Former Liberian president Charles Taylor took the stand Tuesday to testify before an international court at The Hague, which is probing his alleged war crimes. Taylor is charged with multiple heinous crimes, including sending invasions into Sierra Leone "to terrorize the civilian population" and wrest control of the West African country's diamond mines, and ordering the rape and murder of girls and women and the forced conscription of boys and men.

The criminal trial, which began in 2006, has heard the testimony of more than 90 witnesses of Taylor's crimes, and the defense plans to call more than 200 witnesses to argue Taylor's innocence. Though Taylor admitted that he knew such atrocities were occurring, he said that he "never, never, ever" would have condoned them. He also rejected the means by which he was arrested and tried. "The prosecution, because of disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumours, would associate me with such titles or descriptions," he said.

If the court finds Taylor guilty, West Africa will take a giant step toward repairing the blemish of ethnic violence and injustice that has plagued the region since Western countries began jockeying for control hundreds of years ago.

Read more on Taylor's troubling history below the jump.

We wrote on Monday about the numerous benefits of calorie labeling on health and consumer choices. Here's an update on how the debate is unfolding throughout the intertubes. Blogger Ezra Klein has a print piece in today's Washington Post praising calorie labeling as a way to wean Americans off foods that will increase our waist size and most likely kill us. An excerpt:

But will putting calorie counts where we can see them make a difference? Possibly. Early studies, along with some anecdotal evidence, show that this practice is driving eaters to choose lighter items.

We're still waiting for the full data from New York's experiment. But the researchers there shared unpublished numbers with the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department, which was preparing an analysis in case Los Angeles wanted to follow New York's lead. Based on those numbers, Los Angeles researchers settled on a "conservative" estimate: 10 percent of chain restaurant patrons would order meals that were merely 100 calories lighter.

Surprisingly, that mild change in behavior has a huge and immediate effect: It would avert 38.9 percent of the county's expected weight gain in the next year. If 20 percent of patrons order meals with 150 fewer calories, it would avert 116 percent of the expected weight gain, which is to say that the County of Los Angeles would actually lose weight.

On his blog, Matt Yglesias agreed, but argued that "what seems really wrongheaded about the NYC law is to limit its effect to chain restaurants." Atrios responded that New York's labeling law is limited to chain restaurants because "requiring it of every restaurant for every item would really place a really large burden on small establishments." He added, "It's more reasonable for large chains because their menu items are standardized and the cost can be spread over their entire chain.

So the netroots seems to agree that calorie labeling is beneficial. But is it appropriate to force it on some restaurants, and let others off the hook?

Sotomayor for the Prosecution

Sonia Sotomayor's all-but-certain confirmation will be a notable victory for Democrats, and for the cause of diversity on the nation's highest court. Whether it will be a victory for criminal justice is another question—one that seems to matter little to most of her liberal supporters. Read the progressive case against Sotomayor here.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has done a good bit of babbling over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor this week. He's so proud of her that today, he confessed that she gives him "piel de gallina." That would be "goosebumps" for all you gringos out there.  The good senator was obviously trying to be nice by, you know, speaking her language. But throwing bad Spanish at the country's first Latina Supreme Court nominee is akin to questioning Justice Clarence Thomas in Ebonics. How much more patronizing can these guys be? Next we'll have Sen. Kyl demanding, "comprende Senora?" after one of his windy questions. It just shows why it might be a good idea to have a little more diversity in high places. A "wise Latina" might have prevented Whitehouse from making such an embarassing gaffe. Or at least she could help him with his accent.

Follow our live coverage of the Sotomayor hearings here.

 

Reid on DADT

Harry Reid says he'd support a permanent repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military:

“We’re having trouble getting people into the military,” Mr. Reid told reporters when questioned about whether he could support an 18-month moratorium on enforcing a prohibition on gays in the armed forces. “And I think that we shouldn’t turn down anybody that’s willing to fight for our country, certainly based on sexual orientation.”

Mr. Reid said he would go the proposal, being considered by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, one better and support a permanent repeal of the ban.

This is a useful bellwether.  Reid doesn't generally stick his neck out on stuff like this, and up until recently he's been distinctly lukewarm about even engaging with the issue.  So if he's decided to take a firm stand, it's probably because he doesn't think there's really much risk in it anymore.  It's become a pretty mainstream position.  If we can just get the Pentagon brass to say the same thing, maybe we'll finally make some progress on this.

Web Design Woes

I came to the conclusion some time ago that news site redesigns are always bad.  Compared to the previous site, redesigned sites are almost invariably slower, more annoying, harder to use, or a combination of all three.

But Time magazine really takes the prize.  Their old site was plain but basically fine.  The new one is so ugly, squashed, and badly laid out that I can hardly stand to read it anymore.  So I guess I'll do what I always do in these cases: add it to my RSS feed and never go back again.  Yeesh.

UPDATE: No joy.  The new site engages in one of my pet peeves: cutting off all posts after the first paragraph so you have to click each and every post separately if you want to see what the Swamplanders are talking about today.  RSS to the rescue!  But no.  They only offer a partial feed.  Jesus.

Your friendly D.C. bureau legal affairs reporter, Stephanie Mencimer, has been reporting live from inside the Sotomayor confirmation hearings. We've teamed up with TheUptake.org to bring you live video of the hearing (plus Twitter updates from Stephanie and David Corn in the crawl). Also check out the live blog below the video. You can find all that here.  If you missed Monday or Tuesday's action, check out the wrap-ups: Pride and Prejudice and Where Did Sotomayor's Empathy Go? Plus, two video highlights from the week so far: Sonia knows nunchucks, and Al Franken's flop.

Till today, I couldn't find too many reasons not to shop at the Salvation Army: Thrift-stores are cheaper, better for the planet, and usually more interesting than the mall. But turns out my fondness for weird old mugs could land me in financial hot water. Treehugger has a great little post today about green consumer habits that some credit companies consider "red flags:"

Credit companies take note, for instance, if you charge services like tire retreading and shoe repair to your card. Or if you're shopping at thrift stores like the Salvation Army.

The message: Buying used things and repairing broken ones instead of buying new means you're struggling financially, and can't be trusted to pay back a loan. That's awfully backwards. Little do the credit companies know how much poorer I'd be if I didn't shop at the Salvation Army.

For other credit company red flags, check out this Concord Monitor piece.

Explaining Al Gore

Bob Somerby, employing his traditional royal we, makes an announcement today:

After Labor Day, we plan to roll out a new product; at a new web site, we plan to start posting our (largely written) book about the press corps’ coverage of Campaign 2000.

That's good news — though I confess I'd personally prefer to simply read the whole thing at once instead of getting it a chapter at a time on the web.  How about a Kindle version, Bob?

Whether you think it's racist or not, Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) line in today's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor certainly comes with some ethnic baggage: