Monday, December 31, 2007

DAVID BROOKS: Road to Nowhere


The most impressive thing about Mitt Romney is his clarity of mind. When he set out to pursue his party’s nomination, he studied the contours of the Republican coalition and molded himself to its forms.

Earnestly and methodically, he has appealed to each of the major constituency groups. For national security conservatives, he vowed to double the size of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. For social conservatives, he embraced a culture war against the faithless. For immigration skeptics, he swung so far right he earned the endorsement of Tom Tancredo.

He has spent roughly $80 million, including an estimated $17 million of his own money, hiring consultants, blanketing the airwaves and building an organization that is unmatched on the Republican side.

And he has turned himself into the party’s fusion candidate. Some of his rivals are stronger among social conservatives. Others are stronger among security conservatives, but no candidate has a foot in all camps the way Romney does. No candidate offends so few, or is the acceptable choice of so many.

And that is why Romney is at the fulcrum of the Republican race. He’s looking strong in Iowa and is the only candidate who can afford to lose an important state and still win the nomination.

And yet as any true conservative can tell you, the sort of rational planning Mitt Romney embodies never works. The world is too complicated and human reason too limited. The PowerPoint mentality always fails to anticipate something. It always yields unintended consequences.

And what Romney failed to anticipate is this: In turning himself into an old-fashioned, orthodox Republican, he has made himself unelectable in the fall. When you look inside his numbers, you see tremendous weaknesses.

For example, Romney is astoundingly unpopular among young voters. Last month, the Harris Poll asked Republicans under 30 whom they supported. Romney came in fifth, behind Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Ron Paul. Romney had 7 percent support, a virtual tie with Tancredo. He does only a bit better among those aged 30 to 42.

Romney is also quite unpopular among middle- and lower-middle class voters. In poll after poll, he leads among Republicans making more than $75,000 a year. He does poorly among those who make less.

If Romney is the general election candidate, he will face hostility from independent voters, who value authenticity. He will face hostility from Hispanic voters, who detest his new immigration positions. He will face great hostility in the media. Even conservative editorialists at places like The Union Leader in New Hampshire and The Boston Herald find his flip-flopping offensive.

But his biggest problem is a failure of imagination. Market research is a snapshot of the past. With his data-set mentality, Romney has chosen to model himself on a version of Republicanism that is receding into memory. As Walter Mondale was the last gasp of the fading New Deal coalition, Romney has turned himself into the last gasp of the Reagan coalition.

That coalition had its day, but it is shrinking now. The Republican Party is more unpopular than at any point in the past 40 years. Democrats have a 50 to 36 party identification advantage, the widest in a generation. The general public prefers Democratic approaches on health care, corruption, the economy and Iraq by double-digit margins. Republicans’ losses have come across the board, but the G.O.P. has been hemorrhaging support among independent voters. Surveys from the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post, Kaiser Foundation and Harvard University show that independents are moving away from the G.O.P. on social issues, globalization and the roles of religion and government.

If any Republican candidate is going to win this year, he will have to offer a new brand of Republicanism. But Romney has tied himself to the old brand. He is unresponsive to the middle-class anxiety that Huckabee is tapping into. He has forsaken the trans-partisan candor that McCain represents. Romney, the cautious consultant, is pivoting to stress his corporate competence, and is rebranding himself as an Obama-esque change agent, but he will never make the sort of daring break that independent voters will demand if they are going to give the G.O.P. another look.

The leaders of the Republican coalition know Romney will lose. But some would rather remain in control of a party that loses than lose control of a party that wins. Others haven’t yet suffered the agony of defeat, and so are not yet emotionally ready for the trauma of transformation. Others still simply don’t know which way to turn.

And so the burden of change will be thrust on primary voters over the next few weeks. Romney is a decent man with some good fiscal and economic policies. But in this race, he has run like a manager, not an entrepreneur. His triumph this month would mean a Democratic victory in November.

BOB HERBERT: Still Reeling After All These Years


It promised to be a very good year. But then anything would be better than 1967, with its angry kids burning the flag, and the war raging, and American cities going up in flames one after another.

A Page 1 headline in The New York Times said: “World Bids Adieu to a Violent Year.”

It seems impossible that 1968, the most incredible year of a most incredible decade, was 40 years ago. As the new year tiptoed in, Americans wrapped themselves as usual in the comfort of optimism. Snow fell on the revelers in Times Square. A threatened New York City subway strike was averted and the 20-cent fare maintained.

No one had a clue about what was in store. A friend of mine, looking back, said, “Sixty-eight was the whirlwind.”

It was a presidential election year, and The Times reported on Jan. 1 that G.O.P. leaders believed that Gov. Nelson Rockefeller of New York was the only Republican who could defeat Lyndon Johnson. Richard Nixon might give the president a good run, they said, but would probably lose. Ronald Reagan and the governor of Michigan, George Romney, would most likely lose decisively.

“The Sound of Music” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” were hit movies, both starring Julie Andrews. “Hello Dolly” and “Fiddler on the Roof” were on Broadway. Ladies nylons at Gimbel’s were 88 cents a pair, and men’s dress shirts at Bloomingdale’s were three for $14.75.

Rock ’n’ roll, drugs and long-haired young people who considered themselves hip were ubiquitous. But it was still a pretty innocent time. That would change.

One of the astonishing things about 1968 was how quickly each shocking, consciousness-altering event succeeded the last, leaving no time for people to reorient themselves. The mind-boggling occurrences seemed to come out of nowhere, like the Viet Cong who set off a depth charge beneath the Johnson presidency with the Tet offensive at the end of January.

When Walter Cronkite learned of the coordinated wave of attacks throughout South Vietnam by the Cong and North Vietnamese regulars he is reported to have said: “What the hell is going on? I thought we were winning this war.”

The nation shuddered. The U.S. had never lost a war, but now men padding around in black pajamas and flip-flops fashioned from discarded tires gave every appearance of battling the mightiest military on earth to a stalemate.

The New Hampshire primary was March 12. Eugene McCarthy, a quiet, cerebral and sometimes flaky senator from Minnesota who was calling for a negotiated settlement of the war, electrified the country and exposed the president’s political vulnerability by finishing second with 42 percent of the vote.

Within days, Bobby Kennedy, who had only recently said he could see no circumstances in which he would challenge Johnson, was challenging him. McCarthy was furious. Johnson was traumatized.

By the end of the month, Johnson had abandoned the race.

Euphoria reigned — among young people, and those opposed to the war, and those who believed that ordinary people of good will could change the world. For many, it was the peak moment of the 1960s.

It lasted just four days.

On April 3, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis. Violence erupted in dozens of cities, and especially in Washington, where a number of people were killed and the fires were the worst the city had experienced since the British took the torch to it in 1814.

John J. Lindsay of Newsweek magazine said that when Bobby Kennedy was told that King had died, he put his hands to his face and murmured: “Oh, God. When is this violence going to stop?”

