FBI Focus Yields Spike in Corruption Cases
"More than 1,000 federal, state and local government employees across the country have been convicted in government corruption cases over the past two years, including hundreds of crooked police officers and others who have dipped into the taxpayers' till, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday.
"The numbers underscore the extent to which public corruption has become a primary, if little-noticed, focus of FBI criminal investigators, taking its place alongside preventing terrorism as one the bureau's fundamental missions.
"All told, public-corruption investigations have surged by 30 percent in the past four years, to more than 2,000, officials said. The FBI now dedicates more than 600 agents and 15 percent of its criminal investigative resources to government graft." (WaPo)
Louisiana Disputes a Bill from FEMA for Hurricane Aid
"Who should pay for the federal governmentâs mistakes in handing out disaster aid to the wrong people? Not Louisiana, say state officials, who have gone to court to try to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from collecting about $60 million from the state.
"The federal government has asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, contending that Louisiana cannot refuse to pay charges it disagrees with â even when the charges are the result of fraudulent claims â and that the state has no right to audit FEMAâs spending. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Monday in Federal District Court in Baton Rouge.
"Not long after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit last year, government and private watchdogs complained about the slowness of FEMAâs response and the agencyâs poor control over its spending. On Wednesday, the federal Government Accountability Office reported that FEMA had made about $1 billion in improper or fraudulent payments but had recouped a tiny fraction of the money." (NY Times)
Nagin: Feds Have Abandoned New Orleans Recovery
"New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin accused the federal government Wednesday of abandoning its legal obligation to help his city recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina....
"Under federal law, he added, the government is obliged to help restore vital infrastructure decimated by the storm, which struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. Nagin said the federal government has approved more than $900 million to rebuild New Orleans' infrastructure, but local officials have not been able to access most of it." (USA Today)
Study Says Violence in Iraq Has Been Underreported
"The Bush administration routinely has underreported the level of violence in Iraq in order to disguise its policy failings, the Iraq Study Group report said Wednesday.
"The bipartisan group called on the Pentagon and the director of the U.S. intelligence community to immediately institute a new reporting system that provides "a more accurate picture of events on the ground."
"The finding bolsters allegations by Democratic lawmakers and other critics that the Bush administration has withheld or misconstrued intelligence that conflicted with its Iraq policy while promoting data and claims that supported its positions." (McClatchy Newspapers)
Italy Seeks Indictments of C.I.A. Operatives in Egyptian's Abduction
"Italian prosecutors asked Tuesday for the indictment of the countryâs former intelligence chief, along with 25 operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency, for their involvement in the kidnapping of a militant Egyptian cleric from Milan in 2003.
"The case is one of the most delicate in Italy, raising the question of whether the Italian government broke the nationâs laws by approving or assisting in the abduction....
"It is the first case in the world in which local officials have been tried in the contentious program of 'extraordinary rendition,' a program in which American agents abducted scores of suspected Islamic militants after Sept. 11, 2001. The suspects are believed to have been taken to interrogation centers in third countries, some of which permit torture." (NY Times)
Democrats Set to Press Bush on Privacy and Terrorism
"Leading Senate Democrats put the Bush administration on notice Wednesday that they intended to press for a fuller accounting on a wide range of counterterrorism programs, including wiretapping, data-mining operations and the interrogation and treatment of detainees....
"...Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who will take over next month as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, made clear at a committee hearing Wednesday that he wanted to investigate actively the effectiveness and legality of many programs." (NY Times)
Barack Obama Inc.
"In an election season, when Americans of all political persuasions can allow themselves to imagineâeven if for just a few unguarded momentsâhow matters in this country might improve if its leaders did, it is worthwhile to consider the path so far of Senator Barack Obama. A man more suited to the tastes of reform-minded Americans could hardly be imagined: he is passionate, charming, and well-intentioned, and his desire to change the culture of Washington seems deeply held and real....
"Since coming to Washington, Obama has advocated for the poor, most notably in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and has emerged as a champion of clean government. He has fought for restrictions on lobbying, even as most of his fellow Democrats postured on the issue while quietly seeking to gut real reform initiatives. In mid-September, Congress approved a bill he co-authored with Oklahomaâs arch-conservative senator, Tom Coburn, requiring all federal contracts and earmarks to be published in an Internet database, a step that will better allow citizens to track the way the government spends their money.
"Yet it is also startling to see how quickly Obamaâs senatorship has been woven into the web of institutionalized influence-trading that afflicts official Washington. He quickly established a political machine funded and run by a standard Beltway group of lobbyists, P.R. consultants, and hangers-on. For the staff post of policy director he hired Karen Kornbluh, a senior aide to Robert Rubin when the latter, as head of the Treasury Department under Bill Clinton, was a chief advocate for NAFTA and other free-trade policies that decimated the nationâs manufacturing sector (and the organized labor wing of the Democratic Party). Obamaâs top contributors are corporate law and lobbying firms (Kirkland & Ellis and Skadden, Arps, where four attorneys are fund-raisers for Obama as well as donors), Wall Street financial houses (Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase), and big Chicago interests (Henry Crown and Company, an investment firm that has stakes in industries ranging from telecommunications to defense). Obama immediately established a 'leadership PAC,' a vehicle through which a member of Congress can contribute to other politiciansâ campaignsâand one that political reform groups generally view as a slush fund through which congressional leaders can evade campaign-finance rules while raising their own political profiles." (Harper's)
Fomer Aide Parts with Carter Over Book
"An adviser to former President Jimmy Carter and onetime executive director of the Carter Center has publicly parted ways with his former boss, citing concerns with the accuracy and integrity of Mr. Carterâs latest book, 'Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.'
"The adviser, Kenneth W. Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern history and political science at Emory University, resigned his position as a fellow with the Carter Center on Tuesday, ending a 23-year association with the institution.
"In a two-page letter explaining his action, Mr. Stein called the book 'replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.' Mr. Stein said he had used similar language in a private letter he sent to Mr. Carter, but received no reply." (NY Times)