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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Senator Al Franken

It's looking very likely that Al Franken may be the next junior Senator from Minnesota.

(AP) "Unless Coleman wins a pending court petition that seeks to add hundreds more ballots to the recount, the counting is done..."

Toppling Hamas

The NYTimes has an interesting "news analysis" piece which posits that the real goal of the Israeli offensive may be to remove Hamas from power. (by force?)

Frankly, I don't see how that works, but judge for yourself.

Publishing security details about the inauguration.

Read this closely. It says there will not be security screenings for the Mall at the inauguration. The parade route will be screened, as will the areas near the Capitol, so the Obamas will be very secure.

But, it sounds like the crowd of 1-2 million on the Mall will be left pretty much alone.

(I always wonder about the wisdom of pre-publishing security plans.)

Israel enters Gaza

Early word says that Israeli troops have entered Gaza.

At this stage, it's difficult to tell the level or length of the incursion.
Officials have stated repeatedly that the aim is not to fully reoccupy Gaza. But it was clear that the military was leaving the door open for a long-term operation....

Or WaPo,
It is not uncommon for Israel to move ground forces into Gaza for relatively quick, targeted strikes. But Israeli officials indicated that this operation will be lengthy.


A brave new media world

I predict that one of the more interesting elements of this next presidency will come from the availability of "new media," as politicians from both sides find themselves caught up in their hypocrisy as they contort themselves from support/opposition to opposition/support of the Obama presidency.

The accessibility of the public record is so very different in 2009 than in 2001. Unlike in the past where only big media could scan the archives, or the contrasts were all in print, we now have all these politicians on video attacking/defending the Bush presidency.

When Obama makes a move and Congressman X says it's a rampant abuse of power, the bloggers will now be able dig out that old video of the Congressman defending Bush doing the exact same thing. When Senator X says Republicans in the minority are being obstructionist, up will pop a video of that Senator claiming the importance of opposition.

This will work both ways, against both sides, but I think it will be very different. For the first time, we won't have to wait for Meet the Press to do the contrast. For the first time, the bloggers will have a video record.

(As a side bet, who will be the first Republican to utter the word "impeach?")


It's becoming very popular to warn over the increasing US national debt/deficit looking into 2009, but almost all the articles are coming with an ill-expressed spending bias. Almost everyone of these articles highlights that the (Democrat assigned) stimulus and spending efforts will raise the deficit/debt.

But, I think it's equally important to note that this disastrous economic year will also put a rather large stamp on the revenue side. With the market and other losses this year, wealthier Americans, who pay a huge amount of the income taxes, will be able to find losses and offsets to substantially lower their tax payments. Also, you gotta figure that corporate receipts will also be down substantially.

My point being that this debt "time bomb" should not be automatically assigned to the spending packages (which are now being attributed to Democrats.) Not only did the Bush administration push out the first $700 billion in TARP debt, but they were also the stewards of the economy that led to next year's disastrous revenues.

There's enough blame to go around, but I have a fear that all the debt complaints will end up on the Democrats doorstep.

Darkening Russia

I'm not necessarily sure I buy the premise as a counter argument could be made that fear tends to seek out strong leaders, but an interesting op/ed case that the economic problems and oil price collapse could lead to problems for Putin.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Picture of the Day

(An explosion is seen after an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip, January 1, 2009. (Saleh Salem/Reuters))

Quickhits - Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Gaza

(AP) US readying south Afghan surge against Taliban (Significant not only because of the troop increase along "the front," but also because these American troops will be inserted into areas previously controlled by the British and Canadians. Are US troops taking over these areas?)

The NYTimes has a piece on the corruption and bribery that has taken over the Afghan government. (Frankly, I'm a little surprised at the "high prices," considering how poor Afghanistan is.)

(AFP) Five dead in US missile strike in South Waziristan.

(AP) Pakistan reopens the US/Khyber Pass supply route. (How much progress could they have made in three days?)

(Reuters) India says Pakistan has done little about militants.

(Guardian) Another article saying the Iraqi government intends to close the anti-Iranian MEK compound. (Sounds pretty damned civilized. The Iraqi National Security adviser "led a delegation" to the camp.)

