Blogs

Waste in Federal Contracts Now More Than $1 Trillion

| Wed Jun. 27, 2007 2:08 PM EDT

Last year California Rep. Henry Waxman released an in-depth report on government-contract spending under the Bush Administration. It found that:


  • Between 2000 and 2005, federal procurement spending rose by over 80%.
  • No-bid and other contracts awarded without full and open competition increased by more than 100%.
  • Contract mismanagement led to rising waste, fraud, and abuse in federal contracting.
  • Today Waxman released this year's analysis, which shows that what was already bad has actually gotten much worse.


  • For the first time EVER the federal government has passed $400 billion threshold in contracts for the year.
  • More than half of this spending — more than $200 billion in new contracts — was awarded without full and open competition.
  • The total value of wasteful federal contracts now exceeds $1 trillion.
  • Get the full rundown, and have a look at specific contracts, here.

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    Louisiana to Make "Partial-Birth Abortion" a Crime

    | Wed Jun. 27, 2007 12:42 PM EDT

    Yesterday a Louisiana House bill that would criminalize so-called partial-birth abortions passed 104-0. Never mind that there is no such thing as partial-birth abortion, it is still mentioned by name 18 times in the three-page bill. If passed, the law will allow the sentencing of doctors who perform abortions to up to 10 years of "hard labor" and a fine of up to $100,000 (which actually seems low; why not really go for broke and slam them with million-dollar fines?). The bill would also allow the mother, father, or maternal grandparents if the woman is underage to sue the doctor for damages.

    The bill makes an exception for cases where a mother's life is threatened (but not for cases of rape and incest), which is often precisely when doctors use the technique, usually in later-term abortions, of removing a fetus from the uterus whole to avoid harm during extraction.

    This is a ban on 2nd and 3rd trimester abortions without saying as much, but it also eliminates a type of procedure that could save a woman's life at any point in her pregnancy. Does it fly in the face of Roe? Sure, but such bills are du jour: Already, 31 states ban the procedure, and now Louisiana is upping the ante, ensuring that women in their recovering state will have to search far and wide to find an abortion doctor willing to help them.

    Forget Politics 2.0, What About Pot 2.0?

    | Wed Jun. 27, 2007 2:41 AM EDT

    At the risk of dating myself, back in 1988, when I was close to graduating from college, the average THC level in pot was 3.5 percent. And today? Well today the government says it's 8.5 percent, which is up from 7 percent in 2003. And if I scored some weed in Oregon, it's possible that I'd be buying pot that has a THC level of 33.12 percent. Clearly, as Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), scolds us, "we are not talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s— this is Pot 2.0."

    Ah, the 2.0 meme. We at MoJo are guilty of of exploiting it ourselves. In this case, what do these numbers mean? To this Reason says:

    As The Drug War Chronicle's Scott Morgan notes, this increase is a far cry from drug czar John Walters' 2002 claim that "the potency of available marijuana has not merely 'doubled,' but increased as much as 30 times"—a ratio that could not possibly hold true unless you were comparing the most potent marijuana money can buy to nonpsychoactive ditchweed.

    Clearly, Nick Gillespe and his crew know their chronic. Invite us to some Reason parties! Extra points if we can party with Jack Shafer.

    So different pot has different potencies. This has always been true, or I have read. But consider that the figures that NIDA quotes rely on research from the University of Mississippi's Marijuana Potency Project. As Gary Greenberg reported in MoJo back in 2005, NIDA grows pot at Ole Miss—a partnership that forms the only legal producer of marijuana in the U.S. (and an irony I'll leave to fellow fans of Terry Southern to mull over). Ole Miss bases this particular batch of research on "59,369 samples of cannabis, 1,225 hashish samples, and 443 hash oil samples" that have been confiscated since 1975.

    (Wait just a minute, what about the aforementioned pot from the 60s and [half of] the 70s?)

