Political MoJo

Dems Debate in New Hampshire -- Everybody Wins

| Mon Jun. 4, 2007 8:48 AM EDT

One absurd thing about a presidential debate is that the day after you can find a news report saying just about anyone won the thing. So following the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire last night, Google News is ablaze with claims that everyone from Joe Biden to Hillary Clinton came out ahead.

- CNN: "Analysts: Biden's performance strongest"

- Monsters and Critics: "Hillary's campaign on track in a tiny state that matters"

- Cornell Daily-Sun: "Democrats Debate, Obama Wins"

- New Hampshire Public Radio: "Democratic Debate: Edwards Makes Favorable Impression"

And then there's the news pieces that simply list winners and losers, which might as well be selected at random.

- 411mania.com says the winners were John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Mike Gravel. The losers were Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, and Chris Dodd.

- USA Today says the winners were the big three, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards. The losers, presumably, were everyone else.

And on and on and on. With so many different takes on who won and who lost, I think it's fair to call this debate a wash, just like the last one. So you heard it on MoJoBlog first: the winner of the Democrats' debate in New Hampshire on June 3rd was -- everybody! And the loser was -- everybody!

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The Pentagon's "Martyrs" And Other Tales of Collateral Damage

| Fri Jun. 1, 2007 8:16 PM EDT

There are more details on the paltry sums the U.S. military pays out to the civilian victims of its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, thanks to a new GAO report [PDF]. Some highlights:

  • Condolence payments for death, injury, or property damage max out at $2,500 in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Under new rules, generals in Iraq may authorize payments up to $10,000 in "extraordinary circumstances."
  • In 2005, the military paid out $21.5 million in condolence payments in Iraq; it paid out $7.3 million in 2006. Assuming that the $2,500 maximum was disbursed in each case, that means more than 11,500 payments were made. However, the military does not keep records on the number of payments or the reasons for them. It also does not keep track of denied requests for payment.
  • Here's an example of the system at work: "Two members of the same family are killed in a car hit by U.S. forces. The family could receive a maximum of $7,500 in [...] condolence payments ($2,500 for each death and up to $2,500 for vehicle damage)."
  • Civilians may also file for up to $100,000 in compensation under the Foreign Claims Act. Between 2003 and 2006, the Pentagon paid out $26 million on 21,450 claims filed by Iraqis under the act. That comes out to an average of $1,200 per claim.
  • Before April 2006, no condolence payments were offered for Iraqi soldiers, police officers, or government workers wounded or killed by U.S. and Coalition operations. The Pentagon has since started offering what it calls "martyr payments" for Iraqis killed on the job.
  • In short: One Iraqi life is worth the same as a totaled car, but very special Iraqis may be worth up to $10,000. Also, it's very hard to do math amid the fog of war, so don't bother asking about civilian casualty figures. And being called a martyr by the U.S. government? Priceless.

    Informed Dissent: Get Informed, Get Involved

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 6:47 PM EDT

    Last week was the first annual Whistleblower Week in Washington and it gave whistleblowers and their advocates a chance to convene. In the May/June issue Daniel Schulman wrote about the Office of Special Counsel and its antagonistic attitude towards whistleblowers, the very people the agency is supposed to protect. To find out more about current whistleblower legislation, supporting, or becoming a whistleblower check out the most recent edition of the "Informed Dissent" newsletter.


    Go here to sign up to receive Informed Dissent every two weeks. Get informed, get involved.

    Kos-Heads Love them Some Gore

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 6:21 PM EDT

    The wonky white guys over at the Daily Kos go coo-coo for Al Gore! A poll measuring readers' interest in a Gore presidential bid comes back with 50 percent saying either "I would abandon my current favorite, go strong for Gore" or "I don't have a current favorite, I've been waiting for Gore this whole time." The next most popular answer, with 13 percent, is "I would stay with my current favorite, but consider Gore."

    Hard to say if these political junkies are representative, but if I were Gore, I'd be dusting off the Weight Watchers literature. Just sayin'.

