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THIS JUST IN: Obama leads Hillary in Iowa, per Des Moines Register poll



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Joe just texted me from a dinner. The Des Moines Register poll is the gold standard of polls for predicting what will happen in Iowa. All day the pundits were saying how important this poll is. The results are in. Obama increases his lead over Hillary, 32-25. Edwards is at 24.

Huckabee 32, Romney 26, McCain 13.
Obama was the choice of 32 percent of likely Democratic caucusgoers, up from 28 percent in the Register's last poll in late November, while Clinton, a New York senator, held steady at 25 percent and Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, was virtually unchanged at 24 percent.... Six percent were undecided or uncommitted.
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Markos is not happy with Ron Paul



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I'm kind of looking forward to Ron Paul being the "what's that idiot's name, the enviro Green Party guy who lost us the election twice, oh yeah, Ralph Traitor Nader" of the Republican party. More from Markos. Read the rest of this post...

Big Pharma investigated in Iraq Oil-for-food scandal



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Shocking. Who could even imagine the pharmaceutical industry being connected to such activities? At least we can be sure they will work with our new president in a fair manner when we overhaul the health care system. Read the rest of this post...

The Iowa Caucuses are upon us...



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And Joe and I have just recorded a New Years Eve podcast looking at where the presidential nominations stand on the eve (almost eve) of the Iowa Caucuses (coming this Thursday). You can listen to our latest podcast simply by clicking this link (it's an mp3). This episode is around 30 minutes.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here, or you can subscribe to the podcast's RSS feed here. And you can listen to any of our old shows via either of the two links in the preceding sentence. Read the rest of this post...

Obama shoots the messenger



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If Obama thinks that it's only Edwards who thinks he's too nice/too soft to tackle the problems in DC, he's really living in a fantasy world. In any conversations I've had about Obama, right after praising his positive attitude, the first thing people mention about him is that he may be too nice. Whether he likes it or not and regardless of what Edwards is saying, this is what people are saying.
"The argument goes that the only way to bring about change is to be angry," said Obama at an event in a church hall here tonight. He quickly added: "I don't need lectures about how to bring about change because I have been doing it all my life."
How does "change" fit with cozying up to anti-gay bigots? I appreciate the fact that Obama has been against the Iraq war from the start. This is commendable and it is one issue that I like a lot about him.

More on the 2008 issues, after the jump.

When I look at the problems that we will face in the coming years, I have my doubts about just how strong he will be with changing our health care system or repairing a badly damaged economy. There is a lot of money at stake with both issues and anyone who thinks these will be resolved with debate team exchanges is nuts. We are looking at some of the wealthiest and most powerful special interests in America. They are the reason why we have these problems today. Who out there thinks they will accept change easily?

Take a look at the campaign contributions and think about how easily these groups will change. Numbers listed are from 1990 until 2008, which is still ongoing.
- Pharmaceutical: $148,514,782
- Insurance: $281,058,830
- Securities and Investments - $529,351,964
- Commercial banks: $191,424,027
- Health Professionals: $384,917,481
- Telephone Utilities: $109,581,401

This is what we know about. One could argue that some of these contributions are fairly even between Democrats and Republicans. True. That is also part of the problem. Both parties rely so much on these funds so there is little incentive to go against the tide as will be required for change. It would be nice to think this would be a tough but fair negotiation with the special interest groups but this strikes me as incredibly naive. My heart says "yes" but my brain says "no way."

I like the positive attitude that Obama delivers and think we could really benefit from a return to the positives instead of the cynicism of recent years. (Cynicism for good reason, mind you.) Obama's venture into supporting a bigot in South Carolina didn't help. His wobbly attempts to respond to criticism and having it both ways hardly inspired confidence. For voters seeking a profile in courage, they may have been disappointed.

After the Bush years, a change in tone is refreshing and might help pull in new voters who would otherwise sit on the sidelines. Ultimately though, with the problems that the next president needs to face, I too wonder if Obama has the force to tackle the special interests. He can shoot the messenger all he likes, but that message is already out there and it did not just come out of thin air. Does he have what it takes for the burning issues of the day?
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World New Year countdown clock



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It takes a moment to load but you can follow the countdown around the world. Read the rest of this post...

Edwards has become relevant



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Very interesting development. While for months Hillary was the only Dem of any relevance, over the past month Hillary's camp started attacking Obama, big-time - a sign that Obama had suddenly become relevant. Well, now the transitive property of relevance (okay, I made that up) is making Edwards relevant - namely, Obama is now attacking Edwards when before he was mostly focusing on Hillary. That means that Obama sees Edwards as a threat as well, and that means Edwards is now officially relevant. It's actually turning out to be an interesting race. Read the rest of this post...

The Bhutto media crush



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I was talking with a friend this weekend about the Bhutto situation. He knows a little about foreign policy, though it's neither his vocation nor his avocation, and he asked, roughly, This isn't going to have any effect on the primaries, right? Probably not. And it ruins our Pakistan policy, but that policy was terrible to begin with? Right. Pakistan isn't going to fall apart? No. It's not going to affect the fact that Pakistan and Afghanistan are disasters when it comes to counter-terror? Might make it a little worse, but essentially that's accurate. So why, he asked, why the wall-to-wall coverage and focus? The answer after the jump . . .

It's primarily because Bhutto hits the trifecta for media attention paid to a foreigner: Westernized (attended Harvard, no less), attractive (was once named one of People's 50 most beautiful), and female (self-evident). The media has a habit of focusing on Westernized, charming foreign leaders -- and the US has a habit of backing them despite evidence that maybe we shouldn't -- and especially so when the subject is telegenic. Now, I'm not one to complain about media focus on foreign affairs, not *at all*; still, it's worth noting the particular reasons and inclinations behind this kind of media crush. It's interesting that now there's some real coverage of the events in Pakistan, beyond just Bhutto herself, and that's great -- though the actual situation apparently continues to deteriorate.

If US foreign policy for a particular country or topic depends on an *individual* rather than a system or structure or process, odds are it's a crummy policy. The very idea that our foreign policy for Pakistan could be utterly destroyed by the death of a single person, however tragically and unexpectedly, shows you how bad a policy it was in the first place.
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Fred Thompson is "not particularly interested in running for president'



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Big gaffe. He was much pretty toast anyway, but still. It really is amazing to see how volatile the Republican side of the nomination still is. Not that the Democratic side isn't getting interesting, with Obama catching up (caught up?) to Hillary, and Edwards finally showing everyone that he still does have a chance. Also, it just goes to show you how these candidates have to be "on" for 24 hours a day, non-stop. That's hard. Any interview with a good reporter is challenging - good reporters have a way of poking you with questions that are hard NOT to answer, even when you know you shouldn't. And with the grueling schedule these candidates have, it's no surprise that they're sometimes just tired and caught off their guard. Every minute of every day is under a microscope. Really quite fascinating. And maybe a little disturbing. Read the rest of this post...

Third party ridiculousness



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There's been another bump in the talk of a third party run for president, mostly focused on New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. It's pretty irritating, and it's largely led by media and political elites who talk a big game about democracy but seem to be horrified the actual process of it. Basically the people who promote "unity" or "coalition" third party presidential runs either don't understand the US electoral/political system, or they don't think it caters to their very particular desires, or both. Really, few things make me crazier than this stuff, for two reasons:

First, there are almost *never* actual policy positions proposed on these issues. Anybody know what, say, Bloomberg thinks about immigration? Choice? Guns? And let's not even get into how just a few years ago, every single talking head on my teevee told me no one could ever again be elected president without extensive foreign policy experience, but what might his views be there? It's insipid. Further, the third party possibilities proposed by the elites (as opposed to those who actually get votes, like Perot), tend to be Republicans who are . . . acting like Democrats. Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger are two prime examples: anywhere but NY and CA, these guys are Dems, and it's not like they're implementing a conservative agenda. But ultimately that means they wouldn't have any kind of national constituency. More after the jump...

The second reason it makes me crazy is a little more personal. You see, the people who support this kind of foolishness tend to be overwhelmingly like me, at least demographically speaking. In other words, the privileged: white, upper middle class, male, coastal. It's embarrassing! This is a group that largely wants everything to stay just as it is, except for maybe helping people in need a little better. To them, Edwards is a Commie and Hillary is too "polarizing," but all of the Republicans are insane. But fundamentally, they all agree with Democratic *positions*, they just don't like to be associated with the actual constituencies of the party (the great unwashed! /eye roll/). Despite being billed as some radical solution to all the "gridlock," what these people most want is for virtually nothing to change. Anyway, the whole thing is about filling air time on the 24-hour news channels, but seriously, if in 40 years I start pontificating about how we need to bypass the electorate by installing a billionaire "centrist" technocrat, somebody please kill me (or at least send me this post).
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"Looking at America" -- The America of George Bush



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Great -- and disturbing -- editorial in today's New York Times:
The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.
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Monday Morning Open Thread



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Well, it's the last day of the year. Start fresh tomorrow.

