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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Obama Pledges to Dutch, ‘We Will Not Rest,’ Heads to Fundraisers



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Of course:

Obama’s schedule for the rest of the day:

President Obama’s fundraising swing through the Seattle area Tuesday will include a high-priced dinner event benefiting a Democratic super PAC. The event is at the Hunts Point home of former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal and his wife, Jan, according to a copy of the invitation obtained by The Seattle Times. The price tag for the event is $25,000 per person, with proceeds going to the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group that accepts unlimited donations… 

The event at Sinegal’s home is in addition to an earlier scheduled fundraiser at the Seattle waterfront home of Bruce and Ann Blume, who were fundraising “bundlers” for Obama’s 2012 campaign. The afternoon event will benefit the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The man has a busy schedule to keep.

Tags: Barack Obama , DNC , Russia , Dutch

The EPA Plays a Kardashian Game While Toxic Smoke Burns in Afghanistan



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The Environmental Protection Agency, hard at work, as ever: “Just last night, government officials at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water sent out a tweet confirming they’ve achieved C-list status in the game.”

Let’s face it, “C-list celebrity” is a really accurate label for this lame-duck administration. 

Meanwhile, in environmental news on the other side of the world

In May 2011, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $4.4 million contract to construct solid waste management facilities, including two incinerators, at Shindand Airbase, a coalition base located in Herat province in western Afghanistan housing approximately 4,000 U.S. and Afghan military personnel and contractors. At the time of the contract award, Shindand Airbase was primarily using open-air burn pit operations to dispose of its solid waste. In addition to the two U.S. Forces- Afghanistan-operated incinerators, in September 2009 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $11 million contract for incinerators at various bases for use by the Afghan military…

A May 2013 U.S. Forces-Afghanistan evaluation found that the Afghan-operated incinerators were in operable condition and the Afghans had been trained and had the proper equipment to operate their incinerators; however, the Afghans did not use them because the burn pits were cheaper to operate.

CENTCOM commented that the Afghans fail to use the incinerators because they do not perceive that the health benefits of using the incinerators are worth the cost of the fuel to run them. Nevertheless, CENTCOM stated that coalition leadership continues to encourage the ANSF to use the incinerators.

Toxic smoke emanating from Afghan burn pits poses a threat to the health of coalition personnel serving with Afghans at Shindand Airbase and will not be confined to the Afghan-controlled side of the base.

 

 

Tags: EPA , Afghanistan

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IG Report: Veterans Administration Undersecretary Too Cozy with Contractor



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Not that the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have enough problems, but a new report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found favoritism, preferential treatment, and unnecessary spending by the VA’s recently-retired undersecretary for memorial affairs.

Steve Muro, the undersecretary who managed the National Cemetery Administration,  just happened to retire one month before the IG report was completed and released. That report offers an unflattering portrait of some of his decisions:

We concluded that Mr. Steve Muro, former (retired) Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, NCA, VACO, engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when he created a position within NCA and preselected an employee, who was also a friend, for that position. Over a 3-year period of time, the employee planned to retire several times, but when retention incentives and quality step increases (QSI) no longer enticed him to remain, Mr. Muro created a promotional opportunity which raised the employee’s salary by approximately $10,000 annually, thereby increasing the employee’s retirement annuity by about $400 each month.

We further found that Mr. Muro engaged in preferential treatment of an NCA contractor, Ms. Patricia Noonan, President of Noonan & Associates, when he developed a less-than­ arm’s-length relationship with her; when he continued to communicate with her via email and telephone after being given guidance to cease those communications; misused his title when he gave her an unfair competitive advantage by providing her a letter of recommendation, which she used to procure additional NCA contracts; and when he improperly supported her in her efforts to obtain additional VA contracts.

(Note: Patricia Noonan should not be mistaken for Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan.)

Telephone records reflected that between October 26, 2012, and October 18, 2013, Mr. Muro and Ms. Noonan exchanged over 1,200 telephone calls and that he called her about twice as many times as she called him. This included calls during business hours as well as between 6:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m., weekends, and holidays. Mr. Muro told us that some of these calls were personal in nature but that a lot of them were business-related. He said that they talked whenever he had the opportunity, which included evenings and weekends…

VA financial records reflected that NCA paid Ms. Noonan $374,167 for services rendered to NCA between February 3, 2010, and September 28, 2013, for 90 different transactions.

Noonan & Associates officially protested its exclusion from subsequent Department of Veterans Affairs contracts; after a review the General Accounting Office found that the VA “reasonably concluded that the protester had an organizational conflict of interest.”

