Mojo - May 2011

Did a Pork-Coated Bullet Kill Bin Laden?

| Tue May 31, 2011 3:52 PM EDT

Did a Navy SEAL kill Osama Bin Laden with a pork-coated bullet, thus denying him entrance to paradise? That's the highly unlikely claim coming from a shady website selling gun lubricants that it guarantees to be "13% USDA liquefied pig fat."

According to the purveyor of Silver Bullet Gun Oil, the product is "a HIGHLY EFFECTIVE Counter-Islamic terrorist force multiplier." Here's why: 

When fired, BULLETS are coated with SILVER BULLET GUN OIL containing the PIG FAT. The PIG FAT is transferred to anything the BULLETS STRIKE. The coating of OIL CONTAINING PIG FAT effectively DENIES entry to Allah's Paradise to any Islamo-Fascist terrorist KIA with a bullet coming from a firearm using SILVER BULLET GUN OIL in the barrel. SILVER BULLET GUN OIL uses the belief system of Allah's Islamo-Fascist terrorists to put fear of death into them, a fear they haven't had until NOW.

On his site, the anonymous figure behind Silver Bullet says his intentionally un-halal lube is quite popular among armed employees of the US government, stating that "Thousands of bottles of Silver Bullet Gun Oil have been distributed since July of 2004 by its creator to members of ALL U.S. Military branches." He also claims that the gun oil is used in tank and helicopter weapon systems and that "a number" of air marshals use it as well. On a Marine message board, he asserts (along with some harsh racial epithets) that his gun oil is helping win the war on terror: "I've been putting out SBGO for 5 and 1/2 years. I pushed the Pork additive [13%] long enough for the rags to get the message, which according to those that are using it in their [area of operations] puts some real FEAR into these mutts."

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Will Clarence Thomas Recuse Himself on Health Care Reform?

| Tue May 31, 2011 10:11 AM EDT

Following a time-honored Washington tradition of dumping required but embarrassing information on a Friday night before a major holiday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally released the details of his wife's income from her year or so working for the tea party group Liberty Central, which fought President Obama's health care reform law. His new financial disclosure form indicates that his wife, Virginia, who served as Liberty Central's president and CEO, received $150,000 in salary from the group and less than $15,000 in payments from an anti-health care lobbying firm she started.

The disclosure was apparently prompted in part by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who had been needling Thomas (including on Twitter) for months to disclose how much money his wife earned from Liberty Central. That's because challenges to Obama's health care reform law are likely to end up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later, and if Thomas and his wife benefited from her income working against the bill, the justice has an enormous conflict of interest in hearing any legal challenge. Thomas had failed to disclose Virginia's income on his financial disclosure forms for 20 years; under pressure from Weiner and others, he had recently amended old disclosures to reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars she had earned working for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that also opposed Obama's health care plan.

But, up until now, Thomas had not revealed how much money his wife made from her controversial Liberty Central work. When Virginia Thomas decided to take a high-profile role in the organization, she was immediately criticized because of the potential that her job might compromise her husband's independence on the bench. Eventually, she was forced to step down (a move also apparently prompted by her bizarre October phone call to Anita Hill, the woman who'd accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearing). When she left the organization, she created a new consulting firm, Liberty Consulting, which also did anti-health care reform lobbying. Justice Thomas finally released the details of her compensation Friday night, but the disclosure, and Weiner's triumphant press release announcing the move, were largely overshadowed by Weinergate.

Over the weekend, Weiner's Twitter account was allegedly hacked and Tweeted a photo of a near-naked man to a college student. Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart published the photo on his site, Big Government, and the feeding frenzy was furious enough to ensure that Thomas' news barely saw the light of day. Still, if and when health care reform makes its way to the Supreme Court, Thomas will have a much harder time making his conflict of interest go away. 

Bribery! Corruption! The Scandal That Could Bring Down a Presidency

| Tue May 31, 2011 8:52 AM EDT

The scandal has it all: A whistleblower, allegations of bribery and vote-buying, pictures of envelopes stuffed with cash, and the suspension of two respected officials. It's a scandal that has rocked the international community, with transparency advocates and international organizations demanding the presidential election itself be postponed until investigators get to the bottom of the corruption.