Seems like new polls are being released almost hourly from Iowa. Have to admit, I'm a little skeptical. The refusal rate for pollsters is pretty high. Given the deluge of calls to potential caucus goers from campaigns and pollsters, are people in that state still even answering their phones? Don't get me wrong, I love seeing the new polls. But, I'm having a hard time believing that the small poll of people in Iowa who will actually attend the caucuses on Thursday are being accurately sampled at this point. Although, if the Des Moines Register comes out with a new one, pay attention.

What do we need to know? Read the rest of this post...

Pakistan political commentator speaks out against "modern feudalism"



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The British press has been increasingly critical of the position-for-life politics of the Bhutto family. In France, Eva Joly (famous and brilliant anti-corruption judge) referred to Asif Zardari (Bhutto's husband) as "Mr. 40%" referring to his cut on deals passing through the office of his wife during her term in office. There is no shortage of talk about democracy within the family. However, there has been little sign of actual democracy including the recent transition from student to leader of the largest political party in Pakistan, without a democratic vote.

Pakistan political commentator Tariq Ali is much more critical, calling it a "medieval charade." More from Tariq Ali including Bhutto-Kennedy comparisons, after the jump.
A triumvirate consisting of her husband, Asif Zardari (one of the most venal and discredited politicians in the country and still facing corruption charges in three European courts) and two ciphers will run the party till Benazir's 19-year-old son, Bilawal, comes of age. He will then become chairperson-for-life and, no doubt, pass it on to his children. The fact that this is now official does not make it any less grotesque. The Pakistan People's Party is being treated as a family heirloom, a property to be disposed of at the will of its leader.

Nothing more, nothing less. Poor Pakistan. Poor People's Party supporters. Both deserve better than this disgusting, medieval charade.

Benazir's last decision was in the same autocratic mode as its predecessors, an approach that would cost her – tragically – her own life. Had she heeded the advice of some party leaders and not agreed to the Washington-brokered deal with Pervez Musharraf or, even later, decided to boycott his parliamentary election she might still have been alive. Her last gift to the country does not augur well for its future.

How can Western-backed politicians be taken seriously if they treat their party as a fiefdom and their supporters as serfs, while their courtiers abroad mouth sycophantic niceties concerning the young prince and his future.

That most of the PPP inner circle consists of spineless timeservers leading frustrated and melancholy lives is no excuse. All this could be transformed if inner-party democracy was implemented. There is a tiny layer of incorruptible and principled politicians inside the party, but they have been sidelined. Dynastic politics is a sign of weakness, not strength. Benazir was fond of comparing her family to the Kennedys, but chose to ignore that the Democratic Party, despite an addiction to big money, was not the instrument of any one family.
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It's déjà vu all over again and again and again and again



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Did we ever have political leaders that cared or am I just having flashbacks to a time that never existed? Whether we are talking about 79 million records or 162 million, that's a lot of lost records in 2007. I know this isn't easy but it's quite obvious that there are no plans in place to protect data or to protect consumers.
The loss or theft of personal data such as credit card and Social Security numbers soared to unprecedented levels in 2007, and the trend isn't expected to turn around anytime soon as hackers stay a step ahead of security and laptops disappear with sensitive information.

And while companies, government agencies, schools and other institutions are spending more to protect ever-increasing volumes of data with more sophisticated firewalls and encryption, the investment often is too little too late.
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Huckabee wants to take America "back to Christ"



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Funny, I don't recall America ever being in, on, around, or about Christ. There are lots of us Christians here in America. But taking America "back to Christ"? What does that mean? And where does that leave America's Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians? I suppose they're welcome to stay like guest-workers, or maybe we should call them "guest Christians." Huckabee is a creep. The man thinks that AIDS may be caused by casual contact - you know, like toilet seats and doorknobs and handshakes and sneezing, I suppose. We do know one way AIDS can be spread - through rape. But Huckabee doesn't have as much of a problem with rapists as he does Jews and gays and others whose only crime is to be different from Mike Huckabee, America's number one Christian. You'll recall that Huckabee recently told America that God wanted him to be number one in the polls. Then Huckabee used Jesus in a TV commercial. The man isn't running for president, he's running for preacher. And lest any Christians out there there be fooled by Huckabee's "aw shucks" Christianity, the man is a Southern Baptist. Southern Baptists think Catholics worship Satan - they quite literally think the Pope is an agent of Satan. Southern Baptists don't think Catholics are Christians. If Catholics, or any other non-Baptists out there, think Huckabee is a good Christian, I've got news for you. Huckabee's religion thinks you're not a good Christian - hell Huckabee's religion says you're not a Christian at all. So if you think he's going to be in favor of policies that push your Christian world view, you're in for a big surprise. The only world view he's pushing is one that doesn't include you.

Not to mention, has Huckabee been asked about this "Catholics worshipping a Satanic counterfeit" issue? I mean, the man keeps invoking Christ. I think we have a right to know just what his religious beliefs are. Read the rest of this post...

Huckabee rips Romney as dishonest



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Uh yeah.
Huckabee said Romney was "making up things not about just our records but making up things about his own in terms of things he saw, marches with Martin Luther King ... endorsements from the NRA that never happened."
Then again, Romney never helped free a convicted rapist who then went on to sexually assault and murder two more women, so I'm thinking they're about even. Read the rest of this post...

SC Republicans receive fake Romney Mormon "holiday" card



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It's actually kind of fun to watch the Republicans use their dirty tricks against themselves. It's also a reminder of what we'd better be ready for when the general election comes around. And reader Califlander points out this comedy gold in the article:
Those tactics backfire, said Warren Tompkins, a political consultant who ran George Bush's 2000 campaign in South Carolina and now is Romney's top consultant in the state. "Anything this outrageous and childish and nonsensical would have a significant fallout on whoever did it and on whose behalf it was done," Tompkins said.
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Insurance company braces for costlier future



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What would the second largest insurance company know anyway? They're only a business that pays out (in theory, at least) after natural disasters.
There were 950 natural catastrophes in 2007 compared with 850 in 2006, the highest number since the group started compiling its closely watched annual report in 1974.

The total cost of disasters in 2007 was 75 billion dollars (51.5 billion euros), while the bill for 2006 was 50 billion dollars.
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AP analyzes Mitt's "candor gap"



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In the real world, one with a "candor gap" is usually called a liar:
As a presidential contender, Mitt Romney has the looks, the money and the campaign machine. He also has something of a candor gap.
"Something of a candor gap." That's just classic. More after the break.

Seems the AP has figured out that Mitt will say anything -- even if what Mitt says doesn't match reality:
When confronted with questions that might conflict with his message of the day or political record, the Republican candidate has shown a tendency to bob and weave or simply dismiss history. He has done so all year, providing an easy target for his opponents.

''If you aren't being honest in obtaining the job, can we trust you if you get the job?'' Romney rival Mike Huckabee asked on Sunday during an appearance on NBC's ''Meet the Press.''
If you aren't being honest, you are a liar. The Associated Press and Huckabee won't use the L-word, but clearly both think Mitt's been lying. Now, Mitt is lying. He just figured no one would call him on it.
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Why does Arlen Specter want to help terrorists?



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Isn't that how the line went before? What will the right wing media and the White House say? Oh right, members of both political parties have done visits to Syria. It's happened on multiple occasions, no less. Read the rest of this post...

Romney team approved Planned Parenthood loan



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His liberal record went right up until his final days in office as governor. Despite what he has said since leaving office, he was always there, ready to help out to keep abortions safe and legal. His new claim is that he would have blocked it if he had the chance. Of course, Mitt. Of course you would have done that. If only the track record didn't get in the way of facts. Why do facts always have to get in the way of a good story?

More hypocrisy from Mitt, after the jump.
Former governor Mitt Romney's economic development agency granted initial approval to a tax-exempt bond last year for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Worcester that will provide abortions, just two months before he left office and began highlighting his antiabortion position as a presidential candidate.
more stories like this

Asked about the $5 million financial deal yesterday, the Romney campaign said the former governor was not aware it was under consideration when Planned Parenthood won preliminary approval in November 2006.

