Mojo - December 2007

License to Bill: Congress Cracks Down on Contractors

| Fri Dec. 14, 2007 4:13 PM EST

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This morning's Washington Post includes a front page story detailing alleged mismanagement and questionable expenditures by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), headed by Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., a former Bush adviser who has earned equal praise from Democrats and Republicans alike for his dogged approach to uncovering... well, mismanagement and questionable expenditures in the Iraq reconstruction.

According to the Post, Bowen's office is the target of at least three ongoing investigations, by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Presidential Council on Integrity and Efficiency, and the U.S. Army's Equal Employment Opportunity Office. Echoing State Department Inspector General Howard "Cookie" Krongard's recent troubles, all three are said to have resulted from complaints brought by members of Bowen's own staff. Among the charges: that due to abuse of federal overtime policies, at least 10 staff members netted more than $250,000 last year (General Petraeus pulled down $174,900, by comparison); that Bowen's pursuit of a $3.5 million book project about the Iraq reconstruction became a financial sink hole; and that Bowen and his deputies reviewed employee emails without permission, allegedly to identify "who was loyal and who was not," according to one aggrieved staffer. Compounding the misery at SIGIR—which according to another employee quoted by the Post, is "gripped by paranoia" and has taken on "a siege mentality"—is the revelation earlier this year that the office's claim to have saved taxpayers $1.87 billion in reconstruction spending was not only untrue, but way, way off the mark: a new estimate last summer put the figure at just $95 million, or five percent of SIGIR's original claim.

Despite all this, the SIGIR model stands to be expanded in the latest version of the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill, which was passed by the House earlier this week and is now awaiting Senate approval before making its way to President Bush's desk. It would create a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to "conduct, supervise and coordinate audits and investigations of the treatment, handling and expenditures of appropriated funds by the United States government, and of the programs, operations and contracts carried out utilizing such funds in Afghanistan in order to prevent and detect waste, fraud and abuse," according to the bill.

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Steroids: Why We Can't Live Without Them

| Fri Dec. 14, 2007 1:17 PM EST

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Alright, so there's steroids in baseball. With the Mitchell Report (spearheaded by former Senator George Mitchell, who is also on the board of directors of the Boston Red Sox) hitting the public yesterday, the world is aghast. This morning President Bush said both that, "My hope is that this report is a part of putting the steroid era of baseball behind us," and that "we can jump to this conclusion: that steroids have sullied the game."

Say what?

Steroids may be dangerous, and cheating, but make no mistake about it: The steroid era is what brought us increased revenues, fancy new stadiums, and a renewed interest in what, when Bush was owner of the Texas Rangers, was a serious flagging interest in America's favorite pastime.

Predictions are now that the blacklisted players, 85 in all, will be summarily booed when they hit spring training (or the signing circuit). Glass houses, folks. The accused, surely not a comprehensive list, includes seven MVPs, two Cy Young Award winners, and 31 All-Stars. Remember, we the fans vote for All-Stars, so we essentially have been voting for steroids, cheering on the muscled, big-headed, giants who give us what we pay the big bucks for: home runs, strikeouts, monster moments.

Reason 4,321 To Hate Wal-Mart

| Fri Dec. 14, 2007 11:50 AM EST

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Panties found by a reader of Feministing.com in a North Carolina Wal-Mart—in the section that caters to 12-year-old girls.

After Feministing posted the photo and it made its way through the blogosphere, Fox News reported on Wednesday that outraged parents had prompted Wal-Mart to pull the $2.96 panties off the shelves.

Wikileaks vs. Gitmo Security Phreaks

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 11:06 PM EST

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This is my new favorite story. It seems that the folks at Wikileaks"an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis"—have busted the "mass communications specialists" at Guantanamo for, wait for it,

"conducting covert propaganda attacks on the internet. The attacks include deleting detainee ID numbers from Wikipedia last month, the systematic posting of unattributed "self praise" comments on news organization web sites in response to negative press, boosting pro-Guantanamo stories on the internet news site Digg and even modifying Fidel Castro's encyclopedia article to describe the Cuban president as "an admitted transexual" [sic]."

Following the trail of IP addresses and "traceroutes," Wikileaks states that most of these changes were made by Guantanamo "mass communications specialist" Richard M. Wolff, who also goes by usnavymc1 on Digg.

