Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Taliban Threatens Attack on U.S. Capitol

It looks like the Taliban are now feeling threatened.

WSJ: The leader of the Pakistani Taliban threatened Tuesday to carry out a terrorist attack on the U.S. capital, and said his forces were behind an assault on a police academy in eastern Pakistan.

Baitullah Mehsud said fighters loyal to him raided the police academy on the outskirts of Lahore on Monday to avenge continuing U.S. missile strikes against Islamic militants along the border with Afghanistan, a region largely controlled by the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The attack on the police academy, which left 12 people dead, "was in retaliation for the ongoing drone attacks in the tribal areas. There will be more such attacks," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

G20 Leaders May Agree On Regulatory Reforms

Air Force One Carries Obama's AB Blood

200 Secret Agents, AB blood reserves... Wow, they DO news in Britain. Get a look at this:

GM Has Spent Way Too Many Years Restructuring

It's a real shame that incompetent leadership drove U.S. automakers into the ground. David Brooks says all GM knows how to do is restructure:

There are many experts who think that the whole restructuring strategy is misbegotten. These experts think that costs are not the real problem. The real problem is the product. The cars are not good enough. The management is insular. The reputation is fatally damaged.

But if you are in the restructuring business, you can’t let these stray thoughts get in the way of your restructuring. After all, restructuring is your life. Restructuring is forever. Restructuring is like what dieting is for many of us: You think about it every day. You believe it’s about to work. Nothing really changes.

When the economy cratered last fall, the professionals at G.M. went into Super-Duper Restructuring Overdrive. In October, they warned the Bush administration of a possible bankruptcy filing and started restructuring. In December, they came back asking for a loan while they ... (wait for it) ... restructured. NYT
This is Brooks' dismal outlook. I sure hope this isn't what happens:
The most likely outcome, sad to say, is some semiserious restructuring plan, with or without court involvement, to be followed by long-term government intervention and backdoor subsidies forever. That will amount to the world’s most expensive jobs program. It will preserve the overcapacity in the market, create zombie companies and thus hurt Ford. It will raise the protectionist threat as politicians seek to protect the car companies they now run.

It would have been better to keep a distance from G.M. and prepare the region for a structured bankruptcy process. Instead, Obama leapt in. His intentions were good, but getting out with honor will require a ruthless tenacity that is beyond any living politician.

Obama to Launch New Effort to Reduce Stockpiles

The U.S. and Russia to draw up a new treaty to reduce nuclear stockpiles. Looks like Obama will make some sort of announcement tomorrow.

President Obama plans to launch negotiations on Wednesday to draft a new arms control treaty that would slash the American and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals by about a third and possibly lead to even deeper reductions in the future, according to administration officials.

As Mr. Obama left on Tuesday for his first European trip as president, American and Russian officials have indicated privately that they could agree to reducing their stockpiles to no more than 1,500 warheads apiece, down from the maximum of 2,200 allowed under a treaty signed by President Bush in 2002.

The two sides plan to draft the treaty on an accelerated basis so it could be signed by late summer and ratified in time to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, when it expires in December after 15 years. Both Washington and Moscow hope quick success in replacing a pact negotiated in the waning days of the Cold War would help revive a strained relationship and set the stage for more dramatic arms cuts later.

North Korea Stoking Tensions

UPDATE 4-4: North Korea launches. Read more here.
North Korea is getting testy, threatening to blow six party talks to end nuclear weapons testing, putting two U.S. journalists on trial and threatening war with Japan.
North Korea says it's launching a communications satellite between April 4-8. Japan says it's going to shoot it down and Robert Gates says the launch is a mask for development of a ballistic missile. Good grief.

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) - A missile North Korea could launch as soon as this weekend appears to have a bulb-shaped tip that gives credence to Pyongyang's claim it plans to put a satellite in space, U.S. defense officials said on Tuesday.

Washington and others have voiced concern the launch will be a test of a long-range missile that could carry a warhead as far as U.S. territory. Pyongyang's plans have alarmed the region and intensified pressure on the North not to launch its Taepodong-2. A Taepodong-2 test in 2006 failed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the launch, which North Korea says will occur between April 4 and 8, would deal a blow to six-party talks to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Further stoking tensions, North Korea said on Tuesday it would put on trial two U.S. journalists arrested this month on its border with China.

The reclusive state accused the two female reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee from the U.S.-based media outlet Current TV, of unspecified "hostile acts."

"The illegal entry of U.S. reporters into the DPRK (North Korea) and their suspected hostile acts have been confirmed by evidence and their statements, according to the results of intermediary investigation conducted by a competent organ of the DPRK," North Korea's KCNA news agency said.
This from Bloomberg: 
North Korea accuses Japan of using the launch, scheduled to take place between April 4 and 8, as a pretext to build its own nuclear arsenal.

The North Korean news agency, in its statement, said, “The primary aim sought by Japan through this is to bring the six- party talks to collapse and delay the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and thus justify its ambition for nuclear weaponization.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on March 29 called the launch “a mask” for development of an intercontinental ballistic missile by North Korea.

Hillary Addresses World Conference on Afghanistan

It's a good thing Hillary Clinton isn't president because she's the perfect Secretary of State.
The conference today was a one-day event, hosted by the Netherlands, to rally the world to Afghanistan's side. 70 country leaders attended, even Iran:

BBC: The presence of Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mohammad Mehdi Akhoondzadeh, has been applauded by the US.

"Iran is fully prepared to participate in the projects aimed at combating drug trafficking and the plans in line with developing and reconstructing Afghanistan," he said, according to AFP news agency.

But earlier, he said Afghans held the key to the future of their nation, not the international troops fighting the Taleban.

"The presence of foreign troops can't bring the peace, security and stability to the country," he told Iranian state media.
However, the BBC's international development correspondent, David Loyn, says that behind Iran's routine criticism lays a far more nuanced approach.

Mr Akhoondzadeh said Iran had increased the capacity of the docks at Chabahar - its nearest port to Afghanistan - to allow non-military supplies to travel into Afghanistan via Iranian territory.
Our correspondent says the cautious overture by Iran comes in response to the new mood set by the Obama White House.

Gingrich Turns Catholic

Isn't Newt Gingrich running for president in 2012?
Aren't a lot of Catholics really mad at Obama?

NYT: A spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, Rick Tyler, said Tuesday that Mr. Gingrich was not commenting on the conversion, at least at the moment, but may in the future.

Mr. Gingrich was confirmed into the church on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill and celebrated that night, according to The Hill, with friends at Cafe Milano, one of Washington’s most insider-y dining establishments. His guests included Cardinal McCarrick, the retired Cardinal of Washington.

