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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Picture of the Day - One President at a time

(President George W. Bush gestures with a 'gigem' sign during a commencement ceremony at Texas A&M University, Friday, Dec. 12, 2008.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip))

Fun Saturday Reading

The NYTimes Magazine has published its 2008: Year in Ideas.

It's worth a browse.

The positive foreign policy case.....

From an article headlined "Foes ready to test Obama overseas."
Already there are signs that some of America's most strident foes are not eager for a fight.

Plunging oil prices have slammed the economies of Russia, Venezuela and Iran; health issues surround Kim Jong Il, the reclusive leader of North Korea, and have forced the retirement of Cuba's Fidel Castro; Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing a stiff re-election fight in 2009 amid double-digit unemployment and 30 percent inflation.

Good point.

(Plus, you gotta figure the first "challenge" in line is likely to get slammed as an Obama admin tries to define its "toughness.")

A policy change on Iran?

This may represent more of a change in expression than a significant change in stance, but Robert Gates at a regional security forum,
On Iran, Mr Gates denied that the US was seeking regime change, but wanted to see "a change in policies and a change in behaviour."

Coupled with a somewhat veiled commitment/warning on Israel.
"Anyone who thought that the upcoming months might present opportunities to test the new administration would be sorely mistaken."

"President Obama and his national security team, myself included, will be ready to defend the interests of the United States and our friends and allies from the moment he takes office on January 20th."

Gotta start watching all this stuff.

Assigning blame in the auto bailout collapse.

The LATimes takes one tack on blame for the bailout collapse, pinning it squarely on "conservative Republicans" with antipathy towards unions.
"This is the Democrats' first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election," read an e-mail circulated Wednesday among Senate Republicans. "This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it."

(Good to know the focus is on saving the economy.)

Politico outlines the GOP plans to make it all about the UAW.

The NYTimes splits blame between Senate Republicans and Gettelfinger, the UAW president. (And Corker comes out a hero doing the Sunday shows?)

Thankfully, the White House appears willing to cover these politicking Senators and bailout the automakers from the TARP. (However, that makes their politicking somewhat costless.)

(Let's remember, these are the same Republicans who opposed a minimum wage rise for a decade.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Congratulations. Here's how to work through how badly I screwed you....

President George W. Bush is delivering the final commencement speech of his presidency at Texas A&M University.

Rather than focus on policy, as he did in a speech this week, Bush planned to give some advice to the 3,700 graduates who will be receiving degrees Friday and seeking employment in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said the president would talk about "how he thinks that they can have good and healthy and productive lives as American citizens graduating from Texas A&M University."

On the Auto bailout - The party of Hoover

What the hell is wrong with these people?

We're on the brink of collapse, and these Republican idiots are dicking around with union wages? Nothing like slamming a dose of economic horror on the markets right in the middle of the Christmas shopping season.

Is there a major economist who backs this position?
That was the message Vice President Dick Cheney brought to a closed-door Senate GOP lunch Wednesday, reportedly warning that it’ll be “Herbert Hoover” time if aid to the industry was rejected.

Didn't they learn anything from the House Republicans trying to block the financial bailout? If they think it's going to help them politically, they're idiots. They're going to take the blame.

I'm sorry, I'm so enraged I can't even express it.

A fundraiser for Blagojevich

According to the Chicago Trib, supporters of Jesse Jackson, Jr held a fundraiser for Blagojevich on Saturday, important because Senate candidate 5 was supposedly putting some money up front. Jesse Jackson Jr's brother was there, and then Jackson met with Blagojevich on Monday.

Jesse Jackson, Jr. is scheduled to meet with investigators today.

(For timeline, Obama officially resigned his Senate seat Sunday.)

Strategists spinning their tales

David Plouffe says that Clinton would have won if they hadn't abandoned the caucuses.

Elsewhere, Plouffe said that the Clinton campaign's acceptance of cutting Florida's delegation also killed them.

And, Bill McInturff, the McCain pollster, explains why running Rev. Wright ads wouldn't have worked.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Picture of the Day - The man who's killing the auto bailout.

(Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., right, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 18,2008.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert))

It's not going to work. Pass the damn bill

It appears the Senate Republicans want to be perceived as being "tougher" on the auto companies, I'm guessing just for the politics of it, but, once again, they're going to run into the problem I wrote about yesterday.

If they're going to play politics with this thing and claim they're "tougher," is Mitch McConnell really the guy you want out front?

The guy is wet cardboard, and they're trying to make their passionate Republican identity arguments through him?

You can kill the bill, but it's not going to save your brand.

Later: The Republicans are going after the unions.

Maybe Jesse Jr. didn't know.....

Also, the congressman's father, Jesse Jackson Sr., has retained legal council following the Blagojevich arrest.

