Tales from the Trail

U.S. reveals nuclear target: oceans

ARMS MISSILE

The new U.S.  nuclear weapons doctrine released on Tuesday had stern warnings for Iran and North Korea, with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explaining that it left “all options on the table” for dealing with atomic renegades despite its broader goal of restricting the U.S. use of its nuclear stockpile.

But Gates also let slip a bit of information that may give pause to environmentalists: most U.S. nuclear missiles are now targeted at the world’s oceans.

“Our ICBMs are all targeted right now on the oceans, so that if, God forbid and for the first time in 60 years, there were an accidental launch or a problem …it would put a missile right into the middle of the ocean, rather than targeted on any country,” Gates told a news briefing.

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright explained the details of  “open ocean targeting”, part of a broader package of measures the United States has undertaken for some time to reduce the threat of  nuclear war by mistake.

“For a weapon that has a target associated with it, that is on alert, there is a specific target: that target is the ocean, it is the center of the ocean,” Cartwright told the same news briefing,  adding that the U.S. military kept specific areas of the ocean in mind “for that type of work.”

Oh wow…. “Kumar” heads back to Hollywood – in 3D?

USA/

From the White House back to White Castle….

Nine months after leaving Hollywood for the White House, the actor Kal Penn is returning to Tinseltown to reprise his most famous role, as the marijuana-loving “Kumar” in the raucous “Harold and Kumar” feature film comedies, according to media reports. 

As Kalpen Modi — Kal Penn is his stage name — the 32-year-old actor has been working in the Obama White House since July as an associate director of public engagement. 

“Entertainment Weekly” reported on its website that Penn was leaving to make a new Harold and Kumar movie, this one with a Christmas theme, which might be shot in 3-D.

It’s official – Obama is the first African-American president

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President Barack Obama has done his civic duty and filled out his Census form, and in doing so confirmed that he is, indeed, the first African-American U.S. president.

Obama checked African-American on the form when he filled it out, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. And he did it without giving it a great deal of thought.

“I think he just checked it,” Gibbs told reporters during a briefing in his office at the White House on Friday.

from Photographers' Blog:

Obama signs historic health care bill: An easy assignment?

The White House East Room has been, through the decades, the site for countless ceremonies, speeches and historic moments. I have lost count of the number of times I have covered events in there, but on Tuesday, the most historically important moment in the young presidency of Barack Obama unfolded in the most packed working conditions I have ever seen in that grand room. Hundreds of invited Congressmen and women, who each had a hand in bringing about the health care reform bill, sat shoulder-to-shoulder and right up against the stage. Along with dozens of photographers, journalists and television crews, there wasn’t room to breathe and this presented a rare challenge for those that regularly cover the White House – the chance that you may not even see the event taking place!

USA

With the front row of the audience about 3 feet (one meter) from the signing desk, it was almost impossible to see the Presidential Seal and that important document that President Obama was about to sign. Even on step ladders, which normally elevate us sufficiently above the audience, it was touch-and-go, and that’s before camera phones, the new nemesis for any working photographer shooting over a crowd, would inevitably start popping up. Not to mention the audience members standing up themselves to see over the rows in front. I even had to negotiate a compromise with one Congresswoman from New York that if she would refrain from pulling out her cell phone and blocking us behind her, I would ensure that she would receive a copy of one of my pictures as a trade off. She thankfully obliged and I emailed her a jpeg file later in the day for her private collection, for which she was grateful. Other congressmen in the audience were not as considerate, and anticipating this (hey, even elected officials can’t resist pulling out their cameras too), I set in place an “insurance policy”, because news photographer’s never get a second chance at capturing history.

My insurance policy was a Canon 5D camera and 24-105mm lens clamped high above my head on one of the towering light stands, atop of which is enough illumination to set an exposure of 400th sec @ f4, at 1000 asa. They do light White House events well, as administrations past and present recognize the power of the well-crafted image. I know a lot of photographers who shoot indoor events and would dream of soft, plentiful light rather than messing with high ISO speeds or the dreaded flash/strobe. With one dedicated radio transmitter attached to the hotshoe of my handheld camera, and a radio receiver connected to remote camera on the light pole, I could wirelessly fire the remote every time I pushed my shutter button. After editing the pictures from the remote camera for the Reuters wire shortly after the event ended, I thought it would be cool to put the entire sequence together with some sound to give you a sense of being in that room on this historic occasion.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

Hanks vists “poor slobs” in White House press corps

Hollywood stars Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg paid a surprise visit to the White House press corps on Thursday after being hosted by President Barack Obama.

 Hanks was keen to check up on an espresso machine he gave the journalists years ago. USA-PACIFIC/

“You know, you’re supposed to clean this after every use,” Hanks chided after inspecting the machine, a much-loved and well-used article by reporters cooped up in the press center.

Bush, Cheney meet for first time since leaving office

Former President George W. Bush and his former vice president, Dick Cheney, got together Thursday for the first time since they left office in January 2009.

The meeting took place at Cheney’s house in McLean, Virginia, just three days after the former vice president suffered a mild heart attack and was hospitalized overnight. An ABC News camera captured the moment.
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“Mr. President, welcome,” Cheney said as Bush stepped from the back of a sport utility vehicle.

“Looking good,” Bush said.

“Holding up alright,” Cheney replied.

“Looking good,” the former president said again as the two shook hands warmly.

Conservative Rubio pulls ahead in Florida Republican primary

USA-Politics/Crist

Conservative Republican Marco Rubio is building a lead over moderate Governor Charlie Crist in Florida’s Republican Senate primary, a contest highlighting the perils facing party moderates in this rambunctious election year, a poll shows.

A Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of likely Republican primary voters released this week showed Rubio, a former Florida House Speaker, with 54 percent support against Crist’s 36 percent. A poll in January had Rubio ahead by 13 points.

The primary race has echoes in Arizona, where veteran Senator John McCain faces his strongest challenge yet from fiery conservative J.D. Hayworth, who is attacking his “moderate record” on taxes, social issues and the bank bailout.

U.S. politics? “It sucks,” former chief of staff says

USA-OBAMABarack Obama’s plate is piled high with problems — two wars, stubbornly high U.S. joblessness, a stalled healthcare overhaul and a poisonously partisan political environment in Washington. But one thing he isn’t low on is advice.

A recent suggestion comes from a former chief of staff to the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who says the overall health of  U.S. politics “sucks,” but has an idea for how Obama can seize back the political story from the Republicans, who seem to stand stubbornly united against everything he tries.

If he wants to get back control of the political narrative, Obama needs to make better use of his cabinet, John Podesta told the Financial Times.  “He’s got a terrific cabinet. Use it. Get out into the country and use it,” Podesta, who now runs a Washington think tank and advises Obama, said.

from Global News Journal:

Obama, Susan Rice and the U.N. — The right approach or too cuddly?

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, briefs press at the White House.

When U.S. President Barack Obama came to power, he announced a "new era of engagement" at the United Nations. He appointed his longtime friend and foreign policy adviser Susan Rice to be his ambassador to the world body. He also raised her post to cabinet level, as some previous Democratic presidents have done, and made her a member of the powerful National Security Council

In an August 2009 speech at New York University, Rice outlined the Obama's administration's new approach to the United Nations, an organization that was often criticized and occasionally ridiculed by members of the administration of former President George W. Bush. She said that from now on Washington would do away with the "condescension and contempt" that she said had crept into U.S. government attitudes toward the international community.