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Contractors Investigate Contractors In Iraq

It's now been over a year since Blackwater contractors opened fire in a Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 Iraqi...

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 12:46 PM EDT

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It's now been over a year since Blackwater contractors opened fire in a Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding 24 others. (To date, no one has been charged with a crime, but six Blackwater guards received target letters from the Justice Department in August, indicating that indictments could soon follow.) The shootings set off a firestorm of media criticism and a renewed effort in Congress to rein in the private security free-for-all in Iraq.

To that effect, the State Department, acknowledging problems with the collection of evidence at Baghdad's Nisoor Square, established a special force tasked with investigating suspected contractor crimes. According to State Department Undersecretary for Management, the new Force Investigation Unit (FIU) was to be "composed of State Department employees." But in a twist that should not surprise any of us at this point, it turns out that more than half of the new unit is staffed with private contractors. According to ABC News, eight members of the FIU are on loan from the U.S. Investigations Services (USIS), a private company, in an "apparent violation of federal regulations that prohibit such work by contractors."

Senator Russel Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, recently fired off a letter to Condoleezza Rice calling the use of private contractors to investigate other private contractors "highly troubling" and demanded that all FIU positions be filled by federal employees. "Anything less will further exacerbate tensions within Iraq and the region caused by our perceived failure to hold U.S. contractors accountable for misuse of force against civilians," he wrote.

The State Department has yet to respond.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from James Gordon.

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Picking Palin

PICKING PALIN....My morning LA Times tells me something I didn't know before. Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign manager responsible for Paris and Britney, the anti-press jihad, the slurs against Obama's patriotism, and all the rest of the McCain campaign's kitchen...

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 12:37 PM EDT

PICKING PALIN....My morning LA Times tells me something I didn't know before. Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign manager responsible for Paris and Britney, the anti-press jihad, the slurs against Obama's patriotism, and all the rest of the McCain campaign's kitchen sink, was also the brains behind McCain's biggest bet-the-ranch stunt of all:

The effort peaked with the choice of Palin as McCain's running mate. Convinced that McCain needed a dramatic gesture to make the race competitive, Schmidt pressed McCain to pluck the Alaska governor from obscurity.

Other than the candidates, no one in the operation has more riding on that decision than Schmidt. And no one has worked harder to turn the decision into a success.

He defended Palin against what he called sexist attacks, and traveled to Alaska to brief her before her first TV interviews. For three days, he was ensconced at McCain's spread in Sedona, Ariz., helping Palin prepare for her performance on the biggest night of her career: the debate against Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden.

In the world of high-octane political campaigns, Schmidt used to have a reputation for both brains and brawn. After this November, I have a feeling brawn is all his reputation will be left with.

Doonesbury Reads Mother Jones

If you take a look at today's Doonesbury, you'll notice an emerging storyline of the campaign that started here at...

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 11:16 AM EDT

If you take a look at today's Doonesbury, you'll notice an emerging storyline of the campaign that started here at MoJo.

In four panels, Garry Trudeau puts forward a question everyone should be asking: how can John McCain blame our financial woes on Wall Street's lobbyists when 83 current and former Wall Street lobbyists work for his campaign? Shouldn't someone get fired? McCain likes to say that as president he'll ferret out the worst earmarkers in Congress and "make 'em famous!" In that spirit, we published the names of those 83 lobbyists and the financial industry clients they work for on our blog. Now, apparently, those names are working their way into popular culture.

We don't know if Trudeau is a fan of Mother Jones, but we're fans of his.

Wildlife Preservation: A Cheney Tale

Yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy. In a statement...

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 9:57 AM EDT

bald_eagle_american_flag.jpg Yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy. In a statement that may surprise you and a number of environmental groups, Cheney said, "President Bush made wildlife conservation an early and a high priority of his administration. We've carried out that commitment in these eight years."

There's reason to question whether wildlife conservation is really a high priority in the Bush Administration. It's refusal to act on global warming for years, despite the fact that the changing climate threatens wildlife habitats, throws its commitment into doubt. The same goes for the Administration's plan to gut the Endangered Species Act, its refusal to address upcoming mass extinctions, and its willingness to let jeep enthusiasts run roughshod over the West's wide open spaces. The League of Conservation Voters says, "The Bush administration has arguably been the most anti-environmental in our nation's history."

I have another reason to doubt Cheney's commitment in particular.