Wikileaks has quite a bit of fun at Wolff's expense, including posting his query to a muscle fitness group at Yahoo:

Hi all! I am new to the group and in need of some help. I am in the military, did 9 years active-duty, then for the past 5 years I've been in the reserve. When I left AD, I got a little lazy and gained a few pounds, ok more than a few... lol. Anyhow, I've lost most of the fat I gained before, but I also lost a lot of muscle. I've tried combinations of weight gain and intense workouts, even some ripped
fuel, I do a good amount of cardio as well. Does the cardio hurt me from gaining muscle max? Would I be better off just lifting?
I've been in this routine of getting back in shape for about a year now and I'm looking much better than I did, but I feel I'll never get back into that really ripped form I used to have. I am 5'6", 165lbs, 34 years old. Of course my age might have something to do with it since my metabolism might not be as good as it used to be, but I try to eat healthy and things that digest easily. Should I be eating more red meat? I don't at the moment at all, but I do take a multivitamin everyday so I do get all my vitamins.
Any advice would be great! Also, if anyone knows if I should take something besides ripped fuel to help me gain mass more please let me know. Also, what more can I do (like in the other post) to get rid of the little layer of fat over my abs? They're defines pretty good but can't be seen through that damn little layer of flub. Thanks! Rich

We've all been there Rich. Anyway, if you want to geek out on how Wikileaks tracked Wolff to his meatless, sweaty lair, enjoy. And while you're at it read up on the project, which "was founded by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and startup company technologists....Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations."

Mission accomplished.

Update: Dave had a great post that lists some of Wikileaks' other greatest hits.

New Jersey Cans the Death Penalty; Lawmakers Go Against the Masses

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 9:29 PM EST

New Jersey joined 13 other states and most of the world's industrialized democratic countries when it banned the death penalty today. It's general assembly voted 44 to 36 in favor of a law that will end the practice, and Governor Jon Corzine is expected to sign it next week. Eight men are currently on New Jersey's death row; their sentences will now be changed to life without the possibility of parole.

Lawmakers were swayed in large part by a report drafted by the Constitution Project's national Death Penalty Committee. The committee, comprised of death penalty proponents and opponents alike, came to one unanimous and startling conclusion:

"Around the country, procedural safeguards and other assurances of fundamental fairness in the administration of capital punishment have been revealed to be deeply flawed."

Funny thing is, most New Jerseyans support capital punishment. A recent poll found that 53 percent oppose ending the death penalty and a whopping 78 percent want to see child molesters and serial killers executed. This is a rare case of our political leaders taking a bold and decisive action because it's morally right, not because it will please the masses.

—Celia Perry

Edwards the Broken Record: Corporations, Corporations, Corporations

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 6:02 PM EST

john-edwards-campaigning.jpg Edwards has a well-known hatred of corporations and powerful interests because of their corrupting power in Washington.

But that hatred has come dangerously close to becoming an obsession. Don't believe me? Check the transcript of today's debate in Iowa (DC's analysis here). The man can literally speak of nothing else. Here's the number of times each candidate used the words "corporations," "corporate," or "companies":

John Edwards: 19
Barack Obama: 5
Bill Richardson: 3
Hillary Clinton: 2
Chris Dodd: 1
Joe Biden: 0

I respect Edwards' willingness to speak truth to power, and it's admirable that he can stay on message so well. And I think he's totally correct on this stuff. But there is a very real chance that Edwards is defining himself more and more narrowly in the eyes of Iowa voters as they get ready to caucus. He runs the risk of becoming a one-dimensional candidate who has lacks a well-rounded vision for America.

He can cut his focus on corporation in half and still be the leading candidate on this subject.

Update: More fun debate counting. In the last debate for the Dems, they mentioned Iraq 10 times. In the last debate for the GOP, they mentioned Iraq once.

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Clinton Campaign Offical Quitting After Speculating About Obama's Drug Past

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 5:34 PM EST

Billy Shaheen is quitting the Clinton campaign after wondering out loud if Obama sold drugs as a young man.

His statement, sent by the campaign to reporters via email:

"I would like to reiterate that I deeply regret my comments yesterday and say again that they were in no way authorized by Senator Clinton or the Clinton campaign. Senator Clinton has been running a positive campaign focused on the issues that matter to America's families. She is the best qualified to be the next President of the United States because she can lead starting on day one."

