The Commission on Wartime Contracting delivered its interim report (PDF) Wednesday to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Created in July 2007, the Commission is an independent, bipartisan panel modeled after the "Truman Committee," which attacked government waste in the years after World War II, saving the federal government some $178 billion. Given that we've sunk more than $830 billion in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, much of it now in the pockets of private contractors, the very fact that the Commission exists is a step in the right direction.

Not surprisingly, co-chairs Michael Thibault and Christopher Shays report serious breaches in contract management and oversight. Such problems, they say, "directly involve our nation's ability to achieve policy objectives and provide proper support and protection for our warfighters and civilian employees engaged in contingency operations." The fact is that contractors now outnumber US troops in both theaters of operation. Combined there are about 240,000 Pentagon contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan; Agencies like State and USAID have their own. Eighty percent of these are foreign nationals working for bewildering chains of subcontracts that routinely escape notice by federal contract management officers.

At Wednesday's daily White House briefing, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs if President Obama had any response to the closing of the Wichita clinic that Dr. George Tiller ran before he was murdered by an anti-abortion crusader. Gibbs replied, no. Nothing about this being the sad consequence of a tragic event. Nothing about how this means that an anti-terrorist has won. Just nothing. Obama has a strong record of supporting abortion rights, but pro-choicers may be disappointed by this silence.

I also asked Gibbs about Newt Gingrich's recent dig at Vice President Joe Biden, in which the former House speaker said the "elite media" has had to "prop up Joe Biden and pretend he actually knows what he’s doing." Gibbs offered up the routine praise for Biden, noting that the veep is one of Obama's "most trusted" advisers. "We are lucky and grateful to have him," Gibbs said. Gibbs, though, did not take a swipe at Gingrich. What might that mean? That the White House wants to play nice with Gingrich, who a few weeks ago met with Obama (with Al Sharpton present) to discuss education policy. Or that the White House doesn't see Gingrich as a useful political piñata. Maybe both.


Information is still coming in on James von Brunn, the suspect in Wednesday's shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

James Ridgeway has the latest.

Officials at the Holocaust Museum have confirmed one of the guards involved in the shooting, whom the museum identified as Stephen Tyrone Johns, died at the hospital after sustaining a gunshot wound from the suspect, James von Brunn.


Police have now confirmed that James von Brunn is the suspect in today's shooting at the Holocaust Museum. Von Brunn apparently lives in Easton, Maryland, which some years ago boasted a chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, according to Leonard Zeskind, whose book Blood Politics charts the history of the far right.

From his rather prolific writings, von Brunn's thinking seems to be indebted to two prominent white supremacists: Willis Carto of a now-defunct group called Liberty Lobby, and William Pierce, leader of the National Alliance. (Pierce died in 2002.) At least one of Brunn's books, Kill the Best Gentiles, was published by Noontide Press, which was run by Carto in the 1960s. Noontide later folded into the Institute of Historical Review, one of the major groups that denied that the Holocaust ever happened, according to Zeskind. In the acknowledgement to his book, von Brunn also lists Francis Parker Yockey, a longtime anti-Semite who was promoted by Carto, and Revello Oliver, an associate of Pierce's. In the 1960s, both Oliver and Pierce supported the presidential campaign of Alabama governor George Wallace, a staunch segregationist backed by Klu Klux Klan groups. In the 1990s, Pierce set up a National Alliance headquarters in southwestern Virginia.

In brief, the neo-Nazis with whom von Brunn associates himself  in his writings believe the Jews control the "mud people." The "mud people" are all the non-white Aryans who, in the view of the racists, ought to be kicked out of the country. A sample of von Brunn's writing (titled "Hitler's Worst Mistake: He Didn't Gas the Jews") makes some of these connections.


Early reports are saying that the man suspected of a shooting at the Holocaust Museum today is James Von Brunn, born in the 1920s. The shooting comes just a week after President Obama delivered a forceful speech in Germany on the Holocaust. A quick scan of what seems to be Von Brunn’s website reveals some anti-Semitic writings.

Whether or not the gunman has ties to white supremacy groups remains murky at this point. The Holocaust Museum is not a traditional target of far-right groups. They detest it, of course, but as far as I know there have only been two actual protests staged against it. Both involved Louis Carto’s Liberty Lobby, the right-wing populist newspaper which is now defunct.