President Obama nominated Muro for his undersecretary position in 2011 and he was confirmed. In 2008, Muro was selected by President George W. Bush to receive a Presidential Meritorious Rank Award, recognizing “exceptional leadership, accomplishments and service over an extended period of time.”

Tags: Veterans , VA

Chinese-Made Bicycles and the Wisconsin Governor’s Race



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From the Tuesday Morning Jolt:

Could Chinese-Made Bicycles Be a Factor in Wisconsin’s Gubernatorial Race?

In Wisconsin, the governor’s race featuring Republican incumbent Scott Walker – perhaps a potential presidential candidate – and Democrat Mary Burke remains pretty close. The Walker campaign thinks they’ve got an opportunity to damage Burke by pointing out how her family’s business shipped jobs to China:

The dispute over Trek Bicycle Corp. flared up last week. The Walker campaign began airing an ad criticizing Trek, the Burke family business, for outsourcing jobs to low-wage China. Trek has not disclosed how much its contract workers there are paid per hour.

If they’re not disclosing it, we can surmise it’s not much.

For what it’s worth, Trek president John Burke – the brother of the candidate – said, “Mary had nothing to do with sourcing decisions at Trek. Those decisions were made by my father and myself.” Burke is no longer on the board of the company, but owns stock.

So she’s not a direct out-sourcer herself; she just profits from the outsourcing decisions of others. Much better!

And back in 2004 – when she was with the company – the U.S. Department of Labor investigated whether employees at Trek qualified for the “Trade Adjustment Assistance Program,” a federal entitlement program that assists U.S. workers who have lost or may lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade.

The Department of Labor concluded,  “The investigation revealed that production and employment at the subject firm declined from 2002 to 2003. The investigation further revealed an increase in company imports of bicycles during the relevant period.” But the Department of Labor concluded the workers did not qualify for one of the forms of assistance because “workers in the workers’ firm do possess easily transferable skills.”

Burke was at “Netroots Nation,” the big progressive blogger conference this weekend. She’s asked about “rumors in the media about you and Chinese employees and the minimum wage – is there any truth to that, or any story behind that?”

Burke’s answer, in its entirety: “I’d be happy to address that. Trek is the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States. Trek employs early 1,000 people in Wisconsin. In addition to $50 million in payroll in Wisconsin, by supporting millions of dollars in goods and services from all other Wisconsin businesses, small businesses across the state, its impact on the Wisconsin economy is incredible. so  Trek is very proud to be a great Wisconsin employer, a great contributor to Wisconsin, it was founded nearly 40 years ago right there in Wisconsin, and it has grown to be a global company with its headquarters in Wisconsin.”

That is a nice little series of statements and platitudes that doesn’t reassure anyone in its lack of specifics. Such as – does the company get parts, supplies or other materials from China that it could get in the United States? If so, how many? And if so, how much are the workers who produce those parts, supplies and other materials paid? When did the company start getting these supplies from China and were they available from U.S. suppliers, and at what price?

Also note that when Burke brags that the company is “the largest manufacturer of bicycles in the United States,” the company wins that distinction by making 10,000 bicycles per year in the U.S…. out of 1.5 million total. So this company makes a LOT of bikes in Germany and China.

Wisconsin liberals have accused her and her family from prospering from outsourcing:

She also claims in the interview that she never made decisions to ship jobs overseas and that she is opposed to unfair trade deals, both claims which aren’t truthful. Burke was a key family member in a family business. In his book, her brother calls her the “brains of the family.” Burke can’t on the one hand take credit for much of Trek’s business success, but then somehow sell the notion that there was a firewall between her and Trek outsourcing thousands of American bike manufacturing jobs.  

Plus, Burke is one of Trek’s private owners and currently sits on their board.  This is a real-time issue.   Did she object or do anything to stop Trek for sending jobs to China?  Is she doing anything right now to bring back the Trek jobs back? 

During her time at Trek, Burke served as a board member on the Bicycle Parts Suppliers Association (BPSA), a powerful trade association that, among other things, has lobbied for weakening tariffs and free trade.  In addition, they’ve defended Chinese manufacturing and fought regulations during the recent Chinese manufacturing lead paint scare.

So, while it is nice to hear Mary Burke bemoan unfair trade deals, the reality is that she in past has fought for them and personally profited from them. 

Keep in mind, Mary Burke is running on… raising the minimum wage, and also said the minimum wage hike “wouldn’t affect” her family’s business.

Well, we know it wouldn’t affect those Chinese workers.

Of course, we know how this all ends. Every Madison progressive, every union member, every liberal beating the drum for protecting American jobs who sneered about Mitt Romney’s greed will shrug their shoulders and vote for her… just because she’s the Democrat. 