Romney repeatedly used the power of his office while governor to advance socially conservative positions, including restricting stem cell research, pushing abstinence-only sex education in schools, and vetoing a bill to increase access to emergency contraception in hospitals.

In the case of the abortion clinic funding deal, the Republican candidate's spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney would have attempted to block it - if he had known about it.

"Mitt Romney is prolife," Fehrnstrom said. "He did not know about this loan. It was made by an agency that does not report to the governor. If it did, he would have told them not to do it."

In additon to providing abortion services, the 10,000-square-foot Planned Parenthood clinic planned for Worcester will offer Plan B emergency contraception, also known as the "morning after pill," which also is opposed by antiabortion advocates.

Jeffrey M. Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University, said he was surprised that Romney and his aides did not catch such a politically sensitive financial deal making its way through his economic development agency. Now, Berry said, the campaign will be put in the position of defending Romney at a time when he is heading into the most critical days of his candidacy.

"It is unusual that his people at the agency did not find a reason not to fund Planned Parenthood," Berry said. "His administration was clearly focused on his run for the presidency and making sure there was no embarrassment like this. It was an administration that was pretty efficient getting everyone operating on the same page and avoiding scandal."
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The Sunday before the Iowa Caucuses Talk Shows Open Thread



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It's a presidential candidates bonanza on the talk shows this weekend. You get Clinton, McCain, Edwards, Huckabee, Obama, Dodd, Biden and Thompson (twice, that's the most work he's done so far). Don't be too disappointed, but there are no Mitt and no Rudy sightings on any of the shows today. News will be made. The question is how ugly it gets on either side. So far, the GOPers are really the vicious ones, which is so much more fun.

Then, to top off the day, CNN's Late Edition has five Republicans [the failed presidential canidate Steve Forbes; one current Senator: Lindsey Graham (SC); three former Senators: William Cohen (ME), Tim Hutchinson (AR) and Jim Talent (MO);] and just one Democrat, a very conservative one, of course: former Georgis Senator Sam Nunn. What's that all about, Wolf? We're sure to get a balanced perspective on the world from that crew. It's so Fox News.

The full lineup is after the break.
In two weeks, many of these guests will be former presidential candidates:
ABC's "This Week" — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz.

___

CBS' "Face the Nation" — Former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.

___

NBC's "Meet the Press" — Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

___

CNN's "Late Edition" — Former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.; Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Joe Biden, D-Del.; former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; former Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., and Jim Talent, R-Mo.; former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

"Fox News Sunday" _ Thompson.
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Failed CEOs did well in 2007, 2008 looks promising



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Considering the failures in the banking and real estate sectors, 2008 might cough up a few more lottery-like payouts. What stands out is the effort to spin away the massive numbers and distance them from the word "severance." Call it whatever you want, but when someone such as Nardelli of Home Depot walks away with $209 million after being a failure is amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Of course, take a look at O'Neil of Merrill Lynch. They still have yet to reach the bottom of write-downs, already in the billions, and yet he was given a comfortable $159 million. If these people want to dissect the names (severance or stock or whatever) to make some committee feel better and avoid that nasty "severance" word in public, they must think that people are stupid and maybe they're right. Why did O'Neil even receive so many shares of ML stock that is part of his compensation plan? Because he had record numbers, based on fluff. You know, the junk that they are writing down which has forced the company to beg for billions in foreign investment. To untie the two is ridiculous. Merrill has had to write down this rubbish, though O'Neil only has to write down his signature for his new mansion.
A list of jumbo payouts and more after the jump.

What stands out to me is that there is no link between honest performance and payout. Many of these people were in the twilight of their career or can at least walk away and retire with these packages. What is the incentive to do the right thing? If you can find it, help me out because I can't see it. Someone like O'Neil can just say "hey, that business just didn't go well" and that is that. (It will be interesting to see if he gets dragged in on any of the lawsuits that are flying around.) These people are still in the same social circles with all of the trimmings. No shame or threat of paying back stock based on performance, that was all junk. They go to the same country clubs, the same yacht clubs, same season tickets to the opera, sitting on other corporate boards and probably now have more time to spend with their alma mater. Lucky them.

What's the downside here? Oh sure, they probably don't like the hits to their ego in such a public forum but other than that, there's little change. They can rely on a friendly media who provides some cover by telling us all that "that mega payout is not really severance, it's what was owed." Are they serious? Companies will continue to separate the links between all of this money as long as they can get away with it. Just as they re-package bad debt and sold it, they are re-packaging severance and calling it something else.

A large part of this issue is because we have executive payouts thrown in our face day after day. At the same time, we look at our own benefits shrink and our own pay not keeping up with the growth at the top. People in the boardrooms obviously have a lot of responsibility and yes, they can be fired quickly due to their high profile. But of course, people below aren't exactly sitting on solid ground either. Just what does it take to force this dysfunctional system to change?

The system that we are creating in the US is what I have seen so many times in the developing world, where the divide between rich and poor and enormous and the middle class is an afterthought due to it's small size. Fortunately our own middle class is larger though we can't continue to batter the middle class if we expect to have a properly functioning society. Rewarding someone for great work makes all the sense in the world. Rewarding someone for rubbish is rubbish. It's time to take a step back and modernize.
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Becoming a Member of Parliament



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The 3rd season of Blackadder was one of the best, with this episode being one of the best of that season. If you enjoy this (part 2/4) keep clicking to see the rest. The election day report in 3/4 is excellent. What British programs lacked in production polish (as you find with American TV shows) they outdid themselves with quality writing and great actors. Read the rest of this post...

Washington Post - Managed by slightly trained chimpanzees?



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Just when my stomach was recovering from the last Bush "legacy" article (note the theme) the Post churns out their own legacy story. This time, we are to believe that Bush really cares about global warming. Moreover, he "bristles" when he hears that people like us think he doesn't care. Riiiigggghhhtttt. Because he has been such a leader in this area, I suppose. He likes to talk so much about action, how about a bit of serious action on climate change?

The only people enthusiastic about Bush's "new" position on global warming has been the media and possibly his mother. Maybe Laura. He has made no serious changes at all and continues to only give lip service to the issue. So what if he said in Bali he would start to negotiate on a plan? Big deal since he will be gone before the deal is even close to being finished. Bush still refuses to accept any firm numbers and did what he does with everything difficult, which is to push it out to the next president. Only fools like the Washington Post could eat this up. And to think that they are losing money and readers. Gosh, go figure.
After the jump, more talk of legacy and the WaPo eats it up with a spoon.
Bush's attention comes at a time when he and top advisers feel better about his presidency, confident they have turned a corner after two years of political setbacks and can now focus on reformulating his legacy. Heading into his final year, Bush has turned to big, bracing challenges abroad, most notably finding Middle East peace and forging a consensus on climate change. If global warming turns out to be a defining issue of this generation, advisers said, Bush does not want to be remembered as a roadblock.

"As you draw toward the end of an eight-year term, it's human nature to try to look forward and then backward -- look into the future and then back at the past and think about how it looks," said a former Bush adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "You could conclude, as this administration has, that you want to be seen ultimately as having evolved and opened some doors and maybe started a glide path to the next administration."
Ahhh, the good old legacy. A legacy of trashing the environment for years and then talk of change at the end, but without any real change. Only the new Washington Post could fall for such silly nonsense. Bush wants to have it both ways and the friendly scribes from the Post comply. Would a junior high reporter even fall for this?

When the management team at the Post scratch their heads and wonder why their numbers are collapsing, they ought to be looking at boot-licking articles like this. If Bush wants to work on his legacy, fine, that's his business. There's no need to confuse a real story with an image makeover by political consultants. That's what this article is all about.
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Giuliani's business fortune looks worse every day



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It's always sickened me that Giuliani has made so much money from poor cities around the world, charging outrageous consulting fees for what they already know. (Yes, this doesn't say much about the leadership of those cities, but since when have they set the standard?) The Times has an interesting article today on his support for Purdue Pharma and their product OxyContin. Besides working for former cocaine smugglers and environment haters, Giuliani did very well for himself by helping a company that pleaded guilty to felony charges for misbranding a pharmaceutical product that is connected to abuse and hundreds of deaths.

And this is what some consider moral leadership? With health care being a leading issue in 2008, would Americans really trust Giuliani considering this history? Giuliani is a guy who likes center his campaign around fear and yes, I'd be scared as hell to have him involved with the health care system in America. We all ought to be afraid of his record, which is not pretty. Read the rest of this post...

