Mojo - May 2011

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 12, 2011

Thu May 12, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Cesaitis secures a grape drying house before members of Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul and the U.S. Department of Agriculture enter during a visit to a village near the city of Qalat, Zabul province, Afghanistan, May 8. Photo via US Army.

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Corn on "Hardball": the Unbelievably Irresponsible Newt Gingrich

Thu May 12, 2011 1:23 AM EDT

David Corn and Jonathan Alter joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Newt Gingrich's announcement of his presidential candidacy and his long history of Nazi-baiting and other wildly irresponsible statements.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter and Facebook. Get David Corn's RSS feed.

Bin Laden: No Sword-Twirling Death Tractors for Al Qaeda

| Wed May 11, 2011 9:22 PM EDT

Osama bin Laden condemned a Canadian-born supporter's macabre plan to "mow down the enemies of Allah" on US streets using a tractor or pickup truck fashioned with "butcher blades," considering the plot just too bloodthirsty, according to documents taken from the now-dead 9/11 organizer's hideout and revealed to reporters late Wednesday.

ProPublica spoke with unnamed US officials, who shared details gleaned from bin Laden's personal writings, recovered when Navy SEALs killed him last week in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Among the details were these:

Bin Laden was bent on inflicting mass-casualty attacks on the West, the U.S. official said. At the same time, however, he criticized an online propaganda magazine edited by a young American in Yemen, saying the bloodthirsty tone of an article could harm al Qaeda's image among Muslims, according to the U.S. counterterror official.

The magazine, called Inspire, "apparently discussed using a tractor or farm vehicle in an attack outfitted with blades or swords as a fearsome killing machine," the official said. "Bin Laden said this is something he did not endorse. He seems taken aback. He complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter. He says he rejects this and it is not something that reflects what al Qaeda does."

On its face, it seems unthinkable that a terrorist commander who organized the flying of fuel-laden jetliners into massive buildings would have considered auto-bludgeoning farm tractors beyond the pale. Nor was it apparent why, after claiming responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, the embassy bombings, the USS Cole, London's 7/7 killings, and multiple other assaults, bin Laden would have expressed concerns about promoting "indiscriminate slaughter." But the details of that Inspire magazine plan, called "The Ultimate Mowing Machine" (PDF), evince a truly depraved (if humorously lunatic) mind at work—one that not only alarmed bin Laden, but outlived him, as well.

Can Obama Really Win in Texas?

| Wed May 11, 2011 12:04 PM EDT

In 2008, Barack Obama padded his electoral vote total by taking on John McCain in states that had been ignored by previous Democratic presidential candidates. He won Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, and, for good measure, Nebraska's first congressional district. Now, Glenn Thrush reports, he's set his sights on an even bigger target—Texas:

On the surface, their rationale seems compelling. The state’s population is about 35 percent Hispanic, almost identical to California’s proportion. The voting-age population in Texas is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the U.S. — with an estimated 1.2 million eligible minority voters, most of them Spanish speakers, added to the state’s population between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Those trends have been emerging for a decade, but Democrats have, by and large, been unable to capitalize on them, owing to the state’s geography and abysmal voter registration and turnout patterns among Latinos. Obama talked enthusiastically about contesting Texas in 2008 but virtually abandoned the state to Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain as Election Day drew near, eventually losing by a million votes and 12 percentage points.

In the right circumstances—facing off against GOP nominee Buddy Roemer, for instance—Obama could probably come pretty close to winning Texas. It's a long-shot, though, and realistically, any electoral scenario in which Obama does pick up the Lone Star State's electoral votes probably has him cruising to reelection pretty easily with or without Texas. If Obama competes in Texas, it'll be an investment in future Democratic candidates—and a sure-fire sign he's confident about winning a second term.

Green Is the New Red: The Crackdown on Environmental Activists

| Wed May 11, 2011 10:31 AM EDT

One morning back in 2002, Will Potter, a young newspaper reporter on the metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, heard three heavy knocks on his apartment door. When he opened it, two FBI agents flashed their badges. They told Potter he could either come outside and talk with them, or they would visit him at work.

Downstairs in the alley, the agents brought up a demonstration that Potter and his girlfriend, Kamber Sherrod, had participated in a month earlier. They had joined in an animal rights leafleting campaign in the high-class suburb of Lake Forest, dropping flyers on the doorsteps of houses around the home of an executive in an insurance company that covered an animal testing laboratory. Both were arrested, along with numerous others, and charged by the local police with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The charges weren't serious, but the agents warned Potter of other possible consequences if he didn't cooperate with them.

"He told me I could help them by providing more information about the other defendants and other animal rights groups," Potter told me in an interview in Washington. "I had two days to decide." Potter has described in writing what happened next: "He gave me a scrap of paper with his phone number, written on it underneath his name, Chris. 'If we don't hear from you by the first trial date,' he said, 'I'll put you on the domestic terrorist list.'"