    But while 62K-odd samples of weed sounds like a lot and all, what of NIDA/Ole Miss' ability to assess potency? As Greenberg points out (in a piece on the affect a sprayable form of medical marijuana known as Sativex might have on both sides of the drug debate that is much more serious than this blog post), the anti-drug policies of the government have filtered down to Ole Miss' research, to the point where:

    NIDA's brown, stems-and-seeds-laden, low-potency pot—what's known on the streets as "schwag"—cannot stack up against the dense green, aromatic, and powerful sinsemilla favored by most medical marijuana patients (and grown by Sativex producer GW). Doblin asked the University of Mississippi to grow the good stuff for him, but they refused, so he approached a botanist at the University of Massachusetts, who applied to the DEA to grow research-grade pot in a 200-square-foot room in the basement of a building in Amherst. This started a whole new kind of collegiate rivalry, the Rebels squaring off against the Minutemen over the quality of their pot. In a letter to the DEA, Mississippi's botanist—after pointing out that no one had ever officially complained about the "adequacy" of their product—trumpeted recently acquired "custom-manufactured deseeding equipment" and a new stock of seeds that had allowed Ole Miss to amass more than 50,000 joints' worth of a "special batch" of high-potency, smooth-smoking weed.Three and a half years after UMass kicked off the battle—and only after a judge ordered the feds to make their decision—the Rebels prevailed, its monopoly preserved when the DEA denied UMass the license necessary to grow pot legally.

    Ya gots to love the fight for government grants. In any case, the feds have taken their potency data and used it to craft a film called "The Purple Brain" (purple being the 2.0 version of Maui wowie), which NORML is calling Reefer Madness 2.0.

    As in so many things these days, one wishes for something approximating independent analysis. I don't trust the government's research on drugs; its hyperbole and scare tactics on pot in particular seemed design to defend status quos (border and prison policies) that worsen, not solve, larger societal problems at hand. Nor do I trust NORML et al, even, and perhaps especially, when, having gotten nowhere on legalization per se, they reframe the issue as a balm for the sick and dying. Allowing medical marijuana is a no-brainer in my book, but I just think it's a little unseemly when perfectly healthy pot-positive types hide behind AIDS and cancer patients.

    The problem is that as long as the government forbids most independent marijuana studies—by limiting the ability to get the stuff legally—we're likely to remain buffeted by agendas, not guided by science.

    But meanwhile, don't those confiscated samples of pot providing some kind of trend line seem fishy on its face? Any statisticians out there?

    CIA's "Family Jewels"--All 702 Pages of Them

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 9:07 PM EDT

    Poison pills, mafiosos, casinos, and Cuba—sound like the plot of a mobster flick? Nope. How about the elements of the CIA's plot to assassinate Fidel Castro that began in 1960? Shady dealings carried out by the U.S. intelligence agency surfaced decades ago through leaks and disclosures made to the Church Committee, but today we get the full 702-page story. With the declassification of the "family jewels"—an internal accounting done in the wake of Watergate to document a quarter century of nefarious activities that were "outside the legislative charter" of the CIA—comes the indisputable proof that CIA leadership oversaw years of murderous schemes, kidnapping, domestic spying, and human experimentation.

    Last week, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden called the release "a glimpse of a very different time and a very different Agency." But it makes you wonder what the U.S. government will be releasing forty years from now. Probably then the revelations will be less like the Godfather and more like a creepy Orwellian thriller.

    —Celia Perry

    MCA Pimps Bad Brains

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 5:54 PM EDT

    It's only fitting that MCA of the Beastie Boys (Adam Yauch) pumped out the newest and ninth full-length Bad Brains' punk album, Build a Nation, which hits record stores today. The Beastie Boys first dabbled in punk before riding the rap genre all the way to stardom and, for years, Yauch has claimed that the Bad Brains were a huge influence on his music.

    Bad Brains is a band often credited with originating the hardcore sub-genre of punk rock. All four members were African American, and they mixed reggae with punk music. Some say they should have picked one or the other. I say they were, and still are, um...bad ass.

    The album is pretty damn good but it's not breaking any new ground. Much like their previous recordings, there are songs that are lightning fast, as well as slower, dub reggae ones. Lyrics float between themes of Rastafarianism and social commentary. It's a time capsule for fans of a band that, by mixing reggae and political themes with aggressive and loud music, influenced a huge chunk of what we call alternative music today.

    —Gary Moskowitz

    Global Drug Use Down, Except For...