And, (McClatchy) US, Isreali policies helped strengthen Hamas.


Bush's loyal advisers say he's actually brilliant, a great decision maker, and that Cheney never controlled anything.

Sounds like front page to me. Especially if it's printed with no examination of the facts and no contradictory opinions whatsoever.


From a pretty useless piece on Republicans leaving Washington for the Obama inauguration,
Greg Crist, a GOP lobbyist who was willing to be named, said that “I will be pondering the future of my party at a remote location, aided in the conversation by my friend Jack Daniels.”

Picture of the Day - Trying to look popular

I could be wrong, but in my memory of watching Bush pictures for the last three years, I never remember seeing him shaking hands at the TSTC Airport in Waco. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

I'm guessing they wanted the picture for the image of popularity.

A "sound bomb?" A "warning missile?"

In what appeared to be a new Israeli tactic, the military called at least some of the houses ahead of time to warn inhabitants of an impending attack. In some cases, it also fired a sound bomb to warn away civilians before flattening the homes with powerful missiles, Palestinians and Israeli defense officials said....

They said the Israelis either warned nearby residents by phone or fired a warning missile to reduce civilian casualties.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Two rather extreme conservatives have misgivings about a few members of Obama's several hundred person transition.

To the Washington Post, the concerns of these few far rightists constitute a story.

Admit I was wrong (maybe) - Long discursive holiday post

Immediately after the election, when all the questions were "where will the Republican Party go?," I got into a bit of an argument with a couple of you over that direction.

My contention was that cooler, more strategic heads would prevail, and the Republicans would temper their more extreme elements, and work their way back towards revitalization by capturing centrist elements peeled off from the Democrats. I figured that in a natural equilibrium, elements of that center would, at least, become available to the GOP.

The other option (forwarded by Todd and EPM that I remember) was that, left with this southern rump on the national level, the Republicans would, in fact, go further right, further restricting their access to the center.

It's way too early to call this argument over, especially with the RNC chair race still alive, but, thus far in the chaos, it has been the more extreme voices winning, and the House and Senate leadership are already showing some signs of being pulled to the right by their membership. The "we just weren't pure enough" argument appears to be winning the early debate.

There are voices out there that could bring back some of those centrists stripped away in this election, but, right now, they seem to be getting drowned out by the harder right which is defining the Republican brand.

I had figured that the GOP couldn't be so stupid as to choose a decade in the wilderness, but the early dynamics of the "civil war" seem to support a movement further from the center that isn't so much a result of choice as a result of their political geography.

We'll have to wait and see how it develops once they have the opportunity to really establish themselves in opposition, but, thus far, I'm willing to admit I was (provisionally) wrong.

Light political bits

(Politico) How dare Obama be popular? Because people like him, let's minimize his presidency. Let's imply he's a lightweight (Britney Spears,) because presidents can't be popular.

(WSJInterview) Alberto Gonzales still smarting from not finding a job, "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

And, still claiming too many headlines, Sarah Palin says, "both Levi and Bristol are working their butts off to parent and going to school and working at the same time."

(Bristol's unplanned pregnancy has forced her out of high school to get her degree through "correspondence" (GED). Levi, the father, has dropped out of high school altogether to go into an apprenticeship program. Hardly a dream story.)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Here's hoping this next year will be better than the last.....

Picture of the Day

(President-elect Barack Obama holds 9 month old Peyton Highfill as he greets the crowd after working out on aMarine Corps Base in Kailua, Hawaii on December 31, 2008. (REUTERS/Hugh Gentry))

New Year's plans.....

President Bush is in Crawford. (No surprise there. There's an international crisis on. Where else would he be?)

Obama will be celebrating at the vacation house in Hawaii.

And the Clinton's are in Times Square.


In the wall to wall coverage it's important to remember that Israel and Palestine combined have a population of about 9.5 million people.

That's less than the top 20 cities in the world, somewhere around Paris, Moscow, or Istanbul.

Everybody's a socialist......

