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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Picture of the Day

(An ash cloud from the eruption of Redoubt volcano rises above the horizon in Homer, Alaska, Thursday, March 26, 2009. The eruption Thursday morning sent an ash cloud 65,000 feet above sea level, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported.(AP/McKibben Jackinsky))


This is one of those that is significant not because it's true, but because someone official finally said it out loud.
The US military says it has evidence elements within Pakistan's military intelligence, the ISI, continue to provide support for the Taleban.

Officials said that this support for militants had to end.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said the ISI had links with militants on both Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan and India.

No surprise if you've been watching, but the public statement does represent a shift towards a more confrontational stance.


The non-drug GDP of Afghanistan is something like 8 or 9 billion dollars.

I'm yet to see a dollar figure for the Obama administration's Afghanistan plan, but I'd wager it's several times that.

The end of the Bush era

It's always difficult in realtime to pick out significant moments that represent turns in culture, but I think this may be one.
The agency that owns the space where the World Trade Center towers stood is freeing itself of the term "freedom" to describe the signature skyscraper replacing the buildings destroyed on September 11, 2001.

"Freedom" was the key phrase in the promotion of the Bush doctrine. It was both the advertising and the justification for that aggressive foreign policy, and now the site of tragedywhich the Bush folks invoked so frequently and fervently as their marketing base for their theories is rejecting the term.

I judge this more as a marketing choice by the owners than as a political statement they were trying to make. They recognize the now negative association to that term "freedom."

(I wonder how the Presidential Library/Think Tank, "The Freedom Institute" will sound in a few decades.)

Viva la Evolucion

The Texas Board of Education has voted. Even though they forced this wording to be printed in every textbook, I think you've go to call this a loss for the anti-evolution folks, because what does this mean?
"In all fields of science, analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental observation and testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those explanations so as to encourage critical thinking by the students."

PS. The church was once adamant that the Sun revolved around the Earth.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Update on militias and crazy people

Regarding the post below on the seeming resurgence of "militias" and such. Michelle Bachmann is a good example of someone chumming the paranoid, possibly violent waters.

Can you scream Marxist, call for revolution and overthrow of the government and not carry responsibility if something happens?

Just quit, Norm Coleman

Even if by some wild fluke Norm Coleman were to get back to the Senate, he'd likely be quickly removed by the Kazeminy scandal. Kazeminy was paying Coleman's wife's firm cash for no work performed, and this is just one of the many questionable Kazeminy-Coleman acts.

Just quit, Norm.

The next Tim McVeigh

This report was likely pulled because of the incendiary and loose links to political figures and Cristianity. Ignore that.

What is important is that the US "militias" are coming back.

Remember these crazies? The gun toting "black helicopter" nuts who were doing military/survivalist training to resist the eventual UN takeover of the United States that they believed the Clinton administration was orchestrating? Remember the Michigan militia and the many other outfits that sprang up across the country? Remember Tim McVeigh who traveled in and came out of those circles?

I would argue that this round could be far more dangerous. That 90's version had some connections and ties to the white supremacists, but with their natural beliefs that Democrats are "socialist one worlders" (look at the fervor being fanned on the right over that world currency garbage,) and a black president as hate object, the potential for serious white supremacist connections in this version is much higher.

Now tie that in with (even just a few) disaffected and potentially damaged Iraq war veterans carrying boatloads of anger, and you have a potential for disaster.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong, this just feels all too familiar to those groups in the 90's.

War IN Pakistan

It sounds like one of the elements that will be coming out of the administration's Afghan/Pakistan policy review is the recognition that the US is, in fact, at war inside Pakistan against that loosely grouped spectrum of Taleban and Islamists that spread across the region.

That sounds like a very tricky sell to me, to tell the Pakistani people that we're at war in your country, not on your country.

....especially when it's Pakistani innocents who are being killed by both sides. Today, (AP) at least 48 killed in a near the border mosque by a suicide bomber.

Pictures of attack sites, both Taleban bombings like this one and US drone attacks, are going to make the politics and propaganda in Pakistan very, very hard.

Later: The NYTimes front pages a supporting article, well "sourced" to support the idea of this strategy saying that all of the region's Islamist forces have now joined.

Whether or not it's true, the timing and placement of the article makes it look more like a support piece for the coming policy announcement than anything else.


With the global anger over the economy, I sure am glad my city isn't hosting the G20.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

They're baaack.....

Kagan and Kristol form a new Foreign Policy Institute which seems remarkably war cravingly, strength worshippingly similar to the Project for the New American Century.
Last fall, a PNAC veteran, asked what the hawks would do during a prospective Obama administration, laid out the playbook that has seemingly emerged with the Foreign Policy Initiative. "We'll do what we did in the 1990s, with things like the Project for the New American Century," AEI military expert and former PNAC senior fellow Thomas Donnelly said. "We have a core set of beliefs that is pretty much intact: that American power is a good thing and should be exercised."

Party in disarray

Sarah Palin is still arguing with McCain staffers 5 months later.

And, House Republicans are tearing into each other over their "budget proposal" with many getting sore over their opinion that Eric Cantor is mugging for cameras.

This anti-Cantor sentiment kind of explains why someone "leaked" Cantor's attendance at a Britney Spears concert which he's now having to defend.

They haven't straightened their stuff out yet.

Picture of the Day

Our thoughts are with you, Fargo.

(From left: Jack Lubka, Dale Cardwell, Michael Stensgard and Doug Stensgard load sandbags into a boat as the Red River rises, Wednesday, March 25, 2009 in Fargo, N.D. (AP/Carolyn Kaster))

A mystery in Sudan

Lots of mystery about the bombing of a weapons convoy in Sudan, supposedly heading to Egypt and Hamas. The US publicly claims the kill, but there's some question that it could have been the Israelis.

(And no one's made a peep about the attack since January?)


(BBC) "Iran has confirmed it will attend a US-backed international conference on the future of Afghanistan next week."

Replaying 2001 - China!!!

In 2001 with a new President surveying the military budgets, all of the war hawks were aiming their weapons budget generating fear mongering towards China as "the next threat." Today, with a new President, we're there again.

The Pentagon issues its annual report on China's military, and with the new management and money on the table, it gets press again. (NYTimes, CNN)

Needless to say, the Chinese don't like being villanized so that Congressional reps and thinktankers can push their pet programs. (AFP, Reuters)

US troops electrocuted in the showers.

It really is unforgivable that this is still going on.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keeping the Pakistanis close....

An interesting article in the NYTimes, not for what it says, but for it's likely intent in the context of the Pakistan drone bombings.

We know that the Pakistanis are providing support, but someone in the Obama administration wants it very public and very official right now that we know about "direct support from operatives in Pakistan’s military intelligence agency."

Sharif has been on a populist rise after the protests and reseating of Chaudhry and has been aligning himself as the voice of "true Pakistan" in a nexus of the more rightist elements and the military.

I'm guessing this is an attempt from the US to show that "true Pakistan" isn't quite as pure as it's being sold and to drive a little wedge between the military and the rightists.

Related: (NYTimes) U.S. Weighs Sharif as Partner in Pakistan

And, Two more US missile strikes in Pakistan.

The Dems just can't compete

In the world of outrageous/crazy, the Dems just can't compete. I'm not talking about your extreme crazies like Michelle Bachman or my old favorite, Katherine Harris. I'm talking about the head of the party and the nominee for VP.

(Politico,CNN) Sarah Palin goes on an incoherent ramble against the press at an Alaska dinner. (They're all out to get me.)

And, In a CNN interview, Michael Steele tries to imply that all his gaffes were actually part of a a brilliant strategy, and then tries to say that God will tell him whether to run for President "through others." (like his advisers?)

Seriously, can the Dems match this crazy?

Specter is drowning

I haven't really been watching the behind the scenes stuff on EFCA, the union bill that is being so trashed by the business community, but it has pretty much died now that Arlen Specter has voiced a "no."

Here's why Specter went "no." Pa Repub primary polling (Qpac), Pat Toomey 41 - Arlen Specter 27.

Picture of the Day - 2

(Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 24, 2009, before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on AIG.(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais))

Local note

There's a small burbling locally about some of Mexico's rich (or at least their families) moving to Houston to get away from Mexico's declining security.

Not a huge trend, but interesting in relation to the perceptions of the stability of Mexico.


The tremendous shadow of Condi Rice still looms over US foreign policy.

Picture of the Day

I think Jindal took an unnecessary gamble in trying to raise his national presence in Obama's first 100 days. If it had worked, he would be the center of national Republican opposition, but becoming the opposition of a landslide President in his first 100 days seems a pretty high risk gamble.

(Then again, he's facing off against folks who already have a national infrastructure, and he has nothing.)

(Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal defends the speech he made in response to President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress during a news conference Monday, March 2, 2009 at the Louisiana State Capitol.(AP Photo/Tim Mueller))


George Bush added $5 trillion to the national debt.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

They must be really, really scared....

Out of the goodness of their hearts, right?
The health insurance industry offered Tuesday for the first time to curb its controversial practice of charging higher premiums to people with a history of medical problems....

Insurers are trying to head off the creation of a government insurance plan that would compete with them....


Does anybody remember when having a black President was going to be such a big deal?

Picture of the Day

(President Barack Obama listens as questions are posed to the astronauts in orbit on the International Space Station and Space Shuttle Discovery, March 24, 2009. (REUTERS/Larry Downing ))

A second rumor on unseating Karzai

Again, it's at the rumor stage, but, following the Guardian's report a couple days ago, the British TimesOnline echoes a softer version of the proposal to create a parallel "Prime Minister" position in the Afghani government to take away Karzai's power.

This one seems like it's more of a policy advocacy kind of "leak" than an actual active plan, but it's also a second story that this discussion of disempowering Karzai is going on.

So, who is pushing this into the press?

Iraqi fracture point

Without much notice, most of the US created/turned local Sunni militia groups have been officially transferred to Iraqi government control, and now we face the potential "worst fear" questions of how that relationship will work out.

The NYTimes has an article on some of the Sunni militiamen who are unhappy although it's mostly anecdotal and doesn't give a firm sense of the level of disenchantment.

This meshing of the Sunni groups into the official Iraqi structures is a key item of reconciliation, and it's going very slowly thus far. Just something to keep an eye on.

A chuckle from The Hill

Anecdotal, but funny.
Congressional Republicans are telling Dick Cheney to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input.

Displeased with the former vice-president's recent media appearances, Republican lawmakers say he's hurting GOP efforts to reinvent itself after back-to-back electoral drubbings.

NPR is booming

I'm sure it has to do with drive time and people in cars, but this is still pretty impressive.
(NPR's) "Morning Edition's" average daily audience, 7.6 million, is now about 60 percent larger than the audience for "Good Morning America" on ABC and about one-third larger than the audience for the "Today" show on NBC.

Free travel mugs and tote bags for all!!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009


So after a monster day on the market mainly because of the new bad asset plan, do all those people still want to tar and feather Geithner?

Viva la Evolucion

The evolution "battle" has now come to my state in what could be the biggest victory yet for the flat-earthers. My state's second shame, Gov. Rick Perry, has partially stacked the state school board with creationists and they're going to try and push evolutionary "critical thinking" into the statewide curriculum.

The truly disgusting part of all this is that the conditions for this travesty have more to do with an embattled Gov. Perry fighting off a primary challenger by swinging wildly right than any true commitment to the issue.

I'm not really a fan of Kay Bailey Hutchinson, but I'm pulling for her more every day.