More recently the far right has concentrated its venom on Hispanics, through militia-type organizations like the Minutemen.

From his website and writings, von Brunn sounds very much like a national socialist or neo-Nazi. His basic writings rely on the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book that purports to set forth a secret grand Jewish plot to control the world. This book was hatched by the Czar’s secret police during the early days of the Russian revolution, and was popularized in the US by Henry Ford, founder of the car company: Ford salesmen handed it out to their customers.

The Protocols form the base of much far-right thinking. Books such as the Turner Diaries by William Pierce, which forecast Timothy McVeigh's attack on Oklahoma City, are steeped in the world of the Protocols.

Squeaky Clean

In the Washington Post today, Al Kamen compares Barack Obama's habit of doling out plum ambassadorships to big campaign donors with Bill Clinton's squeaky clean record of ignoring the money and instead choosing people "with experience in public policy."  Bob Somerby is amused by this sudden rejuvenation of Clinton's reputation:

For years, Kamen’s coven kept insisting that Clinton’s fund-raising was corrupt — that virtually everything was up for sale, given the president’s corrupt love of cash. In the case of the Lincoln Bedroom, the coven faked especially hard — and no one embarrassed itself more than Kamen’s own newspaper. In one especially sad example, the Post belatedly added Chelsea’s Clinton’s slumber party guests to the list of Lincoln Bedroom overnight guests, thereby driving up the numbers and heightening the sense that the Clintons had been misbehaving. It’s hard to get much sicker than that, but Kamen’s coven was up to the task. A few years later, Kamen himself reviewed a Christmas card — on Christmas Eve! He thought he saw character problems.

Without going into obsessive detail, more than a decade has passed since we heard — and heard, and heard, then heard some more — about Bill Clinton’s vile corruption when it came to campaign fund-raising. (We also heard the coven’s gong-show tales about that Buddhist temple.) More than a decade has passed—and have you seen anyone do any work on all the corruption this coven alleged? By now, the coven has had plenty of time to detail and document its big loud-mouthed charges. Have you see anyone produce the book — or even the magazine piece — which documents the way Bill Clinton actually sold off the White House?

And what happened to our most recent president emeritus in all this, anyway?  Who did he send to Britain and Japan?  Click the link for the answer.

Jon Voight is a brilliant character actor. More than that, he shares responsiblity for Angelina Jolie, for which we are all eternally grateful. But he's also a committed conservative, a diehard Israel booster, and a guy who's not afraid to let you know it. His most recent role as arch-villian Jonas Hodges (a comically evil version of Erik Prince) on the Fox show 24 is just another acting job, of course, but may not be that far off from reality. The Midnight Cowboy was a featured speaker at Tuesday's Senate House Dinner, a GOP fundraiser, where he held forth before party luminaries like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich. Needless to say, he's not a fan of our new president.

From the UK's Daily Mail:

He said: 'It was amazing to me how the media and the young generation were taken in by Obama's false haloistic presence... Obama as a candidate portrayed himself as a moderate, but turned out to be wildly radical."

... With an audience that included Vice President candidate Sarah Palin and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Voight said: 'We were the great power of good for the world and we were the liberators of the entire world. We are becoming a weak nation.

'Obama really thinks he is the soft-spoken Julius Caesar. Republicans need to find their way back to power to free the nation from "this Obama oppression".'

Naming various Democrats, he said they can be blamed for the 'downfall of this country'.


Hypocrisy Watch

From USA Today:

Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett voted against the $787 billion economic stimulus package in February, declaring the day it passed that "the only thing this bill will stimulate is the national debt."

Two days earlier, however, Bennett had written to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department seeking stimulus money for Utah, according to copies of the letters released under the Freedom of Information Act. Using 16 identical cover letters, Bennett passed along stimulus funding requests from 14 Utah cities and counties totaling $182.5 million.

....USA Today's review of congressional correspondence with 10 federal departments or agencies found 13 Republicans who voted against the bill and sought funding for their states or districts.

