Blackwater is set to lose its State Department contract next month, the cash cow that transformed a small firearms training firm in North Carolina into a global private security concern. The loss of the contract, according to a State Department official quoted by the Middle East Times, means that Blackwater (recently renamed "Xe") will lose up to half of its income. As Dan Schulman and I have reported, the firm is looking to other crisis areas to make up the difference, namely Africa, but it's difficult to imagine that the dollar spicket there will ever rival security contracting's halcyon days in Iraq. The Middle East Times piece goes on to argue that the need for Blackwater, which ultimately undid itself by killing 17 Iraqis in a Baghdad traffic circle in September 2007, was the result of gross mismanagement and lack of preparation by American officials early on in the occupation. Worth a read.

I'm usually a fan of MSNBC's First Read, a newsletter written by NBC reporters Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro that drops in your email box every morning. It's heavily weighted toward politics and optics, and discusses virtually nothing about policy, but in that way it's a good guide to the daily obsessions of the mainstream media.

But this line from today's edition, about Obama's just-concluded overseas trips, strikes me as strange:

Was the trip a success? While the president didn't get Europeans to commit to a stimulus and didn't get more combat troops for Afghanistan, it's hard to say that it wasn't a P.R. triumph. The reception Obama got from world leaders was extraordinary, and the latest New York Times/CBS poll suggests he got a bump in his poll numbers. But his presidency won't be judged what happened on this trip; rather, it will be judged on what happens afterward.

Isn't that true about all polling? Why add this little disclaimer now? First Read cites polls all the time. Like I said, optics not policy. If the writers are going to note here that the public's opinion of Obama's trip is ultimately ephemeral and the long-term real-world effects of his governance are what really matters (which is obviously true), shouldn't they do that next time they tout an NBC poll? A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that in the wake of GM's bankruptcy, Obama's favorability has dropped 15 points. But that is not a crisis for the President; his presidency won't be judged on these events, but on whether or not the auto industry can eventually be saved and if the economy returns to form. I'm willing to bet I never see that sentence.

The Kitchen Sink

Nick Baumann summarizes all the platforms Robert Gates proposes gutting in next year's Pentagon budget:

In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

And don't forget the C-17!  That's a lot of platforms.  Question: is going after so many programs at once (a) brilliant or (b) insane?  I can make a case for either, but I can't quite convince myself which one it is.

The North Koreans launch a missile that fails to place a satellite into orbit and what does former Reagan Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, Jr. say? That this episodes indicates that the evildoers of North Korea could be planning to hit the United States with a super-duper secret electromagnetic pulse weapon that would throw America back into the Stone Age, that the U.S. ought to hit Kim Jong Il hard before such a catastrophe happens (whether an attack on North Korea triggers a major war in Asia or not), and that President Barack Obama is planning to "submit" to the Taliban and Muslim nations. Yes, that's what Gaffney said when he and I discussed--is that the right word?--the North Korean missile launch on Hardball on Monday night. What's the connection between an EMP sneak attack from North Korea and Obama surrendering to the Taliban? I'm not sure. But it's easier to show than to explain:

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

Revenge of the Kids

The Census Bureau's Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Supplement is out!  Are you excited yet?

The graph on the right comes from Charles Franklin and shows the turnout rate by age for the past three elections.  2008 is in red, and turnout among 18-29 year-olds is up by about two percentage points from 2004, which in turn was up by about eight points from 2000.  Turnout rates for all other age groups were down slightly compared to 2004.

More data is here, compiled by Michael McDonald.  Highlights: youth turnout might have been up in 2008, but it was still more than ten points below the turnout rate of every other age group.  The turnout rate was down for whites and up for every other ethnic group.  And early voting increased from 20% of voters to 30% of voters.  In fact, early voting has more than quadrupled since the early 90s.

Guess what? Those endless fields of corn, soybeans, or alfalfa are not the thriftiest way to farm. Not in dollar terms. Not in environmental terms. So why are continuous and no-till farming still such staples in American agriculture? Because you & I subsidize them with our tax dollars. Farm welfare for the corporate farm.

A 13-year study out of the University of Wisconsin assessed pastures planted with multiple crop species, as well as organic fields, and compared them to conventional alfalfa and corn farms at two sites in southern Wisconsin from 1993 to 2006.

The simple conclusion: Diversified systems were more profitable than monocropping and organic systems were more profitable than the Midwestern standards of continuous corn, no-till corn, no-till soybeans, and intensively managed alfalfa.

Even adding risk premiums into the equation did not give monoculture the edge expected by the researchers. Bottom line: monoculture is riskier and less profitable than organic and rotational farming.

The authors' advice: Government support of monoculture is outdated and should be shifted to programs that promote crop rotations and organic farming practices.

When that happens—you know what?—we'll all be able to afford food that is better for us and better for the planet. Let's go, Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture, hailing from Iowa, land of the newly progressive. Lead the way.

