Mojo - March 2010

DOJ Balks on Cartel Crime Rise

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 4:46 PM EDT

Drug trafficking Mexican cartels continue to spread like weeds throughout the US, funneling drugs through American cities and pocketing massive profits. In the National Drug Intelligence Center's annual "Threat Assessment" report for 2008, the agency found that Mexican drug traffickers had distribution networks in at least 230 American cities, an expansive operation generating billions of dollars a year.

Today, the NDIC, which is part of the Justice Department, released its 2010 "Drug Threat" report. Again, the NDIC highlighted the rise of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) in the US: "Mexican DTOs are more deeply entrenched in drug trafficking activities in the United States than any other DTOs." What the 2010 report doesn't include, however, is the latest tally of American cities now fostering Mexican drugrunners and dealers. The 2010 report says only that they're "active in more cities throughout the country than any other DTOs."

So why the omission? Is the DOJ reluctant to include the figure because the number is so large, the power of Mexican cartels so far reaching? An official with the National Drug Intelligence Center said the report didn't include a hard figure because the agency was "in the throes of reanalyzing" its data, and wouldn't have a new figure for another month or so. The official did add that the NDIC predicts that 230 figure has increased from 2008. You can read into the DOJ's lack of new data however you'd like, but be prepared for some startling statistics when the department does release its new tally of cities caught in the Mexican cartels' web.

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Texas SBOE Facing Death Sentence?

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 4:20 PM EDT

If Democratic lawmakers have their way, the Texas State Board of Education could soon go the way of the Enlightenment and Hip-Hop. Yesterday, state senator Juan Hinojosa announced plans to write a bill eliminating the board, in response to the...ungenerous treatment of civil rights and minorities in the state's new social studies curriculum. Earlier this month, the board tentatively approved the standards after making a host of controversial changes. Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill White (and his gigantic ears!)widely considered to be the Democrats’ best threat to win a statewide race in Texas since the late Ann Richardscalled on his opponent, Gov. Rick Perry, to send the social studies standards back to the drawing board.

Specifically, White wants the professional educators who wrote the more balanced first draft of the standards (before passing it on the board for substantial editing) to have another crack at them. Those are both pretty obvious suggestions: It's not entirely clear why you'd want a dentist, rather than experts, to have the final say over education policyor, for that matter, how electing board members locally makes them any more accountable than if the governor appointed them.

Sen. Kyl: Dems Using Violent Threats for Political Gain

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 3:35 PM EDT

Top Republican leaders have accused Democrats of trying to politicize the recent spate of violent threats against legislators who supported health care reform. The threats—which have ranged from cut gas lines to a coffin placed on the lawn of one House member—have fueled security concerns, leading some Democratic lawmakers to fear for their families. In response, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and other top Democrats have slammed Republicans for "stoking the flames" of violence by cheering on protesters and propagating myths about the bill—a charge that Republicans have fiercely disavowed and characterized as a political gambit.

And now Republicans are pushing back. Shortly after the Senate voted along party lines on Thursday to approve the reconciliation bill tweaking the health care reform package, Sen. Jon Kyl, the Republican minority whip, huffed about the Democrats blaming GOPers for the violent reactions to the passage of the health care legislation: "I get a bit tired of--every time something like that happens [Democrats say], 'Oh, it's the fault of the Republicans. That's baloney. It's a shame, because nobody wants anybody to be under threat. There are always a few people out there in the world who do irresponsible things."

When asked what he would say to constituents who felt like venting their anger, Kyl responded, "Don't throw a brick through somebody's window—that's not the way to resolve your political differences."

Kyl's comments echoed remarks made by his counterpart in the House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who maintained that Democrats were not only politicizing the threats, but also "dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon." Cantor also added that he himself had been the target of violence, mentioning that a shot had been fired at his campaign office. (Details of the incident have yet to be confirmed.)

Conservatives Fire David Frum

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 2:23 PM EDT

[UPDATE: We've added in a reference to DC bureau chief David Corn's Sunday night dispatch, which highlights the incendiary remarks David Frum made about health care politics as Republicans' "Waterloo"possibly the remarks that led to his ouster from the conservative fold.]

David Frum, the enigmatic young mandarin of the GOP who speechified many of George W. Bush's most manichaean lines, just dropped a bomb over on his blog: He's been dumped by his significant other of seven years, the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. And it doesn't sound like it was a pleasant breakup. Said Frum:

"I have been a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute since 2003. At lunch today, AEI President Arthur Brooks and I came to a termination of that relationship. Below is the text of my letter of resignation."

Dear Arthur,

This will memorialize our conversation at lunch today. Effective immediately, my position as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute is terminated. I appreciate the consideration that delays my emptying of my office until after my return from travel next week. Premises will be vacated no later than April 9.

