Mojo - August 2007

Never Mind. U.S. Forces Release 8 Iranians Seized in Baghdad

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 12:04 PM EDT

Acknowledging a mistake, U.S. forces have released eight Iranians, including two diplomats, seized at the Baghdad Sheraton Ishtar hotel yesterday. The Iranians from the Ministry of Electricity had been working at the invitation of the Iraqi authorities.

"Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari told the British Broadcasting Corp. the Iranians were released after Iraqi officials intervened and told the Americans they were part of an official delegation on a legal visit to discuss electricity cooperation," the AP reports.

The seizure came hours after President Bush delivered a speech to the American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada in which he had threatened to confront Iranian operatives in Iraq.

"I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," Bush was cited. "The Iranian regime must halt these actions."

An Iraqi advisor to U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus, Saadi Othman, insisted there was no connection between the two events. "Othman ... told British Broadcasting Corp. television that the detentions were 'regrettable' and had 'nothing to do' with President Bush's remarks on Tuesday," the AP reports.

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Escalation Forever! Newest War Funding Request from Bush Puts War Cost at $3B/Week

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 11:21 AM EDT

Ugh.

President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.
The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year.

Actually, Petraeus and Crocker won't be assessing anything. As the White House plans make clear, it is a foregone conclusion that Petraeus and Crocker will present only good news. So the White House will write (or has already written) the September report, then the White House will send Petraeus and Crocker out to publicize the report, then the White House will use the report it wrote to justify increased war spending. Fantastic. Escalation forever!

Keep this in mind when you argue with your Republican friends:

[T]he cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week.

Shame on Larry Craig? Or on the Cops?

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 10:32 AM EDT

If, as an open-minded liberal, you are somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that an individual, gay or otherwise, can be arrested for repeatedly tapping his foot in a public bathroom, I would suggest the Slate article up today that contains an email dialogue between the magazine's editors.

Among other excellent points raised, there is this question: since when is propositioning someone illegal, even if done in a public place? Doesn't there need to be more "conduct" involved for a lewd conduct charge?

Update: As you may have seen on today's internets, Larry Craig held a press conference saying that he pleaded guilty — even though he is not really guilty — in order to make the situation go away. (That plan does not seem to have worked out for the senator.) Craig also said, "I am not gay."

No, senator, you are not gay. You just like sex with men. And that's fine. We just wish you would own up to it so young, gay Idahoans don't think being homosexual is the worst thing in the world.

All Quiet in Ankara?

| Wed Aug. 29, 2007 9:02 AM EDT

Turkey has a new president. The military appears to have accepted him, at least for now... See my previous post on this issue here.

Whistleblower Faces Firing For Exposing Indian Rip-Off

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 8:13 PM EDT

Here's a sidebar to the Cobell v. Kempthorne case—the long-running lawsuit over the government's admitted mismanagement of the Individual Indian Trust (MoJo Sept/Oct 2005). An Interior Department attorney who revealed his agency's bungling of Indian properties faces the federal boot for disclosing these problems to a newspaper. According to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the government is invoking an obscure criminal statute known as the Trade Secrets Act (TSA).

Robert McCarthy, responsible for overseeing management of properties of individual members of Indian tribes held in trust by Interior, has documented massive losses due to agency missteps. Yet the problems persist, costing Native Americans millions of dollars a month in lost revenues. His concerns were validated by an Inspector General report that has yet to be finally released.

So, McCarthy provided a reporter for the Palm Springs Desert Sun a copy of his Inspector General disclosure with individual names blacked out. The reporter wrote a story in April, and four months later, Regional Solicitor Daniel Shillito proposed that McCarthy be fired for violating the TSA, which prohibits the release of "confidential" financial or commercial information. PEER suggests the TSA doesn't apply since McCarthy revealed no names or any information that could be considered confidential, and since the TSA only prohibits releases which damage the economic interests of the submitter. McCarthy's disclosures were designed to benefit property holders by identifying and ending unjustified losses.

Significantly, Shillito was supposed to clean up large-scale asset mismanagement and losses identified back in 1992. McCarthy found these had never been addressed. JULIA WHITTY

Dueling Accents: Dems Visit the South

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 3:19 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton gets a lot of guff for her now-you-see-it now-you-don't Southern accent...

...so it's worth pointing out that Barack Obama has one, too.

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Sen. Tim Johnson to Seek Reelection

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 2:46 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)

Fredo's Last Supper

| Tue Aug. 28, 2007 11:25 AM 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 10:28 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 8:49 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.