Kennedy himself was murdered two months later. I remember people not knowing what to say. The madness had been unleashed, and there seemed no way to rein it in.

There was much more to come, more war, the orgy of police violence at the Democratic convention in Chicago, the razor-thin election of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew over Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie in November.

But an awful lot of people tuned out after Kennedy was killed. That seemed to be when, for so many, the hope finally died. The nation has never really recovered from the bullet that killed R.F.K.

Arthur Schlesinger, in his biography of Kennedy, quotes Richard Harwood of The Washington Post:

“We discovered in 1968 this deep, almost mystical bond that existed between Robert Kennedy and the Other America. It was a disquieting experience for reporters. ... We were forced to recognize in Watts and Gary and Chimney Rock that the real stake in the American political process involves not the fate of speechwriters and fund-raisers, but the lives of millions of people seeking hope out of despair.”

Special forces on standby over nuclear threat

The Herald

US special forces snatch squads are on standby to seize or disable Pakistan's nuclear arsenal in the event of a collapse of government authority or the outbreak of civil war following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The troops, augmented by volunteer scientists from America's Nuclear Emergency Search Team organisation, are under orders to take control of an estimated 60 warheads dispersed around six to 10 high-security Pakistani military bases.

Military sources say contingency plans have been reviewed over the past three days to prevent any of Pakistan's atomic weapons falling into the hands of Islamic extremists if the administration of President Pervez Musharraf appears threatened by civil unrest.

Some of the special forces are already believed to be in neighbouring Afghanistan and on alert for the mission. It is also understood that satellite surveillance of Pakistan has been stepped up to keep track of the possible movement of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.

According to a US Congressional report published in November, Pakistan's nuclear deterrent consists of warheads for missiles and bombs dropped from aircraft.

To maintain security, the weapons are not stored fully-assembled. Warheads, detonators and missiles are kept separately, but able to be married up "fairly quickly" in the event of a national crisis such as confrontation with India.........

NASA reluctantly releases airline safety study

Houston Chronicle

NASA begrudgingly released some results today from an $11.3 million federal air safety study it previously withheld from the public over concerns it would upset travelers and hurt airline profits.

It published the findings in a format that made it cumbersome for any thorough analysis by outsiders. Released on New Year's Eve, the unprecedented research conducted over nearly four years relates to safety problems identified by some 29,000 pilots interviewed by telephone.

Earlier characterizations from people who have seen the results said they would show that events like near collisions and runway interference occur far more frequently than previously recognized. Such information could not be gleaned from the 16,208 pages posted by NASA on its Web site, however, because of information that was edited out. The data was based on interviews with about 8,000 pilots per year from 2001 until the end of 2004.

The NASA Web site shows formatted, printed reports that the space agency scrubbed to ensure none of the pilots who were interviewed and promised anonymity could potentially be identified. The data was posted as NASA officials began a telephone news conference, allowing no time to look at the material and ask them questions about it.

NASA did not provide documentation on how to use its data, nor did it provide keys to unlock the cryptic codes used in the dataset.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin told reporters the agency typically releases information in Adobe System's portable document format, known as pdf, which presents the information on formatted, printed pages. But there are dozens of reports available from NASA's Web site about other subjects in Microsoft's Excel data format, which would permit researchers to conduct a meaningful analysis more easily.

Griffin said NASA wanted to ensure that no one modified the survey results and circulated false data as NASA's research product. He said even inexpensive optical character recognition software could convert the formatted reports. Such software can risk introducing errors in the data as it performs these conversions.

"We've gone the extra mile with this data, and well beyond our original intentions," Griffin said.

He dismissed suggestions that NASA chose to release the data late on New Year's Eve, when the public is distracted by holidays and news organizations are thinly staffed.

"We didn't deliberately choose to release on the slowest news day of the year," Griffin said.

NASA drew harsh criticism from Congress and news organizations for keeping the information secret. Rejecting an Associated Press request under the Freedom of Information Act, NASA explained that it did not want to undermine public confidence in the airlines or hurt airline fortunes.

Griffin later overruled his staff and promised Congress that he would release at least some data by the end of the year.

NASA's survey, the National Aviation Operations Monitoring System, was launched to see if a massive pilot survey would help pinpoint problems and prevent accidents. Survey planners said it was unique because it was a random survey, with an 80 percent response rate, that did not rely on pilots to take the initiative to report problems but rather reached out and interviewed them.

Griffin said NASA never intended to analyze the data it collected, but rather they planned on passing on its methodology to the aviation community.

He said he had only looked at a few results, but that, "It's hard for me... to see any data here that the traveling public would care about or ought to care about." That would be up to others who chose to analyze the data, he said.

Pilots were asked how many times they encountered safety incidents in flight and on the ground, such as near-collisions, equipment failure, runway interference, trouble communicating with the tower and unruly passengers.

Griffin outraged some NASA employees by saying the project had been poorly managed and its methodology not properly vetted. Survey experts who worked on it, however, said they used state-of-the-art industry techniques and carefully validated the results.

NASA's handling of the matter prompted a congressional investigation and separate investigations by its inspector general and by a union representing NASA workers.

Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who helped design the project for NASA, said the release of information was inadequate.

"The data they released are intentionally designed to prevent people from analyzing the rates properly and are designed to entrap analysts into computing rates that are much higher than the survey really shows," he said Monday.

Scores dead in Kenya poll clashes


At least 43 people have been killed in the western Kenyan town of Kisumu after violence blamed on the disputed presidential election.

A BBC reporter saw the bodies with gunshot wounds in a morgue in the opposition stronghold.

Witnesses say the police fired live bullets after protesters threw stones, claiming fraud in last week's poll.

President Mwai Kibaki has been declared the winner but Raila Odinga says he was robbed of victory.

There have also been violent clashes in slums in the capital, Nairobi, and the resort town of Mombasa.

Reuters news agency reports that 15 bodies have been found in the Nairobi slum of Korogocho.

Those killed in Kisumu include two women and three children, reports the BBC's Noel Mwakugu.

An eye-witness told him that police fired indiscriminately even after the protesters started running away in the Kisumu suburbs of Manyatta and Nyamasira.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

ROGER COHEN: On America’s Watch


In recent years, Pakistan has been the home of banks that wired money for the 9/11 plot, been the chief source of illicit nuclear proliferation, offered a tribal-area haven for planners of worldwide terrorism, abetted the reconstitution of the Taliban and educated many a suicide bomber in Islamic religious schools.

At the same time, President Pervez Musharraf, in power since a 1999 coup, has received about $10 billion in U.S. aid, much of it to reinforce the Pakistani military in fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and global jihadism in South Waziristan and other tribal areas.

If a U.S. policy was ever broken, this is it.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the Western-educated former prime minister who returned from exile on Oct. 18 under a flawed U.S.-mediated plan to shift Pakistan from direct to indirect military rule with a civilian veneer, has given the coup de grâce to this botched American attempt to manage a nuclear-armed Islamic state.

It’s not clear who killed Bhutto, although hers was a chronicle of a death foretold. Musharraf’s government, whose credibility is shot, says that Baitullah Mehsud, a militant with links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was behind it. That would exonerate the military, whose opposition to the democratic movement Bhutto personified goes back to its execution of her father; the intelligence services that long nurtured Taliban zealots as agents of influence in Afghanistan; and Musharraf himself, who knew Bhutto’s vulnerability.

With accounts of the cause of death shifting from bullet wounds to the bombing that followed the gunfire, it’s too early to discount the possibility that the assassin, or assassins, got some help from Pakistan’s many official reservoirs of extremist Islamist sympathy.

It’s suspicious that both the crime scene and Bhutto’s car were cleaned up before investigators had access. Senator Hillary Clinton’s call for an international inquiry is a good one. How can Musharraf, who showed his contempt for an independent judiciary by dissolving the Supreme Court in November, oversee a credible investigation? It should be accompanied by a U.S. Congressional inquiry into post-9/11 American policy toward Pakistan.

But some things need no elucidation. First, the United States, out of misplaced deference to Musharraf, failed to secure Bhutto the protection she was demanding. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, visited the United States shortly before her death to plead for help, but was denied the meetings he sought at the top levels of the State Department.

Similarly, the Bush administration failed to pressure Musharraf to accept Bhutto family demands for F.B.I. involvement in the investigation of the attempted assassination of Bhutto on Oct. 18.

Second, Al Qaeda has turned some of its attention from Afghanistan to the richer rewards of upending Pakistan.

Third, Musharraf’s ambivalence has hurt U.S. interests, culminating in a murder that shames America. He has safeguarded the nukes but never ensured that his military or intelligence services break from their Taliban baby. This double game must end.

Fourth, years of strong economic growth have expanded a Pakistani middle class that wants democracy’s rule of law. Radical Islamist parties constitute a minority: unlike in the shah’s Iran, democratic forces outweigh the theocratic.

A discredited Musharraf can do nothing for Pakistan without credible elections. Credibility requires international monitors or a transitional arrangement allowing all major parties to participate in the vote’s organization. The election should be held on or as soon as possible after Jan. 8. A large sympathy vote for Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party is likely.

Fifth, the United States must redirect policy toward forthright support for democracy. The Bush administration has seen the military as a bulwark against extremism. The true bulwark, as Bhutto knew, is the middle class. Barnett Rubin of New York University observed, “If Afghanistan is ready for democracy, Pakistan certainly is.”

Sixth, the absence of engagement with Iran leaves the United States overdependent on Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan. A post-9/11 tragedy has been the U.S. failure to build on the Iranian opening that the overthrow of a shared enemy, the Taliban in Kabul, created.

Bhutto’s loss is devastating, comparable with Yitzhak Rabin’s. Her Kennedylike family tragedy leaves the fathomless void of what might have been.

I met her more than 30 years ago when we were at Oxford. Arriving late one night at Balliol College, I saw a solitary light in the quadrangle. On a whim, a fellow student and I went to the room. There was Bhutto deep in earnest talk about politics. She was gracious at the intrusion, memorably so.

Of grace and conviction her unusual fusion of East and West was formed. Only Pakistani democracy can avenge, in part, the disappearance of the rare bridge she offered and offset the American mistakes that led to this loss.

PAUL KRUGMAN: The Great Divide


Yesterday The Times published a highly informative chart laying out the positions of the presidential candidates on major issues. It was, I’d argue, a useful reality check for those who believe that the next president can somehow usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

For what the chart made clear was the extent to which Democrats and Republicans live in separate moral and intellectual universes.

On one side, the Democrats are all promising to get out of Iraq and offering strongly progressive policies on taxes, health care and the environment. That’s understandable: the public hates the war, and public opinion seems to be running in a progressive direction.

What seems harder to understand is what’s happening on the other side — the degree to which almost all the Republicans have chosen to align themselves closely with the unpopular policies of an unpopular president. And I’m not just talking about their continuing enthusiasm for the Iraq war. The G.O.P. candidates are equally supportive of Bush economic policies.

Why would politicians support Bushonomics? After all, the public is very unhappy with the state of the economy, for good reason. The “Bush boom,” such as it was, bypassed most Americans — median family income, adjusted for inflation, has stagnated in the Bush years, and so have the real earnings of the typical worker. Meanwhile, insecurity has increased, with a declining fraction of Americans receiving health insurance from their employers.

And things seem likely to get worse as the election approaches. For a few years, the economy was at least creating jobs at a respectable pace — but as the housing slump and the associated credit crunch accelerate and spill over to the rest of the economy, most analysts expect employment to weaken, too.

All in all, it’s an economic and political environment in which you’d expect Republican politicians, as a sheer matter of calculation, to look for ways to distance themselves from the current administration’s economic policies and record — say, by expressing some concern about rising income gaps and the fraying social safety net.

In fact, however, except for Mike Huckabee — a peculiar case who’ll deserve more discussion if he stays in contention — the leading Republican contenders have gone out of their way to assure voters that they will not deviate an inch from the Bush path. Why? Because the G.O.P. is still controlled by a conservative movement that does not tolerate deviations from tax-cutting, free-market, greed-is-good orthodoxy.

To see the extent to which Republican politicians still cower before the power of movement conservatism, consider the sad case of John McCain.

Mr. McCain’s lingering reputation as a maverick straight talker comes largely from his opposition to the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, which he said at the time were too big and too skewed to the rich. Those objections would seem to have even more force now, with America facing the costs of an expensive war — which Mr. McCain fervently supports — and with income inequality reaching new heights.

But Mr. McCain now says that he supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Not only that: he’s become a convert to crude supply-side economics, claiming that cutting taxes actually increases revenues. That’s an assertion even Bush administration officials concede is false.

Oh, and what about his earlier opposition to tax cuts? Mr. McCain now says he opposed the Bush tax cuts only because they weren’t offset by spending cuts.

Aside from the logical problem here — if tax cuts increase revenue, why do they need to be offset? — even a cursory look at what Mr. McCain said at the time shows that he’s trying to rewrite history: he actually attacked the Bush tax cuts from the left, not the right. But he has clearly decided that it’s better to fib about his record than admit that he wasn’t always a rock-solid economic conservative.

So what does the conversion of Mr. McCain into an avowed believer in voodoo economics — and the comparable conversions of Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani — tell us? That bitter partisanship and political polarization aren’t going away anytime soon.

There’s a fantasy, widely held inside the Beltway, that men and women of good will from both parties can be brought together to hammer out bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems.

If such a thing were possible, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani — a self-proclaimed maverick, the former governor of a liberal state and the former mayor of an equally liberal city — would seem like the kind of men Democrats could deal with. (O.K., maybe not Mr. Giuliani.) In fact, however, it’s not possible, not given the nature of today’s Republican Party, which has turned men like Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney into hard-line ideologues. On economics, and on much else, there is no common ground between the parties.