I have had many fruitful years at the American Enterprise Institute, and I do regret this abrupt and unexpected conclusion of our relationship.

Very truly yours,

David Frum

So what gives? How could one of the best-known fellows at one of the best-known Beltway opinionators end up on the outs? Well, back in December, our own Kevin Drum said that Frum "has been estranged from the hard-right wing of the Republican Party for a while." And on Monday, the MoJo blog reported that Frum's recent activities had included a poll that exposed the general ignorance of Tea Partiers about US politics and taxes, which couldn't have sat well with his overseers at AEI. They do loathe them some health care reform and love them some irate patriots. But perhaps most damningly, as MoJo's DC bureau chief David Corn reported Sunday, was an incendiary Frum blog post describing health care as the GOP's Waterloo. Corn writes:

He noted that "it's a good bet that conservatives are over-optimistic about November" because "by then the economy will have improved and the immediate goodies in the healthcare bill will be reaching key voting blocs." Frum's j'accuse! blamed "conservatives and Republicans ourselves" for making a poor strategic decision: "We would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing...We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat." Republican legislators who wanted to cut a deal, he notes, were trapped and pinned down by "conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio."

Strong stuff—and Frum didn't back away from it the next day in his commentary to the New York Times on GOP political nihilism:

Palin To Speak at Anti-Abortion Fundraiser

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 1:36 PM EDT

It seems that almost anything Sarah Palin touches—a Tea Party speech, targeting Democrats—turns into controversy. So here's a head's-up. On May 14, 2010, the former Alaska governor will be the featured speaker at a Washington, DC, breakfast fundraiser for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. A single ticket costs $150. But those who want a photo with her can purchase a $5,000 package that includes 10 tickets to the breakfast and two tickets to the "photo opportunity." The VIP package for $25,000 comes with 20 tickets to the speech but still only 6 tickets to that "photo opportunity."

The Susan B. Anthony List has been a big booster of Palin. In 2008, it launched a social networking site called TeamSarah.org to support her vice-presidential campaign. This is Palin's crowd. The group's chairman, Jane Abraham, notes, "As a mother, wife, and successful leader—[Palin] embodies what it means to be a pro-life feminist today. From moms at the PTA to women leaders in the boardroom, Sarah Palin continues to serve as a role model for what it means to be a true American woman leader, and we are honored to have her stand with us."

Besides, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) was not available for the gig. Earlier this week—after the anti-abortion Stupak and the White House forged an abortion-related compromise that would lead to passage of the health care reform bill—the Susan B. Anthony List declared it was withdrawing the "Defender of Life" award it had planned to bestow upon Stupak. "I didn't seek the award," Stupak told CNN. "I stood on my principle. I don't need an award." And now the group has found someone else to celebrate. The press release announcing the Palin speech did not say whether or not she would receive a fee for her appearance.

UPDATE: Mallory Quigley, press secretary for the Susan B. Anthony List, emails: "We are very excited. Governor Palin is not receiving a speaker fee, she will be doing the event to benefit Susan B. Anthony List."

Fiore Cartoon: Health Care Rage

Thu Mar. 25, 2010 1:20 PM EDT

According to the GOP, the health care bill is a death panel totalitarian scheme put forth by a socialist axis of evil with the intent of mandating abortions and harvesting organs.

According to those who've read the bill, it's a deficiting-reducing plan that will provide health care coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.

Watch satirist Mark Fiore take on competing theories about the bill below:

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Now Insurers Back Health Care Reform?

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 1:13 PM EDT

After vehemently opposing the Democratic health care plan, insurance companies are doing an about-face. The industry’s main trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has announced that it will join Enroll America, a new non-profit devoted to registering those people who will newly qualify for insurance subsidies or Medicaid under the law.

After spending massive sums in an attempt to defeat the bill, why are insurers suddenly eager to help the reforms succeed? "It’s good business for them," says Families USA's Ron Pollack, who is heading up the Enroll America effort. “All of them will benefit from a business plan standpoint to extend coverage." He adds that pharmaceutical companies and hospitals have also expressed strong interest in joining the coalition, along with pro-reform advocacy groups already committed to helping the uninsured.

The Affordable Care Act is expected to insure some 32 million new Americans. In fact, the promise of new customers had originally convinced industry groups to support reform. But insurers turned against the bill after Democrats decided to weaken the individual mandate to purchase insurance and to toughen insurance regulations. 

KBR: What the DOD Detectives Saw

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 12:36 PM EDT

As a journalist, as well as a military veteran and former Iraq contractor, I try to keep abreast of the latest developments in America's warfighting forces—public and private. Which is why I was unsurprised to find a new report this month by the DOD inspector general on KBR's lazy Iraq contracting. But I was surprised when I found no references to the report in the mainstream media—even as KBR won a new $2.3 billion-plus contract for five more years of "services" in Iraq.

