2011 - %3, October

Quote of the Day: "I Don't Care About That"

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 10:59 AM EDT

From Rick Perry, after John Harwood of the New York Times notes that his tax plan will mean huge tax cuts for the rich in an era of already skyrocketing income inequality:

But I don’t care about that.

I suppose there's something oddly refreshing about that response. There's also this:

Q. Why did you choose to keep the birther issue alive?

A. It’s a good issue to keep alive. You know, Donald [Trump] has got to have some fun. It’s fun to poke him a little bit and say “Hey, let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.” I don’t have a clue about where the president — and what this birth certificate says. But it’s also a great distraction. I’m not distracted by it.

I wonder what he thinks those last two sentences mean? Or is it just word salad, like much of the rest of the (short) interview, which is mostly just a core dump of the conservative id? It's hard to tell.

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After MoJo Report, US Probes Tech Company Linked to Syria

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 10:49 AM EDT
Protesters wave Syrian flags at a May anti-government rally in San Francisco.

The US State Department is looking into allegations—first reported by Mother Jones last week—that the Syrian regime is using a California company's internet-filtering technology to aid its crackdown on dissidents.

The company, Blue Coat Systems, denies selling its products to Syria. But that hasn't been enough to head off a government probe into the matter. "The issue of Blue Coat's technology being used in Syria is one that the State Department is taking very seriously and is very concerned about," a State Department official told the Washington Post on Saturday. State Department officials are "reviewing the information" they have about Syria's use of US technology and "monitoring the facts," a spokeswoman told the BBC on Monday.

Tech experts say that electronic records released by the hacktivist collective Telecomix earlier this month prove that Syria is using Blue Coat's technology. "Every IP address in all of the information released is registered in Syria," Jacob Appelbaum, a computer science researcher at the University of Washington, told Mother Jones last week. "Every IP address routes from Syria or from known Syrian equipment with the expected latency of machines run in Syria." 

Appelbaum believes the technology is capable of more than just blocking particular websites and search results: "It's a super policeman with a general warrant who spies on every person, records everything about that person and their activities and then it acts as the judge, jury and executioner," he said.

Selling internet-blocking devices or software to Syria directly would likely violate harsh US sanctions against the country. But if Syria obtained the technology through an intermediary, Blue Coat could be in the clear—provided that the transfer of the equipment happened without Blue Coat's knowledge or consent. A Blue Coat spokesman told Mother Jones last week that the company forbids its customers from reselling its products to embargoed countries. The company has opened its own investigation into the allegations, a spokesman told the BBC. 

Kansas Missing Key Files in Abortion Case

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 7:00 AM EDT

Earlier this month, a disciplinary board in Kansas voted to suspend former Attorney General Phill Kline's license to practice law in the state indefinitely after he repeatedly violated the rules of conduct in his investigations of abortion providers. Despite that, Planned Parenthood of Kansas  and Mid-Missouri is still stuck in court fighting criminal allegations that Kline raised against the clinic back in 2007.

The case before the judge accuses doctors at Comprehensive Health, the Planned Parenthood office in Overland Park, of not properly determining the gestational age of fetuses before performing an abortion, and therefore carrying out illegal late-term abortions. The prosecution has accused Planned Parenthood of not keeping proper records, and of covering that up by creating fake records. 

Planned Parenthood was supposed to be back in court on Monday to defend itself against those charges, which include allegations that the clinic falsified patients' medical files that he subpoenaed back in 2004. But last week it came to light that the prosecution doesn't have the abortion records that IT planned to use as evidence, because the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shredded the files in 2005.

District District Judge Stephen Tatum delayed the case until a Nov. 9 status conference, but it will be pretty hard to continue without official copies of the records that the clinic is accused of falsifying. Peter Brownlie, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told Mother Jones on Monday afternoon that he was disappointed that there's been yet another delay in a case that has now dragged on for years.

Book Review: El Narco

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

El Narco

By Ioan Grillo

BLOOMSBURY PRESS

In 2004, as Mexico's drug violence took a particularly bloody turn, Ioan Grillo was writing for the Houston Chronicle. His editor had one request: "Cover it like a war!" This graphic and fast-paced history covers south-of-the-border trafficking from '60s-era shipments of Acapulco Gold to the decapitation-filled headlines wrought by the likes of kingpin (and alleged billionaire) Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán and his rivals, the Zetas—special ops soldiers turned criminals. As Grillo tells it, the cartels' fratricide has barely dented an industry that nets an estimated $30 billion per year: "In the drug business, it seems, a war economy functions perfectly well."

Scott Walker's Recall Plan: Rake in Unlimited Cash

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R)

The fight to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker begins November 15, when the 60-day window opens for progressives, Democrats, and other Walker opponents to gather the more than half-million signatures they'll need to trigger a recall election. Conveniently for Walker, a loophole in Wisconsin elections law opens up the same day and spans the same 60-day window. For that two-month period, the state's $10,000 donation limit for individuals giving to gubernatorial candidates is out the window. That's right: Walker can raise unlimited campaign cash for his recall defense as his opponents round up support to recall him.

Going on a 60-day money bonanza is at the heart of Walker's recall defense strategy—at least that's how Wisconsin GOP chairman Brad Courtney put it at a GOP event in Milwaukee last Friday. According to an audio clip provided to Mother Jones, Courtney says Walker stressed to him the importance of being able to rake in unlimited funds to run ads defending his record—especially his controversial budget repair bill. That, of course, was the legislation that kneecapped public-sector unions and sparked a month of protest, including an occupation of the state Capitol. "What Scott says is we're gonna raise a lot of money—we can accept unlimited money for a 60-day time period, so you're gonna see a lot of positive, wonderful ads about what's going on in Wisconsin," Courtney told the crowd. (A Walker spokesman didn't respond to requests for comment. A Wisconsin GOP spokeswoman, Nicole Larson, declined to comment.)