Tags: Mary Burke , Scott Walker , Minimum Wage , Outsourcing , Wisconsin

This Administration Thinks It’s Handling Putin Well



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Another piece of evidence to support the theory that this administration thinks it’s doing a terrific job, on every front, all the time:

First, it’s spelled ”moxie.”

Second, Obama and his fans love to blur the lines between acknowledging Putin’s ruthlessness and willingness to act, with little fear of consequence, with some sort of admiration for him. Remember when this crew used to sneer at the Bush administration for its bluster and overconfidence? Remember when they insisted the preceding administration wasn’t part of the “reality-based community”?

Third, even if Putin isn’t looking so swift now — not that the Russian people will ever hear of it — this administration is high-fiving itself over public relations while Vladimir Putin and his allies gain territory, power, and influence. Sure, handing top-of-the-line anti-aircraft missiles to the separatists in Eastern Ukraine makes Putin look wildly reckless to the point of foolishness. But how much does that really matter when Putin still has so many other levers of power? A military that dwarfs Russia’s neighbors, Middle Eastern client states, enormous intelligence agencies, leverage from gas and oil exports, a stranglehold on domestic media and public opinion…

Putin is demonstrating that his allies increasingly control what happens on the ground at the crash site, and that international condemnation means nothing to the separatists. His actions in Crimea indicate that international public opinion doesn’t matter much to him, either.

If there’s no serious consequence to Russia, beyond another series of financial sanctions that Putin’s regime clearly doesn’t sweat, who really doesn’t look so slick?

Does this look like a man who worries about sanctions? 

Tags: Barack Obama , Vladimir Putin , David Axelrod

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The Era of Presidential Attention Deficit Disorder



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Today’s Jolt features updates on the crises in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, a key measuring stick of GOP outreach, and then this nagging feeling stirred by watching the White House in recent months… or years…

Great. Now We’ve Got Presidential Attention Deficit Disorder.

Here’s one big question: Will we still be talking about Ukraine and Israel/Hamas at the end of the week? Or will some other part of the world – or perhaps our own border – blow up then, pushing Ukraine and everything else back to the inside pages?

Remember those kidnapped schoolgirls? Remember how releasing the Taliban Five was an ominous indicator for Afghanistan? Remember ISIS taking over Iraq? Remember the Syrian civil war? Aren’t there still oodles of Central American kids coming over our border?

Does our media lose interest in these crises because the president isn’t interested in them? Or does the president feel like he’s doing fine because the media stops covering them?

Take a look at the president’s schedule for the coming week, as laid out in Mike Allen’s other morning newsletter…

On Monday morning, the President will sign an Executive Order to protect LGBT employees from workplace discrimination. In the afternoon the President will award Ryan M. Pitts, a former active duty Army Staff Sergeant, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry. On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks and sign H.R. 803, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, at an event at the White House; the Vice President will also attend.

“Afterward, the President will travel to Seattle, WA to attend a DNC event. Later in the day, the President will travel to San Francisco, CA, where he will remain overnight. On Wednesday, the President will attend a DCCC event in the San Francisco area, and later in the day will travel to the Los Angeles area, where he will remain overnight. On Thursday, the President will visit a community college in Los Angeles to deliver remarks on the importance of job-driven skills training, particularly for fast-growing sectors such as health care. Later, he will attend a DNC event

That’s three days of fundraisers! Two feel-good ceremonies on touchy-feely domestic issues! It’s like Obama has decided he’s governing in the late 1990s.

If you mention an Obama fundraiser, inevitably some snotty lefty will respond, “Sure, because Obama’s the first president to ever attend a campaign fundraiser.” No, but he’s the first one to ever do so many:

In his first term, Obama attended more fundraising events than any other president in recent history. According to author Brendan J. Doherty, from 2008 to 2012 Obama went to 321 events, compared to just 80 for Ronald Reagan.  And, as the chart below shows, he’s done 72 events in his second term – 34 this year alone. So far, he’s ahead of  the pace of George W. Bush, who had been to 30 events at this point in 2006. In his two presidential terms combined, Bush hosted 318 fundraisers. Obama has already smashed that number with 393 events to date.

I wonder if the big theme in the second half of 2014 is going to be increasingly open questions about Obama’s connection to reality, or whether he’s locking himself in an ever-thicker psychological and scheduling cocoon, behaving as if he’s enjoying a fabulously successful presidency and that the world is getting better, more tranquil, and more prosperous on his watch.

Does this song play on an endless loop in the Oval Office?

Newt Gingrich:

From his perch in the amazingly Obama-centric world in which our President lives, look again at what the rest of us think of as serious problems.

