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Sen. Tim Johnson to Seek Reelection

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 3:46 PM EDT

Later today, ABC News will have an exclusive on-air interview with the South Dakota senator, who is recovering from a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him. But here's the big news hook:

Johnson, a Democrat whose seat is key to his party's tenuous hold on the Senate, does not intend to retire next year.
"Throughout, Senator Johnson talks candidly with Mr. Woodruff about his daily struggles and his determination not only to return to the Senate next week, but to seek re-election in 2008," the network said in a release.

People wonder why the Democratic leadership in the Senate has trouble getting anything done. Well, a 51-member majority isn't really a majority with one senator from the party in the hospital, one senator a quasi-Republican, and four senators on the presidential campaign trail. Welcoming Tim Johnson back into the fold, as a healthy member of the party, is a step in the right direction.

(H/T Political Wire)

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Bruce Springsteen Announces Fall Tour, Free Download of New Single

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 1:51 PM EDT

Bruce
The New Jersey rocker (who's seemingly a bigger influence than ever lately) has announced his first tour with the E Street Band in four years, set to kick off in October, in Hartford, Connecticut. Their new album, Magic, is out October 4th, but they're offering the first single free for a week from iTunes (and various other websites who've taken the initiative). "Radio Nowhere" is a driving, reverby, uptempo number, kind of like "Jenny (867-5309)" except about 100 times ballsier. The UK Guardian says it's like "Springsteen singing Interpol," and while I'm not sure I'd go that far, it's pretty good. Download it from iTunes or grab an mp3 from the Guardian.

Fredo's Last Supper

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 12:25 PM EDT

bush_gonzo_dinner300x210.jpg

After this photo was taken, Alberto Gonzales stepped onto a small fishing boat with one of President Bush's children. At the last moment, the child was called away and an ominous looking man in a fishing hat took the child's place. Drifting in the middle of the lake with the man in the hat sitting behind him, the man nicknamed "Fredo" began to say the Hail Mary. And this is how Alberto Gonzales met his end.

Update: Alas, I am not the first to think along these lines.

The Murky Fundraising of Presidential Libraries

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 11:28 AM EDT

TNR has a good article about the lack of oversight and transparency in presidential library fundraising, and the potential for abuse it creates. We've seen the problem before:

In 1993, George H.W. Bush pardoned Edwin L. Cox, Jr., who had pled guilty five years earlier to bank fraud. Eleven months later, Cox's father pledged support for the Bush library and is now listed as a donor in the "$100,000 to $250,000" range. Likewise, in the late '90s, Denise Rich reportedly pledged $450,000 to Clinton's library at the same time her ex-husband, Marc Rich, was seeking a pardon for racketeering and tax- evasion charges.

Two things make the problem relevant again today. First, Bush is trying to raise a whopping $500 million for this presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which means tons and tons of fundraising now, while Bush is still in office and capable of being swayed on policy decisions by particularly large donations. (By the way, Methodist ministers are appalled at the idea of GWB's library being at SMU.)

Second, Hillary Clinton is running for president while her husband's library is accepting donations. There is a strong system of oversight for presidential campaign fundraising (just see opensecrets.org), but there is nothing you can do if you want to see who is donating to Bill Clinton's library. Surely it is time for the FEC to step in.

Iraq Corruption Probe Widens... Again

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 9:49 AM EDT

I wrote last week of an Army contracting officer in Kuwait, who, with the collusion of his wife and sister, allegedly took almost $10 million in bribes from corrupt contractors. It was said to be the largest case of fraud yet uncovered during the Iraq reconstruction.

Well, as reported in this morning's New York Times, it may wind up being a drop in the bucket. Investigators from the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Justice Department, and the FBI have uncovered a network of criminality much larger than anything previously conceived. It involves "the purchase and delivery of weapons, supplies, and other material to Iraqi and American forces" and amounts to "the largest ring of fraud and kickbacks uncovered in the conflict there." Among those under investigation is Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a contracting officer who reported directly to General David Petraeus, the current commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Now, it comes as no surprise that reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered from incompetence, waste, and fraud. What does surprise, though, is the scale of wrongdoing slowly emerging from news reports. From the Times:

The investigation into contracts for matériel to Iraqi soldiers and police officers is part of an even larger series of criminal cases. As of Aug. 23, there were a total of 73 criminal investigations related to contract fraud in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman said Monday. Twenty civilians and military personnel have been charged in federal court as a result of the inquiries, he said. The inquiries involve contracts valued at more than $5 billion, and Colonel Baggio said the charges so far involve more than $15 million in bribes...
Investigations span the gamut from low-level officials submitting false claims for amounts less than $2,500 to more serious cases involving, conspiracy, bribery, product substitution and bid-rigging or double-billing involving large dollar amounts or more senior contracting officials, Army criminal investigators said. The investigations involve contractors, government employees, local nationals and American military personnel.

If keeping track of all this corruption is confusing, have no fear. Here's an incomplete timeline of events, cobbled together from the Times article:


  • May 2006: Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, requests a federal oversight committee to look into reports of missing weapons and equipment purchased for use by Iraqi security forces.
  • October 2006: The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction issues a report, citing discrepancies in American military records with regard to the location of weapons issued to Iraqi security forces.
  • July 2007: The GAO finds even larger problems, noting that the American military "cannot fully account for about 110,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 80 items of body armor, and 115,000 helmets reported as issued to Iraqi security forces as of Sept. 22, 2005."
  • August 2007: Reports emerge that federal investigators believe the loss of these weapons may be the result of widespread corruption within the military contracting system.
  • In the department of better late than never, the Pentagon is taking action. Its Inspector General, Claude M. Kicklighter, will lead a team of 18 investigators to Iraq early next month to examine contracting practices. Army Secretary Pete Geren is also expected to announce later this week the creation of a special panel to identify problems in the military contracting process.

    Senator Larry Craig's Real Problem: A "Wide Stance" While Peeing (Just Saying...)

    | Tue Aug. 28, 2007 3:52 AM EDT

    Ok, I leave it to the boys to sort out plausibility; I report (what the WaPo's OffBeat blog reported), you decide:

    Readers probably remember Florida State Rep. and Idiot of the Year nominee Bob Allen (R), who blamed his alleged bathroom solicitation of an undercover male cop on a fear of black people. Craig's arrest seems a little less idiotic, at least thus far. The 62-year-old was merely accused of playing footsie under the stall door (I haven't a square to spare), and then "brush[ing] his hand beneath the partition between them." Craig contends that it's all a big misunderstanding, explaining to police, "he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom."

    Update: Craig has withdrawn from the position of Romney co-chair. Too many jokes in that sentence to pick between them.

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    Another Larry Craig Thought (and the Senator's Response)

    | Tue Aug. 28, 2007 1:17 AM EDT

    I posted my somewhat conflicted thoughts on the Larry Craig (R-Idaho) saga earlier today, but I missed one thing.

    I really hope that this experience, and the experiences of the other gay Republicans that have been in the news lately, will show members of the GOP that gay Americans come in different shapes, sizes, and styles. Some are the San Francisco drag queens that they seem to think will invade their schools and make out with their children (the gays of red state nightmares), and some are lonely, old, white men in suits who are driven underground for satisfaction of their sexual desires because the culture that permeates the GOP makes a free and honest expression of their sexuality impossible. Gays, believe it or not, are everyday Americans that are respectable members of red state communities. Every once in a while, they lead them.

    I hope the Republican citizens of Idaho look at their senator and say, "We were satisfied with this man's work as our representative in Congress before we knew he is gay. And now that we know, nothing changes." There are "moral values" hidden somewhere in that kind of tolerance, I'm sure of it.

    Update: Craig's response is to deny, deny, deny.

    Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 8/27/07

    | Tue Aug. 28, 2007 12:53 AM EDT

    In this edition of the Top Ten: some French techno, as usual, plus French-Canadian hip-hop, as well as some hip-hop made by ladies, although they're not French or French-Canadian. Plus a mashup with a French band too! And, if you think about it, you can probably see the moon in France, although I have no proof of this either way. Actually, maybe I do.

    I Heart Moon10. The Moon (from The Sky, available outside your house)
    Well, I just took that picture there out my window, and you can't really tell since my camera's pretty cheap, but tonight's moon seems extra bulbous and psycho bright, perhaps in anticipation of being eclipsed in just a few hours. I was reminded of Laurie Anderson's "Sharkey's Day," although she was talking about the sun, "like a big bald head / rising up over the grocery store."

    9. Parts & Labor - "The Gold We're Digging" (video)

    Supposedly this clip took endless hours to shoot, considering each alteration of the background color blocks meant another take, really. The end product is a little like "Fell In Love With A Girl" divided by "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight," both hypnotic and spastic. Thankfully the song is also kind of like that, a noisy double-time stomper that's somewhat reminiscent of Joy Division.

