Our Gift to Iran's Hardliners

On May 24th, a piece headlined "US Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast" appeared on the front page of the New York Times. It clearly involved a leak of a key, previously unknown document, though not as far as a reader could tell by someone unfriendly to its policy implications; nor did the Obama administration make a fuss about it. In fact, despite its front-paging, it vanished from the news with next to no commentary or follow up, and few expressions of surprise.

Too bad. It should have been attended to. According to the Times' Mark Mazzetti, in September 2009 Centcom commander General David Petraeus signed a "secret directive" expanding the use of US Special Operations forces throughout the Greater Middle East "and beyond"—"to build networks that could 'penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy' al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to 'prepare the environment' for future attacks by American or local military forces..."

How Much of the Gulf is Leased?

A BoingBoing commenter on my "Who Really Owns the Gulf of Mexico" post points out that there are plenty of non-leased cells in the map highlighted in that piece, and suggests that people check out the following map, too. This is just a detail; you can download the larger version here. But I think it just further underscores the notion of a corporate feeding frenzy around our Gulf resources. The leased areas are denoted in green. There are 6,652 of them, covering 35,637,392 acres--more than 22 percent of the leaseable Gulf.

Most active parts of the Gulf: Leased areas are green.Most active parts of the Gulf: Leased areas are green.

GOPers and the Absence of Reason

Today, a slew of Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate delivered their opening shots in financial reform's final round. In what's called "conference," members of both parties and both chambers will spend the next two weeks reconciling their two 1,500-plus-page pieces of legislation that would create a new consumer agency, end taxpayer bailouts, cast light on the $600 trillion dollar derivatives markets, and crack down on financial players from Goldman Sachs to car dealers to payday lenders. By some counts, the path to the conference process has taken two years or more. Yet one of the most striking things from today's opening statements is how stale and unoriginal the Republicans' critiques are of the two bills. (In Washington, some call that discipline, I suppose.)

One by one, on the House and Senate sides, from Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the banking committee, to the most junior House member, Republicans rehashed the same tired talking points to justify their opposition to financial reform. Chief among those points is the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-sponsored housing corporations that are now basically wards of the state. Republicans have a very valid argument when they decry the rising tab needed to bail out Fannie and Freddie, now around $150 billion; and yes, there needs to be legislation to decide the futures of these two wounded companies. But the bills the House and Senate are trying to merge are meant to address the causes of the financial crisis—and, as I've explained before, Fannie and Freddie did not cause the crisis. (For an in-depth explanation, read this.)

Still, Republicans far and wide continue to rail against Fannie and Freddie as playing an huge, integral, AIG-esque role in melting down the US economy in 2008 and 2009. And it's a canard they've been espousing since debate on new financial reforms began last spring.

The other beloved GOP talking point is that both the House and Senate bills will usher in an era of perpetual government bailouts of too-big- or too-interconnected-to-fail banks. This one is straight out of the playbook (pdf) of Frank Luntz, the well-known Republican strategist. As Luntz wrote, "Public outrage about the bailout of banks and Wall Street is a simmering time bomb set to go off on Election Day. Frankly, the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout." And that's exactly what Republicans have done, time and time again.

Which is too bad. We've seen what a handful of engaged Republicans—like Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a lead negotiator on financial reform earlier this year, or Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH)—can do if they actually engage with Democrats and offer substantive solutions, instead of slapping a "Bailout Bill" label on the whole thing. But if today's opening remarks are any indication, it's look like we're in for several weeks of bickering and blame-trading that won't make this bill any better.

Army Misplaces Bodies at Arlington

In recent years, the military has been criticized for not equipping downrange troops with enough armor and not providing disabled veterans with proper medical and mental health care. Now, the military is under fire for disrespecting its fallen at Arlington National Cemetery. Workers there misidentified or misplaced a whopping 211 bodies, Pentagon officials announced Thursday. "That all ends today," Army Secretary John McHugh said, adding, "The majority of the findings in this report are deeply troubling and simply unacceptable." McHugh also told reporters that the service has forced out the cemetery's two civilian leaders and appointed a new chief.

