Despite administration denials, superlobbyist-turned-felon Jack Abramoff did have political traction in the White House, according to a damning draft report released Monday by Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) House government oversight committee. Among the findings: Before he was disgraced, Abramoff provided gifts and meals to White House officials, met with President George W. Bush at least six times, and influenced a State Department dismissal and a presidential political endorsement.
While the draft report does not allege that Abramoff influenced any decision taken by President Bush himself, the latest revelations seem to confirm the conclusions of an earlier oversight committee report sketching out Abramoff's influence in the White House. The first report, issued in September 2006, used billing records and emails from Abramoff's firm as its main sources of information. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino subsequently attacked the first report for being based on "fraudulent" records, and then-White House spokesman Tony Snow claimed Abramoff "got nothing" from his efforts at 1600 Pennsylvania.
Instead of giving up in the face of the administration's attacks on the committee's first report, Rep. Waxman requested the White House's own information about its contacts with the superlobbyist. The White House's own records confirmed what Tony Snow had denied: Abramoff often got what he wanted from the White House, even when what Abramoff wanted went against the advice of the president's own party. In the new report, the committee hammers the administration for allowing its representatives to initially mischaracterize Abramoff's relationship with the White House: "the White House failed to conduct even the most basic internal investigation of the White House relationship with Mr. Abramoff before making public statements characterizing the connection between Mr. Abramoff and the White House."
The latest findings strongly imply that Abramoff's success was at least partially due to his use of what one administration official referred to as "fruit": Gifts including meals and sports tickets. According to the White House documents and testimony, White House officials asked for or received tickets from Abramoff associates on 21 confirmed occasions. The report says:
On February 7, an internal Obama campaign spreadsheet leaked in the press. It contained the campaign's predictions for all of the remaining primaries. Now that the primaries are over, we have the opportunity to judge the accuracy of Obama's prognosticators, who, as everyone knows by now, showed remarkable prescience in their planning this campaign season.
Below are the spreadsheet's popular vote and delegate predictions compared to actual results. The numbers show that the Obama campaign strategists were routinely too conservative: they underpredicted both the margins of their victories and their losses. They often anticipated a close to 50-50 split in a state that turned out to seriously favor one of the two candidates.
Of the states they predicted correctly, they underpredicted their margin of victory (aka were too pessimistic) in 16 states and underpredicted their margin of loss (aka were too optimistic) in six. They only overpredicted their margin of victory in two states, and never overpredicted a loss. In total, they got 24 of the 27 primaries after February 5th correct.
Of the ones the campaign got wrong, they were too hopeful in South Dakota and Indiana, where they predicted victories but suffered losses, and were too pessimistic in Maine, where they predicted a close loss but actually saw a substantial victory.
They nailed the delegate count exactly in five states, and were within one delegate in five more. They predicted their delegate count to within five delegates in 23 of the 27 primaries.
Final verdict: the Indonesian village-eating mud-erupting volcano known as Lusi was triggered by oil and gas drilling two years ago. The eruption began in May 2006 when Lapindo Brantas, owned by the family of billionaire Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, began exploratory drilling of a borehole named Banjar-Panji-1. Since then Lusi's oozing eruption has inundated rice paddies and villages, destroyed 10,000 homes and displaced 30,000 people. Now a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters shows exactly how drilling caused Lusi's birth. Lead author Richard Davies says, "We show that the day before the mud volcano started there was a huge 'kick' in the well, which is an influx of fluid and gas into the wellbore. We show that after the kick the pressure in the well went beyond a critical level. This resulted in the leakage of the fluid from the well and the rock formations to the surface—a so called 'underground blowout'. This fluid picked up mud during its accent and Lusi was born.
Lapindo Brantas initially claimed the Yogyakarta earthquake, which occurred two days before and 155 miles away, caused Lusi's birth. However the oil and gas company now confirms the published data on Lusi are correct and their drilling was the trigger, reports Durham University.
The question now is whether, as some suspect, Lapindo Brantas will simply fold into bankruptcy to avoid paying penalties or reparations. Especially now since another study by Davies at Durham University suggests Lusi is beginning to collapse—precursor to becoming a huge sunken caldera, worsening the environmental disaster.
Steve Jobs has announced the introduction of new iPhone models, slashing the baseline price in half to $199. The new models will run on 3G technology, allowing for faster internet access and download speeds, and will feature GPS, so you always know where you are. While Jobs himself just called the new phones "zippy," others have decided that higher-speed internet access and the possibility of unlimited music downloads may be "as important a moment in musical history as the invention of the gramophone." At the risk of sounding like an alarmist Luddite, I'll take it further: the new iPhone brings us one step closer in our inexorable progress towards becoming The Borg.
Rod Parsley has trouble with one of the Ten Commandments.
Parsley is the fundamentalist pastor of an Ohio megachurch who was belatedly renounced by John McCain, two months after Mother Jonesreported that Parsley, whom McCain had praised and campaigned with, had declared in a book that Islam was a "false religion" that ought to be "destroyed." (For a video, produced by Mother Jones and Brave New Films, showing Parsley in full anti-Islam throttle, click here.)
Sometime after McCain on May 22 rejected Parsley's endorsement, Parsley put out a video in which he responded to the McCain controversy and sought to explain his "Biblical worldview" on Islam. In this statement, he violated the thou-shall-not-fib rule.