GOP race turning vicious. Keep it up, guys.



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Democratic candidates are usually eviscerating each other at this stage of the nomination process. That may still happen. But for now, the leading Republicans are in a feeding frenzy -- and they are feeding on each other. It started earlier this week when McCain said Mitt was in a "tailspin." Now Huckabee's joining in and Mitt's bearing the brunt. You really get the sense that Huckabee and McCain despise the phony Mitt as much, if not more, than we do:
In the last weekend before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican presidential candidates are bloodying the field with a blizzard of negative attacks, showing the strains of a wide-open and unpredictable race.

Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain are involved in what amounts to an elaborate pool-hall strategy that relies heavily on bank shots to win as their campaigns struggle for primacy both here and in New Hampshire.

Mr. Huckabee, after stumbling Friday over several statements about Pakistan, unloaded today on Mr. Romney.

“If a person is dishonest in his approach to get the job, do you believe he will be honest in telling you the truth when he does gets the job?” Mr. Huckabee said at a campaign stop in Osceola, Iowa.
This is really getting good and ugly. Mitt might actually have his hair knocked out of place -- or he may have to get those five tough guy sons of his into some real hand-to-hand combat after all. There's more after the break. Enjoy.

The GOPers really are in attack mode. So fun to watch:

And in an assist to Mr. McCain _ Mr. Huckabee would love for Mr. McCain to block Mr. Romney from winning in New Hampshire _ Mr. Huckabee added that he was escalating his attacks on Mr. Romney in part because Mr. Romney had the nerve to disparage Mr. McCain, “an American hero.”

“It is enough to attack me, but now to attack John McCain, it is like Mitt doesn’t have anything to stand on except to stand against, and I am saying enough is enough,” Mr. Huckabee declared.

In a bit of political jujitsu, Mr. Huckabee put out a commercial to that effect, saying of negative campaigning: “enough is enough” even as he slammed Mr. Romney. He also put out a spot highlighting Mr. Romney’s reversal of positions on abortion.

By contrast, the Democratic candidates were engaged in more polite campaigning, as Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Senator John Edwards fanned out across Iowa with last-minute appeals to turn out supports on caucus night this Thursday.

The Republican candidates are still bleeding over the Romney-McCain ad wars that flared Friday and released a barrage of new ads today. Mr. Romney lobbed an ad portraying Mr. McCain as soft on immigration, while Mr. McCain fired back with one quoting the Concord Monitor.

The strategy here is to shove Mr. Romney deeper into the ditch, allowing Mr. Huckabee to win Iowa and Mr. McCain to win New Hampshire. But whether Iowans will buy the negative force with which these three, but especially Mr. Huckabee, are confronting each other is unclear.
Mitt in a ditch is such a great visual. Do you think the guy has every really gotten his hands dirty?
Read the rest of this post...

For those wondering why Comcast is so expensive



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And this is who some in Washington want to protect. Thanks for making the case on why we need competition. The family of Comcast founder Roberts will continue to receive his salary ($1.8 million/year) for five years after he dies. They already sit on the board of directors but that is just not enough. His wife will receive health and "welfare" benefits for life. Hmmm, I somehow can't recall my mother receiving anything like that after my father died. Like millions of Americans, she had to find her own insurance since the old plan was canceled after my father died. She also lost his pension money, like many American spouses.

Tell me again why this company is coddled? I don't know a single person outside of greedy politicians who like Comcast. They offer terrible service at high prices because politicians are desperate for campaign contributions. One could argue that sure, Roberts founded the company and can do as he pleases. Perhaps, if Comcast remained a private company, but this is a publicly traded business, not a personal empire. I didn't think I could find Comcast any more despicable, but they managed to do it yet again. Read the rest of this post...

The unfinished, almost forgotten war in Afghanistan could get even worse because of the Pakistan crisis



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Bush and his crew are trying to get a handle on the situation in Pakistan and how it affects Afghanistan. If Bush had focused on Afghanistan in 2002 instead of launching the war in Iraq, he might have a handle on the situation. Reading the article in today's Washington Post by Thomas Ricks and Robin Wright, it's hard not to think that the failure to effectively fight the war in Afghanistan led, at least in part, to today's crisis. And, it's hard not to factor in that the Iraq war was the major distraction that undermined the operations in Afghanistan. It's all related:
U.S. officials fear that a renewed campaign by Islamic militants aimed at the Pakistani government, and based along the border with Afghanistan, would complicate U.S. policy in the region by effectively merging the six-year-old war in Afghanistan with Pakistan's growing turbulence.

"The fates of Afghanistan and Pakistan are inextricably tied," said J. Alexander Thier, a former United Nations official in Afghanistan who is now at the U.S. Institute for Peace.
A.J. Rossmiller is, of course, my foreign policy guru, but I find Ricks (who wrote Fiasco) and Wright are very smart, insightful foreign policy reporters. There's more after the break, but the entire piece is worth a read.

U.S. military officers and other defense experts do not anticipate an immediate impact on U.S. operations in Afghanistan. But they are concerned that continued instability eventually will spill over and intensify the fighting in Afghanistan, which has spiked in recent months as the Taliban has strengthened and expanded its operations.

Unrest in Pakistan and increasing fuel prices have already boosted the cost of food in Afghanistan, making it more likely that hungry Afghans will be lured by payments from the Taliban to participate in attacks, a U.S. Army officer in Afghanistan said.

In a secure videoconference yesterday linking officials in Washington, Islamabad and Crawford, Tex., Bush received briefings from CIA Director Michael V. Hayden and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson, said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe. Bush then discussed Bhutto's assassination and U.S. efforts to stabilize Pakistan with his top foreign policy advisers, including Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, as well as Adm. William J. Fallon of Central Command and Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
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Saturday Morning Open Thread



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Good morning.

Saw the "Kite Runner" last night. It's pretty close to the book...and I loved that book. Very intense. I know it's fiction, but it does give some insight into how people were impacted first by the Russian, then the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Five days til the Iowa caucuses. Weather still looks good. Cold, but good.

Have at it. Read the rest of this post...

Just how bad is it on Wall Street?



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Watch this clip from CNBC and you'll have a better idea. Citi has more bad news, with rumors of 5-10% of the workforce being cut (10% is roughly 32,000 jobs!) and Bank of America won't deny reports of trimming the budget by removing soup, yes soup, from the cafeteria. They also have not denied the report that says they are no longer providing soap in their bathrooms. Yeesh. As if you didn't have to be cautious enough when shaking their hands, now this.

Equally shocking is CNBC's comments about how these moves only hurt the little guy. If true, this means that the greedy fools who took BoA into the can will be OK (no cuts there!) but the regular workers are all being asked to sacrifice. Nice. It's interesting to note that only a short time ago it was US companies looking to buy into China and today, it's China buying into the US. Batten down the hatches...rough seas ahead. Read the rest of this post...

What year is this?



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While the US debates the issue of creationism, the UK is right up there having an important debate about the monarchy and who should ascend to the throne. Good grief, is this 1507 or 2007? Why would anyone even want a monarchy today in a modern democracy? They're the most useless bunch out there.
More than half of 1,000 people polled said they would prefer the second-in-line to be the next to take the throne.
More people who actually like royalty, including talk of a "commoner" after the jump.

Prince William's popularity is greatest among the younger generation, with 70 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds favouring him as the next king, compared to just 47 percent of 55- to 64-year-olds.

The groundswell of support appears to have been helped by his rekindled romance with commoner Kate Middleton.
Thank goodness reaching out to a "commoner" is relevant. Read the rest of this post...

More weakness in housing report



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What's worse between a 9% drop and a 12 year low for new homes? Either way, the Bush/GOP economy continues to falter and we're all stuck with the lousy results. How many times have we heard "record low" about another failed GOP economic policy in recent months? Read the rest of this post...

I'm Mike Huckabee?



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"Dammit! Who put a question mark on the prompter? How many times do I have to tell you that he will read anything put on that prompter!"
Huckabee said 660 Pakistanis entered the country illegally last year. When asked by a reporter the source for that statistic, Huckabee appeared unsure, saying, "Those are numbers that I got today from a briefing, and I believe they are CIA and immigration numbers." The Huckabee campaign later said the figure came from a March 2006 report by The Denver Post. But the Border Patrol told CNN on Friday that it apprehended only "a handful" of illegal immigrants from Pakistan in 2007.
Ladies and gentlemen, your Republican Iowa front-runner, Mike "Ron Burgandy" Huckabee!

You stay classy, Little Rock.