McCain Dooms Yucca To Reid's Delight

NYT: So it was no small victory for Mr. Reid when Senator John McCain of Arizona, the former Republican presidential nominee and a big proponent of the nuclear storage area, declared on Tuesday that Yucca Mountain was no longer a realistic option given the opposition of the Obama administration. Mr. McCain said he still favored the use of Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste, but urged other options so that the United States could move to expand its use of nuclear energy.

“Nuclear power is a critical component in securing our nation’s energy future and reducing greenhouse gas emission and I believe that moving forward on Yucca Mountain is a key step in growing a strong nuclear industry,” Mr. McCain said in a statement. “However, if opponents of Yucca Mountain are going to hold this project hostage, then we shouldn’t be charging the American taxpayer and utilities for this facility.”

Stunned By The Awesome Nature of Michelle Obama

This video is kind of cheesy but you get the idea -- Michelle Obama is pretty cool here and there.

Obama Arrives in London

See a British narrated video of the Obamas arrival in London here.
Raw video of the arrival of Air Force One:

BBC: President Obama was met at Stansted Airport, north of London, by UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling and a senior official from the US Embassy.
He then boarded the presidential helicopter Marine One to make the short journey to central London where he will stay at the US ambassador's residence.
Before the start of the G20 summit of world leaders on Thursday, Mr Obama will hold extensive talks with Gordon Brown, meet the UK opposition leader David Cameron and have a private audience with the Queen.
The president is also scheduled to hold bi-lateral meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Chinese President Hu Jintao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

The president's wife, Michelle Obama, will take part in a series of engagements with Sarah Brown, the prime minister's wife.
Mr Brown is keen for world leaders to reach agreement on a new set of rules for regulating global finance as well as measures to boost economic demand and support poorer countries.
OBAMA'S EUROPEAN TRIP
Tuesday: Arrives in London
Wednesday: Mr and Mrs Obama breakfast with the Browns at 10 Downing Street; Mr Obama holds talks with Gordon Brown; meets Russian and Chinese presidents, David Cameron, and the Queen
Thursday: G20 summit; Mr Obama will also meet the Indian PM, the South Korean president and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during the day
Friday: Departs for Strasbourg; meets French president; holds town-hall meeting; visits German Chancellor in Baden-Baden, returns to Strasbourg
Saturday: Attends Nato summit in Strasbourg; departs for Prague
Sunday: Attends EU-US summit, departs for Ankara
Monday: Departs Ankara for US
CBSNews also has a nifty map and schedule here.

New Poll: Right Direction Triples

WaPo: The number of Americans who believe that the nation is headed in the right direction has roughly tripled since Barack Obama's election, and the public overwhelmingly blames the excesses of the financial industry, rather than the new president, for turmoil in the economy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
At this early stage in his presidency, Obama continues to benefit from a broadly held perception that others should bear the bulk of responsibility for the severe economic problems that confront his administration. Americans see plenty of offenders, but only about a quarter blame the president and his team for an economy that's in the ditch.

Obama Takes Off For Britain

The Obamas climb aboard Air Force One:

On Tuesday morning, President Obama will travel to London, arriving in the evening. He will attend the G-20 summit and other meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday morning, he will depart for Strasbourg, France where he will attend the NATO summit. On Saturday, he will depart Strasbourg to Prague, Czech Republic. On Sunday, he will depart to Ankara, Turkey. On Monday, he will travel to Istanbul, Turkey. On Tuesday, April 7, he will return to Washington. Lynn SweetRead about his plans in Turkey here.
Read more details about his five days abroad here.
Video of what might await him here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gibbs Press Briefing March 30

Michael Steele Has Obama Envy

Steele had said the same thing in GQ mag:

Good GM Good Chrysler

Obama's auto task force hired a bankruptcy attorney about 2 weeks ago, but bankruptcy doesn't mean dead. Ford must be feeling relatively good these days:

WSJ: The Obama's administration's leading plan to fix General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC would use bankruptcy filings to purge the ailing companies of their biggest problems, including bondholder debt and retiree health-care costs, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move would in essence split both companies into their "good" and "bad" components. The government would like to see the "good" GM to be a standalone company, according to an administration official. The "good" Chrysler would be sold to Fiat SpA, assuming that deal is completed, this person said.

GM and Chrysler have had bankruptcy attorneys devising plans for such a move in recent months.

President Barack Obama's task force has told both companies that the administration prefers this route as a way to reorganize the two auto makers, rather than the prolonged out-of-court process that has thus far frustrated administration officials.

GM looks increasingly like it will be forced into filing for bankruptcy protection, sometime in mid-to-late May, in a plan where the automaker breaks into two companies, the surviving entity a "new GM" that maintains key brands such as Chevy and Cadillac and some international units, say several people familiar with the situation.

Japanese Students Learning English From Obama

Apart from steering the US economy through difficult times, fine-tuning strategy on two wars and resetting geopolitical equations, US President Barack Obama is also helping many Japanese students learn English. In Japan, students practice reciting Obama’s speeches, noted the Wall Street Journal in a report from Tokyo, with the headline: “Learning to Speak Better English: Yes, We Can!”

The report described a gray-haired Japanese student struggling with a line from Obama’s famous 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention that catapulted him into the national spotlight.

The student read on: “They … would … give me an … African name, Barack, … or ‘blessed’. ” English teacher Makoto Ishiwata corrected the student, “Not ‘blessed,’ “bless-ed’.”

The Obama speeches have become the latest fad fueling Japan’s long, and oft-frustrated, passion for mastering English, the Journal said. Read more.

Inside Guantanamo - Video

National Geographic goes inside of Guantanamo.
A prisoner asks for a book, the guard says there is a Stephen King book called "It." What's it about? asked the prisoner. The guard: It's about a big bad clown. The prisoner: What's that?

Obama Signs Super Bill To Save Wilderness and Paralysis Research

Also in the bill:

Also included in the legislation signed by Obama is a provision named for "Superman" actor Christopher Reeve that provides for paralysis research and care for persons with disabilities. MSNBC
Read Obama's statement on the act here.
Read the bill's text here. 

Laura Ling and Euna Lee to Be Tried in North Korea

Journalists Laura Ling, sister of Lisa Ling, and Euna Lee were captured earlier this month. Read about that here. North Korea accused them of illegal entry and hostile acts.

Bill O'Reilly on The View March 30

O'Reilly doesn't Twitter because he says he has to think. No comment. O'Reilly, like many, still think people on Twitter are telling others what they're eating for lunch. If they are, they might be sharing a recipe. You can't understand Twitter until you actually get on and actively participate. You have to add a photo as step No. 1 and you have to find your thing. You have to figure out -- what is your Twitter voice? Mine is easy - what's going on in the Obama administration.
Twitter is like a community, one that you create. As in any community, you get to know who's who and who cares about what.
He calls the BlackBerry a blueberry.

Part 2. Joy asks if O'Reilly is jealous of Limbaugh. O'Reilly shuts Elisabeth down. That was pretty sweet.

