Blogs

A Little Holiday Cheer From... Nine Inch Nails?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:35 PM EST

Holy stocking stuffers, this is funny: Nine Inch Nails lyrics set to the tunes of classic Christmas carols, AKA Nine Inch Noëls. NSFW, needless to say.

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Congress Looks to Tighten Military Contractor Accountability

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:05 PM EST

Since her appearance last week on ABC's 20/20, former KBR contractor Jamie Leigh Jones has received a lot of attention, and understandably so. The 23-year-old Houston native alleges that in late July 2005, just four days after arriving in Baghdad's Green Zone, several of her KBR colleagues slipped drugs into her drink and, after she'd passed out, took turns raping her. The following morning, KBR security officers escorted Jones to a U.S. Army hospital, where a military physician confirmed she'd been sexually assaulted. A rape kit was assembled, including doctors' notes, photographs, and tissue swabs—the kind of evidence Jones would need to pursue criminal charges against her assailants. Then, without explanation, the physician handed the evidence over to the KBR security officer. Jones says that for the next 24 hours she was locked in a shipping container against her will and kept under armed guard, and was only rescued after the Gurkha guarding the door allowed her to use his cell phone to call her family in Texas, who, with the help of Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), arranged for her return to Houston.

Such was the story recounted today as Jones, Poe, and expert witness Scott Horton, a Columbia University law professor who specializes in contractor accountability issues, testified before the House subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security. As the three witnesses explained, no criminal charges have been brought in the case, in part, because much of the rape kit evidence—presumably while in the custody of KBR officials—has been lost. (Another contributing factor is that Jones' employment contract included a binding arbitration agreement, preventing her from filing suit against the company. More on this subject is forthcoming from our own Stephanie Mencimer.)

House Dems Propose New Ethics Office, But Reform Groups Say "Not Good Enough"

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:00 PM EST

A task force appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved a step closer today to creating an Office of Congressional Ethics by approving a report calling for such an office. (Only the four Democrats on the bipartisan panel voted for the proposal.) And a resolution creating this sort of office was scheduled to be filed today, CQ Politics reports. But the proposal, which would establish an investigative office without the power to issue subpoenas, is being attacked as toothless. In a quickly issued press release, four good-government groups--Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, and Public Citizen--declared, "Without subpoena power or access to subpoena power, the Office can be ignored in its efforts to interview individuals and obtain documents that may be central to the ethics matter at hand."

Public Citizen et. al. are pulling for an amendment that would grant the new office subpoena power. And that's going to be tough fight. After all, the GOP members of the task force refused to endorse even a weak version of the office. And the Democrats have not been wildly enthusiastic about this endeavor. The task force's report was originally due May 1. The task force was only eight months late. The Democrats, now in power, do not seem eager to push reform with bite.

First Look at Lily Allen and Ed Simons' Baby

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 4:06 PM EST

It's true, she's pregnant, it's in the NME! And Party Ben, using his Photoshop powers for evil, proudly gives you the first "if they mated"-style glimpse at what their offspring will probably look like. Is it the "Chemical Allen" or the "Lily Brother?" You decide, and then decide if it should maybe co-star on that Cavemen show. Prepare yourself, put the kids to bed, and then click the "continues inside" button to witness the carnage.

The Music We Play for Terrorists (and Dictators)

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 2:34 PM EST

From Newsweek, via Matthew Yglesias:

In addition to waterboarding, Zubaydah was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.

This is unfortunate news for the Chili Peppers. But it does bring to mind another musical attack: the U.S. "Rock 'n' Roll assault" on Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega in 1990. When Noriega was holed up in the papal embassy in Panama City, the U.S. blasted music on enormous speakers as part of an attempt to flush him out. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the most important details of this operation are now declassified: We know what was played during those fateful days. Some highlights after the jump.

Forget the 2008 Horse Race, What about Policy?

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 2:00 PM EST

Okay, for a moment let's forget about attack ads, Iowa, the polls, that floating cross in Mike Huckabee's latest commercial, Hillary's wrinkles, and the question of whether Jesus and Satan are half-brothers--and let's talk presidential race policy!