    TB, the New Katrina

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 5:45 PM EDT

    Lawmakers are beginning to ask the obvious question: Why was a man identified as having a strongly drug-resistant form of tuberculosis allowed to fly on an international commercial flight and cross the border into the United States even after his passport had been flagged? Concerns about drug-resistant TB have been circulating for years, and you'd think we might have learned our lesson about allowing flagged travelers into the United States after 9/11. If that's not bad enough, the infected man, Andrew Speaker, has told the press that the Centers for Disease Control stonewalled his requests to provide him with non-commercial transportation from Europe to the Denver hospital that, they had informed him, was the only place that could to handle the virulent strain of TB. That treatment came despite the fact that his wife's father works at the CDC. The U.S. government is going to have to get its act together, because drug resistant illnesses are on the rise and who knows what new viruses climate change will unleash.

    Whatever Happened to Jingles in Political Ads?

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 1:36 PM EDT

    Here are a couple old timey campaign spots to remind you of when politics was simpler. Or if politics wasn't simpler, political messaging certainly was. The message of the first? "I like Ike." Literally, that's it -- over and over and over. The message of the second? "Kennedy Kennedy Kennedy." Good times.

    This one's from the Eisenhower campaign in 1952:

    This one is from the Kennedy campaign in 1960:

    But just so you don't think attack ads are a new invention, here's one where the Kennedy campaign gets nasty, using Ike's words against his own VP, Richard Nixon.

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    Today's Chutzpah Award Goes To... Scooter Libby

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 1:15 PM EDT
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    From Scooter Libby's lawyers' response [PDF] to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's sentencing memo, in which he reasserted that Valerie Plame Wilson was indeed an undercover CIA agent:

    First, the government claims that its "investigators were given access to Ms. Wilson's classified file."....This is tantamount to asking the Court and Mr. Libby to take the government's word on Ms. Wilson's status, based on secret evidence, without affording Mr. Libby an opportunity to rebut it. Such a request offends traditional notions of fairness and due process.

    Where to begin on this one? The irony of a former aide to Dick "You Can't Handle the Truth" Cheney questioning the government's word—its classified word, no less? (However, the government in this case is the CIA, which neocons know is a bunch of untrustworthy wusses.) But what really stands out here is that the legal protection that Libby is claiming, the right to see and confront secret evidence, is the very right the White House—the Office of the Vice President in particular—has spent five years denying to Guantanamo detainees. But wait—I thought we can't take the intelligence community at its word, especially when a man's freedom is on the line. Makes your head hurt, don't it? (Extra bonus points: Libby's law firm also represents Gitmo detainees.)

    Oops - Forget You Ever Saw Pix of the Baghdad Embassy

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 12:16 PM EDT
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    A couple of days ago, we posted an image of the beach volleyball court inside the monster U.S. embassy complex under construction in Baghdad. The rendering came from the site of the architecture firm that designed it. But now it's pulled the images under pressure from the State Department, which claimed they were a security risk. Despite the warning, a spokesman for the architecture firm gave the bad guys even more ideas by revealing that "Google Earth could give you a better snapshot of what the site looks like on the ground." So I think it's still safe to show you this image of a Marine guard and a tiny pixelated diplomat.

    Meanwhile, the embassy project has other problems—such as using coerced labor to get the job done. As Iraqslogger reports, American managers have complained that the builder, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting, has mistreated the thousands of South Asian, Filipino, and other foreign laborers brought in to construct the complex. Some of the allegations:

    [C]onstruction crews lived in crowded quarters; ate sub-standard food; and had little medical care. When drinking water was scarce in the blistering heat, coolers were filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with waterborne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies, they said. Others questioned why First Kuwaiti held the passports of workers. Was it to keep them from escaping? Some laborers had turned up "missing" with little investigation. Another American said laborers told him they were been misled in their job location. When recruited, they were unaware they were heading for war-torn Iraq.

    As one American supervisor explained, "Every US labor law was broken.... I've never seen a project more fucked up."

