2012 - %3, September

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 27, 2012

Thu Sep. 27, 2012 9:21 AM EDT

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Bates, a security force squad leader for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, pulls security as locals look on during a mission to the director of information and culture's office in Farah City, Farah province, Afghanistan, Sept. 25. US Army photo.

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GOP Star Mia Love Fires Back at "Anchor Baby" Story

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 5:01 AM EDT
Mia Love speaks at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Mia Love has made her Haitian immigrant family's bootstraps story the centerpiece of her campaign to become the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. But on Monday, Mother Jones raised some serious questions about the Utah congressional candidate's public statements about her family's immigration story, which she's used to justify a host of draconian budget proposals that range from eliminating the school lunch program to axing student loans.

In 2011, Love described herself to a Deseret News reporter as what some in her party like to derisively call an "anchor baby"—that is, someone who was born in the United States to immigrants hoping to gain legal citizenship. "My parents have always told me I was a miracle and our family's ticket to America," she told the paper.

The story has created a bit of a stir in Utah, where Love is trying to knock off six-term incumbent Rep. Jim Matheson, the state's only Democratic member of the House. Love has fired back and done a number of interviews criticizing our story. Yet she still has refused to answer the fairly basic questions Mother Jones has been putting to her campaign for more than a month, namely: How did her parents get to the United States, and how did they survive here on only $10 if they didn't get any government "handouts"?

BPA From Cans Messes With Your Ovaries

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Ordinarily, I'd object to the practice of knowingly subjecting fellow primates to a harmful substance, even for the sake of science. And that's exactly what researchers from Washington State University and the University of California-Davis did for a study just released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (abstract; full study): They fed female rhesus monkeys low doses of the industrial chemical Bisphenol A (BPA).

But I'll give these researchers a pass. That's because most of the US public gets its own tiny daily dose of BPA—the stuff is widely used by the food-packaging industry, and traces of it leach out through metal cans and other food and beverage containers. A 2003 survey (summarized here) conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found detectable levels of it in 93 percent of urine samples in Americans six years old and older—and these findings are "considered representative of exposures in the United States," the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states.

What is this constant exposure to BPA doing to us? That's the legitimate question the WSU/UC-Davis team was examining when they spiked the diets of gestating female rhesus monkeys—a species with a reproductive system very similar to humans'—with levels of BPA equivalent to what most Americans get through their diets. And what they found is disturbing: "New evidence that the plastic additive BPA can disrupt women's reproductive systems, causing chromosome damage, miscarriages and birth defects," as the WSU web site put it in a summary.

Romney Gives a Shout-Out to Supporters Linked to Fraud Scheme

| Thu Sep. 27, 2012 5:00 AM EDT

Mitt Romney kicked off his appearance at last week's Univision Forum in Miami by thanking a few key supporters. First, he gave a nod to the state's former Republican governor, Jeb Bush. Then he turned to an elderly couple sitting near the front: "Remedios! Fausto! How are you?"

The GOP presidential candidate would be hard-pressed to find two more enthusiastic supporters in South Florida than Remedios Diaz-Oliver and her husband, Fausto, a Cuban-American power couple with GOP roots as deep as their pockets.

They also have a troubled history when it comes to the IRS and US Customs.

In 1999, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush was forced to distance himself from Remedios Diaz-Oliver when the Associated Press reported that she had recently pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of accessory to customs fraud after the fact and one of knowingly providing a false document. Diaz-Oliver had raised at least $25,000 for the Bush campaign at a Miami fundraiser, which campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes called "unfortunate," adding, "I could only speculate that if the (Miami) volunteers would have known, they would not have asked her to help in the host committee." The Diaz-Olivers and their business partners had been indicted on 18 counts relating to a tax evasion scheme, but Remedios' felony charges were dropped as part of the plea deal. Remedios was given three years' probation and forced to pay $92,012 to the US Customs Service. (The charges centered on a scheme to avoid paying import duties on imported food products by filing fraudulent invoices.) "I can go back to work and I don't have to spend one single day in any place," a relieved Diaz-Oliver told the Miami Herald at the time.

