U.S. Army Spc. David White, a security force team member for Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah, stands guard during a key leader engagement in Farah City, Nov. 18, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives/released.

Every year, like clockwork, as we turn off the news and settle in for the turkey, someone drops inconvenient news in hopes it will get missed. Among this year's under-the-radar Thanksgiving newsmakers:

Jesse Jackson Jr. 

Jason Moore/ZUMAPressJason Moore/ZUMAPress

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) barely campaigned for reelection, was MIA from Congress for much of the past year due to bipolar depression, and recently became the target of a federal criminal investigation, yet cruised to reelection in Chicago's 2nd District with 63 percent of the vote. But he ended up only staying a couple weeks. The 47-year-old resigned last Wednesday as you were piling into the car to go visit your sister. Jackson, who held the South Side seat for 17 years, was already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over links to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich's attempts to auction off Obama's Senate seat in 2008. Then in October, the FBI launched another investigation over allegations he used campaign funds to spruce up his Chicago home. In his resignation letter, he said health problems forced him to step down, but he also acknowledged the federal probe for the first time: "I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes…None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailties, and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right." Besides the letter, there was no official announcement of the resignation. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce a date for a special election today.


The Pentagon

Jonathan Alcorn/ZUMAPressJonathan Alcorn/ZUMAPressAfter Osama bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011, by a NAVY Seal team, his body was packed onto a helicopter and flown to the USS Carl Vinson, and he was buried at sea. But how did it really go down? That's what the Associated Press wanted to find out through a Freedom of Information Act request it filed with the Pentagon. The Defense Department complied on Thanksgiving eve, handing over a trove of heavily redacted emails in the first public disclosure of government information about bin Laden's death. The story the documents tell is that only a small group of the ship's leadership knew what was going on, according to the AP, and that officers used code to discuss whether the body had arrived on the aircraft carrier. "Any news on the package for us?" asked one. "FEDEX delivered the package," another responded. The grand high wizard of terror was also given a quite civil burial. According to the AP, one email read:

Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed. The deceased's body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased's body slid into the sea.

The AP requested other materials, but the DOD told the news wire it couldn't find any photographs or video of bin Laden's body taken during the raid or on the ship, nor any documents related to pre-raid plans, nor a death certificate, autopsy report, or DNA identification tests results.


Rep. Scott DesJarlais

desjarlais.house.govdesjarlais.house.govIn October, anti-abortion Congressman Scott DesJarlais' (R-Tenn.) campaign hit a little bump in the road when court transcripts from his 14-year-old divorce emerged revealing that when he was chief of staff at a Tennessee hospital, he allegedly had affairs with two patients, three coworkers, and a drug company rep and pressured one of the patients to have an abortion. He also backed his first wife's decision to terminate at least one of her pregnancies. DesJarlais won reelection by 12 points. Now, in his first public comments since the release of the tapes—published on Thanksgiving—the congressman basically said it was all water under the bridge. In an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel DesJarlais said he has no plans to resign over the controversy, and that he will run for reelection in 2014. DesJarlais told the News Sentinel that his views on abortion have evolved, and that in the past, it "was just not something that I put as much thought into as I should have." He continued, "I am human. I don't think I ever put myself out there to be somebody that was perfect. I put myself out there as somebody who wanted to serve the public."

Chances are you missed this particular bargain on Black Friday: Agree to spend 15 cents more on every shopping trip, and Walmart, Target, and other large retailers will agree to pay their workers at least $25,000 a year.

Big box retailers aren't actually offering that deal, but a new study by the liberal think tank Demos argues that it would be a great bargain for us all if they did. Increasing the average wage at large retailers from $21,000 to $25,000 would probably cost you less than $20 a year at the register yet lift some 1.5 million people out of poverty (including your cashier), create 100,000 new jobs, and boost GDP by some $13.5 billion. 

Demos argues that retailers would benefit, despite higher labor costs, because their low-wage employees could suddenly afford to buy more of the basic necessities that they scan and load into plastic bags every day.

If you are still wondering what's in it for you, however, then consider this tidbit from Sasha Abramsky:

In 2004, a year in which Walmart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Walmart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Walmart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.

Seen through this lens, the worker protests that erupted after Thanksgiving at Walmart locations around the country might end up being the best Black Friday specials of them all. Think of them as 2-for-1 coupons: Spend more on wages now, improve the economy AND save us all lots of tax money down the roadmoney that we can spend instead on more important things, like, well, parachutes for our cats.

US Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, right, the security force commander for Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah, and Spc. Devont Perkins, a PRT Farah security team member, patrol a local shopping area during a key leader engagement in Farah City, on November 20, 2012. PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district and provincial levels in Farah Province, Afghanistan. Their civil military team is comprised of members of the US Navy, US Army, the US Department of State and the Agency for International Development (USAID). US Navy photo by HMC Josh Ives.

