Just in Time For The Holidays, Blackwater's "Special Edition" Sig Sauer Handgun

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 10:25 AM EDT


Blackwater's recent troubles (the alleged indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians by the company's "independent contractors") have led to speculation that Erik Prince, Blackwater's founder and president, may seek to lead his company into new and perhaps less controversial lines of business. What better way to do that than by marketing a signature handgun? That's right, the embattled private military firm has apparently partnered with arms manufacturer Sig Sauer to offer a "Blackwater Special Edition P226," a 9mm handgun. According to the ad (posted to Wired's Danger Zone), "When personal protection of world leaders in high-risk environments is your job then you only want the best equipment." Run and get yours now while supplies last.

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Ron Paul - It's Real, Get Over It

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 10:15 AM EDT


It's getting harder and harder for those fascists at Redstate to claim Ron Paul supporters are nothing more than "a bunch of liberals pretending to be Republicans." From Time:

Paul... is not only drawing impressive crowds (more than 2,000 at a postdebate rally at the University of Michigan last month) but also raising tons of cash. In the third quarter of 2007, Paul took in $5.3 million (just slightly less than GOP rival John McCain), mostly in small, individual donations. On Oct. 22, he aired his first TV ads, $1.1 million worth in New Hampshire.
The numbers are even more impressive considering that as of early October, 72% of GOP voters told Gallup pollsters they didn't know enough about Paul to form an opinion.

I'll say it again—insisting that Ron Paul supporters are liberals in disguise, as members of the right are doing, is a particularly pathetic blend of paranoia and denial, and it's only going come back to bite them in the rear. There is something real about Ron Paul (maybe it's the fact that Paul, as Frank Luntz says, is the candidate "the most likely to look at the camera during the debates and say, 'Hey, Washington, f____ you.'") that has tapped into the energy and enthusiasm of a bunch of voters that are internet-savvy, willing to donate, and politically educated. That's a group Republicans ought to be courting, not ostracizing.

Just When We Thought We'd Heard the Last of Bernie Kerik

| Thu Nov. 1, 2007 9:38 AM EDT

Remember Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani's former business partner, driver, bodyguard and New York City police commissioner? Well, apparently Kerik incurred significant legal fees defending himself from charges that he he let a mob-connected company seeking city contracts renovate his New York City apartment for free. And now, reports the Wall Street Journal, the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski is suing Kerik for more than $200,000 in unpaid legal fees related to all the investigations.

Maybe Rudy's firm should quietly pick up the tab so Kerik can go back under a rock during the presidential election season. Much of the focus on Giuliani of late has been on his autocratic tendencies as mayor of New York, but his close relationship with Kerik remains one of his biggest vulnerabilities, right up there with the fact that he once married his cousin.

Brooding With Beirut

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 10:18 PM EDT

Beirut's newest release, The Flying Club Cup, has been haunting me for more than a week.The album, released by Ba Da Bing Records earlier this month, is sentimental, pretty, melancholy, and eery. And I can't get enough.

The 21-year-old Zach Condon, the brains of Beirut, made the album as an homage to the culture, music, history, and fashion of France, where he moved after spending two years studying Balkan folk music and Eastern European music scales. The album is an indie kid's interpretation/infatuation with nostalgic notions of European sounds and styles; sort of like a hipster marching band parading through the Old World.

Safety Commission Says No to Toy Safety?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 9:20 PM EDT

Yesterday, after the summer's spate of high-profile toy recalls, the Senate Commerce committee passed the most significant legislation affecting CPSC since the agency was created more than thirty years ago. Sponsored by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), the bill increases CPSC's budget from $63 million to $142.7 million by 2015, and raises the cap on civil penalties the agency can levy against companies that hide product defects, from $1.8 million to $100 million. The bill gives CPSC a couple of new responsibilities—the agency will credential independent third-party testing labs whose job it will be to safety-test toys, and it will have the authority to investigate and respond to safety-related whistleblower complaints made by company employees.

Acting CPSC chairman Nancy Nord opposes the bill. Voicing her objections in a five-page letter to the committee, Nord argued that CPSC would be overwhelmed by its new responsibilities, and that many of the bill's provisions would do little more than increase litigation. Nord doesn't think CPSC should be in charge of credentialing testing labs, she wants nothing to do with whistleblower complaints, and, using a bizarre logic that apparently makes sense to her (and to industry), concludes that increasing the civil penalty cap to $100 million will make it more likely that truly dangerous products will not reach CPSC's radar screen. Overall, Nord said, the bill would have the "unintended consequence of hampering, rather than furthering consumer product safety."

Most of Nord's complaints are identical to those voiced by industry trade groups, chief among them, the National Association of Manufacturers, whose chief lobbyist, Michael Baroody, President Bush had nominated to fill Nord's job a year earlier. (Baroody withdrew his nomination before this Senate confirmation hearings). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has called on Nord to resign. That the agency needs more resources and authority is clear, Pelosi said; the problem is that Nord simply does not understand "the gravity of the situation."

Today Nord issued a statement saying she has no intention of stepping down.

