Maybe Fred Thompson thinks he needs to get his crazy on in order to garner attention in the GOP primary race. That's the only explanation for the comments he just made in Iowa about Saddam Hussein:

"Saddam Hussein, today, had we not gone in, would be sitting on this power keg and be in control of the whole thing," Thompson predicted. "He would have been the new dictator of that entire region in my estimation. He is, was, a dangerous irrational man who, by this time, would have been well on his way to having the nuclear capability himself."

This is nonsense and shows a stunning lack of understanding of the power relationships that ruled the Middle East from the first Gulf War until 2003. Saddam Hussein (1) was balanced by Iran, (2) had a pretty pathetic armed forces throughout the '90s and '00s, and (3) never signaled an interest in increased territorial hegemony after the first Gulf War.

Also, this is just ridiculous:

"We can't forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there, he clearly had had WMD," Thompson said. "He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program, and in my estimation his intent never did change."

Saddam didn't have WMD in any serious sense. He may have had low-grade chemical and biological weapons programs, much of which were just left over from before the first Gulf War, but if we were to invade every country in the world that had that sort of weapons program, we'd be fighting across the globe. Here's what the Iraq Survey Group, a 1,400-member international team organized by the Pentagon and the CIA to find WMDs, had to say about Saddam's weapons programs in 2004: "While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter."

Read a freakin' newspaper, Fred. Or a book. Or the internet. Or anything.

Over the past month, the American Medical Association (AMA) has blanketed the D.C. public transit system with a massive advertising campaign to raise the profile of the 1 in 7 Americans who lack health insurance. The three-year, multimillion-dollar campaign is also underway in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

It's nice to see the doctors' lobby using its tremendous political muscle to focus attention on the uninsured rather than, say, injured people who sue them (the AMA has devoted millions of dollars to "medical malpractice reform" over the past few years). But the new campaign seems a little disingenuous. After all, were it not for the AMA, we might have had universal coverage 50 years ago. Way back in 1948, the AMA spent millions on PR to defeat government-run universal health care when it was close to passage in Congress by stoking fears of Communists and socialized medicine. The group even fought the creation of Medicare, which it now lobbies hard to protect. And, it was the AMA and many of its partners in this new effort (like the insurance companies) that worked to kill off HillaryCare in the 1990s.

Not surprisingly, the AMA's "solution" to the health care crisis is based mostly on tax credits that would allow people to buy private insurance rather than a bigger role for government. But hey, at least they've finally stopped ranting about socialized medicine!

Once again, Pakistan is preparing for an election that is suspect, where General Musharraf will seek another five-year term.

The presidential "election," which will take place on October 6, 2007, will be far from fair and free: Pakistan's presidents are selected by an electoral college which is made up of the national and provincial assemblies. Yet the current parliament is a result of the rigged 2002 "elections." The current parliament's term is up come November, making the October date timely for Musharraf.

Musharraf's bid for re-election was approved on Friday by the Supreme Court, which threw out petitions contesting the constitutional legality of Musharraf seeking a re-election while keeping his military uniform on. Upon hearing the verdict, Pakistani lawyers in the courtroom angrily bellowed, "Shame, shame!" and "Go Musharraf, go!" Musharraf claims that if he "wins" (which he most certainly will), he'll take off his uniform before the presidential inauguration. Let's not bet on it.

Last weekend, prior to the verdict, Musharraf started locking up opposition members (which some say number in the thousands) in an effort to thwart protests that seized the day when Musharraf filed his nomination. These detentions prompted the normally reticent US Embassy in Islamabad to issue a press release stating:

The reports of arrests of the leadership of several major Pakistani political parties are extremely disturbing and confusing for the friends of Pakistan. We wish to express our serious concern about these developments. These detainees should be released as soon as possible.

Chief Justice Muhammad Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered the government to free hundreds of activists on Thursday. Then on Saturday lawyers, journalists, and activists observed a "black day" to protest Musharraf's bid. The Islamabad police cracked down on the protesters, injuring roughly 83 people. (The chief of police and two senior officials have since been suspended.)

But there are no worries for Musharraf and his allies. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz claims that this electoral process will put Pakistan on the path of democracy, and Pakistan's friend in need- the US- says that the Supreme Court's verdict was "based on the Constitution and existing laws of Pakistan. We do not want to make any sort of assessments." What was omitted was that the Constitution and "existing laws" of Pakistan have been tweaked by the General in order to allow him to hold both the army chief and presidential posts concurrently.

— Neha Inamdar

Burma is eerily quiet.

Thursday's protests were by far the most eventful yet— an estimated 70,000 people were on the streets demanding democracy. Soldiers fired tear gas and shots on crowds, the government says the death toll is ten; but some estimates put it as high as 200.

So what does the military do in an effort to contain further pro-democracy protests? It blocks the Internet. Since press freedom in Burma is fiercely curtailed, bloggers have played a critical role in showcasing the mayhem. The military government also launched raids on monasteries, beat and arrested at least 1,000 people, locked up tens of thousands of monks within the monasteries, and sealed off five "key" monasteries.

In spite of that, protests have continued- albeit their momentum slowed. Reports the Times, now that the monks have been locked up, the "demonstrations seemed to have lost their focus, and soldiers are quick to pounce on any groups that emerged onto the streets."

Demonstrations have cropped up across Asia, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. ASEAN has issued a statement about their "revulsion" towards how "the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities." India, which has armed the Burmese military regime, has generally remained silent. The UN sent UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who arrived Saturday and is due to meet the Burmese senior general on Tuesday. Dana Perino says that "The United States is pleased that U.N. Special Envoy Gambari was able to see Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Gambari remains in Burma in order to see the top junta leader, Than Shwe."