Biden and Vilsack Visit North Carolina April 1

Biden and Vilsack will be showing how the stimulus is affecting rural America. They'll also make an announcement on rural housing funding. For more on how the stimulus is being used, check in at Recovery.gov.

Vice President Joe Biden and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to North Carolina on Wednesday, April 1st to highlight how the Recovery Act is helping rural America.

They will travel to Faison, North Carolina to visit the Goshen Medical Center, which is a rural area clinic receiving Recovery Act funds and serves Duplin, Eastern Sampson and Southern Wayne Counties.

They will then travel to Pikeville, North Carolina to visit the area’s Rural Fire Department’s main station, which is receiving Recovery Act funds to help build a new facility, because the current station cannot accommodate the necessary ladder trucks required to adequately and safely fight fires.

The Vice President and Secretary Vilsack will also make a major announcement regarding rural housing funding. WH

Joe the Articulator

Joe's talent is he can articulate what's on people's minds. He's a pot stirrer:

Mr. Biden has settled into a role of what Mr. Obama compares to a basketball player “who does a bunch of things that don’t show up in the stat sheet,” the president said in an interview Friday. “He gets that extra rebound, takes the charge, makes that extra pass.”

Mr. Biden’s reputation for windiness, self-regard and unrestrained ambition have long prompted some degree of eye-rolling around him and probably always will. But what has been striking to many in the administration has been how strenuously the president has worked to include him and, perhaps most notably, the influence Mr. Biden appears to be wielding.

Top aides say it has become customary for Mr. Obama to solicit Mr. Biden’s opinion at the end of meetings. But his views by no means always carry the day. At one January meeting to discuss the budget, Mr. Biden railed that the government was in no fiscal shape to pursue a health care overhaul this year — to the dismay of many present and others who heard about it.

The vice president later backed off, but Mr. Obama — who disagreed strongly with the view — has come to see Mr. Biden as a useful contrarian in the course of decision-making.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said that “when there’s group-think going on, the vice president tends to push the envelope in the other direction.” Read more at the NYT

Failure of Leadership Yet Wagoner Gets $23 Million

This is the kind of thing that has to change.

MSNBC: When General Motors Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner leaves the automaker, he'll take with him a financial package worth an estimated $23 million.

The terms of General Motors Corp.'s government loans prevent it from giving executives severance pay, but they don't affect earned pensions.
Obama tells auto workers: "I will fight for you. You're the reason I'm here today." Obama appointed Edward Montgomery, director of recovery for auto workers and communities, to cut through the red tape to use stimulus funding to create new manufacturing jobs. Here is the announcement that Chrysler and GM just aren't cutting it: 

White House's Auto Task Force findings:
Viability of Existing Plans: The plans submitted by GM and Chrysler on February 17, 2009 did
not establish a credible path to viability. In their current form, they are not sufficient to justify a
substantial new investment of taxpayer resources. Each will have a set period of time and an adequate amount of working capital to establish a new strategy for long-term economic viability.
• General Motors: While GM’s current plan is not viable, the Administration is confident that with a more fundamental restructuring, GM will emerge from this process as a stronger more competitive business. This process will include leadership changes at GM and an increased effort by the U.S.
Treasury and outside advisors to assist with the company’s restructuring effort. Rick Wagoner is
stepping aside as Chairman and CEO. In this context, the Administration will provide GM with working capital for 60 days to develop a more aggressive restructuring plan and a credible strategy to implement such a plan. The Administration will stand behind GM’s restructuring effort.
• Chrysler: After extensive consultation with financial and industry experts, the Administration has reluctantly concluded that Chrysler is not viable as a stand-alone company. However, Chrysler has reached an understanding with Fiat that could be the basis of a path to viability. Fiat is prepared to transfer valuable technology to Chrysler and, after extensive consultation with the Administration,
has committed to building new fuel efficient cars and engines in U.S. factories. At the same time, however, there are substantial hurdles to overcome before this deal can become a reality.
Therefore, the Administration will provide Chrysler with working capital for 30 days to conclude a definitive agreement with Fiat and secure the support of necessary stakeholders. If successful, the government will consider investing up to the additional $6 billion requested by Chrysler to help this
partnership succeed. If an agreement is not reached, the government will not invest any additional taxpayer funds in Chrysler.
• A Fresh Start to Implement Aggressive Restructurings: While Chrysler and GM are different companies with different paths forward, both have unsustainable liabilities and both need a fresh start. Their best chance at success may well require utilizing the bankruptcy code in a quick and surgical way. Unlike a liquidation, where a company is broken up and sold off, or a conventional bankruptcy, where a company can get mired in litigation for several years, a structured bankruptcy
process – if needed here – would be a tool to make it easier for General Motors and Chrysler to clear away old liabilities so they can get on a path to success while they keep making cars and
providing jobs in our economy. Read more here.
Read more about Chrysler and GM viability and warranties for those GMs and Chryslers you own here.
Americans say let 'em die. Those would be the Americans who don't live in Detroit.

No More Money for Chrysler and GM

Obama will make an announcement this morning about the fate of the automakers at 11 am.
The question everyone seems to be asking now is: why isn't Obama firing banking execs? I suspect the Obama administration isn't firing banking execs because while they're greedy they're not incompetent. But the automaker execs seem to be clearly incompetent.
The car companies are going to get extra time to come up with better plans. For Chrysler it's merge with Fiat or else.

NYT: The White House on Sunday pushed out the chairman of General Motors and instructed Chrysler to form a partnership with the Italian automaker Fiat within 30 days as conditions for receiving another much-needed round of government aid.

The decision to ask G.M.’s chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner, to resign caught Detroit and Washington by surprise, and it underscored the Obama administration’s determination to keep a tight rein on the companies it is bailing out — a level of government involvement in business perhaps not seen since the Great Depression.

President Obama is scheduled to announce details of the auto package at the White House on Monday, but two senior officials, offering a preview on condition of anonymity, made clear that some form of bankruptcy — a quick, court-supervised restructuring, as they described it — could still be an option for one or both companies.

Mr. Obama’s auto industry task force, in a report released Sunday night assessing the viability of both companies and detailing the administration’s new plans for them, concluded that Chrysler could not survive as a stand-alone company.
The report said the company would get no more help from the government unless it can finalize a proposed alliance with the Italian automaker Fiat by April 30. It must also reduce its debt and health-care obligations.

If a deal is reached between Chrysler and Fiat, the administration says it would consider another loan of $6 billion to Chrysler.


Jennifer Granholm is mad, calls Rick Wagoner a "sacrificial lamb:"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fritz Henderson To Take Over GM

Henderson, who is COO, will take over, at least in the interim.

An administration official confirmed that Mr. Wagoner was asked to step down to make way for ongoing restructuring within the company. Mr. Wagoner will be replaced, at least on an interim basis, by Frederick "Fritz" Henderson, the company's chief operating officer.

