Profiles in Courage

Apparently Republican mau-mauing on Guantanamo is working:

A bill by Senate Democrats would fund the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but it would block the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States.

....Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) on Wednesday circulated an approximately $91.5-billion measure that includes $50 million to shutter the Guantanamo facility and move its prisoners — with the proviso that they can't be sent to the United States. The Senate bill appears to favor paying foreign governments to accept the prisoners.

Are Democrats really still so afraid of loony-bin GOP videos that they have to indulge in this nonsense?  Prisoners who need to be transferred can be kept perfectly safely in any ordinary civilian or military prison in the United States, and everyone knows it.  It's time for Dems to get out of their fetal crouch, call out the Republican leadership loudly and clearly for its transparent cynicism and fearmongering, make it clear that we trust the United States Army to run a stockade, and pass a bill letting the military house the prisoners wherever it chooses to.  Somewhere near Washington DC would be a good symbolic gesture.  It's time for some adult supervision here.

Over at The Washington Note, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, claims that the main purpose of torture in the months immediately after 9/11 was to find a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein:

What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case.  But one way or another, Wilkerson is going to have to tell us how he knows this.  It's not enough just to say that he "learned" it.

Public support for a crackdown on shady credit card lending practices is practically stratospheric right now, and yet Congress still couldn't bring itself to buck the industry and crack down on exorbitant interest rates. An amendment in the Senate that would have capped interest rates at 15 percent failed decisvely, winning just 33 votes. (The only Republican to back the measure was Charles Grassley; you can see the full list of senators who shot down the proposal here.)

James Ridgeway has the rundown on Congress' half-hearted feint at credit card reform here. And don't miss Kevin Drum's posts on the industry's lousy business practices and its trusty friends in Congress.     

Nancy Pelosi fights back against news reports that she was briefed on the torture of CIA prisoners in 2002:

In her first public comments on the matter since an intelligence report contradicted her recollections, Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters today that she was never told about the fact that waterboarding had been used on a terrorist suspect, even though terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded a month before she was briefed on the subject in Sept. 2002.

“The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed,” Pelosi said, reading from a prepared statement. “Those briefing me in Sept. 2002 gave me inaccurate and incomplete information.”

Game on!  Two questions, though.  First, why did it take you a week to remember this?  Second, what about reports that one of your aides, Michael Sheehy, was briefed about waterboarding in early 2003 and passed the news along to you?  Any comment on that?

UPDATE: Actually, it turns out that Pelosi did address the Sheehy issue.  Details here.

President Barack Obama's scheduled appearance at Notre Dame's commencement on Sunday has caused a fuss, with antiabortion activists and students promising they will protest. One of those leading this effort, Randall Terry, a longtime, controversial, and extreme anti-abortion crusader, claims he's obtained a leaked copy of the text of the honorary degree Obama will receive. In a press release he zapped out on Thursday morning, Terry said the text had been given to him by "someone connected with Notre Dame" whom he would not identify, and he published the purported text:

The University of Notre Dame Confers the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on the 44th president of the United States, whose historic election opened a new era of hope in a country long divided by its history of slavery and racism. A community organizer who honed his advocacy for the poor, the marginalized and the worker in the streets of Chicago, he now organizes a larger community, bringing to the world stage a renewed American dedication to diplomacy and dialogue with all nations and religions committed to human rights and the global common good. Through his willingness to engage with those who disagree with him and encourage people of faith to bring their beliefs to the public debate, he is inspiring this nation to heal its divisions of religion, culture, race and politics in the audacious hope for a brighter tomorrow.
On Barack H. Obama, Washington, District of Columbia"

Donald Rochon is back in the news. The former FBI agent settled an historic discrimination case against the bureau in 1990. Rochon, who is African-American, alleged repeated instances of harrassment by his white colleagues in the FBI's field offices in Omaha and Chicago. For example, there was the time his fellow agents taped a picture of a monkey over a framed family photo on Rochon's desk. And after Rochon learned to scuba dive, his fellow agents had great fun doctoring a photo depicting him swimming through a garbage dump. The discrimination was as clear-cut as it was offensive. Included in the out-of-court settlement was the promise that upon reaching retirement age, Rochon would receive his full FBI pension. This apparently did not happen, which is why Rochon is again locked in a legal battle with the bureau.

