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The Skinny: Breaking News -- Our Government Is Disorganized; Thanksgiving Is A Busy Travel Day

The Skinny, Hillary Profita's take on the top of the news and the best of the Web, appears daily here on Public Eye and on the "Evening News" page at

Here's a shocker for you: The government is disorganized. I kid you not. The Washington Post has obtained a leaked copy of a report from a consulting group hired by the
Department of Homeland Security that sought to "determine whether [DHS] was following federal contracting laws and internal policies." Well, the consultants "could not locate 33 of the 72 contract files it had selected for the review."

And the ones they did find? Those "often lacked basic documentation required under federal rules, such as evidence that the department negotiated the best prices for taxpayers."

The consultants wrote in their report: "The inability to locate files and inconsistent file organization puts the government at risk in ensuring the contractor is fulfilling its contractual obligations and the government is meeting its contract administration responsibilities." Oops.

In what might just be the most damning assessment of the situation possible, one expert who teaches at the University of Baltimore School of Law told the Post: "This strongly suggests that we're buying the wrong stuff, the wrong way, possibly from the wrong contractors, and failing to check before, during or after."

Fortunately, a DHS spokesperson has informed the Post that officials are following the consultants' recommendations on fixing the situation: "We've acted upon each one of their findings. It was an internal look. We are going to bring them in again to make sure we are following up," he said.

Assassination Roils Lebanon

The assassination of Pierre Gemayel, a 34-year-old Lebanese cabinet minister, "push[es] Lebanon a step closer to civil strife," writes The Washington Post, which features two front page articles on the assassination of Gemayel, "an anti-Syrian politician and scion of the country's most prominent Christian family."

The killing was "the latest in a string of attacks on Lebanese leaders critical of Syria," says the Los Angeles Times. As the future of Lebanon continues to be in question following this summer's Israel-Hezbollah conflict, the assassination again "inflamed tensions between the anti-Syria coalition trying to hold its government together and the Syrian-allied opposition, led by Hezbollah," The New York Times writes.

The event also does not bode well for the U.S., writes the NYT, which "is heavily invested in the survival" of the current Lebanese government, "which has offered Washington a chance — however faded — to thwart the spread of Iranian influence in the region." Gemayel's murder will also likely affect U.S. efforts in Iraq, as "some foreign-policy experts have urged the Bush administration to reach out to Syria and Iran in an effort to curb Iraq's violence," writes The Wall Street Journal. The Post summed that problem up this way: "Indeed, the bullets that raked Gemayel's car also fired on U.S. policy, analysts say."

Filmmaker Robert Altman

Newspapers pay tribute this morning to director Robert Altman, who died yesterday at 81. Altman was "one of the most adventurous and influential American directors of the late 20th century," writes the New York Times on its front page.

In another front page article, The Los Angeles Times calls him a "maverick director who earned a reputation as one of America's most original filmmakers," and includes several remembrances from actors who worked with him. Elliot Gould, who appeared in several Altman's films, told the paper: "He was a riverboat gambler; he dared to show life taking its course. He was quite an innovational artist."

Altman never stopped producing films -- his last being, "A Prairie Home Companion." His breakout film was 1970's M*A*S*H, which "an uncomprehending 20th Century Fox had little clue" would be a hit, but its "irreverence tapped perfectly into the mood of a country burned by Vietnam," writes USA Today. He had a list of "landmark movies" other than M*A*S*H, including "Nashville," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," "The Player," and "Gosford Park," which the NYT calls "something of a late-career comeback." Altman earned five Academy Award nominations for best director and was awarded an honorary Oscar in March.

This Just In ...

Finally, dear readers, on this busiest of busy travel days, I'm going to share a number with you. It's one that you're going to hear approximately 85 times today. That number is 38 million. Last year, it was 37 million. I'm talking about the number of people that AAA estimates will be traveling this Thanksgiving. You see, this week is very big one for AAA. This is the time of year when the AAA spokesperson comes out of wherever it is he or she hangs out during the times of the year that are not notable for their exorbitant number of travelers and tells the world (with what I imagine as all the fanfare of Punxsutawney Phil emerging from the depths) how many Americans will be traveling (50 miles or more) from home.

Everyone repeats this information in their newspapers, Web sites, and television news programs many times throughout the holiday. They note how much of an increase this year's number of travelers is from last year's number of travelers; how this increase appears to occur every year. So, when you're sitting in your Honda Civic wondering if you'll ever get off of the New Jersey turnpike, or waiting on line to have your liquids inspected before you board the plane, you'll have something to ponder. You heard it here first. Or more likely, seventh. Happy Thanksgiving. The Skinny will return next Tuesday.

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