Blogs

Exclusive: More on the Interior Department's Sex and Oil Scandal

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 10:00 PM EDT

passion-parties.gif
Chances are you've heard about the bacchanal known as the Minerals Management Service. The arm of the Interior Department charged with collecting some $10 billion a year in royalties from oil and gas companies, it has been caught up in scandal after scandal, including this week's revelations that top employees were in bed (and not just figuratively) with the oil officials they were supposed to regulate. In between glacially slow-to-arrive FOIA requests, I've been looking into MMS and its weird party culture off and on for more than a year. Here's a few juicy details that you won't read in the Inspector General's report.

The IG tells us about two MMS oil marketers, Stacy Leyshon and Crystel Edler, who became known among oil executives as the "MMS Chicks." Between 2002 and 2006, each received more than $2,700 in gifts on more than 60 occasions from oil companies, including meals, booze, lodging, and golf outings. Leyshon, who slept with two oil company employees, operated a sex toys side business known as "Passion Parties" (think Tupperware parties, but with dildos) and bragged that it paid more than her day job at MMS. She told the IG that nobody in the oil industry had purchased sex products from her (though three subordinates at MMS had). However, that account is contradicted by former MMS Deputy Junius Walker, a high-ranking employee who worked in Leyshon's Denver office before retiring. "She's selling that stuff to oil and gas companies," he told me last year. "I mean, that's what she was doing. She was going around, going down to the oil and gas companies, putting on presentations. . .They were having a really, really good time."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Mathematical Model Predicts Obama Win by Ten Points

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 9:14 PM EDT

Emory political science professor Alan Abramowitz seems to have a mathematical election model that works. Abramowitz's system has correctly predicted the popular vote winner within two percentage points for every presidential election since 1988. This year, it's predicting an Obama win: 54.3 percent, versus McCain's 45.7 percent.

The model isn't perfect, of course, but it does factor in a wide range of variables such as GDP, a party's time in office, and recent polls. "While factors outside of the model, such as rising partisan polarization and resistance to an African American candidate by some white voters may result in a somewhat smaller popular vote margin for the Democratic nominee," Abramowitz writes, "the combination of an unpopular Republican incumbent in the White House, a weak economy, and a second-term election make a Democratic victory in November all but certain."

If you're skeptical of models, check out the Iowa Electronic Market's trading index for the presidential election. For decades, it's been a much better predictor of presidential wins than Gallup polls. As of today, the market's predicting a 54 percent win for the Democrats, versus 45 percent for the Republicans. it could be a coincidence that those numbers are so close to Abramowitz's, or it could be that investors are reacting to his model's predictions. A third option: it could be that Obama actually is going to win by ten points.

Sex, Drugs, and Offshore Drilling

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 8:58 PM EDT

It looks like the folks at the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service have finally gone too far.

For years, the MMS has been assisting private energy companies in carrying out a massive rip-off of the American public through sweetheart deals for extracting oil, natural gas, and minerals from public domain lands. In the most recent issue of Mother Jones, I described the corrupt system that allows companies like Shell and Chevron to suck up these publicly owned resources at bargain prices, and proposed the abolition of the MMS as one of the ideas for "How to Fix a Post-Bush Nation."

But except for the work of watchdog groups like the Project on Government Oversight, and of the Interior Department's own tough-minded Inspector General, a former Massachusetts cop named Earl Delvaney, this travesty has received relatively little attention--until now. Apparently, even in a country where no one is surprised to find government officials figuratively in bed with the oil industry, we are still shocked to learn that they have been literally in bed with them.

On Wednesday, Delvaney's office released the latest in a series of investigations focusing on the MMS's Royalty in Kind (RIK) program. House Natural Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall (D-WV) described the report as reading "like a script from a television miniseries--and one that cannot air during family viewing time." It documents what investigators called a "culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" at the MMS, and what the Associated Press described as a "fraternity house atmosphere."

Georgia and NATO

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 7:48 PM EDT

GEORGIA AND NATO....From Charlie Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin:

The governor advocated for the admittance of Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

When Gibson said if under the NATO treaty, the United States would have to go to war if Russia again invaded Georgia, Palin responded: "Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help."

This is not a gaffe of any kind. Nor is it something that Palin blurted out due to inexperience. John McCain's official position on NATO expansion is that we should include Georgia and Ukraine posthaste. This means that if either of those countries gets into a border skirmish — or worse — with Russia, the United States may be obligated to go to war on their behalf.

However, unless I'm mistaken, this is also Barack Obama's official position. So I wouldn't expect a whole lot of pushback on this from his camp. Which is too bad, since the American public really ought to think long and seriously about whether we should be reponsible for defending distant countries that have long histories of ethnic strife and unstable borders. Maybe we should. Maybe they really are that important. But it would be nice to give it a good, hard think before we dive in.