I'm talking, of course, about the snowballing debacle at FIFA, the global organization that governs the planet's most popular sport, soccer. On Tuesday, the anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) demanded that FIFA delay its June 1 presidential election so that the organization can get the bottom of the vote-buying controversy. Among other things, Transparency International is demanding that FIFA implement new rules to combat corruption, appoint an ombudsman, and review its ethics code.

"Free and fair elections cannot take place when there is a suspicion that voters may have been swayed," a TI official said in a statement. "Two major figures in football politics have been suspended recently for alleged vote-buying. FIFA delegates know that they must clean house if their vote is to have legitimacy."

FIFA's crisis began when the US's only representative to the organization, Chuck Blazer, accused two FIFA colleagues of offering cash bribes to as many as 25 delegates to secure their support in the vote on which nations would host the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments, the game's biggest competition. (Russia won the 2018 rights, and Qatar the 2022 rights.) The two officials accused of allegedly bribing delegates no less than Jack Warner, the head of soccer in North and Central America, and Mohammed Bin Hammam, the head of soccer in Asia. Notably, Bin Hammam was the only challenger to incumbent Sepp Blatter in tomorrow's presidential election, but Bin Hammam's decision to drop out leaves Blatter the only candidate. Qatar has also been accused of buying the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, which Qatari officials reject.

Blatter, the 75-year-old Swiss who's running for his fourth term as FIFA president, has been pulled into the scandal as well, accused of turning a blind eye to the alleged bribery. (He denies the charge.)

TI isn't the only group to demand a delay in the FIFA election. England's Football Association has joined TI in calling for a postponement of the election, demanding that an independent official step in and make recommendations on how to increase the transparency and integrity of FIFA's internal workings. "This has been a very damaging time for the reputation of FIFA and therefore the whole of football," the FA said in a statement.

The GOP Targets Food Safety (Again!)

| Tue May 31, 2011 8:44 AM EDT

House Republicans are laying down new markers for 2012 budget cuts, continuing their battle to weaken consumer protections in the name of fiscal austerity. As I reported earlier this month, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) has been quietly leading the push to slash discretionary spending—which must be approved by Congress every year—as party leaders negotiated a budget and deficit deal.

Now, a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Food and Drug Administration has decided to cut funding for food safety by $87 million, the Washington Post reports, and the full House is likely to pass the reduction as well. Consumer advocates worry the House GOP's food-safety defunding will undermine FDA's ability to enforce a sweeping new food safety law that passed with bipartisan support last year:

Food safety advocates said that without additional money—let alone the current funding FDA receives—the agency will not be able to meet many requirements of the new law, including increased inspections of food manufacturing plants, better coordination with state health departments, and developing the capacity to more quickly respond to food-borne illnesses and minimize their impact.

The proposed cut is in line with previous GOP efforts to defund food safety and other consumer protections. Earlier this year, House Republicans made a far more drastic push to gut funding for food oversight, proposing to cut $241 million from the FDA’s food safety budget for the rest of 2011. The newly proposed $87 million cut for 2012 is relatively less draconian, and as such, it could conceivably be among the discretionary cuts that could make their way into a grand bargain over the budget and debt ceiling. The House GOP's logic for starting out big is becoming increasingly obvious: By moving the goal posts so far to the right, less drastic compromise deals seem moderate by comparison.

Palin, McCain, and Rolling Thunder

| Tue May 31, 2011 8:22 AM EDT

Have you read enough about Sarah Palin and her less-than-magical mystery bus tour?

There was one intriguing connection that wasn't made in many of the media accounts of her participation in the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day motorcycle extravaganza in Washington, DC, this past weekend: Palin was hanging out at an event that used to be enemy territory for John McCain.

Rolling Thunder was started in late 1980s to raise awareness about Vietnam POWs missing in action. At that time, many of its organizers and activists accepted the notion (or conspiracy theory) that the US government had knowingly left behind US GIs in Vietnam, and was covering up this dastardly deed. (See Rambo: First Blood Part II). And for many who believed this, McCain, a former POW, was an enemy, for he would not join their cause and—worse—he co-chaired with Sen. John Kerry a Senate investigation that essentially found that Rambo was wrong. Their probe, completed in 1993, concluded:

While the Committee has some evidence suggesting the possibility a POW may have survived to the present, and while some information remains yet to be investigated, there is, at this time, no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.

This finding enraged the Ramboists within the POW/MIA community. In fact, John Holland, one of the founders of Rolling Thunder, fiercely opposed McCain's presidential bid in 2008. (Holland also denounced McCain for having collaborated with the enemy when McCain was a POW.)

With the passing years, the Rolling Thunder rally has become less about (nonexistent) POWs and more about itself and motorcycles. And there was Palin, turning the event into a platform for herself. She was mostly well received, it seemed, at this photo-op. But if she had brought her once-partner McCain along for the ride, the picture could have been rather different.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 31, 2011

Tue May 31, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

A U.S. Army soldier with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, aims his M4 carbine over a wall while securing an open field in Char Shaka, Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on April 27, 2011. DoD photo by Spc. Jacob Warren, U.S. Army.

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Remembering America's Soldiers…With Charts

| Mon May 30, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

How long should you spend commemorating Memorial Day? It can be accomplished in just 60 seconds if you follow a 2000 presidential memo from Bill Clinton that encouraged Americans "to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day, to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all." That comes out to 0.0000446 seconds of reflection for each of the approximately 1.3 million Americans who have died in uniform since the earliest days of the republic (according to Wikipedia).

If you have some more time, check out these charts about those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Let's start with a quick review of the biggest conflicts in American history:

Of course, not all Americans who gave all were participants in such memorable campaigns. This list of historic Marine and Navy casualties reminds us that hundreds perished in all but forgotten engagements with Chinese "bandits," Japanese feudal warlords, and even illegal booze makers in Brooklyn. And pirates:

Being a soldier has always been a dangerous job, but fighting on the frontlines has gotten statistically safer. In the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fewer than 10 percent of all casualties are deaths on the battlefield.

A major reason why more soldiers are surviving modern combat is the vast improvement in battlefield medicine (germ theory, antibiotics, medevacs, etc.). If you were wounded in the Civil War, your chances of survival were worse than a coin flip. Compare that with Iraq and Afghanistan, where a wounded soldier's chance of survival are about 85 percent.

Though still relatively low by historical standards, casualty rates are on the rise in Afghanistan as more troops have surged into the country. Meanwhile, the casualty rates have dropped significantly in Iraq as more troops have left (often for Afghanistan).

Not all wartime deaths occur in combat. A look at the top causes of death for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that while IEDs and other weapons have taken the heaviest toll, more mundane incidents such as car crashes are also a risk.

And with that in mind, stay safe out there on this Memorial Day.

 

Sources
Major wars: Dept. of Defense (PDF)
Pirates: US Navy Naval History & Heritage Command
Combat deaths: Dept. of Defense (PDF, PDF, PDF, PDF)
Survival rates: Congressional Resarch Service (PDF), Dept. of Defense (PDF, PDF, PDF)
Iraq/Afghanistan: Congressional Resarch Service (PDF), Dept. of Defense (PDF, PDF, PDF)
Causes of death: Dept. of Defense (PDF)

Classy GOPer Tim Pawlenty Calls Obama A Pub-Crawling "Doofus"

| Sat May 28, 2011 11:32 AM EDT

It's been a clunker-filled week for Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, hardly the "debut" he'd hoped for after officially announcing his candidacy last Monday.

On Thursday, at a press conference in Washington, DC, Pawlenty made his first notable gaffe when he bungled a question about his foreign policy position on Iran. "I think the situation now in Iran is such that Secretary Gates is negotiating with whether the United States military will be there beyond the end of this year," Pawlenty said. "And they're looking to the Iranians to see if they invite the Americans to stay, invite us to stay." He, of course, was referring to Iraq, not Iran—an embarrassing misstep that he later corrected. Here's the video:

That same day, Pawlenty raised eyebrows with a snarky tweet criticizing President Obama for his recent European trip that took him to Ireland and England. Pawlenty tweeted, "@BarackObama sorry to interrupt the European pub crawl, but what was your Medicare plan?" So much for civility.

