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What if I told you that for every $1 you invested, your business would get $28 back?

A Business Week analysis of earmark and lobbying data shows just how lucrative hiring a lobbyist can be for a company looking for federal money:

The results suggest a startling conclusion: On average, companies generated roughly $28 in earmark revenue for every dollar they spent lobbying. And those at the very top did far better than the average: More than 20 companies pulled in $100 or more for every dollar spent. By any standard, that's a hefty ratio: The companies in the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index brought in just $17.52 in revenues for every dollar of capital expenditure in 2006.

Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker are before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning, and are still on opening statements. As they reiterated their statements, I noticed something in Petraeus' description of the credibility of his methodology for sectarian attacks and civilian casualties. Here's how Petraeus describd his "rigorous, consistent data collection and analysis:

Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.

As Josh noted yesterday, it would be nice to know which agencies these are, as CIA and DIA reportedly have qualms about MNF-I's methods. But looking at that statement closely, it may be possible to square the methodological circle. Notice that Petraeus didn't say that those agencies blessed MNF-I's methods as the "most accurate and authoritative," full-stop. He said that they found it's the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq. The alternative collection and analysis on Iraq is conducted by different agencies of the Iraqi government, which release sometimes-conflicting data. And needless to say, the Iraqi government has a huge incentive to downplay both civilian and especially sectarian casualties.

It would be hard for the professionals at MNF-I to have a worse methodology than the Iraqis. But that doesn't mean MNF-I has a better method of tallying both figures than other elements of the U.S. government. Perhaps the Senators today will get some clarification from Petraeus.

Larry Flynt has more information on Sen. David Vitter's (R-LA) extracurricular "activities" --particularly a four-month relationship with a former New Orleans prostitute-- that he plans to make public sometime soon. (Associated Press)

Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA) has withdrawn from the board of a charity whose success over the past years has relied almost exclusively on the legislative procurements of Sen. John Murtha (D-PA). Pennsylvania Association for Individuals with Disabilities was launched with the help of Murtha several years ago, and has since been virtually dependent on funds obtained through his earmarks. Cleland left his position with the charity after Roll Call questioned him on his relationship with the organization. (Roll Call)

Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) knows what's wrong the current FISA law: it's too restrictive. Bond wants retroactive immunity for telecommunications firms that aided the government in spying, perhaps the only request not granted to the President in the reform this summer. (Associated Press)

Democrats are focusing more and more on the case of ex-Governor Siegelman (D-AL). After yesterday's waving-off by the Justice Department of requests for more information on the government's prosecution, Democrats are seeing the imprisoned former politician as one of the clearest examples of partisan politics thoroughly corrupting the rule of law. (NY Times)

The Veteran Affairs Department has claimed that 95% of all veterans are able to receive scheduled care within 30 days of booking. However, a review by the Department's Inspector General found that percentage was closer to 75%, with a fair share of those waiting more than a month having serious service-related disabilities. (Associated Press)

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Out of all the slides and talk of statistics yesterday, there's one in particular that's stood out. This one:

In it, Gen. Petraeus has helpfully indicated the ambiguity of the timing of future troop reductions with tiny question marks. 2008 or beyond? Who knows?

In an analysis, Paul Richter of The Los Angeles Times says the takeaway is clear:

The talk in Washington on Monday was all about troop reductions, yet it also brought into sharp focus President Bush's plans to end his term with a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq, and to leave tough decisions about ending the unpopular war to his successor.

The plans outlined by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would retain a large force in the country -- perhaps more than 100,000 troops -- when the time comes for Bush to move out of the White House in January 2009....

But while Petraeus and Crocker made the administration's general goals clear, it left uncertain their thinking on a variety of key issues.

Nothing new was said, for example, on how the administration intends to try to break apart the governmental gridlock in Baghdad, which has obstructed the administration's plan to bring about national reconciliation through agreements by the national government. Does the administration want to try to overhaul the badly balkanized government, or empower the local governments?