Sarah Palin on Russia

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 7:13 PM EDT

ABC has released excerpts of Charle Gibson's interview with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Among the parts released so far, the Alaskan governor's views on experience, God, and US policy to Russia. Here is an excerpt of her comments on Moscow and how to deal with recent Russian-Georgian hostilities. Among her recommendations: that Ukraine "definitely" and Georgia too be given NATO membership -- with the commitment that the US as a NATO member would be required to defend them from any future incursion by Russia, and that the US consider measures such as economic sanctions against Russia to punish it for invading Georgia.

PALIN: We cannot repeat the Cold War. We are thankful that, under Reagan, we won the Cold War, without a shot fired, also. We've learned lessons from that in our relationship with Russia, previously the Soviet Union.
We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it's in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.
GIBSON: Would you favor putting Georgia and Ukraine in NATO?

First Listen: TV on the Radio - Dear Science,

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 7:04 PM EDT

mojo-photo-tvotr-dearscience.jpgNo, that comma is not a misprint, although the verdict is still out on the capitalization of "on" and "the." Jeez, I know I'm not a real writer, but come on, TVOTR, get with the grammar program. Are you guys like those Midwestern sign-makers who put quotes around things for emphasis, advertising "clothes" for "sale"? I mean, even Panic at the Disco dropped the exclamation point!

Honestly, though, I'd forgive this band almost anything. I'd say they're tied with Queens of the Stone Age for highest ratio of music quality to cover art crappiness, for instance. But in TV on the Radio's short career, they've been incredibly ambitious, combining a creative experimentation with astute social and political awareness in a way that makes them kin to fellow-airwave-referencing combo Radiohead. But while Thom Yorke and crew produce expansive, soaring tunes that can carry across a field, TVOTR have always aimed inward, towards sonic density. Their 2006 release, Return to Cookie Mountain, took the dark themes of their first album, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, and dove even deeper, but on Dear Science, they seem to have come to terms with some inner turmoil and returned to the surface.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Norm Coleman's $1 Million Mistake?

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 6:19 PM EDT

Norm.jpg Republican Senator Norm Coleman may pay a big price for a small violation of federal elections law.

Coleman, who is locked in a reelection battle with comedian and author Al Franken, is running a television ad in Minnesota that fails to meet the requirements of what is known as the "stand by your ad" law. The provision says any political ad aired within two months of election day that mentions the name of an opponent must close with a four-second image of the candidate running the ad, along with his or her name and a statement that he or she approved and paid for the ad.

In 2006, then-Senator Rick Santorum got in hot water in Pennsylvania for violating this provision. Santorum put his image at the beginning of the ad and the written statement of approval and sponsorship at the end. This slip-up threatened to disqualify Santorum from receiving the heavily discounted advertising rate — known as the "lowest unit charge" or "lowest unit rate" — commonly offered to political candidates.

Now Coleman faces similar trouble.

Troopergate Update

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:57 PM EDT

TROOPERGATE UPDATE....Steve has the latest on Troopergate. Bloomberg has the latest on the McCain camp's attempt to shut down the investigation.

Palin's Supporters and Zombie Feminism

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:46 PM EDT

The excellent Rebecca Traister, who writes about gender politics for Salon, is totally on-point about what Sarah Palin means for women and for feminism. Here's a sampling:

The pro-woman rhetoric surrounding Sarah Palin's nomination is a grotesque bastardization of everything feminism has stood for, and in my mind, more than any of the intergenerational pro- or anti-Hillary crap that people wrung their hands over during the primaries, Palin's candidacy and the faux-feminism in which it has been wrapped are the first development that I fear will actually imperil feminism. Because if adopted as a narrative by this nation and its women, it could not only subvert but erase the meaning of what real progress for women means, what real gender bias consists of, what real discrimination looks like.

Check out the whole thing.

A Minor Obama Advantage: Three Places At Once

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 3:30 PM EDT

It looks like Palin will be by McCain's side throughout the campaign season. Here's First Read:

The McCain campaign is "very seriously considering" having McCain and Palin campaign together more often than not in the next two months, a senior campaign aide said...
The aide said the two have developed a strong chemistry together and will likely utilize it through joint rallies. He likened it to the chemistry Bill Clinton and Al Gore had in 1992, suggesting it was instinctive.

Of course, this has everything to do with the fact that McCain's solo attempts at campaign rallies aren't going well, and Sarah Palin has essentially become the draw on the GOP ticket. It's an advantage for the Democratic ticket. The fact that Cindy McCain is usually by her husband's side means that, for the GOP, the presidential candidate, the vice-presidential candidate, and the presidential candidate's wife are all in one place on any given day. On the Dem side, those three figures are all fully capable of campaigning unaccompanied.