Have any of the 1,000-plus Hamas rockets been aimed at Obama? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.

Have any of the thousands who are crossing the border tried to move into the White House? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.

Is ISIS an immediate threat to the United States that is likely to blow up the next golf course the President is playing at? No. That is why Obama is tranquil.

If you can reduce your presidency to a Starbucks visit, a man with a horse-head mask, shooting pool and visiting Joe Biden’s burger joint for lunch, you can have a successful presidency as you have defined it, even if the world is disintegrating.

It’s not just lunatic right-wingers like ourselves noticing this presidential ADD; Canada’s Robert Fulford writes, “Barack Obama, who apparently distrusts American power, personifies this approach. He moves capriciously from subject to subject. One week he’s furious about Syria and announces that Bashar al-Assad has to go. When Assad doesn’t go, Obama loses interest. He seems always to be making a fresh start. When he’s not doing that, he’s “pivoting,” shifting his interest from one continent to another. He seems detached much of the time, then committed, then detached again.”

 

Tags: Barack Obama

America’s Never-Used $2.89 Million Food Processing Facility in Afghanistan



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The Pentagon spent $2.89 million to build a food processing facility in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, a project of the Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations. This morning the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction unveiled a review finding that the facility has never been used and is not being maintained.

The report from Inspector General John Sopko says the facility “could have been a success story.” Once a bombed cotton factory site in Helmand province, the aim was to turn the site into a cold and dry storage warehouse and packing facility – allowing the farmers of the province to ship and process their crops and produce and sell to more faraway markets.

The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations began the project in 2010 and then passed it to the Army Corps of Engineers – hiring a contractor to build one cold storage and one
dry storage warehouse, demolish two existing structures, make road improvements; provide on-site power generation and an electrical distribution system, a new water well and to remove mines and unexploded ordnances from the site.

All of the work presumed that, upon completion, the Afghan government would be able to find a buyer or manage the facility itself.

In May 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the contractor’s finished work — 243 days behind schedule, but up to specifications. The contractor blamed the delays on security concerns, including “threatened and actual Taliban violence, difficulties transporting needed equipment across the border into Afghanistan, and difficulty getting experts on the installation and operation of the facility’s equipment to come to Afghanistan.”

The facility, providing approximately 10,000 square feet of cold storage and 13,000 square feet of dry storage, was transferred to the Afghan government in September 2013.

And then… not much happened.

As the IG report notes, “potential investors told [the Pentagon’s Business and Stability Operations task force] that the Afghan district governor had asked for money from the investors and the construction contractor before leasing the property.”

One potential buyer had his Kabul-based cold storage facility unexpectedly damaged and could not generate the funds to purchase the U.S.-built one. The Afghanistan government says it is still looking for potential buyers.

Helmand Province is one of the world’s biggest sites for opium production and a region that frequently endures fierce fighting between the Taliban and its foes.

In fact, it’s not clear who can get to the facility safely right now.  SIGAR inspectors attempted to visit the Gereshk storage facility on two occasions—January and March 2014; both times International Security Assistance Force denied the request to visit the facility, citing high insurgent activity in the area. The Pentagon, in its written response to the IG report, noted that its own Task Force for Business and Stability Operations personnel “have been unable to travel to the site for more than one year.”

The Inspector General’s report recommends, “before approving future investment projects of any kind, [the Pentagon ensure there “are willing investor(s) capable of assuming ownership of and responsibility for maintaining constructed facilities; or, in the absence of investors, that the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Interior is willing and able to assume those responsibilities itself.”

Nice-looking facility our tax dollars bought. Shame no one’s using it. 

Tags: Afghanistan

Justice Is Blind . . . and Sometimes Deaf and Mute



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The scoreboard at the end of the week:

U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi: Still jailed in Mexico.

Bowe Bergdahl: Back on active duty, now out in public.

The Taliban Five: At large.

Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas: Detained for several hours and then released with notice to appear before an immigration judge.

Obama critic Dinesh D’Souza: Awaiting sentencing for a guilty plea to a criminal count of making illegal contributions in the names of others.

Attempted presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr: Still dividing time between a mental hospital and 17 days a month visiting his mother’s hometown of Williamsburg, Va.

Tags: Department of Justice , Bowe Bergdahl

Traditionally, Loose Bears Are Not Good News.



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The White House, July 8:

Indeed, the Bear is loose, and that’s the problem.

Tags: Barack Obama , Russia

Somebody Has to Pay for This Massacre in the Sky



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From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Somebody Has to Pay For This.

By the time you read this, it’s possible the world will know more about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. But some of the pieces are starting to come together.