Here's what the big news organizations missed: In 2008 and 2009, KBR got $5 million for its mechanics to maintain tactical vehicles (Humvees, big rigs) on a base north of Baghdad. (It's the same base where ex-KBR employee Jamie Leigh Jones says she was raped, and where KBR burn pits are reportedly killing soldiers.) At the end of that time, when the Pentagon poked around, it found that by KBR's own (slapdash) estimates, the firm's workers only did work about 7 percent of the time they were on duty (and billing) for. When DOD investigators tried to run their own numbers, it got worse: In one month, 144 mechanics did an average of 43 minutes of work each.

The undiscovered report is likely to become bigger news soon: a commission set up by Congress to deal with waste and accountability in wartime contracting is meeting on Capitol Hill Monday, and its members want to know why KBR hasn't offered a real plan to draw down its ranks in Iraq, even as US soldiers are withdrawing. By one estimate, KBR alone could cost taxpayers up to $193 million between now and August by keeping more people in the desert than we need. But even that estimate may be optimistic: One member of the wartime contracting commission, Charles Tiefer, tells me, "If KBR has underutilized rates in many of its operations anywhere near the rates found by the inspector general study...that would support a search for savings on the order of $300 million." Tiefer told me: "You're the only [journalist] who's read the inspector general's report."

Check out the full story here. And pass it around. Maybe soon the mainstream media will start asking some questions, too.

Petraeus for...?

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 11:29 AM EDT

At a presser in Manchester, New Hampshire yesterday, Gen. David Petraeus once and for all squashed rumors that he has presidential ambitions (and rendered obsolete the Petraeus 2012 website). At least I think he did:

I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it.

Hmmm. So he's not ruling out a cabinet level appointment, then. Secretary of State? Let the rampant speculation commence!

 

Rove and Douthat Still Ducking an Iraq War Debate

| Thu Mar. 25, 2010 10:58 AM EDT

Last week I challenged Karl Rove, the former Bush White House strategist; Peter Wehner, who worked in the W. administration; and Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times columnist, to a duel. Each had recently pooh-poohed the notion that Bush had misled the nation into the Iraq war. In response, I had penned a column listing numerous misrepresentations used by Bush, Dick Cheney and other administration officials to grease the way to war. I noted that these false assertions had not been supported by the intelligence available at the time and that Bush and his crew, when declaring that Iraq posed a WMD threat, had overstated the iffy intelligence and had made stuff up. I dared Rove, Wehner, and Douthat to a debate during which they could respond to these various quotes.

I didn't hear back from any of them. (Wehner and I are colleagues at PoliticsDaily.com, where we both write columns.)

But NPR was interested. A producer called and asked if I would appear on its Talk of the Nation show with Wehner. Certainly, I said. Hours later, the producer informed me that Wehner would not be available for the particular day we had discussed: could I come on with Wehner another day? Of course, I replied, anytime, anywhere. Still, it turned out that Wehner wasn't available for that day, either. I had a sneaky suspicion he was ducking this fight. I suggested that the producer try Rove or Douthat. I don't know if he bothered with Rove, who was on a book tour. But Douthat turned him down, too.

Eventually, this persistent producer booked Michael Rubin. He's an American Enterprise Institute fellow, who worked in the Pentagon during the Bush administration and was associated with the neoconservative hawks who pushed for war against Iraq.

During the broadcast, Rubin defended the decision to go to war. When I cited the false statements made by Bush about the threat posed by Iraq, he declined to address them directly and instead pointed out that Democrats had made similar assertions. Rubin also tried to absolve Bush by saying that intelligence tends to be uncertain—and actually placed himself in a corner:

RUBIN: There's also, frankly, if you've ever looked at raw intelligence, you find that the CIA says a little bit of everything, and it never is clear. It's like looking coming up with a policy and coming up with any sort of consistency is—has it's like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.

CORN: If you say it's not consistent, how can you have leaders of this country come out and say there's no doubt [that Iraq has WMD and posed a direct threat to the United States]? Bush said several times that Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was dealing with al-Qaida. The intelligence, according to the 9/11 Commission, didn't show that. They said things that were not—this is the essential point in this debate—they said things that were not backed up by the intelligence at the time.

Neal Conan, the host, didn't want to dwell on the pre-war period, and the conservation moved on to whether the Iraq war has been worth it. So there still hasn't been a full debate on whether Bush purposefully sold the war with whoppers. Rove, Wehner, and Douthat insist that is not true. But they won't agree to a face-off. Maybe they can't handle the truth. My challenge to them stands.