Blogs

AFRICOM Enters the Blogosphere

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 12:20 PM EST

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The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was created last February to coordinate U.S. military activities on the continent; Africa had previously been the shared responsibility of the European, Central, and Pacific commands. Last December 21, AFRICOM added a blog to its website to better communicate its mission. According to the initial blog post from General William Kip Ward, AFRICOM's commander:

As we build U.S. Africa Command, we want to talk to people about what the U.S. military is doing in Africa. Just as importantly, I want everyone on the staff to also listen and learn. So we have launched a new forum called AFRICOM Dialogue as a way for members of the Africa Command staff to describe what we're doing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for transparency and dialogue. But it struck me... aside from the Nigerian scammers who relentlessly pound away at my inbox, how many Africans actually have Internet access? Turns out, not that many—about 4 percent.

So, I wish AFRICOM all the best with its blog, but I suspect that most of its earnest declarations of "mutual trust, respect, and confidence" in its African partners will go unnoticed by ... well, almost everyone that counts.

At least one African, though, has already chimed in: "With all due respect, AFRICOM is not needed whatsoever in Nigeria or anywhere else in the West African Sub-sahara," wrote "Olaopin in Unspecified." Good luck, AFRICOM.

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Living Large in Kabul

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 12:00 PM EST

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Taliban militants have attacked a luxury hotel in Kabul, the BBC reports. Wait a second, there's a luxury hotel in Kabul? Yep, the Kabul Serena. First opened in 1945 as the Kabul Hotel, it was destroyed during the Afghan civil war and rebuilt in January 2006 with help from the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development. And, hey, it looks pretty nice, certainly better than any hotel this reporter has ever stayed in. From the press release announcing the hotel's 2006 reopening:

An oasis of luxury in a war-ravaged city, the hotel offers such unheard of luxuries (by local standards) as: 177 rooms; all with stylish soft furnishings, marble bathrooms, satellite TV and Internet connections on demand. Guest amenities include a business center, health club, swimming pool and a beauty salon.
As for restaurants, the Café Zarnegar offers 24-hour international buffet services, while the exquisite Silk Route Restaurant specializes in a selection of Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and Thai cuisine. Commenting on the initial success of the hotel, a spokesman for the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development, Aly Mawji, said, "mainstream tourism is still years away, but we hope the hotel will encourage some more adventurous travellers".

According to the BBC, four men armed with AK-47s, grenades, and suicide vests stormed the hotel earlier today. One of the attackers detonated his explosive inside the hotel, while the others exchanged gunfire with hotel guards before escaping. Adventure travel, indeed. Nightly rates at the Serena range from $277 for a standard room to $1,333 for the "presidential suite."

Reason #2,359 to Support Universal Health Care

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 10:51 AM EST

American businesses seem to have a never-ending supply of creative ways for dropping people off their health care plans. The latest: employee insurance audits. Big companies have started demanding that employees prove that their dependents are really dependents and eligible for the company health care coverage. Naturally, consulting firms have sprung up to assist with the purges, demanding tax returns, marriage licenses and other personal documents from lowly service workers in the hopes of catching some cheaters, or at least people without good filing systems.

Newhouse News reporter Katherine Reynolds Lewis notes that the Ford Motor Company used audits to drop 80,000 people off its health care plan. Such numbers have apparently inspired a rush to audit. GM is currently auditing its entire 1 million strong workforce. A GM spokesperson told Lewis that the audits were worth the expense: "For every one that we drop, it's about a $1,000 savings," she said. If only the American auto industry managed to devote such innovation to producing cars! At some point, though, the auto makers and other big companies ought to just ask the government to take health care off their hands. At the rate they're going, it won't be long before none of their employees have health insurance anyway. They might as well just make it official and do something constructive about it.

Clinton Smears Obama on Iraq - Again

| Mon Jan. 14, 2008 9:54 AM EST

Senator Hillary Clinton appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, for the entire show, and asserted once again that Senator Barack Obama's rhetoric does not match the reality of his record. Referring to voters, she remarked, "I want them to have accurate information about our respective records." Yet moments later, Clinton, ostensibly providing voters with information about Obama's record, falsely characterized what Obama had once said about Saddam Hussein--to make it seem that prior to the war Obama was weak on Saddam.

During the show, Tim Russert brought up Clinton's vote in October 2002 for the legislation authorizing George W. Bush to take military action against Iraq, and he quoted a speech Obama gave at that time:

I know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors....I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.

