Mojo - July 2010

CREW Accuses Liberal Democrat of Ethics Violations

| Wed Jul. 14, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

A New York Congressman who once rented a Lexus with taxpayer dollars is being accused of serious ethics violations. 

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group, filed an Office of Congressional Ethics complaint (PDF) against Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) on Tuesday. 

CREW's allegations stem from series of New York Daily News articles that focused on $40,000 that Meeks received from businessman Ed Ahmad in 2007. Meeks told the Daily News he considers the 40 G's from Ahmad a "loan" that he desperately needed for "family obligations" and "things." But despite the large size of the loan, Meeks failed to mention it on his 2007 and 2008 personal financial disclosures (PFDs). The congressman claims the omission was an "oversight." But CREW doesn't agree:

[B]y knowingly failing to report the $40,000 he received from Mr. Ahmad on his PFDs in 2007 and 2008, Rep. Meeks made false statements in violation of federal law, a felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail. CREW also alleges that by taking the $40,000 Rep. Meeks violated the House gift rule, which prohibits members of Congress and staff from accepting most gifts.

Meeks only repaid the "loan" after the FBI questioned Ahmad about it. And get this: to get the money to pay off the loan from one donor (plus 12.5 percent interest), Meeks took out a $59,650 home equity loan from Four Investments, a firm owned by yet another New York businessman and longtime Dem donor. CREW notes that Four Investments has not made similar loans to anyone else in the state.

You can read the full complaint (PDF) here.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 14, 2010

Wed Jul. 14, 2010 1:22 AM EDT

 

Soldiers from the U.S. Special Forces review map data while conducting an operation in Panjawi district, Kandahar province, on July 10, 2010. Photo via the US Army by Sgt. David Russell.

This Week in National Insecurity

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 2:58 PM EDT

Whichever side of the fence you land on, chances are you agree that America's not a very secure nation these days: economically, electorally, and of course, physically. So we grabbed our lensatic compass, rucksack, and canteen, then mounted out across the global media landscape for a quick recon. Whether you're scared because our military isn't good enough—or you're scared because it's too good—here's all the ammunition you need, in a handy debrief.

In this installment: Female vets, incompetent soldiers, the LAPD does counterinsurgency, Taliban monkeys, eco-friendly bullets, DADT roundup, and more cash for contractors in Iraq.

The sitrep:

The United States government's national threat level is Elevated, or Yellow. You're welcome.

  • Did you know female vets also return from war with wounds seen and unseen? (No, you didn't. Stop lying.) In this must-read—by a Northwestern journalism student!—women recount how their combat trauma has been compounded by ignorance: the VA's and society's. (Military Times)
  • Back when Petraeus and McChrystal did their Washington watusi, MoJo wrote how the Army quietly exonerated three officers whose alleged incompetence got their soldiers killed in a big Afghanistan firefight. Foreign Policy's estimable Tom Ricks documents the frustrations of the fallen soldiers' families, and it's getting ugly. Really ugly. Will the Army respond? (Best Defense)
  • Some Marines, headed for action in Afghanistan's Helmand province, are training for counterinsurgency...with the Los Angeles Police Department. One lesson: Call Taliban fighters "gangsters," not terrorists. Another lesson: Whatever Daryl Gates did, do the opposite. Can't we all just get along? (NBC-LA)
  • The Army is switching its service rifles over to a lead-free "green bullet," and the Marine Corps may follow suit, with an order out for 1.8 million rounds. The green bullet is supposed to be friendler to the environment, if by environment you don't mean torsos of Taliban terrorists—er, gangsters. (Marine Corps Times)
  • Speaking of the Taliban, Stars & Stripes set out to debunk a rumor that the South Asian gangsters are training monkeys! To kill people! With AK-47s and "other weapons"! Taliban monkeys: The 500-pound guerrilla in the room. (Stars & Stripes)
  • In DADT news, the gay-friendly Log Cabin Republicans are suing to end the military's discrimination policies, using President Obama's own admission that DADT is bad for national security. Congratulations to the LCR for figuring out how to support the troops and gay rights while still tossin' the commander in chief under a bus. (The Associated Press)
  • Speaking of DADT, MoJo senior editor Mike Mechanic dredges up a 2001 comic book issued by the Pentagon to illustrate to soldiers how the policy works. Although, according to the guys at Wired's Danger Room blog, all it teaches is how to be a snitch. Affirmative. (Mother Jones and Wired)
  • So, we get a peace dividend for pulling troops out of Iraq, right? No; private military contractors get it. Officials say the companies are going to be getting more money, more contracts, and more responsibilities "that are inherently governmental." I smell a solution to the unemployment problem... (Defense News)