Palin 2012

It's enough to get her through the primaries......
(NBC poll) But among Republicans only, the most popular is Palin -- with a whopping 73%-13% (approval) rating. But Palin's overall score is a net negative, 35%-45%, which means she fares poorly among Democrats and independents.

Picture of the Day

(President-elect Obama dropping off his children at school in Chicago, Nov 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak))

Offering Israel something they have

I thought this was interesting.
President-elect Barack Obama plans to offer Israel a strategic pact designed to fend off any nuclear attack on the Jewish state by Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday.

Quoting an unnamed American source close to Obama, Haaretz daily said Obama's administration would pledge under the proposed "nuclear umbrella" to respond to any Iranian nuclear strike against Israel with a U.S. retaliation in kind.....

The latitude for unilateral Israeli action might be limited by a U.S. nuclear umbrella. Similar Cold War treaties -- NATO in Europe, the nuclear umbrella over Japan -- defended U.S. allies while obliging them to get Washington's nod for military moves.

Notice that this came from "an unnamed American source close to Obama," so it's something they definitely want out there.

Israel has the nukes, so this is all about positioning. Reassuring Israel? Trying to tell Iran there's no wiggle?

I think it's groundwork more than literal, but I'm not sure of the goal. (However, I think it's another sign that the Obama administration is looking to make a hard run at the mideast.)

Portugal steps up on Guantanamo

In the immediate case, it appears Portugal are offering to take the 17 Uighurs that China refuses to repatriate.
European Union countries should offer to take in any detainees released from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Portugal's foreign minister said in a letter published Thursday.

Portugal is willing to grant asylum to Guantanamo detainees who cannot return to their home countries, Foreign Minister Luis Amado said in the letter sent to his EU counterparts.


(Reuters/AFP) India's Foreign Minister blasted the Pakistanis over their efforts regarding terrorist, but said very clearly that war with Pakistan is "no solution."

(McClatchy) "A U.N. document obtained by McClatchy said that LeT (Laskar-e-Taiba) has sent operatives to attack U.S. troops in Iraq, established a branch in Saudi Arabia and been raising funds in Europe."

(BBC) A bombing at a restaurant in Kirkuk, on Eid, kills at least 47.

(BBC) Belgium detain 14 as Al Qaeda before a European Union Leaders summit. They are believed to have planned an attack.

(NYTimes) US forces kill 6 Afghani police by mistake.

And, the NYTimes has a rare article on the violence in the Congo.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Somebody wants to get fired.....

NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told its leader that she is “not qualified” to head the effort, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.....

If you're at all curious, read on.

Picture of the Day

There's a person in there.

(President George W. Bush makes a statement on the situation in Darfur after meeting with Darfur human rights activist Dr. Halima Bashir at The White House on December 10, 2008. (AFP/Chris Kleponis))


Cheney meets with the Republican Senate caucus to try and persuade them to pass the auto bailout.

Jindahl 2016

The fact that he's smart enough to step away from the 2012 election madness, and to recognize that 2016 is the more likely GOP year, puts Bobby Jindal, in my estimation, head and shoulders above the rest of them, Romney, Huckabee, Palin, in intelligence and competence.

(Besides, he can always be "drafted" later.)

Looking bad for Jesse Jackson, Jr.

It's been pretty well established that Jesse Jackson, Jr. is Senate candidate 5 in the Blagojevich thing. The notable bit is that "emissaries" for Senate candidate 5 do appear to have been playing ball with Blagojevich.

This doesn't mean that JJ, Jr, was necessarily in the know, or that he's going to go down, but the early smoke doesn't sound too good.
Jackson said this morning he was contacted Tuesday by federal prosecutors in Chicago whom he said "asked me to come in and share with them my insights and thoughts about the selection process."

Jackson said, "I don't know" when asked whether he was Candidate No. 5, but said he was told "I am not a target of this investigation."

Jackson said he agreed to talk with federal investigators "as quickly as possible" after he consulted with a lawyer.

It's that last sentence that captures the sense of jeopardy.

Republican politics - Lessons not learned

With all the other stuff going on, I've kinda lost track of the internal Republican fallout from the election.

(CNN) Mike Duncan will seek a new term as RNC chair. (There are several other viable contenders, but you gotta figure Duncan probably has a good "whip count" of the votes and wouldn't be running again if he thought he couldn't win.)

In the Congress, you've got Boehner still in control and consolidating power, and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell stands unchallenged.

So, Republicans came through this landslide election, and it now appears their national leadership may remain entirely intact.

If that happens, it's pretty unbelievable.

"House Arrest"

Echoing my skepticism from yesterday about Pakistan's seriousness in their "crackdown" on Lashkar-e-Taibi, the top name "arrest" was put under "house arrest," hardly the type of detention that speaks of serious terrorism concerns and interrogation.