Reregulation

REREGULATION....Sebastian Mallaby argues today that, contrary to Barack Obama's claims, deregulation isn't to blame for the credit crisis:The key financiers in this game were not the mortgage lenders, the ratings agencies or the investment banks that created those now infamous...

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 2:18 AM EDT

REREGULATION....Sebastian Mallaby argues today that, contrary to Barack Obama's claims, deregulation isn't to blame for the credit crisis:

The key financiers in this game were not the mortgage lenders, the ratings agencies or the investment banks that created those now infamous mortgage securities. In different ways, these players were all peddling financial snake oil, but as Columbia University's Charles Calomiris observes, there will always be snake-oil salesmen. Rather, the key financiers were the ones who bought the toxic mortgage products. If they hadn't been willing to buy snake oil, nobody would have been peddling it.

Who were the purchasers? They were by no means unregulated. U.S. investment banks, regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, bought piles of toxic waste. U.S. commercial banks, regulated by several agencies, including the Fed, also devoured large quantities. European banks, which faced a different and supposedly more up-to-date supervisory scheme, turn out to have been just as rash. By contrast, lightly regulated hedge funds resisted buying toxic waste for the most part — though they are now vulnerable to the broader credit crunch because they operate with borrowed money.

At a minimum, I'd make a couple of counterpoints. First, Phil Gramm's 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act (supported, unfortunately, by the Clinton administration) was specifically designed to "protect financial institutions from overregulation" — primarily by leaving the market for credit default swaps completely unregulated. There may be several underlying causes for the credit crisis, but this is surely one of the very big ones.

Second, after the LTCM debacle of 1998, Alan Greenspan (and, sigh, Robert Rubin) produced a report suggesting that we should "encourage," "promote," and "consider" guidelines that might prod financial institutions into reducing their drunken sailor approach to leverage. But they declined to produce actual regulations to that effect. In fact, as I noted the other day, in 2004 the SEC issued a rule allowing big investment banks to increase their allowable leverage ratios. That turned out not to be such a good idea.

Third, there was a bipartisan failure to regulate the mortgage market into a semblance of rationality. Just the opposite, in fact, as lawmakers pressed Fannie Mae to insure ever dodgier loans and Alan Greenspan encouraged Americans to take advantage of ever cheaper mortgage rates. A little bit of commonsense rulemaking could have gone a long way in the mortgage market a few years ago.

Mallaby is right that deregulation isn't solely at fault for the credit crisis. But it's hardly an innocent bystander either. A little bit of market skepticism over the past decade would have done everyone a world of good (literally), and once we catch our breath from the current meltdown it's time to think about how to rebalance our attitude toward financial regulation. It's an area where Democrats have been barely any better than Republicans, and one that Barack Obama is right to give serious attention to.

A McCain Flip-Flop on Osama bin Laden?

On August 7, 1998, hundreds of people were killed when terrorists detonated car bombs at the U.S. embassies in Tanzania...

| Sun Oct. 5, 2008 11:38 PM EDT

On August 7, 1998, hundreds of people were killed when terrorists detonated car bombs at the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Almost immediately, the United States had evidence that a little-known group called al Qaeda was complicit in the attacks. Though al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden had been plotting against the United States for years, this act of mass-murder won the band of Islamic terrorists and its leaders worldwide infamy. Weeks after the attack, President Clinton fired scores of Tomahawk missiles at a suspected al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and he also attacked a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan his administration claimed was a chemical weapons plant.

Ten years later, this past August 7, John McCain released a statement on the anniversary of the embassy bombings. It was a harsh indictment of the Clinton administration and others who in McCain's estimation had not regarded the threat of al Qaeda with sufficient seriousness back then:

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed more than 225 people, including 12 Americans, and injured thousands others. The attacks made it painfully clear that al Qaeda's terrorist call to arms to attack Americans anywhere in the world was not an empty threat. The attacks proved the vulnerability of U.S. installations overseas, and demonstrated -- to any that needed further evidence -- that al Qaeda was a well-funded, organized and treacherous terrorist organization determined to kill Americans. Tragically, the U.S. response to the 1998 embassy bombings was wholly inadequate in addressing the threat posed by Al Qaeda despite the horrific toll of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Too many Clinton Administration officials refused to act effectively to counter the dangers posed by al Qaeda. Three years later, al Qaeda's commitment to kill was devastatingly brought to our soil.