Potter was stunned. "I felt as if I was staring blankly ahead," he said, "but my eyes must have shown fear. 'Now I have your attention, huh?,'" Chris said. The agent went on to tell him, "'after 9/11, we have a lot more authority now to get things done and get down to business. We can make your life very difficult for you. You work at newspapers? I can make it so you never work at a newspaper again.'"

It's 1:00 AM, Do You Know Where Newt Is?

| Wed May 11, 2011 10:22 AM EDT

Newt Gingrich, as you might have heard, has tied the knot again: between himself and a presidential campaign. As of today, he is officially a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. One issue he will have to confront—perhaps repeatedly—is his less-than-family-values past: three wives and two messy divorces. The story is well known: he left wife No. 1 for wife No. 2. Then, while he was Speaker of the House and leading the impeachment crusade against President Bill Clinton, he trysted with congressional aide Callista Bisek, whom he later married, after leaving wife No. 2 (Marianne).

None of this is a secret, and Gingrich hopes to defuse this story line by placing Callista in the limelight. Yet, his jump into the presidential pool will likely produce a series of tales and news reports about Gingrich's bad-boy days, for as long as he remains in the race. In a presidential contest, biography matters much. And fresh details—even about well-known episodes in a candidate's past—are much valued, at least by reporters and cable news viewers. Thus, Gingrich may find it tough to escape the tawdry escapades of his earlier decades.

To wit: this morning, as news of Gingrich's pending announcement spread, a fellow I know sent the below email.

A long time ago in a place far, far, away I was a military escort officer at [NATO] Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), assigned to meet, brief, escort, and coordinate the visit of then-Speaker of the House Gingrich and a [congressional] leadership CODEL of some 6 others and spouses in Europe. Bosnia was the "Iraq" of the day and that was one of the focused points of interest. We based out of Rome with day trips to various US military Headquarters in Europe and "down range" trips to several of the bases in Bosnia….Also on the trip were Bob and Bonnie Livingston. In that it was a "Leadership" trip, the chairs of several committees were also along.  And the wives were traveling in number as well…

After a day trip and audience with the Pope, the entire group returned to the hotel, and I placed myself in the hospitality room to be available for questions about the rest of the trip.  Around 11 PM Gingrich came in and started to shoot the bull. We talked mostly about military readiness, the lack of spare parts (a huge issue in those years), the strain of Bosnia on the deployed forces (nothing compared to today) and general stuff. He called it a night about 1 AM and I closed up shop long with some of the other military personnel.

The next morning the traveling Marine [with the congressional delegation] pulled me aside to rip me a new backside for keeping the Speaker up until 4 AM.  I told him 4 AM was bunk, that he was in bed at 1, and it was his choice to stay up and talk not mine. Turns out that Marianne Gingrich had found the Marine escort and chewed him out for the Speaker not coming to bed until 4 AM. Seems there were three missing hours...And now for the rest of the story...Also on the trip and traveling as staff was…Gingrich's current wife, presidential spouse aspirant and then congressional staffer Callista. Seems that the then-Speaker scheduled himself a traveling "storm in any port." I never discussed it with him but only after the fact did I fully realize what was going on. None of us knew what would be public information later on…That was also the trip that I spilled an entire bottle of red wine on Gephardt, but that's another story.

This episode doesn't truly say anything new about Gingrich, for it's known that he was sneaking around with Callista while Speaker of the House. But it does show Gingrich explicitly (comically?) in non-family-friendly mode. More important, there must be dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of stories like this one. Many will seep out, as long as Gingrich is a candidate for the highest office in the land. Positioning a smiling Callista by his side will not stop that.

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Why Aren't More Dems Supporting Peace Corps Rape Victims?

| Wed May 11, 2011 10:21 AM EDT

The Peace Corps has come under fire from former volunteers who were raped and sexually assaulted during their service and say the agency promoted a "blame the victim" culture. The New York Times details the stories of former Peace Corps rape victims like Jessica Gregg, a Mozambique volunteer who was drugged and sexually assaulted in 2007. Gregg says "a Peace Corps medical officer 'made me write in my testimony that I was intoxicated' and suggested that 'I willingly had sex with this guy.'" About 22 Peace Corps women have reported being the victim of rape or attempted rape each year between 2000 and 2009.

Now a group of victims, First Response Action, is pressing the Peace Corps to reform the way it handles victims of rape and sexual assault, pushing Congress to pass a bill that would require the agency to "develop 'sexual assault response teams' to collect forensic evidence and provide emergency health care and advocacy for victims after attacks," the Times reports. Despite the House GOP's all-out offensive against women's rights in the new Congress, Republicans like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) have demanded greater scrutiny of the Peace Corps' treatment of sexual assault victims, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding a hearing on the issue on Wednesday. 

Sadly, House Democrats don't seem too enthused about supporting the GOP's effort to demand greater support for Peace Corps rape victims. Only one House Democrat, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), has co-sponsored Poe's bill to strengthen the Peace Corps' capacity to respond to sexual assault. According to the Times, other Democrats are "skittish" to back the bill out of concern that Republicans could ultimately use the bill to undercut the Peace Corps and cut funding.