But as bad as things were for Rochon, FBI spokesman John Miller told reporters this week that the bureau has come a long way in twenty years. It now has systems in place through which aggrieved employees can file discrimination complaints to internal investigators. Maybe so, but that doesn't mean the problem is solved. Just ask Bassem Youssef. The bureau's highest-ranking Arabic-speaking agent, Youssef was a star undercover operator who penetrated Al Qaeda years before 9/11. But after the attacks on New York and Washington, he was sidelined to a desk job. Why? Youssef claims it's because of his Egyptian ethnicity. As far as the FBI may have come in the last few decades, it still has a long way to go. Youssef's struggles with the bureau are a sad reminder that the FBI's good-ole-boy culture is in need of a serious overhaul, just as it was twenty years ago.

For more, read my profile of Bassem Youssef, which was published in the May/June 2009 issue of Mother Jones.

From Gil Kerlikowske, the Obama administration's new drug czar, on banishing the phrase "war on drugs":

Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a "war on drugs" or a "war on a product," people see a war as a war on them.  We're not at war with people in this country.

It's a start.  It's going to take a while to get Congress calmed down enough to do anything sensible on this front, but it's a start.

Andrew Sullivan unleashed a cri de coeur yesterday about Barack Obama's slow to nonexistent progress on gay rights so far, and today Dan Savage agrees, adding a complaint about a lame gag Obama told at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday:

Our lives, our families, and our rights are not a joke, Mr. President. The discrimination faced by gay people — whether coupled and single — is distressingly real and persists even for same-sex couples in Iowa and other states where gay marriage is legal. Stop fucking around and start delivering on your campaign promises to us, to our families, and to our children.

Obama's slow progress is a disappointment and Sullivan's and Savage's anger is wholly justified.  At the same time, I sort of wonder: did either of these guys actually watch Obama during the campaign?  Did he do anything to suggest that he'd be anything other than extremely cautious and pragmatic on gay issues?  Because the guy I saw on the stump was relentlessly measured.  He was endlessly dedicated to bipartisan comity.  He was pals with Rick Warren.  He was anxious to turn down the volume on the culture wars.  Even when he was way ahead in the polls he declined to attack California's Proposition 8.

I'd like to see Obama get off the stick and do something about DADT too.  It's a disgrace that it's still around.  At the same time, it's hardly a surprise that he hasn't made this his highest priority out of the gate.  He gave us plenty of warning.

From the Chicago Trib:

Wisconsin police can attach GPS to cars to secretly track anybody's movements without obtaining search warrants, an appeals court ruled Thursday.
However, the District 4 Court of Appeals said it was “more than a little troubled” by that conclusion and asked Wisconsin lawmakers to regulate GPS use to protect against abuse by police and private individuals.
As the law currently stands, the court said police can mount GPS on cars to track people without violating their constitutional rights—even if the drivers aren't suspects.
Officers do not need to get warrants beforehand because GPS tracking does not involve a search or a seizure, Judge Paul Lundsten wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel based in Madison.

The facts and legal analysis of this case read just like the kind of law school 'hypo' I sweated so hard over.

Here's what happened:

Wastewater treatment plants create a hedonistic mating ground for antibiotic-resistant superbugs that are eventually discharged into streams and lakes.

A new study sampled water near five sewage plants around Ann Arbor, Michigan, and found superbugs—bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics—up to 100 yards downstream from the discharge point in the Huron River. (Next: the researchers are going to look further than 100 yards away.)

While the total number of Acinetobacter bacteria left in the discharge effluent declined dramatically after treatment, the remaining bacteria were significantly more resistant to multiple antibiotics than upstream bacteria.

Ooops.

Some strains resisted as many as seven of eight antibiotics tested.

Twenty or 30 years ago, antibiotics would have killed most of these strains. But multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria have emerged as a serious global health issue thanks to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics.

The researchers conclude the problem isn't that treatment plants aren't cleaning the water. It's that they aren't equipped to remove antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals entering the treatment plants.

Therefore wastewater treatment becomes a fertile brew for the creation of superbugs. Good bacteria grow and replicate along with the bad and in the confined space they share resistant genetic materials, effectively selecting for multidrug resistance.

Wow. Unintelligent design in action.

Here's my favorite part of the press release about this paper in Science of The Total Environment: "While scientists learn more about so-called superbugs, patients can do their part by not insisting on antibiotics for ailments that antibiotics don't treat, such as a common cold or the flu."

Patient, heal thyself.