The announcement follows a year-long investigation by Salon's Mark Benjamin into careless management at the cemetery, known as America's "sacred ground." In one instance, cemetery officials reburied the cremated remains of an unknown soldier whose urn was recovered in a dirt landfill. They also found unidentified remains in supposedly empty graves, misplaced headstones in a historic section of the cemetery, and buried one service member on top of another soldier in the same grave. Benjamin's work, which began last summer, led to the Army investigation whose results were announced today.

"I've been extremely frustrated that the national media hasn't seemed to want to touch this story with a 10-foot-pole," Benjamin told Politics Daily today. As for the Army, he said, "Though they claim they're trying to act in a spirit of transparency and with speed on this matter, these problems have been going on for years."

Why Was Alvin Greene Kicked Out of the Army?

The questions surrounding South Carolina’s mystery man continue to multiply. It turns out that Alvin Greene, the unlikeliest Senate candidate, was kicked out of the military before returning home last August. ABC World News reports:

He returned home last August when he was involuntarily forced out of the Army after a 13 year career because "things just weren't working ... it was hard to say." He had served as an intelligence specialist in the Air Force and later as a unit supply specialist in the Army.

The reasons for Greene’s involuntary departure remain unclear. (Greene has stopped responding to calls and emailed requests for comment.) But some anonymous commenters on Mother Jones’ website claimed to have worked with Greene while he was in the Army, and they’ve provided their own explanations as to why. I’ve replied to the commenters and asked that they confirm their allegations by emailing me.

Update: Greene tells the Washington Post that he was involuntarily discharged from both the Army and Air Force but declines to elaborate: "I was honorably discharged from the Army, but it was involuntary...Things weren't working. Same thing happened in the Air Force. . . . It's a long story in both services."



Rep. Clyburn: Alvin Greene Is a "Plant"

Alvin Greene’s improbable victory has prompted rampant speculation about the circumstances of his win. Now House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, has called on the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina to investigate. The Hill relays this report:

"There were some real shenanigans going on in the South Carolina primary," Clyburn said during an appearance on the liberal Bill Press radio show. "I don't know if he was a Republican plant; he was someone's plant.”…

"I would hope the U.S. Attorney down there would look at this," Clyburn said, pointing specifically to Greene's having allegedly tried to pay the fee to run for Senate in cash, despite being unemployed.

"I think there's some federal laws being violated in this race…Somebody gave him that $10,000 and he who took it should be investigated, and he who gave it should be investigated."

The bizarre tale of Alvin Greene took another unexpected turn when news broke that the country's most implausible US Senate candidate also has a pending felony charge. Now the alleged victim’s family is determined to bring down the candidacy of the unemployed army vet who stunned South Carolina on Tuesday with his Democratic primary win.

Last November, Greene was arrested on charges of "disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity" to an 18-year-old college student at the University of South Carolina, after which he suggested they go up to her dorm room, according to court records. Camille McCoy had been working in a computer lab in a restricted part of campus when Greene approached her and showed her Internet pornography, according to the student’s mother, Susan McCoy. Camille recounted what happened afterward to the AP: "It was very disgusting. He said, 'Let's go to your room now.' It was kind of scary. He's a pretty big boy. He could've overpowered me."

Guantanamo Bay's $2 Billion Pricetag

The Washington Post recently got ahold of an itemized receipt of DOD spending at Guantanamo, one that confirms both the runamokery of contracting excess and the Bush adminstration's oversized expectations for the Cuban outpost. The notorious detention center, Don Rumsfeld's "least worst place" for terrorists now imprisons 181 detainees (down from a high of 680) and was ordered closed by President Obama last year. But the bulk of the Pentagon's spending was done by then, set in motion in early 2002 when of the prison was added to the century-old naval base.