Remember way back when, how we decided nobody without extensive experience in (or at least understanding of) foreign affairs could ever be elected president? Riiiiiight . . . Read the rest of this post...

Cliff's Corner



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The Week That Was 12/28/2007

Another week. More preposterousness to report.

This week we will have to be quite brief, but I do come bearing gifts. The brevity is due to the fact that your humble blogger, who has now inhabited this Corner for exactly two years (that's right, an anniversary of sorts!), also happens to be enjoying a birthday today.

I use the term "enjoying" loosely, for as I become firmly entrenched in my mid to late 30s, well, we all know what can happen. In case, you don't, observe the dual visages of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in their mid thirties:


So any day now I could have that male pattern kick in and suddenly feel the urge to purge the world of brown people. It is, to be sure, a dangerous age.

I joke of course. I am off to see what my parents feel like spending on me.

In the meantime, enjoy this brilliant video by one of my bloggers and AMERICAblog commenter, the ingenius Gottalaff. She is a comedy writer by trade, so I am sure you will find this video compilation as hilarious as I did. Oh, and one more thing, my blog, no Ablog powerhouse to be sure, just passed the 1 million mark. Not too shabby for 10+ month's time. So come on by and say hello. We'll leave the doors unlocked and the windows open!

Happy New Year all!

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If Al Qaeda really was behind Bhutto's assassination, then Bush has some explaining to do



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A new intercept purportedly shows Al Qaeda admitting they were behind Bhutto's killing. If this is true, and let's face it, I wouldn't put it past the Pakistani government to start pointing fingers elsewhere, then Bush needs to explain to the American people why he's been ignoring Al Qaeda since 2003? Invading Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, and in fact, Bush closed the CIA shop in charge of searching for Osama in 2003. Bush also moved lots of military assets from Afghanistan to Iraq, assets that were looking for Al Qaeda and Osama. Bush has ignored Al Qaeda - uh, the folks who killed 3000 Americans, remember them? - since 2003 and no one has held him accountable. What's worse, we've let him (and Giuliani and others) crow about how Democrats are the ones who don't understand the threat from Al Qaeda.

Hello, Democrats... anyone home? Read the rest of this post...

One of the 50 most loathsome people in America: YOU



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You are one of the 50 most loathsome people in America:
Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump.
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Bush to veto pay raise for the troops. Merry Christmas!



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Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bush announced today that he's going to veto the Defense Authorization bill. This is legislation that's already passed Congress, and that the administration had no problem with. Now, suddenly, Bush is against it and is going to veto it, threatening pay raises for the troops and more.

Part of what troubled Bush about the legislation is that it would permit US troops to seek compensation for having been tortured by Saddam during the first Gulf War.
The provision that is causing problems would have allowed the victims of the executed Iraqi dictator Saddam to seek compensation in court, Democrats said. The Iraqi government has warned that former U.S. prisoners of war from the first Gulf War might cite this legislation in an attempt to get money from the Iraqi government's reported $25 billion in assets now held in U.S. banks, they say.
Nice. Now who hates the troops? (And how much do you want to bet that the Democrats will fail to capitalize on this issue?) How the Democrats brought this on themselves, after the jump...

Putting aside for a moment how unprofessional it is to announce a veto of legislation AFTER it's passed, rather than objecting to it prior to its passage, I think something more is up here. Bush is struggling to be relevant, so he needs to keep vetoing legislation, anything he can get his hands on, to show how "strong" he is. And all the better that it's a defense bill. The Democrats are scared to death of anything dealing with "defense," so the more Bush blusters, the more they cringe and fall back. By creating an issue out of nothing, and nowhere, Bush will again get the Dems to "cave" and will prove that not only is he "strong" on defense, but they're "weak" on defense - even though this is a non-issue. This is the legacy of the Dems constantly caving on every issue, especially defense issues. If you refuse to fight back, don't be surprised that the bully continues to find new ways to kick sand in your face.
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Democratic Dead heat in Iowa



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There have been several new Iowa polls released this week -- and expect a couple more. On the Democratic side, both the LA Times/Bloomberg and Strategic Vision, a Republican polling firm, show dead heats. (More on the polls after the break)

One thing I'm intrigued by is sample for these polls. In 2004, approximately 120,000 Iowa Democrats attended the caucus. Yeah, that's all. From the beginning of September, according to Pollster.com, there have been approximately 40 polls conducted in Iowa. Adding the sample pools, almost 23,000 Iowans have been polled as likely caucus goers on the Democratic side -- or almost 1/5 of the actual amount of caucus goers have been polled. That's quite amazing, if, in fact, it proves to be true. This has got to be the most oversampled, over studied pool of 120,000+ voters in history. More after the jump...

LA Times:
In Iowa, which opens the 2008 presidential voting with its Jan. 3 caucuses, the poll found Sen. Obama of Illinois, Sen. Clinton of New York and former Sen. Edwards of North Carolina in a statistical three-way tie.

But other poll findings suggest Clinton might gain stature in both states if Democrats' concern about world affairs increases after Thursday's assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The poll shows that Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire consider Clinton far better equipped than her rivals to safeguard national security -- as do Democrats around the country.
Politico on the Strategic Vision poll:
John Edwards appears to have risen to a new highpoint in Iowa, marking an upward trend over the past two weeks that places him in a statistical tie with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

A new Strategic Vision poll released Friday finds that Edwards has the support of 28 percent of likely Democratic cacucusgoers, his best standing in Iowa over the past six months. Edwards now trails Clinton by only one point and Obama by two points, well within the poll’s margin of error of 4.5 percent.

Today’s survey confirms a string of polls in the past two weeks - another by Strategic Vision as well as recent polls by CNN and InsiderAdvantage. All demonstrate a steady ascension by Edwards, while Clinton and Obama appear to have stabilized.
Read the rest of this post...

"We did better when (Bill) Clinton was in than we did with Bush."



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Words from a registered Republican. With new polls pointing towards the economy and health care as the key issues for 2008, the GOP is in trouble. Americans trust the Democrats more than the Republicans on these issues. The question now, is which Democrat do we believe will be the strongest candidate for these issues?
Six out of 10 people polled said they believe it is at least somewhat likely that the U.S. economy will enter a recession next year. Slightly more — 64 percent — said they worried about a major unexpected medical expense, and 55 percent worried that the value of their stocks and retirement investments would drop.
More on the middle class concerns, after the jump.

Forty-four percent said they were concerned that the value of their homes would decrease during the next six months. That sentiment was especially strong in the mountain states.

"Middle class America is being chipped away at," said Edward Lemieux, a 57-year-old pattern maker from North Smithfield, R.I., who plans to support Obama for president.

His view is influenced by the flight of manufacturing jobs from his state, by the "For Sale" signs that outnumber the "Sold" signs on neighborhood lawns and by his mother's health care needs.

"We're all of a sudden becoming a country of rich and poor," he said. "The middle class is eroding."
Read the rest of this post...

More Bhutto fallout



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The two threads of analysis from Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan yesterday are, generally, the geopolitical impact and the effects (if any) on the US primaries. Some commentators are lamenting the latter; I think it's a natural and unavoidable response, especially because it's not like a unilateral refusal to engage in politics following tragedy has served Dems very well in the past.

That said, I continue to think that the domestic political impact of this event will be minimal. Given how little people pay attention to the specifics of international events, especially in countries that aren't named Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran, any interpretation of this is likely to be either (1) meta (i.e. focused on broad issues of judgment or crisis-handling or whatever), or (2) by foreign policy nerds. The meta angle tends to have an impact when it's terrorism (see: bin Laden, 2004), but not much else -- does everybody remember the huge impact of the assassination of Indira Gandhi (India's prime minister) the week before the 1984 presidential election? I didn't think so. More after the jump...

The only way this really breaks into the primaries is if somebody really screws it up, and Huckabee is (rightfully) taking flak for being completely uninformed about the situation (or, more specifically, committing the sin of revealing his lack of knowledge), and then there's the flap over Obama advisor David Axelrod. He made a point yesterday that's absolutely true and worth discussing, that Iraq has taken our focus off of Pakistan and Afghanistan (and terrorism in general); unfortunately, he did it in a way that made it sound like he was, in part, blaming Hillary for Bhutto's death. Bad choice. Fortunately for Obama, only about 300 people have ever heard of Axelrod, and most of them live in D.C.

