The money trail

John McCaslin
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Posted: Dec 15, 2005 6:05 AM

Given the monetary investment by American taxpayers in Iraq and Afghanistan - approaching a staggering half-trillion dollars in the space of four years - it's no wonder President Bush is so determined to stay the course and complete the mission.

The question, however, remains: Who is keeping track of all this money and how is it being spent?

Desperately seeking those answers, and a whole lot more, is the Project On Government Oversight (in its infancy the Project on Military Procurement, made famous initially for exposing the Pentagon's $7,600 coffeemaker and $436 hammer.)

POGO, as it's called today, has since expanded its mandate to all federal agencies, investigating systemic waste, fraud, favoritism and abuse - particularly at a time when there is little oversight and "our federal government is more vulnerable than ever to the influence of money in politics and powerful special interests."

"I think (Hurricane) Katrina has started to spark an awareness . . . that we need to start asking more significant questions (about federal allocations and spending). That is the patriotic thing to do," POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian told The Beltway Beat on Wednesday.

Specifically regarding the U.S. military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress has made it known that in addition to the $50 billion it will provide to American troops in the days before Christmas, the Pentagon wants a wartime request of $100 billion. And few are arguing against such allocations, given the danger posed to the U.S. troops.

"You have Congress suddenly presented with a massive request from the Pentagon, and you will always have a general feeling in Congress that 'I can't question that too much,'" Brian explains. "Most would agree that national security is the most important function of government, so you have a tendency not to ask questions on substance."

That said, there always remain questions about "what we are paying for and who are we paying? Questioning how the government spends its money . . . has gone out of vogue. It amazes me."

So POGO, we learned, is to branch out even further, actually investigating the arm of Congress that is charged with conducting oversight probes.

"The (Government Accountability Office) first of all is much smaller than it used to be; it does not have the tools it used to have," Miss Brian says. "So we are going to study the GAO, the (inspectors general), looking at these institutions that exist today to protect taxpayers, to determine if they have the tools they need to accomplish their mission.

"What we've found is that . . . Congress is not asking the right questions. So starting this coming year, we will be beginning monthly briefings on congressional oversight for congressional staff," she says.

TASTING DEMOCRACY

Texas Rep. Ted Poe first made a name for himself as a straight-talking, no-nonsense felony court judge in Houston, most famous for his "shame punishment" of criminals.

As his biography recalls, he ordered thieves to carry signs in front of stores from which they stole; required men who abused their wives to publicly apologize on the steps of city hall; commanded sex offenders to place warning signs on their homes after serving prison time; and directed murderers to securely place a photo of their victims on the wall of their prison cells, creating a daily reminder of their crime.

Now, Poe, tell us how you feel about the media coverage of the trial of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein?

"He pontificates about how he is unjustly treated," the Republican observes. "Witnesses in the trial have described rapes, beatings and electric-shock torture carried out by his relentless regime. But the news stories focus on his outrageous court behavior instead of his years of vicious violence and mayhem.

"The caged rodent known as Saddam Hussein can protest all he wants, but even the likes of him now receive a fair trial. Justice will soon be served, and he will be punished like the rat that he is. We call this justice system democracy."

GOOD LUCK, LADY

"If you are surfing for a 'cheap thrill,' have a criminal record, a fetish for tattoos, are allergic to dogs, mean to waiters, melt in the rain, have ever cheated on someone, cuss continually, are a control-freak, have roller-coaster mood swings, often see yourself as a victim, are pessimistic or cynical to the point of diverting happiness, have ever run naked through the quad, take antidepressants, feign illnesses, want someone to define rather than enjoy you, or anything of similar nature please do not contact me. Thanks." - Personal ad taken out by a 32-year-old Washington-area woman on the popular Internet dating site match.com.

CHANGE OF HEART

Former Sen. Jesse Helms has videotaped a plea urging Americans to help combat the AIDS epidemic in Africa and to treat victims of the deadly disease as if they were family.

The North Carolina Republican was an outspoken opponent of funding for AIDS research, but his views evolved during his final years in the Senate, partly because of a friendship he developed with rock singer Bono of the band U2, who pushed him to the fight against AIDS.

"Until then," Helms has said, "it had been my feeling that AIDS was a disease largely spread by reckless and voluntary sexual and drug-abusing behavior, and that it would probably be confined to those in high-risk populations. I was wrong."

In fact, The Beltway Beat learned that Helms and Bono dined together Monday in Charlotte before U2's concert, joining roadies and other U2 band members. The senator gave Bono a signed copy of his recently released memoir, "Here's Where I Stand," and a copy of the AIDS video he taped.

HATE DROP

Former Clinton campaign strategist Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of the Israel Project in Washington, was the target of anti-Semitic and racist material left in the driveway of her Annapolis home this past weekend.

Twenty-two pages of material were placed in a bag that, upon first glance, appeared to be an appeal to find a missing child, except beneath the picture were the words: "A Future For White Children Is Missing."

Police in Maryland are investigating the incident. Washington Jewish Week reports that propaganda drops like this one tend to be the work of the neo-Nazi group National Alliance.

Besides her friendship with former President Bill Clinton, Mizrahi was recognized as "A Point of Light" by former President George Bush.