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Billions of Dollars Unaccounted For in Iraq, Pentagon IG Reports

Want to see a signature worth $320 million? Click here. It belongs to Jack Gardner, an official with the...

| Thu May 22, 2008 2:45 PM EDT

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Want to see a signature worth $320 million? Click here. It belongs to Jack Gardner, an official with the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, who in July 2003 authorized that amount to be transferred to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance for the payment of Iraqi salaries. There are no other records of the transfer, just Mr. Gardner's John Hancock. Now that's power.

The payment is but one example of the process by which U.S. dollars have disappeared without a trace into the confusion (and, yes, corruption) of Iraq reconstruction, confounding Pentagon auditors who are now trying to find out where all that money went... and what exactly, if anything, the U.S. got in return.

One such auditor is Mary L. Ugone, the Pentagon's deputy inspector general for audit. Her testimony this morning before Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) Committee on Oversight and Government Reform coincided with the release of a new report from Pentagon's Office of Inspector General, which reviewed over 180,000 payments made by the Pentagon to contractors in Iraq, Kuwait, and Egypt, totaling approximately $8.2 billion. Of that, the Pentagon admits that it cannot properly account for how $7.8 billion—"a stunning 95% failure rate in following basic accounting standards," Waxman said in his opening statement.

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What Are the Possible Florida/Michigan Outcomes?

By the way, if you want an explanation of how Clinton and Obama's delegate totals will change based on various...

| Thu May 22, 2008 2:14 PM EDT

By the way, if you want an explanation of how Clinton and Obama's delegate totals will change based on various Michigan and Florida solutions (the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee will resolve the situation in a meeting on May 31), see this post at the Demconwatch Blog. Moral of the story: Clinton may be placing monumental importance on seating Michigan and Florida, but doing so will not change the race.

But we knew that.

Axelrod: Okay, Fine. Just Take Michigan and Florida

Obama's top strategist seems aware that the Democrats can seat the Florida and Michigan delegations under almost any calculation and...

| Thu May 22, 2008 12:39 PM EDT

Obama's top strategist seems aware that the Democrats can seat the Florida and Michigan delegations under almost any calculation and Obama will still have the lead in pledged delegates. From an upcoming NPR interview:

"We are open to comprise [sic]. We are willing to go more than half way. We're willing to work to make sure that we can achieve a compromise. And I guess the question is: is Senator Clinton's campaign willing to do the same?"
Axelrod continues: "Well, obviously, any compromise is going to involve some give, and that means if there's something on the table, we're willing to consider it. That may include us yielding more delegates than perhaps we would have, simply on the basis of the rules."

Now if you seat Florida and Michigan and Clinton does better than expected in the remaining primaries, including Puerto Rico, she may take the popular vote lead. The Clinton campaign will likely hammer that point while making its case to the superdelegates. It's probably worth pointing out that if popular vote was the key criteria in the race from the beginning, both campaigns would have run different races.

George H. W. Bush: "Personal Diplomacy Can Be Very Useful and Productive"

One week ago, George Bush told the Israeli Knesset that those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals" are...

| Thu May 22, 2008 11:12 AM EDT

china-diary-bush.jpg One week ago, George Bush told the Israeli Knesset that those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals" are akin to appeasers of the Nazis. It was a clear jab at Barack Obama and his stated willingness to sit down with leaders of rogue states. John McCain later echoed Bush.

Forget the fact that Bush once offered to sit down with the president of Sudan, Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Forget that Israel is now negotiating with a rogue state, Syria. Forget that James Baker, a man John McCain once called "the smartest guy know," said in 2006 that negotiation isn't capitulation.

This may best all of those in the irony department. On the cover of a new book titled "The China Diary of George H. W. Bush: The Making of a Global President," edited by Jeffrey A. Engel, our 41st president is quoted as saying, "I was a big believer then, and still am, that personal diplomacy can be very useful and productive." That's not a quote from the diary, which covers Bush's time as the head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing from 1974 to 1975. It's from a preface Bush penned specifically for this book.

In that preface, written in October 2007, Bush points approvingly to President Nixon's willingness, in 1972, to be "the first American leader to speak directly with his Chinese counterpart, Mao Zedong." The young Bush chose to go China, instead of London or Paris, in part because relations with China were still new. He could not formally be an ambassador because "we still did not have formal diplomatic relations with Beijing."

He cites the personal relationship he cultivated with Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s as an asset in his presidency. "I took some hits for not being tougher on the Chinese," he writes, "but my long history with Deng and the other leaders made it possible for us to work through the crises without derailing Sino-American relations, which would have been a disaster. I was a big believer then, and still am, that personal diplomacy can be very useful and productive." At no point in the preface does Bush object to establishing relations with a tyrannical regime. Presumably his son, and the current Republican presidential candidate, would disagree.

What Do Businesswomen Want? More Shoes, Sez the Wall Street Journal

Oh, dear. I'm not sure my little lady brain can take it, but the Wall Street Journal has created a...

| Wed May 21, 2008 9:22 PM EDT

Oh, dear. I'm not sure my little lady brain can take it, but the Wall Street Journal has created a new page on its website specifically aimed at women. While thankfully the site isn't designed in a Sex and the City shade of pink, it's full of stereotypically female things like shoes, fashion, dieting, and Bonnie Fuller.

While the page does have a few interesting articles, like one on how the termination of your pregnancy may coincide with the termination of your job, the entire idea of a separate ladies section of the Journal is a bit problematic. Doesn't it sort of imply that the big, bad, serious sections of the newspaper are for the big boys? That women aren't interested in scary, manly topics like quarterly earnings or industry mergers? Channeling Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn't help but wonder: can't you have a vagina and a brain too?