Russert then asked Clinton, "Who had the better judgment at that time?" Meaning you or him.

Clinton insisted that her support for the war resolution had been merely a vote to pressure the Iraqi dictator to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq. She quickly moved on to attack Obama:

And in Senator Obama's recent book, he clearly says he thought that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, and that he still coveted nuclear weapons. His judgment was that, at the time in 2002, we didn't need to make any efforts. My belief was we did need to pin Saddam down, put inspectors in.

You can read it in his own book, Clinton was saying: Obama didn't want to do anything to stop Saddam, even though he feared that Saddam did possess chemical and biological weapons.

That was one helluva charge. Obama was willing to sit back and let a WMD-toting dictator go along on his merry own way (while Clinton was doing what she could to pin down that snake). Could this be true? Had Obama been a do-nothing appeaser of Saddam in 2002? (Forget for a moment that it turned out Saddam had zilch in the WMD department at the time.) I emailed Howard Wolfson, the communications director for the Clinton campaign, and asked for a citation to back up this incendiary allegation. He quickly replied, directing me to page 294 of Obama's Audacity of Hope.

Clinton "So Proud" of Obama

| Sun Jan. 13, 2008 9:28 PM EST

Funny how things turn out. When you're campaigning in front of the heavily black Democratic electorate in South Carolina, you can only bag on the black candidate in the race for so long until people get ticked off. So, you have to change your message. And you have to change your message so quickly, even the mainstream media throws in a sly criticism. From ABC News:

After an hour-long television interview critiquing Sen. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton went to an African American church, where the only words she had for her democratic rival -- were of praise....
"We never thought we would see the day when an African-American and a woman were competing for the presidency," Clinton said. "I am so proud of my party, I am so proud of my country, and I am so proud of Sen. Barack Obama."

I know it has been a Clinton-heavy day of blogging. Apologies for that. In non-campaign news, a high-level foreign policy official in the Bush Administration finally called waterboarding torture. That's important stuff and probably warrants it's own blog post, not the last line of a horserace post...

New Clinton Surrogate Raises Obama's Drug Use

| Sun Jan. 13, 2008 8:15 PM EST

clinton_obama_profile.jpg The Clinton folks aren't letting anyone forget about Barack Obama's drug use. Just one month after New Hampshire campaign co-chair Billy Shaheen (now resigned) raised the possibility of Obama selling drugs as a teenager, Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson said at a Hillary Clinton rally:

"And to me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood –­ and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book –­ when they have been involved."

The probability of Johnson freelancing on this is incredibly low. The Clinton campaign has a track record of using surrogates to do its dirty work. A Hill staffer who is supporting Clinton but is unaffiliated with the campaign told me he loved the Clinton campaign's hardball tactics. "The Clintons are so gangster," he said. "I love it!"

I'll just say this. When I found out Obama admitted to using marijuana and cocaine in his early writings, I gave him credit. Most politicians would try to bury stuff like that. Obama put it on the table, even though he must have known it would eventually be used against him. I assumed it would be used against him by Republicans; perhaps that was naive. The Obama campaign has chosen not to bring up some of the nastier parts of the Clintons' past (he has gone only so far as to say that America doesn't need to refight the "fights of the '90s"), and that's obviously part of his take-the-high-road approach. But I'm growning skeptical of that plan's chances of success. Even if Obama is committed to hitting back hard when attacked, he will still be on the defensive for the entire campaign.

As I've said before, you don't win by playing nice. But if Obama plays nasty, he'll undercut his brand. It's tough out there for a positive campaigner.

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Clinton Supporters Sue to Suppress Turnout in Nevada

| Sun Jan. 13, 2008 3:50 PM EST

What's some voter disenfranchisement on the way to a primary victory?

Nevada's state teachers union and six Las Vegas area residents filed a lawsuit late Friday that could make it harder for many members of the state's huge hotel workers union to vote in the hotly contested Jan. 19 Democratic caucus in Nevada.
The 13-page lawsuit in federal district court here comes two days after the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Nevada endorsed Senator Barack Obama, a blow to Mrs. Clinton...
The lawsuit argues that the Nevada Democratic Party's decision, decided late last year, to create at-large precincts inside nine Las Vegas resorts on caucus day violates the state's election laws and creates a system in which voters at the at-large precincts can elect more delegates than voters at other precincts...
The at-large precincts are being established because thousands of hotel workers cannot leave work to participate in the midday caucuses in their home precincts. The Nevada State Education Association has said it would not endorse any Democrat, but some of its top officials have endorsed Mrs. Clinton. The association's deputy executive director, Debbie Cahill, for instance, was a founding member of Senator Clinton's Nevada Women's Leadership Council.