Which brings us to the actual foreign policy impact. Pakistan is most definitely in flux right now: Bhutto's party is in disarray, as she dominated it, and there's no certain successor; the other major "moderate" party has already decided to boycott the Jan. 8 elections (if they're even held then); and violence has erupted in various parts of the country. Ironically, Musharraf may solidify his hold on power by *keeping* the elections in January since both opposition parties will either boycott or be totally disorganized in the wake of these events, and he could claim a victory for democracy even as he decimates the parties that would likely have won a plurality in the elections.

It remains to be seen whether the international community will encourage Musharraf to postpone the elections, but for the moment there's been immediate reaction toward a domestic crack-down. Any smart leader knows when to loosen control a little to let emotions run their course, and Musharraf, whatever his other failings, isn't stupid. But on a broader level, it really is quite a setback for democracy, and as I said yesterday, a huge blow to US policy, which was bad to begin with and is now essentially eviscerated.
Read the rest of this post...

McCain on Mitt: He's in a tailspin. Mitt fights back with ads trashing McCain.



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The GOP campaign is getting really ugly in NH. Mitt Romney, clearly in some kind of panic mode, has been lashing out at all of them. Earlier this week, the Mittster was in New Hampshire trashing John McCain over taxes and immigration (because Mitt's so pure, you know).

McCain's response was pretty funny and pretty bitchy:
"I know something about tailspins, and it's pretty clear Mitt Romney is in one," McCain said in the statement. "It's disappointing that he would launch desperate, flailing, and false attacks in an attempt to maintain relevance. As the Union Leader said today, New Hampshire voters just aren't buying his act, and these latest attacks won't help him."
More after the jump... Mitt's one of those guys who always got what he wanted. And, he wants to be President now and can't believe lowlifes like McCain and Huckabee are getting in his way. He's fighting back against McCain with a new negative ad:
Mitt Romney takes GOP presidential rival John McCain to task on taxes and immigration in a new advertising push in New Hampshire as he seeks to fend off the Arizona senator's challenge.

"John McCain, an honorable man. But is he the right Republican for the future?" an announcer asks in the ad that starts airing Friday in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first presidential primary on Jan. 8. "McCain opposes repeal of the death tax. And voted against the Bush tax cuts - twice. McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently. Even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security."
Go Mitt. And, back to you Senator McCain.
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Friday Morning Open Thread



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Good morning.

Remember right before the 2004 elections when bin Laden released a tape aimed at American voters? Remember how that played right into the hands of George W. Bush? And, it sure helped keep the worse foreign policy president in history in office. That is the most recent precedent for a major national security event directly impacting American elections. And, we saw how that worked out -- not well. Lots of speculation already, but in six days (an eternity in politics) we'll see if or how the Bhutto assassination impacts this cycle.

Okay, what are you hearing? Read the rest of this post...

What better way to celebrate the Christmas season?



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Absolutely disgraceful. Last August I visited the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem where similar stories were mentioned. It was astonishing to hear about silly arguments that dragged on for centuries, even leaving the church roof in tatters for decades because the different religious orders (all Christian) could not agree on much of anything. If this is the best they can do, why bother?
Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests attacked each other with brooms and stones inside the Church of the Nativity as long-standing rivalries erupted in violence during holiday cleaning on Thursday.
A cleaning session that turned violent. In one of the holiest sites during the Christmas season. Are they serious? Read the rest of this post...

Citi, Merrill and JPMorgan to write down even more in Q4



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Bad debt from the subprime crash continues to be a moving target. Despite teams of expensive experts, this is like the Keystone Cops comes to Wall Street. It's hard to keep up with the downwardly revised numbers, but not to worry, these people are "experts" and know what they are doing.

Just because they change their write downs more often than they change their underwear, don't worry. Bush says the economy is jut fine and Wall Street keeps trying to tell us the same. It's just those doggone facts that keep getting in the way. Damned facts! Damn! Read the rest of this post...

Open thread



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Long day of news... Read the rest of this post...

Looking back at how the Pakistan situation developed



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A reader emailed to remind me what I wrote just three weeks ago:
Musharraf claims the declaration of a "state of emergency" in Pakistan -- which is for all intents and purposes an imposition of martial law -- is due to terrorist threat. This, by all credible accounts, is false. Musharraf is reacting to approaching elections, an impending supreme court decision on his role in the government, and the ascension of opposing political groups, highlighted by the return of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. [...] [T]he idea that this was some big, out-of-nowhere surprise is also totally false. Foreign policy observers have been worrying about this for a while.

Unfortunately, according to WaPo, there's literally no one at the wheel with this issue:
"The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office."
The article says "even in" the VP's office, of course, because that's where US foreign policy is run, so apparently it's the most important place to have experts.
More after the jump... If you thought it was bad that the US government had a "dramatic drop-off" in expertise three weeks ago, it's now a full-blown disaster. A few commenters were unhappy that I said the Bush administration deserves some blame for this deterioration, that the US has no responsibility for this kind of thing, but *we do.* And the Bush administration does. And nothing from today gives me any confidence that the next year will contain anything but continued foreign policy blunders.

And some -- many, perhaps -- will end in tragedy, however remote or disconnected from our direct foreign policy actions.
Read the rest of this post...

Bhutto and the US elections



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(NOTE FROM AJ: I said in my post earlier that I was skeptical about any impact this would have on the primaries, but I've been very impressed by how well the Edwards camp has responded to the unfolding events. In his initial statement, along with the appropriate and requisite lamentations, he reminded voters that he had dealt "firsthand" with Pakistan and had "meetings with" Bhutto and Musharraf. Bringing it to an entirely new level, though, Musharraf called him today, demonstrating a level of connection between Musharraf and Edwards that I, for one, was certainly unaware of. There's occasionally criticism of Edwards for having a thin resume on foreign affairs, but this reminds people that he's player on the world stage, which can only be a plus for him.)

Chris Cillizza of the Wash Post weighs in on how Bhutto's death may impact the US election:
While it's too soon to fully gauge the effects here of Bhutto's assassination, it could well work most to Giuliani's benefit by enabling him to thrust himself back into the daily political conversation after steadily losing ground to McCain and Huckabee. With his decision to all but skip Iowa and play only at the margins in the New Hampshire primary, Giuliani has watched as the campaign in its final stages has largely passed him by.

But, with the Bhutto's death and the broader implications of the fight against terrorism worldwide likely to dominate the coverage for the next day or two (at a minimum), Giuliani immediately becomes relevant again.

The assassination coincides with Giuliani's decision to directly invoke the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in a new commercial that is running on broadcast channels in New Hampshire and Florida as well on cable nationally.

The key line? "Islamic terrorists would make a terrible mistake if they would confuse our democracy with weakness."

Giuliani must hope that the Bhutto assassination will remind voters that terrorists can strike anywhere, any time, and that with his experience as mayor of New York at the time of the 9-11 attack, he would be best qualified among all the presidential candidates to navigate those dangerous waters.
Read the rest of this post...

World markets nervous after Bhutto assassination



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Oil was already high and facing bad economic news on Thursday, so it is very likely to increase once again. Investors are eager to find safe havens for the time being as they see what happens in the nuclear armed Pakistan. All of this is happening on top of an already faltering economy and softening banking industry. Read the rest of this post...

Candidates on Bhutto assassination



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Statements from the big three Dems and quick-hit commentary:

Obama: "I am shocked and saddened by the death of Benazir Bhutto in this terrorist atrocity. She was a respected and resilient advocate for the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people. We join with them in mourning her loss and stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world."
- Pretty tame, straightforward. He'll likely frame this as an issue demonstrating the importance of judgment in foreign policy, along the lines of his current themes.

Clinton, Edwards, Dodd and Biden after the jump...

Clinton: "I am profoundly saddened and outraged by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a leader of tremendous political and personal courage. I came to know Mrs. Bhutto over many years, during her tenures as Prime Minister and during her years in exile. [...] Let us pray that her legacy will be a brighter, more hopeful future for the people she loved and the country she served."
- I expected something a little more impassioned, as she apparently knew Bhutto pretty well, but she too hits the important notes. She'll frame this as demonstrating the importance of experience.

Edwards: "Benazir Bhutto was a brave and historic leader for Pakistan. Her assassination is a sad and solemn event, and our hearts go out to her family and to the Pakistani people . . . I have seen firsthand in Pakistan, and in meetings with Prime Minister Bhutto and President Musharraf, the instability of the country and the complexity of the challenges they face. At this critical moment, America must convey both strength and principle."
- This is a pretty savvy statement from Edwards, as it includes the appropriate mentions of sorrow but also includes his "firsthand" experience with Pakistan including "meetings with" Bhutto and Musharraf. A gentle reminder that his foreign policy resume perhaps isn't quite so thin as sometimes alleged.