U.S. seen internationally as an ‘Endemic Surveillance Society.’


In the recently released annual survey of worldwide privacy rights by Privacy International and EPIC, the United States has been downgraded from “Extensive Surveillance Society” to “Endemic Surveillance Society.” As Glenn Greenwald notes, this is “the worst possible category there is for privacy protections, the category also occupied by countries such as China, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia.” In general, “the 2007 rankings indicate an overall worsening of privacy protection across the world, reflecting an increase in surveillance and a declining performance of privacy safeguards.”

Biden Statement on Bush Veto of Defense Authorization

Manchester, IA (December 29, 2007) - Sen. Joe Biden issued a statement following President Bush's veto yesterday of the Defense Authorization Conference Report:

"It is shocking that this White House thinks it's more important to shield the Iraqi Government from lawsuits than to meet the needs of our troops. President Bush has said for months that Congress must immediately support our troops and that any delay was unacceptable. Now he's vetoed legislation that provides a pay increase to our troops and reforms the health care system for our veterans in the wake of the Walter Reed scandal. Why? Because it doesn't do enough to protect the Iraqi government.

"This president's priorities are exactly backwards. Our troops must come first. The men and women on our front lines and our wounded warriors back home will have a hard time understanding what the President has done. And they're right - this is outrageous. The most important promise a president must keep is to our troops. This president has broken that promise."

Bush said Defense Authorization is "A Promise to Fund our Troops in Combat." In a radio address, Bush said, "This week, Congress considered a defense authorization bill. An authorization bill is a pledge to spend money. Under such a bill, Congress will make a promise to fund our troops in combat."

Bush: Funding the Troops is the "First Priority." In a radio address, Bush said, "Congress's first priority should be to provide the funds and flexibility to keep our troops safe and help them protect our Nation."

Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid

Washington Post

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a potential independent candidate for president, has scheduled a meeting next week with a dozen leading Democrats and Republicans, who will join him in challenging the major-party contenders to spell out their plans for forming a "government of national unity" to end the gridlock in Washington.

Those who will be at the Jan. 7 session at the University of Oklahoma say that if the likely nominees of the two parties do not pledge to "go beyond tokenism" in building an administration that seeks national consensus, they will be prepared to back Bloomberg or someone else in a third-party campaign for president.

Conveners of the meeting include such prominent Democrats as former senators Sam Nunn (Ga.), Charles S. Robb (Va.) and David L. Boren (Okla.), and former presidential candidate Gary Hart. Republican organizers include Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), former party chairman Bill Brock, former senator John Danforth (Mo.) and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman............

MAUREEN DOWD: Am I a Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon?



Faith, the faith healer, is twirling a crystal over my green couch.

The pendulum is hovering above a chart, pointing to sources of negative energy in my house that need to be cleared.

The pendulum quivers and swings and slows and finally settles above the word “Curses.”

“That sounds scary,” I say.

Faith — yes, that’s her real name — explains that there are two common forms of curses. If you send out something negative, you also hold on to it. It’s like a cosmic fax machine. “So,” she says, “it has a definite negative impact on the soul.”

“I hope that doesn’t include writing critical columns,” I mumble.

The second kind is when someone curses you.

I think back. There was that time John Sununu, Poppy Bush’s raging-bull chief of staff, blew up at the White House after reading one of my stories about his arrogant behavior.

“I will destroy her,” he growled. “If it takes me the rest of my life, I will destroy her. I don’t know where or when, but I’ll get her.”

Could Sununu’s curse be hanging around my house, like gooey green smoke?

Faith, who says she is a “clairaudio,” as opposed to a clairvoyant, is talking to the pendulum, instructing the High Self Committee — which seems to be the spirit equivalent of the Co-op Board — to throw out all curses.

I’m having my house and body “cleared” for 2008, whatever that means. I’m more of a believer in mystery than mysticism. But I know for sure that New Year’s resolutions require too much discipline. An exorcism seems much easier.

Ashley Parker, a young woman who works with me, had been warning me that I was in grave karmic danger. Her mother, too, works with crystals and healing and says she was told she was a handmaiden in ancient Egypt in a past life. She instructed Ashley never to wear vintage clothes — which I often do — because bad vibes from previous owners could rub off.

I didn’t want to shed all of my risky clothes and accessories — especially that karmically dangerous, fragrant black purse someone gave me that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. And did I need to worry about who had owned my ’65 Mustang, and what they did in it?

Simpler to do a spiritual detox.

Faith Green, a pretty, curvy 31-year-old green-eyed blonde, says she has studied tribal shamanism, rolfing, Pilates, tango, movement and stretching. She calls herself a “kinetic therapist.”

Her crystal pendulum also identified some “discordant energy” in my house from angels who were meant to protect me but who had fallen prey to bad energy themselves, and from disconsolate spirits who may have been in a religious order.

“Was I a nun in a past life?” I ask, conjuring up a glamorous image of myself as Audrey Hepburn in “The Nun’s Story” rather than Rosalind Russell in “The Trouble With Angels.”

No, Faith explains, these bummed-out trapped souls are lurking from the past. She suggests they may just be unhappy with their vows of poverty, chastity, celibacy and obedience. You don’t need a Ouija board to know that.

“We’ll ask the High Self to clear them,” she says. “They’re blocking cheerfulness.”

She explains that, just as some people begin to sound and look like people they live with, so you can take on the grotty energy of spirits sharing your space. She does a “final mop-up” and puts a triple shield of protection for 10 miles around my house. (That would extend all the way to the White House. Will W. be getting my psychic protection?)

After scrutinizing my body language, Faith breaks the bad news: my intimacy chakra is blocked. Something about the way I stand. She says we need to sweep out the “sludge” so that our bodies don’t become cages trapping us and crimping our chi.

“The second chakra is intimacy, meaning ‘I love myself so much that I would marry myself,’” she says.

“My sister wants to marry herself,” I say.

Faith puts stones under my back and tells me she can feel my heart opening like a flower blooming. I don’t really feel the blockages or the bloomings. But it’s a lot nicer lying on a table and listening to floaty, flute-y New Age music than it is sitting at a table and making a long list of insincere resolutions.

Instead of falling in love, Faith observes, we should all be rising in love. “We’re either in love or we’re in fear,” she says.

She calls “The Secret” — the self-help mega-seller that advises people to visualize the body and income they want and the universe will respond by making them thin and rich — somewhat “hokey.”

“A lot of healing is about raising the vibrations,” she says. “It’s not airy-fairy or voodoo. It’s really about smiling and laughing and getting the blood flowing in the body.”

That doesn’t sound so hard, as long as John Sununu stays away from my house.


The Steelers-Ravens game on Sunday, December 30 at M&T Bank Stadium has been changed to a 4:15 p.m. kickoff.