This is from the Washington Times, so take it for the ideological crap that it is, but still....
Republican Party officials say they will try next month to pass a resolution accusing President Bush and congressional Republican leaders of embracing "socialism," underscoring deep dissension within the party at the end of Mr. Bush's administration.

I doubt that whatever comes out of the RNC meeting will actually use the word "socialism," but it really does highlight how far off the deep end the remaining Republican rump has fallen.

(PS. Republicans are still lining up to defend "Barack the Magic Negro." There are some who think that sending out that CD will help vault Saltsman into a runoff.)

Later: It's a good point to put both of these into the context of the RNC chair race. Duncan, the frontrunner, backed the bailouts.

Cleaning out the DoD

With Gates staying on at DoD, there had been questions about how many, if any, of the Bush DoD appointments would be kept. The Hill reports the answer is none, not for one day.
President-elect Obama’s transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day.

You figure Gates had to have signed off on this.

Gaza, a ceasefire, and "the Decider"

As you read that Israel has rejected the idea of a 48-hour ceasefire, be aware that the LATimes reports that this solution is being partly pressed by the US.

But, there's a very interesting little bit in there....
U.S. officials were talking intensively Tuesday to Arab and European powers about the possibility of a two- or three-day cease-fire, diplomats said. U.S. diplomacy is complicated by differences between the White House and the State Department, these sources said.

So, diplomats tasked with negotiating a ceasefire say they are being "complicated" by the White House? What does that mean?

Does that mean the president has sent them on an empty errand? Does that mean they went with Bush's support, but Cheney, et al. are working against them? Is this trying to say Condi Rice has "gone rogue?"

Why should these last three weeks be any different than the rest of the presidency with the continual fights between the Cheney faction and the State Department?

This is not the way to run a foreign policy. It's supposed to be one voice.

Later: The NYTimes seems to present the US ceasefire effort as coming from the President down.

Pakistan admits it was Lashkar in Mumbai

According to the WSJ, from the information Pakistan has gathered, there can now be no denying that Lashkar e Taiba carried out the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistani security officials say a top Lashkar commander, Zarar Shah, has admitted a role in the Mumbai attack during interrogation, according to the security official....

The person said Mr. Shah had implicated other Lashkar members, and had broadly confirmed the story told by the sole captured gunman to Indian investigators -- that the 10 assailants trained in Pakistan's part of Kashmir and then went by boat from Karachi to Mumbai. Mr. Shah said the attackers also spent at least a few weeks in Karachi, a crowded Arabian Sea port, training in urban combat to hone skills they would use in their assault.

So the question becomes, what now? Does Pakistan extradite these guys to India? Can they against the ISI and likely popular opposition? Do they try to prosecute them in Pakistan with its history of light sentences and releases in cases like this?

This is really messy for the Zardari government.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New supply routes for Afghanistan

The NYTimes recovers the story we've been reading for awhile, that the US military is trying to re-lay its supply routes into Afghanistan. I got a little curious, so I looked up a few maps.

The current supply line lands at Karachi (port city at the bend,) then follows up the river to Peshawar (in the very north of the country,) and then cuts across the Khyber Pass to Kabul. It's about 700 miles.

The new proposed supply lines either land in the Black Sea, likely in Russia, travel north around the Caspian (Iran to the south,) travel a great distance through Kazakhstan, and then travel south through the next group of 'stans into Kabul from the north or, an alternate route would be Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Caspian, then the Russia, Turkmenistan, etc, etc.

It seems to hold lots of potential future complications, from Russia and continued goodwill across a whole bunch of tin pot totalitarians, but, on the other hand, it does relieve some of the leverage Pakistan now holds if you want to get tougher with them.

"Never fight a land war in Asia," right?

Picture of the Day

(President-elect Barack Obama shakes hands with the crowd gathered at the 18th green after playing a round of golf at the Mid Pacific Country Club in Kailua, Hawaii on December 29, 2008. (REUTERS/Hugh Gentry))


I'm not going to comment on Blagojevich trying to name Roland Burris as Senator because 1) After all the coming hurdles, I don't think he'll end up seated, and 2) I don't know enough about the process to add any light.

