Ex-veep Dick Cheney has claimed that there are two classified documents showing that the enhanced interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) used on US-held detainees were effective and helped his administration prevent terrorist attacks. Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chair of the Senate armed services committee, this past week said these documents do not support Cheney's argument. On Hardball, conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey and I try to sort it out. Guess whose side Jeffrey was on. Guest host David Shuster was on fire, going after Jeffrey on the use of torture. But we did find consensus on a critical point: President Obama should declassify those two documents--and other material--so that the public can determine if Cheney is telling the truth or not. You can follow my postings and media appearances via Twitter by clicking here.

Best in Blog: 29 May 2009

Little green monkey podcasts, National Fist Bump Day celebrations, and Liz Cheney's epic FAIL: Yep! Friday frolicking won the day here at MoJo. But of course it can't all be fun and gay marriage. This week's torture puzzler: If American brass soldiers* raped detainees, why aren't we prosecuting? Why does Grover Norquist like Judge Sotomayor so much, anyway? And when can we move into Tom Friedman's special world?

One question we can answer? Where your Snuggie will be in 10 years.

Plus: Mary Roach's TEDTalk on '10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasms' is mad excellent, our DC crew explains how America's anti-piracy point man is battling Somali scallywags, and hey look! Border patrol's fun for kids, too!

*Corrected. Thanks, Shane.

Vietnam's Wildlife Farms a Cruel Hoax

The livestock in Southeast Asia’s commercial wildlife farms are rare snakes, turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, tigers, bears, and other threatened wildlife. The "farms" are supposed to be places where rare species are bred in captivity for the purpose of producing meat and wildlife products.

Okay, even from far away, the premise smells bad.

Apparently the farms aren't alleviating pressures on wild populations only making them worse. This according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and Vietnam’s Forest Protection Department, who found commercial wildlife farms depleting wildlife and contributing to illegal trade. Worst affected are tigers and bears whose body parts or secretions are valued in traditional medicine.

About 4,000 bears in Vietnam and 7,600 in China are kept inhumanely in crush cages, their bile extracted twice a day through surgically implanted catheters. The bears moan in pain and bite their own paws. The photo tells a thousand grunts.

Why are the bears tortured like this? Because the bile is used as a traditional Chinese medicine—touted as an anti-inflammatory and fever reducer,  eyesight improver, protection for the liver and gallstone fixer. 

Can't we sell them some aspirin? Seriously, it's gotta be cheaper. Not to mention actually effective.


The farms are supposed to protect wild populations. Instead they're laundering products from animals killed in the wild. Of 78 farms surveyed in Vietnam, 42 percent were regularly bringing in animals from the wild. Half reported their founder populations were taken from the wild or produced from a combination of wild animals and farm stock. Farm owners also admitted transporting wildlife to the Chinese border for export to China. Some farm owners illegally purchase farm stock from commercial hunters and then transported and imported wildlife without a license.

The report concluded the farms don't supply food for local rural communities. Instead most of the unfortunate wildlife victims ends up as luxury items for urban consumers.

What to do about it? The WCS authors recommend prohibiting farms from holding nationally protected and globally threatened species, penalizing farm owners who violate wildlife protection laws, and requiring farm owners to document the source of the animals they keep.

I'm still favoring the aspirin trade.

TEDTalk: Orgasm Trivia

If Mary Roach's books on sex, death, and the afterlife make science writing look like the most fascinating gig on the planet, her recently released TEDTalk video proves it. Roach's talk, "10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm," is wonky, hilarious, and prurient in equal measure. Like this part, for example (video and transcript excerpt below):

Friday Cat Blogging - 29 May 2009

I don't know how well it shows up in the photo, but when they write the definition of "smug" in the next edition of Webster's, they're going to use this picture of Inkblot.  He was so pleased with himself he could hardly stand it.  On the right, we have an action shot of Domino darting out from behind the quilts to protect the house from an invasion of cat toys.

And here's our latest experiment in feline pyschology.  Last weekend Marian brought home a blue blanket and tossed it down in the entryway.  Inkblot made an immediate beeline for it and claimed it as his new favorite thing.  The next day we put the blanket up on the couch.  He wouldn't go near it.  We put it on the carpet.  Ditto.  We put it on the carpet right next to the sofa, and he not only wouldn't go near it, he actually circled way around it as if it were going to bite him.  So then, out of curiosity, I picked it up and put it back on the hardwood floor in the entryway.  He made an immediate beeline for it and curled right up.  Now what the hell is going on with that?