Mr. Wagoner was asked to step down on Friday by Steven Rattner, the investment banker picked last month by the administration to lead the Treasury Department's auto-industry task force. Mr. Rattner broke the news to Mr. Wagoner in person at his office at Treasury, according to an administration official. Afterward, Mr. Rattner met one-on-one with Mr. Henderson, who will fill in as GM's CEO.

GM didn't immediately return calls for comment. One longtime GM board member, Kent Kresa, declined to comment when reached by phone Sunday night. WSJ

Tomorrow:
In remarks Sunday, Mr. Obama said that he intends to extract "a set of sacrifices from all parties involved -- management, labor, shareholders, creditors, suppliers, dealers." The industry, he said on CBS's "Face the Nation," must "take serious restructuring steps now in order to preserve a brighter future down the road." The two companies "are not there yet," he added.

Mr. Wagoner's removal shows that the sacrifices could cut deep. The departure of the company's top executive promises to further shake up a company that has already been through considerable change over the past six months. The 56-year-old executive had been scrambling to craft a global strategy aimed at maintaining leadership in the global sales chase with Toyota Motor Corp., and making big profits in emerging markets.

But Mr. Wagoner's plans came crashing down in the second half of 2008 as the company ran short of cash and was forced to ask the federal government for tens of billions of dollars in aid. At the same time, his executive team started dismantling several parts of the company, including a plan to shed several U.S. brands, slow the pace of new-product introductions and sell off stakes in international operations. WSJ

Katie interviews Fritz:

Watch CBS Videos Online

Good Riddance to the Hummer

Talk about symbolism of excess.

By Tuesday, General Motors Corp. will have to decide whether its struggling Hummer brand will die a quiet death or live on with a new owner.

The wounded automaker has told the federal government that it will make the decision to jettison or sell Hummer by the end of the first quarter as part of a plan to justify the government loans on which it is living.

GM says it's still talking to several possible buyers, and many of Hummer's dealers nationwide are hoping that someone, perhaps a Chinese automaker, will come to their rescue and buy the brand, which traces its roots to rugged vehicles used for transporting soldiers. MSNBC

Taliban Abducts 12 Police in Pakistan

A sampling of what's going on in Pakistan-Afghanistan. Read how Radio Taliban communicates who it's going to kill. 

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — Taliban militants abducted 12 police officers in a pre-dawn attack Sunday in a tribal region where a suicide attack on a mosque this week killed around 50 worshippers, officials said.
The insurgents surrounded a tribal police check post 35 kilometres southeast of Peshawar city in the lawless Khyber region before driving the captured officers away, local government official Rahat Gul said.
No one has claimed responsibility, but another official blamed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the abduction.
The kidnapping came after Pakistani security forces on Saturday arrested four Taliban insurgents and destroyed two suspected compounds in the nearby town of Bara after Friday's bombing, one of the bloodiest recent attacks in Pakistan.
US officials say Pakistan's lawless tribal areas have become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who fled the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and have regrouped to launch attacks on foreign troops across the border.
Obama said the Taliban have killed mostly Muslims. The Taliban are busy blowing up mosques:
Al Jazeera: Dozens of fighters have fired rockets at a transport terminal in northwest Pakistan used to ship supplies to Nato soldiers in neighbouring Afghanistan, police have said.

At least 12 shipping containers were damaged in the attack early on Saturday at the Farhad terminal in Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province, Zahur Khan, a local police official, said.

Police opened fire at the fighters but they managed to flee, he said.

Afghan-based US and Nato forces get up to 75 per cent of their supplies via routes that pass through Pakistan's Khyber tribal region and a southwestern Chaman border crossing - areas where Taliban fighters are believed to be operating.

Mosque bombing

The attack came less than a day after a suicide bomber blew up in a mosque in Jamrud in the nearby Khyber agency, killing 48 people and wounding scores more.

Pro-Taliban fighters were suspected of carrying out the attack to avenge recent military operations in the area aimed at protecting the Nato supply route, authorities said.

GM Chief Is Outta There

Most excellent:

Politico: The Obama administration asked Rick Wagoner, the chairman and CEO of General Motors, to step down and he agreed, a White House official said.

On Monday, President Obama is to unveil his plans for the auto industry, including a response to a request for additional funds by GM and Chrysler.

Wagoner’s resignation was one of the remarkable strings attached to the new aid package the administration is offering GM, based on recommendations from the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, headed by the Treasury Department.

The White House confirmed Wagoner was leaving at the government's behest after The Associated Press reported his immediate departure, without giving a reason.

The surprise announcement about the classically iconic American corporation is perhaps the most vivid sign yet of the tectonic change in the relationship between business and government in this era of subsidies and bailouts.

Obama To Give Automakers New Deadlines

The Obama administration doesn't seem to want to let the automakers tank but they don't appear to be getting the work done, or they just haven't had enough time. Obama is expected to talk about the automakers first thing in the morning.

WSJ: The administration is not expected on Monday to deliver a comprehensive blueprint for where the industry needs to go in the months and years ahead. Instead, administration officials said, the announcement will lay out the parameters of an overall deal, including some firm deadlines. The administration is expected to hold out the threat of having the companies enter into Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring if certain tough compromises are not made over the next month.

The original December loans were given under the agreement that all sides would strike a compromise deal by March 31, but the administration is taking advantage of a clause allowing all sides another month to negotiate.

"It was unrealistic to renegotiate a new labor agreement and the unsecured debt in so short a time," said Sean McAlinden, chief economist with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research. "That has never happened before."

GM and Chrysler are meant to submit by Tuesday assessments of where their restructuring efforts are heading. In February, both companies put forward plans for paring back their operations, reducing their workforces and eliminating vehicle models. Chrysler is mulling a potential alliance with Italy's Fiat SpA.

Americans Suffer a Financial Savvy Deficit

Veracifier was supportive of Obama during the campaign but this guy hasn't a clue of what he's talking about. He's being a knee jerk, unthinking person on the left. That's what we had from the right during the Bush administration. Wake up people. Learn some finances and economics. I highly recommend Planet Money, which is doing a great job at explaining some of the basics of the financial crisis.
Businesses and banks depend and thrive on credit. We need banks. Stop painting Geithner as the bad guy just because his plan isn't Paul Krugman's.
We can't afford to be ignorant or ideological anymore.

Sen. Jim Webb Wants to Fix the Prison System

He writes:

Parade: America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace. Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation's prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous. We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

We need to fix the system. Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration. Twenty-five years ago, I went to Japan on assignment for PARADE to write a story on that country's prison system. In 1984, Japan had a population half the size of ours and was incarcerating 40,000 sentenced offenders, compared with 580,000 in the United States. As shocking as that disparity was, the difference between the countries now is even more astounding--and profoundly disturbing. Since then, Japan's prison population has not quite doubled to 71,000, while ours has quadrupled to 2.3 million.