However, I do find it interesting that Caroline Kennedy's efforts are failing in New York. Her wave appears to have crested.

(And Franken is looking more likely to win.)

IMF backs Obama economic plan

Someone please forward this to Mitch McConnell and the RNC.
Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist, said "the size corresponds roughly to what we think is needed." He backed the Obama approach of targeted tax cuts, saying the money should go to consumers who are "truly credit constrained."

In an accompanying research paper, Mr. Blanchard and three other IMF economists advised against broad cuts in corporate tax rates, dividends and capital gains -- Republican favorites -- which they judge "likely to be ineffective" because profits are low.

Picture of the Day

(Anti-Israel protest in Beirut, Dec. 29. 2008. (AP/Mahmoud Tawil))

Someone needs to tell him it's not how many books you read...

(WSJ) Karl Rove describes his book reading contests with (still) President Bush.

Two thoughts: 1) Certainly this is part of "the legacy project," trying to rewrite what we know about this President, but, seriously, the Wall Street Journal gives 5 inches on its editorial page so Karl Rove can tell me how many books Bush has read?

2) I think the fact that Bush counts and measures his books read for competition, even down to calculating pages, typeface, and page size, says more about this president than Karl Rove intends.

(This is really pretty unbelievable. Imagine being a historian a hundred years from now and coming across Harding's chief political operative writing a national column talking about reading contests and how many books Harding read...)

Annapolis (Gaza update)

Remember the 2007 Bush/Annapolis Middle East Peace process?

(Reuters) Israel rejects truce, presses on with Gaza strikes

(NYTimes) On Fourth Day of Gaza Battle, No End in Sight. (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the bombardment “the first of several stages,” suggesting that, with no active diplomacy in sight, the conflict was far from resolution.)

(Haaretz) "Israel has thus far refused to officially discuss a cease-fire, but in practice it is conducting an indirect and hesitant dialogue with Hamas. As of yet, however, there is no official mediator...."

(Haaretz) "The Foreign Ministry on Sunday released preliminary options for a "diplomatic exit strategy" from the operation in the Gaza Strip."

(YNet) "Speaking at a meeting with top officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed participants to refrain from talking about the possibility of a Gaza ceasefire at this time..."

(So, the official line, "we do not negotiate, we're going to keep going," is more positioning than literal.)

(Bush and Rice are yet to comment on the whole thing.)

Been nice knowing you.......

The Yellowstone supervolcano is no longer just the province of those way out there, but I've been following it on the tinfoil hat circuit for many, many years.

So, when the microtremors get frequent enough to make a top ten AP story, I gotta mention it. (Probably nothing. What's interesting is that the quakes are broadly getting shallower. USGS data.)

(PS. If TV and movies are any guide, the massive disaster always occurs under a black president.)

Picture of the Day - Our supply route

Pakistan temporarily stops US resupply into Afghanistan as they move to strike militants in the Khyber Pass. (Reuters, AFP, BBC.)

These are the trucks that supply the US military through the Khyber Pass.

(A Pakistani security guard walks beside trucks loaded with military vehicles for NATO and US-led forces in Afghanistan, parked in Peshawar in November. (AFP/File/Tariq Mahmood))

(The Pakistanis are also claiming that India is moving troops towards the border although India denies it.)

Losing Pakistan

Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive....

Militants began preying on Swat's lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture....

The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

The amazing thing is that Swat was so safe just a few years ago that it was a tourist destination. Now, it's looking likely to be a launching pad for terror attacks against the capitol.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The party of "no"

It appears there's a movement among Republicans to position themselves against spending to save the economy. Mitch McConnell speaks against the stimulus package, and the RNC is thinking about an unprecedented policy vote against the bailouts.

One of the advantages of being in the minority is that you can vote "no" and not be held responsible for any outcomes.

The flipside is that they could be portrayed as out of touch with people's pain. (Is McConnell just talking, or does he intend to do anything about it.)

Picture of the Day

Something to watch. Israel has banned news reporters from Gaza, although some are there, and other agencies are working with locals.

