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$6 Billion Goes Missing at State Department

Joker-billionaire-burning-money

For The Fiscal TimesBrianna Ehley reports: The State Department has no idea what happened to $6 billion used to pay its contractors.

In a special “management alert” made public Thursday, the State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick warned “significant financial risk and a lack of internal control at the department has led to billions of unaccounted dollars over the last six years.

The alert was just the latest example of the federal government’s continued struggle with oversight over its outside contractors.

[Related: Government Blatantly Wastes $30 Billion This Year]

The lack of oversight “exposes the department to significant financial risk,” the auditor said. “It creates conditions conducive to fraud, as corrupt individuals may attempt to conceal evidence of illicit behavior by omitting key documents from the contract file. It impairs the ability of the Department to take effective and timely action to protect its interests, and, in tum, those of taxpayers.”

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The Book That Predicted ‘Portlandia': A ’70s Cult Novel Is Relevant Again

Noah Berger for The New York Times PRESCIENT In Ernest Callenbach’s ’70s book, residents of Ecotopia recycle and eat local foods.

In Ernest Callenbach’s ’70s book, residents of Ecotopia recycle and eat local foods. Credit- Noah Berger for NYT

This article is from 2008, but even more relevant now. I had a flashback today, to a book I read a long, long time ago, “Ecotopia,” that had an influence on my thinking. It was a NYT2008121119154589Cpopular counterculture book at the time (during the post-Watergate Ford/Carter era, I was a typical know-nothing dreamy liberal, barely out of high school) and today I discovered Ecotopia‘s influence was wider than I realized. A quick search turned up this NYT article, exactly what I was looking for.

[Order the classic cult novel Ecotopia from Amazon]

It confirmed my suspicion, that Ernest Callenbach‘s futuristic book did, in fact, accurately predict trends that are flourishing today. Not just in the Pacific Northwest (where the novel takes place) but in other parts of America, too. If you’ve seen Portlandia, and know this semi-obscure cult book, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

For the NYT, in 2008, Scott Timberg writes:

Sometimes a book, or an idea, can be obscure and widely influential at the same time. That’s the case with “Ecotopia,” a 1970s cult novel, originally self-published by its author, Ernest Callenbach, that has seeped into the American groundwater without becoming well known.

The novel, now being rediscovered, speaks to our ecological present: in the flush of a financial crisis, the Pacific Northwest secedes from the United States, and its citizens establish a sustainable economy, a cross between Scandinavian socialism and Northern California back-to-the-landism, with the custom — years before the environmental writer Michael Pollan began his campaign — to eat local.

White bicycles sit in public places, to be borrowed at will. A creek runs down Market Street in San Francisco. Strange receptacles called “recycle bins” sit on trains, along with “hanging ferns and small plants.” A female president, more Hillary Clinton than Sarah Palin, rules this nation, from Northern California up through Oregon and Washington.

Left to Right: Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein - Episode 2: Ecoterrorists -   Photo Credit: Augusta Quirk/IFC

Left to Right: Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein – Episode 2: Ecoterrorists -
Photo Credit: Augusta Quirk/IFC

“ ‘Ecotopia’ became almost immediately absorbed into the popular culture,” said Scott Slovic, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a pioneer of the growing literature-and-the-environment movement. “You hear people talking about the idea of Ecotopia, or about the Northwest as Ecotopia. But a lot of them don’t know where the term came from.”

In the ’70s, the book, with a blurb from Ralph Nader, was a hit, selling 400,000 or so copies in the United States, and more worldwide. But by the raging ’80s, the novel, along with the Whole Earth Catalog, seemed like a good candidate for a ’70s time capsule — a dusty curio without much lasting impact.

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The “Love Hormone” Can Make You Racist: Study

Originally posted on TIME:

Corrected April 4, 2014, 3:53 p.m.

The oxytocin hormone is often described as the “love hormone” or “cuddling chemical,” but there might be a darker side to it. Not only does it make you feel all loved-up and happy, but also racist and nepotistic, a new study suggests.

In the study, professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam Carsten de Dreu found that the loved-up feeling you get when flooded with oxytocin — which is also released by the popular party drug Molly, also known as Ecstasy or MDMA — only extends to your “in-group.”

Oxytocin, he said, “motivates in-group favoritism” and “derogation” of outsiders. He added that it had “a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.”

In the study’s experiments, the participants — all Dutch males — were told that they had to choose five persons out of six that would gain access to…

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Eric Holder Defends Using Justice Department Airplane for 27 Personal Trips

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Attorney General Eric Holder disputed a Government Accountability Office report on his use of Justice Department airplanes for personal trips, saying it overstated the number of trips he took and failed to recognize that some trips were job-related.