This Week:
The Steelers are on the road this week against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, December 30 at M&T Bank Stadium. Kickoff for the game is at 4:15 p.m. Steelers-Ravens Game Day Coverage

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Thompson: 'Not particularly interested in running for president'

(CNN) — Republican Fred Thompson has long faced criticism he lacks motivation to be President of the United States, but the Tennessee Republican's latest comments Saturday are likely to spawn fresh heat.

“I’m not particularly interested in running for president," the former senator said at a campaign event in Burlington when challenged by a voter over his desire to be commander-in-chief........

Musharraf cracks down on rioters


Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has ordered firm action to crack down on unrest following the death of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Mr Musharraf said looters "must be dealt with firmly and all measures be taken to ensure [the] safety and security of the people".

Some 38 people have died in violence that has broken out since Ms Bhutto was assassinated on Thursday.....

Pakistan is at the brink of civil war, courtesy of the dictatorship
- Dr Rubab Ahmed, London

Ten Saudi Guantanamo inmates free


Ten Guantanamo Bay detainees have been freed and returned home to Saudi Arabia, US and Saudi officials say.

The government in Riyadh will mitigate any risk posed by the former detainees with a programme to integrate them into civilian life, the Pentagon says.

Around 275 people remain at the detention centre in Cuba and the Pentagon says another 60 inmates are now eligible for transfer or release.

The US has returned dozens of Saudi former detainees over the past year.

Around a dozen Saudi nationals are estimated to remain at the US facility.

Their detention has been a source of strain between Washington and the government in Riyadh, a close US ally.

Navy JAG Andrew Williams Resigns Over Torture


Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Williams, a JAG officer with the U.S. Naval Reserve, recently resigned his commission over the alleged use of torture by the United States and the destruction of video tapes said to contain instances of that torture.

As ThinkProgress reported in December, Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal adviser at Guantanamo Bay, repeatedly refused to call the hypothetical waterboarding of an American pilot by the Iranian military torture.

Explaining his resignation in a letter to his Gig Harbor, WA, newspaper — the Peninsula Gateway — Williams said Hartmann’s testimony was “the final straw”:

The final straw for me was listening to General Hartmann, the highest-ranking military lawyer in charge of the military commissions, testify that he refused to say that waterboarding captured U.S. soldiers by Iranian operatives would be torture.

His testimony had just sold all the soldiers and sailors at risk of capture and subsequent torture down the river. Indeed, he would not rule out waterboarding as torture when done by the United States and indeed felt evidence obtained by such methods could be used in future trials.

Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition.

In the middle ages, the Inquisition called waterboarding “toca” and used it with great success. In colonial times, it was used by the Dutch East India Company during the Amboyna Massacre of 1623.

Waterboarding was used by the Nazi Gestapo and the feared Japanese Kempeitai. In World War II, our grandfathers had the wisdom to convict Japanese Officer Yukio Asano of waterboarding and other torture practices in 1947, giving him 15 years hard labor.

Waterboarding was practiced by the Khmer Rouge at the infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Most recently, the U.S. Army court martialed a soldier for the practice in 1968 during the Vietnam conflict.

General Hartmann, following orders was not an excuse for anyone put on trial in Nuremberg, and it will not be an excuse for you or your superiors, either.

Despite the CIA and the administration attempting to cover up the practice by destroying interrogation tapes, in direct violation of a court order, and congressional requests, the truth about torture, illegal spying on Americans and secret renditions is coming out.

Williams’ resignation follows on the heels of several high profile issues relating to the JAG corps. In 2006, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift was passed over for promotion and forced out of the Navy after he vigorously defended Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s driver. And just this month, the Bush administration planned to take control of the promotion system for military lawyers, a plan which was dropped due to the uproar it caused in the military and in Congress.

– t-dub

This post was submitted through our Blog Fellows program. Make your own contribution — and get paid for it — by clicking here.

Pakistani Islamic militant leader denies involvement in Bhutto killing

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan: A commander of pro-Taliban militants in Pakistan rejected government claims that he was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, his spokesman said Saturday.

The spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, whom Pakistani authorities describe as an al-Qaida leader, dismissed the allegations as "government propaganda."

"We strongly deny it. Baitullah Mehsud is not involved in the killing of Benazir Bhutto," Maulana Mohammed Umer, said in a phone call to The Associated Press from South Waziristan tribal region. "The government is leveling a baseless allegation and we think it is doing so to divert the attention of the people of Pakistan from the real killers."

Umer is spokesman for the newly formed Tehrik-i-Taliban, a coalition of Islamic militants committed to waging holy war against the government. The group is led by Mehsud.

The Interior Ministry on Friday released a transcript of a purported conversation between Mehsud and another militant in which he offered congratulations for the suicide attack.

"It was a spectacular job. They were very brave boys who killed her," Mehsud said, according to the transcript.

Umer said the militant coalition's enemy was America, not the political leaders of Pakistan, a key ally of Washington in its war on terror.

"The fact is that we are only against America, and we don't consider political leaders of Pakistan our enemy. The suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto was not launched by us," he said.

"I am clarifying our position after receiving instructions from Baitullah Mehsud."

The government also alleged Mehshud was behind the Karachi bomb blast in October against Bhutto that killed more than 140 people and most other recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan.

This fall, Mehsud was quoted in a Pakistani newspaper as saying he would welcome Bhutto's return from exile with suicide bombers. Mehsud later denied that in statements to local television and newspaper reporters.

Bhutto's party on Friday rejected claims that Mehsud was behind the attack, saying the militant — through emissaries — had previously told Bhutto he was not involved in the Karachi bombing.

After the Karachi attack, Bhutto accused elements in the ruling party, which is allied to President Pervez Musharraf, of plotting to kill her. The government denied the claims.

Friday, December 28, 2007

2007: Best of the blogs

The most popular blog posts published on the New Scientist website in 2007 are a decidedly varied bunch, tackling everything from sexually transmitted diseases to photovoltaic cells. In reverse order of popularity, they were:

Invention Blog

Microsoft mind reading described a patent filed by Microsoft for a new way of filtering EEG data. The company plans to use it to "read people's minds" while they are using computers; they claim this will help them design interfaces that are easier to use. The people who commented on the article, however, weren't impressed.

Last Word Blog

Counter-taserism asked what an individual could do to reduce the effect of being tased. This prompted a deluge of suggestions from readers, ranging from the simple ("keep moving as fast as possible") to the frankly uncomfortable ("an all-encompassing rubber suit"). We would also like to join reader John Ackroyd in advising everyone not to try the solution he mentions: getting high on crystal meth.

Short Sharp Science blog

Redirect your animal instincts with a French letter contains two images that are just plain horrible. These photos of people apparently engaged in intimate acts with giant scorpions and spiders were part of a French advertising campaign, intended to warn people about the dangers of contracting AIDS. Many people did indeed find the images pretty disturbing and got the message - but there seemed to be a sizeable minority that found them, er, erotic.

Environment Blog

Amish are surprise champions of solar technology told the story of how the Amish, who at first glance might not be expected to be at the forefront of new energy technologies, are embracing solar power. The article triggered a lengthy discussion of how societies should deal with new technologies, in particular when they should be embraced and when rejected.

