TPM News

Private Defense Department contractors outnumber the ranks of uniformed U.S. military in Afghanistan, according to a Congressional Research Service study obtained by the invaluable Secrecy News.

As of March, there were over 68,000 contractors in Afghanistan and over 52,000 military personnel (Read the report in .pdf format here.)

At 57% of total Defense Department workforce, the number of contractors represents "the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States," the study concludes.

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The new survey of the Virginia gubernatorial race by Public Policy Polling (D) suggests that Democratic candidate Creigh Deeds could be seriously catching up with Republican Bob McDonnell, as Democrats become more motivated and McDonnell takes heat over his controversial right-wing law school thesis.

In the top-line, McDonnell still leads with 49% to Deeds' 42%. However, this is a big shift from the 51%-37% McDonnell lead from a month ago. There has been a significant shift in the make-up of the likely voter pool: A month ago, respondents had voted for McCain by a 52%-41% margin, while the new pool is at McCain 49%-45%. This is still a long way from the actual result last fall, when Obama carried the state 53%-47%.

One big change, according to PPP communications director Tom Jensen, is that the likely voter pool shifted from 37% Democratic to 47% Democratic in the days of sampling after the story broke about McDonnell's thesis, and Deeds then led by eight points in that sample within the sample. However, the margin of error in the post-thesis sample is ±10.8%, and Jensen told me we'll need more post-thesis polling to really see whether this is a fluke, or a real sign of Democrats becoming energized.

On a conference call with reporters just now, the campaign of Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds continued to hammer away at Republican Bob McDonnell for his right-wing thesis from 20 years ago, in which the then-34-year-old McDonnell laid out a plan of action for legislating a Christian right agenda.

And this time, the Deeds campaign brought out some moderate Republican former state legislators, to hammer McDonnell for walking away from it, after a lengthy conference call yesterday in which he disavowed all those positions.

"I've been following closely, of course, the breaking news of the thesis," said former state Sen. Marty Williams. "And quite frankly as someone who served with Bob for years, the thesis didn't have any surprises for me."

Williams later said that this was not a college paper by a 18-year old kid, but a detailed thesis by a man of 34: "My biggest surprise is that he is running away from it. I read that thesis, and it's the Bob I've always known."

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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has used a state helicopter to visit at least 15 churches since March, spending about $45,000 of taxpayer money to visit his Protestant Christian base in far-flung corners of the state.

Jindal, who is Catholic, took the helicopter to church services almost every Sunday in May, June and July, according to records obtained by the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Jindal told the Advocate he tries to schedule meetings with local officials after the services. He also said he only visits the churches because they invite him.

"I'm completely just humbled and honored that I'm asked to come and worship with Louisianians across the state," he said. "It's important for the governor to get out of Baton Rouge."

His office wouldn't say how often he goes to Mass at his own church.

"I go as frequently as I can," Jindal said.

Here's video of Jindal speaking to a congregation last August, sounding a lot like he's on the stump.

(H/T Think Progress)

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) spoke yesterday to the right-wing Independence Institute, the Colorado Independent reports, and she called on conservative to really come together in the fight against President Obama on health care.

"What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing," said Bachmann. "This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn't pass."

The sanguinary rhetoric continued. "Right now, we are looking at reaching down the throat and ripping the guts out of freedom," she said. "And we may never be able to restore it if we don't man up and take this one on."

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Another top Democrat has come out in support of the view that the torture investigation announced by the Justice Department shouldn't be limited to CIA personnel.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor who sits on the Judiciary committee, suggested in an article (sub. req.) for the National Law Journal that the probe should extend to:

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Another poll from New Jersey has Democratic Jon Corzine trailing his Republican opponent, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie -- though it's not as bad as the Quinnipiac poll with Christie up by 10 points.

The new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll has Christie with 47% to Corzine's 42%, with a ±4% margin of error. This is not significantly changed from the previous FDU poll from two months ago, which had Christie up by 45%-39%.

The pollster's analysis finds that Christie has locked up 85% of Republicans, while Corzine only has 73% of Democrats in this reliably blue state: "The Republican appears to be in pretty good shape headed into Labor Day. The question is whether he has peaked while Corzine still has voters to win over."

Late Update: Corzine campaign spokesperson Lis Smith gives us this comment: "The FDU poll and a variety of other public polls show that the Governor's message is beginning to resonate. New Jersey residents will have a very clear choice in November between a candidate that is working to get the state back on the right financial track and a candidate that has never created a job and has no plans to do so now."

A large majority of Americans (of both political parties) say they find Democrats' health care reform plan confusing, and that President Obama has failed to clearly explain the proposal

About 67 percent of those questioned in a new CBS News poll said they don't understand the reforms. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans find the new reforms confusing as do 58 percent of Democrats.

The poll comes at the end of the month in which health care headlines were dominated by words like "death" and "panel." This weekend, Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexandr concluded that "of roughly 80 A-section stories on health-care reform since July 1, all but about a dozen focused on political maneuvering or protests."

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge is backpedaling even faster on his own claims that the Bush administration politicized the terror alert system, saying today, "I don't think it was ever politics."

In a book out today, Ridge wrote that Attorney General John Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "strongly urged" him to raise the alert level in the days before the 2004 presidential election. The excerpts from the book, The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege, caused a stir when they were released two weeks ago.

A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued. Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Rumsfeld. There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, "Is this about security or politics?"

Yesterday, Ridge said people were just "hyperventilating" over the comments and tried to walk them back.

"There was no pressure at all," he told the Erie Times-News. Ashcroft and Rumsfeld "expressed their opinions. ... The process worked ... It was designed so that nobody could pressure anybody to do anything," he told Good Morning America.

But today, he appeared on CNN's American Morning to backpedal ever faster on his own comments.

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New RNC Ad: Steele Pushes Deatherism Issues Michael Steele is starring in a new TV ad by the Republican National Committee, which will run on select national cable channels and in Florida. In the ad, Steele promotes the RNC's positive "Seniors' Bill of Rights" -- which is itself a warning against the Democrats wanting to cut Medicare and kill senior citizens, which are the underlying themes of the "death panel" meme:

"Make it illegal to ration health care based on age. Prevent any government role in end-of-life care," Steele says. "And stop bureaucrats from getting between seniors and their doctors. A few things we should all agree on. The Seniors' Bill of Rights."

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will receive a briefing in the Oval Office today at 1:15 p.m. ET on preparedness and response efforts surrounding the H1N1 flu virus. At 2:45 p.m. ET, he will meet with Vice President Biden in the Oval Office. At 8 p.m. ET, Obama will host a dinner celebrating Ramadan.

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