“My staff keeps telling me to take it easy, you know, well, this is one that gets me,” Holder told Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing. “There was this notion that we’ve taken — I think it was described as hundreds of personal trips. That was wrong. GAO counted flights, not round trips. And we looked at it and figured out from the time period that they were looking, we took not hundreds, but 27 personal, four combined — official and nonpersonal trips — and none of the trips that I took or that the [FBI] director took ever had an impact on the mission capability of those airplanes.”

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$1.5M Hotel Bill for President Obamas One-Day Visit to Brussels

Obama-Sparkly-New-Spending

In late March, President Obama took a week-long trip through Europe which included a stop of less than 24 hours in Brussels, Belgium for meetings with the European Union and NATO. The president stayed at The Hotel, a twenty-seven story hotel in the center of the city. The estimated cost for the president’s stay, including about two weeks for an advance team, was $1,522,646.36.

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Read more….

The Weekly Standard


‘Uncle Leland’: Political Ambition and Debt Put California Senator on a Collision Course with FBI in Five-Year Corruption Sting

 CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

For MediumErica Perez, Matt Smith and Lance Williams write:  The sun was shining on a brisk January day when Leland Yee took a seat at an undisclosed San Francisco coffee shop. Across from him sat a Cosa Nostra crime boss.For more than two years, the California state senator had been engaged in a frantic quest for campaign cash. Over a steakhouse dinner the previous spring, he’d begun taking envelopes of cash—a risky move for the normally cautious politician. Now he was looking at a much bigger deal, one that could put his financial obstacles behind him in one stroke.

[See also Inside the Chinatown Gang That Lured Leland Yee into Arms Trafficking]

The mobster, who claimed to hail from New Jersey, wanted millions of dollars worth of smuggled firearms: automatic weapons, “shoulder-fired” missiles. Yee, 65, a career politician whose square, earnest face was a fixture in Chinatown, and who was perennially seen stumping for stricter gun control laws in Sacramento, said he was confident he could help. For a fee, the Democrat indicated he could connect the mobster with a high-end arms dealer with contacts in Russia, the Ukraine, “Muslim countries.”

[More VIDEO: Corruption Case: Who is Gangland Dragon Head Raymond ‘Shrimp Boy’ Chow?]

“Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money,” Yee said. But the transaction was not for the “faint of heart,” he warned: The last time Yee had dealt with an arms dealer, they were in the Philippines, and Yee was surrounded by bodyguards with machine guns.

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BREAKING: AP Photographer Killed, Reporter Wounded in Afghanistan

FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2013 file photo Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, right, and AP journalist Kathy Gannon, are pictured during a visit to the photo agency Keystone in Zurich, Switzerland . Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and Kathy Gannon was wounded Friday, April 4, 2014 when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan. Niedringhaus, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly, according to an AP freelancer who witnessed the shooting. Gannon, the reporter, was wounded twice and is receiving medical attention. (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri, File)

Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, right, and AP journalist Kathy Gannon, are pictured during a visit to the photo agency Keystone in Zurich, Switzerland . Niedringhaus, 48, was killed and Kathy Gannon was wounded Friday, April 4, 2014 when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan.  (AP Photo/Keystone, Walter Bieri, File)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan police commander opened fire Friday on two Associated Press journalists inside a security forces base in eastern Afghanistan, killing prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus and wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon.

“Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss.”

– AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll

Niedringhaus, 48, who had covered conflict zones from the Balkans in the 1990s to Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and was part of a team of AP photographers who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005, died instantly of her wounds.

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Gannon, who for many years was the news organization’s Afghanistan bureau chief and currently is a special correspondent for the region, was shot three times in the wrists and shoulder. After surgery, she was in stable condition and spoke to medical personnel before being flown to Kabul. Read the rest of this entry »


Rockin’ the Art World: George Bush’s Portrait Exhibition Opens in Dallas

Portraits of (clockwise from bottom left) former  President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, and the former president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. All were painted by former President George W. Bush. Credit - Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

Portraits of (clockwise from bottom left) former  President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, and the former president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak. All were painted by former President George W. Bush. Credit – Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times

Don’t let Peter Baker‘s pretentious, dreadful first sentence in this NYT article dissuade you (enjoy it, I know I did, ever so frostily) it’s a good subject. Former President Bush is a fine amateur painter!

