Marines assigned to Battery B, Battalion Landing Team 3/5, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fire 9mm pistols during marksmanship training on the flight deck of USS Rushmore, March 9. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Timothy R. Childers.


Gun enthusiasts haven't taken kindly to our story and map this week showing that gun suicides outpace traffic fatalities in many states. They've responded in droves with a common NRA talking point, which is that people who want to kill themselves will do it with or without guns. In fact, however, research shows that that assumption doesn't hold water.

US military brass have been spending a lot of time and money looking at how best to reduce the suicide rate among US troops, which has skyrocketed in recent years. They have concluded that it's false to assume that people intent on killing themselves will find a way to do it even if they can't get a gun. In a report to Congress in July, the Military Suicide Research Consortium noted that "Studies demonstrate that method substitution is rare."  

That's why simple things that can delay access to a gun, like mandatory background checks for all handgun purchases—including private sales—like those that would be required by a new bill recently passed by a Senate committee, can make a big difference in preventing suicide. States with such a requirement have a gun suicide rate 50 percent lower than states that don't, even when their non-gun suicide rates are about the same. 

One reason this hold true is that, research shows, suicide is often an impulsive act, and one that people haven't given much thought. That's especially true in gun suicides, where the majority of victims don't have a documented serious mental illness. If some in a crisis simply can't access a gun quickly, they may not try suicide at all, or they may try a less-lethal means that offers more chance that they'll be saved. And most people who survive a suicide attempt don't go on to take their own lives at a later time.
It's no coincidence that as American armed forces are plagued with high rates of suicide, Ft. Drum, in upstate New York, stands out with a lower rate of suicide among military personnel than most military bases across the country. New York State has some of the nation's tightest gun laws, and Col. (Ret.) Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist and former adviser to the Army surgeon general, explained to Stars and Stripes last year that in New York, "it’s not so easy to get drunk, get a gun and shoot yourself." 
Ritchie's isn't just idle speculation, either. The Israeli Defense Forces, much like American troops, was seeing a disturbing number of suicides in the ranks in 2006. In an effort to bring down the numbers, the IDF banned soldiers from bringing their rifles home with them on the weekends. Suicides fell by 40 percent, according to a study by Israeli psychiatrists.

As injury-prevention researchers at Harvard have said, "means matter." 

Note: All suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and attempts should be taken seriously. Get help 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK. Help is also available online at Trained consultants will provide free and confidential crisis counseling to anyone in need.



On September 17, Mother Jones' David Corn broke a story that became a key factor in the presidential campaign, revealing video of GOP candidate Mitt Romney speaking candidly to donors at a $50,000-a-plate campaign fundraiser. In the video, Romney said that 47 percent of Americans

"…will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them…These are people who pay no income tax."

The story went global instantly, appearing at the top of news sites and TV broadcasts around the world, with millions of people ultimately watching the video. But amid much speculation about the source of the recording, Corn did not reveal the name of the the person who shot the video, honoring a pledge to protect his identity. Now the source himself has decided to go public: He will tell his story Wednesday night on MSNBC's The Ed Show. (The Huffington Post has also published a couple of pieces about him, without disclosing his name.) We'll have more information then, but for now, we will continue to honor our commitment not to divulge details. You can watch the The Ed Show preview here.

Official agency portrait.

With the US military pretty much out, and with spillover from the conflict in Syria coming in, CIA operatives in Iraq are doing exactly what you'd expect them to do.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The Central Intelligence Agency is ramping up support to elite Iraqi antiterrorism units to better fight al Qaeda affiliates, amid alarm in Washington about spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria, according to U.S. officials.

The stepped-up mission expands a covert U.S. presence on the edges of the two-year-old Syrian conflict, at a time of American concerns about the growing power of extremists in the Syrian rebellion. Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist network's affiliate in the country, has close ties to Syria-based Jabhat al Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, an opposition militant group that has attacked government installations and controls territory in northern Syria...In a series of secret decisions from 2011 to late 2012, the White House directed the CIA to provide support to Iraq's Counterterrorism Service, or CTS, a force that reports directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, officials said.


This shift to the CIA [from the U.S. military] in Iraq also is in line with the Obama administration's goal of limiting the U.S. role in the Syrian conflict. The administration is providing nonlethal assistance to the [Syrian] opposition, but refuses to send weapons, in part to avoid aiding extremist elements among rebel forces.

There are roughly 220 American military personnel in Iraq currently working for the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq—and after several military sites get shut down, the number is expected to drop to about 130.

The CIA's ramped-up role comes nine months after officials signaled that the agency planned to cut its presence in Iraq to fewer than half that of wartime levels, when their station in Baghdad included over 700 agency personnel and ranked as the biggest CIA station on the planet. ("Right-sizing," as Obama aides called the CIA drawdown.) Still, as senior US officials made clear last year, Baghdad will of course remain one of the agency's largest stations in the world.

You're the racist for thinking this is racist.

The low point of the 2012 presidential election may have come on September 27th, when Matt Drudge linked to a YouTube video of a somewhat-crazy-sounding black woman from Ohio explaining that she was voting for President Obama because he gave her a free phone. The conservative blogosphere (and conservative cable news, and conservative syndicated columnists, and conservative talk radio) blew up.