This is presented as sort of a vague act of hypocrisy, but that's unfair.  If money is being doled out (or about to be doled out) despite your opposition, that doesn't mean your state shouldn't get its share.  Likewise, even if I oppose, say, the mortgage interest deduction, there's nothing wrong with me continuing to take advantage of it as long as it's still around.  There are ways in which stuff like this might rise to the level of mockable hypocrisy, but this really isn't one of them.

McCain Was Right

During his failed campaign for president, John McCain had some pretty clever ideas about climate change. And no, not "drill, baby, drill." In an uncharacteristic moment of clarity, McCain proposed that the US government offer a reward of $300 million to any individual who invented a more efficient car battery.

Will President Obama embrace McCain's idea and urge Americans to get creative about clean tech? As environmental sustainability becomes an ever hotter issue, individuals and companies have come up with bright, green ideas, including more accessible solar panels, smarter suburbs, and more creative vehicle designs.

Such strategies have been incredibly helpful in terms of reducing what we use, but none so far have introduced the kind of significant technological innovation that is needed to reverse our gas guzzling, energy hoarding culture. As Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu told Congress in March, the scientific community needs technology that is "game-changing, as opposed to merely incremental." MIT chemist Daniel Nocera, for example, invented a chemical catalyst last year that distills hydrogen from water to produce energy. Nocera explained that on a large scale, this process "could take care of the world's energy needs." President Obama should give Americans an incentive to create such energy-saving technologies in other environmental fields as well.

Absurdly popular rapper 50 Cent has a new single out, but you've probably never heard it. And if you're watching MTV or tuned in to Power 106, Hot 97 and Wild 94.9, you probably never will. 

That's because 50's new collaboration isn't with Timbaland, the Game, or Lil' Wayne, but Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel. And it's in Spanish.  

50-Cent is one of a growing cohort of American rappers flocking to the Carribean (and New York) to record with established artists like Daddy Yankee (whose English remixes sometimes land him on MTV), Wisin y Yandel, Zion y LennoxAventura, and Luny Tunes, purveyors of the Carribbean's infectious blend of rap, dancehall, and bachata, called Reggaeton. Never heard of 'em? Well, get yourself an education, courtesy of some of America's most popular rappers:

Conor Friedersdorf takes a look at a recent USA Today/Gallup poll and comes away discouraged:

Like it or not, Americans regard Rush Limbaugh as the face of the Republican Party, he is able to drive the agenda of the conservative movement, and a lot of people on the right don’t find that problematic....Should this be the last time that a talk radio host breaks the 10 percent barrier in a poll like this, the GOP and the conservative movement will be a lot better off, and so will our country.

Obviously I agree, but in a way this news isn't quite as grim for conservatives as Conor suggests.  The full poll results are below, and among Republicans themselves Limbaugh is basically tied with Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich.  But even that's not the biggest takeaway.  What the poll really shows is simply that Republicans have no leaders at all.  This is probably fairly normal for a party that's suffered the kinds of setbacks the GOP has lately, but the good news is that even given the obviously enormous vacuum on the right, Limbaugh still can't break 10% among self-identified Republicans as the voice of the GOP.

Granted, this is grasping at straws at bit.  Still, it's better to have a vacuum from which a new leader can emerge, with folks like Limbaugh, Cheney, and Gingrich yipping around in the mud, than to have one of those guys already a clear top dog.  Plus there's this: Sarah Palin didn't make the list at all.  That shows a disturbing amount of common sense from the loyal opposition.

A Clean Break?

Apparently one of the ministers in Binyamin Netanyahu's government is tired of pussyfooting around with the United States.  If we insist on a halt to settlements in the West Bank, he says, Israel should fight back.  Eric Martin passes along the following report from the Jerusalem Post:

The minister suggests reconsidering military and civilian purchases from the US, selling sensitive equipment that the Washington opposes distributing internationally, and allowing other countries that compete with the US to get involved with the peace process and be given a foothold for their military forces and intelligence agencies.

[Yossi] Peled said that shifting military acquisition to America's competition would make Israel less dependent on the US. For instance, he suggested buying planes from the France-based Airbus firm instead of the American Boeing.

Italics mine. This ought to go over real well. If relations between Obama and Netanyahu were a little chilly before, this ought to send them into clearly polar territory.