma Tom Coburn comparing the media coverage of the U.S. Attorneys case to that of Anna Nicole Smith during last Thursday's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which the senate voted to subpoena Karl Rove and several other WH officials implicated in the purge:

"[I]f you're sitting out in the middle of this country and this [prosecutor purge] becomes the topic du jour...like Anna Nicole Smith for the last two months, which has sickened the American public but that's what the press has run with because it makes for a nice dirty story, what are we doing to our country?"

Granted, media coverage of Washington scandals or any scandal for that matter can get out of control, but comparing the media's obsession with the death of a former Playboy bunny to that of its coverage of blatant executive power abuse is a stretch.

Coburn's comment comes in the wake of this ever-thickening plot. Last Thursday night, more documents were released to Congress containing pertinent information about the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys last year. One email, McClatchy reports, puts AG Alberto Gonzales at a meeting about firings on November 27, 2006 (only ten days before seven of the eight USAs were told to resign). This potentially contradicts what Gonzales has been saying; that although he takes full responsibility for "any mistakes" that occurred within his department, he was not aware of the details of the firings and that his former chief of staff Kyle Sampson was heading up that "process."

Sampson has voluntarily agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday. But, Politico reports that friends of Sampson claim the former chief of staff is "not gunning for anybody" and "does not plan to deliver bombshells." "Sampson will contend there was no underlying sin, just a botched response." I'm fairly certain though, as TPMmuckraker points out as well, this "Gee, shucks, we just weren't ready with a response" routine is not going to fly with Chairman Patrick Leahy, and committee members Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer. Should be interesting. Stay tuned.

Why the NYPD's Abuses Matter to You and Us

| Sun Mar. 25, 2007 11:44 PM EDT

Most people who support the Bush administration's generous reinterpretation of the rights of government in the name of fighting terrorism (and many do) do so with the fundamental assumption that they would never be the ones whose civil liberties were yanked out from underneath them. After all, they're law-abiding citizens who couldn't possibly be mistaken for terrorist-sympathizers or enemies of the state. Well, the Times' article on the far-reaching surveillance conducted by the New York police in the lead-up to the 2004 Republican convention demonstrates how false that assumption is—even for upper-class white heterosexual Christian moderates.

Attend a meeting of a group opposing Bush or the death penalty or other government policies, or supporting the environment (or, or, or) and the government opens a file on you. Engage in email with these groups and your email will be read and stored. Simply walk down the wrong block in Manhattan during the Republican convention—whether or not you were there to protest, and whether or not your protest was held in violation of any rule or regulation, however minor—and you may have been jailed in the huge dragnet arrests that caused more than 1,800 people to be held for up to 2 days. Not only were many innocent of all charges, but virtually all were charged with violations that would not normally be cause for making a trip down to the station. Few detainees were charged within the legal time limit, and the NYPD failed to respond to the writs of habeas corpus filed on their behalf. Why? So they could get fingerprints of every person being held.

This is per the paper of record; it's no conspiracy theory, though many who have been giving their version of events for more than 2 years have been dismissed as paranoid.

Which brings me to my second point. Without the investigative journalism of a serious local paper, this story would never have come to light. In this era of media consolidation [PDF] and profits-first, it pays to remember that. All national news is local somewhere. Investigative journalism, which is time consuming and doesn't always strike pay dirt, may not make sense in terms of a simple equation of time in: money out, but knowing what your government is up to—well, that's priceless. And it could easily be your freedom that depends upon it someday, whoever you are.

Police Surveillance is the Quickest Way to Take the Fun Out of Puppet Making

| Sun Mar. 25, 2007 3:36 PM EDT

My friend was one of the Billionaires for Bush. She worked tirelessly and hardly slept, organizing new ways of getting other students to care about the election looming. Humor is our best strategy, she thought.

So in the spring of 2004 she spent a few evenings in the backyard of an off-campus co-op, twisting chicken wire into a globe, plastering it with paper mache, and painting on green land and blue sea. Bigger than she was, it took the help of a few friends to carry to a rally in front of the university president's office, where she and some Billionaires, dressed ridiculously in furs and cocktail dresses and tuxedos, ferociously smashed it to bits. But chicken wire is hard to smash. The wire cage eventually wound up in the backyard, recycled into an an overflow compost container.

