Mojo - July 2007

Is the Federal Contracting System Out of Whack?

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 11:36 PM EDT

Meet Robin Smith. A veteran of the Air Force, she once guarded military aircraft bearing nuclear weapons before going to work for Wackenhut, the Florida-based private security giant that took in $400 million in federal contracts last year (and $516 million the year prior). Between June 2005 and April 2006, Smith served as a security officer at the Department of Homeland Security's Washington headquarters, where she says she witnessed a litany of security lapses by Wackenhut employees: guards who fell asleep at their posts, who were allowed to carry weapons after repeatedly flunking certification tests on the company's gun range, and who gained access to sensitive locations without the requisite security clearances. On numerous occasions, she says, she saw the door to the guards' armory left open and unattended, allowing anyone access to the cache of weapons and ammunition inside.

But the most egregious breach happened in the fall of 2005, when a DHS staffer opened a letter containing white powder. Instead of quarantining the area, or calling for a hazmat team, the security guards who responded to the scene handled the envelope themselves and called others over to have a look at the suspicious powder. They also directed the employee who had opened the letter, and who had spilled some of its contents on herself, to wash the powder off. To do so she walked across a hall and past Michael Chertoff's office, putting the Homeland Security secretary himself and other employees at risk of contamination. "I've never seen anything like the way Wackenhut ran Homeland Security," Smith told the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement today. "I've never seen any company disrespect a government contract like Wackenhut did."

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In the Midst Of Vitter Scandal, Let Us Not Forget David Almond

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 11:04 PM EDT

Republican David Almond, vice chairman of the House Committee on Children, Youth and Families for the North Carolina state legislature, resigned last week after the state's GOP caucus said it was investigating allegations against him of "serious, improper behavior."

According to DownWithTyranny!, Almond exposed his penis to a female staff member, chased her around the room, and commanded her to "suck it, baby, suck it." The employee filed a personnel complaint against Almond. State Republican leaders asked Almond to resign if there was any truth to the allegation, but, they said, "He did it [resigned] himself." I'm not sure what that means, but that is what they said.

One of the pieces of legistlation introduced by Almond was a bill to monitor sex offenders, which was recently signed into law by the governor, and which could come back to bite Almond on the--well, wherever he is most likely to be bitten. In the meantime, he says that intends to defend himself against the charges.

Campaigns Fail to Adapt to New Primary Schedule

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 1:49 PM EDT

Via Brad Plumer at The Plank, I spotted this neat New York Times graphic on where the major candidates have campaign offices. The most significant observation, other than the fact that the Democrats are running far more developed campaigns than the Republicans, is that all of the campaigns seem to be missing the significance of the new primary calendar.

Put aside the traditional early states of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina (all between Jan. 14 and Feb. 2). Florida has moved up to Jan. 29 and a whole slew of states have moved up to Feb. 5: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, and on and on.

Let's take the six from that group of newly significant states that have the most electoral votes (i.e. largest populations): Florida, California, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Now using the NYT graphic, let's count up the number of campaign offices in each state (count limited to the three frontrunners in each party).

Florida: GOP 2; Dems 2
California: GOP 1; Dems 2
Illinois: GOP 2; Dems 2
New York: GOP 1; Dems 3
Pennsylvania: GOP 0; Dems 0
Texas: GOP 0; Dems 1

That's nothing! Compare this to the fact that Hillary and Edwards have nearly 20 offices apiece in the traditionally important combo of Iowa and New Hampshire. And Obama one-ups them, with almost 30! Obama has around 20 offices in Iowa, and zero in Pennsylvania and Texas. And only one each in Florida, California, and New York.

I know the candidates simply don't have the money to campaign everywhere, and I know it's still early. And I'm aware that the internet has allowed the campaigns to reach people in places where they don't have a physical presence. But it's easy to make the argument the campaigns, run by people who have been part of the system for years and were honchos in presidential elections past, are stuck in an earlier mindset. They have yet to adapt to present realities.

Straight Talk Express Runs Aground

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 1:32 PM EDT

John McCain's bus, which could be dubbed the "Flip-Flop Express" or the "Endless War Express," will now be called nothing at all. The bus, like the campaign, is out of gas, and McCain doesn't have the money to fill it up. So from now on, McCain will be taking the "Straight Walk Express" (yuck, yuck).

It's worth pointing out, though, that while McCain is seen as doomed because he only has $2 million on hand, Mitt Romney would have the exact same amount if he hadn't given his campaign a personal loan of $10 million. McCain's even doing better than Romney in some polls. The media tends to think and move in packs; maybe we should peel ourselves off the dog pile that is currently burying John McCain and take a look at the GOP's prettiest hypocrite?

Libya: Death Sentences Commuted in HIV Case

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 12:59 PM EDT

It's been long time coming, but, as reported in this morning's Washington Post, the five jailed Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor accused of intentionally infecting 460 Libyan children with HIV may soon go free. They have been languishing in Libyan prisons since 1999 and had been on death row since December. On Tuesday, however, Libya's Judicial Council—great arbiter of justice that it is—commuted all six death sentences to life in prison. Now, one could argue that death is preferable to eternity spent in a Libyan jail, but there are indications that the high court's move foreshadows the extradition of all six health workers to Bulgaria (including the Palestinian, who has been granted Bulgarian citizenship), where they would presumably be allowed to go free.