But at the time--even after the embassy bombings--McCain, too, was slow to recognize the nature of the threat posed by al Qaeda and bin Laden. Weeks after these attacks, he even came across as dismissive of bin Laden as a danger and showed no enthusiasm for hunting down this terrorist and his al Qaeda allies. And he did so in a Mother Jones interview.

In mid-September 1998, journalist Jason Vest, on assignment for the magazine, conducted an hour-long interview with McCain. At the time, McCain's efforts to pass campaign finance reform and anti-tobacco legislation had made him, as Vest put it, "the darling of political reporters." Much of the interview covered issues of money and politics. But with the embassy bombings still in the news, Vest asked McCain about bin Laden and how to deal with terrorism. The following exchange ensued:

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LA vs. Philadelphia

LA vs. PHILADELPHIA....The Dodgers won their divisional series last night. The Phillies won theirs this afternoon. I hereby declare war on Atrios....

| Sun Oct. 5, 2008 7:42 PM EDT

LA vs. PHILADELPHIA....The Dodgers won their divisional series last night. The Phillies won theirs this afternoon. I hereby declare war on Atrios.

Quote of the Day - 10.05.08

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From George W. Bush, dressing down an advisor who suggested that his 2001 tax rebate plan was bad policy:"If I decide to do it, by definition it's good policy."That's from Ron Suskind. Click the link for more....

| Sun Oct. 5, 2008 2:27 PM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From George W. Bush, dressing down an advisor who suggested that his 2001 tax rebate plan was bad policy:

"If I decide to do it, by definition it's good policy."

That's from Ron Suskind. Click the link for more.

Iceland's Collapse

ICELAND'S COLLAPSE....You think there's a banking crisis in the United States? Just be glad you don't live in Scandinavia's smallest country:Iceland is on the brink of collapse. Inflation and interest rates are raging upwards. The krona, Iceland's currency, is in...

| Sun Oct. 5, 2008 2:06 PM EDT

ICELAND'S COLLAPSE....You think there's a banking crisis in the United States? Just be glad you don't live in Scandinavia's smallest country:

Iceland is on the brink of collapse. Inflation and interest rates are raging upwards. The krona, Iceland's currency, is in freefall and is rated just above those of Zimbabwe and Turkmenistan. One of the country's three independent banks has been nationalised, another is asking customers for money, and the discredited government and officials from the central bank have been huddled behind closed doors for three days with still no sign of a plan.

....On Friday the queues at the banks were huge, as people moved savings into the most secure accounts. Yesterday people were buying up supplies of olive oil and pasta after a supermarket spokesman announced on Friday night that they had no means of paying the foreign currency advances needed to import more foodstuffs.

I have to say, though, that the citizens of Iceland seem to be taking their travails remarkably cheerfully. "We will have to eat haddock and Icelandic lamb and forget these imports of goose livers and Japanese soy sauce," says Iceland's most famous chef. And drink more liquor. Lots more liquor.

Springsteen Does an Obama for Obama

Throughout convention week in Denver in August, the word swirled that Bruce Springsteen would appear the final night. It did...

| Sat Oct. 4, 2008 11:40 PM EDT

Throughout convention week in Denver in August, the word swirled that Bruce Springsteen would appear the final night. It did not happen. And for Democrats, that was a good thing. Barack Obama--accused by foes of being too glamorous--did not need a rock star on the set on his big night (though Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder did appear early in the evening). But Springsteen is indeed doing what he can.

On Saturday, Springsteen appeared at an Obama voter registration rally in Philadelphia. Tens of thousands of people were there. He performed a thirty-minute acoustic set. But he also speechified. And he practically outdid Obama in political eloquence:

I am glad to be here today for this voter registration drive and for Barack Obama, the next President of the United States. I've spent 35 years writing about America, its people, and the meaning of the American Promise. The Promise that was handed down to us, right here in this city from our founding fathers, with one instruction: Do your best to make these things real. Opportunity, equality, social and economic justice, a fair shake for all of our citizens, the American idea, as a positive influence, around the world for a more just and peaceful existence. These are the things that give our lives hope, shape, and meaning. They are the ties that bind us together and give us faith in our contract with one another.
I've spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality. For many Americans, who are today losing their jobs, their homes, seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no healthcare, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities. The distance between that promise and that reality has never been greater or more painful.