But on CNN's "American Morning" on Friday, Pawlenty stooped even lower. Predictably bashing Obama for his performance as president, he quipped:

"Any doofus can go to Washington and maintain the status quo and that’s what we’ve got in the White House and in Congress in terms of their attitude about their willingness to tackle these issues. If we’re not going to have leaders who are going to say that and do it and tell the American people, look them in the eye…then we're all wasting our time."

A GOP presidential hopeful ripping a Democratic incumbent? Yawn. But calling him a "doofus"? That's awfully sophomoric. Remember, this is a candidate whose campaign slogan promises "a time for truth," casting the former governor as a politician who is serious about America's skyrocketing national debt and bleak labor market. When he unveiled that slogan, there were already plenty of questions about Pawlenty's "truthiness." Now, with the spicy tweets and using juvenile takedowns, it's even harder to take Pawlenty seriously.

When Complaining About a "Nanny State" is Sexist

| Fri May 27, 2011 11:42 AM EDT

In recent years, the term "nanny state" has become a favorite putdown on the Right. Conservatives routinely trot it out to defend their freedom to eat trans fats, inhale tobacco, or blaze incandescent light bulbs. Even the administration of Arnold Schwarzenegger fell prey to the label in more ways than one. But can the meme last? Dissing big government is one thing, but why bring nannies into it? Somebody's bound to get spanked. And that's pretty much what happened on the floor of the Texas House yesterday when a Democratic state Representative discovered that one of her bills was being opposed by a flyer depicting a baby nursing a bare breast beneath the words: "Don't expand the nanny state."

"I don't appreciate this attack on women," said Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston as she held a copy of the flier, which was made by members of the conservative Texas Civil Justice League, a tort reform group. "And I'm going to have to tell you something: I don't perpetrate violence against somebody, but if they were here I would probably bloody their nose."

A bipartisan collection of female lawmakers backed Thompson up at the podium. Republican Rep. Debbie Riddle questioned a misogynist climate created by "the way some of the men have treated some of the women--with pornography on the floor of this House."

The flyer's offensiveness seems to come less from the intimate photo it shows than the way it frames it: Portraying the breast as belonging to a nanny flatters neither mothers nor nannies (wet nursing stopped being popular decades ago). Add the negative political message, and the flyer comes off as a mockery of the bond between mother and child.

Female legislators were clearly exasperated. Houston Democrat Carol Alvarado alluded to the House's recent passage of a bill that requires women to view a sonogram of their unborn fetus before getting an abortion. "We have had almost 50-plus bills or amendments this session that I think have demeaned women," she said, "but this one takes us to an all-time low."

In an apology email, the president of the Texas Civil Justice League said the flyer was only a "draft" that had been given to somebody outside the group and then reproduced. But as of Thursday evening, that explanation seemed to have done little to quell a brewing gender war in the Texas legislature. The most forceful part of Thompson's speech, which received a standing ovation, starts around 4:45:

The GOP Attack on Medicaid: More Ammo for Dems?

| Fri May 27, 2011 9:14 AM EDT

Still giddy about their political victory in the special congressional election in upstate New York, Democrats have resolved to put the GOP plan to phase out Medicare at the heart of their 2012 election strategy. But they may have more to thank Rep. Paul Ryan for. Though the Medicare provision in Ryan's budget, which has been embraced by House and Senate Republicans, has dominated headlines, his plan to roll back Medicaid dramatically is another essential element of the GOP budget, and a new poll has found that Americans are loath to support this effort to gut Medicaid. As NPR's Julie Rovner explains:

This month's health tracking poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that only 13 percent of those polled support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of congressional efforts to reduce the deficit. At the same time, 60 percent want to keep Medicaid as it is…

Perhaps even more striking, although maybe it shouldn't be given how much Medicaid has grown in recent years, is that more than half of respondents said they had a personal connection to the Medicaid program. That was defined as the respondent or a friend or family member having received assistance from the program at some point.

Medicaid has often been characterized as a program for the very poor, yet the economic downturn has put a record number of Americans into the program. What's more, senior citizens also receive a big proportion of Medicaid dollars through nursing homes, as even middle-class Americans have resorted to the program as their savings have run out. Medicaid is serving a larger and more diverse group of Americans than before, making the GOP proposal to eviscerate the program all the more unpopular—and politically dangerous for the Republicans.