If you haven't read the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq - at least the declassified part - it is worth reading. You can find it here.
And while you are at it, you may want to take a moment to review the instructive Iraq Study Group report. That you can find here.
Two excerpts from the NIE I found particularly important:
"The Intelligence Community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements."
"Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics."
If you've been reading our essays on the Middle East these past few months you will find these observations familiar. It's been clear for sometime that the Administration either doesn't understand, or is willfillly ignoring the new central dynamic of the region today that is a direct result of our policies - the escalating tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites, something 20,000 troops in Baghdad isnt going to fix, and may in fact inflame.
And this new NIE calls out the Administration to stop overstating the role of Iran in Iraq's politics. More on that later....my daughter has seized my laptop....
In an effort to set himself apart from his predecessor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave his morning press briefing while seated behind a desk in a style reminiscent of a television news anchor. One can only hope that the differences between Gates and former Donald Rumsfeld will extend to more than just style. The NYThas more:
Mr. Gates seemed to go out of his way to do things differently. Reporters were escorted to his personal conference room on the Pentagon’s third floor, which prevented the proceedings from being televised live, though television cameras still recorded it for later broadcast. Seats around the table were reserved for some news organizations, while the rest of the roughly 30 reporters and cameramen who attended were told by press aides to stand in the corner.
Mr. Gates opened the session by explaining why he was shunning the Pentagon briefing room. “I would prefer a more informal setting than the dais and the big sign behind me and so on,” he said.
Click on the picture below to watch the video of Secretary Gates’ Press Conference:
At the DNC Winter Meeting, Senator (and Presidential candidate) Chris Dodd defined bipartisanship as "getting Republicans to adopt Democratic ideas." The crowd ate it up, and in the wake of Republicans' thumpin' last November, we are seeing individual cases of Republicans supporting some progressive policies.
Secretary Spellings was in North Carolina today, where she announced that the President's budget would include the biggest increases in the Pell Grant financial aid program in 30 years. Of course, the President's budget two years ago had historic cuts in financial aid for higher education, so seeing is believing. But as NDN's Agenda lays out, higher education is key to building a 21st century economy that works for all Americans.
President Bush's 2008 budget will call for the largest Pell Grant increase in three decades, a boost that would exceed one passed by the House this week, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Thursday.
Pell Grants, awarded to more than 5 million low-income college students a year, do not have to be paid back.
Spellings said Bush will propose increasing the maximum Pell Grant by $550 next year, to $4,600. The maximum grant also would climb to $5,400 over five years under the proposal.
Spellings said at an education conference in Raleigh that it would be "real money that will help more low-income kids realize the dream of a college education."
In a bleak and powerful assessment of the future of the planet, the leading international network of climate change scientists has concluded for the first time that global warming is "unequivocal" and that human activity is the main driver, "very likely" causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.
And Al Gore gets a little closer to winning the Nobel Peace Prize...
Standing next to Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler, Governor Charlie Crist called for spending $30 million dollars to replace the touch-screen voting machines that were once though to be a panacea for the problems that lead to the 2000 recount. The touch-screen machines' failure to produce paper records is a constant concern and has cast doubt over the results of the recent election in the FL-13 Congressional District. Compounding these concerns is the revelation that machines can be easily hacked, as we wrote about earlier this year.
Crist's announcement in Florida follows this weeks vote by the Virginia legislatures call replace their touch-screen voting machines. Maryland and New Jersey are considering similar measures and Rep. Rush Holt has introduced federal legislation to require all voting machines to produce a paper trail.
Voting experts said Florida’s move, coupled with new federal voting legislation expected to pass this year, could be the death knell for the paperless electronic touch-screen machines. If as expected the Florida Legislature approves the $32.5 million cost of the change, it would be the nation’s biggest repudiation yet of touch-screen voting, which was widely embraced after the 2000 recount as a state-of-the-art means of restoring confidence that every vote would count.