The smart wonks at the New America Foundation have taken a details-drenched look at the proposals of all the Democratic and Republican presidential wannabes related to the promotion of savings and asset building. This broad category includes retirement security, affordable home ownership, children's savings accounts, the subprime mortgage crisis, bankruptcy, and more. A sample:

Joe Biden plans to incentivize savings by expanding the Saver's Credit, providing eligible families a 50% refundable tax credit for deposits up to $2,000 in certain tax-preferred savings accounts, such as 401(k) plans or Individual Retirement Accounts. A family earning less than 50,000 that deposits $4,000 into savings products eligible for the credit would receive a $2,000 matched refund from this plan.
Chris Dodd proposes to assist individuals saving for a down payment on a home with the creation of Tax-Deferred Individual Homeownership Savings Accounts. The federal government would match up to $500 each year in the accounts of low-income and working families under this plan.
John Edwards proposes the creation of "work bonds" to match household savings. Households earning up to $75,000 would receive a state-provided bond valued at $500 per year. Additionally, he proposes the "Get Ahead" tax credit to match up to $500 in savings for retirement, college education, home purchase or investment in a small business or during a financial or medical emergency.....

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Breaker of Music Industry Laments Breakage of Music Industry

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 1:59 PM EST

mojo-photo-mtv.jpgToday in the Riff's Head-Spinning Irony Department, it's the first part of MTV.com's 3-part series, "The Year the Music Industry Broke." Sure, lots of people have been saying it's been a tough year for record sales or for record company employees, but tell us, MTV, how bad is it?

Electability: The Lamest Argument in the Rhetorical Aresenal

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 12:49 PM EST

There is a new USA Today/Gallup poll out that says Barack Obama does better against the Republican candidates than Hillary Clinton, a fact that the Obama camp will no doubt point to when undercutting Clinton's oft-made electability argument. The Edwards folks like to highlight this CNN poll that shows he is the only Democrat who slays all five heads of the Giuliani-Romney-Huckabee-McCain-Thompson medusa.

My take: who cares?

The electability argument is a pander to the basest desire in the political heart: the desire to win. Every campaign makes the argument, ignoring the fact that just because a candidate can get elected, or just because a majority of Americans think a candidate can get elected, doesn't mean that candidate should be elected. As George W. Bush has proved twice, the skills and characteristics needed to get elected are not the same as the ones needed to govern well.

Obama, Clinton, and Edwards aren't going to stop claiming they can win because electability, though a specious argument, matters to people. Voters don't like backing a loser. But if a potential loser would be the best president, he or she deserves support, plain and simple.

That's my overly idealistic blog post for the day. Back to your regularly scheduled snark and cynicism.

Edwards and His Audience

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 12:15 PM EST

NASHUA—John Edwards and entourage of Bonny Raitt and Jackson Browne arrived in New Hampshire yesterday and immediately set out on a barnstorming tour of the state. At Webster College here last night a packed auditorium of 350-plus waited an hour for crews to hook up the audio equipment, and then applauded politely when Edwards took the stage after a couple of songs.

The Edwards Love-Child Non-Story... So Far

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 11:58 AM EST

john-edwards-campaigning.jpg On the all-important, critical campaign 2008 issue of whether John Edwards has fathered a love-child—as Matt Drudge reports The Enquirer is "reporting"—let me beg to differ with colleague Party Ben's theory that the Clinton camp "is pushing Drudge" to tear into Edwards. To start with, the Clinton gang generally cares more about stopping Barack Obama than Edwards. If Edwards were socked by a scandal, that would probably help Obama more than Clinton. (Edwards and Obama split the anti-Hillary Democratic vote.) And how close is the Clinton gang and Drudge? Remember Monica? And did you see the picture of a tired and aging Hillary that Drudge posted days ago? Moreover—and it's a big moreover—Drudge (who did recently promoted two Mother Jones stories on Mike Huckabee) does not need encouragement from one political HQ or another to promote a sex scandal article that appears in a tabloid. We need not wonder what hidden forces caused Drudge to highlight The Enquirer's "exclusive." In this instance, a cigar is just a cigar.

As for the Enquirer story itself—in case you care—it's the usual fare. Edwards' purported girlfriend insists that Edwards is not the father of her unborn child and names another fellow (a political operative close to Edwards) as the responsible party. Yet the tabloid quotes exactly one unnamed source saying Edwards is the father. That's enough for it to claim an "exclusive."

Will this become a bigger story? My hunch is that those nice Iowans are not eager to have the final weeks of the campaign dominated by such a tawdry topic. And unlike the Gennifer Flowers case, the woman named in this story is not talking. In fact, she's denying. But, as we've learned, when it comes to sex—and sex and politics—you never know. Still, the shabbily sourced Enquirer piece, without further (real and confirmed) developments, ought not to have much of an impact.