I think the tone of the page answers some of those questions. There's an article on "Putting an End to Mindless Munching," another on "Decolletage at a Work Dinner," and the kicker, "High on Heels: How Shoes Affect the Juggle." The last article is a blog post on how high heels look great at the office, but hurt your feet. This is news? Come on, Rupert, we expect better, even from you.

Breaking News: Arts Coverage Still Hampered by Racism and Homophobia

Didn't we have a seminar or something to take care of all that? In politics, things seem to be looking up: An African-American has all but wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination and the California Supreme Court just decided they wanted in on the gay marriage economic boom. But over on the arts and culture pages, where you'd think people would be a little...

| Wed May 21, 2008 9:14 PM EDT

mojo-photo-santorausch.jpgDidn't we have a seminar or something to take care of all that? In politics, things seem to be looking up: An African-American has all but wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination and the California Supreme Court just decided they wanted in on the gay marriage economic boom. But over on the arts and culture pages, where you'd think people would be a little ahead of the game, homophobia and racism are still rearing their ugly heads, in subtle but egregious ways. At issue: can black singers ever avoid being classified under "hip-hop," and when is it okay to posthumously refer to someone as "gay"?

After the jump: let's just agree, "no" and "never."

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Syriana: Newly Announced Israel-Syria Peace Talks Run Against Grain of Washington's Anti-Engagement Policy

Just a week after President Bush, speaking at Israel's Knesset, likened those who would advocate engagement with "terrorists and radicals"...

| Wed May 21, 2008 4:21 PM EDT

Just a week after President Bush, speaking at Israel's Knesset, likened those who would advocate engagement with "terrorists and radicals" to Nazi appeasers, the governments of Israel and Syria—a close ally of Iran—have announced that official peace talks are underway between their nations, mediated by Turkey. "It is better in this situation to speak rather than to shoot," declared Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert in a statement Wednesday. "This is what the sides agreed."

Noted the Syrian foreign ministry in a similar statement: "Both sides have expressed their desire to conduct the talks in good will and decided to continue dialogue with seriousness to achieve comprehensive peace."

The Bush administration, which was informed of the planned talks by Israel and Turkey, offered reluctant support. "It is our hope that discussions between Israel and Syria will cover all the relevant issues," a State Department official, speaking on background, told Mother Jones. He outlined Washington's outstanding concerns with Syria, including its "support for terrorist groups, facilitation of the passage of foreign fighters into Iraq, and intervention in Lebanon, as well as repression inside Syria. An agreement dealing with these issues would be a true contribution to peace."

While Bush-era Washington has been consumed with ideological debates over whether talking to hostile regimes and militant groups rewards or legitimizes them, a parade of veteran senior Israeli security and diplomatic officials has pushed the case, both in Israel and Washington, that engaging adversaries such as Syria and Hamas could advance their nation's security interests. "The alliance between Syria and Iran is mainly one of convenience," Israel's former foreign ministry director general and Mossad official David Kimche told me in January in a suburban Tel Aviv cafe. "There is no deep connection. And it's worth our while, if we could weaken that link."

Randy Scheunemann Needs to Go Anyway

Forget the almost comically obvious conflict-of-interest lobbying ties. Randy Scheunemann needs to get the boot from the McCain campaign...

| Wed May 21, 2008 3:07 PM EDT

randy-scheunemann.jpg Forget the almost comically obvious conflict-of-interest lobbying ties. Randy Scheunemann needs to get the boot from the McCain campaign for much more serious reasons.

Scheunemann served as president of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a neoconservative front group created in 2002. CLI coordinated with the Bush White House to gin up public support for the Iraq war by buttressing and echoing the administration's various dubious claims about the threat posed by Saddam, and the quickness and ease of a war to remove him.
Part of Scheunemann's work for the CLI was promoting convicted embezzler and WMD fantasist Ahmad Chalabi as the "new Iraqi Ataturk," and Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress as a "government in exile." In a 2003 NewsHour interview, Scheunemann defended Chalabi's "vision" for Iraq, claiming that Chalabi was opposed for "ideological reasons" by the State Department and the CIA, who, it turns out, were precisely correct about Chalabi's untrustworthiness.
Scheunemann also managed to convince John McCain that Chalabi was "a patriot with the interest of Iraq at heart."

That doesn't sound like the guy you want as the No. 1 foreign policy adviser to a presidential candidate. Not a lot of good judgment being shown...

Buh Bye Randy Scheunemann

This USA Today report has to be grounds for firing under McCain's new lobbying policy. John McCain's top foreign policy...

| Wed May 21, 2008 2:57 PM EDT

This USA Today report has to be grounds for firing under McCain's new lobbying policy.

John McCain's top foreign policy adviser lobbied the Arizona senator's staff on behalf of the republic of Georgia while he was working for the campaign, public records show.
Randy Scheunemann, founder of Orion Strategies, represented the governments of Macedonia, Georgia and Taiwan between 2003 and March 1, according to the firm's filings with the Justice Department. In its latest semiannual report, the firm disclosed that Scheunemann had a phone conversation in November about Georgia with Richard Fontaine, an aide in McCain's Senate office.
Orion Strategies earned $540,000 from its foreign clients over the year ending on Dec. 1, reports show. Scheunemann also received $56,250 last year from March to July from McCain, according to campaign finance records.

The McCain campaign wouldn't answer questions about Scheunemann, except to say that McCain's new lobbying policy, which prohibits any staffer from serving on the McCain campaign while an active lobbyist, is "not retroactive."

Hagel: I Can Haz Vice Presidency?

Try to be a little more subtle about it, Chuck....

| Wed May 21, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

Try to be a little more subtle about it, Chuck.