Consumer groups, who have been pushing for many of the bill's provisions for decades, were jubilant after the Commerce committee vote. "This bill is the most comprehensive product safety bill to have emerged from any House of Congress in decades," said Rachel Weintraub, general counsel for the Consumer Federation of America. "It makes giant strides forward in solving problems that have been plaguing CPSC for years."

The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill by Christmas. I write about the CPSC's history of mishandling toy safety regulation in the current issue of Mother Jones. Read it here.

—E. Marla Felcher

New Webb Sign-On Letter On Iran

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 9:10 PM EDT

Carah Ong of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation reports that Sen. James Webb has started circulating a sign-on letter on Iran. The whole letter is available at the link, but the most important sentence is: "We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran." It now has 22 Senate co-signers. (The list should be available soon.)

What's the significance of the letter? The answer has three parts:

1. Legally speaking, the letter has no significance whatsoever.
2. Moreover, it's legally false.
3. The legal aspect is essentially irrelevant. It's the political aspect that matters, and here it might have some impact.

Here's a more detailed explanation:

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Big Pharma Pressures Doctors in the Developing World

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 5:15 PM EDT


A new air conditioner, washing machine, microwave, camera, television, expensive crystals, and a luxury vacation.

A fabulous Showcase Showdown package? Nope. Just some of the loot that pharmaceutical companies like GSK, Novartis, Roche, and Wyeth are offering doctors in the developing world in exchange for prescribing their drugs, according to a report just released by Consumers International.

If all that schwag isn't enough to raise your hackles, consider the fact that as part of their promotional strategies, drug companies often bend the truth about the pills they're pushing. An example from the report:

An article in the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana's (PSGH) newsletter claimed "Lifestyle modifications [such as diet and exercise] alone are usually ineffective in maintaining weight loss on a long term basis so there is usually the need to institute supported drug therapy." While other types of treatments are mentioned, Roche's Xenical is the only branded product named in the article. Below the packaged Xenical pills, as pictured on the left, the article advised readers to get customers to take one pill after a fatty meal.

No wonder, then, that another recent study found that 50 percent of drugs in the developing world are misprescribed.

Last Hired, First Fired but Merrill Lynch's Black CEO Had it Coming

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 4:18 PM EDT

Given all the turmoil that's been rocking the world of high finance, it wasn't surprising to hear that the first head had been chopped off—E. Stanley O'Neal at Merrill Lynch. What was surprising was finding out that he was black and that no protest squads have been dispatched to demand he be reinstated.

I'm money-stupid so what finance news I get is inadvertent, sandwiched between things I actually pay attention to on the radio. If my friends at NPR discussed O'Neal's race, it must have either been during a Manilow-moment or during mommy drive-time when I was rocking to "There's a Hole In My Bucket." Either way, it's remarkable that someone who follows 'black stuff' for a living wasn't hit over the head with discussions of the black CEO who got the boot, just with a CEO who got the boot. It's progress that black robber-barons, while still rare, are common enough that we forget their race after the initial hooplah of mag covers, fawning profiles and NAACP Image Awards and it's progress that, when they screw up, nobody black gives a damn. (Maybe that's because making Wall Street money makes you 'white,' and therefore on your own when you screw up.)

If you want to flashback to your freshman year of college, check the World Socialist Web Site's take on O'Neal and the evils of capitalism in general. Otherwise, check out Clarence Page on why black failure can sometimes equal black equality. As he notes:

O'Neal's departure is a disappointment to those of us who praised his rise after 16 years at the company to become the first African-American to lead a major Wall Street firm. But just as his rise was a sign of progress, so is his slide out the door, as long as it indicates that women and minorities have to meet the same rigorous profitmaking standards that white men do. ...America truly is a land where any kid can grow up to be president of, at least, a multibillion-dollar corporation."

And where any kid can get his hat handed to him for screwing up.

Update: Second Plain Dealer Blogger Leaves

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 4:14 PM EDT

The second of the liberal bloggers on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's political group blog Wide Open has decided to resign over the paper's decision to fire the first liberal blogger, Jeff Coryell. Coryell's termination was due to pressure from Repbulican Congressman Steve LaTourette.

The second blogger's name is Jill Miller Zimon, of Writes Like She Talks, and she's given money to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D); if that means not writing about Brown or his opponents in the future, she's jumping ship. Her thoughts are after the jump.

Cleveland Plain-Dealer Fires Blogger After Congressman Complains

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 3:29 PM EDT

In August, the Cleveland Plain Dealer hired four political bloggers, two on the right and two on the left, to write a group blog called "Wide Open."

One of the bloggers on the left was Jeff Coryell, known as YellowDogSammy on Daily Kos. In previous blogging positions, but never with Wide Open, Coryell had frequently criticized Rep. Steve LaTourette (R) of Ohio's 14th district. Coryell had contributed $100 to LaTourette's opponent in the 2008 election. LaTourette complained to the online editor at the Plain Dealer (presumably on the assumption that Coryell would be a pain in LaTourette's side throughout the campaign) who then took the issue to the top editor at the newspaper. They asked Coryell to never write about LaTourette as a condition of working at the paper.