Then there's the second level concern over whether the Pakistani civilian government can do anything against the the military/ISI.

Blagojevich, an "ongoing investigation"

I understand the why, but after the last eight years, I find it a little dispiriting to hear Obama and the transition say they're not going to comment on "an ongoing investigation."


Is it curious that the two Dem governors from the two states that spawned the two top Dem Presidential nominees were both brought down in scandal in an election year?

I'm not defending either one of them. It's just curious.....

One of those moments

The remaining 330 of the Tuskegee Airmen, now in their 80's and 90's have been invited to the inauguration.

There are going to be so many moments at the inauguration......

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Picture of the Day - 2

(One month's food assistance for one to two people is displayed at the Blackstone Valley CAP food pantry in Pawtucket, Rhode Island December 2, 2008. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder))


It really is telling about the state concern that people are buying short term US government debt at 0% return.
Investors accepted the zero percent rate in the government’s auction Tuesday of $30 billion worth of short-term securities that mature in four weeks. Demand was so great even for no return that the government could have sold four times as much.

Bloomberg has alot more detail, pointing out that a good bit of this is year end sales to make the balance sheets, but the lower rates are stretching up to the 10 year.

Blagojevich - Merry Fitzmas

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested for trying to sell Obama's open Senate seat.

Later: No wonder Obama wanted to distance himself from the process....
Federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder....

Later: From the indictment, Obama wouldn't play ball.

Politico asks an interesting question, "how much was the Obama transition cooperating with the FBI?" (Does Valerie Jarrett's withdrawal suggest that they were cooperating or just refused to play?)

Just for your timing, Blagojevich made his direct extortive request of the Obama folks on Nov 7.
And on November 7th, three days after the election, Blagojevich made clear what he wanted in exchange for appointing the Obama adviser to the Senate: the Department of Health and Human Services.

And they've got tape, so we might also find out who was buying.

Here are some of the requested inducements.

Later: Ambinder makes a case that Jesse Jackson Jr might be Senate candidate 5 and might be kinda deep in this.

Picture of the Day

The Bush administration puts out an internal memo advising appointees how to discuss Bush's legacy.

"Above all, George W. Bush promised to uphold the honor and the dignity of his office. And through all the challenges and trials of his time in office, that is a charge that our president has kept."

(President George W. Bush jokes with children and makes a face as he and Laura Bush take part in the Children. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds))

The next President

Obama approval at 79% per CNN/ORC.

The loonies are back.

So far, we've had the gun folks stirring a shopping hysteria saying that Obama is going to take away all the guns.

Next we had the crazies claiming that Obama is not a "naturalized citizen" and thus part of some ill defined great plot to steal our precious bodily fluids.

And now, today, we have our first mainstream "world government/black helicopters" piece appearing in the British press. (Global warming is the way they're going to do it.)

Even the GOP conspiracy nuts can't move into the 21st century.

GM confesses

In what is presumptively part of their PR campaign to get the auto bailout money, GM runs a full page ad in Automotive News apologizing for their mistakes.

The Pakistani stance

Pakistan has "arrested" another 20 in relation to the Mumbai attacks. (I put that in quotes because, at this point, there are real questions as to what level of serious legal jeopardy these folks will face. Several of them have been repeatedly arrested and released over the years.)

The important bit is that, in these arrests, Pakistan is strongly asserting that it will not turn any of them over to India. (AP, BBC)

Politically, domestically, Pakistan can't turn them over, but would a domestic conviction serve them any better? Or are these guys detained until the political winds blow over?

Israel prepares to go more "hardline"

Likud, Israel's likely next ruling party, held their "primaries" and primarily selected hawks and hardliners to stand in the Feb 10 elections.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Picture of the Day - 2

So, help me out with this. Someone at the Counterterrorism Center is watching Bush from a window? Are they waving, or seeing the last of his backside?

(President George W. Bush waves as he leaves the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Va., Monday, Dec. 8, 2008.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci))

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed asks to confess and plead guilty

Why would they plead guilty in Guantanamo with the realistic chance of being transferred to the Federal court system?
The self-styled mastermind of the September 11 attacks and four co-defendants told a military judge at Guantanamo on Monday that they wanted to confess and plead guilty.

The defendants said in a note to the judge that they made the decision on November 4, the day Barack Obama was elected to become the next U.S. president.....

Several of the defendants had said at previous hearings that they welcomed martyrdom, and they may have felt that opportunity slipping away with Obama's election.

Maybe because a Guantanamo "conviction" and capital punishment holds greater propaganda value?

That's an interesting statement on the "hearts and minds" value of Guantanamo over the "criminal method" of pursuing terrorists. (And to the broader mistake of calling it a "war," elevating their ideology rather than marginalizing them as criminals.)