 

"In my 40 years in private business, I have never evaded my tax obligations," Diaz-Oliver wrote in an email to Mother Jones. "Moreover, I have never committed, nor plead, to any felony violations. To the contrary, I have always proudly paid all of my tax dues to this great country, which opened its doors to me. The record stands absolutely clear on that."

Fausto Diaz-Oliver, meanwhile pleaded guilty in 1999 as part of the same case, to felony charges of corporate tax evasion and customs fraud. He received a sentence of three years probation and 300 hours of community service.

Remedios Diaz-Oliver's ties to the Romney campaign go well beyond that one shout-out. In a January press release, the Romney campaign named Diaz-Oliver as a member of its National Hispanic Steering Committee, alongside prominent Republicans, including former Florida Sen. Mel Martinez. That month, the couple appeared at an event for the US-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, of which Diaz-Oliver is a member. In May, both Diaz-Olivers co-chaired a fundraiser for the Romney Victory Fund at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where a $10,000 contribution or a $25,000 bundle of donations earned funders a photo with the candidate.

 

The Diaz-Olivers came to the US from Cuba together in 1961. In 1991, Remedios founded All American Containers Inc., a plastic and glass container manufacturer. Remedios has also given generously to Democratic politicians, including Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, who is Cuban American.

Supporters' tax woes have plagued both candidates during the campaign. In June, President Obama cited pop singer and prominent supporter Marc Anthony as an example of someone who should be required to pay more in taxes—an auspicious example, given that Anthony recently owed $3.4 million in federal taxes. But the issue is more pronounced for Romney given the controversy over his own returns.

This isn't the first time Romney has run into trouble with a South Florida supporter. In August, the Associated Press reported that the host of a Romney fundraiser in Miami had a prior felony conviction for cocaine trafficking, which under Florida law means he might not even be eligible to vote.

Correction: The headline originally referred to the Diaz-Olivers as donors. They have co-chaired a fundraiser but not donated to the campaign.

My SXSW Eco Panel: the Future of Organic

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 10:20 PM EDT

For years, organic food has been among the fastest-growing segments in the US food market—which is exactly why mega-corporations like General Mills and Coca-cola have bought their way into it. Yet for all the growth and all the marketing heft brought to the table by these giants, organics still make up just 4 percent of US food sales. And in in the field, organic ag has even less of a toe-hold—of the 922 million acres of US farmland, just around 5 million acres are organic. Italy alone, barely larger than the state of Arizona, has 3 million acres under organic cultivation.

Is organic food bound to be just a niche market to be leveraged by big companies? Or does it organic ag present a big-picture, fundamental critique of the current food system—and can it expand out of its current niche?

I'll be discussing these meaty questions next week with some really smart people at the South by Southwest Eco conference in Austin, in a panel moderated by urban farmer and magazine editor Jason Mark of San Francisco's Alemany Farm and Earth Island Journal. Other panelists are  Erin Flynn of Austin's Green Gate Farm and Don Carr of the Environmental Working Group. The panel, called "Good Food: Turning Popularity into Power," takes place Thursday, Oct. 4 (details here). If you're in town, stop by.

You Hate Me, Now With a Colorful Chart!

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 7:41 PM EDT

Earlier today I wrote about a recent study showing that Americans are a lot more agitated than they used to be about the prospect of their daughter marrying someone from the other political party. Normally I wouldn't revisit this, but a reader sent me a copy of the full study and I found the actual figures pretty fascinating. 

After wrestling with Excel to figure out how to get a scatterplot to work properly, I created the chart on the right. With only three data points I suppose it's best not to get too worked up about this, but what struck me is the gigantic recent jump. Between 1960 and 2008, the number of upset partisans went up by 16 points among Democrats and 22 points among Republicans. Then, between 2008 and 2010, the number went up by 13 points among Democrats and 22 points among Republicans. That's as much in two years as in the previous 48.