First, he accused "political hit squads" (meaning, yours truly) of describing his views in "the most ominous and extreme terms." You can review the MotherJones/Brave New Films video and decide for yourself how "ominous and extreme" Parsley has been. Then, more telling, he betrayed himself, by running away from his own views. In the video, he says his take on Islam is "in the mainstream" and that "I have always, and I will continue, to make a clear distinction between Muslim terrorists and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims."
Not true. In his own book, Silent No More, Parsley declares,
There are some, of course, who will say that the [Islamist] violence I cite is the exception and not the rule. I beg to differ. I will counter, respectfully, that what some call "extremists" are instead mainstream believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.
In other words, Islamic terrorists are not bad apples; the faith itself is evil. In his book and in a video sermon on Islam, Parsley does not differentiate between Islam and radical Islam. In fact, he says the two are the same. He also claims that the entire Islam religion is a Satanic deception. And he notes that Islam "is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world." All this is not the mainstream view of Islam.
So when Parsley maintains on his recent video that he does indeed distinguish between radical Islam and the rest of the faith, he appears to be lying. Sure, it's not nice to accuse a man of the cloth of being a liar, but I don't know how one gets around such an obvious conclusion in this case. Parsley clearly knows what he has said and written in the past. He must realize that he is now engaging in nothing but spin.
In his own video, Parsley says, "I understand that the raw truth of the pulpit cannot survive untempered in the political sphere." Entering the political sphere, he has denied stating what he actually stated. And there ain't much "raw truth" in that.
A lot of the articles I read about the state of our economy include interviews with people like this woman, who in January found her rising costs so terrifying that she began sending her sheets and towels to a laundry service instead of a dry cleaner. They brim with pity for urbanites forced to abandon Starbucks and scale back weekly hair appointments, and suggest that readers consider such monastic choices as cooking for themselves and renting movies rather than going out.
But for our country's rural poor, even video rentals are now a luxury that many cannot afford. Today's New York Times reports that in rural areas across the country, and particularly in the deep South, people are spending over 13% of their income on gasoline—compared to an average of 4% nationwide. "These are people who have to decide between food and transportation," says one fuel price analyst. From the story, which is worth quoting at length:
Anthony Clark, a farm worker from Tchula [Miss.], says he prays every night for lower gasoline prices. [...] A trip from Tchula to the nearest sizable town about 15 minutes away can cost him $25 roundtrip—for the driving and the waiting. That is about 10 percent of what he makes in a week.
Taking a break under some cottonwood trees beside a drainage ditch filled with buzzing mosquitoes, Mr. Clark and members of his work crew spoke of the big and little changes that higher gas prices have brought. The extra dollars spent at the pump mean electric bills are going unpaid and macaroni is replacing meat at supper. Donations to church are being put off, and video rentals are now unaffordable.
Nouns, the new album from the Los Angeles-based No Age (left), is fast becoming one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, with high marks from Pitchfork and NME. The album's sound, as Pitchfork put it, is "cacophonous" and "gorgeously thick," punk rock with a swirling, tone-bending My Bloody Valentine sheen. What might surprise you is that the band is actually a duo: just two guys, Randy Randall and Dean Spunt, playing guitar and drums respectively, their sound filled out by loops and samples. Lately, this seems more and more common: most of the interesting developments in rock music are coming from "non-traditional" band lineups. Is the good old rock four-piece an endangered species?
After the jump: I still haven't found the U2 I'm looking for... but I do have a No Age mp3!
Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals estimates that perhaps 40% of evangelicals will be "up for grabs" in November, largely due to concern for the fate of the earth. Now that the Lieberman-Warner emissions bill has crashed and burned, that could have profound environmental results.
International opinion on our presidential race is one-sided:
A poll in late May of five major countries — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia — showed Sen. Obama getting 52% support, compared with 15% for Sen. McCain. In France, 65% favor Sen. Obama, compared with 8% for Sen. McCain, according to the poll for the United Kingdom's Daily Telegraph newspaper. Another poll published online Saturday in Belgium's Le Soir newspaper showed Belgians prefer Sen. Obama over Sen. McCain 74% to 12%.
The AP reports on Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's meeting today with Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Who I believe Iran contra fabulist Manucher Ghorbanifar and Washington pals definitively declared dead over a year ago, based on Ghorbanifar's amazing insidery deep, high priced network of Iran intelligence sources. Eventually, they are bound to be right about that. In the meantime, these are the folks that former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and national security advisor Steve Hadley were turning to for Iran intelligence and operational advice? Can someone at the White House press briefing please ask spokeswoman Dana Perino to speak to Hadley's judgment on this?
As Dave Wagner and I reported this weekend, a new Senate Intelligence report (.pdf) documents how Hadley himself authorized Ghorbanifar's loyal Washington pal and fellow Iran contra alum to lead two Pentagon officials to Rome to meet supposed Iran agents. Has Hadley learned his lesson about the quality and reliability of information and related schemes his deputized freelance Iran intelligence sources brought to him? And whether the spigot is still open? On such objectively knowable issues as whether Khamenei is dead or alive? All the other nonsense they and Ghorbanifar's more recent Washignton helpers like Curt Weldon have spouted: that Osama bin Laden was in Tehran, as Ghorbanifar and Weldon insisted, or that for just a few million dollars - $10 million, $25 million -- they can provide such invaluable information and launch a coup in Iran, etc. It's still sobering to realize that the people spouting this comical nonsense - and it's not hard to find such people -- had been authorized by no less than the current White House national security advisor to advise them on Iran intelligence operations and coup plans. It's like something out of a John Cleese' Fawlty Towers skit. But this is the White House. Wouldn't a normal sane person even think twice about buying Mid East take out from people with such a track record?