Political MoJo

Flesh-Eating Zombie Drug Hits Midwest (Still Not a Joke)

| Fri Oct. 11, 2013 11:31 AM EDT

Last month, krokodil, a highly addictive drug that eats through human skin, made its first known appearance in the United States, with two cases reported in Arizona. Now, use of krokodil—which has been nicknamed the "zombie drug"—has spread to the Midwest. The Herald-News reports that five people have been treated for symptoms associated with krokodil use at the Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center in Joliet, Illinois, which is located about 40 miles from the Windy City.

Dr. Abhin Singla, director of addiction services at the Joliet hospital, told CBS 2 that one of the patients was a 25-year-old longterm heroin user who started using krokodil about a month ago. Singla notes, "When she came in, she had the destruction that occurs because of this drug, over 70 percent of her lower body."

As we reported last month, krokodil, which is Russian slang for Desomorphine, has a similar effect to heroin, but it is significantly cheaper and easier to make. Its main ingredients are codeine, iodine, red phosphorous, paint thinner, gasoline, and hydrochloric acid. It's far more addictive and deadly; krokodil users tend to only live two or three years. When the drug is injected into the skin, it often causes gangrene, forcing the skin to rot away, and causes speech problems and erratic muscle movements. Singla told the Beacon-News, "If you want to kill yourself, (using) this is the way to do it." (For gruesome and totally NSFW images of the health effects of krokodil, go here.)

Singla told the Herald-News that the krokodil users believed that they were getting heroin and were given the other drug instead. Most said they obtained the drug in Chicago—not Joliet. Three of the patients were "middle-class white women in their early to mid-20s" and the other two were men, one 22 and the other 32, with arm wounds, according to the paper. The 25-year-old remains in intensive care, and "two others have left the hospital against medical advice because they were afraid of prosecution." Krokodil is a new synthetic drug, so it is not yet a controlled substance, according to a DEA spokesperson.

Until this fall, the drug had never been seen before in the United States. However, the drug has been prevalent in Russia. In the first few months of 2011 alone, the Russia's Federal Drug Control Service confiscated 65 million doses of the drug.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is not currently investigating the reported emergence of krokodil in the US. "We have not received any sort of specimen in any of our labs," DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden tells Mother Jones. But, she adds, "we're keeping an eye out on the trends across the country, and if and when we need to get involved, we certainly will."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 11, 2013

Fri Oct. 11, 2013 10:43 AM EDT

Students with Infantry Training Battalion practice basic marksmanship techniques at Camp Geiger, N.C., Sept. 26, 2013. The students are part of the first ITB company to include female Marines as part of ongoing research into opening combat-related job fields to women. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Tyler L. Main/Released.

Why Do These Democrats Keep Voting for the GOP’s Shutdown Gimmicks?

| Fri Oct. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

Republicans in the House of Representatives have had a consistent strategy during the government shutdown: Go small. In a rare display of unity from a fractured caucus, GOPers have passed a series of small bills that would fund agencies like the National Park Service and National Institutes of Health, while continuing to oppose any larger continuing resolution to fund the federal government. The idea was simple: Give Democrats the choice of either splitting ranks, or casting votes against popular (and emotionally resonant) programs.

"I say to Harry Reid in the Senate, bring this up for a vote!" said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) at a press conference touting the House's bill to fund NIH cancer clinics. "Don't take hope away from those families! Don't take hope away from those moms!"

But House Republicans have had company. Some two dozen Democrats have voted for all or most of the nine Republican continuing resolutions, joining their colleagues to support sequestration-level funding for the NIH, National Park Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency, District of Columbia, National Guard, veterans benefits, nutrition assistance, Food and Drug Administration, and Head Start.

In some cases, the reasons for doing so seem straightforward. Fifteen of those Democrats crossover votes are included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Frontline" list of the seats it will focus on defending in 2014, and eight serve in districts carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick is the only Democrat from a red district to toe the party line completely on the continuing resolution votes.) That's the best explanation for the votes of Reps. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), Brad Schneider (Ill.), Joe Garcia (Fla.), Scott Peters (Calif.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), Ami Bera (Calif.), Raul Ruiz (Calif.), Ron Barber (Ariz.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Sean Maloney (N.Y.), Pete Gallego (Texas), and John Barrow (Ga.).

And two Democratic congressmen—Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa and Gary Peters of Michigan—represent otherwise blue districts but have entered competitive Senate races.

That leaves six Democrats—Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Bill Foster (Ill.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), and John Garamendi (Calif.)—from relatively safe districts, all of which Obama carried by double digits in both 2008 and 2012, who crossed party lines to support Republicans' gimmick funding plan. So what gives?

Polis supports Democratic efforts for a clean continuing resolution, spokesman Brian Branton says, "[b]ut until that happens, he will work to make sure that our government is funded and our agencies reopen. Jared is proud to have supported a bipartisan bill that would reopen our National Parks so that the many jobs that revolve around tourism and Rocky Mountain National Park, in areas like Estes Park in Colorado, are safe." Megan Jacobs, Foster's spokeswoman, struck a similar note, emphasizing that while Foster opposed a piecemeal approach, "he believes if we have the opportunity to get some people back to work and services back on track, we should." Garamendi, who voted for six mini-funding bills, released a statement on Thursday calling on Boehner to knock it off: "This is embarrassing for our country and makes our international partners nervous."

