It's pretty much universally accepted that Karen Hughes was a disaster as America's face to the Islamic world. But wow... this is much, much worse. ABC News reports that a 41-year old CIA station chief in Algeria (his name has not been released) was brought home last October after accusations that he had drugged and raped at least two Muslim women. As if that's not bad enough, our man in Algeria, himself a convert to Islam, videotaped his crimes. Federal investigators are aware of at least a dozen sex tapes. They've now broadened the scope of their inquiry to include Egypt, where the station chief was posted prior to his Algeria assignment.

Abu Ghraib, anyone? Guantanamo? Just when the Obama administration is trying to repair America's image, particularly in the Muslim world (Obama only this week gave an interview to Al Arabiya), we have what could be a fresh dose of gasoline on the fire of anti-Americanism. As Isobel Coleman told ABC, "It has the potential to be quite explosive if it's not handled well by the United States government. This isn't the type of thing that's going to be easily pushed under the carpet."

Indeed, and it could become an early test of Obama's crisis-management skills.


Thanks to Paul Kerr at TotalWonkerr for catching this. Dr. A.Q. Khan, who once led the world's most expansive nuclear smuggling network, an archipelago of shady businessmen and shell companies that conspired to supply nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya, among others, has been under house arrest in Pakistan since 2004. Virtually no one has been allowed access to Khan since Pervez Musharraf's regime, under extreme pressure from Washington, supposedly shut down his operation. US intelligence agencies have yet to debrief him, and the full picture of his proliferation network is not fully known. Despite Khan's demise, we can't even be certain that the smuggling network he assembled has gone completely dark.

In short, Khan has become one of the most guarded figures in the world, a secret wrapped inside a riddle inside an enigma. Not a guy who would have a personal web page, right? Wrong. Khan has long been an inveterate self-promoter, and house arrest appears to have done nothing to dampen his unfailing enthusiasm for himself. His site (click here) is a classic work of hagiography, extolling his virtues and saying nothing of his decades-long adventure on the nuclear black market.

Who's vulnerable? What are the open seats? Which party will gain power? The excellent Swing State Project has a full 2010 Senate rundown.

A few months ago, we offered up a meager plea to the Obama family that they consider sending their kids to a DC public school. They ignored us and enrolled Sasha and Malia at the tony Sidwell Friends in upper Northwest DC, which supporters contended offered superior safety and a Quaker education. Today, the Obamas discovered one of the drawbacks of their choice.

Washington awoke this morning encrusted in ice after the city's first big winter storm. Sidwell shut down for the day, leaving Sasha and Malia stuck at home. The DC public schools, meanwhile, merely opened a little late. (They were also open as usual yesterday when virtually every suburban school district shut down because of a few snow flurries.) The school closing prompted Obama to offer an unsolicited comment to the press this morning about Washington famous weather wimpiness. He though his kids' school closing was a bit extreme:

"Because of what? Because of some ice?" Obama said to laughter around the table. He said Sasha, his 7-year-old, pointed out that in Chicago, not only is school never canceled for snow, "you'd go outside for recess. You wouldn't even stay indoors." He concluded by saying: "We're going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town. I'm saying that when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things."

Hopefully someone will point out to the president that the city's public schools were showing plenty of flint this morning. It was only Washington's elite who were afraid of a little ice.

An opposition party has to oppose someone, right?

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama held separate meetings with GOP leaders in the House and Senate to discuss the stimulus bill moving through Congress. Afterward, the Republicans talked very nicely about the new president, saying that they appreciated that Obama was reaching out and listening to them. During the meetings, several of the Republicans noted that they welcomed "the tone that [Obama] had brought to Washington" and his "willingness to seek their views," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. In fact, Gibbs added, Representative Mike Pence, a leading conservative from Indiana, ended the House-side meeting by declaring that the door to the Republican House conference would always be open to Obama.

As a matter or realpolitik, the Republicans had little choice but to be darn gracious toward Obama. The president's early approval ratings are stratospheric. And with the economic crash continuing (if not accelerating, given this week's job loss numbers), a majority of Americans are rooting for the president, hoping whatever he tries to do about the economy will succeed. On Monday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent out an email touting a poll noting that 66 percent of Americans support the economic stimulus package put together by the Democrats in the House and supported by Obama. It would be foolish--except for Republicans from the most Limbaugh-loving areas of the nation--to stand in Obama's way. And, no small matter, the GOPers don't have the votes--particularly in the House--to stop him and the Democrats.

But can the Republicans simply cave? They have raised a fuss about certain portions of the stimulus package, labeling some provisions pork and calling for more tax cuts. Their complaints about a provision that would extend birth control coverage under Medicaid did lead Obama to ask the House Dems to jettison this piece of package. (And jettisoned it was.) But the Republicans have not gone after Obama.

Consider this statement released by House Republican Whip Eric Cantor after the meeting with Obama:

Not according to the Pentagon and The Nation is fired up about it:

"Every badge hunter and his brother will have this distinguished award in their sights," Army Captain Matthew Nichols wrote in a letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes last spring, when the specter of thousands of emotionally wounded teenaged and twentysomething veterans became an issue too pressing to ignore. Joe Palagyi, national adjutant of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, equated psychological trauma to "almost getting wounded." In other words, if a soldier's postwar life is emotionally shattered directly because of his service to his or her country, then it's their own damn unsoldierly fault; any heroism or quick thinking that led to one's almost—as opposed to actually—getting wounded is not triumphant but rather a gateway to mockery.

