Blogs

Blackwater's Latest Contract

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 10:27 AM EST

Blackwater has had a rough year PR-wise, as the company has faced allegations ranging from murder to tax evasion, while also managing to kill the New York Times' possibly feral pooch Hentish along the way. But, in the aftermath, Erik Prince's companies certainly haven't suffered for business. In late September, less than two weeks after Blackwater contractors opened fire on a Baghdad street, killing 17 civilians, the company's air cargo and transport subsidiary, Presidential Airways, was awarded a 4-year, $92 million contract by the Pentagon to provide its services in central and southern Asia. And, just yesterday, the agency announced that it was throwing the company another $50 million contract—this one, no-bid—to provide "heavy lift fixed-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance, and supervision necessary to perform passenger and cargo (combi) Short Take-Off and Landing air transportation services." The area of operations, as in the first contract, is Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Though lesser-known than Blackwater, Presidential Airways also has a somewhat controversial history. Its planes, and those operated by its parent company, Aviation Worldwide Services, have been linked to CIA rendition flights. And both companies face a wrongful death suit filed by the families of three soldiers who were killed when one of Presidential's CASA 212's crashed in Afghanistan in 2004. The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigated the crash, reported that "the probable cause of the accident was the captain's inappropriate decision to fly a nonstandard route and his failure to maintain adequate terrain clearance, which resulted in the inflight collision with mountainous terrain." According to the report, the pilot had failed to file a flight plan or "adhere to a defined route of flight," and the company itself failed to "ensure that the flight crews adhered to company policies" or FAA or Defense Department regulations. At the time of the crash, the report says, Presidential's crew was intentionally flying through a valley at low altitude for "fun."

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Shrub's Hot Air Economic Balloon

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 9:48 AM EST

Returning from his desert sojourn, President Bush is facing tanking stock markets, a housing collapse that, as long predicted, is pulling down the whole economy, an enfeebled currency, and a do-nothing political climate both in Washington and on the campaign trail. His response: a pipsqueak economic stimulus plan.

According to a report yesterday from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bush's scheme is a lot of hot air. Robert Greenstein, executive director of the center, said the rebate temporarily eliminating the 10 percent income tax bracket isn't aimed at the people who would spend the money. "This plan would bypass altogether, or provide only partial help to, the more than 40 percent of tax filers — over 50 million filers — with the most modest incomes. Families of four below $40,950 would get partial help or nothing at all."

You can read the center's report at www.cbpp.org, along with more effective suggestions for economic stimulus.

Eugene Debs, Meet Bobby Kennedy

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 12:29 AM EST

If Edwards can't win, somebody's forgotten to tell the candidate. With a day left before Nevadans caucus Saturday morning, John Edwards is pulling out all the rhetorical stops to wow his supporters.

Several hundred fans, a large number of them blue-collar workers, crammed into the Carpenters' Union hall in Reno Thursday evening to hear the candidate deliver an impassioned plea for change.

Eleven months ago, when the Democrats held their first candidates' forum, in Carson City, Nevada, I covered the event for Mother Jones. Back in '04, I'd found Edwards somewhat syrupy. In Carson City, by contrast, he was magnetic. And in the year since he has honed his message and his delivery still further.

The Goldberg Variations (On Lame): What Happens When Certain Right Wingers Leave the Amen Corner

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 11:24 PM EST

Having given up TV, I now appear to be obsessed with it. Check out Jon Stewart's dismemberment of Jonah Goldberg and his book "Liberal Fascism." It's sooo delicious, mostly because Stewart, a consistently gentlemanly interview, isn't trying to dismember him, he just comes to understand that Goldberg has nary a clue what the hell he's talking about. He actually believed he's drawn a straight line between Mussolini and Hillary Clinton. To ask him a simple question about his own book was to hear a grown man babble. My favorite was when Goldberg excoriated liberals for invoking fascism too often and Stewart said wonderingly, holding up the book, "so...you thought you'd put it in the title?" Goldberg was equally unconvincing justifying the smiley-face-with-Hitler-mustache cover. Handily, Goldberg proved Tim Noah's analysis that Goldberg is one of the few "winners" left standing from Monicagate. (I don't know if Goldberg has railed against liberal nepotism, but check Noah to see how his mom got him where he is.) This performance alone validates FP's 10 Commandments of Punditry.