At least the UN has some use for the U.S.

— Neha Inamdar

Citigroup today announced that its third-quarter earnings dropped 60 percent, in large part because of more than a billion dollars worth of bad subprime loans in its portfolio. But no one, especially not Citigroup, should be surprised that its loan portfolio is a minefield of rotten debt.

For years, Citigroup has preyed on the mentally retarded, the elderly, and the illiterate, particularly in the South, to push predatory subprime loans on people most ill-equipped to pay for them. Reporter Mike Hudson, now at the Wall Street Journal, has been chronicling this story for a decade, and in 2003, Southern Exposure magazine won a George Polk award for his investigative package on Citigroup and its history of assembling some of the country's sleaziest subprime lending companies under one roof. Lots of people who got subprime loans from Citigroup and its subsidiaries ended up losing their homes long before the current foreclosure crisis.

Just five years ago, Citigroup agreed to pay $240 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission over its predatory lending practices, and it has settled a host of private lawsuits over similar charges. The lawsuits never seemed to put even a hitch in Citigroup's step, but it looks like all those bad loans are finally coming home to roost. Citigroup deserves to collapse under the weight of its scummy business practices, but it's unfortunate that the reckoning threatens to bring down the rest of the economy with it.

Here are the raw numbers for Obama's fundraising, snatched from a press advisory email his campaign just sent out:

Third quarter totals:
• Primary dollars raised: at least $19 million
• Overall dollars raised (with general election): at least $20 million
• Number of new donors: over 93,000

Total 2007:
• Primary dollars raised: at least $74.9 million
• Total number of donors: 352,000

It's that last one that I find most impressive. If Obama has managed to find 352,000 donors from January 1 to September 30, that's roughly 1,290 new donors every single day.

I'm interested to know what Obama's cash-on-hand is. He may have raised a whopping $75 million up to this point, but how much does he have left to spend? I've placed a call to the Obama press office to find out.

Update: No call back. From other news reports, it looks like they are keeping the cash-on-hand number under wraps.

This from the office of the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman: "Previously undisclosed information reveals (1) Blackwater has engaged in 195 'escalation of force' incidents since 2005, an average of 1.4 per week, including over 160 incidents in which Blackwater forces fired first; (2) after a drunken Blackwater contractor shot the guard of the Iraqi Vice President, the State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq and advised Blackwater on the size of the payment needed 'to help them resolve this'; and (3) Blackwater, which has received over $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001, is charging the federal government over $1,200 per day for each 'protective security specialist' employed by the company." Memo available here.

It's been well-documented that James Dobson hates most of the Republican field, but he realllly hates Rudy Giuliani. According to Salon's Michael Scherer:

A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.
The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives...
"The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party," said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. "Dobson came in just for this meeting," the person said.

I wonder if this is just another form of pressure — that is to say, perhaps the Christian right is letting it be known in the press that they will consider supporting a third party if Giuliani wins the nomination as a way of pressuring Giuliani into moving his views on gays and abortion closer to theirs.

If you think that theory presumes too much organization and discipline on the part of the evangelical community, you obviously haven't read our cover package on the Christian right.

If you're a regular user of the internets, you've probably seen the video of Rudy Giuliani awkwardly interrupting a speech to the NRA in order to take a phone call from his wife Judith.

Turns out, Rudy's made quite a habit of this behavior. According to John Fund at the Wall Street Journal, Rudy's own staffers estimate the candidate has taken phone calls from his wife "more than 40 times in the middle of speeches, conferences and presentations to large donors." And it's pissing people off. Witness:

Consider a spring incident in Oklahoma City. Mr. Giuliani spoke twice at the Oklahoma History Center, first at a small private roundtable for $2,300 donors and then to 150 people who donated $500 apiece. Ten minutes into the roundtable, Mr. Giuliani's phone rang. He left the room to take the call, apparently from Mrs. Giuliani, and never returned. The snubbed donors received no explanation. "The people there viewed it as disrespectful and cheesy," says Pat McGuigan, a local newspaper editor who was asked by the Giuliani campaign to moderate the roundtable.
An hour or so later, Mr. Giuliani was speaking to the bigger group of donors when his phone rang again. While he spoke with his wife, he invited her to say hello to the assembled crowd...
I've been told of many other incidents, from a California fund-raiser to a Florida speech to a gathering with top donors at Bear Stearns in New York. At the Bear Stearns meeting, Mr. Giuliani took a call from his wife and then noting the strained faces of his supporters, he sheepishly tried a joke. "I've been married three times," he explained. "I can't afford to lose another one. I'm sure you understand."

Rudy's bizarre behavior just gives the media more opportunities to bring up the "Queen Bitch" meme about his wife. Consider this from Fund's closing paragraphs: "Staffers have been fired, advisers shut out of meetings, schedules changed based on [Judith Giuliani's] whim. But it was her idea for Mr. Giuliani to suggest on national TV that he might let her attend cabinet meetings... The staff remains "terrified" of her, according to a former staffer. "Mollifying Judith is at the top of the to-do list for far too many people on the campaign," one person close to Mr. Giuliani told me."

So what's the deal? Is Rudy really so devoted to his wife that he can't resist taking her phone call even at the most inappropriate of times? Or does he think this staged tenderness humanizes him? Or is he as afraid of his wife as his staffers are? Whatever the explanation, I certainly hope this trend continues. I'd love to see Rudy interrupt a nationally televised debate by taking a phone call from his wife. Or, heaven forbid, the oath of office itself.

Oh, and PS — Rudy's explanation for all this? What else, 9/11.