Pentagon Comics: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 2:51 PM EDT

Over at his Comics With Problems page, Ethan Persoff has unveiled a 2001-vintage Pentagon instructional comic designed to teach soldiers about the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It follows what happens when a male soldier goes to his superior officer to report that two men were seen engaging in homosexual acts. Here, one of the accused men is summoned to answer to the charge:

In another scenario in the comic, a soldier comes into a staff office and volunteers that he's gay. Discharge proceedings are initiated against both men. There's also a Q&A section—one example below:

And a warning about harassing other soldiers. This wiseguy gets in trouble with his superiors:

You can read the whole comic here. (And thanks to BoingBoing for the tip.)

Follow Michael Mechanic on Twitter.

Did BP Negotiate a Terrorist's Release in Exchange for Libyan Oil?

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 2:45 PM EDT

Is there a connection between BP and the terrorist convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103? Four senators want to know what sway the oil giant may have had in securing the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in exchange for a $900 million offshore oil drilling deal with Libya.

Megrahi, the only person convicted of bombing that killed 270 people in 1988, was released from prison in Scotland last August. A Scottish court granted the release after doctors claimed that Megrahi was terminally ill from prostate cancer and had only three months to live. The release, of course, prompted plenty of outrage. The bomber is still alive, and just this week one of the doctors that gave that dire prognosis last year came forward to assert that the Libyan government paid him to make that claim. Now four senators–Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)—are calling on the State Department to investigate whether the oil giant was involved in the deal-making, and whether "BP might use blood money" to pay for damages in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2007, BP and the Libyan government agreed upon a $900 million oil exploration deal for the Gulf of Sidra. Last year, BP admitted that it had lobbied the UK government on the issue, after the company became "concerned that a delay in concluding a prisoner transfer agreement with the Libyan government might hurt a $900 million oil deal it had just signed." With the oil giant back in the news, senators are calling for a full investigation into BP's role.

"Evidence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster seems to suggest that BP would put profit ahead of people—its attention to safety was negligible, and it routinely underestimated the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf," the senators wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her department to investigate the matter. "The question we now have to answer is, was this corporation willing to trade justice in the murder of 270 innocent people for oil profits?"

This is not the first time senators have raised this concern. Lautenberg asked the Foreign Relations Committee to look into the agreement last September, two weeks after al-Megrahi’s release. Lautenberg sent a second letter to the Foreign Relations Committee today asking for an investigation, and all four senators are asking the British government to also look into the matter.

"It is shocking to even contemplate that this company is profiting from the release of a terrorist with the blood of 189 Americans on his hands," wrote Lautenberg in the letter to the Foreign Relations Committee. "The families of the victims of Pan Am flight 103 deserve to know whether justice took a back seat to commercial interests in this case."

BP, meanwhile, is chugging ahead with its plans for the Gulf of Sidra, and has announced plans to begin drilling there next month. The company called this their "single biggest exploration commitment" in a press release in 2007, noting that the oil discoveries there totaled "more than 2000 Gulf of Mexico deepwater blocks." Now that their Gulf operations have gone horribly awry, the company's stake in Libya has surely become even more valuable.

Sharron Angle's Death Panel

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 2:38 PM EDT

Does Sharron Angle want to set up her own death panel?

Angle, a tea party-backed ultraconservative who's taking on Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada, tried mightily to avoid media scrutiny. But journalists dug up her extreme views and statements anyway. Last week, The Huffington Post found her suggesting that a 13-year-old girl who had been raped by her father make "a lemon situation into lemonade" instead of getting an abortion. Her latest is a real doozy:

[Angle] claimed last night that [77-year-old] Senator Robert Bennett, who was ousted by the Tea Partiers last month, had "outlived his usefulness."

The Reid campaign and the Democratic National Committee are jumping on the quote. Here's DNC spox Hari Sevugan, to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

While 'death panels' were nowhere to be found in the health insurance reform bill, it looks like Sarah Palin can find a one-woman version of one in Nevada where Sharron Angle thinks people who criticize her political positions should die. Her sentiments are sick, but that fact that Republicans endorse, as their standard bearer in Nevada, someone who wishes death upon her critics and calls for `Second Amendment remedies' to deal with her political opposition is just as disturbing.

An unpopular incumbent in a state with 14 percent unemployment vs. perhaps the most extreme (and loose-lipped) Senate candidate in recent memory? This is going to be a fun race.

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Is Your Senator Fighting Jobless Benefits?