1. Pro-Russian separatists have been shooting down Ukranian planes with increasing frequency in recent months — up until now, military transports and cargo planes.

2. Thursday the Russian separatists bragged about shooting down a non-passenger plane shortly before the Malaysian flight disappeared: “In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace.”

3. The Russian separatists have the kind of advanced surface-to-air missiles and launching system needed to hit an airliner traveling at this high altitude.

4. The Ukrainian government’s security agency released audio of an intercepted phone call, allegedly showing Russian separatists and Russian intelligence officers discussing the shoot-down:

Igor Bezler: We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo (Donetsk Oblast).

Vasili Geranin: Pilots. Where are the pilots? . . . 

“Greek”: Is there anything left of the weapon?

“Major”: Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.

“Greek”: Are there documents?

“Major”: Yes, of one Indonesian student. From a university in Thompson.

Militant: Regarding the plane shot down in the area of Snizhne-Torez. It’s a civilian one. Fell down near Grabove. There are lots of corpses of women and children. The Cossacks are out there looking at all this.

They say on TV it’s AN-26 transport plane, but they say it’s written Malaysia Airlines on the plane. What was it doing on Ukraine’s territory?

Nikolay Kozitsin: That means they were carrying spies. They shouldn’t be f…cking flying. There is a war going on.

Could this audio be doctored or falsified in some way? Yes, although it would represent an enormous risk on the part of the Ukrainian government.

Barring some other piece of evidence, Occam’s Razor suggests that Russian separatists thought they were firing their missiles at another Ukrainian plane that wasn’t a passenger airliner . . . and promptly killed 298 people. Reports continue to suggest 23 of the passengers were Americans.*

This is not something random and terrible happening to strangers, citizens of other countries, living lives far from here. This was murder of 23 Americans, guilty of nothing worse than booking a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, who had nothing to do with the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Every one of the passengers’ deaths is an outrage; the deaths may also have far-reaching consequences:

About 100 of the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash were heading to Melbourne for a major AIDS conference, conference attendees have been told.

Delegates at a pre-conference in Sydney were told on Friday morning that around 100 medical researchers, health workers and activists were on the plane that went down near the Russia-Ukraine border, including former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange.

Russian president Vladimir Putin didn’t order the separatists to shoot down the airliner. But his intelligence agencies and military have provided all kinds of support to these separatists. To borrow P. J. O’Rourke’s metaphor, Putin gave whiskey and car keys — and powerful explosives — to teenage boys. The disastrous consequences were not hard to foresee. You can see it in the absurd, nonsensical, instant justification by one of the speakers that if the plane is labeled “Malaysia Airlines,” it must be a disguise for a spy plane. Putin didn’t commit murder; just reckless endangerment.

There will be a lot of debates and discussions about what the United States can or should do in response to this reckless, deadly decision. But let’s begin by asking, if we had the opportunity to reach out and strike 23 Russian separatists involved in the decision to launch this missile, would we do it? I’d like to think so. Fighting a war is not inherently evil, nor is stupidity, but the combination of the two is a fertile ground for evil. These guys need to be taught a lesson, and it’s not clear who can teach them.

Commercial airliners fly — usually quite high — over dangerous or not-so-friendly parts of the world all the time. Right now commercial jets are avoiding Eastern Ukraine. Should they avoid Syria, too? Iran? Iraq? Afghanistan? If so, you’ve just cut off India and a big chunk of Asia from Europe.

These guys need to pay — and Putin needs to see consequences of his reckless support of these dumb, brutal goons.

Moe Lane:

I never thought that I’d see the day that the US government would just shrug off a no-fooling war crime committed against our citizens.

* UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, the report is that “at least one”, not 23 Americans were killed in the attack on the plane. The magazine of Stephen Glass and Zach Scott Thomas Beauchamp seems to think citing a report from Reuters constitutes dishonesty. 

Tags: Russia , Ukraine , Malaysian Airlines 17

Some Days, It Feels Like We Don’t Have a President.



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Some days, it feels like we don’t have a president.

Reports indicate 23 Americans just got killed* by someone when their airliner was blown out of the sky — perhaps pro-Russian separatists.

This is the president who didn’t address the country for three days after the attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, who gave a “shout-out” to an audience member moments before his first comments on the Fort Hood shooting, and who attended a campaign rally on September 12, 2012, when most Americans awoke to the news of the murder of four Americans in a terror attack in Benghazi, Libya. 

I understand the Obama White House never wants to look like they’re overreacting. They behave as if it’s impossible to underreact.

