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"Broken Laws, Broken Lives": New Physicians' Report

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 10:08 AM EDT

Physicians for Human Rights has released a new report that examines the medical evidence that it says confirms the "first-hand accounts of men who endured torture by US personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. These men were never charged with any crime."

From the report's preface, written by retired US Maj. General Antonio M. Taguba, one of the whistleblowers on abuse at Abu Ghraib:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

Seymour Hersh profiled Taguba in the New Yorker here.


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Bush Trips Up McCain on Offshore Drilling

| Wed Jun. 18, 2008 9:48 AM EDT

Yesterday, John McCain gave a speech announcing that he is reversing his position on offshore drilling: he's now strongly in favor.

Today, in a move that must have Rick Davis and Charlie Black pulling their hair out, President Bush will publicly proclaim his support for McCain's idea. President Bush should have to refund the McCain campaign for all the money it spent on these ads.

Update: This is putting McCain-supporting Florida Republicans, all of whom opposed offshore drilling, in an awkward position.

Six Degrees of Jello Biafra

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 7:16 PM EDT

jello-biafra-250x200.jpgJello Biafra, the green latex glove-wearing front man for arguably one of the 80s' most prolific punk/hardcore bands, is celebrating his 50th birthday this week by performing two shows in San Francisco alongside the Melvins and Jello's latest band, the Axis of Merry Evildoers, which includes members of Victims Family, Faith No More and Sharkbait. I'm told that a sweaty, shirtless Jello did his share of jumping into the crowd at Monday's show, which was reportedly a mix of "old punk dudes" and younger folks who were born well after Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables dropped in 1980.

After the jump: Ministry, who got their start that same year, gave an amusing shout-out to Jello this week:

US Fish and Wildlife: Oil and Gas Extraction Have Nothing - Nothing! - To Do With Arctic Habitat Loss

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 3:40 PM EDT

Loath to go too many days without flouting some kind of law, the Bush administration last week granted permission for seven oil companies to harass and potentially harm polar bears while drilling for oil and gas in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, provided they do so unintentionally. Polar bears were just recently classifed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, an obvious lapse in judgment the administration apparently rushed to rectify. The "final rule" (.pdf) states that "The Fish and Wildlife Service has developed regulations that authorize the nonlethal, incidental, unintentional take of small numbers of Pacific walruses and polar bears." To "take", as defined in the document, means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill" a marine mammal, or to attempt to do so.

So, if I read this correctly, Fish and Wildlife has just authorized oil companies to accidentally harass, hunt, and capture polar bears. While no extraction is yet underway, it seems fair to conclude that the government is covering its legal backside in anticipation of the inevitable havoc that seven companies' worth of oil and gas exploration will wreak.

Which would make sense, if the agency were not also claiming that the exploration won't cause any trouble at all. Speaking to an AP reporter, Fish and Wildlife director H. Dale Hall insisted that "the oil and gas industry in operating under the kind of rules they have operated under for 15 years has not been a threat to the species...It was the ice melting and the habitat going away that was a threat to the species over everything else."

But as the article continues, "exploring in the Chukchi Sea's 29.7 million acres will require as many as five drill ships, one or two icebreakers, a barge, a tug and two helicopter flights per day, according to the government. Oil companies will also be making hundreds of miles of ice roads and trails along the coastline."

All of which I'm sure has nothing to do with "the ice melting and the habitat going away."

Russian Bureaucrats Smother the World's Best Alt-Weekly

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 3:20 PM EDT

a26c.jpgSad news out of Russia this week. The AP reports that The eXile, the English-language biweekly for Moscow's expatriate community, is going out of business following an unannounced inspection by officials from Russia's media bureau that scared off the paper's financial backers.

The temptation in eulogizing The eXile is to string together lengthy excerpts of the paper's best work. But I'll keep it to a few quick hits: It's where Matt Taibbi got his start; it published a military affairs column by "War Nerd" Gary Brecher, a data enterer who, according to his Wikipedia entry, describes "himself as a fat slob who spends approximately 8 hours a day on the internet searching for war news"; in 2001 the editors famously "stormed into the Moscow bureau of The New York Times and threw a pie filled with equine sperm into the face of the bureau chief after accusing him of soft coverage of Russia's political elite." And even with their Larry Flynt-like standards of taste and decency—even while describing their most malicious pranks in vile detail—the editors managed to come off as the good guys.