    Jay Deelicious8. The Pharcyde / J Dilla - "Runnin'" (from Jay Deelicious on Delicious Vinyl)
    (iTunes link)
    Originally on the LA hip-hop group's fantastic 1995 album Labcabincalifornia, this was one of my favorite tracks of that year, before I had any idea who Jay Dee / J Dilla was. Of course, now I know he produced it, and while Delicious Vinyl's altering the credits on these tracks to read "J Dilla and The Pharcyde" is a little silly, it's nice to see they're alerting people to the impact he had on hip-hop. Plus there's instrumental versions!

    Vitalic7. Vitalic - "The 30,000 Feet Club" (from V Live, out 9/18 on Different/Pias)
    (mp3 via Kids by Colette, or listen on his MySpace)
    Before Justice stole the fire, Vitalic was France's great techno hope. 2005's brilliant OK Cowboy presaged the current crop of electronic CDs that actually cohere as full-length albums. Plus, live, he's actually pretty interesting, and he's beating Daft Punk to the punch by releasing a live recording of a performance in Belgium last year. This is one of the new tracks from that set, a propulsive, buzzing number that seems to fall out of tune now and then, only to resolve itself with greater energy.

    Payroll6. Payroll - "Daft Prayer" (Daft Punk vs. Bon Jovi) (mp3 via his site)
    I know, something Daft Punky has to be in every Top Ten it seems like, but this is really worth it. UK bootlegger Payroll basically leaves Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer" alone (since it's perfect as is, natch) and cheekily cuts up "Around the World" to fit, creating a combo that's both an awesome dance remix of Bon Jovi and a great way to enjoy both songs at once.

    Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) Busted for Public Sex, Continuing GOP Trend

    | Mon Aug. 27, 2007 7:07 PM EDT

    Republicans are taking the public sex racket to a national level.

    Not content to let Florida State Rep. Bob Allen have all the fun, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested in a public restroom for propositioning a male undercover police officer. This is somehow all old hat: Craig was arrested in June, plead guilty on August 8, paid a small fee, dodged jail time, and was given a year of probation. Craig's staff dismissed the incident as a simple — love this — "he said/he said misunderstanding."

    But wait a minute. Any time a man (or a woman) makes his (or her) name and career by being holier-than-Democrats, the blogosphere has a right to some schadenfreude. So, let's do the hypocrisy first, shall we? Atrios found a 1999 Craig appearance on Meet the Press in which Tim Russert asks Craig about censuring the president, as opposed to impeaching him. Craig's response:

    ...it's a slap on the wrist. It's a, "Bad boy, Bill Clinton. You're a naughty boy." The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy. I'm going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy.

    Hmmm... well, you're basically asking for this, Senator Craig.

    [Undercover cop Dave] Karsnia entered the bathroom at noon that day and about 13 minutes after taking a seat in a stall, he stated he could see "an older white male with grey hair standing outside my stall."
    The man, who lingered in front of the stall for two minutes, was later identified as Craig.
    "I could see Craig look through the crack in the door from his position. Craig would look down at his hands, 'fidget' with his fingers, and then look through the crack into my stall again. Craig would repeat this cycle for about two minutes," the report states.
    Craig then entered the stall next to Karsnia's and placed his roller bag against the front of the stall door.

    Kelly Clarkson Helps Teens Realize Pain of Adulthood

    | Mon Aug. 27, 2007 4:13 PM EDT

    Flipping channels last night, I headed for Fox in search of some rerun Family Guy, and was confronted with the Teen Choice Awards. Normally, nothing could make me hit a button—any button!—on the remote more quickly, but I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I had set the remote down to eat a snack before I realized what I was watching, or maybe I saw David Boreanaz smirking his way through an intro and got flustered, but I suddenly found myself watching a live performance by Kelly Clarkson. The American Idol winner has been in the news lately since her apparent rumbles with Clive Davis over her new album, My December; the singer wrote most of the album herself and Davis didn't like it, I guess. The single, "Never Again," has been floating around the Billboard charts for a while, but I'd never actaully heard it, and her performance of it last night illustrated the conundrum perfectly: as the camera cut to an audience of shrieking teens and pre-teens, Clarkson and her band performed a driving, passionate, minor-key rock song. Clarkson reached into the upper registers of her voice to deliver lyrics that laid bare the agony of heartbreak with uncomfortable autobiographical references: "Bet it sucks/To see my face everywhere." Erp! The chorus avoids an obvious hook and instead just ups the emotional level from "fiery" to "conflagration," and overall the song is reminiscent of, I dunno, Heart's "Barracuda" or something. It's not great, or even that good, really, but her voice was flawless, and the performance was intense and affecting. However, the kids in the audience had looks in their eyes like the Tooth Fairy had just picked up a chain saw. Davis is probably right about the material's accessibility, but Clarkson may be headed somewhere far more interesting.