Update: Clinton has apologized personally to Obama. I'm sure this is a story both candidates want to go away. Clinton probably hates that her campaign is associated with these dirty tactics, and Obama probably hates that his drug use is back in the news cycle.

Democratic Debate: We Watch So You Don't Have To (and There Was Nothing To See)

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 4:52 PM EST

This afternoon, the Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Des Moines for their final debate prior to the Iowa cacuses on January 3. For undecided voters, there was no new material

Here's a brief recap of an utterly uneventful affair. From the horse race perspective, no one flopped, fumbled or drooled. And no one attacked anyone. There were no moments you will see replayed and dissected excessively on cable news shows. There were, essentially no highlights--except perhaps for a moment when Barack Obama was asked how his foreign policy as president would be a break from the past given that he has several ex-Clintonites advising him. Before he could answer, Hillary Clinton said, "I want to hear that." As the crowd laughed, Obama shot back, "I'm looking forward to you advising me as well." That was as spicy as it got.

And for anyone obsessed with policy matters, there was not much there either. (Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel were not invited to attend because the host, the Des Moines Register, determined that neither have a functioning campaign office in Iowa.) Bill Richardson called for a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget and for awarding line-item veto authority to the president--positions most of the other candidates do not back. He also called for scrapping the no Child Left Behind law; the other candidates talked of fixing it. Each declared their intention to end the war in Iraq; there was no detailed discussion about that. But Richardson declared he would leave no residual troops in Iraq. (Iran did not come up.) After Richardson called China a "strategic competitor," Chris Dodd maintained the United States has an "adversarial relationship" with China.

There were no clashes of policy or proposals. Clinton, Obama and Edwards did not revive their past disagreements over Social Security and health care. And while Obama decried "special interests" in Washington, John Edwards repeatedly--and I do mean repeatedly--cited the necessity of crushing "corporate power" and "corporate greed" in Washington, claiming he was the only candidate with the guts and spine to do so.

As soon as the debate ended, it was as if it had never occurred.

Does Obama Have a Political Sell-By Date?

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 4:22 PM EST
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Some belated observations on my recent brush with Obamamania: I caught Barack Obama in Los Angeles Monday night when he spoke to around 4,000 people in Universal Studios' Gibson Amphitheatre. His campaign had promised a star-studded evening, though it was clear that the celebs listed on the program were there to be seen with him, not vice versa. Obama's star power, or at least his aura of novelty, seemed to be the main draw for many in the crowd, myself included. (OK, I also hoped to see Scarlett Johansson.) A fiftyish black woman next to me in the security line said she was a "curiosity seeker," not inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton, but clearly hoping that seeing Obama in person might seal the deal. Whatever people's reasons for lining up on this unusually chilly evening, the audience demographics highlighted one of the greatest arguments for Obama's viability in the primaries and beyond. It was a remarkably diverse group, both in race and age. The $25 student tickets probably helped keep the average age down, but the $250 VIP section wasn't all Boomers, either.

Sheehan Campaign Sees Opening, Going To 'Hit Hard' On Torture Issue

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 4:19 PM EST

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Right from the time Cindy Sheehan announced her independent Congressional run against Nancy Pelosi, there was an obvious tactical problem: her big lines of attack—the Democrats' failure to impeach the president or effect any policy shift on Iraq—were less about Pelosi herself (who had voted against the war, after all) and more about the Democrats in general. Those criticisms would inevitably be deflected with the "we just don't have the votes" refrain. But with Sunday's Washington Post report that in 2002 Pelosi was "given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites" and its "harsh" interrogation techniques, the Sheehan campaign has been handed a big new line of attack, one that's inescapably about Pelosi's own conduct.

Then-Rep. Porter Goss, who was also at the briefing, told the Post that "the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement." Pelosi hasn't come up with a reasonable explanation for her failure to speak out against torture when it might have actually mattered. She issued a short statement insisting that legal counsel had concluded "the techniques were legal." A Pelosi aide claimed that the Post report was "overblown."

Cindy Sheehan's campaign is on it. "We really plan to hit this hard and not let it go," spokeswoman Tiffany Burns told me yesterday.