UPDATE: Around 4:30 p.m. Eastern, Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Netroots Nation political conference. He began by making comments about gay marriage and then awkwardly pivoted to the news out of Ukraine. He said that  there may have been Americans on the plane, and that the government was seeking to confirm that. That seems a bit surprising, since the plane went down five hours ago.

Then he reverted to his usual political remarks.

As of Friday afternoon, the report is that “at least one”, not 23 Americans were killed in the attack on the plane. The magazine of Stephen Glass and Zach Scott Thomas Beauchamp seems to think citing a report from Reuters constitutes dishonesty. 

Tags: Barack Obama

What’s the Consequence for Killing American Citizens?



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While we don’t know every detail yet, the preponderance of what we know so far indicates that separatists in Ukraine, backed by Russia, shot a missile, destroying a Malaysian Airlines jetliner. Our Patrick Brennan summarizes:

A Malaysia Airlines flight crashed in eastern Ukraine today, killing all 285 passengers aboard, and the Ukrainian government has accused pro-Russian separatists in the area of shooting it down. A representative of the Ukrainian government claims that it was downed by a ground-to-air missile of the type that Russia has been supplying to separatists in eastern Ukraine, where the Ukrainian government has been trying to suppress militants over the past few months. The militants have denied shooting it down.

The Ukrainian government reports that 23 Americans were aboard the plane, and that more than 300 people were killed in the crash.

The Americans on the plane had no connection to Russia or Ukraine, and took no risks other than booking a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Now they’re dead. It’s quite possible pro-Russian separatists killed our fellow citizens.* What will the consequence be?

* UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, the report is that “at least one”, not 23 Americans were killed in the attack on the plane. The magazine of Stephen Glass and Zach Scott Thomas Beauchamp seems to think citing a report from Reuters constitutes dishonesty. 

Tags: Ukraine , Russia

We’re Building Extra-Flammable Barracks for the Afghan Army



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More of our tax dollars at work: The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction finds that a significant portion of the U.S.-built buildings for the Afghan military are . . . more flammable than international building codes permit.

The inspector general’s report notes,

In April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told SIGAR that the decision not to bring all buildings into compliance with [international building codes] will affect 285 buildings, including 83 barracks buildings, four medical clinics, and two fire stations.

Hey, what are the odds of a fire on an Afghan army base, right? It’s not like there’s a chance the Taliban or other warlords will be firing mortars, rockets, and other explosives at them, right?

The justification for the use of a particularly flammable foam is that

the typical occupant populations for these facilities are young, fit Afghan Soldiers and recruits who have the physical ability to make a hasty retreat during a developing situation.

Hopefully, all the patients being treated in those medical clinics will get that memo.

Tags: Afghanistan , Inspector General

Administrator for HUD Grant Program Traded Apartment for Sex



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Your tax dollars at work: The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides grants to programs like Project Reconnect “to help the formerly incarcerated find housing, counseling and jobs once they’re released.” At least, that’s the way it’s designed.

And then sometimes the money gets used like this:

From 2012 until last year, Hart worked for the city’s Housing Department as a caseworker for Project Reconnect, which uses federal dollars to help the formerly incarcerated find housing, counseling and jobs once they’re released. Problem was, Lawrence Hart helped someone who wasn’t even remotely qualified for the program get a Carrollton apartment at a deep discount using U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dollars: Lawrence Hart. He got the place by using someone else’s name on the application; court docs refer only to a “Person A.”

That was bad enough. But Hart also admitted to federal prosecutors earlier this year that he helped a woman, known only as Person B, get an apartment through Project Reconnect. Here’s how he did it, according to court records: “Hart propositioned her for sex and expedited Person B being placed in an apartment because she agreed to have sex with Hart.” He kicked her out in January 2013, only after the woman broke up with him.

The good news that former caseworker will spend 15 months behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office, and has also been ordered to pay back $8,619.

Tags: HUD , Fraud , Government Waste

The Obama Administration Will Never Walk Away from Iran



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From the Thursday Morning Jolt:

The Obama Administration Will Never Walk Away from the Negotiating Table with Iran

On Monday, the word was that the West’s negotiations with Iran weren’t going well:

The mood of the talks has gone from optimistic weeks ago, as Iran made concessions on items such as the future of its Arak nuclear reactor, to pessimistic in recent days as it becomes clear a giant gap remains on the crucial question of how much capacity Iran will retain to enrich uranium for what it insists is a peaceful nuclear program.

Yet as the deadline approached, President Obama and his team have decided things are going well enough to extend the deadline . . . 

President Obama said Wednesday that there had been “real progress in several areas” in negotiations with Iran over its disputed nuclear program, and he hinted that he might extend the talks beyond the deadline on Sunday in order to reach a final agreement.

