Political MoJo

K-Fed an Insult to Fast Food

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 7:15 PM EST

K-Fed just can't get a break. Fresh off of his split from Britney, the stay-at-home-rapper swung a sweet deal with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (yes, at least someone is "On Your Side," Kev) to star in a Super Bowl commercial where he essentially daydreams of being a star and then wakes up to find himself merely a burger flipper.

Nothing groundbreaking here people. Fast food work is not exactly glory-filled, and pop culture calls attention to that fact quite often. Still, this week the National Restaurant Association asked the insurance company to pull the ad saying that it: "give[s] the impression that working in a restaurant is a demeaning and unpleasant," and stands as a "direct insult to the 12.8 million Americans who work in the restaurant industry."

Now wait, does an ad expressing disappointment at being a minimum wage, part-time worker with no benefits rather than a millionaire rap mogul really strike you as demeaning? (Even if that worker is Kevin Federline.)

Did they also object to the ending of American Beauty where another Kevin (Spacey) got a job flipping burgers so he wouldn't have to think about anything? Maybe the NRA (could have switched around their name for a more kindly acronym?) should come to the rescue of their "insulted" workers in more substantive ways: let them unionize, increase their wages, and improve working conditions. For starters, just leave Kevin alone.

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NY Times Pokes Fun at an Iraqi Parliament in Shambles

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 7:07 PM EST

You know there's trouble when this is the lede in the New York Times:

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's presentation of a new Baghdad security plan to the Iraqi Parliament on Thursday broke down in bitter sectarian recriminations, with Mr. Maliki threatening a Sunni Arab lawmaker with arrest and, in response, the Sunni speaker of Parliament threatening to quit.

Nice. What else can you tell us, gray lady?

The prime minister's claim [that Iraqi law enforcement will hit Shiites as hard as Sunnis] was challenged by Abdul Nasir al-Janabi, who represents a powerful Sunni Arab bloc. "We can not trust the office of the prime minister," he said over jeers from the Shiite politicians before his microphone was cut off.

And how did our esteemed Prime Minister respond? With the equanimity of someone in his illustrious and weighty position, I presume? With the knowledge that his behavior in this time of national strife could determine the outcome of a new republic?

Mr. Maliki could barely contain his rage, waving his finger in the air and essentially accusing Mr. Nasir of being a criminal.
"I will show you," Mr. Maliki said. "I will turn over the documents on you" showing all your crimes, "then you can talk about trust," Mr. Maliki said.

Oh my. But it did eventually settle down? Must have, right? After all, this session of parliament was televised for the Iraqi citizenry to see.

As the prime minister continued, Shiites encouraged [the Prime Minister] on and Sunni Arabs tried to shout him down.
Mr. Mashhadani [speaker of the Parliament] yelled for everyone to "shut up."

Wow. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison this group is not. Tell me, New York Times, was there anything super-ironic that might make all of this even more absurd?

The lawmakers had their shouting match while sitting beneath a banner with a phrase from the Koran extolling civil debate as the key to good decisions.

Well, good. Now America's greatest newspaper has subtly mocked the country we invaded and then provided with a broken infrastructure and sham government. Somehow, I feel as though everyone involved in this depressing circus has let each other down.

Lower Breast Cancer Rates May Not Mean Less Cancer

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:15 PM EST

According to a report released today by the CDC, fully 1.1 million fewer women aged 40 and over had mammograms last year than in 2000. This decline might explain, in part, the recent drop in breast cancer rates in the U.S., meaning rates might not actually be going down. Fewer diagnoses does not mean fewer cases, just fewer known cases. So, while we have seen detection rates decrease, deaths from breast cancer could increase, the report says.

The reason for the drop is unclear but the CDC researchers point to a couple of disturbing trends that move beyond the taking-it-for-granted explanation:

"One study has indicated that breast-imaging facilities face challenges such as shortages of key personnel, malpractice concerns and financial constraints."

"Because the number of U.S. women aged more than 40 years increased by more than 24 million during 1990 to 2000, the number of available facilities and trained breast specialists might not be sufficient to meet the needs of the population, whose overall median age continues to increase."

This feels wrong. Wrong, not in the incorrect sense, but wrong in the how can there not-be-enough-facilities-for-such-basic-needs sense. And let's get some more "breast specialists" trained, this is a must people.

The report did not look at mammography rates by age, geographic region or socioeconomic status though the researchers say they do plan on examining whether the decrease in mammography rates is concentrated among certain groups, such as the poor and uninsured.

Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer and about 40,000 die from the disease. According to the report, screening might reduce breast cancer mortality by 20% to 35% among women ages 50 to 69 and by 20% among women ages 40 to 49.

Q: What Do Dolphin-Mounted Weapons and NSA Wiretapping Have in Common?

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 6:06 PM EST

A: The government has claimed that they are "state secrets" and therefore cannot be discussed in court. The state secrets privilege, as Mother Jones reported in August, is basically a get-out-of-court-free card.

Bad news for Bush, the government's attempt to invoke the privilege was denied in several suits brought against it as a result of warrantless wiretapping by the NSA. But, the New York Times reports today, the government is still using Kafkaesque tactics to make the suit difficult for the plaintiffs. The Justice Department is filing its legal briefs in an office in its own building. It promises the employees guarding the briefs and the litigators in the case are separate and that the documents have not been altered—but the funny thing about lying is that it makes everything you say in the future suspect. Government lawyers have also demanded that a document accidentally provided to an Oregon Muslim charity, documenting warrantless surveillance of the group, be returned to the FBI even though the document is the primary evidence the charity is using to claim damages.

Kinda makes your head spin, doesn't it?