Dodd and Biden both had solid statements as well, with the only outlier being Richardson, who called for Musharraf to step down. That is, of course, a terrible idea -- the last thing you want is a leaderless nuclear nation in a time of crisis during the lead up to likely-postponed elections. But everybody else handled this well.

A final note: the people on my teevee are already telling me this will help Hillary and Giuliani. I think that's totally ridiculous, and it's time we stop assuming that any crisis benefits the (perceived) most hawkish candidates. Plus, as I said earlier today, ultimately I'm pretty skeptical about the impact of this on the primaries. But we'll see.
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Initial policy implications of Bhutto assassination



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The first thing to say about Bhutto's assassination is that any kind of rush to judgment, especially along the lines of impending doom, is probably imprudent.

In terms of policy implications, this is reflective of a massive US foreign policy blunder, in that the Bush administration, in a monumentally stupid move, shoved Bhutto down the throat of Musharraf (and the rest of Pakistan) as a savior, despite her lack of broad popular support and general reputation as corrupt. In making someone who didn't necessarily have the ability to deliver the savior for democracy in Pakistan, we simultaneously set up our own policy to fail and offered Musharraf a return to (or continued) total power in the event that our little power-sharing arrangement didn't work. We also -- though not only us -- painted a big fat target on her back. Really a debacle all the way around.

I'm not sure how much today's tragedy can be pinned on Musharraf, or even "the military" in general, other than to the extent that some military figures are working with al Qaeda and/or other extremist elements in Pakistan. There have been attacks on several of the major candidates running for office in Pakistan over the past few months, and it was really only a matter of time before one succeeded. It does appear evident that Musharraf has not helped create the proper security environment, though, obviously.

On the other hand, I'm not entirely convinced this will have as large of an impact as many might initially think. I'm curious to see how it plays out, but rarely does one lose money betting on a quick show of power followed by domestic clampdown followed by renewed centralized authority in a military dictatorship in crisis.

Just initial impressions, though; I'll have more as this develops. Tragic, disastrous, sad . . . Read the rest of this post...

"It is almost impossible to imagine how much turmoil this is going to cause within Pakistan"



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Sky News:
The Russian foreign ministry said it feared the country could descend into terrorism or civil war....

British political campaigner Mohammed Shafiq said: "This has destroyed any chance of election in Pakistan. It will cause more friction and more problems."

Sky's Asia correspondent Alex Crawford said: "It is almost impossible to imagine how much turmoil this is going to cause within Pakistan. There is going to be team of people who will want to avenge her death. There will be team of people who want to capitalise on the turbulence after her death."
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Bhutto assassinated 12 days before elections. Was "shot at close range"



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Details continue to emerge from the Bhutto assassination. From the Washington Post:
Bhutto, 54, was shot at close range as she was leaving the rally in this garrison city south of Islamabad, aides said. Immediately after the shooting, a suicide bomber detonated explosives near Bhutto's car, killing at least 15 other people.

Bhutto was rushed to a hospital with extensive wounds to her torso, her supporters said. Shortly after she arrived at the hospital, an official came out of the building and told a crowd of supporters Bhutto was dead.
Analysis of the impact of the assassination is also starting. I'm no foreign policy expert, but let's just say, it's pretty clear this isn't good for Pakistan's future:
Bhutto's death is a devastating development, coming 12 days before Pakistanis are set to vote in national parliamentary elections already marked by enormous political turmoil. President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in November -- a move which he said was to combat terrorism, but which was widely perceived as an effort to stave off legal challenges to his authority. U.S. military officials said last week that the terrorist group al-Qaeda increasingly is focusing its efforts in Pakistan.
Keep in mind, Pakistan is allegedly our stalwart ally in the war against terror and the fight for democracy. Read the rest of this post...

BREAKING: Benazir Bhutto is dead from attack



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NBC, CNN and Fox News are reporting that Bhutto was killed in the attack earlier today.

Updated Reuters:
Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was killed in a gun and bomb attack after a rally in the city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, her party said.

"She has been martyred," said party offical Rehman Malik.
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Pakistan's Bhutto wounded in attack at rally



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Initial reports indicated Benazir Bhutto was safe following a suicide bomb attack killed several of her supporters.

However, CNN and other news outlets are now reporting that Bhutto was injured and is undergoing surgery. Reuters:
Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was wounded in a gun and suicide bomb attack after an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi, a party security official and police said.

"She is injured," said party security official Rehman Malik. She had been taken to hospital.
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Thursday Morning Open Thread



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One week til the Iowa caucuses. Finally.

But, seriously, how can anyone focus on politics or other pending world issues when a tiger escaped from the San Francisco zoo? The Today Show is now having an in-depth -- and breathless -- discussion about whether zoos are safe. In the history of zoos in the U.S., this is apparently the first time any visitor was killed by an animal at a zoo. No matter. It is THE issue of our time: are zoos safe? Everyone wants to know.

Still one week to go til the Iowa caucuses. Reporters are already checking the weather reports because so many factors can impact turnout. (It looks good, cold but no snow or ice, according to Weather.com.)

Let's start threading the news. Read the rest of this post...

Home price decline sets new record



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The last time the housing market suffered such a decline was April 1991 during Bush I. A real bunch of economic experts we have in the GOP. If the Democrats have any backbone at all (I know, I know) they will ram this down the throats of the GOP and remind voters of the disastrous economic performances during Republican administrations.
Home prices in the United States fell in October for the 10th consecutive month, declining a record 6.7 percent compared with a year ago, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index.

“No matter how you look at these data, it is obvious that the current state of the single-family housing market remains grim,” said Robert Shiller, who helped create the index, in a statement Wednesday.
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Britain says "enough"



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Gordon Brown looks worse every week. His attempt to extend the so-called anti-terror laws has received a very cool reception by MPs. How much longer can Brown survive before he is shoved out of office?
Gordon Brown's hopes of securing a parliamentary majority for his plans to extend the time terrorist suspects can be detained without charge have been dealt a severe blow by a survey of Commons opinion showing only a third of MPs back tougher laws.

The survey also reveals the appetite for further anti-terror legislation among Brown's own MPs is faltering, with 48% of Labour MPs agreeing there has been too much anti-terror legislation.
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Hoover planned for mass arrests



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The proud tradition lives on. (Yeah the story was from a few days ago, but still a wee bit relevant.) Read the rest of this post...

Key moments in modern American history, The Bush Years



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The year 2000 delivered many new possibilities to friends of the GOP. A full food trough was just sitting there and many were puzzled, not quite sure what to do.

After the jump, a happy bunch who understood the full potential of a permanent GOP majority.

Mmmmmm, Iraq...oil, reconstruction contracts and security forces. Yummmmm. Post Katrina rebuilding. Delicious. Tax cuts for the richest Americans and send the bill to the middle class. You have what? No regulations for financial markets? Great! Just keep dishing out favors to millionaire farmers and throw in a splash of a dismantled consumer protection and we'll be set, for now.
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Subprime fiasco fallout - everyone suing everyone



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Wouldn't it have been easier if "leaders" bothered to provide some reasonable ground rules? Obviously when people want to push the limits, they're going to find a way to do what they want to do. However, I reject the arguments that claim we could not have done anything and that "the market" will ultimately solve such excesses. Perhaps, but at what cost?

Our leaders both at the Fed and in Congress could have minimized the fallout but they all were too busy playing Republican financial experiments with our financial system. Just like the Republican societal experiments with supposed safe sex (abstinence programs), I wish they would just experiment amongst themselves and leave everyone else out of their little games.

A few examples of the lawsuits, after the jump.

This time, investors are aiming not only at mortgage lenders, brokers and investment banks but also insurers (American International Group), bond funds (State Street, Morgan Keegan), rating agencies (Moody's and Standard & Poor's) and homebuilders (Beazer Homes, Toll Brothers et al).

Borrowers, too, are suing both their lenders and the Wall Street firms that wrapped up their loans. Several groups of employees and pension-fund participants have filed so-called ERISA/401(k) suits against their own firms. Local councils in Australia are threatening to sue a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers over the sale of collateralised-debt obligations (CDOs), the Financial Times has reported. Lenders are even turning on each other; Deutsche Bank has filed large numbers of lawsuits against mortgage firms, claiming they owe money for failing to buy back loans that soured within months of being made.

“It seems that everyone is suing everyone,” says Adam Savett of RiskMetrics' securities-litigation group. “It surely can't be long before we get the legal equivalent of man bites dog, where a lender sues its borrowers for some breach of contract.”