“We have a credible way forward,” Mr. Obama told reporters during a short briefing at the White House, although he said there were some “significant gaps” between the two sides and more work to do before a deal could be struck.

“Over the next few days, we’ll continue consulting with Congress, and our team will continue discussions with Iran and our partners as we determine whether additional time is necessary to extend our negotiations,” Mr. Obama said.

If you’re always willing to extend the deadline, then it’s not really a deadline, now is it? On paper, we’re watching negotiations between two parties with diametrically opposed interests — we want the Iranians to have as little of a nuclear program as possible, they want one as big (and easily switched to military applications) as possible. But in practice, we’ve got two parties with the same interest: the Obama administration wants negotiations to continue, so they can claim their approach is working, and the Iranians want negotiations to continue so that their program keeps advancing and those centrifuges keep spinning. So both sides want the talks to go on indefinitely. At this point, we’re negotiating about the conditions for continuing negotiations.

What would it take for President Obama, John Kerry, and the rest of his administration to conclude, “These guys aren’t serious about a deal, they’re stalling for time, we’re playing into their hands by continuing these negotiations”?

It seems that as long as the Iranians don’t reach across the table and behead the other negotiators, this administration is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve gotten spam offers that seem more reliable than the Iranians’ promises.

This is not like negotiating with Don Corleone.

Eli Lake points out one more aspect of the negotiations where time is not on our side:

As U.S. and allied negotiators try to hammer out a nuclear deal with Iran this week in Vienna, they will have less economic leverage on their Iranian counterparts than they had a year ago.

That is the conclusion of a new study from Roubini Global Economics and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, two groups that have analyzed Iran’s economy — and the international sanctions imposed on the country’s banks, oil exports and leading regime figures.

Their report concludes that in the last year as the United States and other Western countries have begun to ease some of the sanctions on Iran as an inducement to negotiate an end to the country’s nuclear weapons program, the Iranian economy has begun to recover.

. . . the economic sanctions that President Obama has credited with forcing Iran to begin these negotiations have appeared to lose their bite, according to the study that is scheduled to be released Monday.

The lies of this administration will hurt all of us, but perhaps none are more damaging than the lies they tell themselves about how well their policies are working.

Tags: Iran , John Kerry , Barack Obama

IG: Afghans Aren’t Using U.S.-Provided Transport Planes, Don’t Need Another



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The independent special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction is warning Pentagon leadership that the Afghan air force doesn’t need all the C-130 transport planes provided by the U.S. in $100 million–plus deal, and is urging the Pentagon to halt the delivery of another one without a detailed review of the policy.

Special Inspector General John F. Sopko writes:

We analyzed flight data for the two AAF C-130s currently in Afghanistan and found that they are being underutilized, which raises questions about whether additional aircraft are truly needed. Lastly, during my visit last month, I was informed about support problems associated with training, spare parts, and maintenance for the two C-130s currently in the inventory.

Sopko’s report states that not delivering a single C-130 could save the U.S. taxpayer up to $40.5 million. The third C-130 is scheduled to be delivered next month.

Are the Afghans really using this plane? If not, do they need another?

The inspector general’s report also states that the Department of Defense has been unable to provide documentation to support its decision to purchase the C-130s, detailing that:

a U.S. Air Force team raised concerns that the C-130 would be too complex and costly for the AAF. Notwithstanding those concerns,on January 4, 2013 the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Secretary of the Air Force to provide four C-130s to the AAF — two in 2013 and two by the end of 2014.

 

The Deputy Secretary of Defense in January 2013 was Ashton Carter. In December of that year, he was replaced by Christine Fox as the acting deputy defense secretary. Previously, she had the director of cost assessment and program evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense — one of the most senior civilian positions at the Pentagon. She’s also known for inspiring Kelly McGillis’s character in Top Gun.

When Fox retired in May, President Obama said:

Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that Secretary Hagel and I had the support we needed in a challenging time. She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.

NOTE: This report initially referred to the IG as part of the Pentagon, but it is an independent agency with jurisdiction over any agency doing reconstruction in Afghanistan.

Tags: Afghanistan , Government Waste , President Obama

Intriguing New Polling Numbers in Iowa, Colorado, and Michigan



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Apparently the polling world saved up all of its intriguing results for Wednesday!

First, NBC News in Iowa . . . 

The closely watched Iowa Senate race between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley is locked in a dead heat, a new NBC News/Marist poll shows, while New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has an eight point lead over likely Republican challenger Scott Brown.

In Iowa, Ernst and Braley each have the support of 43 percent of registered voters. But both candidates remain unknown to many in the state; 14 percent of voters are undecided about who they support in the race, and about a third say they are unsure about their opinion on the candidates or have never heard of them.