If public opinion is any indication, though, things are looking up for the Democratic defectors. Public opinion polls have swung wildly against Republicans since the shutdown began. And on Thursday, there were signs of growing momentum for a bipartisan plan to restart the federal government, led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). Maybe House Democrats really can have it all.

Here's Who Profits If the Government Defaults

| Fri Oct. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EDT

If House Republicans don't agree to raise the nation's debt ceiling and a default ensues, the economic effects would be "catastrophic," in the words of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The nation's borrowing costs would spike, as would interest rates for average Americans, and the stock market would plummet. But not everyone will lose if a default causes an economic catastrophe. Here's who could profit from a financial calamity:

1. Short sellers: Most folks invest in stocks and bonds hoping the value of their investments will increase. But there's also money to be made by short selling—betting that the value of a stock or bond will drop. Short selling is an investment strategy that's typically employed by sophisticated investors and financial firms, but technically anyone can do it. Investors who bet that the value of US Treasury securities will dip would likely profit. Because a default could cause the US stock market to crash, shorting almost any US stock could make you money. In fact, you can even invest in specific mutual funds that specialize in short selling. "It's a very powerful and disillusioning feeling to know that smart rich people can make money even when America goes over Niagara Falls in a barrel," says Jeff Connaughton, a former investment banker and White House lawyer during the Clinton administration.

2. Investors in gold and silver: Gold and silver typically rise in value when when the stock market is volatile, because they hold their value better than paper money or other assets. The price of both metals rose this week as default fears heightened.

3. Bitcoin investors (maybe): The value of this untraceable virtual currency has tracked closely with gold over the past year, suggesting that it could serve as a more stable investment during a financial crisis.

4. Currency traders: Traders who bet that the US dollar will decrease in value relative to foreign currencies stand to profit off of a US government default.

5. Pawn shops: If the effects of a default are catastrophic, stocks will plummet, pension funds could dry up, credit card interest rates will rise, and jobs will be lost. Though credit markets may freeze up, as they did in the wake of the 2008 meltdown, pawn shops ought to do well, as they did following the last crisis.

6. Bankruptcy lawyers: See above.

7. Mortgage servicers: Mortgage rates typically rise and fall along with Treasury rates. If a default causes a spike in interest rates, home owners could see their monthly mortgage bills soar, causing some homeowners to default on their loans and wind up in foreclosure. You'd think this would be bad news for all parties involved—families, lenders, investors, mortgage servicers. But the latter actually turn a good profit by foreclosing on people; investors take the losses, while servicers make back all the money they're owed in a foreclosure sale, plus all sorts of fees borrowers have to pay on their delinquent loans.

8. The canned and freeze-dried food industries: Doomsday preppers are already getting ready for the collapse of civilization that could result from a financial meltdown by stocking up on pork and beans and freeze-dried meals.

CHARTS: US Responsible for Most of Gains in Global Wealth, Despite Record Poverty Levels

| Thu Oct. 10, 2013 11:54 AM EDT

The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, in terms of GDP. But which country is the richest in terms of median wealth per person? Australia. The median wealth of adults there is $219,505, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, which was released on Wednesday. In the US, the median wealth is only $45,000, compared to an average wealth per person of more than $250,000. Here are some other chart-tastic findings from the report.

Global wealth reached an all-time high of $241 trillion, up about five percent since last year. If all the money in the world were spread out evenly, it would amount to $51,600 per person. And here is a map of what it would look like if countries' GDP were spread out evenly among their populations.

Global inequality remains high. The richest 10 percent of people in the world hold 86 percent of the world's wealth—with just 0.7 percent owning 41 percent of global riches. Meanwhile, the bottom half of adults own one percent of the world's wealth, with more than two thirds of people worth less than $10,000:

Here's what the tip top of that pyramid looks like. About 10,000 people have more than $50 million:

About half of those people live in the US:

Here is the percentage of millionaires by country:

Over the past year, the US made greater gains in wealth than any other country. Meanwhile, we have persistent record levels of poverty and stagnant wages.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 10, 2013

Thu Oct. 10, 2013 11:10 AM EDT

Marines assigned to Force Reconnaissance Platoon, Maritime Raid Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct military freefall parachute operations from UH-60 Black Hawks, Sept. 5, 2013. The 26th MEU is a Marine Air-Ground Task Force forward-deployed to the US 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility aboard the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, serving as a sea-based, expeditionary crisis response force. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Christopher Q. Stone/Released.

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How Tens of Thousands of Americans Got Cheated Out of Their Mineral Rights

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 4:14 PM EDT

What if a gas company wanted to set up a fracking rig on your property? What if you found out that you couldn't say no? A new report from Reuters explains how tens of thousands of homeowners across America suddenly found themselves vulnerable to this nightmare scenario, as they discovered that their deeds cover their surface land but not the rights to the minerals beneath it. And as the American energy boom opens new land to extraction, homeowners from Florida to California to Washington to North Carolina have discovered that they unknowingly signed away the rights to what's under their property. And they might not be able to do anything about it.