That's a poor excuse for failing to support victims of rape and sexual assault who've put their personal safety at risk in the name of public service. Even if the Republicans do try to use this issue as a weapon to undermine support for the Peace Corps, Democrats shouldn't simply assume a defensive crouch at the expense of these women. First Response Action insists that it's trying to reform the Peace Corps, not tear it down. And if House Dems are truly concerned about the political fallout from Poe's Peace Corps bill, they should offer up an alternative measure to support these victims—not run away from the problem.

*Update: Rep. Mike Honda (D-Ca.), one of the few former Peace Corps volunteers in Congress, met with the First Response Action coalition this week and assures Mother Jones that he'll personally work with Poe to protect the victims of rape and sexual assault:

As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I am deeply committed to doing everything in my congressional powers to ensure the safety, health, and support of every Peace Corps Volunteer. I take the issue of rape and sexual assault very seriously and want to make sure the appropriate tools are in place to address it...I am also cognizant of the need for this legislation to include additional resources for the changes that are required, and I look forward to working with Rep Poe to ensure that happens.

Newt's 2012 Strategy: Going Scorched Earth in Battleground States

| Wed May 11, 2011 8:02 AM EDT

Newt Gingrich, former House speaker turned Fox commentator and GOP figurehead, is expected to officially unveil his 2012 presidential campaign today. (On Facebook and Twitter, no less.) But unlike fellow GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, who are putting together campaign strategies that emphasize a few key early states, Gingrich is going all-out in as many states as possible.

As Politico reports today, Gingrich is building a campaign that will spread money and manpower across the crucial early primary states in an attempt to woo Republican voters of all stripes:

That likely means participating in this summer’s Iowa GOP straw poll in Ames, traditional retail politicking in New Hampshire and making an all-out effort in South Carolina. But Gingrich officials say their effort will be bigger than any one state and look dramatically different than any other campaign.

Because the wealthy Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman have the capacity to spend their own millions on the campaign and remain on the airwaves even after sustaining early losses, advisers to the former House speaker don’t believe it’s possible to lock up the nomination by winning one or even two of the initial contests. So Gingrich isn’t pinning his hopes on any single state, believing instead that, for those who can’t fund their own campaigns, the drawn-out contest will require a prudent use of resources spread across the board.

"You’ve got to compete everywhere and appeal to Republican primary voters across the board—you can’t cherry-pick places you think you can win,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based Gingrich strategist and longtime GOP consultant, predicting a “long, hard-fought battle,” thanks to the prospective self-funders."

There are a few reasons why Gingrich could pull this off. He's got money—lots of it. In its first four years, his group American Solutions for Winning the Future raised a whopping $52 million, and last fall he outpaced the other 2012 GOP hopefuls in raking in cash for his political advocacy groups. He's also got name recognition. His years in Congress, his commentary on Fox News, and his onslaught of conservative books and films means he's a household name among Republican voters from California to New Hampshire.

Yet so far, the money and fame haven't translated into much popular support for Newt, at least in the polls. In a recent Public Policy Polling survey, Gingrich trailed frontrunners Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee by five and six percentage points, respectively. And in a recent New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in April, 37 percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of Gingrich, while only 23 percent had a favorable one. The only two GOPers disliked more than Newt according to the Times? Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 11, 2011

Wed May 11, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Iraqi army soldier, 2nd Company, 2nd Battalion, 40th Brigade, 10th Iraqi Army Division, receives assistance from his cadre to resolve a malfuction during the 10th IA Division media day at Bardia Training Range, Iraq, April 29, 2011. The 10th Iraqi Army Division media day is used to show the public that their Army is ready to protect Iraq without foreign assistance. (Photo by: Pfc. Ryan Hallgarth)

Are Nursing Homes Overmedicating Residents?

| Wed May 11, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

This story first appeared on the ProPublica website.

Nursing homes are unnecessarily administering powerful antipsychotic drugs to many elderly residents, including residents with dementia, according to a new report by the Health and Human Services inspector general.

The Food and Drug Administration in 2005 mandated that drug makers issue warning labels on atypical antipsychotics, noting that the drugs—which are generally FDA-approved for treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—increase the risk of death for elderly patients with dementia. Yet when the government examined 1.4 million Medicare claims from 2007 for atypical antipsychotics for elderly nursing home residents, the government found that 88 percent of the time, the drugs were prescribed to individuals diagnosed with dementia.

Doctors and nursing homes aren't the only ones to blame, according to HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson. The report itself does not specifically examine ties between doctors, pharmacies, and nursing homes, but in a statement accompanying the report, Levinson faulted drug companies for aggressively—and illegally—marketing these products to doctors for treatment of dementia and other off-label uses. (It's not illegal for doctors to prescribe drugs for off-label uses, but it is for drug companies to promote them as such.)