The grand total for base renovations, when operating costs and outlays for the top-secret Camp 7 are considered, is estimated at around $2 billion, which puts the per prisoner tally right now at about $11 million per prisoner. Even just considering the $500 million in capital expenditures detailed in the Post that's still $2.8 million per prisoner. True, the military personnel stationed at the base should be comfortable and not feel completely isolated on the 45 square-mile swath of island where Gitmo is based. But at the same time, the cash thrown down suggests an extravagant expansion and the investment in Guantanamo Bay as the crown-jewel HQ in the US's War on Terror.

There are legit, if high, construction costs, like $2.6 million for a road stretching 8-miles along the fenced and mined perimeter of the base (bordering Cuba), $18.2 million for a hospital, and $2.9 million for a psych ward. But some of the expenditures seem comically excessive and characteristically overpriced. Some particulars:

Top Pollster: Dems Should Abandon Lincoln

On Tuesday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) fended off a tough labor-backed primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. This November, she'll face a much tougher test: popular Republican congressman John Boozman. Now a top pollster is saying that Democrats should cut off financial support to Lincoln and spend their money elsewhere. Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling, runs one of the most accurate polling shops in the business. He says Lincoln's goose is cooked:

There hasn't been a non-Research 2000 poll showing her down by anything less than 17 points to John Boozman in over three months. Our last survey of the race found her down by 23. Contests where we've found Democrats doing better than Lincoln since that poll include:

—The South Carolina Senate race where we found Vic Rawl, who actually lost the primary last night to a nobody, trailing Jim DeMint by just 19.

—The Georgia Senate race where in March we saw Johnny Isakson up just 9 points against a generic Democratic candidate before the party recruited a strong challenger, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, into the race.

—The Arizona Senate race where John McCain led little known challenger Rodney Glassman only 49-33 in late April.

And those decidedly second tier races where we've seen Democratic candidates faring better than Lincoln are just in addition to the obvious pick up opportunities the party has in places like North Carolina, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio.

Between Barack Obama's unpopularity in her state and her own problems Lincoln is pretty much bound to be the Rick Santorum of this cycle- down a ton early and not ever able to really come close to catching up. National Democratic groups should use their resources elsewhere.

Jensen makes a good case. But the party committees are designed to prioritize protecting incumbents first. It would be surprising to see the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee dump Lincoln—even if pouring money into her race to no avail might hurt the party more than leaving her to her fate.

Sharron Angle and Media Bias

Sharron Angle, the Republican nominee to face Sen. Harry Reid in November, is very conservative. We actually knew that before the Nevada primary was called for her on Tuesday night. What most people didn't know was just how radical her views actually are. Now we're reminded that, in an echo of Dr. Strangelove,  Angle opposed flouridation. We're told that she claimed to be a member of the Oath Keepers.

The same thing happened to Rand Paul—the most damaging, controversial things he supported and said only got national attention after he won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky.

Here's why this happens: Politicians in one party (in this case the Dems) are always rooting for the more vulnerable candidate to win the other party's primary. So they hold off on releasing whatever dirt they've dug up on the weaker candidate until after the primary's over. 

It's a good bet that some in the media was rooting for Angle last night. That's not because journalists are rooting for Reid to face a weak candidate. It's because they're rooting for a good story. Angle's hardcore conservatism makes her a great story. She'll drive eyeballs and pageviews for the rest of the year, and help the journalists who cover her become nationally known.

It's not that the media was holding back before—it's just that there's a lot to cover. Now Angle's the only Republican in a top-tier race and the Dems oppo is about to be unleashed. Not only did she get more important when she won the primary—she also got a lot easier to cover. Everything she says will get a lot more attention, and she won't be able to get away with gaffes that might have been survivable in the primary. If she slips up and says something that the media considers unforgivable (something that can be used to paint her as a racist, anti-semite, birther, or 9/11 truther, for example), she'll get torn apart. It's a nasty business.