Need To Read: October 1, 2009

Today's must-reads are thinking about the costs of becoming a journalist:

Follow me on twitter! David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets, as does awesome new MoJo blogger Kate Sheppard. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

The National Science Foundation, a government outfit responsible for doling out billions annually in grants, has a porn problem, and it's costing taxpayers money. In its 2010 budget request document, the federal agency's Office of Inspector General alluded to the embarrassment, without getting into the icky specifics:

With increasing frequency, OIG has been called upon to investigate instances of employee misconduct within the agency. The urgency of these investigations has required the reassignment of staff focused on the core areas of our investigative program: research misconduct and fraud. In 2008, we experienced a 6-fold increase in employee misconduct cases and associated proactive and management implication report activities. To manage this dramatic increase without an increase in staff required us to significantly reduce our efforts to investigate grant fraud. We anticipate a significant decline in investigative recoveries and prosecutions in the coming years as a direct result.

For those of you who aren't particularly familiar with what the NSF is or does, here's what its website boasts:

With an annual budget of about $6.06 billion, we are the funding source for approximately 20 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.

So, to recap: These people handle TWENTY PERCENT of all federally supported research in all American colleges, and some of them, instead of reviewing grant applications, are sitting at their cubes, having a grand-old time surfing porn.

The story, first reported in The Washington Times, hasn't gotten the sort of pickup one would expect for something involving such a gross misuse of taxpayer time, money, trust, and, hello, porn. There are even juicy details about horny old men.

One senior NSF executive apparently spent "at least 331 days looking at pornography on his government computer and chatting online with nude or partially clad women without being detected." When he was finally caught, he retired, but also offered this humanitarian defense of his behavior: "he frequented the porn sites to provide a living to the poor overseas women."

Memos from the investigators estimated that the porn surfing of this senior official alone cost taxpayers anywhere from $13,800 to $58,000.

And finally, did I mention that the NSF is in charge of giving out American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars? $3 billion. On the NSF website, so far it looks like they've funded a grand total of one project with that money. That was back in May.

Definitely not the right kind of stimulus going on here, if you ask me.

So yesterday, as you've likely heard, hot-rod Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) says the Republican health care plan is one that encourages people to "die quickly." The GOP takes offense and demands an apology.

So this afternoon he does, apologize. To the dead.

From Roll Call:

Citing a statistic that 44,789 Americans die each year because they don’t have health insurance, Grayson said, “That is more than ten times the number of Americans who died in the war in Iraq, it’s more than ten times the number of Americans who died on 9/11. …It happens every year.”

Grayson added in another apparent dig at the GOP, “We should care about people even after they are born.”

Of course, Grayson's real target is the Fed, Bernanke et al. He's just getting warmed up.