The authorities, too, are baring their teeth. Several Wall Street banks have received subpoenas from New York's attorney-general, Andrew Cuomo, requesting information on their packaging of now-stricken securities. This comes on top of a deepening probe into possibly inflated home-price appraisals by brokers and lenders, including Washington Mutual and First American Corporation. Ohio's attorney-general, Marc Dann, has been just as hyperactive, suing over a dozen lenders and brokers.

No less important is the spadework being done by the Securities and Exchange Commission, America's main markets watchdog. It is conducting more than 20 investigations, including one into the arrangements banks entered into with hedge funds that may have been designed to hide or delay mark-to-market losses.
So instead of proper guidance and regulation, we are stuck in this cycle of lawsuits, counter lawsuits and probably counter-counter lawsuits. How is this any easier or less painful than regulation? I'd like to hear how this model is superior because it just looks nuts to me.

The other point that jumps out is the issue of lawsuits. Republicans always want to limit the right to sue though if we're not providing any oversight or regulations to protect people, what other options are there? Funny too that there are plenty of businesses suing, showing that they are just as open to lawsuits as regular people, despite their complaints about lawsuits. The old do as I say, not as I do from big business.
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CNN: Bush legacy a "mixed bag"



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Is political success the same as a legacy? Read the rest of this post...

A few photos from yesterday



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The kids are playing 1 foot away from me - I mean, it is a huge house, so they simply have to play make-believe next to Uncle John. I thought I'd share a few photos from yesterday.

My brother-in-law makes a huge breakfast for us every Christmas morning, here he's making the potatoes:



My niece was purveying the landscape while bro-in-law was cooking. We open gifts AFTER our brunch, which usually drives the kids batty.



Carmela the wonder dog was a bit overwhelmed by all the big boxes (well, big for her). They're a funny breed, YorkiPoos, the slightest "new" thing in the room scares the hell out of them. Carmela quite literally lept from the floor into my lap, without an invitation, and watched the festivities from the safety of the space between me and my sis.

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Target, Sears and Macy's have slowest season in five years



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During my recent visit to the US, I was shocked at how empty a local Macy's was just a few weeks before Christmas. I walked in to a nearly empty store (on a weekend) and went to the checkout with only one person ahead of me in line.

Sounds like the high gas prices hurt budgets this year. Maybe Cheney was wrong again, but when was he ever correct? Read the rest of this post...

Another NH paper slams Mitt



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Over the weekend, The Concord Monitor called Mitt Romney a "phony" who should not be president.

Today, another major smackdown of Mitt from the Union Leader, which is the right-wing Republican paper in NH (and pro-McCain). The funny thing is that Mitt considers NH something of a second home. He has a big second home on Lake Winnipesaukee. But NH folks, at least the editorial writers, aren't loving the Mittster. Best line:
In this primary, the more Mitt Romney speaks, the less believable he becomes.
Classic. Read the rest of this post...

Wednesday Morning Open Thread



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Well, that's over.

I'm in Maine for a couple days. One side benefit of this trip is getting to view the candidate ads for the New Hampshire primary. N.H. only has one t.v. commercial station, WMUR. Almost everything else comes from Boston or Portland. None of them have been that eye-catching, I'm just geeky enough to get excited that I can actually see the ads.

Have to go get coffee now. It's 21 degrees.

What's up? Read the rest of this post...

Happy Boxing Day



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OK, I don't really have any idea about Boxing Day either besides what it says on Wiki so perhaps some AMERICAblog readers in the UK or Commonwealth countries can tell us more. We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas dinner with a fun group of expats last night. The group included a few locals, a German expat and then a few Americans. Needless to say the subject of politics and the 2008 was front and center.

Down to the last American, we all were aghast at the decline of rights in the US and debated whether Americans really give a damn. The consensus was that yes they are aware, but no, people just don't care. In Europe, you just assume you are being watched but in the US, it used to be a core values issue. There was also a general feeling that the US has drifted into the far right becoming a country that is a much different place than only a few years ago. From afar, the "I'm more of a good Christian than you" theme in the campaign is downright bizarre.

More after the jump on what us fuzzy foreigners think about the candidates.

Our host, Jim, is what could be best described as an old fashioned Republican. Precisely the kind that is being driven out of the party due to the Christian hard right. Jim repeatedly talks to me about how crazy the GOP has become since Bush arrived. Last night he talked about liking McCain, though he preferred the McCain of 2000 over the 2004 boot-licking McCain. In 2008, everyone thought that McCain is simply too old for the position. Pick any recent photo of the guy and he just looks bad. Outside of McCain, Jim was on board with either Edwards or Obama.

Of course, what 2008 election discussion would be complete without talking about Hillary? The room was generally accepting of voting for her though a few issues really annoyed the crowd. Voting for Iraq was the biggie. People may concede that getting out of Iraq needs to be planned properly, but why can't she just admit she made a mistake? Worse still, why vote for war with Iran? No matter how that subject has been spun, there's anger out there on this. (I had my own barn burner discussion with my sister on this two weeks ago.) If Hillary moves forward, she's going to have to explain this one because the group last night was fairly middle of the road, business types.

One visiting New Yorker also asked the question, "tell me what exactly is on her Senate resume that shows leadership?" Gaining experience via osmosis doesn't translate to many people. It's a theme that is receiving more coverage (on both sides) but she has her work cut out for her here too. Obama can talk about his Senate leadership on the issue of lobbyists (no matter how weak it was, in reality) and people can at least see something. Hillary leaves people wondering what exactly she has stood for since joining the Senate. If there is a record of leadership, nobody at the table knew about it including the person living in NYC who is a Democrat.

The hostess of the party, Hadia, was much more on the Hillary ship. She understood the complaints and did not necessarily agree with all of her positions, but Hadia blurted out "I would vote for Hillary." (I think my sister falls more in this camp as well. There is no love for those strange votes, but she is supportive of a woman taking a leadership position.) There are surely a lot of people out there that are fed up with men dominating politics (and business) and want to see this change. Despite improvements in the business world, the US is still pretty pathetic when it comes to women in politics. We have a long way to go before we are in the same league as Scandinavia, where the ratios are pretty even. When we have 50% of the population being blocked out of power, there is a problem. Hillary connects with many people - men and women - on this issue.

The consensus for this small group around the table was that no matter who the Democrat was, they would vote for that person. There was a consensus belief that the GOP was barking mad with their appeals to the religious right. Everyone pointed the finger in the direction of Karl Rove as the guy who created this problem for the GOP. He won a few elections but is losing the long term war for the heart and soul of the party. The Republicans now are so far down that lunatic fringe path, how could any thinking person connect with them? How could a country like the US be having a debate on evolution in 2007? If this is where the GOP is today, their future looks bleak beyond the fanatics of the religious right. Mainstream Americans just find them, well, strange and creepy.

Obviously this is just a small group of people, most of whom vote remotely so their votes are ignored anyway. (Thanks to Democrats and Republicans alike for that lovely little program of democracy for all.) What would be interesting to folks overseas is knowing if this represents what others are thinking and saying, or are these thoughts just limited to expats? What are people near you saying about the elections and the the candidates? Similar to our discussions over here or different?
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If you have any Nalgene bottles, read this



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I missed the previous stories on this type of plastic and have a few of these bottles in my travel pack. It's true that these bottles are great for travel and indestructible but you might want to read up and decide for yourself. The linked article has a photo, because Nalgene has two types of bottles.

My own Nalgene bottle story, after the jump.

Before heading into Laos a few years ago, I read that water could sometimes be questionable so I bought my own water purifying kit, just in case. Since I already had a few Nalgene bottles in my arsenal and loved them, I bought a purifier that fit the Nalgene bottles. Sure enough when we arrived in a remote village outside of Luang Namtha, the only water was what was pulled out of the river.

Even after boiling the water for almost an hour, it still looked like tea, with floaty things in it. I was still in Western form (i.e. only a few weeks on the road from my Paris flat) so I decided to filter the "water" with my new filter. It immediately changed from gray and chunky to clear. Hooray, my filter at least makes it look nice! As I drank this lovely clear water, the others in our group all begged me to use the filter.

It was the most hot and humid place I ever visited so it was easy to drink four liters or more every day. I also probably was sweating due to constant leach attacks, who loved me. I was a magnet for those revolting little things. Anyway, my great little filter worked its magic for weeks in Laos and has served me well elsewhere. I guess I need to find some new bottles though. I loved those plastic bottles, but this new story just creeps me out. Even more than those leeches.
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