From BarackOFraudo.com.From BarackOFraudo.com.

Dean Chambers launched the website UnskewedPolls.com in the final months of the election to counter what he saw as a Democratic bias in most presidential polls. Chambers' site was a hit among Fox-watching, reality-denying conservatives. He predicted Romney would win 275 electoral college votes and Obama would win 263.

Chambers was, as he later admitted, horribly, embarrassingly wrong. But the embarrassment continues.

This week, Chambers launched a new site, BarackOFraudo.com. As the URL suggests, Chambers does not believe Obama won the 2012 election fair and square. Instead, Chamber contends that Obama won the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida "by voter fraud." (That's the map posted above.)

Post-election, there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud in any of these states, and certainly nothing suggesting Obama's wins in those four states depended on voter fraud. So Slate's Dave Weigel asked Chambers for evidence backing up his serious accusations. What followed was a collision between fact-based reporting and fact-free magical thinking:

"I'm getting credible information of evidence in those states that there enough numbers that are questionable and could have swung the election," he says. "I'm only putting good credible information on there, like the actual vote counts, reports, and mainstream publications reporting voter fraud. There's a lot of chatter, though. There are articles people have sent me that don't hold up. Crazy stuff."

What's not crazy? "Things like the 59 voting divisions of Philadelphia where Romney received zero votes," says Chambers. "Even Larry Sabato said that should be looked into." (I've looked into this: 57 precincts gave McCain no votes in 2008. There's such a thing as a 99 percent Democratic precinct, and such a thing as a 99 percent Republican precinct.) Same story in Ohio. "Some of the precincts or divisions in cleveland were projected to be 99 percent Obama. That's a part of the state where it's known that a lot of ballot box scamming has been done in the past. There were isolated reports of people voting for Romney and having votes changed, though they didn't get much attention.

What about Virginia, then? "When votes were being counted on election night, 97 percent of the precincts were counted, and Romney was still leading 50-49," says Chambers. "When that remaining 3 percent were counted, a lead of 80,000 or so votes for Romney were turned into 120,000 for Obama." I pointed out that Virginia's stagger-stop-stagger count often works like that, with Democrats gaining in the end. "I was surprised it wasn't being projected for Romney when 97 percent was in," said Chambers. (The state was actually called earlier based on vote patterns.)

Fortunately, Chambers' failure to come with a country mile of predicting the presidential race means no one will take his voter fraud jeremiad seriously. Not even the Drudge Report, an avid endorser Chambers' Unskewed efforts, has stumped for his latest venture.

An MV-22B Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), takes off from Forward Operating Base Jackson, Afghanistan, Nov. 7, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexander Quiles.

Since we reported last week on Georgia GOPers' four-hour, closed-door briefing on a planned United Nations takeover of the Deep South, the event's organizer, Sen. Chip Rogers (R) has dropped his bid for another term as majority leader and distanced himself from the contents of the presentation. On Monday a spokesman told the Huffington Post that Rogers "probably sat politely if he was there, that is his style."

But the conspiracy in question—that liberals like President Barack Obama are using a mind-control technique called "Delphi" to push a one world government with the aim of foisting sustainable development on the world's citizens, as outlined in a decades-old UN agreement called "Agenda 21"—actually has much deeper roots. How deep? As Bluestem Prairie blogger Sally Jo Sorensen points out, the Delphi siren was sounded in 2002 by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's allies at the education watchdog, the Maple River Education Coalition. That year, when Bachmann was still speaking at group functions and pushing its policies at the state capitol, the MREC hawked a two-page instructional document titled, "Beware the Delphi Technique." It warned:

The Delphi Technique was developed by the RAND Corporation, a liberal think tank, in the 1960s. It was developed originally as a way of using repeated surveying of a group of people to bring them to agreement or "consensus."

The original survey technique has been adapted for use in controlling and manipulating meetings or study groups called to get public input for issues in education, police community relations, state control of child care, etc.

Delphi was framed as the vehicle by which central planners at the state and federal level would ultimately break down the walls of sovereignty and push a pantheistic global union. But all was not lost; there was an easy way out:

Maple River Education CoalitionMaple River Education Coalition

Bachmann, as far as I can tell, never discussed Delphi directly. But it was a pretty integral aspect of the MREC's push against the Profile of Learning, the Minnesota curriculum standard that launched Bachmann's career in public life. Beginning in 1998, she criss-crossed the state on behalf of the group and maintained close ties with the MREC during her time as a state Senator in St. Paul. In hearings as a state Senator Bachmann used her platform to push the Agenda 21 conspiracy in a fashion that would have fit in at the Georgia state capitol; she once questioned a panel of professors on whether they supported population controls or intended to ban humans from living in certain areas. She also fretted that the United Nations definition of sustainable development would lead to a moratorium on light bulb production.