    Ginsburg's Famous White Gloves Finally Come Off

    | Fri Jun. 1, 2007 12:19 AM EDT

    Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led the dissent to the Court's 5-4 decision Tuesday on Ledbetter vs. the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. The case, which decided that pay discrimination cases could not be brought against employers more than 180 days after any alleged discrimination, also marked the second time in six weeks that Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench: an unusually high rate of occurrence for the historically reticent justice who is described as friends as an etiquette-minded, "white-glove person." In fact, Ginsburg had never read her dissent to the Court's decision aloud twice in one year. Ginsburg went years without employing the tactic previous to this term.

    Some, like the co-president of the National Women's Law Center, Marcia Greenberger, are interpreting these vocal dissents as attempts to garner attention for some serious issues. Greenberger characterized Ginsburg's recent vocal dissents as a "clarion call to the American people that… the court is headed in the wrong direction."

    Indeed, partisan politics seems to have captured the Court, and Ginsburg can not have helped but notice. Ginsburg, now the only female Justice since Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, has gone up against the same five justices (Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas) in both recent dissents. Those five frequently form the core of her opposition, and perhaps not surprisingly, three of these five justices were hand-picked by Bush presidents (Alito, Roberts, and Thomas). The other two were picked by Reagan. Ginsburg was joined in her dissent Tuesday by Justice Breyer, the only other justice on the bench appointed by a Democratic President (Clinton, like Ginsburg); by Justice Stouter, appointed by Bush in 1990 and a man who has drawn the ire of conservatives who consider him either an apostate or a phony; and by Justice Stevens, appointed way back in 1975 by Gerald Ford. Unable to persuade a majority of her colleagues on Ledbetter, Ginsburg called on Congress to overturn the Court's decision.

    A month ago, Ginsburg criticized the gang of five for the language and logic in their decision to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. She argued that their opinion reflected "ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution -- ideas that have long since been discredited."

    In her dissent Tuesday, Ginsburg again accused the majority for being out of touch, this time for not taking into consideration common workplace practices and characteristics of pay discrimination. It can be difficult, she argued, for pay discrimination to be proved in the short 180-day period that the Court requires if pay disparity occurs in small increments over time or if comparative pay information is not available to the employee.

    Though Ginsburg spoke up for women in the partial birth abortion case, and spoke up again Tuesday for a female plaintiff, her concerns are broader than her sex. She knows that the decision in Ledbetter could hinder anyone who has reason to bring a discrimination suit based on race, national origin, or sexual orientation. We can only hope that in an increasingly conservative court, we have an increasingly vocal dissenter in Justice Ginsburg.

    -- Jessica Savage

    Bushies: We "Will Fight to Keep Meatpackers from Testing for Mad Cow Disease"

    | Thu May 31, 2007 7:20 PM EDT

    The argument for free market economics—though we here at Mother Jones may have, on occasion, doubted its virtuosity—goes like this: Competition encourages innovation, and customers decide which innovations are worth keeping and get what they want in the process. Here's a case in point: A small business called Creekstone Farms Premium Beef proposed testing all of its cows for mad cow disease. Customers have long been skittish about mad cow disease, and testing would likely cause Creekstone's business to spike.

    Innovation? Check. Benefit to consumers? Check. Fostering small businesses? Check. But the USDA has intervened to block Creekstone from conducting the tests. The rationale? It's not fair to agribusinesses, which buy, sell, and butcher so many cows that they couldn't possibly conduct the expensive test on all of them. The USDA also alleged that "widespread testing could lead to a false positive that would harm the meat industry."

    Protecting the strong from the weak and putting dollars above lives are standard practice at the USDA, which is pretty much a trade group for agribusiness. Mother Jones has highlighted other examples of the same mentality: Read about the USDA's watering down of organic standards here, and its past moves to block safety innovations here.

    Now, for another reason to become a vegetarian. PETA has petitioned Congress to create a tax break for non-meat eaters. After all, the animal rights group argues, buying a hybrid vehicle entitles you to a tax break, although it reduces carbon emissions by only two-thirds as much per year as forgoing meat. It seems like a pretty righteous idea to me (full disclosure: I'm a long-time vegetarian, though I might have had a tiny taste of prosciutto last night)—the only problem is, how could the government determine who does and does not eat meat? Testing our poop is obviously out of the question: See above.