Really, it's a measure of the paper's brilliance that it managed to be consistently interesting and readable while covering a country that plenty of readers, like me, had never even laid eyes on.

Over at Radar, Mark Ames, who founded The eXile 11 years ago, has been providing some hilarious coverage of the slow death of the paper. Here's a sample passage, in which officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and the Protection of Cultural Heritage quiz Ames on eccentric opposition leader/eXile columnist Eduard Limonov (slightly censored because The Riff is a family blog):

Court: White House Doesn't Have To Release Documents Relating to Missing Emails

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 2:08 PM EDT

Even though the White House Office of Administration (OA) has complied with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for decades, a court yesterday supported the Bush administration's claim that the OA is not a federal agency and therefore not subject to the FOIA. The Bush administration made the claim last August. The court dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which was using the FOIA to seek documents from the OA about missing White House emails. The decision means the OA will not have to release its documents to CREW, which had hoped to use them in a separate lawsuit that aims to force the recovery and preservation of any missing emails.

While the ruling is a setback for CREW and the National Security Archive (NSA), its co-plaintiff in the White House emails lawsuit, the battle is far from over. CREW plans to appeal this decision. In the meantime, the main lawsuit, which focuses on the recovery and preservation of the emails, will carry on without the OA documents. CREW and the NSA already have access to some information about the OA's email failures because House government oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif) obtained and released some of that information earlier this year. Recent developments in the main lawsuit have favored the plaintiffs, with a magistrate judge issuing recommendations that the White House didn't like, including one that suggested the White House be ordered to secure portable devices, like BlackBerrys, that could contain versions of some of the missing emails. The judge in that case could still force the OA to take measures to recover and preserve missing emails. But each day that goes by until then will make any deleted emails present in "slack space" on hard drives harder to recover, and get the Bush White House one day closer to running out the clock.

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McCain on Offshore Drilling - a Sad (and Costly?) Saga

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg The easiest point to make about John McCain's recently declared support for offshore drilling is that it is a flip-flop. When McCain ran for president in 1999, he supported the current moratorium on offshore drilling, slated to last until 2012. But speaking in the Washington area on Monday, McCain said, "There are areas off our coasts that should be open to exploration and exploitation, and I hope we can take the first step by lifting the moratoria." McCain added that drilling "would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis."

It's hard to blame anyone for changing his or her positions on energy issues over the past eight years — markets have changed, America's energy needs have changed, and prices have certainly changed. Even many Democrats have altered their positions on energy; most are much more supportive of climate change legislation than they once were.

You can blame McCain, however, for switching to the wrong position. Controversy over offshore drilling originated in the United States in 1969, when a cracked sea floor created a huge oil spill near Santa Barbara, California. The danger of a reoccurrence still exists, as do risks associated with having oil tankers routinely servicing offshore rigs. More important, offshore drilling is a band-aid. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, lifting the offshore drilling moratorium would have a minor impact on production and prices:

Mean estimates from the [Minerals Management Service] indicate that technically recoverable resources currently off limits in the lower 48 OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) total 18 billion barrels of crude oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas....
The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017. Total domestic production of crude oil from 2012 through 2030 in the OCS access case is projected to be 1.6 percent higher than in the reference case, and 3 percent higher in 2030 alone, at 5.6 million barrels per day. For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher—2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case (Figure 20). Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

At America's current consumption rates (20.8 million barrels of oil per day), the oil resources made available from lifting the moratorium would last this country less than two and a half years.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. The United States has just 3 percent of the world's oil reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world's oil. It should be clear we're not going to get out of this problem on the backs of our own oil rigs. Temporary solutions such as lifting the moratorium and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which McCain opposes) only bolsters the illusion that America's long-term energy problems can be solved through achieving fossil fuel-based energy independence. That's a pernicious myth, and one that inhibits real progress.