Starting almost two years ago, NDN began telling a simple and important economic story - while capital and corporations were thriving in the new global economy of the 21st century, the American people were not.
After denying this new and challenging economic reality, yesterday, President Bush finally acknowledged how things have changed:
I know some of our citizens worry about the fact that our dynamic economy is leaving working people behind. We have an obligation to help ensure that every citizen shares in this country's future. The fact is that income inequality is real; it's been rising for more than 25 years.
At NDN, we believe that crafting a new economic strategy for America that ensures that capital, corporations and people prosper is one of the most important governing challenges of our time. We at NDN, through the work of our Globalization Initiative, led by former Under Secretary of Commerce Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, are going to continue to try to lead this conversation about what we need to do to craft a new economic strategy. To learn more about our work, and the issues at hand:
The Washington Post reports on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency’s holding program for non- Mexican illegal immigrants. A record 26,500 non-Mexican immigrants are currently being detained for weeks and possibly years in the facilities that according to the ACLU, and other groups currently challenging the conditions there, lack adequate clothing, medical services, and legal council. Facilities such as the $65 million “tent city” in Raymondville, Texas, are being expanded as the ICE struggles to find more funding and space to lease in order to meet the influx of new detainees.
The $65 million tent city, built hastily last summer between a federal prison and a county jail, marks both the success and the limits of the government's new policy of holding captured non-Mexicans until they are sent home. Previously, most such detainees were released into the United States before hearings, and a majority simply disappeared.
The new policy has led to a dramatic decline in border crossings by non-Mexicans, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
But civil liberties and immigration law groups allege that out of sight, the system is bursting at the seams. In the Texas facility, they say, illegal immigrants are confined 23 hours a day in windowless tents made of a Kevlar-like material, often with insufficient food, clothing, medical care and access to telephones. Many are transferred from the East Coast, 1,500 miles from relatives and lawyers, virtually cutting off access to counsel.
His opponet from Cato talked about Europe and Shaq, so it was certainly an interesting debate. Simon continued to make a case for a new economic strategy for the 21st century. Click on the picture below to read the wrapup and watch video of the entire exchange.
One of the trends I post about here is the merging of web search and mobile media. On that note there were interesting quotes from Google CEO Eric Schmidt during an analyst conference call discussing their recent billion dollar 4th quarter results.
He was asked about Google's mobile strategy and he responded that they were thinking of how mobile search, video, and video advertising could combine...and it is interesting from a political timetable that he believes this mobile search would substantially grow in 07, and begin to make a financial impact in 2008.
Here is the quote(with emphasis being mine):
“It is clear that 2007 will be the year that mobile search query traffic grows substantially.
Our current model is to use targeted text ads and we have evidence that the monetization of those ads is higher than in non-mobile uses. So it looks like the advertising revenue on a per-search query is likely to be significantly higher on mobile than on non-mobile.
As part of that, we are investing in new categories of using mobile devices. For example, YouTube content is being used and can be viewed on mobile devices in various partnerships that we’re doing. Those are as much opportunistic for us, and they’re not really driving revenue yet; although in theory, you could imagine a combination of video, video advertising on a mobile phone that would have the best entertainment value but also very, very high monetization rates.
...It’s not material today in a financial sense, and more importantly, it’s still emerging. We are making a significant investment in technology around mobile because of the growth rate of mobile and the ultimate scale of that business. You won’t really see its financial impact until ‘08."
The LA Times has a great article about the proposed hike in costs for citizenship and permanent residency applications. The application fees would go from $330 to $595, and other hikes include those for immigrant entrepreneurs seeking investor green cards, who would face an increase from $475 to $2,850. Work permits would rise from $180 to $340, and those for family visas would increase from $190 to $355.
Why the increase? The article points out that Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said his agency faced a $1-billion shortfall for the next two fiscal years and was legally required to raise its own revenue to balance its books. In 2002, Congress gave it a five-year special appropriation of $460 million to eliminate a backlog that peaked at 3.8 million cases and to meet a presidential mandate to process applications within six months.