In early November, Bachmann scored the narrowest re-election victory of her congressional career despite the fact that her district became more conservative after redistricting. She held off a challenge from Democrat Jim Graves by just one point—in a district that Mitt Romney won by 15. Raving against sustainable development helped launch Bachmann's career, but if this month's election results are any indication, her frequently conspiratorial warnings may also be what eventually brings it to an end.

Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R) is the rare Republican these days who is willing to argue that cutting defense spending is not only feasible, but important. To that end, he recently published a report identifying nearly $70 billion in wasteful spending from the defense budget. Many of the items make his GOP colleagues who believe the defense budget is sacrosanct and untouchable look incredibly foolish. A quick run-down:

  • The 100-Year Starship Project: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has spent more than $1 million to "foster a rebirth of wonder" and to make space travel to other solar systems feasible in the next century. To that end, the agency paid $100,000 to sponsor a strategy workshop in September featuring a session called "Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?" on the theological threat to Christianity that the discovery of life on other planets might pose. A related conference devoted to the future of space travel included a workshop on "what intersteller explorers might wear." (Hint: Not polos and khakis.) The event featured an "intergalatic gala" for which attendees were asked to come in "starship cocktail attire."
  • Caffeine Zone 2: The Office of Naval Research supplied funds to Penn State University researchers who developed a smart phone app designed to "help people manage their caffeine consumption to suit their lifestyles." Coburn notes that two such phone apps already exist without the help of military financing.
  • Beef Jerky Roll-ups: The Defense Department invested $1.5 million to develop a new twist on beef jerky. The savory snack is designed to be more like a "fruit roll-up" than a Slim Jim, and to double as a sandwich filling if necessary. Coburn notes that the private beef jerky market has no shortage of products that the department might use, and that the jerky industry is thriving without the help of taxpayer dollars.
  • "Does this caulk gun make me look taller?": The US Air Force paid $680,000 to fund research on whether men were perceived as taller when they were holding a pistol than if they were simply wielding a caulk gun, paint brush or a power drill. Answer: Yes.
  • The Search for Extraterrestrial Life Institute: Remember those old screen savers from SETI that supposedly tracked the search for life in outer space? Based in Berkeley (of course), SETI amassed a huge array of telescopes that scanned the skies for "electromagnetic signals that could hint at the presence of an intelligent alien civilization." In 2011, SETI went dark for lack of, well, finding anything interesting and lack of funding. Thank heavens the Air Force stepped in! According to Coburn, the Air Force saved SETI from extinction with a $2 million infusion of funds to see if the SETI telescopes might supplement the country's existing search for aliens.

Coburn's report, called "Department of Everything," is useful in poking holes in Republican arguments that the Defense Department should be spared a single dollar of cuts lest national security collapse entirely. But it's also sort of a sad testament to the way the nation's budgeting process has gone wildly awry. All sorts of domestic needs that are starved for funding—everything from medical research (Coburn finds DoD funding breast and prostate cancer research) to alternative energy development to paleoentology—have found their way into the defense budget because that's the only place Congress is willing to spend money these days.

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Ryan Schulte, platoon leader for the Provincial Reconstruction Team security force, returns to his vehicle after a key leader engagement in Pusht-e Rod district in Farah province, Nov. 19, 2012. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup.

Update: Ars Technica reports on December 6 that the GOP staffer behind the progressive memo has been fired. 

The Republican Study Committee, whose members form the conservative wing of the House GOP caucus, released a report on Friday that took a remarkably progressive stance on copyright law. It argued that current copyright laws are "seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer" and argued for a wide-ranging overhaul of the system. But the triumph for tech activists—and DJs—was short lived. Over the weekend, the paper mysteriously vanished from the committee's website, leaving a blank web page in its wake. 

Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the Committee, told The Hill that the policy paper was pulled because it hadn't been properly vetted. "Due to an oversight in our review process, [the paper] did not account for the full range of perspectives among our members... It was removed from the website to address that concern."

But skeptics say that the GOP simply bowed to industry pressure.

"As soon as it was published, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) apparently went ballistic and hit the phones hard, demanding that the RSC take down the report," wrote Mike Masnick of TechDirt. 

A spokesman for RIAA, contacted by The Hill, denied that the organization asked the Committee to deep-six the paper"We understand that a decision was made to do so to allow for the appropriate process that would have otherwise taken place before issuing," he said. 

You can still view a copy of the paper here. It's worth reading solely for the part that says that copyright law is hurting the US DJ/Remix industry. "Many other countries have a robust culture of DJ’s and remixing, but the United States, quite perplexingly as the creator of a large portion of the world’s content, is far behind," the paper notes.

Who knew that a stodgy GOP study committee could be so cool? Oh wait.