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Powell on Being Muslim in America

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 1:16 PM EDT

I thought the most interesting thing about Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, other than the indictment of the current state of the Republican Party, was his heartfelt defense of something that really shouldn't have to be defended: being Muslim in America.

Here's what he said:

I'm also troubled by — not what Senator McCain says — but what members of the Party say, and it is permitted to be said: such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is he is not a Muslim. He's a Christian; has always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, "What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" The answer's "No, that's not America." Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be President? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he's Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery. And she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star; showed that he died in Iraq; gave his date of birth, date of death. He was twenty years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Kahn. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey, he was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life.

That photo can be found here. As a country, we've let anti-Muslim bigotry run rampant these last 12 months. And part of the blame rests with the left: it has been politically expedient to say "Barack Obama isn't a Muslim" but it hasn't been politically expedient to defend Muslims themselves, and so we haven't done so nearly as much as we should. I'm glad Colin Powell took this stand on so public a stage, and I hope others follow.

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Infrastructure

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 1:12 PM EDT

INFRASTRUCTURE....Time to rebuild our nation's infrastructure? Support for the idea is growing:

Public officials, engineers and policy experts have been warning for years that crumbling infrastructure is a ticking time bomb....A third of the nation's major highways are in poor shape, according to the Department of Transportation. The list of unsafe dams is growing. Mass-transit systems, water-treatment plants, hazardous-waste sites and more are falling apart.

The civil engineers association gave the country a "D" on its 2005 infrastructure Report Card. It called for a $1.6 trillion five-year improvement program.

Now, sure, you'd pretty much expect a civil engineers association to back a program of civil engineering projects. Still, the time is right. The usual argument against infrastructure projects as fiscal stimulus is that they take too long: you have to identify projects and draw up plans first, and only then do you put people to work building stuff. By the time the projects get started, the recession is over.

But not this time. The recession we're going into now promises to be deep and long, and a big slug of infrastructure improvements would not only be handy things to have, their timing is pretty good too. And politically it's doable too since there are plenty of projects available for all 50 states.

McCain hasn't bought into this because (I'd guess) he still doesn't really appreciate the scope of our financial problems. Plus he probably associates infrastructure projects with earmarks, so he has a Pavlovian reaction against them. Obama has done a little better, but only a little. It would be smart, both politically and substantively, for him to at least start making more aggressive noises on a big, bold infrastructure plan.

Palin Confuses on Proper Direction of Campaign

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 12:00 PM EDT

Sarah Palin on October 5, suggesting to Bill Kristol that the McCain campaign ought to go more negative:

"To tell you the truth, Bill, I don't know why [the Revered Wright] association isn't discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don't know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn't get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up."

Sarah Palin on Sunday, telling the press that she wants to focus on the issues:

"If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand, I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war, and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls, and includes spending so much money on the television ads that, I think, is kind of draining out there in terms of Americans' attention span."

Those robocalls she's denouncing as "conventional ways of campaigning" are exactly the sort of negative, association-based campaign tactics she was urging just two weeks ago. It's almost as if her complete lack of experience on the national stage forces her to make it up as she goes along!

Security Agreement Update***

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 2:23 AM EDT

SECURITY AGREEMENT UPDATE....Negotiations to put in place a long-term security agreement with Iraq aren't going well:

Key members of the Iraqi parliament's largest political bloc have called for all American troops to leave this country in 2011 as a condition for allowing the U.S. military to stay here beyond year's end, officials said Sunday.

The change sought by the influential United Iraqi Alliance would harden the withdrawal date for U.S. troops....The Shiite bloc, which includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party, also insists that Iraqi officials have a bigger role in determining whether U.S. soldiers accused of wrongdoing are subject to prosecution in Iraqi courts, said Sami al-Askeri, a political adviser to Maliki.

....It was not immediately clear whether the U.S. side would accept the changes to the draft agreement. The document would provide legal authority for American troops to remain in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires Dec. 31. If there is no accord or other legal cover for U.S. forces, they must leave.

The Bush administration has long resisted setting firm dates for the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, saying that the decision should be based on security conditions. U.S. authorities ultimately accepted a compromise, which set the 2011 withdrawal date but provided for an extension if Iraq requested one.

Normally, I'd say that this is probably yet another sign of hard bargaining, and in the end an agreement will almost certainly be signed. And that still seems the most likely course to me. On the other hand, the U.S. occupation is unpopular with the Iraqi public, and with elections coming up soon no politician in the country can afford to be seen as soft on the Americans. That's democracy for you. Could be interesting times ahead.

Limbaugh: Colin Powell Endorsed Obama, He Must Be Destroyed

| Sun Oct. 19, 2008 7:04 PM EDT

This is like clockwork, folks. Limbaugh takes just a matter of hours to claim Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama because both men are African-American.

Rush Limbaugh said Colin Powell's decision to get behind Barack Obama appeared to be very much tied to Obama's status as the first African-American with a chance to become president.
"Secretary Powell says his endorsement is not about race," Limbaugh wrote in an e-mail. "OK, fine. I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with."

Here's George Will making the same point with a little more subtlety.

Happy Birthday to Me!

| Sun Oct. 19, 2008 2:03 AM EDT

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!....I turn 50 today. Happy birthday also to Jim Henley, who stubbornly remains a couple of years younger than me. And to Grover Norquist, who stubbornly remains a couple of years older than me. And to GOPAC chairman Michael Steele, who stubbornly remains exactly the same age as me. And to everyone else born on October 19th. Buy yourself a cake today!

