Political MoJo

Corrupt Investigative Office Investigating Corrupt Investigator: Is Your Head Spinning?

| Wed May 2, 2007 9:56 AM EDT

We've got a parallel to the situation at the Office of Special Counsel. The OSC, tasked with looking into the claims of federal whistleblowers and investigating violations of the Hatch Act, has been so willfully ineffective and so corrupted by director Scott Bloch that it is now under federal investigation.

(The OSC is currently in the news because it is leading the ongoing and somewhat questionable investigation of Karl Rove.)

The Washington Post reports today that the inspector general of the Department of Commerce, charged with unearthing malfeasance at the department, is the subject of three government investigations. The investigations are looking into things as serious as misuse of budget and retaliation against detractors, and things as silly as cutting a conference short to go gambling in Atlantic City.

Here's where it gets circular. Claims against the Dep't of Commerce IG, whose name is Johnnie Frazier, were made by his staffers, meaning they applied for whistleblower protections with the OSC. The OSC is one of the bodies currently investigating Frazier.

So a corrupted body under investigation for mishandling investigations is investigating a corrupt investigator.

Inspires confidence, no?

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Obama Ranks at Head of Dem Field for First Time: Poll

| Tue May 1, 2007 12:16 PM EDT

A poll showing Barack Obama ahead of Hillary Clinton was released yesterday by Rasmussen. I believe it's the first of its kind. The field is Obama with 32% support, Clinton at 30%, and Edwards at 17%. No other candidate tops 3%.

Rasmussen cautions that the 2% difference between Obama and Clinton is not statistically significant. I suppose it would be bigger news if Obama created a statistically significant lead over Clinton. We'll blog again when that happens.

Other results of note:

Obama now leads among voters under 40. Clinton is strongest among those 65 and older. Clinton has a two-point edge among Democrats. Obama has a nineteen-point lead among independents likely to vote in a Democratic primary.

Also a little bizarre -- Edwards does best against Republicans.

Obama and Clinton are the frontrunners, but Edwards does best in general election match-ups. He leads all GOP hopefuls and is the only Democrat to lead the Republican frontrunner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

And just a final note: 52% of Americans oppose the impending veto George W. Bush will stamp on the Dems' war spending bill that sets a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq.

Terrorism Up Worldwide, Call it the Iraq Effect

| Tue May 1, 2007 11:10 AM EDT

There's a lot of news today about a new study that shows terrorist attacks jumped 28% in 2006, with 40% more victims.

Uh, yeah, we know. In March, Mother Jones published an in-depth study on the Iraq War's impact on the war on terrorism, showing that the Iraq War has increased the number of terrorist attacks both in Iraq and worldwide. It's called the Iraq Effect, and it is massive. Check it out.

Time's Up on the Surge

| Tue May 1, 2007 9:38 AM EDT

In January, Condi Rice tried to dampen outrage over the surge by acknowledging she had a realistic view of things. If the Maliki government didn't prove itself in 2-3 months, she said, the new military plan isn't going to work.

Well, I wrote yesterday that the Maliki government is purging officers who fight too hard against sectarian violence, and earlier this month polling revealed that the Maliki government is favored by 72 percent of Shi'ites and just eight percent of Sunnis. Moreover, only 18 percent of Iraqis have confidence in American forces and 69 percent of them believe the Americans make the security situation worse. (At this point our presence is Iraq amounts to us telling the Iraqis that we know what is good for their country better than they do.)

And today, news comes out that more American soldiers died in April than in any other month of 2007. Things are getting worse, not better. So Condi was right, if not in a causative way then in a correlative one. The Maliki government has failed, and the surge has led to more violence and death.

How much more time, Condi?

Trial of Commander Charged with "Aiding the Enemy" Begins

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 3:57 PM EDT

The New York Times and Washington Post report today on the hearing held to determine if charges against Lt. Col. William Steele hold water. I wrote last week that the charges sound suspiciously trumped up, and are, in fact, almost identical to those filed against James Yee. They include "aiding the enemy"—for allowing detainees to use an unmonitored cellphone—mishandling classified information and government funds, conduct unbecoming an officer for giving gifts to the daughter of a detainee and being overly friendly with a translator, and possessing pornography.

Most of the hearings were closed to reporters, but the two articles give a hint of what might be going on. The flashiest charge, that of aiding the enemy, was barely discussed (at least publicly). Instead, testimony focused on the contents of Steele's laptop. Let's not forget that possessing pornography is more common than not among the armed forces. Mishandling classified information is also fairly widespread: Rules are incredibly strict, and not all classified information seems to warrant the cloak-and-dagger procedures. Steele had the the text of a classified memo on his laptop and at least one witness saw him download CD-ROMs onto the computer—though no one has indicated that the CDs were classified.

The real meat of the charges against Steele therefore seems to relate to the gifts he gave a detainee's daughter. The young woman's mother and sister were present, so there is no question of sexual misconduct. However, the detainee—who is described as "high value"—complained that Steele was trying to supplant him as a father. So one guess as to why Steele is being slapped with charges that could be made against a huge percentage of the military is that someone wants to butter up the detainee in hopes that he'll talk. Either that or Steele embarrassed the Pentagon in some way during his October 2005 to October 2006 tenure as commander at Camp Cropper.