Victory Over Wal-Mart for Overtimers

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 5:55 PM EST

Mother Jones has always been hot on the Wal-Mart beat. In November of last year, when San Diego banned Wal-Mart Supercenters, I summarized on MoJoBlog.

Mother Jones has written a ton about Wal-Mart in the past, including this feature on Wal-Mart employees being so fed up with low wages, unpaid overtime, and union busting that they started fighting back, this blog post about how Wal-Mart's claims about going organic are a big fat lie, this blog post about how Wal-Mart could raise wages by more than $2,000 per employee and still maintain profit margins almost 50 percent higher than Costco, this short article about how Rick Santorum sided with Wal-Mart over his own beleaguered constituents, this essay about how Wal-Mart's "Made in America" claims are deceitful and disgusting, and on and on.

Today, a new addition. Wal-Mart has agreed to settle a case in which 87,000 employees sued for unpaid overtime wages. Specifically, Wal-Mart has agreed to pay $33 million, which averages out to be $379 per employee involved. Hilariously, though, the damages paid to each employee range from a few cents to, in one instance, $39,000.

If you are a Wal-Mart employee and are wondering if you are due any unpaid overtime, you can go here to find out.

Bernie Kerik To Try His Luck In Guyana

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 4:15 PM EST

Bernie Kerik, who rose to fame after 9/11, is now headed to Guyana where he will be a new state security advisor, working alongside the President and the national security ministry. Kerik was the New York City police commissioner when the 9/11 attacks occured and was subsequently praised for his department's valor.

But Kerik's career since then has been marred by scandal. And, we mustn't forget his stellar performance in Iraq. The NYPD hero took over a police advisory role in the country in May of 2003, but due to his less than sufficient preparation -- he watched A&E documentaries on Saddam Hussein to prepare -- and lack of experience in Iraq, he proved to be incompetent in the role. He held only two staff meetings while in the country and returned having failed. (To be fair, the administration did not send enough advisers to Iraq despite numerous recommendations to do so.) The lack of competent police advising would prove to be one of the gravest errors made by the adminstration to date. For more examples of the adminstration's incompetence regarding Iraq, see the Mother Jones timeline.

Kerik, though, certainly has a nose for a deal. One can only imagine how much his one year contract in Guyana, which begins next month, is worth.

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More Good News About Factory Farming

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 2:47 PM EST

Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation's largest pork producer, announced yesterday that it is phasing out the use of gestation crates at all of its farms. Smithfield says that within ten years, it will have no gestion crates at any of its facilities. Ten years is a long time for hundreds of thousands of pigs to continue to suffer, but the announcement is nevertheless a major breakthrough in the fight against corporate animal abuse.

Bush to Congress: "I'm Still Making the Decisions Around Here"

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 2:00 PM EST

This morning, President Bush told reporters, regarding Congress' opposition to escalation, that he really doesn't care.

"Most people recognize that failure would be a distaster for the United States. And, that I'm the decision-maker. I had to come up with a way forward that precluded distaster."

For what it's worth, I think I personally preferred "the Decider."

Shi'a Iraqi Soldiers Beat Sunnis As American Soldiers Cheer Them On

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 8:25 PM EST

Footage of the beating of Sunnis by Shi'a Iraqi soldiers is available here. Obtained by a British public television station, the footage shows the Sunnis being beaten with fists, kicked, and beaten with the butts of weapons. While the beatings are taking place, American soldiers taunt the Sunnis and cheer on the Shi'a soldiers, then help load the victims into the back of a truck.

The beatings were witnessed by two journalists from the First Cavalry division. According to the British television station, American troops threatened the journalists and held them under armed guard, threatening to seize their footage. A U.S. Army commander reports that he has taken action to suspend the platoon sergeant.

Farewell to Ryszard Kapuscinski

| Thu Jan. 25, 2007 6:10 PM EST

Ryszard Kapuscinksi, the Polish foreign correspondent, astute observer of the Third World and fixture of most college courses on literary nonfiction for the last 25 years, passed away today. He was best known in the United States for the translations of his books on wars and revolutions, told through the eye of a nation that had itself been victim to conquest and subjugation. He was criticized in his later years for being somewhat essentialist on the matter of race and culture, and for being more literary than literal in his use of facts, but he remains one of the great chroniclers of post-colonial tumult in Africa and the Middle East, a journalist of exemplary courage and a writer of great empathy.

While riding the bus this week, it just so happens I've been rereading Kapuscinski. His Shah of Shahs, published in 1982, chronicles the events leading up to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in which Ayatollah Khomeini deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the corrupt, US-backed autocrat. As I'd hoped, Kapuscinski shed some light on what we'd be getting into if the Bush Administration made good on its brinksmanship. Bush might want to consider this before invading:

[Iranians] have a particular talent for preserving their independence under conditions of subjugation. For hundreds of years the Iranians have been the victims of conquest, aggression, and partition. They have been ruled for centuries on end by foreigners or local regimes dependent of foreign powers, and yet they have preserved their culture and language, their impressive personality and so much spiritual fortitude that in propitious circumstances they can arise reborn from the ashes. During the twenty-five centuries of their recorded history the Iranians have always, sooner or later, managed to outwit anyone with the impudence to try ruling them. Sometimes they have to resort to the weapons of uprising and revolution to obtain their goal, and then they pay the tragic levy of blood. Sometimes they use the tactic of passive resistance, which they apply in a particularly consistent and radical way. When they get fed up with an authority that has become unbearable, the whole country freezes, the whole nation does a disappearing act. Authority gives orders but no one is listening, it frowns but no one is looking, it raises its voice but that voice is as one crying in the wilderness. Then authority falls apart like a house of cards. The most common Iranian technique, however, is absorption, active assimilation, in a way that turns the foreign sword into the Iranians' own weapon."