NBC also finds former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown trailing incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen by 8, also among registered voters. It will be interesting to see if a likely voter screen improves either Ernst or Brown’s positions.

Then Quinnipiac, out in Colorado . . . 

Despite stronger voter optimism about Colorado’s economy than found in many states, the race for governor is tied, with 43 percent for Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper and 44 percent for former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, the Republican challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Voters give Gov. Hickenlooper a split job approval rating, with 48 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving, compared to a 52 – 39 percent approval rating in an April 23 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University.

Wait, there’s more. A Democratic polling firm in Michigan finds their preferred Senate candidate, Gary Peters, with 39.5 percent and Republican Terri Lynn Land with 37.3 percent.

Tags: Iowa , Colorado , Michigan

Rothenberg: Cory Gardner ‘May Be the Best GOP Challenger in the Country’



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The midweek edition of the Morning Jolt features a curious memory lapse by Charlie Crist, a diagnosis of the comics industry’s rut, and then this reasonably cheery assessment of the GOP’s odds in the midterm elections:

Rothenberg: A GOP Gain of At Least 6 Senate Seats ‘Seems Very Possible’

Not much that Roll Call’s Stu Rothenberg writes in his latest column is all that surprising, but it’s nice to have our impressions confirmed by somebody outside the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Aside from a largely dismissed (on both sides of the aisle) New York Times/Kaiser Foundation April poll showing Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., with a double-digit lead over his challenger, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, surveys in the state have shown the race close for months. Some have had Pryor ahead, while others have shown Cotton leading.

My own reporting on the race leads me to believe that the contest is a statistical dead heat, though with Cotton holding a small advantage. (Not all of the polls, public and private, show this, of course.) . . . 

Barack Obama carried Iowa twice, so Democrats ought to have a narrow but clear advantage to hold retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin’s open seat. But the combination of an interesting Republican nominee, Joni Ernst, and Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley’s early missteps has smart Democrats fretting about the contest.

Polling shows the race extremely close now, and while Braley, a trial lawyer and four-term member of Congress, was expected to be the better campaigner in the contest, that has not been the case.

Finally, he notes, Colorado’s Cory “Gardner may well be the best GOP challenger in the country, and we are moving the race to Tossup/Tilts Democrat, which better reflects the overall competitiveness of the contest.”

What does this all mean? It means that if Republicans work their butts off for the next four months, and avoid any stupid mistakes, they’ll take the Senate.

Gardner’s in the hunt!

Tags: Senate Republicans , Cory Gardner

Texas Republican Greg Abbott Announces $35.5 Million in Cash on Hand



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Remember this headline from January?
 

Looks like Republican Greg Abbott will have to get by with a mere $35.59 million cash on hand for the fundraising period ending on June 30th. Of course, that’s the highest cash on hand amount ever reported by a Texas candidate. And the gubernatorial candidates who preceded Abbott — Rick Perry and George W. Bush — were no slouches in the fundraising department. 

In June, media reports in Texas stated Davis had raised “at least $16 million.”

Game off?

‘A Restless President, Weary of the Obligations of the White House . . .’



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Also in today’s Jolt:

Rest Easy, Americans; President Obama Is Enjoying His Dinner Parties More

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, covering the White House for the New York Timeslays out how President Obama is spending his evenings:

In a summer when the president is traveling across the country meeting with ordinary Americans under highly choreographed conditions, the Rome dinner shows another side of Mr. Obama. As one of an increasing number of late-night dinners in his second term, it offers a glimpse into a president who prefers intellectuals to politicians, and into the rarefied company Mr. Obama may keep after he leaves the White House.

Sometimes stretching into the small hours of the morning, the dinners reflect a restless president weary of the obligations of the White House and less concerned about the appearance of partying with the rich and celebrated. Freewheeling, with conversation touching on art, architecture and literature, the gatherings are a world away from the stilted meals Mr. Obama had last year with Senate Republican leaders at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington.

In Paris, the president was up again until nearly midnight enjoying, among other things, Drappier Champagne.

“Bonsoir,” Mr. Obama said as he entered the small Restaurant Helen, according to Frédéric Pescatori, an investment manager who was dining next to the president’s party. Mr. Pescatori added that the president “seemed quite relaxed and glad to be with friends, without stress.”

I’m glad he can get away from the stress of the job. (If you’re wondering, Drappier Champagne isn’t particularly expensive.)

A shame he’s so “weary of the obligations of the White House”; a lot of us put a lot of effort trying to free him from those obligations in 2012.

Tags: Barack Obama

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