Peter Baker writes:  A dour Vladimir Putin glares ever so frostily, full of menace, free of mirth, ready to annex any passer-by unwise enough to get too close.

Tony Blair stares ahead, sober and resolute. Hamid Karzai, in traditional green cap and cape, glances off to the side, almost as if checking over his shoulder for the Taliban — or perhaps for the United States. The Dalai Lama looks serene, Stephen Harper jovial, Jiang Zemin grim.

“…Putin has certainly put himself on display for the world. I don’t think there’s much more we can say about Putin that Putin hasn’t already revealed to the world in living color.”

– Stephen J. Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser

The world’s most distinctive gallery of international leaders opens in Dallas on Saturday, famous faces as seen through the eyes of the former president of the United States and noted amateur painter, George W. Bush. Graduating from dogs and cats and landscapes, Mr. Bush has produced a collection of more than two dozen portraits of foreign figures he encountered while in office and put them on display at his presidential library.

“I spent a lot of time on personal diplomacy and I befriended leaders. I learned about their families and their likes and dislikes, to the point where I felt comfortable painting them.”

– Artist and former President G.W.Bush

The official debut of the artist known as W. peels back the curtain on the hobby that has consumed him, and intrigued many others, over the last couple of years. Although some of his early works, including vaguely unsettling self portraits in the bath and shower, were posted on the Internet after his family’s email accounts were hacked, this is the first time the former president has staged an exhibit of his art. And his choices are as revealing about the artist as the subjects.

A self-portrait by Mr. Bush, left, and a portrait of his father, the former President George Bush. Credit Kim Leeson for the George W. Bush Presidential Center..

A self-portrait by Mr. Bush, left, and a portrait of his father, the former President George Bush. Credit – Kim Leeson for the George W. Bush Presidential Center..

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Noonan: A Catastrophe Like No Other

U.S. President Barack Obama is accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden as he speaks on the Affordable Care Act. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama is accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden as he speaks on the Affordable Care Act. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The president tries to put a good face on ObamaCare

For The Wall Street Journal, former Obama supporter Peggy Noonan writes:  Put aside the numbers for a moment, and the daily argument.

“Seven point one million people have signed up!”

“But six million people lost their coverage and were forced onto the exchanges! That’s no triumph, it’s a manipulation. And how many of the 7.1 million have paid?”

“We can’t say, but 7.1 million is a big number and redeems the program.”

“Is it a real number?”

“Your lack of trust betrays a dark and conspiratorial right-wing mindset.”

As I say, put aside the argument, step back and view the thing at a distance. Support it or not, you cannot look at ObamaCare and call it anything but a huge, historic mess. It is also utterly unique in the annals of American lawmaking and government administration.

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For The Los Angeles Times, a Most Revealing Juxtaposition

lat.april2_.2014Chris Reed writes: If you’re a conservative or libertarian who’s not just mad but astounded by how much the media protect Barack Obama, Wednesday’s front page of The Los Angeles Times was likely to generate either a stroke or a snort of disbelief/amusement. But if you are someone who may not be ideological yet is open to the idea that media bias is real and powerful, it should have been a jolt, too.

The lead story on the top right of the page was a news account of President Obama’s Tuesday “victory lap” press conference in which he said that the fact that 7.1 million Americans had allegedly enrolled under the Affordable Care Act was proof that he was right and everyone who criticized the ACA was wrong. The headline pushed readers to accept this view; the subhead made the case that only selfish people opposed the law.

In the story itself, the first half by David Lauter and Christi Parsons of the Times’ Washington bureau gave no larger context at all — it was all “victory lap.” Among the 40 relevant things it didn’t mention, most significant was the fact that it chose not to say that so many past claims about Obamacare proved wildly in error. Nor did it emphasize that it appears that there were more people signing up for the ACA through government exchanges because they lost their coverage due to ACA rules then there were of people who previously had no health insurance.

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‘House of Cards': Kate Mara talks The Thing That Happened to Zoe

The Butcher:

house-of-cards-04

This isn’t really a spoiler, by this stage. It’s not new. But the interview with Kate Mara, about her character, Zoe, is definitely worth reading if you’re a House of Cards fan.

Originally posted on Inside TV:

[ew_image url=”http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/i/2014/02/18/house-of-cards-04.jpg” credit=”Nathaniel Bell/Netflix” align=”left”]

The second season of House of Cards begins with a shocking development for ambitious journalist Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) — or, at least, one that’s shocking for anyone who isn’t familiar with the original British version of House of Cards. (If you haven’t watched yet, you might want to stop reading… now.)

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