In its comprehensive review (PDF) of cybersecurity released Friday, the White House calls for the president to appoint of a cybersecurity czar whose main duty would be "to coordinate the Nation’s cybersecurity-related policies and activities." The report also calls for the appointment of a privacy and civil liberties official to act as a check on the bureaucracy's power to access sensitive online data.

That recommendation seems to indicate the White House is not interested in having the authority to access any relevant data without regard to privacy laws, or the power to shut down the internet in a cyber emergency—broad powers outlined in The Cybersecurity Act of 2009, released last month and sponsored by senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

Some civil libertarians had expressed concern that the cybersecurity czar—a position also proposed in the Rockefeller-Snowe legislation—would report to the National Security Agency. But Friday's proposal from the White House calls for that official to work dually under the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, Executive Branch offices under whose umbrella transparency is much easier to achieve than at the NSA.

"It's clear that the White House review team was committed to building privacy into these cybersecurity policy recommendations from the beginning of the process," says Leslie Harris, head of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The Senate commerce committee, which has been holding the Rockefeller-Snowe bill in anticipation of Friday's White House report, seems to agree with the privacy guidelines. In a statement, Rockefeller and Snow said the president's cybersecurity advisor must be required "to put civil liberties protections front and center. Our aim is to improve the nation’s security—and by this we mean, the security of American lives, property, and civil liberties."

Yet More on Tough Talk

Hillary Clinton says the Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to stop.  No outposts, no "natural growth," no nothing.  But even if that's the line coming from the Obama administration, surely Bibi Netanyahu can count on congressional pressure to show Obama who's really boss?  Right?

According to many observers in Washington and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, looking for loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington, has been flummoxed by an unusually united line that has come not just from Obama White House and the secretary of state, but also from pro-Israel congressmen and women who have come through Israel for meetings with him over Memorial Day recess. To Netanyahu's dismay, Obama doesn't appear to have a hidden policy. It is what he said it was.

....Whereas in the past Israeli leaders have sometimes eased pressure from Washington on the settlements issue by going to members of Congress, this time, observers in Washington and Israel say, key pro-Israel allies in Congress have been largely reinforcing the Obama team's message to Netanyahu. What changed? "Members of Congress have more willing to follow the leadership of the administration ... because [they] believe it is in our national security interest to move toward ending the conflict and that it is not a zero sum for Israel," the former senior Clinton administration official said.

That's Laura Rozen over at Foreign Policy. Congress has always been a key part of Israel's ability to fight off pressure from American presidents.  If that's changing, it's a big deal.

The weather in the Amazon is going crazy—and the sudden climate changes could affect not only Brazil and its neighboring countries, but areas as far from the rainforest as the Mexican gulf and maybe even the southern US. That’s what Paulo Moutinho, research coordinator for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), warns might happen if the world doesn’t cut its carbon emissions significantly over the next two years.

After two severe drought periods in 1998 and 2005, the Amazon is now in the midst of heavy flooding—the river has reached a record water level of 28 feet. The drought hurt the economy and caused healthcare costs to skyrocket, but Moutinho believes an overflow could cause equal damage by ruining plantations and causing outbreaks of sewage-related diseases.

 

Obama's "New Capitalism"?

Once again, a major American car company is headed for bankruptcy, and once again, the Obama administration is stepping in with buckets of cash. Last time it was Chrysler. Now it's General Motors. But the debate's the same. The Obama team is forcing bondholders to accept a much worse deal than the United Auto Workers is getting, and the bondholders are (predictably) howling. Marc Ambinder says Obama is "rewriting the rules of capitalism." Really? When hedge fund manager Clifford Asness complained about the Chrysler deal, I argued that Chrysler investors should have known that any deal to save the company was likely to involve government money and all the strings that come with it. Those strings, as anyone who had been watching the bank bailouts would have known, mean that political considerations come into play.

The White Man's Burden

Michelle Cottle is a racist, sexist hatemonger:

Not to state the obvious, but an upper-middle class white guy reared in the suburbs is shaped by his experiences, carries certain assumptions, and views the world through a particular prism as much as a working-glass Puerto Rican gal from Queens, or, for that matter, the half-black son of a single mom raised in Hawaii. The person belonging to the cultural/ethnic/religious/gender/racial demographic that has traditionally dominated a field (and thus whose perspective has long been the default) may not have given as much thought to his prism as a member of a non-dominant group. But that does not make his prism a neutral one. It simply allows him to more freely indulge his delusions of pure rationality and objectivity.

This is ridiculous.  It's just a coincidence that opposition to affirmative action comes almost exclusively from white men.  Nothing to do with background at all.  Right, Rush?