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  • Pentagon Confirms It Gave $1.4 Billion in No-Bid Fuel Contracts to Mysterious Companies

    The Pentagon's main supply agency has acknowledged awarding $1.4 billion in no-bid contracts to two foreign companies whose ownership and management seem extremely mysterious. The contracts, involving delivery of aviation fuel to U.S.-run air bases in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, are currently under investigation by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, one of Congress's most powerful panels. Among other things, the subcommittee is examining allegations by human-rights activists and others that the companies are connected to the families of two former Kyrgyz leaders who were toppled in the past several years amid allegations of corruption....
  • Senators Say Obama Administration Fails to Comply With Fort Hood Subpoenas

    The leaders of the Senate’s most powerful oversight committee say the Obama administration has “failed to comply” with subpoenas the committee sent to the Justice and Defense departments demanding access to records and witnesses the committee says it needs to pursue an investigation into the background to the mass shootings at Fort Hood last Nov. 5 by accused killer Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. In a statement released on Tuesday, Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said that in response to subpoenas they sent out last week, the administration had provided some documents, including Hasan’s official Pentagon personnel file, an “official use only” annex to a Pentagon inquiry into the shootings, and what the senators described as Justice Department documents “concerning the review of Hasan’s communications.” A Senate source, who...
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    Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

    Author Peter Elkind, entranced by “the chasm between public image and private reality” (page vii), follows Eliot Spitzer’s rapid rise and faster fall. He’s the two-faced politician at its finest. Public Eliot was a beacon of justice, the scrappy David taking down the Goliaths of Wall Street, the insurance industry, and yes, even prostitution—all while Private Eliot deceived his wife, advisers, and the people he served by sneaking off to rendezvous with $1,000-an-hour escorts.
  • Transatlantic Flight Diverted to Maine After Unruly Passenger Mentions Explosives

    A Delta Airlines transatlantic flight made an unscheduled landing in Maine on Tuesday after an unruly passenger made threatening comments involving explosives, according to three federal officials who asked for anonymity when talking about an incident still under investigation. The Paris-to-Atlanta flight, Delta 273, was diverted to Bangor after the passenger, who has not yet been identified publicly, apparently announced that he was in possession of explosives and a fake passport. Initial indications are that the plane was roughly 60 to 90 minutes away from Bangor at the time, probably somewhere over Canada, says one of the federal officials. All three officials say that the man was subdued by Federal Air Marshals who had been assigned to provide security for that particular flight....
  • Feds Say Armed Man Arrested Near Obama Was Cop Wannabe

    An armed man was arrested Sunday at a North Carolina airport where President Obama's plane was about to depart, but federal authorities now believe the man was only a harmless police wannabe. Joseph Sean McVey was arrested after his car, equipped with police lights and a conspicuous array of radio equipment, much of it obsolete, pulled up outside the security perimeter of the Asheville Regional Airport, according to a federal law-enforcement official, who requested anonymity when discussing sensitive information. Air Force One is said to have been taxiing in preparation for takeoff, carrying the president and his entourage. ...
  • Gun-Dealer Case Sheds New Light on Hutaree Antigovernment Hatred

    A Michigan-based firearms dealer indicted this week on an unrelated federal gun charge had sold about a half  dozen weapons to members of the extremist Hutaree militia group that was plotting to assassinate police, a federal law-enforcement official tells Declassified.  ...
  • New Attention Being Paid to Bank of North Dakota

    As Washington tries to regulate Wall Street's newfangled derivatives, government officials in at least a dozen states are mulling a more old-school response to the financial crisis: 100 percent state-run banks. Since 1919, North Dakota has operated the nation's only depository of this kind, a genuinely socialist enterprise that spins tax revenues into loans for in-state farmers, students, and small-business owners. Unlike other banks, the Bank of North Dakota (BND) plows about half its profits into the state budget and takes cues from the governor, who acts as chairman, and a seven-member advisory board that the governor appoints.In normal times, such a bank might not be politically palatable. Now, however, it's emerging as an attractive model for lawmakers—in large part because North -Dakota flourished during the recession, with the nation's lowest unemployment rate (about 4 percent) and one of the largest budget surpluses (more than$1 billion). Some of the state's well-being is...
  • New York: When Nurses Strike, People Die

    The nation's nursing shortage is sure to be exacerbated soon by an uptick in stitches and surgeries that, prior to health-care reform, many Americans likely would have gone without. In years past, hospital administrators have tried to close the labor gap by demanding double shifts and tacking on extra responsibilities. Concerned about being too taxed to do their jobs well, nurses have walked out at least 750 times in recent decades, making the profession among the most strike-prone in the country.But the consequences of these stoppages have never been fully clear until now. A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that during 50 strikes at New York state hospitals between 1984 and 2004, patients were almost 20 percent more likely to die—a bump in mortality that translates to about 140 deaths. The study "surprises me," says Becky Patton, president of the American Nurses Association. But, Patton says, she still supports hardball tactics if management...
  • Montana vs. the Justice Department

    State lawmakers have done a lot since President Obama's election to shake off Uncle Sam, passing "sovereignty" resolutions and a record number of laws that specifically defy Congress on issues such as legalized marijuana and health-care reform. Most make the same claim: that the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government power to regulate commerce between states but doesn't permit interference in purely local affairs. Later this year, the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, which proclaims that guns manufactured in Montana and sold in state are not subject to federal rules such as background checks, is slated to become the first of these Obama-era commerce challenges tested in court. But the case, which originated when a gun-rights group sued the Justice Department for threatening a crackdown, shouldn't give separatists hope: it's doomed to fail, as will similar rebukes.That's because no state is an island (Hawaii included), and Congress can regulate anything that could jump state...
  • Has Syria Really Delivered New Missiles to Hizbullah?

    U.S. national-security officials say they have no confirmation of Israeli claims that Syria has delivered or is in the process of delivering new, longer-range Scud missiles to the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hizbullah. Although Syria may have begun making preparations to do so, U.S. intelligence reporting indicates that no such shipments have actually occurred, two senior U.S. officials tell Declassified, requesting anonymity when discussing sensitive information. According to the officials, the U.S. government's assessment is that Israelis' public complaints were a ploy to deter the Syrians from going ahead with the deliveries—a strategy that's working so far, the U.S. government believes....
  • Quote of the Day: BFD Embarrassed Biden

    “Damn, I was just thankful my mother couldn’t hear it or see it. It was a little embarrassing … I realized there was a microphone, but I had no idea it was that sensitive … And after it was over, we walked out and we got in the limo to go over to another event, and he was laughing like the devil.” —Vice President Joe Biden, explaining his BFD gaffe during the health-care bill signing and President Obama’s humorous take on the situation. 
  • Obama's Financial-Reform Speech Short on Specifics

    President Obama tried to capitalize on the growing anger against Wall Street during this morning's speech at Cooper Union in New York, where he urged politicians and bankers not to impede the financial-reform bill currently working its way through the Senate. "Unless your business model relies on bilking people, there's little to fear from these new rules," he said to the audience of roughly 700 people, including two top executives from Goldman Sachs, the investment bank the SEC recently sued for fraud....
  • Obama Won't Pull Punches on Wall Street

    Over at Wealth of Nations, Gaggle pal Sarah Ball's got a previewer of the president's speech to Wall Street today. After rounding up thoughts from the blogosphere, a very clear take on what he'll have to convey: Read the piece here.
  • What Obama's Cooper Union Audience Says About Financial Regulation

    There's a sense that political momentum has shifted in favor of financial reform. For example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed off earlier statements he made about starting over from scratch, and a derivatives-regulation measure even won the vote of one Republican, Iowa's Chuck Grassley, in committee yesterday....
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    Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History

    Thomas Barfield delivers a one-stop, full accounting of Afghanistan’s geography, people, and history. If it weren’t so painstakingly researched and intensely assembled, it could be called “Afghanistan for Dummies.” He starts in the premodern era and sweeps up through the present day.
  • Quote of the Day: President Obama

    "I don't have litmus tests around any of these issues, but I will say that I want somebody who is going to be interpreting our Constitution in a way that takes into account individual rights, and that includes women's rights, and that is going to be something that is very important to me." —President Obama on whom he'll nominate for the Supreme Court slot being vacated by John Paul Stevens. Read more about the Court at The Gaggle's Race for the Robe.