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I'm Rich Enough Already, Thank You***

| Sun Oct. 19, 2008 1:24 AM EDT

I'M RICH ENOUGH ALREADY, THANK YOU....Andrew Lahde, who made himself famous by starting up a hedge fund that made a ton of money betting on the collapse of the subprime market, is closing up shop. On Friday, he explained why:

The low hanging fruit, i.e. idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA, was there for the taking. These people who were (often) truly not worthy of the education they received (or supposedly received) rose to the top of companies such as AIG, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and all levels of our government. All of this behavior supporting the Aristocracy only ended up making it easier for me to find people stupid enough to take the other side of my trades. God bless America.

Get that man a blog!

An Ex-Powell Aide Explains Why the Time Is Right for an Obama Endorsement--UPDATED

| Sat Oct. 18, 2008 2:54 PM EDT

UPDATE: On Sunday, Colin Powell did endorse Barack Obam. Appearing on Meet The Press, he presented an eloquent statement of support in which he hailed Obama's "transformational" role, leadership ability, and intellectual curiosity. Powell emphasized that he believed that John McCain, his longtime friend, could be a good president, but he maintained that the GOP has become too much in hock to its right-wing base and that Sarah Palin was not at all ready to be president. Despite Powell's tarnished reputation--due to his starring role in the Iraq WMD fiasco--his unequivocal endorsement is a boost for Obama and yet one more problem for McCain. The below piece was written before Powell did the deed, but note Larry Wilkerson's explanation of the timing of Powell's endorsement. In this instance--unlike when he backed Bush's invasion of Iraq--Powell stuck to the Powell Doctrine, at least the Powell Doctrine of Decision-making....

With NBC News reporting that Colin Powell will appear on Meet the Press this Sunday, speculation is mounting that former Republican secretary of state will endorse Barack Obama for president. Politico reports

Retired Gen. Colin Powell, once considered a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now may endorse his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), according to Republican sources. But an air of mystery surrounds Powell's planned live appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," and no one is sure what he will say.

Note the use of the word "may."

Predicting the most anticipated endorsement of the 2008 campaign has been a pundit standby for months. In June, Robert Novak asserted, "Powell probably will enter Obama's camp at a time of his own choosing." In August Bill Kristol declared that Powell would endorse Obama at the Democratic convention and "quite possibly" speak at the convention. Last week, Lawrence O'Donnell wrote, "It now seems beyond doubt that Colin Powell will endorse Barack Obama and thereby hammer the final nail in the coffin of the Republican campaign to hold onto the White House." He cited no sources.

Will Powell take the leap this weekend? In tracking the Powell story these past few months, I have periodically checked in with Larry Wilkerson, who was Powell's chief of staff at the State Department and who had worked with Powell in a variety of positions going back to 1989. Wilkerson always said the same thing: with Powell, it's all about the 60-percent rule--that is, the general manner in which he makes big decisions. Wilkerson explains:

Chart of the Day - 10.18.2008***

| Sat Oct. 18, 2008 1:39 PM EDT

CHART OF THE DAY....A couple of weeks ago I quit watching the stock market's gyrations during the day because it was obvious that they didn't really mean anything. Up, down, whatever: the events of the final hour, from 3 pm to 4 pm were all that mattered, wiping out huge gains in an instant or turning small losses into disasters.

Now comes a nice chart via Zubin Jelveh that demonstrates the point graphically. As you can see, normally the stock market moves anywhere from a quarter of a percent to one percent in the final hour of the day. That's roughly the same as the other six hours the market is open. But since mid-September? Final-hour volatility jumped to 2%, and then earlier this month to a high of 6%. That's as much movement as the entire rest of the day. So if you're the nervous sort, give yourself a break and take your eyes off the hourly movements of the Dow. Just check in at 4 pm and be done with it.

Need some more charts? Ezra Klein has a nice one showing that sometimes placebos work just as well as surgery. (With a followup here.) Maybe those Christian Scientists are on to something after all?

16 Words: New Court Filing Suggests Manufactured Terror Threat in Bush's 2002 State of the Union

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 10:38 PM EDT

A new court filing by the lawyers for Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Guantanamo detainees suggests that the Bush administration ordered the Bosnian government to arrest and hold the men after an exhaustive Bosnian investigation had found them innocent of any terrorism related activity and had ordered their release, in order to use them as props in Bush's January 2002 State of the Union speech.

The filing--"Lakhdar Boumediene, et al., Petitioners, v. George W. Bush, President of the United States, et al., Respondents, Petitioners' Public Traverse to the Government's Return to the Petition for Habeas Corpus"--lays out the case that the Bush administration threatened at the highest levels to withdraw diplomatic and military aid to the Balkan nation if Bosnia released the men, which its own three-month investigation had found innocent of any terrorism charges in the days leading up to Bush's January 2002 State of the Union.

Faced with the threats of the withdrawal of aid and that if it released the men, the White House would order NATO troops to detain them, Bosnia transferred the men under duress to the custody of the US government in January 2002, and the US transferred them to Guantanamo. Ten days later, in his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush used sixteen words to warn Americans that, in "cooperation" with the Bosnian government, it had captured terrorists who had planned to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo: "Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy," Bush told the nation.

But, six years later, the detainees' new petition says, after the US Supreme Court has sided with the detainees and ordered the US to give the detainees habeas corpus rights, the Bush administration has failed to repeat the embassy plot charges that Bush used in his State of the Union address, or to produce credible evidence of why the men should be held as enemy combatants.

(Bush also used 16 words to falsely claim in his 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had sought yellowcake uranium from the African nation of Niger -- a claim the White House had been previously repeatedly warned by the CIA was unfounded and which the White House later admitted Bush should not have said, months after the US invasion of Iraq).

The 58-page traverse petition was filed today in the US District Court for the District of Columbia (.pdf). Some key excerpts from its preliminary statement below the fold: