Tea Party off Broadway

We've heard a lot about the antics of astroturfers opposing health care reform at angry town hall events across the country. But rarely to do we get to see these events in the flesh. And even more rarely than that, do we experience the performance along with music and dancing. TPM shows us that video from an event sponsored by the "Tea Bag Express" that will visit 33 health care reform protests nationwide until it arrives in Washington DC on September 12. This is amazing:

The Latest on Sarah P.

Just the other day I was thinking, "I wonder what's up with Sarah Palin? I haven't heard any good Palin gossip lately."

Well, Vanity Fair to the rescue.  In "Me and Mrs. Palin," Levi Johnston unburdens himself and tells his version of what life was like in the Palin household after the election:

Sarah was sad for a while. She walked around the house pouting. I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make “triple the money.” It was, to her, “not as hard.” She would blatantly say, “I want to just take this money and quit being governor.” She started to say it frequently, but she didn’t know how to do it. When she came home from work, it seemed like she was more and more stressed out.

Does this sound believable?  I'm not sure.  But it does sort of sync up with this report from Politico a couple of days ago:

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin this week will begin accepting and rejecting the more than 1,070 invitations she has received for paid speeches and political appearances since she resigned from office, aides said.

....She’s about 85 percent finished with her book, due out this spring from HarperCollins. Then she’ll begin looking through the inch-and-a-half thick file her lawyer, Robert Barnett, has built of offers for network and cable pundit gigs, documentaries and business opportunities.

Levi also says that when Palin first heard Bristol was pregnant, she insisted over and over that they keep it a secret and then allow her and Todd to adopt the baby when it was born.  I confess that I'm not sure this passes the credibility test either.  But he's pretty clear about it.

Embassy Guards Gone Wild: The Pictures (NSFW)

Warning: The pictures you are about to see are graphic—and may result in you swearing off vodka (and other varieties of hard liquor) permanently. The Project on Government Oversight provided me with a series of photographs—a dozen in all—that depict the bacchanalian goings on at Camp Sullivan, home to the ArmorGroup personnel who guard the nearby US embassy compound in Kabul. On Tuesday, POGO sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detailing a host of explosive charges relating to ArmorGroup's management of the embassy contract, including evidence of "near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates." According to POGO, "witnesses report that the highest levels of AGNA management in Kabul are aware of and have personally observed—or even engaged in—these activities, but have done nothing to stop them."

As you'll see below, POGO really wasn't exaggerating when it spoke of the "Lord of the Flies environment." Here's the jaw-dropping proof:

The cover shot for a soon-to-be-released Contractors Gone Wild: The Asses of Afghanistan video?

Today's must-reads:

  • US Increasing Troop Strength in Afghanistan (LAT)
  • Afghanistan's President Forged Votes, Opponents Say (NYT)
  • Misbehaving US Embassy Guards in Kabul: Animal House In Afghanistan (MoJo)/State Department Responds to Allegations (MoJo)
  • The Torture Docs the CIA is Still Withholding (FDL)
  • Anderson Cooper Headed to Afghanistan (MediaBistro)
  • Va. Gubernatorial Candidate's Crazy Thesis (MoJo)
  • The Rationales for Passing Health Care Through the Reconciliation Process (WaPo/Ezra Klein)
  • Maria Bartiromo Asks 44 y/o Congressman "If Medicare's So Good, Why Aren't You On It?!" (TPM)

I post articles like these throughout the day on twitter. You can follow me, of course. David Corn, Mother Jones' DC bureau chief, also tweets. So do my colleagues Daniel Schulman and Rachel Morris and our editors-in-chief, Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein. Follow them, too! (The magazine's main account is @motherjones.)

Senior Airman Bryce Kester looks out the ramp of a C-17 Globemaster III during a supply airdrop for a forward operating base in Afghanistan, Aug. 27, 2009, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Airman Kester is a loadmaster from the 817th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, and deployed from McChord Air Force Base, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday September 2

Pitching Healthcare: How does the media make it accessible?

Greening the Big Easy: Four years later, New Orleans is a lab for green construction. [Time]

Whale Tale: Who needs Moby Dick? Not American students, some argue.

Lead It Be: Lead guidelines for toys are fine, but they hurt second-hand goods market.

Moving Mountains: The UK's Royal Society says if we don't stop emitting GHGs soon, geoengineering may be our only option. [Science Daily]

World on Fire: New info shows climate change is responsible for half of the wildfires in the Western US.

Bionic Brains: A new microchip that bypasses blocked nerves might offer movement to the paralyzed someday. [New Scientist]

Free Torture Trading Cards!

It was only a matter of time. Remember those Operation Enduring Freedom trading cards that Topps put out in 2001? And who could forget those Iraq's Most Wanted trading cards released by the Pentagon back in the halcyon days of 2003. There's a card for everything nowadays. During the Clinton years, I even wrote a little piece for Mother Jones on colorful infectious disease trading cards the CDC was handing out to children—ebola, plague, meningitis and all of that fun stuff. (Sorry, it's not online.) So it comes as little surprise that the Center for Constitutional Rights has come up with its own Torture Team collectibles.

You can order up hard copies of the Torture Team cards—10 for free; all 20 for $5—but if you're just browsing, CCR has created a neat Flash widget to display them online. Check out George W. and Condi, along with Cheney and his evil sidekick David "the Shadow" Addington, arguably the most ruthless driver of Bush-era torture policies and, according to a media quote on the card, "the most powerful man you've never heard of." Don't forget White House legal pariahs like John Yoo and Jay Bybee. Or the brass—former Pentagon top dogs like Don Rumsfeld, Guantanamo CO Geoffrey Miller (who helped involve doctors in torture) and the Iraq-bungling Douglas Feith. You can click to flip the cards and reveal each player's basic stats, along with fun tidbits and quotes in their own words. (Feith: "Removal of clothing doesn't mean naked.")

Best of all, if you want to add your two cents, the site lets you sign up as part of "Team Justice" and create your own card, complete with your photo and whatever you care to say about the patriotic activities of the Torture Team. The mind reels with the possibilities. Somehow, though, I don't think Topps is gonna greelight this one. It doesn't package well enough with bubble gum.

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

A Stealth Troop Increase

Julian Barnes reports in the LA Times that the Army is planning a stealth increase in troop strength in Afghanistan:

U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," defense officials say.

The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of U.S. troops — a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proven a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan.

....The changes will not offset the potential need for additional troops in the future, but could reduce the size of any request from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander, officials said....Such a request could be submitted in coming weeks.

McChrystal is definitely showing off that "political savvy" his bosses have been looking for.  Still, an increase in combat troops is an increase in combat troops.  It doesn't really matter how you get there.  Just keep this in mind and add it to the total when McChrystal finally unveils his official request a few weeks from now.

Workers are Getting Screwed, Part MDCCXII

In a new study, 68% of the workers who were interviewed had experienced at least one pay-related violation in the previous work week.  You heard that right.  In the previous week alone:

In surveying 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations, out of average weekly earnings of $339. That translates into a 15 percent loss in pay.

The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8 percent of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed for compensation to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from those injuries.

“The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States.”

They were surprised by this?  Seriously?  Sure, I suppose 68% is higher than I would have guessed, but I sure wouldn't have guessed that this kind of thing was confined to a "few rogue employers" either.  How many reports of mistreatment do we have to get before we finally figure out that labor violations are rampant in this country?

McDonnell's Crazy Thesis

Bob McDonnell, Virginia's GOP gubernatorial candidate, is under fire for a college thesis he wrote two decades ago. In it, he bashes "cohabitators, homosexuals and fornicators" and claims working women are "detrimental" to the family.

Since The Washington Post first revealed the thesis Sunday, McDonnell has vehemently claimed his positions have changed, while his opponent has racked up an additional 300 donors.

The treatise is the latest erstwhile paper to come back to haunt a public figure. When Michelle Obama's Princeton thesis about race was unearthed during the presidential campaign, more than 20 years after she originally penned it, conservatives claimed it proved she hated whites. More recently, Sarah Palin accused Ezekial Emanuel of being a "death panel"-advocate based on a paper he wrote about health care 13 years ago.

But while both these cases involved word-twisting by adversaries, McDonnell's controversial views are much more explicit. It's hard to claim you're being misrepresented when you write "[W]hen the exercise of liberty takes the shape of pornography, drug abuse, or homosexuality, the government must restrain, punish, and deter," or claim public schools should teach "traditional Judeo-Christian values." (To read the whole thesis—which includes many other choice nuggets—click here.)

It's not out of the question that McDonnell's views have shifted, considering how long ago his thesis was written. But proving that's the case is going to be an extremely uphill battle.