Also unanswered was what course the administration will take if it turns out that fewer U.S. forces are unable to maintain the current level of security when the five brigades leave by summer.

Those issues most likely will be left for the next president, whose new job is looking tougher all the time.

Gen. Petraeus almost made it through today's marathon hearing without a question about his September 2004 op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that training for the Iraqi security forces -- which he then commanded -- was going well. Almost.

Not much of that op-ed looks prescient today. Among its claims:

By early spring, nine academies in Iraq and one in Jordan will be graduating a total of 5,000 police each month from the eight-week course, which stresses patrolling and investigative skills, substantive and procedural legal knowledge, and proper use of force and weaponry, as well as pride in the profession and adherence to the police code of conduct.

Nearly three years later, the Jones commission found that the police have practically no investigative or forensic skills to speak of, and that the Iraqi Army -- considered the more competent and trustworthy service -- is at least a year away from having the capacity to take over the country. While it's hard to say that any specific statistic in the op-ed is wrong, events didn't bear out Petraeus' portrait of an increasingly competent security force.

In response to a question from Rep Eliot Engel (D-NY), however, Petraeus defended the piece.

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Back in July, Democrats asked the Justice Department for internal documents relating to a trio of controversial prosecutions -- cases where suspicions were high of political interference. They were the prosecution of Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin, former Gov. Don Siegelman (D-AL), and Dr. Cyril Wecht, a Democratic coroner in Pennsylvania.

Last week, the Justice Department replied by providing documents -- most of them already public case filings (although there was one telling email). The Department did not turn over documents that Congress was really after, internal memoranda discussing the cases. Such "deliberative" material, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski wrote in a letter, could not be turned over, because it would have a chilling effect on "candid internal deliberations." In a letter today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and other members called that response "unacceptable" and asked to work out some arrangement to view the documents (see below).

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Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) didn't have much success in getting Gen. Petraeus to go into more detail about how he's derived his statistics for civilian casualties and sectarian attacks. Petraeus reminded Smith -- who misspoke by claiming Petraeus didn't present his total-casualty stats -- that he's presented Congress with the statistics that he has. But notice that Petraeus doesn't answer Smith's question about how Shiite-on-Shiite attacks or other, murkier "ethno-sectarian violence" (to use the general's phrase) gets classified.

Rep Vic Snyder (D-AK) took a look at Gen. Petraeus' plan for drawing down troops and had a question: how long will we ultimately be in Iraq? Petraeus didn't answer.

Notice that over some unspecified period of time, Petraeus envisions drawing down to five U.S. brigades, for strategic and operational "overwatch" purposes, which would mean between 20,000 and 25,000 troops remaining in the country. In fairness, this is a question for President Bush -- more realistically, his successor -- but getting an answer is still critical.

Both Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker endorsed the White House's upcoming benchmark report -- the one that the White House will want to call the Petraeus Report. "I don't think that there is any substantive change in that report, according to the draft I saw the other day, nothing substantive whatsoever that was different in that report," Petraeus said. Crocker assented.

Here's a surprise: Gen. Petraeus told Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) that his command and the Maliki government have a standing committee to work out timetables for transferring control of Iraqi provinces to the Iraqis. Those timetables are apparently classified, but Petraeus said he'd get them to the House Armed Services Committee.

It would be interesting to know how the timetable for turning over Iraqi provinces corresponds to Gen. Petraeus' cautious recommendations on troop withdrawals. He said that the timetables can slip, owing to circumstances -- Diyala will take longer, owing to the infusion of insurgents to Baquba since the surge; Anbar will be turned over in January 2008 -- which is fair enough.

But does Petraeus envision a departure of forces from a province back to the U.S., or a reassignment of forces to a different one? Or will U.S. forces simply remain in some provinces in support roles? After all, at some point, all 18 provinces will be turned over. What will happen to U.S. forces then? Or will certain provinces -- say, Baghdad, which is its own province -- not be turned over in any foreseeable time frame?

Also, if Petraeus can say openly that Anbar can be handed over in January 2008, why should the rest of the timetables be classified?