Was she being watched? What if she had a hunch and entertained the thought—well, that would make her crazy. Who would perceive her as dangerous? Who would have the time to watch? Who would even care? If she'd wondered out loud to her doctor—well, that falls under a few diagnoses in the DSM-IV. She would have been sent to the loony bin. And she was. She spent a few weeks in the psych ward and was forced by school officials to take the rest of the semester off. I saw her once, in a group, during visiting hours, and couldn't think of a damn thing to say.

But she would have been right. Today the New York City Police records covering those months were exposed. Jim Dwyer writes in the New York Times, "From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists, the records show. They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department's Intelligence Division." They sent daily notes back to New York on forms called DD5s, describing the activists, their meetings, and their plans. My friend's name must be in those piles of paper.

Another Billionaire, Marco Ceglie, told the Times, "It was a running joke that some of the new faces were 25- to 32-year-old males asking, 'First name, last name?' …. Some people didn't care; it bothered me and a couple of other leaders, but we didn't want to make a big stink because we didn't want to look paranoid."

"...You Have To Trust Us, It's Not About Transgenderism"

| Sun Mar. 25, 2007 1:43 AM EDT

That's what the city commissioners of Largo, Florida said after they finalized the dismissal of City Manager Steve Stanton today in a six-hour meeting. After Stanton announced he was planning to live his life as a woman, the commission voted to dismiss him last month. The mayor and one commissioner voted to keep Stanton, but the other five members of the commission voted to fire him.

"I think we're pretty well convinced," said Commissioner Gay Gentry. "You have to believe us, you have to trust us, it is not about transgenderism."

What, then, you might ask, is it about? According to the commissioners, they "lost confidence in him." There was some talk about his having "bullied" employees, but the commission had not only given Stanton good reviews--they had given him a very large raise. The real reason for the lost confidence is best expressed by commissioner Jimmy Dean: "This little thing has made Largo the laughingstock of the whole country. It's a disgrace." Now that the city has been "cast in a negative light," the commission can no longer feel confident about Stanton's performance.

Got it? Stanton can no longer perform his duties acceptably because the city is embarrassed.

Stanton's contract says he can be fired without cause, and he hasn't decided whether to file a lawsuit against the commission.

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Good News for Ravers: Ecstasy Isn't So Bad

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 7:27 PM EDT

Earlier today researchers at Bristol University published "a landmark paper" that finds that alcohol and cigarettes are more dangerous than many illegal drugs, including ecstasy and pot.

To anyone who didn't already know that ecstasy doesn't give standers-by second-hand cancer or cause people to start fights, the study breaks the shocking news that while (illegal) coke and heroin are ranked most harmful, they're followed closely by (not illegal) barbiturates, alcohol, and tobacco. Pot comes later, and ecstasy way after that.

The real news here is that all the experts agreed that current substance classification is wack. BU's David Nutt hopes that the study will lead to a change in the prevailing "ill thought-out and arbitrary" system by knocking some sense into those on the losing side of the war on drugs.

—Nicole McClelland

Yet Another Reason for Universal Health Insurance

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 6:49 PM EDT

California's Department of Managed Health Care randomly selected 90 (of more than 1,000) cancelled individual Blue Cross plans and investigated whether the company had cause to cancel them. Score: 0 for 90. Blue Cross broke the rules in every single case.

The policies were individually purchased plans in which policy holders had become pregnant or sick, apparently triggering Blue Cross to rescind the policy. Retroactively—leaving individuals, hospitals and doctors holding the bag for care already provided. Policies can only be legally rescinded if the applicant lies on the application to conceal pre-existing conditions.

Individuals pay exorbitant premiums for coverage purchased outside of employer group plans, and are also more vulnerable to such cancellations in California law. But this is bad news for everyone, not just those who have to buy individual plans. Who pays when hospitals and doctors aren't reimbursed? The taxpayers do, one way or the other. The taxpayers also paid for the state's investigation, whose end result is a measly $1-million suit against Blue Cross, whose annual profit is more than three times that. Blue Cross policy holders funded an entire department of the company devoted to finding reasons to cancel the policies of sick or pregnant people.