How the Veepstakes Affect Local Communities

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 1:56 PM EDT

While you're chewing over Obama's VP options, consider how governors ditching their posts for the White House can affect the states they leave behind.

If Virginia's Kaine were picked, the lieutenant governor is Bill Bolling, a Republican, giving the GOP control of the governor's mansion for the first time since 2002.
Arizona doesn't have a lieutenant governor, so Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, would take over if Napolitano were tapped, giving the GOP the reins of power in both the Legislature and the governor's office.
Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, a Republican, would take over for Schweitzer, whose win in 2004 put a Democrat in the governor's office for the first time since 1989. (Montana is the only state with a Democrat and Republican voluntarily on the same ticket.)
In Kansas, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson switched to the Democratic Party in 2006 after serving four years as Republican Party Chairman and as a Republican state legislator during the 1990s, so his ascension would put his party leanings to the test.

When Senators are considered for the VP nod, people routinely ask whether their governors are from the same party as them. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, for example, is a tricky VP pick for Obama because Indiana has a Republican governor who would likely fill Bayh's vacated seat with a Republican. Jeopardizing a 60-seat majority is a major no-no.

The party affiliation of lieutenant governors is a lot less important, but probably worth more attention than it gets.

Waxman to DoD Inspector General: Investigate Contractor Fraud

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

In a letter (PDF) sent yesterday to Claude M. Kicklighter, the Defense Department Inspector General, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the House government oversight committee chairman, asks the IG to investigate "potentially thousands" of cases of contractor fraud in Iraq. In the letter, Waxman refers to the findings from the IG's earlier investigation of DoD expenses in Iraq, which indicated that 28 transactions worth $35 million "appeared to involve criminal misuse of taxpayer funds." Since the 28 transactions the IG found came from just a small sample of DoD transactions in Iraq, Waxman asked his staff to extrapolate from the small sample and come up with a figure representing how many of the 180,000 Iraq transactions might involve fraud. The results were shocking. From the letter:

Among the transactions you examined, approximately 4% resulted in criminal referrals. When this percentage is applied to the entire pool of 180,000 transactions, it appears that there may be more than 7,000 potential criminal cases involving more than $190 million in federal spending that have not been identified. This is an astounding amount of potential criminal fraud.

Waxman goes on to ask the IG to "assess the extent of potential criminal fraud" in Iraq and make recommendations to DoD and Congress about how to investigate and prosecute "cases of criminal conduct." As Waxman also noted in his letter, the DoD has a record of little cooperation with Waxman or its own IG, so it remains to be seen whether the Congressman will get what he wants. Knowing Waxman, he'll keep trying regardless.

Clintonites Not Happy About This Patti Solis Doyle Thing

| Tue Jun. 17, 2008 10:50 AM EDT

They are pissed. "It's a slap in the face"... "Who can blame Obama for rewarding Patti? He would never be the nominee without her"... "the biggest f**k you I have ever seen in politics."

This just deepens the questions I asked yesterday. Obama's decision to make PSD the eventual VP nominee's chief of staff is utterly, utterly confusing. His campaign has done much to court Clinton and her supporters since the end of the primaries, and he now praises Clinton regularly on the campaign trail. Hiring a staffer (specifically to that position) that Clinton broke with publicly and that Clintonites love to hate seems both graceless and politically stupid, two things Obama usually is not.

So did they think putting PSD in a senior spot would be a sop to the Clinton camp, only to have it backfire? Did they intend to stick a finger in Clinton's eye, hoping the press wouldn't notice? Did Clinton tell Obama in their private meeting at Diane Feinstein's house that she didn't want the VP slot, allowing Obama to put the best qualified person in the spot, regardless of past allegiances? Does the Obama campaign know that while many Clinton loyalists sneer at PSD, Clinton worked with her for 15 years and still feels a sense of attachment to her, and might be grateful that Obama offered her a chance to land on her feet?

This is the sort of ridiculous, uninformed, overstretched speculation you get when the chattering class is completely befuddled. It ain't pretty.