Is it just me, or is this one a toughie?

We've all seen enough movies to know that lots of Purple Heart winners took a bullet in the bum under less than glorious, non-dangerous circumstances. Still, there was always the notion that one had to have shed some blood somewhere in theatre to win such an honor, without looking closely at how that blood got spilled. I'm not as disgusted as The Nation. Maybe I will be, but I'm not there yet.

This is one of those issues you never see coming and kinda wish had never come up. I wonder how the question arose; I can't see lots of GIs demanding the PH for their PTSD.

I'm stumped. And I can't stop thinking about it. According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Fame one earns this commendation:

Forbes has done a round-up of 25 writers, bloggers, and TV personalities it considers to be the elite of the liberal media elite, and our own Kevin Drum made the cut. He clocks in at #23, just ahead of Michael Pollan and Kurt Andersen, just behind Ezra Klein. Like all lists, it is fun to argue with who made the cut, and who fell where. But even more entertaining is how the assemblers—Forbes deputy editor Elisabeth Eaves, reporter Hana R. Alberts, and Tunku Varadarajan, Forbes columnist/Opinions editor and a professor at the Stern Business School at New York University and research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, who "canvassed the views of more than 100 academics, politicians and journalists"—defined "liberal":

Broadly, a "liberal' subscribes to some or all of the following: progressive income taxation; universal health care of some kind; opposition to the war in Iraq, and a certain queasiness about the war on terror; an instinctive preference for international diplomacy; the right to gay marriage; a woman's right to an abortion; environmentalism in some Kyoto Protocol-friendly form; and a rejection of the McCain-Palin ticket.

I guess that's as workable a definition as any.

Well, it looks like it's official. Despite our considerable efforts, Mother Jones is getting no federal bailout funds. According to YooJin Na at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, "your organization is not eligible for the TARP-CPP." Supportively, he included a link to the Treasury Department's special Emergency Economic Stabilization Act website.


But that's only one G-man's opinion—we have yet to hear the verdict from the other places we applied. So there's still hope.

Like Matthew Lesko and Edwardsville, Alabama, we know there's got to be federal money for everyone somewhere. We've condensed the already pretty effortless Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) application process below, so you too can test your luck.

Apply for your bailout, in two frighteningly easy steps:

1. Fill out this form.

2. Email it to the Federal Deposition Insurance Corporation at, the Office of Thrift Supervision at, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency at, or the Federal Reserve. Try all four to maximize your odds.

It pays to take your chances: 27 minutes for a possible 30-billion-dollar payout. That's sure better than than waiting tables.

—Alexis Fitts and Daniel Luzer

superbowl-43-logo.jpg So you're not a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and you're not an Arizona Cardinals fan, but you've been invited to a Super Bowl party and you need to know who to root for. Before you pick the Cardinals because you're a progressive and you love underdogs, I urge you to consider a few facts.

Dan Rooney, the 76-year-old owner of the Steelers and a lifelong Republican, endorsed Obama and stumped for him not just in Pennsylvania but in the surrounding swing states. He did so despite the fact that Obama's promise of increased taxes on the wealthy forced Rooney's family to restructure the ownership of the team. Head coach Mike Tomlin is a vocal Obama supporter. At a recent press conference he said, "Barack is selling hope. And I'm buying." Steelers players have spoken out about how they hope to win the Super Bowl in part because it would mean they would be the first championship sports team to visit Obama's White House. (Also worth noting: Barack Obama grew up a Steelers fan and is rooting for the Steel Curtain on Sunday.)

The Bidwell family, longtime owners of the Cardinals, are major Republican donors. Their donor history can be found on, but to save you time, I'll point you to a couple links. The LA Times reports that team President William Bidwell and Vice President Michael Bidwell each gave $50,000 to Republicans this past election season. Politico adds that as fundraisers for McCain, they bundled upwards of $350,000 for the Republican presidential candidate.

Mull that over as you tip back your favorite adult beverage on Sunday evening. I think your choice is clear.

Update: More proof! Arizona's starting quarterback Kurt Warner appeared in an advertisement opposing stem cell research in 2006.


Just a footnote to David's post about Robert Gates' testimony this morning before the Senate Armed Services Committee. It's worth noting that the Pentagon chief acknowledged that the new administration will continue to fire Predator missiles from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. "Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is, and we will continue to pursue that," Gates said.

Obama approved a continuation of the strikes last Friday at his first meeting of the National Security Council. That same day, a missile fired from a drone in Waziristan killed at least 20 people—powerful evidence indeed of Obama's decision.

Given the new president's quick break with many of his predecessor's policies, Obama's decision represents a rare point of continuity—and comes not without criticism. UAV attacks in the region, numbering at least 30 according to a Reuters estimate, have ignited protest from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and provided a handy propaganda tool and recruiting engine for insurgents. Indeed, for all of the top leaders reportedly killed in air strikes over the years, Al Qaeda and the Taliban have only grown stronger.

The Pakistani government filed a formal complaint over the weekend, stating the "attacks in the Waziristan area which caused civilian causalities are a matter of great concern... are counter-productive and should be discontinued."

For his part, Gates testified this morning that "Pakistan is a friend and partner" and is surely aware of the "existential threat" posed by Islamic militants operating in its tribal areas.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from