That's....astonishing. I'm not sure whether to write this off as an obvious statistical fluke, or to accept it at face value and try to figure how it's possible. I mean, sure, we had the tea party and all that after Obama was elected, but the previous half century had the John Birch Society, the 60s counterculture, the Reagan era, the anti-Clinton jihadists, the Gingrich Revolution, and the Iraq war. It's a little hard to believe that the past couple of years have been that uniquely spleen-inducing. Comments?

By the way, I noticed that a number of commenters were aghast that I wouldn't necessarily mind if my (hypothetical) daughter married a Republican. I think this might be the result of watching too much Fox News and assuming that every Republican is like Sean Hannity. Well, I wouldn't want my daughter to marry Sean Hannity either. But among the rank and file there are lots of different kinds of Republicans, a great many of whom are perfectly decent folks even if I happen to disagree with them about the optimal top marginal tax rate. It's a big world out there.

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Todd Akin's Rehabilitation Project is Now Underway

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 6:05 PM EDT

For the past few weeks I've been keeping half an eye on Todd "legitimate rape" Akin's Senate race in Missouri. This is mostly for reasons of personal vanity: I want to see if my three-part Akin prediction pans out. Yesterday was the last day he could withdraw from the race, and he didn't, which means that prediction #1 is now safely in the bank. Prediction #2 is that once Akin is definitively the Republican candidate, Republicans will grudgingly start to offer him their support. So how's that going? Well, the head of the NSRC has now switched from insisting that Akin will never get a dime to saying that he will "continue to monitor this race closely in the days ahead." Dave Weigel explains:

"Monitor this race closely" is Washington-speak for "maybe spend money on it." Basically, Republicans bluffed and threatened Akin with a total cut-off because they wanted to replace him with a similar but less unpopular candidate. Akin, who owed national Republicans absolutely nothing — even Sarah Palin endorsed somebody else! — called the bluff. Now that the national spotlight has swung away, Republicans are looking for the least embarrassing way to help out Akin again, because it's tough to lose Missouri and win the Senate. Today's double-team Akin endorsement from Rick Santorum and Jim DeMint was part of that. So was Newt Gingrich's campaign swing. The margin between Akin and Claire McCaskill is only as big as a $500,000 Super PAC check from Foster Friess or Sheldon Adelson.

Prediction #3, of course, is that Akin will eventually eke out a close victory.1 There's nothing new to report on that front, though, since there haven't been any recent polls in Missouri. But the RCP average has Akin behind by about five points, which isn't a lot for a guy fresh off a major gaffe and short of money. Let a little time go by, and give his campaign a cash infusion, and that's not an insurmountable deficit. Not in Missouri, anyway. We'll see.

1I assume this goes without saying, but this is a prediction, not a hope.

What do Jon Tester, George Harrison, and Sam Raimi Have in Common?

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 5:23 PM EDT

Watch these three videos back-to-back.

The first is a new ad released this week by Montana Senate candidate Jon Tester, a wolf-hating, steak-loving, buzz-cut-having Democrat who is locked in a wacky and wild campaign that could very well determine control of the Senate. He—along with the talking zombie wildlife nailed to his cabin walls—wants you to remember that he's a Democrat hunters can get behind:

Now, watch this segment of the music video for George Harrison's 1987 cover of "Got My Mind Set on You":

Finally: This bizarre sequence from Sam Raimi's 1987 slapstick horror movie Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn:

So what exactly do Jon Tester, George Harrison, and Sam Raimi have in common? Magical talking zombie wildlife on their cabin walls. That's what.

He could use a little bit of magic at this point. The latest survey from Mason–Dixon has Tester trailing his Republican challenger, Rep. Denny Rehberg, by three points.

Abortion Rights Group Buys Dr. Tiller's Clinic

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 5:03 PM EDT

The Wichita clinic where Dr. George Tiller provided abortions may soon be back. The Wichita Eagle reports that the Trust Women Foundation has purchased the building that housed Women’s Health Care Services and intends to begin providing services there once again.

