Somalia back in the spotlight

Iraq may have been top on the table at the high-level strategy meeting this week at President Bush’s Texas ranch, but nervous eyes at the Pentagon were focused like a laser on Somalia.

The brass is holding its breath as the scenario they most dread — and have warned about repeatedly — may be playing out as Islamic radicals make their first major moves to take control of the Horn of Africa country. This is the same "feral nation" where President Clinton yanked out U.S. forces after the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" debacle left 18 American commandos dead and any notion of U.S. invincibility shattered.

Since 9/11, some of the most forward-looking generals have pegged Somalia as perhaps the Horn territory most vulnerable to jihadis looking for a new Afghanistan-like training base. Over the past year or so, they’ve quietly positioned about 1,000 U.S. troops in nearby Djibouti, and are close to establishing the first-ever U.S. Africa Command.

Forces mainly from neighboring Ethiopia have pushed back the jihadi fighters from Mogadishu — for now. But fears remain the situation playing out in Somalia may be the most dangerous of any since the war on terror began.

Well done, Americans. In 2006, you dug deep, contributing cash and goods to send more than 6 million packages, 3 million cards and letters, and 500,000 books to U.S. troops at war in Iraq and Afghanistan through the Pentagon-organized "America Supports You" program, located on the Web at Plus, the 250 community groups affiliated with the program raised nearly $3.5 million in financial support for the troops and their families in 2006 alone.


Retiring National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield leaves his post next week after 34 years as a tropical forecaster, with 906 storms — including 506 hurricanes — under his belt.

Even before he became a household figure with Hurricane Katrina, he learned that his position imposed some limitations on what he could do in public.

"I realized I could no longer go out and buy water or batteries or other hurricane supplies at the store," Mayfield recalled. "People would see me doing that and think that I know something they don’t. So now, I let my wife buy the hurricane supplies."


Where are they now?

— Tom Ridge, the first Homeland Security chief and proponent of the color-coded warning system, just hooked up with the travel industry to come up with ways to boost tourism to the United States from abroad. Post-9/11 security restrictions and new visa rules have contributed to a drop in such tourists.

— Bill Clinton paramour Monica Lewinsky just got a master’s degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics, which is also Mick Jagger’s alma mater. Her master’s thesis was called "In Search of the Impartial Juror." She’s now in search of work in Britain.

— Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the internal Army probe into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, will retire Jan. 1. His scathing report led to resignations, reassignments and, ultimately, criminal charges.


Cable-price creep continues. New stats released by the Federal Communications Commission found the average monthly bill for cable TV in 2005 grew by more than the nation’s 3 percent overall inflation rate. Basic-only service was up 3.3 percent, to $14.30 a month. Basic-plus-expanded basic rose 5.2 percent, to $43.04 a month. And expanded basic jumped 6.2 percent, to $28.74.

The FCC also found — surprise! — that the hikes were smaller in areas with cable-system competition.


When you go to that lunchtime job interview, don’t be surprised if you bump into your cubicle neighbor. A just-released national survey found that more than 75 percent of all employees are looking for new jobs. Most say they’re looking for more money, said the study by the Society for Human Resource Management.


For more than a decade, the Pentagon has been engaged in a modernization push dubbed the "Revolution in Military Affairs." Perhaps of more moment to the troops has been a companion push, which could be called the "Revolution in Military Meals."

Already the field rations called Meals-Ready-to-Eat have gone chi-chi, offering such items as chipotle snack bread, vegetarian lasagna and Irish-creme-flavored coffee. Now, the Navy says it’s booting fat and junk foods, and introducing a new menu that will include low-fat seafood entrees, rice-based meals and veggie-loaded Asian stir-fries.

No doubt mindful of mutiny, the sea service intends to continue Burger Day at lunch on Wednesdays and pizza for Saturday dinners.

(SHNS writer Lee Bowman contributed to this report.)