God Is Not a Specialty in Indiana

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 2:23 PM EDT

In Indiana, you can buy a specialty auto license plate that supports everything from breast cancer research to child abuse prevention to the Indianapolis Colts, but it will cost you an administrative fee of $15, and there is often a donation to the cause included, too. Mark Studler pays $40 a year for his environmental cause plate--$40 goes to the Indiana Heritage Trust, and the state of Indiana gets its $15 administrative fee.

When Studler went to renew his plate recently, however, he noticed that one specialty plate did not have an Indiana administrative fee attached: This plate has a deep blue background, an American flag streteched across the bottom, and the words "In God We Trust." Studler did not think it was fair that people with a religious preference were treated differently from those who chose other specialty plates, and last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles and its commissioner.

The state of Indiana's defense will come as no surprise: The "In God We Trust" plate is not a specialty plate, and therefore there is no reason to tack on an extra charge for selling it. The state defines the plate as a second "standard" plate, not subject to additional fees.

540,000 drivers have chosen this "standard" plate. If it had been designated a specialty plate, the state would have made another $8 million.

"It's about making sure that nearly every other plate that carries a message has a cost attached to it, and this does not," said Indiana ACLU legal director. "In a state that's as religious as Indiana, the phrase 'In God We Trust' is not just about supporting the national motto. It's about saying you believe in God."

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Fun with Friedman Units

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 1:57 PM EDT

Pundit extraordinaire Tom Friedman has made it his job to make sure Americans don't lose faith in the war. The way he does it? Promising that -- at any given time -- victory is six months away. Check out this graphic for the hilarious proof. (H/T TAPPED)

No Accountability at Home, No Accountability in Iraq

| Mon Apr. 30, 2007 1:39 PM EDT

President Bush announced the surge in January with a side note about why the military would succeed when previously it had not: "In earlier operations, political and sectarian interference prevented Iraqi and American forces from going into neighborhoods that are home to those fueling the sectarian violence. This time... Prime Minister Maliki has pledged that political or sectarian interference will not be tolerated."

Well, Bush couldn't have been more wrong. Not only is the Maliki government tolerating sectarian interference, it's promoting it. From a Washington Post article that is getting a lot of attention today:

A department of the Iraqi prime minister's office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias.

So Maliki has failed gloriously on a key benchmark. Will Bush hold him accountable? Of course not.

President Bush will not sign any war spending bill that penalizes Iraq's government for failing to make progress, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

We set benchmarks. The Iraqis fail them. We supply them with more money and more troops. Rinse out the blood and repeat.

Bush AIDS Abstinence Appointee Quits State Dept. in Hooker Scandal

| Sun Apr. 29, 2007 6:48 PM EDT

That headline pretty much says it all, but here are the details.

Expect more bombshells in hookergate later in the week.

Fuel Tanker Melts Bay Bridge Freeway Artery

| Sun Apr. 29, 2007 5:23 PM EDT

If you're from California you've likely already heard about the tanker explosion this morning that will mean tens of millions of dollars in repair work and months of headaches and detours for San Francisco drivers. It happened early this morning, reported at 3:42am, when the driver of a refinery tanker was speeding along a freeway overpass, lost control and the tanker, holding 8,600 gallons of unleaded fuel, hit the guard rail and flipped.

Miraculously, the driver crawled out of the truck and got away before the explosion. James Mosqueda, who was working for Sabek Transportation, apparently walked off the ramp, went to a nearby gas station (the irony) and called a cab to take him to the hospital. A cab? Wonder why he didn't just dial 911?

"A lucky man," said California Highway Patrol officer Trenton Cross. Lucky, yes, but also a man in serious trouble. Not only did $30,000 worth of fuel go up in flames--yes, gas is $3.50 a gallon around here, for regular unleaded-- 250 yards of a double-decker freeway melted. And not just any freeway, but a main artery, part of the MacArthur Maze, which 280,000 commuters drive each day in and out of San Francisco. The B word has been tossed around and if not a billion it will be tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in repair work.

For the forseeable future affected ramps will be closed, clogging alternate routes for what will likely be months. And locals will remember that after the Cypress freeway collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 repairs took years and traffic patterning never really recovered. And the slow progress of the Bay Bridge earthquake retrofit doesn't portend swift action either.

Sabek Transportation and Mosqueda may face charges, it's still too soon to tell. This is not the first tanker accident for Sabek in the area, last June 4,500 gallons of diesel leaked into roadways and streams after a truck overturned on a stretch of highway in Alameda, California.

An interesting note, one engineer who studied the WTC explosions for the National Science Foundation said that the freeway collapse was quite similar. Apparently the fireball erupted precisely at the weak point of the skyway - the underside of the pier where all of the supporting steel girders are bare and unprotected by concrete or anything else, said Berkeley civil engineering professor Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl. The steel supports were baked at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (the fire reached 2,000 degrees), the point at which steel turns to rubber, causing the steel to buckle and the double-decker freeway to collapse completely.