About 6.5 million California residents, or about 18 percent of the population, lack health insurance.

Optimistic Report on the Surge All Talk

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 5:00 PM EDT

Time has a report card on the effectiveness of the surge, which makes it sound like things are looking up. I'm a skeptic. Not because I hate America, but because this administration and its uniform-wearing parrots have cried wolf once (or thrice) too many times.

The Time report doesn't do much to change my mind.

First, like other reports, it touts the fact that some Iraqi families are returning to their Baghdad homes. But look closer. The numbers given are miniscule, and all they indicate is that those people hope the surge will work—not that it is working.

Second, they caught a few terrorists. Cool. Moving on…

Time repeatedly quotes Petraeus saying things like, "They're really quaking in their boots." These assessments are more meaningless than a coach's halftime interview.

I'll give them this point: "Violence in the city has dropped by about a third since the surge began in mid-February," but (a) one month is not long enough to predict a trend, and (b) it seems some of the new tactical ideas should have been implemented long, long ago:

The tactic of sprinkling U.S. and Iraqi troops like salt across the city — instead of keeping them concentrated in a handful of bases — seems to be paying off so far…Operation Safe Markets — where the U.S. military encircles bazaars with concrete barriers — have kept car bombs away from crowds.

They only just thought of this now?

And for those of you meticulous readers who need me to respond to every bit in the article—or those right-wing bloggers among you waiting for an easy way to prove me wrong (obviously the thing I didn't mention destroys my whole point, right?): The report also mentions helicopters. It's true, I mentioned rise in helicopter shoot-downs as a bad sign, and they have subsided. But:

U.S. military helicopters are flying increasingly under cover of darkness and at 2,000 feet, four times higher than normal, beyond the reach of the crude weapons used by the insurgents to take potshots at airborne targets… Army chopper pilots have long been taught to hug the terrain…to limit their exposure to any individual on the ground seeking to shoot them down. But increasingly, U.S. pilots are trading the protection offered by lack of height for the masking offered by lack of light.

Overall response: C-.

"Hillary 1984" is like Bob Corker's Ad against Harold Ford, Jr.

| Fri Mar. 23, 2007 3:57 PM EDT

Have you seen Hillary 1984? You've got to. It's brilliant. About 1.3 million people have already seen it. It's the advent of a new political era. The minute-and-a-half-long clip, spliced from an Apple commercial from Super Bowl, shows hundreds of men as just ashen drones marching in line and then sitting down before a screen under Hillary's head talking, detached from her body. Everything is gray and lifeless. The only dash of color at all is when a busty blonde wearing only a white tank and orange shorts—a Hooters girls outfit but with only one "O" in the logo over her chest—runs through the crowd of men and hurls a javelin at Hillary's head, shattering the screen, spreading light everywhere.

Yep, it's brilliant. And lefty bloggers are cheering it as the advent of "open-source politics" because it's on YouTube. What none of them have mentioned is the reason why it's so effective: It exploits subconscious bigotry, just like the ad for now-U.S. Senator Bob Corker in October. Since blacks weren't recognized as fully human, this country used to have special laws for them. Black men could not sleep with white women, but it was fine the other way around (even the president did). Black men with white women is still taboo—that's why broadcasting a blonde actress crooning, "I met Harold at the Playboy party…. Harry [wink], call me!!" was enough to derail Harold Ford, Jr.'s, campaign. The racism operated subtly and subconsciously enough to change the minds of people who would never admit to being racist. Lefties pointed that out, but not as loudly as they should have. Ford lost.

Likewise, women weren't recognized as fully human in this country until recently, and modern society still has a taboo against women holding power. Lefty bloggers who don't think Hillary has the charisma to win the general election may be happy that this ad will derail her in the primary. But they look like hypocrites unless they stop cheering for a moment to mention that the ad exploits subconscious fears. That goes for you too, Arianna Huffington—author of On Becoming Fearless. "Hillary 1984" is as un-Democratic as the ad against Harold Ford was.