The shocking truth: Obama hadn't really given the woman a free phone. It was a product of a Reagan-era program called "Lifeline," which grants a subsidy to phone service providers in order to ensure that the very poor—those at 135 percent of the poverty line or below—have some way of dialing out in case of emergencies. Under President George W. Bush, that service expanded to cell phones.

But Congress being today's Congress, there's now a push to deep-six the Lifeline program. Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.), who introduced a bill in 2012 to scale back the program, announced some progress on Tuesday:

As Griffin explains on his congressional website, "[D]ead people are receiving free cell phones in the mail, eligible and ineligible individuals are obtaining more than one, and electronic kiosks have been stationed in convenience stores to spread the word about this 'free' opportunity." To some extent, he has a point; there was a lot of fraud and abuse within the Lifeline program. But as noted last year, Griffin ignored the fact that the feds were already reining in the Lifeline program—and the phone companies that exploited it:

The FCC, however, overhauled the program in February, enacting changes that call for building databases to confirm beneficiaries’ eligibility and to identify duplicate subscriptions. The FCC also slashed 75 percent of available subsidies for the program, which eliminated a "perverse" incentive for some phone companies to enroll ineligible persons. The FCC projects its modifications will save up to $2 billion over three years.

So: Obama isn't giving everyone free phones. The FCC is already fixing the program. A viral right-wing meme is wrong—stop me if that sounds familiar.

Big news on the bug front this week from the state of Florida: Scientists are warning that conditions may be ripe for a swarm of monster mosquitoes to invade the state this summer. Dubbed the "Gallinippers," the mosquitoes are the size of a quarter and known to chow on everything from humans to pets to fish. Their larvae can eat tadpoles, and unlike regular mosquitoes, they feed day and night and can bite through clothing. If the rainy season is wet enough, there could be a mess of these pests in Florida, just in time to plague Gov. Rick Scott (R) at county fairs and community picnics on the campaign trail.

Which would be sort of poetic justice. After all, under Scott's leadership, Florida's famous mosquito abatement programs have taken a sizeable hit in the past two years, as I chronicled in this story in our print magazine this month. Here are the critical deets:

The state Legislature has also done its part to liberate mosquitoes from the shackles of big government. In 2011, the Republican-dominated Legislature slashed the state's contribution to mosquito control by 40 percent. Florida A&M University closed one of two major mosquito research labs in the state after the Legislature axed $500,000 in research funds. Public health officials succeeded in restoring money to keep the lab open, only to see Scott kill it with a stroke of his veto pen. Along with other budget cuts, the closure halved the number of Florida scientists working on mosquito control.

"There's maybe a perfect storm of sorts," says Joseph Conlon, a technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association in Florida. "You've got the government rightfully trying to cut budgets across the board, but down here in Florida, the place would be uninhabitable without mosquito control."

The state is increasingly less prepared to handle mosquitoes even as the bugs in question get bigger and bigger. Luckily for people in Florida, the monster mosquitos are likely to just be really, really annoying. Unlike regular mosquitoes, these particular ones, while huge, don't carry deadly diseases like malaria and West Nile. Still, there's nothing like giant mosquitoes at a tea party rally to enlighten citizens about the benefits of big government.

Paratroopers of Company B, 1/505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct maneuver exercises at Observation Point 13, March 11, 2013. Photo by Spc. Terrance Payton.


The AP has the story:

The former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska governor has a deal with HarperCollins for A Happy Holiday IS a Merry Christmas, scheduled for November. HarperCollins announced Monday that the book will criticize the "over-commercialism" and "homogenization" of Christmas and call for a renewed emphasis on the religious importance.

"Amidst the fragility of this politically correct era, it is imperative that we stand up for our beliefs before the element of faith in a glorious and traditional holiday like Christmas is marginalized and ignored," [the author] said in a statement released through her publisher. "This will be a fun, festive, thought provoking book, which will encourage all to see what is possible when we unite in defense of our faith and ignore the politically correct Scrooges who would rather take Christ out of Christmas."

According to the publisher, the book will advocate "reserving Jesus Christ in Christmas — whether in public displays, school concerts (or) pageants."

The War-On-Christmas children's book is scheduled to be released November 2013, right around the same time Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street is slated to hit theaters. The film is about a controversial product of the Reagan era who, after a brief run of achieving high-profile success and notoriety, suffers an epic public downfall and has since resigned to a life of writing poorly reviewed books.


Note: The title of this post is a loving homage to this.

On Monday night, Mother Jones DC bureau chief David Corn joined TheGrio's Joy Reid on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews to talk about Rep. Paul Ryan's (D-Wisc.) new budget... which includes a plan to kill Obamacare. Corn says that this proposal is "the equivalent of Barack Obama coming out and saying, 'I want to cut a deal on the 'grand bargain' with Republicans, but I insist on a single-payer Canadian-style healthcare plan. If you don't do that then I'm not talking to you.'" How can Ryan get away with this? "Maybe the bar is very low for some Republicans, compared to Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain," Corn says. Watch here:

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Spc. Bryan Gonzalez, an infantryman from Old Town, Fla., with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, records traffic patterns at an Afghan Uniform Police traffic control point, Feb. 26 near Takhteh Pol, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Shane Hamann.