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Waterboarding is Torture... Period

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:30 PM EDT

In light of Mike Mukasey's waffling on whether waterboarding is torture, and Mort Kondracke's recent statement that the procedure is no big deal ("I'm sure it feels like torture, you know, it doesn't result in any lasting damage, but it feels like torture.") I want to point you all to a blog post over at Small Wars Journal that I found via The Plank. The title? "Waterboarding is Torture... Period." And the man making the argument is an authority.

As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people...
Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only "shock the conscience" as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American....

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Anti-Drug Ads That Might Actually Work

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:04 PM EDT

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Ever since the first President Bush held up a bag of crack at a 1989 press conference, the federal government has spent many millions of dollars on anti-drug advertising campaigns targeted at teenagers. All those fried-egg spots ("This is your brain on drugs") have been the butt of many a teenage joke, and as it turned out, they were highly effective at actually encouraging kids to smoke pot.

Some new anti-drug ads now airing in Montana, however, might actually be working, perhaps because they weren't made by dorks in Washington. The new campaign was produced by the Montana Meth Project, a private group founded by a local rancher. The ads are way edgier than anything the drug czar's office ever came up with, including one featuring a near-naked girl in a hotel room after her boyfriend pimps her for drug money and another of some kids dumping an unconscious girl on a hospital driveway before speeding away.

A new study suggests that Montana's ads have reduced teen meth use in the state by 45 percent, a figure compelling enough for the White House to get on the bandwagon and broadcast Montana's graphic ads in other states.

The Best Debate Moment Belongs to Joe Biden

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:51 AM EDT

The best answer in last night's Democratic presidential debate came not from the leading contenders but from Senator Joe Biden.

In his usual manner, moderator Tim Russert tried to put the candidates into a corner with one of his yes-or-no questions that do not allow for nuance or complexity:

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, would you pledge to the American people that Iran would not build a nuclear bomb on your watch?

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards each wiggled his or her way out of the question, essentially pledging to do what they could to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Then Russert turned to Biden, and Biden threw the question back in Russert's face.

SEN. BIDEN: I would pledge to keep us safe. If you told me, Tim -- and this is not -- this is complicated stuff. We talk about this in isolation. The fact of the matter is the Iranians may get 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium; the Pakistanis have hundreds, thousands of kilograms of highly enriched uranium.
If by attacking Iran to stop them from getting 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, the government in Pakistan falls, who has missiles already deployed, with nuclear weapons on them, that can already reach Israel, already reach India, then that's a bad bargain.
Presidents make wise decisions informed not by a vacuum in which they operate, by the situation they find themselves in the world. I will do all in my power to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but I will never take my eye off the ball.
What is the greatest threat to the United States of America: 2.6 kilograms of highly enriched uranium in Tehran or an out of control Pakistan? It's not close.

Biden was taking the mature approach to foreign policy, daring to challenge the false dichotomy: let Iran go nuclear or start a war. A nuclear-armed Iran would indeed be a problem, but a U.S. military strike against Iran could cause greater problems. National security is not always an either/or proposition. Yet Russert, with his gotcha query, was trying to force the complicated Iran issue into such a box. This sort of framing does pervert the national debate, for it precludes serious discussion of the matter at hand and careful consideration of consequences. It also suggests that Americans can have it all—that is, a nuclear-free Iran without creating other difficulties.

Blackwater: Your Destination for "Rapid Response, Turn Key Solutions"

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 11:32 AM EDT

Blackwater's crisis management campaign has now ventured beyond Eric Prince's tightly scripted television appearances and into the realm of Orwellian propaganda. If you need a "turn key solution" to your pesky insurgency problem, you know who to call...

Debate Reaction: Hillary Clinton's Me-Too Problem

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 9:42 AM EDT

clinton.jpg Hillary Clinton has a Me-Too problem, and it was illustrated perfectly at last night's Democratic presidential debate in Philadelphia.

Here's the problem. Clinton allows Barack Obama and John Edwards (and sometimes even Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd) to dictate the policy proposals of the Democratic field. By and large, she puts forward relatively moderate ideas that rely heavily on conventional thinking—until one or more of her competitors takes a more bold, populist stand. Then Clinton immediately embraces the new stand, and the competitor or competitors have nothing on which to run against her.

I wrote a comment on David's post on this yesterday, regarding opposition to Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. Clinton announced she opposed the nomination, though she was following Edwards, who was following Obama, who was following Dodd. "So is this how a candidate maintains frontrunner status?" I wrote. "Make sure there is not an inch of difference between her and any other candidate? In a word, mimicry?"