The long episode has raised passions in Libya and Bulgaria, which have both viewed the case as an issue of national pride. The European Union and the U.S. government have also weighed in, putting pressure on Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi to intervene in the case. The Libyan government has long contended that the childrens' infections were the result of a reckless HIV experiment undertaken by the six foreign health workers at medical facility in the Mediterranean port city of Benghazi. But independent investigations have concluded that the outbreak was caused by the hospital's poor hygienic conditions, which predated the foreign workers' arrival.

It now appears that the imminent resolution of the dispute could join the list of other conciliatory notes struck by the Libyan dictator, who in recent years has been working diligently to rehabilitate his reputation. According to the Post, a fund created by the Libyan and Bulgarian governments (under the auspices of the European Union) will compensate the families of the HIV-infected children to the tune of $1 million each; the Libyans had initially demanded $13 million per family.

Morning Trivia for July 18

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 12:21 PM EDT

Today's question is:

What is the largest consulting services company in the world? (Hint: It's a private company, but it's still a trick question).

I'll update this post later today with the answer and let you know if any of us got the question right. If you have a question, submit it to mojotrivia@gmail.com. If it's good, we'll use it and credit you on the blog. Please let us know if you got it from another source.

Guess in the comments, and good luck.

Update:

IBM is the largest consulting services company in the world. IBM's "Global Services" division has revenues of almost $50 billion, a sum that represents more than half of the giant multinational's corporate revenue. Commenter Nicholas Beaudrot was first again, guessing the answer that no one in our DC bureau could come up with. Today's New York Times has more on IBM's consulting business.

— Nick Baumann

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Flynt to Reveal Sexcapades of Another Senator?

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 12:05 PM EDT

On Larry King last night, Hustler published Larry Flynt hinted that another senator may be headed for a David Vitter-like fall from grace. Via Political Wire:

FLYNT: We've got good leads. We've got over 300 initially. And they're down to about 30 now which is solid.

KING: When are you going to print?

FLYNT: Well, the last thing now is we don't know if we want to let it to drip, drip, drip or we want to go with everything at once.

KING: You mean you might release 30 names at once?

FLYNT: A good possibility.

KING: Will we be -- I don't want to get into names yet. Will we be shocked?

FLYNT: Yes.

KING: Were you shocked?

FLYNT: I was shocked, especially at one senator but...

KING: One senator especially?

FLYNT: Yes.

The Usual Suspects

| Wed Jul. 18, 2007 11:40 AM EDT

In case you thought Cheney might have secretly been consulting with Greenpeace, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, have no fear. He was meeting with just who you thought he was: Exxon, Enron, British Petroleum, Duke Energy, and a Norquist/Gale Norton front group with ties to Abramoff.

Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb(s)

| Tue Jul. 17, 2007 4:43 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias points his readers in the direction of a truly frightening article in the July/August issue of the Atlantic. We would be remiss if we didn't do the same. The article, by Keir Leiber and Daryl Press, argues that the gap between Chinese and American nuclear capability has grown so much since the end of the Cold War that there would only be a very slim chance of China being able to respond to an American first strike. (The authors' original study, which they discussed extensively in Foreign Affairs over a year ago, argued that even the Russian nuclear arsenal would almost certainly be destroyed by an American first strike.)

If the authors are right, this means the end of "Mutually-Assured Destruction," or MAD. They remind us why that matters:

During the Cold War, MAD rendered the debate about the wisdom of nuclear primacy little more than a theoretical exercise. Now that MAD and the awkward equilibrium it maintained are about to be upset, the argument has become deadly serious. Hawks will undoubtedly see the advent of U.S. nuclear primacy as a positive development. For them, MAD was regrettable because it left the United States vulnerable to nuclear attack. With the passing of MAD, they argue, Washington will have what strategists refer to as "escalation dominance" — the ability to win a war at any level of violence — and will thus be better positioned to check the ambitions of dangerous states such as China, North Korea, and Iran.

We're still fighting a conventional "pre-emptive war" that began over four years ago. If the hawks want to turn their pre-emptive wars nuclear, they can do so without fear of retaliation.

— Nick Baumann

The Leader of the GOP Field is... Hilarious

| Tue Jul. 17, 2007 4:12 PM EDT

I know people hate horserace coverage of the candidates. I know they'd rather see serious issue discussions than polls and makeup scandals. But sometimes there's a punchline just sitting there.

From a new AP/Ipsos poll:

Democrats
Hillary Clinton 36%
Barack Obama 20%
Al Gore 15%
Other/None/Don't Know 13%
John Edwards 11%
Bill Richardson 2%
Joe Biden 2%

Republicans
Other/None/Don't Know 25%
Rudy Giuliani 21%
Fred Thompson 19%
John McCain 15%
Mitt Romney 11%
Newt Gingrich 5%
Mike Huckabee 3%

And that's with Thompson and Gingrich in the race. There is no "other" left!