Mineral rights—the right to extract and profit from whatever is under the ground—are more and more commonly being separated from land deeds, and in many cases, sellers aren't legally required to disclose that the estates have been split. After reviewing property records in 25 states, Reuters found that D.R. Horton, the biggest home-builder in the US, "has separated the mineral rights from tens of thousands of homes in states where shale plays are either well under way or possible, including North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and California." When the rights are split from the property deed, homeowners not only have no say, they also don't see royalties from the drilling, which paid out more than $20 billion nationally in 2012.

The impacts can go way beyond potentially having a well pad show up on your doorstep. According to Reuters:

Loss of mineral rights isn’t the only hit homeowners take. Property-tax assessments don’t take into account severed mineral rights. And "lenders may not be willing to extend mortgage loans on property that is subject to intensive gas extraction activities," according to a report last year by the North Carolina Department of Justice.

Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest home lender, sometimes denies mortgages to homes encumbered by gas leases. And for the past year, Sovereign Bank has been including clauses in mortgages allowing it to declare borrowers in default if any part of the subsurface property has been "leased, assigned or otherwise transferred for use to extract minerals, oil or gas," according to a copy of the bank’s mortgage addendum. If mineral rights are severed, "we would not move forward with financing a property," said a bank spokeswoman.

Insurance policies usually exclude damage from "industrial operations," and some companies are denying coverage altogether for homes where the mineral rights have been severed.  Title insurance companies have been exempting anything to do with mineral rights from their policies, too.

Landowners have pushed back with mixed results. The D.R. Horton returned mineral rights to a group of 700 angry homeowners in North Carolina after an inquiry by the state Department of Justice. But some individuals haven't been so lucky. Earlier this year, Martin Whiteman of West Virginia lost an appeal for an injunction and damages after Chesapeake Appalachia—a subsidiary of Chesapeake Energy—used ten acres of his 101 acre sheep farm to set up three wells and a series of disposal pits that rendered the land practically unusable. As the practice expands and more people discover that a few lines of legalese have radically changed the deal they thought they were getting, it's possible states will clarify how developers have to disclose this practice. Until then, it's buyer beware.

The whole piece is worth a read. You can find it here.

VIDEO: David Corn on Why Obama Is Defending Boehner

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 1:30 PM EDT

Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn spoke with MSNBC's Joy Reid this week about why President Obama won't paint House Speaker John Boehner as a government shutdown villain and what the chances are for a new supercommittee. Watch here:

Alaska's Supreme Court Will Rule on This College Freshman's Global Warming Lawsuit

| Wed Oct. 9, 2013 11:29 AM EDT

Many college students consider it an accomplishment if they beat their hangovers and make it to class on time. But last year, Nelson Kanuk, a freshman at at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, sued his state for failing to reduce carbon emissions or slow climate change. Last week, the Alaska Supreme Court agreed to hear Kanuk's appeal, becoming the first high court in the country to take up such a case. (You can view the full hearing, which took place in a high school auditorium, here.)

Kanuk hails from a remote Yup'ik Eskimo village called Kipnuk, which is accessible primarily via river. Due to melting permafrost, the riverbank that protects Kanuk's family's house from floods softened, and some 13 feet of their front yard was swallowed up by the rushing water. The family has since been forced to move about 100 miles away.

"[My village] is not really connected to the outside world, but I was always interested in what's going on all around us, I was curious in climate change and how it was affecting us," Kanuk says in a video put out by the environmental group helping with the lawsuit, Our Children's Trust. "I didn't realize how bad it was. When I finally understood what climate change was, I thought, what can I do to help?"

Kanuk's legal argument hinges on what's called the "public trust doctrine" which holds that there are natural resources (like lakes, or places where the states issues hunting permits) that can't be subject to private ownership, and as a consequence, states have a responsibility to protect them so that they can be enjoyed by future generations. Kanuk and his six co-plaintiffs claim that the atmosphere falls under this doctrine, and although the air hasn't been "threatened" before, "throughout history, law has evolved as courts respond to unforeseen, often urgent, circumstances."

Kanuk isn't the first person to bring a climate change lawsuit against a state—or even the first teenager. Lawsuits are also pending in 12 other states, including Montana, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and also in federal court. The environmental group working with Kanuk, Our Children's Trust, has been helping teens bring many of these lawsuits, and in Kansas, the plaintiff was only 14. But so far, only a trial court in Texas has backed the plaintiffs and the case is now facing appeal, according to Alaska Public Media. A decision in Kanuk's case is expected in a few months.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 9, 2013

Wed Oct. 9, 2013 11:03 AM EDT

Maj. Anthony Evanego, from Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah's Civil Affairs inspects the water output of a diesel powered water pump during a Key Leader Engagement to the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL) to discuss a replacement solar power water pump project. PRT Farah's Mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district and provincial levels in Farah province, Afghanistan. US Navy photo by Lt. Chad A. Dulac/ Released.