The United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world's reported prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. In addition, more than 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision," which includes parole, probation, and other community sanctions. All told, about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. This all comes at a very high price to taxpayers: Local, state, and federal spending on corrections adds up to about $68 billion a year.

The United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world's reported prisoners. We currently incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. In addition, more than 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision," which includes parole, probation, and other community sanctions. All told, about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release. This all comes at a very high price to taxpayers: Local, state, and federal spending on corrections adds up to about $68 billion a year.
Why do we have the highest incarceration rates?
Over the past two decades, we have been incarcerating more and more people for nonviolent crimes and for acts that are driven by mental illness or drug dependence. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 16% of the adult inmates in American prisons and jails--which means more than 350,000 of those locked up--suffer from mental illness, and the percentage in juvenile custody is even higher. Our correctional institutions are also heavily populated by the "criminally ill," including inmates who suffer from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
Part of the fix appears to be preventing drug abuse, which in turn would prevent drug related crime, and in turn would keep people out of prison for drug crimes. But the real problem probably stems from an unequal shot at an education. For those in poor neighborhoods, drugs are a way out.
Rich drug abusers go to counseling, as opposed to prison. So the real solution seems to be ending poverty through a number of means, such as early childhood education and better social support systems.
The problem could also be related to our vapid culture of greed, which finally (maybe) has collapsed.
There's probably a money making element as well. Someone is getting rich off of prisons.
Another issue is plain economics. Since two parents have to work now, some working more than one job, no one is watching the children. If we all get back to living within our means, perhaps cost of living will decrease, people will get out of debt and one parent--father or mother--can pay more attention to their children.

Napolitano's Agency Working on Counter Radicalization

In an interview with Germany's Spiegel, Janet Napolitano says within the Department of Homeland Security, a group is working on identifying those who might be susceptible to extreme teachings. She also appears to be deflating terrorists, moving away from empowering them by labeling them our No. 1 enemy, getting away from Bush's politics of fear.

SPIEGEL: You would like the German authorities to share personal data of terrorism suspects, such as fingerprinting and DNA?

Napolitano: That is exactly right. We will also want to share some experiences with counter-radicalization, how the radicalization of young Muslims in our countries can be prevented.

SPIEGEL: Europe has a problem with just such people, young Muslims who grew up in the West and are still susceptible to radical messages. The terrorists responsible for the July 2005 attacks in London are an example.

Napolitano: In some ways, the problem in Europe is greater than in the United States. But the questions are the same. How do you identify a youth who is susceptible to becoming radicalized? How do you work with that youth, his family and community to give them alternatives to radicalization?

SPIEGEL: Would you characterize such social measures as a task of your agency?

Napolitano: Yes. In fact, we have group within my agency, the civil liberties group, and they have a focus right now on that issue.

SPIEGEL: Because the US fears that homegrown European terrorists with European passports could enter the country without a visa, for some weeks all travellers have had to via the internet at least 72 hours before departure. Is that not going too far?

Napolitano: Thousands have registered with the ESTA program, and the rate of acceptance is around 98 percent. This new technology enables us to more thoroughly check who wants to visit our country. Read the whole interview. Read the whole interview

Obama on Face the Nation March 29 - Video

Obama is considering National Guard troops on the Mexican border but rules out ground troops in Pakistan. On Monday, Obama will give more details on what's going on with the automakers. 

Watch CBS Videos Online

Watch CBS Videos Online

President Obama: - we've gotta reduce demand for drugs. We've got to do our part in reducing the flow of cash and guns south.

Schieffer: Are we anywhere close to putting U.S. troops on the border?

President Obama: You know, obviously there have been calls to increase National Guard troops on the borders. That's something that we are considering. But we want to first see whether some of the steps that we've taken can help quell some of the violence. And we want to make sure that we are consulting as effectively as we can with the Mexican government in moving this strategy forward.

Schieffer: All right. Let's take a break here. We'll come back and talk about some domestic issues.
He told bankers bonuses are unacceptable:
Schieffer: Did you talk about that in your big meeting with bankers at the White House?

President Obama: I talked to them. And what I said was, look, first of all, there are a lot of bankers that are doing good work in the community, that are acting responsibly, that haven't taken huge risks. I understand that. But understand that for the average single mom who is just barely struggling to pay her mortgage or medical bills for her kid, who's paying her taxes, who's playing by the rules and then finds out that a taxpayer-assisted firm is paying out multi-million dollar bonuses, that's just not acceptable. Show some restraint. Show some, show that you get that this is a crisis and everybody has to make sacrifices.

Schieffer: And what did they say?

President Obama: They agreed. And they recognized it. Now, the proof of the pudding's in the eating. So I expect to see that restraint operate. Another way of putting it, as I said to those folks, let me help you - help me help you. It's very difficult for me as president to call on the American people to make sacrifices to help shore up the financial system if there's no sense of mutual obligation and mutual help.

Now, the flip side is, I've gotta explain to the American people we're not gonna get this recovery if we don't see a recovery of the financial sector. And there's no separation between Main Street and Wall Street. We're all in this together. And it's my job to help keep that focus as we move forward.
Start of the transcript:
CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer: Mr. President, thank you for joining us. This economic crisis has been so severe that it has literally pushed all the other issues off the television, out of the newspapers. But as - when you outlined your program for Afghanistan and the new strategy, it really underlined in the starkest terms that we may not be talking about these serious issues, but there are some very serious things going on out there. So I'd like to start there -

President Obama: Please.

Schieffer: - if I could. This is a hugely ambitious plan. 22,000 more troops. You're gonna increase spending by 60 percent. You said in your announcement we must defeat al Qaeda.

President Obama: Right.

Schieffer: This has really now become your war, hasn't it?

President Obama: I think it's America's war. And it's the same war that we initiated after 9/11 as a consequence of those attacks on 3,000 Americans who were just going about their daily round. And the focus over the last seven years I think has been lost.

What we want to do is to refocus attention on al Qaeda. We are going to root out their networks, their bases. We are gonna make sure that they cannot attack U.S. citizens, U.S. soil, U.S. interests, and our allies' interests around the world.

In order for us to do that, we have to ensure that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can serve as a safe haven for al Qaeda. And, unfortunately, over the last several years what we've seen is, essentially, al Qaeda moving several miles from Afghanistan to Pakistan but effectively still able to project their violence and, and hateful ideologies out into the world.

Schieffer: You talked many times during your - as you outlined this strategy, about al Qaeda in Pakistan.

President Obama: Right.

Schieffer: You talk about safe havens in Pakistan.

President Obama: Right.

Schieffer: Are you giving our commanders now in Afghanistan a green light to go after these people even if they're in what used to be safe havens in Pakistan?

President Obama: Well, I haven't changed my approach. If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we're going after them. But our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists.