That doesn't strike me as true leadership. And yesterday's debate had a moment that illustrated this perfectly. Clinton was asked by Tim Russert if she supported New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. According to Russert, Clinton had told a group of newspaper editors that the idea made sense. Clinton responded approvingly, saying, "What Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform." Illegal immigrants are on the roads and will get into accidents. It's a reality, she said, and we ought to have a system to handle it.

But then Chris Dodd criticized the idea, saying that a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. Clinton instantly said, "I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done." Dodd pounced: "Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it." Clinton responded by trying to explain that Spitzer's plan included three different kind of licenses. She promptly got lost in the weeds and accused the assembled of playing "gotcha." With that, it was off to the races.

Blotted Democracy in India or Just no Democracy at All?

| Wed Oct. 31, 2007 2:03 AM EDT

Recently, the Human Rights Watch, in collaboration with Ensaaf, an Indian human rights organization, published a report addressing the impunity given to the Indian government for its human rights violations during the Punjab counterinsurgency from 1984-1995. Tens of thousands of people died and thousands more were the victims of arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. To hide the evidence of their brutal actions, Indian security forces secretly cremated its victims. In just one district of Punjab, more than 6,000 cremations were uncovered by two human rights activists. The Indian government itself confessed to having illegally cremated more than 2,097 individuals in Amritsar alone. No one has been indicted to date. The HRW points out that the Indian government looks to the Punjab counterinsurgency operations as a model to follow elsewhere in India.

There has been a frightening amount of impunity granted to the state and its security forces: the anti Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in which the state was complicit in the killing of more than 2,000 people; the situation in Kashmir, the site of the largest troop deployment during peacetime in the world, where an estimated 40,000-60,000 have been killed and thousands are missing; and the atrocities in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, including rape, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings which have all been documented.

The irony is that every time a violation like this occurs, it is referred to as a "blot on Indian democracy." Yet these situations don't appear to be deviations from an otherwise functioning democracy, but rather, something far more symptomatic of a state which has not only evaded, but disregarded, accountability, justice, and equality for all citizens.

—Neha Inamdar

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New Media Frontiers: Arkansas Ho!

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 10:18 PM EDT

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It's the kind of hyper-local story that's always been the bread and butter of mid-sized papers like the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: A homeowner in suburban Sherwood confronts a man trying to steal a four-wheeler from his residence, fires pistol shots into the dark and, two days later, the would-be thief is found dead in a nearby ditch.

That story, to me, screams out for a few dozen column inches of cold, smudgy newsprint. Which is why it feels so odd that the website of the Little Rock-based Dem-Gaz now features a professionally-edited video report on the Sherwood incident, with swooshing digital graphics and a spiffy "Arkansas Online" intro sequence. There's something incongruous about watching an old-time Arkansan (or, as the really old-timers prefer, Arkansawyer) in a camo shirt talking about "firing five times into the top of these pine trees and … [emptying] the rest of the magazine of the gun into the creek bank" on a web-only clip with such high production values. Maybe that's because, amid the chatter about newspapers' new media imperative and the flash that goes with it, we forget that local stories are often, well, unexceptional.

I can say it's definitely a milestone that the rock-solid D-G (disclosure: I once worked there), whose owners are notoriously stuck in their ways, has finally embraced online journalism. The paper's homepage, released earlier this year, is flashy and content-heavy and looks great. New media has officially arrived in Arkansas. Whether the model is sustainable hinges on two issues: Is this really how folks want to get their local news? And will the extra videographers and web designers prove financially feasible?

—Justin Elliott

All I Want for Christmas is a Biodiesel Hummer. No, Really.

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 9:30 PM EDT

Think there are no real inventors anymore? That would be news to Johnathan Goodwin, proud creator of the world's most fuel-efficient Hummer.

Read the rest of this post on Mother Jones' environment and health blog, The Blue Marble.

—Casey Miner

All I Want for Christmas is a Biodiesel Hummer. No, Really.

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 9:20 PM EDT

Think there are no real inventors anymore? That would be news to Johnathan Goodwin, proud creator of the world's most fuel-efficient Hummer.

By combining biodiesel and hybrid technology and reconfiguring engines, Goodwin can double the fuel efficiency of a number of giant American cars and nearly eliminate their emissions, using almost nothing but stock GM parts (OK, and the occasional jet engine). He's currently working on the Governator's 1987 Wagoneer, and is slated to overhaul Neil Young's 1960 Lincoln Continental.

As for the country's decaying car capital, Goodwin has little sympathy, pointing out that "Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to."

—Casey Miner

Breaking: Supreme Court Halts Execution in Mississippi

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 8:27 PM EDT

Today seven justices voted to postpone the execution of Mississippi death-row inmate Earl Wesley Berry, with Justices Scalia and Alito dissenting (predictably). This move sets the stage for what could be a national moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of lethal injection next year.

—Celia Perry