Space Blog

Ghostly Moon events continue to mystify discussed the mysterious phenomena called 'transient lunar phenomena'. These often consist of a temporary brightening of a small region of the Moon's surface. The article discussed the idea that they might be caused by gas seeping out from below the lunar surface: in simple terms, 'Moon farts'. This idea was too simple for some tastes, however - hence the suggestion by one reader that "it's Elvis, angling a mirror to reflect sunlight as a signal for help".

Technology Blog

Machine munches bulldozer is further proof, if any were needed, that sometimes the simplest headlines are the best. It describes a gigantic digging machine, 300 metres long and 42,000 tonnes in weight - and what happened to the luckless bulldozer it came across. Oops.

Shopowners Flee Mixed Baghdad Areas

BAGHDAD - Shiite taxi driver Aly Kaabi used to fear for his life each time his Mercedes needed a spare part. The place to seek replacements was a Sunni-dominated Baghdad neighborhood ruled at the time by militants from al-Qaida in Iraq.

Now, Kaabi gets his car fixed in a new industrial zone in an east Baghdad Shiite stronghold, itself a mirror image of another that has emerged in a Sunni-dominated western neighborhood.

The sectarian strife that first separated Baghdad's residents is now splitting its businesses - suggesting the divisions are becoming permanent.

The simple interactions that make up normal life in cities around the world - buying gas, going to a grocery store, fixing your car - are now conducted along strictly sectarian lines.

Despite a dramatic drop in violence and the expulsion of many al-Qaida in Iraq extremists over the last six months, many customers and shop owners in the capital say they will not return to their old mixed neighborhoods, fearing a revival of the bloodshed.........

Australian Gitmo Convict to Be Released

ADELAIDE, Australia - An Australian who became the first person convicted at a U.S. war crimes trial since World War II leaves prison on Saturday, apologetic for "what he's supposed to have done and what people believe he's done," his father said.

David Hicks, who was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan in December 2001, pleaded guilty in March to providing material support to al-Qaida after more than five years at at Guantanamo prison and returned to Australia to serve out his sentence.

He is due to be released in his home town of Adelaide but will face strict controls on his movement because he was judged a security risk.

"He's looking forward to finally stepping out into the open," said Hicks' father, Terry, adding his son wants to go to find a job to fund university courses in environmental studies. "All he wants is to get out and try and get some sort of normality."

The 32-year-old former kangaroo skinner's long detention at Guantanamo without trial strained ties between Washington and one of its closest allies in the fight against terrorism.

A U.S. military tribunal sentenced Hicks - a Muslim convert who has since renounced the faith - to seven years in prison in March after he confessed to aiding al-Qaida during the U.S-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

All but nine months of the sentence was suspended, and under a plea bargain Hicks was allowed to serve the remainder at a maximum security prison in South Australia state. He was told to remain silent about any alleged abuse he suffered while in custody.

Under the deal, Hicks forfeited any right to appeal his conviction and agreed not to speak with news media for a year from his sentencing date.

Terry Hicks said his son would issue a brief statement through his lawyer on Saturday.......

Friday's Sex News 12-28-07

  • Inside Britney's house of sex

    Star magazine take a look at Britney's Spear's house, and her alleged sex dungeon

  • Marine sex lives revlealed

    Sheree Marris's new book, KamaSEAtra - Secrets of Sex in the Sea, describes creatures such the male deep sea angler fish, whose love bite is permanent, and turns into a blob of testicles

  • Consequences from promiscuity

    Sex is not hidden as much these days, and prostitute is readily available. But there are consequences from readily available sex

  • Fine for mating goats

    A woman was fined in Dibble Oklamhoma, after her goats were caught mating and urinating in her yard

Click Pict to Enlarge

Pelosi and Reid Condemn Bush Plan to Veto of Defense Authorization Bill

Washington, D.C. -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued the following statement today criticizing President Bush's expected veto of H.R. 1585, the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, in response to assertions by the Iraqi government that one section could expose assets in U.S. banks to requests for compensation for American victims of Saddam Hussein.

"Despite the Administration's earlier support for the Department of Defense authorization bill, it appears that President Bush plans to veto this legislation, which is crucial to our armed forces and their families.

"The Defense bill passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming bipartisan margins and addresses urgent national security priorities, including a 3.5 percent pay raise for our troops and Wounded Warriors legislation to remedy our veterans' health care system. It is unfortunate that the President will not sign this critical legislation.

"Instead, we understand that the President is bowing to the demands of the Iraqi government, which is threatening to withdraw billions of dollars invested in U.S. banks if this bill is signed.

"The Administration should have raised its objections earlier, when this issue could have been addressed without a veto. The American people will have every right to be disappointed if the President vetoes this legislation, needlessly delaying implementation of the troops' pay raise, the Wounded Warriors Act and other critical measures."


On December 19th, Congress sent H.R. 1585, the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, to the President for his signature. The Bush Administration had worked closely with the Congress in the development of this legislation and gave no indication prior to its passage that one section of the bill could generate a presidential veto.

Subsequently, the government of Iraq raised objections to Section 1083, in which Congress strengthened the ability of victims of the brutality of Saddam Hussein to seek compensation. The Iraqi government has warned that plaintiffs, including former U.S. POWs who had been held captive during the first Gulf War in the 1990s, might cite this section in seeking compensation from its assets currently in U.S. banks -- reportedly $25 billion. The Iraqi government has threatened that, unless President Bush agrees to veto the Defense Department legislation, Iraqi leaders will immediately move assets out of U.S. banks.

Congress and the White House have been engaged in discussions about reviewing the effect of Section 1083 and considering whether additional action is warranted. Congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to consider technical corrections to resolve the Administration's new objections, if justified.

The Administration, however, reportedly intends to move ahead and announce that the President intends to veto H.R. 1585, placing in jeopardy the military pay raise and the Wounded Warrior program endorsed by the Congress, and complicating efforts to address concerns raised about Section 1083.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan Crisis Makes The Case For Biden, Not Bush or Hillary

Brent Budowsky

Let's give credit where it is due. Joe Biden has been light years ahead of all presidential candidates in both parties, warning about Pakistan for years, being the only candidate to seriously raise the issue in the debates.

My hope for Iowa is that Obama and Edwards make a caucus alliance for change, joining together during the Iowa caucus at the local level to maximize the change movement.

There is no doubt, however, that if any national candidate was right about Pakistan, and earns major presidential credibility, it is Joe Biden.

The fact is, the Bush obsession with Iraq has endangered both the Afghanistan war, and Pakistan, as Afghanistan deteriorates because of lack of attention and allied support, and the problems spill over the border to destabilize Pakistan.

While Hillaryland will no doubt try to exploit the Pakistan crisis against Obama and Edwards, Hillary was guilty as charged from 2002 through 2006 for supporting the Iraq obsession, and guilt as charged in 2007 for joining the Iran hysteria and supporting the Lieberman-Kyle resolution.