I know a number of Democrats who don't mind Hillary Clinton or her policies, but hate the way she and her campaign play the game of politics. Filing a lawsuit (through surrogates, of course) to hinder the turnout of a union that has endorsed her opponent is a great example. Of course, I suspect that those same Democrats won't mind if HRC or any other Democratic candidate plays this sort of hardball with the Republican candidate in the general...

Bush Working to Insure Permanent Presence in Iraq

| Sat Jan. 12, 2008 7:25 PM EST

We've been in Korea for fifty years. And under an agreement that President Bush is hammering out with the Iraqis, we'll be in Iraq for the same period, or more. According to Newsweek:

...Bush said that negotiations were about to begin on a long-term strategic partnership with the Iraqi government modeled on the accords the United States has with Kuwait and many other countries. Crocker, who flew in from Baghdad with Petraeus to meet with the president, elaborated: "We're putting our team together now, making preparations in Washington," he told reporters. "The Iraqis are doing the same. And in the few weeks ahead, we would expect to get together to start this negotiating process."
[snip]
Most significant of all, the new partnership deal with Iraq... will become a sworn obligation for the next president. It will become just another piece of the complex global security framework involving a hundred or so countries with which Washington now has bilateral defense or security cooperation agreements. Last month, Sen. Hillary Clinton urged Bush not to commit to any such agreement without congressional approval. The president said nothing about that on Saturday, but Lute said last fall that the Iraqi agreement would not likely rise to the level of a formal treaty requiring Senate ratification. Even so, it would be difficult if not impossible for future presidents to unilaterally breach such a pact.

This means the withdrawal plans the Democrats are currently running on are likely meaningless. We're going to be in Iraq more or less permanently.

And McCain rejoices.

Friday's Sly Music News Day

| Fri Jan. 11, 2008 4:35 PM EST

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  • Okay, I knew that pneumonia story was suspicious. It turns out Eminem wasn't just in the hospital for a cough. The rapper has apparently ballooned into a "fat Elvis," this according to his mom, who's quoted in a gossip blog saying the 5 foot 7 rapper now weighs over 200 pounds and was hospitalized for possible heart problems as well as the pneumonia. Apparently the rapper is "depressed." But it feels so empty without you!

  • Following in the wake of Radiohead's post-EMI success, both Coldplay and Robbie Williams are reportedly considering leaving the label as well. Well if you have a "pay what you want" internet site, please do it in dollars so I don't screw it up again. Oh wait, I don't buy music from either of you.
  • Soulja Boy has set a digital sales record. His irrepressible hit "Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)," whose eponymous subtitle confuses and infuriates me, has become the first track to sell 3 million downloads. The music videos have been viewed over 50 million times on YouTube. Soulja Boy responded to the news by saying, "Yuuuuaaaa!!" Seriously.
  • This year's Coachella music festival near Palm Springs is set for the weekend of April 25-27, and now Idolator has what they call the "first fake line-up" for this year's festival, although Stereogum posted one back in November. Nothing, however, beats the one you can see after the jump:
  • Toyota Tops Consumer Reports' Greenest Cars

    | Fri Jan. 11, 2008 3:50 PM EST

    prius.jpgAlthough "eco-friendliness" ranks well behind "safety" and "value" among qualities consumers consider when buying cars, Consumer Reports did due diligence finding out which brands of cars are perceived as the most green. To be clear, they only tested for brand's perception as an eco-friendly car-maker, not how friendly the actual car is to Mother Earth.

    It's probably no surprise that Toyota ranks the highest, with its seemingly ubiquitous Prius. Nearly half of the consumers surveyed say they associate Toyota with being green, twice as many as selected the runner-up brand, Honda. Ford (Escape Hybrid), Chevrolet (Tahoe Hybrid), and GMC (Yukon Hybrid) came in at third, fourth, and fifth places, respectively.

    Although being "green" came in fifth among qualities consumers say they look for, it's encouraging that eco-friendliness was ranked higher than "design/style" and "technology/innovation." To me, that signifies that Americans may be more willing to put the environment above looks and style or unnecessary doo-dads when purchasing their next automobile. Of course, if we had better public transportation systems, we might not need all those cars on the road at all. But hey, a gal can dream.