Now, one of the concerns that we've had building up over the last several years is a notion I think among the average Pakistani that this is somehow America's war and that they are not invested. And that attitude I think has led to a steady creep of extremism in Pakistan that is the greatest threat to the stability of the Pakistan government - and ultimately the greatest threat to the Pakistani people.

What we want do is say to the Pakistani people, you are our friends, you are our allies. We are going to give you the tools to defeat al Qaeda and to root out these safe havens. But we also expect some accountability. And we expect that you understand the severity and the nature of the threat.

In addition, what we want do is to help Pakistan grow its economy, to be able to provide basic services to its people, and that I think will help strengthen those efforts. If the Pakistan government doesn't have credibility, if they are weakened, then it's gonna be much more difficult for them to deal with the extremism within their borders.

Schieffer: But you're talking about going after them. Are you talking about with American boots on the ground -

President Obama: No.

Schieffer: - pursuing these people into these so-called safe havens?

President Obama: No. Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government. We need to work with them and through them to deal with al Qaeda. But we have to hold them much more accountable. And we have to recognize that part of our task in working with Pakistan is not just military. It's also our capacity to build their capacity through civilian interventions, through development, through aid assistance. And that's part of what you're seeing - both in Afghanistan and Pakistan I think is fully resourcing a comprehensive strategy that doesn't just rely on bullets or bombs but also relies on agricultural specialists on doctors, on engineers, to help create an environment in which people recognize that they have much more at stake in partnering with us and the international community than giving into some of these -

Schieffer: Help me out here -

President Obama: - extremist ideologies.
Read the whole transcript

Petraeus Says Cheney is Wrong

Petraeus said torture didn't make us safer, contrary to Mole Man's ugly and ancient beliefs:

McCain on Geithner and Afghanistan

McCain mentions "good asset" banks. Are there any? Don't they all -- minus some of the community banks -- have bad assets? McCain thought Geithner explained the plan well but slammed him for not being coherent earlier.
McCain also mentioned that Geithner hasn't said how much is left from TARP 1. The WSJ estimates:

The Treasury has tried to revamp its $700 billion financial-rescue program, promising "a new era of accountability, transparency and conditions." But the Treasury isn't answering a key question: How much is left in the rescue fund?

Based on Dow Jones Newswires' reporting and calculations, it appears that Treasury has, at most, $52.6 billion left in its rescue fund. That would mean about 92% is already committed. That assumes the Treasury spends $100 billion in TARP funds to rid bank balance sheets of toxic assets.

The Treasury has yet to provide an official accounting.
McCain says the loyal opposition debate could be more respectful.
I'll post full video of Meet the Press when it's up here.

McCain says there will be lots of soldiers killed (casualties) in Afghanistan.

Geithner Responds to Krugman on Meet the Press

Geithner was on first, John McCain followed. Full episode below.

Geithner explains AIG bonuses--he was focused on the task at hand. There were no good choices and there was too much work to do. His objective is to fix it. Makes sense to me. He probably just held his nose and plowed on. 
Ackkk. There's an old clip of Irving Levine (who recently passed away) interviewing Donald Rumsfeld. Full episode:

Protests At G20 Await Obama

Obama will be in his element. In London, they think Michelle Obama is cool, can't remember Laura Bush's name. 




Saturday, March 28, 2009

Howard Ahmanson Becomes a Blue Dog Democrat

Ahmanson, a Christian philanthropist, says he's a Blue Dog (the more fiscally conservative Democrats) rooting for Bobby Jindal in 2012.
But he's been a staunch republican and most likely that's been because of his strong religious views for which many have painted him in an ugly light.
On Obama, he says it's too early to tell.
He said Obama's reversal of Bush's restrictions on abortion and embryonic stem cell research was not surprising. Frankly, if republicans were wise they'd change their strategy on opposing abortion and embryonic stem cells. Rather than cementing their feet, and appearing like extremists, they'd find another way to appeal to people.
He'd like to get a note of recognition -- Someone send him a welcome card!
Still, something seems strange about this.

WaPo: In what one might call a biblical move, Christian philanthropist Howard Ahmanson -- one of three major funders of the campaign for California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages -- has abandoned the GOP for the Democratic Party.

No one ever said the multimillionaire isn't idiosyncratic.

In a rare interview Thursday, Ahmanson shared some of his thoughts about why he switched parties. In a word, taxes.

Specifically, he was offended by the California Republican Party's insistence during a recent state budget battle that there would be no tax increases for any reason, no matter what. "They're providing one issue, and it's just a very silly issue," Ahmanson told me by telephone.

So, without fanfare, Ahmanson printed out an online form and mailed in his Democratic Party registration. Thus far, he's heard nothing back, but confesses to hoping he'll receive a little card or something.

Setting Up Obama for the Three Pointer

The media is reporting that Obama is facing a defiant world at the G20. Maybe. But does the world really expect a miracle? Or are they just hopeful he'll listen better than Bush?

“The rest of the world is yearning for him,” said Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist. “On the one hand, they’ll all be criticizing him, and criticizing the American model. But they all want to hear that he does have a miracle to deliver.”

The quandary has left senior advisers to Mr. Obama scrambling to come up with a way for him to project both American power and the new cooperative international model that his aides have been promising.
Resentment of American capitalism? Even Americans are resenting capitalism at this point. 
NYT: President Obama is facing challenges to American power on multiple fronts as he prepares for his first trip overseas since taking office, with the nation’s economic woes emboldening allies and adversaries alike.

Despite his immense popularity around the world, Mr. Obama will confront resentment over American-style capitalism and resistance to his economic prescriptions when he lands in London on Tuesday for the Group of 20 summit meeting of industrial and emerging market nations plus the European Union.

The president will not even try to overcome NATO’s unwillingness to provide more troops in Afghanistan when he goes on later in the week to meet with the military alliance.

He seems unlikely to return home with any more to show for his attempts to open a dialogue with Iran’s leaders, who have, so far, responded with tough words, albeit not tough enough to persuade Russia to support the United States in tougher sanctions against Tehran. And he will be tested in face-to-face meetings by the leaders of China and Russia, who have been pondering the degree to which the power of the United States to dominate global affairs may be ebbing.

Mr. Obama is unlikely to push for specific commitments from other countries on stimulus spending to bolster their own economies, White House officials acknowledged Saturday in a teleconference call, despite the fact that administration officials would like to see European countries, in particular, increase their spending to try to prompt a global economic recovery.

Is Obama really expecting the rest of the world to fall in line?
WaPo: But if the U.S. president thought his popularity would cause foreign governments to fall quickly into line behind a new American leadership, experts warn, he could be in for a rude awakening.

The German government has resisted calls to deploy more combat troops to Afghanistan. Russia is pushing back against a NATO missile defense system in Poland. And the Czech prime minister last week described the U.S. plans for global economic recovery as the "road to hell."