It was Joe Biden and Joe Biden alone among the presidential candidates in both parties who warned, and warned again about the dangers of Pakistan, who offered constructive proposals to get out of Iraq, and opposed the Iran hysteria of Lieberman-Kyle.

If serious, deep, credible, long term national security experience is elevated by this sad and tragic event, it is not those who succombed to Iraq and Iran hysteria who should be touting their "experience".

It is Joe Biden who was far ahead of the curve, and far ahead of all other candidates, about the gravest danger in the region, which is the nuclear and unstable dictatorship of Pakistan.

PAUL KRUGMAN: Trouble With Trade


While the United States has long imported oil and other raw materials from the third world, we used to import manufactured goods mainly from other rich countries like Canada, European nations and Japan.

But recently we crossed an important watershed: we now import more manufactured goods from the third world than from other advanced economies. That is, a majority of our industrial trade is now with countries that are much poorer than we are and that pay their workers much lower wages.

For the world economy as a whole — and especially for poorer nations — growing trade between high-wage and low-wage countries is a very good thing. Above all, it offers backward economies their best hope of moving up the income ladder.

But for American workers the story is much less positive. In fact, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that growing U.S. trade with third world countries reduces the real wages of many and perhaps most workers in this country. And that reality makes the politics of trade very difficult.

Let’s talk for a moment about the economics.

Trade between high-wage countries tends to be a modest win for all, or almost all, concerned. When a free-trade pact made it possible to integrate the U.S. and Canadian auto industries in the 1960s, each country’s industry concentrated on producing a narrower range of products at larger scale. The result was an all-round, broadly shared rise in productivity and wages.

By contrast, trade between countries at very different levels of economic development tends to create large classes of losers as well as winners.

Although the outsourcing of some high-tech jobs to India has made headlines, on balance, highly educated workers in the United States benefit from higher wages and expanded job opportunities because of trade. For example, ThinkPad notebook computers are now made by a Chinese company, Lenovo, but a lot of Lenovo’s research and development is conducted in North Carolina.

But workers with less formal education either see their jobs shipped overseas or find their wages driven down by the ripple effect as other workers with similar qualifications crowd into their industries and look for employment to replace the jobs they lost to foreign competition. And lower prices at Wal-Mart aren’t sufficient compensation.

All this is textbook international economics: contrary to what people sometimes assert, economic theory says that free trade normally makes a country richer, but it doesn’t say that it’s normally good for everyone. Still, when the effects of third-world exports on U.S. wages first became an issue in the 1990s, a number of economists — myself included — looked at the data and concluded that any negative effects on U.S. wages were modest.

The trouble now is that these effects may no longer be as modest as they were, because imports of manufactured goods from the third world have grown dramatically — from just 2.5 percent of G.D.P. in 1990 to 6 percent in 2006.

And the biggest growth in imports has come from countries with very low wages. The original “newly industrializing economies” exporting manufactured goods — South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore — paid wages that were about 25 percent of U.S. levels in 1990. Since then, however, the sources of our imports have shifted to Mexico, where wages are only 11 percent of the U.S. level, and China, where they’re only about 3 percent or 4 percent.

There are some qualifying aspects to this story. For example, many of those made-in-China goods contain components made in Japan and other high-wage economies. Still, there’s little doubt that the pressure of globalization on American wages has increased.

So am I arguing for protectionism? No. Those who think that globalization is always and everywhere a bad thing are wrong. On the contrary, keeping world markets relatively open is crucial to the hopes of billions of people.

But I am arguing for an end to the finger-wagging, the accusation either of not understanding economics or of kowtowing to special interests that tends to be the editorial response to politicians who express skepticism about the benefits of free-trade agreements.

It’s often claimed that limits on trade benefit only a small number of Americans, while hurting the vast majority. That’s still true of things like the import quota on sugar. But when it comes to manufactured goods, it’s at least arguable that the reverse is true. The highly educated workers who clearly benefit from growing trade with third-world economies are a minority, greatly outnumbered by those who probably lose.

As I said, I’m not a protectionist. For the sake of the world as a whole, I hope that we respond to the trouble with trade not by shutting trade down, but by doing things like strengthening the social safety net. But those who are worried about trade have a point, and deserve some respect.

Wars Cost $15 Billion a Month, GOP Senator Says

Washington Post

The latest estimate of the growing costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worldwide battle against terrorism -- nearly $15 billion a month -- came last week from one of the Senate's leading proponents of a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. "This cost of this war is approaching $15 billion a month, with the Army spending $4.2 billion of that every month," Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska), the ranking Republican on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, said in a little-noticed floor speech Dec. 18.

His remarks came in support of adding $70 billion to the omnibus fiscal 2008 spending legislation to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as well as counterterrorism activities, for the six months from Oct. 1, 2007, through March 31 of next year.

While most of the public focus has been on the political fight over troop levels, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported this month that the Bush administration's request for the 2008 fiscal year of $189.3 billion for Defense Department operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and worldwide counterterrorism activities was 20 percent higher than for fiscal 2007 and 60 percent higher than for fiscal 2006.

Pentagon spokesmen would not comment last week on Stevens's figure but said their latest estimate for monthly spending for Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on terrorism was $11.7 billion as of Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2007......

Religious right is dead


No matter who becomes the next president of the United States, the American people have already won a great victory — with the total disintegration of the once all-powerful religious right.

Starting in 1979 when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, Christian conservatives have been the most powerful voting bloc in the Republican Party. Ironically, they began by casting out of the White House a born-again Christian who continued, as president, his lifelong practice of teaching Sunday school, and replacing him with a divorced and remarried man who seldom stepped inside a church.

But of course, Jimmy Carter was a Democrat and Ronald Reagan was a Republican. And by staying united, the religious right has been able ever since to exercise its veto power over Republican candidates and dictate the issues — abortion, same-sex marriage, stem cell research and school prayer — they would campaign on. Until, that is, the presidential campaign of 2008.

Today, the religious right has splintered into as many different factions as O.J. Simpson has alibis. Unable to find one candidate who fits the bill of being both true-blue on the issues and electable, America’s ayatollahs have divided their loyalties. Indeed, in some cases, they’ve even declared war against each other.

The National Right to Life League has endorsed Fred Thompson, even though he opposes a constitutional amendment to ban Roe vs. Wade and admits he only goes to church when visiting his mother — while James Dobson says he’s not even sure Thompson qualifies as a Christian. Sam Brownback has endorsed John McCain, who once called Jerry Falwell an “agent of intolerance.” And Bob Jones III and Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich have even endorsed a Mormon because they think Mitt Romney is the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee, the only ordained Baptist minister in the race, is almost totally ignored by his fellow Christians because, even though Huckabee scores 100 percent on the issues, they don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning. Huckabee’s only evangelical endorsement comes from Tim LaHaye, co-author of the “Left Behind” novels — which may be the appropriate title for Huckabee’s campaign.