According to Lisa Belkin, "Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. Data they analyzed from more than 33,000 American children showed that the older the man when a child is conceived, the lower a child's score is likely to be on tests of concentration, memory, reasoning and reading skills, at least through age 7."

It gets worse: higher risk of autism, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Not good news, but it does sort of even the cultural score in which past-their-prime women are understood to be the greatest risk to the children they bear 'late' in life. Damaged goods. Darwin makes them chase younger women to bear their healthy children, not mid-life crises. But what if younger women start looking at that "distinguished" guy driving the red 'vette and thinking like Belkin?

The push and pull between timetables and dreams, between our bodies and our babies, is at the core of many women's worldview, which also means it is at the core of relationships between the sexes. This tension feeds the stereotype of woman as eager to settle down and men as reluctant, and it's the crux of why we see women as "old" and men as "distinguished."
If those underlying assumptions were to change, would all that follows from them change as well? A world in which each man heard his clock tick even a fraction as urgently as each woman could be a very different world indeed. All those silver-haired sex symbols, and balding sugar daddies, and average-Joe divorced guys who are on their second families because they can be while their exes are raising their first set of kids—what if all of them became, in women's eyes, too darned old?
What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age? What if men, as the years passed, began to look with new eyes at Ms. Almost Right? Would men of all ages come to understand—firsthand, not just from the sidelines—the fear that the very passage of time will put your not-yet-conceived baby at risk?
Welcome to the club boys.

Whoever it was (and in all likelihood it was her), a young woman somewhere in Pakistan got her ass literally whipped. Only question is who. The answer to 'why' will never satisfy those of us living in the 21st century.

Meanwhile, next door in Afghanistan, the powers that be just threw their women to the few wolves they were safe from by legalizing marital rape and a severe curtailment of female liberty.

On Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates finally announced his long-planned cuts to big-ticket programs, including the F-22 Raptor and the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter. (Mother Jones  previewed the cuts—and military spending opponents' reactions—last month.) In Gates' proposed budget, the F-22, VH-71, the Navy's DDG-1000 Destroyer, Airborne Laser Missile Defense (a laser mounted on a Boeing 747), and the Army's Future Combat Systems program are all targeted for modification or elimination.

In March, President Barack Obama said he recognized "the real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich." The proposals Gates revealed today are supposed to reflect that tradeoff. It's no surprise, then, that defense contractors are rebelling against the proposed changes. The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman details the gathering storm:

In January, Lockheed Martin unveiled a website called Preserve Raptor Jobs, arguing that the F-22 fighter jet it produces for the Air Force was a jobs engine during trying economic times. A spokesman for Lockheed told TWI last month that the site was merely intended to “provide information” primarily to the jet’s “supplier base,” but lawmakers from F-22-producing states warned Gates against cutting funding for the jet — which costs approximately $143 million per plane, of which there are currently 183 — using talking points that sounded much like text on the site. Similarly, defenders of the Army’s Future Combat Systems program for tech-enabled land warfare — the target of a Government Accountability Office report this week that criticized its “staggering” cost-overruns of $300 million — have argued in recent days that the program is crucial to soldier safety against insurgent attacks, even though it has yet to be deployed in full. The Politico reported this week that Boeing has deployed 100 lobbyists to Washington to push back against potential cuts.

Lobbyists for defense contractors don't get paid to sit on their hands, so you can bet that there's a whole gaggle of them on Capitol Hill right now telling members of Congress and their aides how important x piece of Cold War-era weaponry is to national security and, naturally, jobs in members' districts. That's the kind of hard work that got the V-22 Osprey (now operational) revived four separate times by Congress after Dick Cheney—Dick Cheney!—tried unsuccessfully to kill it. You can bet that Lockheed Martin will try to ensure the F-22 enjoys a similar resurrection. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), for one, doesn't seem to be over the moon about Gates' proposals. Skelton, the chair of the House armed services committee, released a statement this afternoon calling the proposal "a good faith effort" but emphasizing that "the buck stops with Congress," which will "decide whether to support these proposals."

A few days ago Michael Isikoff reported that the White House had backed off on plans to release some Bush-era torture memos thanks to mounting internal pushback: "U.S. intelligence officials, led by senior national-security aide John Brennan, mounted an intense campaign to get the decision reversed, according to a senior administration official familiar with the debate. 'Holy hell has broken loose over this,' said the official, who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities."

Today, Scott Horton suggests that there's more than just pushback involved:

Senate Republicans are now privately threatening to derail the confirmation of key Obama administration nominees for top legal positions by linking the votes to suppressing critical torture memos from the Bush era. A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public....A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

These memos must be real time bombs.  So much material has been released already, both officially and otherwise, that I've long assumed we already knew everything the Bush administraton had done — in broad terms, anyway.  But apparently not.  If these memos just confirmed our use of things like stress positions and black sites, it's hard to imagine they'd prompt such ferocious opposition.  There must be some truly new — and truly gruesome — disclosures in them.