Tales from the Trail

Just what is a “Lincoln-Douglas” debate?

Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich and long-shot Jon Huntsman say they’ll hold a “Lincoln-Douglas” debate in New Hampshire on Monday. So how will it be different from the usual debates?

During the 1858 race for U.S. Senate in Illinois, incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas and upstart Republican lawyer Abraham Lincoln held a series of seven three-hour debates in towns throughout the state on the day’s hottest topic: slavery.

The debates had no moderator, and the candidates spoke in paragraphs rather than today’s rehearsed 45-second sound bites. In each of the debates, the first candidate was given 60 minutes to make opening remarks. His opponent was given 90 minutes to respond, and the first candidate was allowed a final 30-minute rebuttal.

Today’s Republican voters will be spared a bladder-busting three-hour talkfest. Tim Miller, a spokesman for the Huntsman campaign, says Monday’s debate is likely to last just an hour and will focus on national security and foreign policy. The question of whether to have a moderator, and whom it might be, has yet to be decided, he said.

Both candidates have expressed annoyance with how the Republican debates have been moderated thus far. Until recently Gingrich’s debate performances had been most noteworthy for his attacks on the media. In a September debate in California, for instance, he told moderator John Harris of Politico: “I’m frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other.”

United States 0-2 in world sports arena

The United States has now lost out on two huge world sporting events in the past two years. And in each instance to first-time winners.

It may be an unintended consequence of the fight against terrorism. The very security policies aimed at protecting the United States from attack, might be working to bench it in contests to host world sporting events due to some concerns that foreign fans, players, even officials may have trouble entering the United States for the games. SOCCER/WORLD

FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, the smallest country ever to host the soccer finals,  over competitors Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Seriously folks – comedian testifies before U.S. Congress

It was all quite funny, but the subject is very serious especially in a sluggish U.S. economy with an unemployment rate stuck at 9.6 percent.USA/

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Friday on whether illegal migrant workers take jobs away from Americans. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert testified in character as a conservative talk show host.

He was there at the invitation of Representative Zoe Lofgren and his testimony was based on the one day he spent for his show “The Colbert Report” laboring in the fields along with migrant farm workers.

Barack and David practice beer diplomacy

The White House was once again the setting for beer diplomacy.

This time to demonstrate the chumminess of the new British Prime Minister David Cameron and the not-so-new American President Barack Obama and reaffirm that “special relationship” enjoyed by the two allies. (The two leaders are also both left-handed, so plenty in common). BRITAIN-USA/

They discussed the benefits of cold beer versus warm ale and Cameron showed sporting enthusiasm for the “312″ ale that Obama introduced him to.

“We have just concluded some excellent discussions, including whether the beers from our hometowns that we exchanged are best served warm or cold,” Obama said. “My understanding is that the prime minister enjoyed our 312 beer and we may send him some more.”

Hillary’s mango diplomacy in Pakistan

Hillary Clinton has lots to worry about in Pakistan, but she has found one thing she can wholeheartedly embrace: Pakistani mangos.

The U.S. Secretary of State was treated to a mango dessert during dinner with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and they clearly won a fan — Clinton repeatedly raved about the fruit. PAKISTAN-USA/

“We’ll get a lot of people hooked on Pakistani mangos,” Clinton told a “townhall”-style meeting in Islamabad, where she was on an official visit.

Iranian scientist saga has message for defectors: big bucks in U.S.

Five million dollars is a lot of money for most people on this planet.

IRAN-SCIENTIST/So the revelation by unnamed U.S. officials that Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri was paid that amount for providing information about Iran may actually end up encouraging others thinking of defecting – that’s one train of thought among some experts.

“It is a great advertisement to folks that if they have good information — $5 million or more may be theirs.  They just need to make up their minds that when they come here — there is no going back,” a former senior U.S. official tells me. “The message to me seems to be: don’t screw with Uncle Sam. We can be a very good friend, but a worse enemy.”

What has been surprising is that U.S. officials seem to have decided to play hardball (instead of going the silent route) by speaking out (anonymously of course) and saying that Amiri started giving information to the United States while living  in Iran, that he was paid $5 million to show he was an important defector, and he disliked his wife and didn’t want to bring his family to the U.S.

The mystery of the homesick Iranian nuclear scientist

The facts are few: Shahram Amiri, an Iranian nuclear scientist, disappeared in June 2009 during a pilgrimage to Mecca. He turned up this week at the Iranian interests section in the Pakistani Embassy in Washington wanting to go home.

What happened during the year inbetween is quite murky and even a timeline of what is publicly known requires much reading between the lines and connecting circumstantial dots.

ABC News reported in March that Amiri had defected to the United States. That would be quite a catch.

Swapping spies to advance a post-Cold War relationship

RUSSIA-USA/SPIESIt’s hardly ever been a rock-solid relationship but has had its moments. So what does one do when deceit is discovered but no one wants a divorce?

When Russia was caught engaging in the second oldest profession in the United States the two partners decided that the overall relationship was too important to disintegrate over such an indiscretion. Their answer: swap spies.

But the public story so far has raised questions about why the hurry?

“Looks to me that the Administration was in one mighty big rush to put aside this annoyance in the U.S.-Russian relationship. What a deal. We swap 10 Russians for 4 Russians,” a former U.S. intelligence official says.

GASP! Russia spying on the United States

There’s gambling in Vegas (sharp intake of breath)… Tea grows in China (eyes widen)… Russia spies on the United States (hand over heart stagger backward).

SHOCKING, SHOCKING, SHOCKING! (Get out the hanky and smelling salts).

Well, hold on a minute… it’s not exactly Robert Hanssen is it? The former FBI agent was charged with selling U.S. secrets to the former Soviet Union and then Russia and is now serving a life prison sentence in what was seen as a huge intelligence disaster – Russia penetrated the FBI. RUSSIA-USA/SPYING

In this spy story, a multi-year U.S. investigation into the “illegals” program nabbed 10 “alleged secret agents” in the United States and charged them with conspiring to act as unlawful agents of Russia. A charge that carries a 5-year prison sentence.

White House to Kremlin: how r u? OMG…

President Barack Obama suggested to visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that it might be time to toss out the red phone from Cold War days and open new lines of communication between the United States and Russia — Twitter.

(Although Obama may want to get the terminology down first, it’s Twitter not Twitters). USA-RUSSIA/

Obama cracked the joke at a news conference at the White House with Medvedev, who earlier this week visited technology firms in California and stopped at Twitter offices where he sent his first tweet.