And, in one of the most bizarre pairings in politics, Pat Robertson, who blamed gays for Sept. 11 and prayed for a meteor to strike Disney World’s gay pride parade, has endorsed Rudy Giuliani — perhaps because he’s counting on Giuliani to assassinate Hugo Chavez.

James Dobson has said he will never vote for Giuliani, even if it means staying home. But the fact remains that, with Robertson’s help, the Republican Party could very well nominate for president a candidate who is twice-divorced, thrice-married, pro-choice, pro-gay rights and an occasional cross-dresser.

Merely entertaining Giuliani as a candidate demonstrates that, for many conservatives, political power counts more than Christian values.

The religious right is dead. It will never again exercise the political clout it once had — which is bad news for Republicans, but good news for the republic.

While in the long term, some moderate Republicans might welcome relief from having to genuflect in front of the pro-life movement and Terri Schiavo, the short-term political impact for the Republican Party is a disaster.

Christian conservatives probably won’t vote for a Democrat. They’re more likely just to stay home. But the result’s the same: Overnight, Republicans have lost their biggest and most loyal bloc of support. It’s the political equivalent of Democrats’ losing support of the unions.

But for Americans generally, the demise of the religious right is good news. It means tolerance is back. It means we don’t have to worry so much about efforts to turn the United States into a Christian nation. It means “secular” is no longer a dirty word. It means politicians will be judged by more important issues than how many times they utter the God word in one sentence. It means the list of moral issues will expand from abortion and gay marriage to include health care, a living wage, global warming, pre-emptive war and torture.

In short, the dying influence of Christian conservatives means that people of all faiths, or no faith at all, will feel comfortable participating in the political process — and not just those who subscribe to the narrow-minded, intolerant, mean-spirited brand of religion espoused by Dobson and Robertson.

And for that we collectively pray: Thank you, Jesus.

Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, “How the Republicans Stole Religion.” You can hear “The Bill Press Show” at His e-mail address is bill(at)

Bhutto emailed Blitzer: If anything happens to me, blame Musharaf

Today on "The Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer revealed an exclusive e-mail he received from Benazir Bhutto's US spokesman Mark Siegel in October. "This is a story she wanted me to tell the world on her behalf if she were killed," Blitzer said, before reading the e-mail.

In the e-mail, Bhutto wrote that, if anything were to happen to her, "I wld hold Musharaf responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions, and there is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides cld happen without him."


Obituary: Benazir Bhutto


Benazir Bhutto followed her father into politics, and both of them died because of it - he was executed in 1979, she fell victim to an apparent suicide bomb attack.

Her two brothers also suffered violent deaths.

Like the Nehru-Gandhi family in India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan are one of the world's most famous political dynasties. Benazir's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was prime minister of Pakistan in the early 1970s.

His government was one of the few in the 30 years following independence that was not run by the army.

Born in 1953 in the province of Sindh and educated at Harvard and Oxford, Ms Bhutto gained credibility from her father's high profile, even though she was a reluctant convert to politics.

She was twice prime minister of Pakistan, from 1988 to 1990, and from 1993 to 1996.


On both occasions she was dismissed from office by the president for alleged corruption.

The dismissals typified her volatile political career, which was characterised by numerous peaks and troughs. At the height of her popularity - shortly after her first election - she was one of the most high-profile women leaders in the world.

Young and glamorous, she successfully portrayed herself as a refreshing contrast to the overwhelmingly male-dominated political establishment.

But after her second fall from power, her name came to be seen by some as synonymous with corruption and bad governance.

The determination and stubbornness for which Ms Bhutto was renowned was first seen after her father was imprisoned and charged with murder by Gen Zia ul-Haq in 1977, following a military coup. Two years later he was executed.

Ms Bhutto was imprisoned just before her father's death and spent most of her five-year jail term in solitary confinement. She described the conditions as extremely hard.

During stints out of prison for medical treatment, Ms Bhutto set up a Pakistan People's Party office in London, and began a campaign against General Zia.

She returned to Pakistan in 1986, attracting huge crowds to political rallies.

After Gen Zia died in an explosion on board his aircraft in 1988, she became one of the first democratically elected female prime ministers in an Islamic country.

Corruption charges

During both her stints in power, the role of Ms Bhutto's husband, Asif Zardari, proved highly controversial.

He played a prominent role in both her administrations, and has been accused by various Pakistani governments of stealing millions of dollars from state coffers - charges he denies, as did Ms Bhutto herself.

Many commentators argued that the downfall of Ms Bhutto's government was accelerated by the alleged greed of her husband.

None of about 18 corruption and criminal cases against Mr Zardari has been proved in court after 10 years. But he served at least eight years in jail.

He was freed on bail in 2004, amid accusations that the charges against him were weak and going nowhere.

Ms Bhutto also steadfastly denied all the corruption charges against her, which she said were politically motivated.

She faced corruption charges in at least five cases, all without a conviction, until amnestied in October 2007.

She was convicted in 1999 for failing to appear in court, but the Supreme Court later overturned that judgement.

Soon after the conviction, audiotapes of conversations between the judge and some top aides of then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were discovered that showed that the judge had been under pressure to convict.

Ms Bhutto left Pakistan in 1999 to live abroad, but questions about her and her husband's wealth continued to dog her.

She appealed against a conviction in the Swiss courts for money-laundering.

During her years outside Pakistan, Ms Bhutto lived with her three children in Dubai, where she was joined by her husband after he was freed in 2004.

She was a regular visitor to Western capitals, delivering lectures at universities and think-tanks and meeting government officials.

Army mistrust

Ms Bhutto returned to Pakistan on 18 October 2007 after President Musharraf signed into law an ordinance granting her and others an amnesty from corruption charges.

Observers said the military regime saw her as a natural ally in its efforts to isolate religious forces and their surrogate militants.

She declined a government offer to let her party head the national government after the 2002 elections, in which the party received the largest number of votes.

In the months before her death, she had emerged again as a strong contender for power.

Some in Pakistan believe her secret talks with the military regime amounted to betrayal of democratic forces as these talks shored up President Musharraf's grip on the country.

Others said such talks indicated that the military might at long last be getting over its decades-old mistrust of Ms Bhutto and her party, and interpreted it as a good omen for democracy.

Western powers saw in her a popular leader with liberal leanings who could bring much needed legitimacy to Mr Musharraf's role in the "war against terror".

Unhappy family

Benazir Bhutto was the last remaining bearer of her late father's political legacy.

Her brother, Murtaza - who was once expected to play the role of party leader - fled to the then-communist Afghanistan after his father's fall.

From there, and various Middle Eastern capitals, he mounted a campaign against Pakistan's military government with a militant group called al-Zulfikar.

He won elections from exile in 1993 and became a provincial legislator, returning home soon afterwards, only to be shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 1996.

Benazir's other brother, Shahnawaz - also politically active but in less violent ways than Murtaza - was found dead in his French Riviera apartment in 1985.