Later: The NYTimes and WaPo have a little more.

Oh the times they are a-changin'.....

Rep. Tom Tancredo announces his retirement and says he hopes to be remembered for something other than illegal immigration.

Up until Nov. 4, he was proud of that reputation.


Are we going to get excited when the Dow breaks 9,000?

Picture of the Day - The popular President

When the Meet the Press staff excitedly clusters around you after a show, looking for autographs, you are a popular president.

(REUTERS/Scott Olson)

Deconstructing the legacy defense

The Austin American Statesman has a rather interesting article interviewing many of Bush's Texas staffers. There're some gems in there, including the Rove saying he is going to "name names" on people who stood in Bush's way from day one.

However, what really grabbed me was this line, frequently invoked by those who have made policy mistakes.
Rove said Bush did what he thought was right, not what he thought was popular.

Beyond the admission that the policies were unpopular, this statement also carries the clear implications that 1) the actor is smarter than everyone else, 2) the policies are, in fact, right, and any other assessment is wrong, and 3) the (historic) level of unpopularity is an inverse measure of the actors "courage."

The power of this type of statement is that the affirmative arguments are made in the implicit, meaning that this one powerful sentence requires a multi-paragraph debunking.

Another example of this style is the frequently invoked defense for the entrance to the Iraq war, "Would you like to see Saddam Hussein still in power?" as it reframes the entire Iraq/WMD/counter terrorism strategy argument into an ahistorical human rights debate.

Or, another personal favorite is Bush's frequent invocation that we should wait for history to judge his presidency (because we lack the broader historical comprehension that Bush is so full of.)

These are powerful tools in the legacy project, one line assertions that require essay level responses. There's alot of them out there.

Not getting the coverage it deserves,

The first outreach/negotiation between the Afghan government and representatives of the Taleban is about to take place.
A meeting is being planned in Dubai in the coming days involving 40 or so Afghans, representing both the insurgents and the government.

It is being organised by the son-in-law of one of the country's most notorious pro-Taleban warlords and has the support of Washington, our correspondent report.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The ISI ties to terrorists

The NYTimes has a story discussing the ties between Lashkar-e-Taibi and the ISI. There's no new prosecutable evidence on the Mumbai attacks here, but it does sum up the broad intelligence community assumptions of ISI links and protection.

In that same vein, from a WSJ article,
A top security official has said the military would be willing to fight India alongside Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, the man accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mr. Mehsud has denied involvement in the murder. The Taliban, too, said it would suspend its fight against Pakistani soldiers to join them a conflict with India.

These groups (Lashkar, Taleban, tribal groups) have been largely developed and allowed to continue by elements of the Pakistani security apparatus because they broadly assist, or have a functional utility against, Pakistan's "existential" enemy, India.

I know it's heresy to say this about "our ally," but, allowing some inexactness, these groups function as Pakistan's Hezbullah.

Later: Pakistan has moved in and arrested a Lashkar figure, but, as the BBC speculates, this probably means he'll be tried and "jailed" in Pakistan and not likely given over to India.

(Watch to see how legitimate this raid was. Was there real open fighting or was it a staged surrender?)


If I were a Governor looking ahead to years of bad economy/bad budgets I'd seriously consider serving in the Obama administration.

Picture of the Day - 2

(President George W. Bush looks at himself with his hands on his hips as he attends the unveiling of The Union League of Philadelphia's Portrait of the President at their headquarters in Philadelphia, December 6, 2008. (REUTERS/Larry Downing))

(At the event, Bush, once again, tried to compare his unpopularity to Lincoln.)

Fantasizing about Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan

Helene Cooper of the NYTimes theorizes a series of "dominoes" stemming from the Mumbai attacks.

Richard Clarke in the WaPo envisions two fictional meetings, Bin Laden and an ISI contact in Rawalpindi, and an Obama NSC meeting, trying to plan what's next.

And, the NYTimes has a frontpager on a new Afghanistan strategy which focuses on retaking areas around Kabul rather than reinforcing the troops along the Pakistani border.

What is this?

The Pakistanis claim they received a hoax threatening phone call from someone claiming to be Indian PM Mukherjee, and, on that basis, they put their armed forces on high alert?

This was on Nov. 28. More at the bottom of this article. And here.

(On the other hand, it sounds like this "hoax" came right after the US was quietly warning Pakistan to prepare for the possibility of an Indian quick strike on training camps.)

Again in Peshawar....

Militants blasted their way into two transport terminals in Pakistan on Sunday and torched more than 160 vehicles destined for U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, in the biggest assault yet on a vital military supply line, officials said.

Picture of the Day

(A security official stands among burnt military vehicles on the outskirts of Peshawar December 7, 2008. (REUTERS/Ali Imam))