All of this is setting Obama up for the three pointer. It seems to me he thrives in these kinds of prickly situations. He sort of has that balmy effect. We shall see.

Obama on Face the Nation March 29

Update 3-29: I've posted video here. 
Obama and his people are blanketing the Sunday shows. I think Politico is reaching here -- who criticizes Obama for relying on social networking? :
Politico: President Barack Obama is personally leading a White House blitz of network Sunday shows, reenergizing one of the most traditional of Washington platforms at a time when his agenda is facing rising scrutiny from capital insiders.

Obama’s communications strategy has turned heads for its reliance on YouTube and edgy social networking tools.

But this weekend’s outings—an array of administration heavies led by Obama on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on both NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week” and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on “Fox News Sunday”—have highlighted a lesser-noticed element of the Obama strategy.

He is showing that the Sunday shows, which once looked like the old gray mare of Washington journalism, still have plenty of kick.

White Houses tend to pick a theme for the weekend, so there’s some risk in having so many top officials in prominent venues, where they are sure to be asked about very different subjects. And an inescapable storyline will be how Geithner does, after good reviews this week and shaky ones before that.

"While some criticize him for trying to do too many things at once, for the host of a Sunday show, it's an embarrassment of riches," said Chris Wallace, host of "Fox News Sunday

Politico has some of the inside game:
“This Week” host George Stephanopoulos said the Saturday before a show is “study day.” He usually works from home at his computer, with his briefing books. On game day, he shows up at 4 a.m.—five hours before the taping—then goes into the interview with an outline he has written. He said his job “is to imagine what everyone, sitting at home with their cup of coffee, wants to know—and to make sure I get it.”

FDIC's Sheila Bair Sees Signs of Improvement

Paul Krugman: Obama is Wrong

Paul Krugman, a self-described liberal who believes we should just take over banks and get on with it, is the answer to people who don't like Timothy Geithner. Check out Krugman's fans' song here.
I wonder what Krugman's motivation is for insisting that Obama's strategy is wrong? Because he feels a strong allegiance to doing what's right for the country, or because he wants to be right? How much of this is ego? Obama's plan is already in place. They already made their decision and they didn't choose Krugman's strategy. So whatever Krugman has to offer seems too late.

Politico: A stark image of Paul Krugman, the bearded New York Times op-ed columnist and Princeton economist, appears on the cover of next week’s Newsweek, with the headline “OBAMA IS WRONG: The Loyal Opposition of Paul Krugman.”

Krugman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics last fall, has been arguing that Obama is doing too little to respond to threats to the nation’s banking and economic system, and he has contended that the $787 billion stimulus bill should have been bigger.

Krugman personifies a conundrum for Obama: He has to cop with complaints from the political left, as well as the more predictable opposition of the right.

The prolific professor has been pushing his views in his column, on his blog and in Rolling Stone.

Obama To Meet With China President at G20

The G20 summit of world leaders in London is April 2.

Peter Orszag Highly Dosed on Caffeine

The NYT profiles Peter Orszag, the budget director. Here are some interesting snippets:

At 6 in the morning, Peter R. Orszag is racing: across wet pavement for a 35-minute run, into a shower and a suit, and through a living room that looks rather like an office, the walls painted presidential gold and hung with pictures of federal monuments.

As he heads to his job as White House budget director, he already seems to pulse with energy, but he asks his driver to stop at Starbucks for enormous doses of iced and hot tea. His epic caffeine intake concerned him until he solved the problem with typical Orszagian efficiency: he underwent genetic testing, confirmed that he could safely metabolize large amounts and happily moved on to the next worry.

Mr. Orszag is the youngest member of President Obama’s team holding cabinet rank, a 40-year-old with what colleagues call a graybeard’s knowledge of how the government spends money. But he has little interest in merely keeping fiscal house.
...........
“When people are saying this is not how O.M.B. has done things before, I’ve been shrugging my shoulders and saying this is not your father’s O.M.B.,” he said in a recent interview in his office, where a direct phone line to the president was just installed. (He has not yet dared press the little blue button.)
.........
“He’s made nerdy sexy,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
..........When Rahm said that I bet he was giggling.
Mr. Orszag still plays the geek, passing out propeller hats and jokingly referring to himself as “supernerd.” But nerds are socially inept, and he is anything but. He has worked in Washington on and off since he was 17 — he interned under Pete Rouse, now a senior adviser to the president — and he has intensely political instincts and aspirations.
.......
Asked about his relationship with Mr. Summers, Mr. Orszag answered politely but stiffened visibly. The two have managed to work together congenially, several officials said, and Mr. Summers, known for his sometimes scathing assessment of people, takes Mr. Orszag seriously.

But Mr. Orszag seems to chafe a bit at the situation: Mr. Summers holds a job in which Mr. Orszag was initially interested, and as early as the transition period, Mr. Summers tried to control the budget process as well, by seeking to run meetings related to it.
.........
For someone with two BlackBerrys — work and personal — clipped to the small of his back, Mr. Orszag seems governed by little cards: the ones in his breast pocket for notes, another that lists his meetings, a tiny hand-lettered one that materializes to summon him to the Oval Office.
...........
His own health care conversion occurred when a doctor told him several years ago that he was at risk for cardiovascular problems. Mr. Orszag changed his diet. Each day he eats the same egg whites for breakfast and salad topped with chicken for dinner, all from the White House mess.

He also began training for marathons, sometimes startling colleagues by appearing in their offices at day’s end in head-to-toe spandex.

Afghan President Praises Obama's Strategy

The strategy for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region has been mostly praised, though I haven't seen any real examination of the plan. Maybe that's for the Sunday papers. Read an outline of Obama's plan here.

WaPo: What distinguishes the president's plan -- and opens him to criticism from some liberals as well as conservatives -- is its recognition that U.S. goals cannot be achieved without a major effort to strengthen the economies and political institutions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Bush administration tried to combat the al-Qaeda threat with limited numbers of U.S. and NATO troops, targeted strikes against militants, and broad, mostly ineffective, aid programs. It provided large sums of money to the Pakistani army, with few strings attached, in the hope that action would be taken against terrorist camps near the Afghan border. The strategy failed: The Taliban has only grown stronger, and both the Afghan and Pakistani governments are dangerously weak.

The lesson is that only a strategy that aims at protecting and winning over the populations where the enemy operates, and at strengthening the armies, judiciaries, and police and political institutions of Afghanistan, can reverse the momentum of the war and, eventually, allow a safe and honorable exit for U.S. and NATO troops. This means more soldiers, more civilian experts and much higher costs in the short term: Mr. Obama has approved a total of 21,000 more U.S. troops and several hundred additional civilians for Afghanistan, and yesterday he endorsed two pieces of legislation that would provide Pakistan with billions of dollars in nonmilitary aid as well as trade incentives for investment in the border areas. More is likely to be needed: U.S. commanders in Afghanistan hope to obtain another brigade of troops and a division headquarters in 2010, and to double the Afghan army again after the expansion now underway is completed in 2011. Mr. Obama should support those plans.
Afghan's president Hamid Karzai likes the plan (he ought to like it):
"He has our full support," Karzai told a news conference. "This was better than what we expected."