But, what I wanted to point out is this. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, or anywhere else with a longstanding conflict, Hamas has an extremely effective PR arm. In their asymmetric warfare, they long ago realized that media and image were primary weapons.

That's not to say the images aren't real, or that any deaths aren't a tragedy, but, be aware that the images coming out of Gaza might be collected or posed for effect.

Even with that recognition, this is a very hard picture to look at.

(The bodies of five Palestinian siblings lie at a hospital morgue following an Israeli air strike overnight in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. (AFP/Mohammed Abed))


On this third day, Israel's attacks are now targeting buildings that are "symbols" of Hamas. (BBC outlines some of the "symbols.")

The Guardian carries a story that the Israelis have been planning this for six months with a few other interesting assessments. 1) It's also about the Israeli election in February. 2) This planning is seen as a correction to the Lebanon/Hezbullah disaster. 3) The Israelis really believe this will undermine Hamas. and 4)
The three weeks before Barack Obama's inauguration were Israel's last chance to assume automatic diplomatic support from Washington, as it got from George Bush over both West Bank settlements and the Lebanon war.

It is hard to imagine an Israeli government testing Obama, whom it views with foreboding because of a sense he has more sympathy for the Palestinians, with a crisis of these dimensions during his first days or weeks in office.

It's one article making guesses, so judge it for what it is, but I found the bullet points thought provoking.

(NYTimes) Obama Defers to Bush, for Now, on Gaza Crisis

(I would love to hear the contacts between the Obama transition and the Israelis.)

Later: Another interesting "News Analysis" in the NYTimes suggesting that the Israelis primary goal is showing that they're no paper tiger, to reestablish fear across the Arab world after the Lebanon disaster. (Again, for "thought provoking," it's worth a read.)

And, the WaPo has an editorial pointing out that any gains against Hamas are likely to be small or none, while these attacks undermine the efforts against Iran's nuclear program.

(And Turkey and Syria have already canceled their negotiations.)

Later: For a US propaganda "loss," one of the significant bombs being used by the Israelis is the US made and supplied GBU-39 guided bunker buster.

A first taste of Bush retrospective

There's a special "Hardball" tonight where Chris Matthews makes the first stab at Bush retrospective.

(You figure the MSNBC retrospective will be the roughest on Bush, but I'm still really curious how much these goodbyes will try to soften the lens. I'm expecting lots of focus on Bush's "personal traits," religious, personable, etc, especially from FoxNews.)

Love is blind....

One of the post Bush books I would love to see is an explanation of the Bush/Condi Rice relationship.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that despite President Bush's low approval ratings, people will soon "start to thank this president for what he's done."....

"When one looks at what we've been able to do in terms of changing the conversation in the Middle East about democracy and values, this administration will be judged well, and I'll wait for history's judgment and not today's headlines."

She goes on at some extraordinary length in defense.

(Rice in 2004: "As I was telling my husb-")

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I don't know if it's standard post-Christmas or frustration with a dire world, but I really don't feel like digging in today. So, Quickhits.

Israel continues its attacks, threatens ground operations, the US warns Hamas..... Obama issues a "one president at a time" no comment.

(Related: There's no real evidence that Hamas will be toppled in this. If anything, it causes problems for the West Bank's Fatah.)

(Also, of some relative value, here's Al Jazeera's coverage from last night on the attacks. This is the English version, but it gives some tamped down flavor of the coverage being shown across the Arab world.)

Another attack in Pakistan, 30 killed, and despite editorials across the Muslim world, Pakistan is still shifting some troops east.

A Shiite targeting carbomb kills 24 in Baghdad.

A bombing in Afghanistan targeting tribal leaders kills 8. (Targeting a polling location, meeting of tribal leaders discussing security.)

"More than 6,100 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials."

Newsweek has a (web only) piece on potential legal jeopardy for Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, et al regarding detainee treatment.

And, RNC chair hopeful Chip Saltsman continues to get blasted for sending out the Barack the Magic Negro CD, mostly by rivals for the RNC chair post. (And Gingrich.)