An issue for someone who needs one

I hope somebody's watching this, because, if it breaks badly, the optics of this could take down almost anybody.
There was plenty of outrage on Capitol Hill last week over the executive bonuses paid out by AIG after getting federal bailout money. But another money trail could make voters just as angry: the campaign dollars to members of Congress from banks and firms that have received billions via the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Torture memos coming

Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. One senior Obama official... said the memos were "ugly" and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a "truth commission" on torture....

According to the administration official, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden was "furious" about the prospect of disclosure and tried to intervene directly with Obama officials. But the White House has sided with Holder.

I would expect another round of "Obama's endangering the country" to try to transfer the argument to "security" rather than crimes and prosecution. (Maybe that's what Cheney was doing the other day. He certainly has to know about this process.)

A US backed coup in Afghanistan?

Well, not exactly a coup, but this sounds kinda close.
The US and its European allies are ­preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned.

The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August....

The US and its European allies are ­preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned.

The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.

I'd treat this as rumory at this point. This story might be as weak as policy advocacy or a trial balloon, but still, wow.

Also, now we better understand Karzai's comment last week that "Afghanistan ... will never be a puppet state."

(This would be that Plan B.)

Later: Reuters has a different catchall on the Afghanistan policy review which doesn't mention this.

This is the Republican party

Presidential wishful, SC Governor Mark Sanford, writes an oped for the WSJ making his case for refusing the Stimulus money, and in it, as part of his largest Gubernatorial political effort this year, he talks about how his state ranked "47th worst in the nation for annual debt service as a percentage of tax revenue," and it's on this basis that he's refusing the money.

BUT, my point would be that SC also ranks in the last 10 on infant mortality, K-12 education, etc, yet the Governor is not spending one moment of his national spotlight on that. He's actually actively refusing $700 million for his state's 4.5 million people.

He's positioning as the budget cutter of the 2012 primaries. Screw his people and their condition.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stray thought

With the economy where it is, I might argue that all Governors' political stocks will be fading because of budgetary problems.

I'm not predicting some broad swathe of changes, but anyone hoping to run for national office from a Republican Governor's mansion on their fiscal policies is going to have trouble.

Picture of the Day - 2

Obama responds to Cheney

On 60 Minutes tonight. (Probably huge relative viewership as it's after and promoted during all the basketball.)
President Obama, rejecting former Vice President Dick Cheney's contention that Obama has put the nation at greater risk of terrorism, suggests in an interview airing tonight on "60 Minutes" that the previous administration's stance was an "advertisement for anti-American sentiment."

"How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney?" Obama asks. "It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment."

(I wonder if they stick that or the Geithner defense in the promos?)

Geithner's hurting

Obama is defending Geithner, but perhaps the best measure of where he is is his response at the sharply satirical Gridiron dinner.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (who left the event immediately after the song that mocked him)....

Came to show he was a good sport? Or maybe he was just tired?


I didn't get to this yesterday because of all the tech trouble, but I do think it's notable that Iran's response to Obama's overture came from Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, not Ahmadinejad.

There are alot of possible reasons why 1) To take the issue out of the Iranian elections/the US overture undermines Ahmadinejad's oppositional strength. 2) Obama's offer to soften the relationship has unwanted traction in Iran, and the leadership wanted the religious authority in rejecting it. 3) The Iranians wanted it clear that the position towards the US was "supra-elections" and has a continuity regardless of who was in the elected leadershhip.

I'm really not sure why, but it feels significant that after all the Bush/Ahmadinejad sparring, this response came so unusually from above the presidential level.
"You give the slogan of negotiation and pressure again ... Our nation cannot be talked to like this," Khamenei said.

During his televised speech, the crowd chanted: "Death to America. Death to America."


Picture of the Day

(Aitzaz Ahsan (R), former chairman of the Supreme Court Bar Association and leader of the reinstatement movement, greets Pakistan's reinstated chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry at his residence in Islamabad March 17, 2009. (REUTERS))

Chaudhry was reinstated today.