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After nearly a decade of mismanagement, theft and fraud, the U.S. military still hasn't found a way to staunch the flow of what is likely hundreds of millions -- if not billions -- of dollars in lost fuel in Afghanistan, some of which is sold on the black market and winds up in Taliban hands, a TPM investigation has found.

With political unrest in the Middle East sending oil over $100 per barrel and Congress more intent than ever at cutting government waste, fraud and abuse in tough budgetary times, the Defense Department is under intense pressure to find a way to monitor and track the flow of fuel in and out of its bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The extensive corruption associated with disappearing fuel in Afghanistan provides another illustration of the problems associated with the heavy use of private contractors on the battlefield. Earlier this week, the non-partisan Commission for Wartime Contracting reported that the U.S. government has spent $117 billion on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002, and tens of billions of those dollars have been wasted.

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North Carolina television station WTVD-TV has obtained voicemail messages "purportedly left by John Edwards" that a former aide says prove Edwards orchestrated the cover up his affair with campaign worker Rielle Hunter. The recordings were turned over to a federal grand jury that's investigating the former senator and presidential candidate.

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If the protesters in Wisconsin don't want to be falsely portrayed as violent, they should start being more violent, according to Stephen Colbert.

At least that's the suggestion he gave Wednesday night when pretending to defend Fox News from allegations that they used misleading footage of heated protests to paint peaceful Wisconsin protesters as violent. That allegation stems from footage of an altercation at a protest in California that was shown on The O'Reilly Factor during a discussion about violence in Wisconsin.

"Shocking footage from Madison Wisconsin," Colbert said. "They're not only bussing in people from out of state, they're also bussing in palm trees."

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Access to the state Capitol building in Wisconsin has now been heavily restricted, so some Democrats are providing a solution to members of the public who can't get to assembly members' offices: They're bringing their offices to them.

As WisPolitics reports, five Assembly Democrats -- Minority Leader Peter Barca, Cory Mason, Josh Zepnick, Nick Milroy and Fred Clark -- took desks outside, in order to meet with constituents and members of the public in below-freezing temperatures.

"Obviously there was a court order to open this building and anybody with a brain would tell you they're defying the court order," Barca told WisPolitics.

Why does Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi refuse to step down, despite the escalating violence in his country as Libyans demand that he do just that? Because he's whacked out on drugs -- and probably read too much Camus, according to Jon Stewart.

Stewart was incredulous Wednesday night about an interview in which Qaddafi said that he could not be asked to step down because Libya does not, in fact, have one leader. Rather, he claimed, it is a state run by all of the Libyan people.

"That is some existential bullshit," Stewart said.

"You cannot fire Muammar Qaddafi, because Muammar Qaddafi does not exist," he added.

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Top Democrats and Republicans from both sides of Capitol Hill will meet with Vice President Joe Biden Thursday afternoon for the first in a series of discussions about how to fund the federal government through September.

In attendance will be House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The White House extended the invitation to the leaders Wednesday, but it wasn't clear until this morning whether Republicans would accept it -- publicly, Boehner and McConnell had called on Reid to proffer the Democrats' spending plan before the GOP would begin negotiations in earnest.

Thursday's meeting is scheduled to occur in Biden's ceremonial Senate office.

By the slimmest of margins on Wednesday, the state Senate in Ohio passed the budget bill endorsed by Gov. John Kasich (R) and deplored by the unions and Democrats. The bill now moves to the state House where the sizable Republican majority is expected to pass it easily.

But before it does, it's worth taking a look at the six Republicans who voted against the bill in the Senate, and the fears they raised about the bill. Ohio will be an important state nationally in 2012, and is often pointed to in the press as a bellwhether for the national political picture. And to hear the Republicans who turned on Kasich in the Senate yesterday tell it, the bill that would gut collective bargaining rights for thousands of state workers in Ohio is a step too far to the right.

"This bill is not balanced," Sen. Scott Oelslager, one of two Republicans booted from their committee seats so the bill could pass, told the AP. "There has to be a balance between labor and management in negotiations. It tips the scales in favor of management."

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For the third time in the past two weeks, a national poll has found that roughly 60% of all Americans oppose eliminating collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, the highly contentious proposal put forward by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) that has deadlocked the state government and prompted weeks of protests inside the Wisconsin State Capitol.

In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 62% of Americans said it was "unacceptable" to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees, nearly twice as many as the 33% who said that was acceptable. Furthermore, nearly eight in ten said public employees should have the same bargaining rights as people in the private sector.

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