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 4:32 PM EDT

    According to a U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime report, drugs are finally losing the global war on drugs. Seizures are up. Colombia's strapping coca production is down. Pot is losing popularity worldwide, and U.S. users are less interested in blow. The smuggling efforts of the occasional OC mom notwithstanding, the recent data look promising.

    Except, um, for Afghanistan, host to some 30,000 international troops, birthplace of more than 90 percent of the world's heroin, where the province of Helmand alone is now cultivating three times as much opium as the entire second-largest-producing country, military junta- and general chaos-ruled Burma, which isn't even occupied by the Red Cross.

    Though drug enforcement successes have thwarted some traditional trafficking routes, the report states, smugglers are instead setting their sights on Africa as the hot new transport spot. So, users and pushers, take heart: Even if average production is down, the ease with which goods move around a global marketplace should keep prices on their hard two-decade decline. Happy International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking!

    —Nicole McClelland

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    The TV Attack Ad Gets a New Lease on Life

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:49 PM EDT
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    While we're talking about our new Politics 2.0 package and yesterday's Supreme Court decisions, let's take a moment to ponder the future of that less than beloved institution, the 30-second TV attack ad.

    In "The Attack Ad's Second Life," Leslie Savan and I examined the idea that the newfound ease of video production and distribution will kill off the negative election ad. Are the days of Willie Horton and "Harold—call me" over? Are we headed into an unregulated, bottomless pit of "macaca" moments on-demand and YouTube mash-ups? Advertising Age columnist and On the Media Host Bob Garfield thinks that TV ads are definitely on the way out—and that's a good thing: "Nobody is going to opt in to see somebody's legislative votes misrepresented in an attack ad—because why would you?" Yet that's not to say that TV ads won't play a role in 2008, or that they won't be as lowdown and dirty as ever.

    And now, a new Supreme Court ruling virtually ensures that that will be the case. In another 5-4 decision, the court struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law that prohibited pre-election ads paid for by unions or corporations. The majority ruled that such ads can not be banned unless they explicitly encourage voters to vote for or against a candidate. This will no doubt open the floodgates for a new slew of "issue ads"—attack ads that not so subtly go after candidates under the guise of informing voters. What this really means—for online fundraising, for swing voters, for the future of McCain-Feingold—remains to be seen. But it seems clear that even if the 2008 race is the TV attack ad's death rattle, its demise will be anything but pretty.

    Bush Finally Gets Serious About Climate Change

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:24 PM EDT

    OK, this is a little old, but since I've been chuckling about it for a week now, I figured it was worth a post. In one of those special nailing-it moments, The Onion offered this headline:

    Addressing Climate Crisis, Bush Calls For Development Of National Air Conditioner

    with this handy explanatory graphic:

    Rising-Temperatures.article.jpg

    Weird Weather Watch: Tahoe Is Burning

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

    A fire in South Lake Tahoe, which began Sunday, has destroyed 2,700 acres of woods and 275 homes. Lake Tahoe's gorgeous blue waters are sprinkled with ashes. The blaze is just 40 percent contained at present, but firefighters expect to have it fully contained by Sunday. The Los Angeles Times called the fire "one of the most destructive in memory." And California isn't in the clear yet: Low rainfall combined with the hotter temperatures brought by climate change have intensified the state's already menacing susceptibility to wildfire.

    Indian Crocodiles Guard Dwindling Forests

    | Tue Jun. 26, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

    Dozens of crocodiles bred in captivity in eastern India are protecting their endangered counterparts. Newly released into the wild, these giants are scaring away poachers bent on illegal fishing and timber harvesting in mangrove forests in the states of Orissa and West Bengal, reports Reuters. The disappearing mangroves have led to a steep decline in wild croc numbers, from several thousand a century ago to less than 100 in the early 1970s. But the same species has bred well in captivity and is now being used to solve its own problem. "The swelling number of released crocodiles in the wild is working as a deterrent and keeping people away from the mangrove as villagers are more cautious before venturing into the forests," said Rathin Banerjee, a senior wildlife official. "Unlike guard dogs, crocodiles cannot be tamed and are ferocious and can attack anyone in the swamps." . . . Wow. That's innovation. Can we use them against our own bad-boy loggers? --JULIA WHITTY