Granted, condensing something you spent years thinking about into six minutes isn't easy. I've done book interviews that were train wrecks because the host was either an idiot or an ideologue for whom I was present as a mere prop, so I know how these things can throw you. You have no idea how hard it is to debate a moron who thinks he's Einstein. I once spent long minutes on one of these wannabee "Nu Afrikan" radio shows so incredulous at the insanity I was speechless, which the host, and his nutjob "kill whitey" audience interpreted as my bowing to their brilliance. I hung up on a racist, fascist O'Reilly wannabee in Colorado or someplace, he was such a mouth-breathing bully with no idea how stupid he was. I would imagine he and his audience say I lost that debate. But Stewart ain't stupid. He taped for 18 minutes, trying to get a usable six.

Best case: Goldberg needs media training. Worst: he should never stray from the echo chamber of right wing true believers. Or visit only those liberal hosts who aren't smart, who don't bother to read the book they're discussing and who don't care about anything but their egos and income.

White House: What Missing Emails?

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 8:43 PM EST

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Today, the White House dramatically changed its tune on the 5 to 10 million emails reportedly missing from its servers. Since early 2007, the administration has repeatedly acknowledged (to the press and Congress) that it had experienced a "technical issue" and that a still unknown quantity of emails might not have been archived, as required by the Presidential Records Act. But, asked by reporter about the missing emails today at a White House press conference, Tony Fratto, the deputy press secretary, contradicted the administration's previous statements.

"Hillary: The Movie" Headed For The Supreme Court

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 5:10 PM EST

Yesterday, a lawyer for Citizens United filed a notice with the U.S. District Court that it will be taking its challenge of the McCain-Feingold act to the Supreme Court. The conservative advocacy group has sued the Federal Election Commission to try to win approval to broadcast ads for its anti-Hillary movie without having to comply with campaign finance laws requiring the group to disclose its donors. Citizens United has argued that "Hillary: The Movie" is a documentary, not campaign propaganda, and that the ads are protected commercial speech advertising the film.

Those arguments literally got laughed out of federal court last week in a hearing on the case. Tuesday, a three-judge panel formally ruled against Citizens United, saying that, "The Movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her."

Undaunted, Citizens United has notified the court that it intends to appeal, and will be asking the Supreme Court for an expedited decision so that it could potentially air the ads during the election season. While some of the group's arguments about the nature of the film are indeed enough to get a federal judge to laugh, some of the more substantive arguments in its appeal should cause concern for campaign finance watchdogs. If Citizens United should happen to win its case, outside interest groups will be free to run all sorts of "issue ads" against political candidates during elections, without ever having to disclose who paid for them.

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Music Sales Confirm I'm a Music Snob

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 5:02 PM EST

josh-grobin-250x200.jpgNielson SoundScan's 2007 report on nationwide music sales forces me to ponder once again the following question: Do I have crappy taste in music, or does the rest of the country?

The most popular artists in this year's report make music that A) Hurts me to listen to, or B) I would prefer listening to crying babies for hours on end than have to endure. Here are some examples:

Clinton Supporters Fail to Block Nevada Caucus Format

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 4:39 PM EST

The judge was like, "Whatcho want me to do about it?"

A federal judge on Thursday allowed Nevada Democrats to hold presidential voting in casino hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, potentially helping Sen. Barack Obama in the next round of the campaign on Saturday.
For the first time, Nevada Democrats planned to set up nine locations for Saturday's vote so casino shift workers, who are largely represented by a union that endorsed Obama, could attend caucuses and vote for a presidential candidate.

An Open Letter from American Feminists (And a Raised Fist From Me)

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 3:55 PM EST

A while back, I gave the world the finger about it's dissing of mainstream feminism for not being all things to all people on every corner in every village at every moment everywhere on the planet even as misogyny reigns unchecked. Katha Pollitt, at The Nation, agrees; we're both fed up with Cro Magnons trolling to see which feminist hasn't denounced, and single handedly ended, the atrocity of the day. She's circulating the below open letter which I proudly signed. Last count, she was at about 500 names. I hope it reaches a million. No, writing open letters doesn't save a raped woman from Sharia law in Nigeria. They just tell you to kiss off while we work on it, which is a hell of a lot more than the folks at National Review are doing. Hell no, I won't link to them.

Dirty Karaoke in China

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 2:59 PM EST

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China plans to clean up its act.

No, not that act, silly. I'm talking about China's pre-Olympics plan to crack down on its karaoke parlors, which are apparently seething with sin:

While entertainment enterprises boost consumer spending and provide jobs and tax revenue, "some are unlicensed and in some, illegal activities such as sex, gambling and drugs are taking place," the Ministry of Culture said in an apparent reference to the many massage parlors that double as brothels.

Drugs? Sex? And to think that at karaoke parlors here in the States we're all jazzed about our friends' hilarious drunk rendition of "Wonderwall."