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 1:27 PM EDT

By week's end, 2.5 million out of work Americans will lose their unemployment benefits. Thanks in large part to the filibustering of the Republican caucus, a bill to extend those benefits couldn't make it out of the Senate. Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Republicans repeatedly voted against extending jobless benefits, saying they wouldn't support the measure because it adds to the deficit. That's true: New support for the unemployed is deemed "emergency" funding, and that cost is indeed tacked onto the deficit. Another fact: This practice of categorizing jobless benefits as "emergency" funds is longstanding in Congress, something both Democrats and Republicans have done for decades. As Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a leading voice unemployment support, recently put it, "15 million people unemployed is an emergency. [Republicans' stance] is the most cynical, political position I have ever seen."

It's a position a vast majority of Americans don't agree with, either. A Washington Post poll today reported that 62 percent of Americans think Congress should "approve another extension of unemployment benefits." Seventy percent of respondents in a June Hart Research poll (pdf) say it's too early to cut back on "benefits and health coverage for workers who lost their jobs." And a December 2009 CNN poll found that 74 percent of people support creating more jobs even if it increases the deficit.

How to Become Your Own One-Member Death Panel

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 1:04 PM EDT

If you've read my new Mother Jones article on the health care rationing controversy, "Meet the Real Death Panels," you know that I have strong feelings about end-of-life choice. In the article, I write:

I am a big fan of what's sometimes called the "right to die" or "death with dignity" movement. I support everything from advance directives to assisted suicide. You could say I believe in one form of health care rationing: the kind you choose for yourself. I can't stand the idea of anyone—whether it's the government or some hospital administrator or doctor or Nurse Jackie—telling me that I must have some treatment I don't want, any more than I want them telling me that I can't have a treatment I do want. My final wish is to be my own one-member death panel.

Anyone concerned with having some power over the circumstances of their own death will find a helpful article along with source materials in the May/June issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter, put out by the Women's Health Network.

Blocking Access to Birth Control

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 12:06 PM EDT

Unwilling to concede defeat after the passage of health care reform, conservative activists are now trying to restrict women’s access to contraceptives. The new health care law could require employers and insurers to offer contraceptives at no cost to patients, depending on how the Obama administration writes the regulations. As The Daily Beast's Dana Goldstein points out, 27 states right now require insurance companies to cover birth control, but the health law could require all 50 states (and D.C.) to offer prescription contraceptive without co-pays. The impending change has conservative groups up in arms:

Now the Heritage Foundation and the National Abstinence Education Association say they plan to join the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in resisting implementation of the new provisions.

The conservative groups are particularly worried that a birth control coverage mandate could include teenage girls and young women covered under their parents' health insurance plans. "People who are insured don't want to pay for services they don't need or to which they have moral objections," said Chuck Donovan, senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation. "Parents want to have a say over what's covered and what's not for their children."

As Goldstein points out, there is overwhelming public support for contraceptive coverage. If conservative activists truly wanted to reduce the number of abortions in the US (not to mention the teen pregnancy rate), contraceptive coverage would be a common sense no-brainer. (It would also be an obvious and effective way to reduce health-care costs, as Monica Potts notes.) Unfortunately, the the anti-contraceptive, pro-abstinence-only lobby is still making itself felt in Washington: activists successfully lobbied to include even more funding for abstinence-only education under the new health law, despite mounting evidence that such programs are ineffective.

Thankfully, it's harder to lobby federal agencies than members of Congress, and conservatives' protestations may be more bark than bite. Reproductive rights and women's health advocates fought hard for this provision, which is intended to ensure that women don't pay more for preventative health services than men. Contraceptive coverage would be a significant step towards achieving such health parity.

Stupak to the Rescue?

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 11:56 AM EDT

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)—he of the months of health care/abortion agony—is retiring. But on his way out, he's making sure to send a little help to his friends. Politico has the story:

Stupak has cut campaign checks for Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus, Indiana Reps. Joe Donnelly and Baron Hill and Pennsylvania Reps. Chris Carney and Kathy Dahlkemper — all of whom joined Stupak in negotiating with leadership for tighter limits on federal support for abortion. Stupak also donated to West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan, another abortion opponent who lost reelection in a May Democratic primary.

Unfortunately for the recipients of Stupak's largesse, his funds won't come close to offsetting the money that GOP-leaning pro-life groups have committed to taking out Democrats who oppose abortion rights. Stupak has given out $35,000 in donations to Dem candidates. But the Susan B. Anthony list (an anti-abortion rights political action committee) spent $78,000 in the Mollohan race alone. The PAC has also vowed to spend a total of $1 million defeating Stupak's allies. Suddenly, $35,000 doesn't look like so much money.