The clinic has been closed since an anti-abortion extremist murdered Tilller while the doctor served as an usher in his church in May 2009. The Trust Women Foundation and Political Action Committee is led by Julie Burkhart, a former spokesperson for the clinic and longtime pro-choice activist in Kansas. The Eagle reports that the foundation filed paperwork with the Secretary of State on Tuesday to purchase the clinic from Dr. Tiller's widow.

This is big news for supporters of abortion rights in Wichita, which has had no abortion clinics since Tiller's murder.  Anti-abortion activists within the Kansas legislature have been doing their best to make it really difficult to provide abortions in the state. Last year, legislators passed strict new building codes that threatened to close down all the clinics in the state. A judge blocked the law from taking effect, but the legal wrangling over it continues. Tiller's clinic would likely have to make significant changes if the courts let that law go forward.

Meanwhile, the Kansas medical board has continued to relentlessly pursue Tiller's former colleague, Kristin Neuhaus, taking away her license in June for her work at the clinic. Another doctor training to provide abortions in the city has been blocked by her landlord and had her life threatened by anti-abortion activists.

Our Bipartisan Apathy Toward Civilian Drone Deaths

| Wed Sep. 26, 2012 4:06 PM EDT

On Monday night I read a couple of news articles about a new study of drone warfare in Pakistan, but I couldn't find the report itself, which was apparently still embargoed at the time. For that reason I held off on blogging about it. However, Glenn Greenwald reminded me about this today, so I went looking again. And here it is. Here are the raw numbers for the total number of strikes and estimated civilian casualties:

At the time of this writing, the US is believed to have conducted 344 total strikes in Pakistan, 52 between June 17, 2004 and January 2, 2009 (under President Bush), and 292 strikes between January 23, 2009 and September 2, 2012 (under President Obama).

....The Long War Journal, a project run by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, claims that 138 civilians have been killed between 2006 and the present....New America Foundation’s Year of the Drone project—the most widely cited in the US of the three strike-tracking sources—currently estimates that 152 to 191 civilians have been killed by drones since 2004....TBIJ estimated that between 482 and 849 civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan since 2004.

So the number of drone strikes has increased from about 11 per year under Bush to about 80 per year under Obama. The chart below, which I cobbled together from three pages of the report (trying to keep the scale approximately the same for all three years), shows the number of drone strikes and the minimum number of casualties they've caused since 2010:

It appears that drone activity has declined in 2012, although that may be an artifact of the time it takes to gather data. Aside from the raw numbers, though, Glenn draws particular attention to this passage from the report:

The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals.

Glenn comments: "In the hierarchy of war crimes, deliberately targeting rescuers and funerals — so that aid workers are petrified to treat the wounded and family members are intimidated out of mourning their loved ones — ranks rather high, to put that mildly. Indeed, the US itself has long maintained that such 'secondary strikes' are a prime hallmark of some of the world's most despised terrorist groups."

There's no question that fighting a counterinsurgency is hard. And it's fundamentally different from fighting a conventional war because it's difficult to separate militants from civilians — something that insurgents explicitly count on. But even if you accept drone strikes as a legitimate part of counterinsurgency, and even if you accept that civilian casualties are an inevitable part of that, "double tap" strikes are simply heinous. They're also far more likely to turn the indigenous population against you, which makes them counterproductive as well as immoral. After all, it's not as if top al-Qaeda leaders are the ones likely to be conducting rescue operations. At best, you might get a few foot soldiers but nothing more.

The most depressing part of all this is that you can't just blame this on one guy, and hope that it might change once he's out of office. Bush started it, and Obama has ramped it up. What's more, there's no partisan pushback at all. To repeat something I said last year, Republicans are in favor of anything that kills more bad guys, regardless of collateral damage, and Democrats are unwilling to make trouble for a president of their own party. Put those two things together, and drones have become stealth weapons both politically and technologically. Everybody is in favor of them.