Obama unveiled the plan Friday which called for more troops, new legislation, improved troop training and added civilian expertise in the war in Afghanistan.

Obama said the plan would address what he called an "international security challenge of the highest order."

Obama said the "situation is increasingly perilous" in the region in and around Afghanistan, where the United States has been fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban for more than seven and a half years after it was attacked in New York and at the Pentagon. CNN
There are a few strays out there, the wingnuts, who aren't impressed. And others say Obama's continuing the Bush's strategy. 

I have no idea what this guy, Ralph Peters, is blabbering about. He obviously hasn't read the strategy and he appears to be a wingnut:
NY Post: DIRT doesn't matter. You don't defeat a trans-national terrorist organization by occupying medieval villages.

Yesterday, President Obama presented his "comprehensive new strategy" for Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was neither new, nor a strategy. Behind all the rhetoric, he just said, I'm sending more troops and more money.

Barack Obama? I heard Lyndon Johnson. The only LBJ touch that BHO lacked was the word "escalation."

The rhetoric was masterly. The content was drivel. He said, "The situation is increasingly perilous." Which situation? Why? For whom? Certainly, it's becoming more perilous for our troops as we escalate in support of the wrong policy.

Obama rightly identified the main threat to us as al Qaeda, which he wants to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat." Then why are his efforts overwhelmingly directed toward the Taliban?

I don't like the Talibs, but they didn't attack us on 9/11. Dirt poor, they just made the mistake of renting some fleabag motel rooms to al Qaeda. And they paid heavily for it.

The Taliban strategy is to make Afghanistan ungovernable for us. What if, instead of trying to claim worthless territory in the name of a corruption-poisoned Afghan government, we flipped the rules and just kept Afghanistan ungovernable for the Taliban?
The writer is more of a bomb them to smithereens guy. This instead is his solution:
Want a truly fresh strategy that would work? End all support of any kind to Pakistan. Close our embassy. Do what makes military sense and reduce our forces in Afghanistan to a level that can be supplied by air. And concentrate on destroying al Qaeda, not on "owning" village X. (Obama's approach just stinks of Vietnam.)

Imagine how different the situation would be if we weren't Pakistan's strategic prisoner and didn't stand between Islamabad and Delhi. What if the Pakistanis had to behave responsibly and stop sponsoring terror attacks against India -- or face India's wrath? Nuclear war? Pakistan would vanish, India would lick its wounds. And the Pakistanis know it.

Obama's Weekly Address March 28

Obama talks about the efforts in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

In the Fargodome, thousands of people gathered not to watch a football game or a rodeo, but to fill sandbags. Volunteers filled 2.5 million of them in just five days, working against the clock, day and night, with tired arms and aching backs. Others braved freezing temperatures, gusting winds, and falling snow to build levees along the river’s banks to help protect against waters that have exceeded record levels.

College students have traveled by the busload from nearby campuses to lend a hand during their spring breaks. Students from local high schools asked if they could take time to participate. Young people have turned social networks into community networks, coordinating with one another online to figure out how best to help.

In the face of an incredible challenge, the people of these communities have rallied in support of one another. And their service isn’t just inspirational – it’s integral to our response.
The volunteer legislation passed the Senate and the House and Obama's ready to sign it.
That is why I’m so happy that legislation passed the Senate this week and the House last week to provide more opportunities for Americans to serve their communities and the country.

The bipartisan Senate bill was sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch and Senator Ted Kennedy, a leader who embodies the spirit of public service, and I am looking forward to signing this important measure into law.

In facing sudden crises or more stubborn challenges, the truth is we are all in this together – as neighbors and fellow citizens. That is what brought so many to help in North Dakota and Minnesota and other areas affected by this flooding. That is what draws people to volunteer in so many ways, serving our country here and on distant shores. Read the rest.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Michele Bachmann Verges on Paranoia

Some would say she's already there. She is a wee bit mental, if you're asking me:

Gibbs Press Briefing March 27

Republicans Have Excuse Note for Their Budget

They couldn't decide whether to release a flimsy budget or wait to release the real thing. So they released the flimsy "budget."

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Looks like this decision was a tough one for them. Good thing they're not making the important decisions.

Politico: Minority Leader John Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence and Rep. Paul Ryan worked for weeks on a plan, staffers say, without any serious philosophical disagreements.

But over time, Cantor-Ryan and Boehner-Pence camps split over questions of tactics and timing.

Pence, with Boehner’s blessing, wanted to unveil an abbreviated “blueprint” Thursday to counter Obama’s criticism and arm members with new talking points heading into this weekend – even if it meant that their plan wouldn’t have much in the way of details.

Cantor and Ryan wanted to wait until Ryan’s staff produced a fully-fleshed-out alternative to Obama’s $3.6 trillion spending plan, with specific numbers on spending and tax cuts – even if it meant waiting a few more days to get it out.

Cantor and Ryan ultimately caved in, and what they got was the worst of both worlds: a thin, glossy “blueprint” that was ridiculed by Democrats and cable news anchors, and a nasty internecine scrap that culminated with one GOP aide telling POLITICO that Pence had thrown Ryan “under the bus” in an “egocentric rush” to grab the spotlight.

UC Merced Students Woo and Snag Michelle Obama for Commencement

Update 5-16: See Video here.
Update 5-16: See the speech live streamed here. Other options are here.

Sun Star: First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the commencement speech at UC Merced the White House announced this morning.
Student body president Yaasha Sabba said he was thrilled the event was finally confirmed.

"We've been searching her Web site and the news," Sabba said. "We found out this morning just like you."

Sabba and dozens of other students at UC Merced began a "Dear Michelle" campaign on campus earlier this fall in an attempt to woo the first lady to the graduation of the university’s inaugural four-year class.
"We were all touched by the students’ campaign,” Semonti Mustaphi, the First Lady’s deputy press secretary, said Friday. “It was very sweet."
Mustaphi estimated the First Lady’s office has, so far, received roughly 50 letters as part of the UC Merced campaign. These included letters sent by students as well as from the students’ family members.
Here is their video invite to Michelle:

Merced, Calif. – First Lady Michelle Obama will address the graduating class at the fourth Commencement at the University of California, Merced, campus on Saturday, May 16. The Office of the First Lady announced today (March 27) that Mrs. Obama will deliver the commencement speech to UC Merced’s first full senior class – the University opened in 2005. UC Merced students actively sought out the First Lady as commencement speaker by writing letters to Mrs. Obama, her office, and her friends and family. Read the rest