Listen to the audio clip:

audio1 (mp3)

BPA Makes Little Girls Anxious and Depressed

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

A new study shows that girls who were exposed to chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) as fetuses are more highly prone to hyperactive, anxious, aggressive, and depressed behavior than boys of similar age. BPA, an estrogen-mimicking chemical used to harden plastic, is found in consumer products ranging widely from canned soups to baby bottles and grocery receipts. (MoJo's Kiera Butler's got the full rundown on BPA's health risks.)

The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, joins a mounting body of evidence linking BPA to various reproductive and developmental diseases. The study's authors tested urine samples of 244 mothers during pregnancy and at birth and of their children for the first three years. The urine tests showed BPA in 84 percent of the women's samples and in 96 percent of the children's, with indications that behavior problems in the girls rose with rising BPA levels. But while the study shows a strong correlation between behavioral change and BPA levels, its authors say more research is needed.

Meanwhile, other studies in recent years have linked BPA exposure to impaired thyroids, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast and prostate cancer, and infertility in both men and women. The Pediatrics study confirms two previous ones finding that prenatal exposure to BPA affects child behavior, and it's the first to demonstrate that BPA exposure prebirth may matter more than exposure postbirth, lead author Joe Braun told Bloomberg.

The growing case against BPA has motivated an increasing number of state legislators to ban the substance from certain consumer products. Earlier this month, California officially banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, joining 10 other states that have recently passed similar bills. Around the world, BPA is already outlawed in the European Union, Canada, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia.

The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees federal regulation over chemicals in the United States, does not support a ban on BPA. This, despite being heavily criticized by consumer advocacy groups and being sued for failing "to safeguard the food supply." In 2009 the Consumers Union warned of the health risks posed by BPA in food containers, basing its position on more than 200 different scientific studies. The FDA recognizes that the recent studies on BPA warrant reason for "some concern." But it ultimately argues that there are "substantial uncertainties" in the interpretation of the studies and says it is conducting its own research on the matter.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition, food, and public health professor at New York University, sums up the regulatory BPA debate neatly:

In the absence of compelling science, regulators have two choices: exercise the "precautionary principle" and ban [BPA] until it can be proven safe, or approve it until it can be shown to be harmful. The United States and European safety agencies—and the food industry, of course—prefer the latter approach.

It's not just about the science. Unsurprisingly, plastic and other industry lobbyists routinely call into question the methodology of studies condemning BPA use, as they did in this most recent case. The criticism makes sense given that industry groups have also been campaigning aggressively against state legislation banning BPA from certain consumer products. In California alone, the American Chemical Council (ACC) spent $9.4 million on lobbying since 2005, Greenwire reported earlier this month. And the money can be persuasive. Mother Jones reported last month that the Susan G. Komen foundation, a leading breast cancer research group, downplayed BPA's links to cancer around the time it was receiving funding from pro-BPA pharma companies.

Now that states are starting to move toward BPA bans despite industry opposition, groups like the ACC seem to be stepping up their game, making a new push for the FDA to have final say over BPA regulation. Of course, if federal jurisdiction were to override the emerging state-level bans, the FDA's inconclusive position on BPA as a public health threat would work well in the industry's favor.

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Behind Herman Cain's Smokin' Ad: His Big Tobacco Days

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
Herman Cain's campaign manager, Mark Block, stars in the 2011 art house flick, "Now is the time for action!"

This Herman Cain campaign ad, which was released last night, has gotten a lot of people wondering what Cain's been smoking. The Daily Beast's Michelle Goldberg calls Cain's smile at the end "the creepiest fucking thing I've ever seen." MoJo alum Suzy Khimm says Cain must be "clearly a devotee of Ryan Gosling in Drive, with that slooow smile at the end." Long-shot presidential candidate Buddy Roemer, who like the rest of the field is probably wondering why he is is trailing in the polls to Herman Cain, immediately contemplated filming a spoof.*

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 25, 2011

Tue Oct. 25, 2011 5:57 AM EDT

Soldiers of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, Agribusiness Development Team, and 489th Civil Affairs Battalion patrol to a village in the district of Mizan, Afghanistan, Oct. 17, 2011. Photo by the US Army.

Herman Cain's Wild West Campaign Spot

| Tue Oct. 25, 2011 12:51 AM EDT

Everyone's talking about Herman Cain's bizarre ad, in which his campaign manager lights a cigarette and Cain flashes a moderately evil grin at the very end. Yes, it's weird. But by any objective metric, this Cain online ad from August, when he was polling at at 5 percent, is actually much, much weirder:

For that matter, this spot, in which Cain announced his candidacy by wandering around someone else's farm, looking lost, is also kind of weird: 

 

Herman Cain Officially Declares Himself a Joke

| Mon Oct. 24, 2011 11:31 PM EDT

I dunno. Maybe your sense of humor isn't quite the same as mine. So no guarantees. But I swear I almost had a heart attack laughing at this ad from Herman Cain. I just couldn't stop. But you have to watch to the end. It's the cigarette and the smile that really make it. (Via Weigel.)

Brendan Nyhan offers this declaration: "I'm officially declaring the debate about whether Cain is a serious candidate over." Yes, please.