2010 - %3, July

WikiLeaks Suspect Faces Long Stay in Pretrial Solitary Confinement

| Sat Jul. 31, 2010 9:53 PM EDT

“The Army private charged with leaking an airstrike video and downloading documents remained in solitary confinement Saturday,” according to CNN. “Military officials told CNN that Pfc. Bradley Manning is also the prime suspect in the latest leak of documents to the WikiLeaks website.”

The 22-year old military intelligence analyst was arrested in Iraq in May for leaking the video, and has been held in military detention in Kuwait. On Thursday he was transferred from Kuwait to the Marine Corps Base Quantico Brig in Quantico, Virginia. There, according to a military spokesperson, Manning “was routinely processed…The suspect is in solitary confinement and is being observed in accordance with normal operating procedures.”

“Manning remains in pretrial confinement pending an Article 32 investigation into the charges preferred against him on July 5. Manning was transferred because of the potential for lengthy continued pretrial confinement given the complexity of the charges and ongoing investigation,” a spokesman for the military said in an email to reporters. As CNN reports:

Manning’s legal future is complex. He has already been charged with leaking a 2007 airstrike video and downloading documents from classified military systems. And he is suspected in the latest leak of thousands of Afghanistan field reports to the Wikileaks.org website…

Manning could go before a military judge in August in Washington, but given the complexity of the case it could likely be delayed, the military official said. Investigators are gathering evidence on the initial charges, which they will present to a military judge who will approve a court martial if the case adds up, the military official said.

What all this strongly suggests is that Bradley Manning can look forward to a long period in solitary confinement before he is convicted of any crime. Considering the charges, it would be surprising if he were not also subjected to severe restrictions on his communications with the outside world and even his family, along the lines of the Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, that have been widely used (and abused) against terrorism suspects. Complete isolation will be key to silencing this man who knew too much, and who shared what he knew with the American public.

This post also appears on Solitary Watch.

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A Sense of Where We Are: Acadiana

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 9:28 PM EDT


View Westward Expansion in a larger map

The View From My Windshield: I've Known Rivers

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 7:50 PM EDT

The Mighty Mississip': (Photo: Alex Gontar).The Mighty Mississip': In Natchez, the Mississippi River is now more of ornament  than lifeblood (Photo: Alex Gontar).Natchez, Mississippi—Old river towns don't age, they just fade away. Back in the glory days of the old river, when men were men and "steamboat captain" was an acceptable career choice for a 12-year-old boy, Natchez-Under-the-Hill was one of the best places in the country to get stabbed, beaten, shot, or all of the above.

Things have quieted down since then; the "riffraff of the river," as Twain called the drunken (and violent) river rats and women of the night who populated lower Natchez, left town ages ago, along with the steamboats and the Mississippi's grip on the American economy. In their absence, the city has morphed into a vacation hotspot for seventysomethings, marketing its antebellum mansions, B&Bs, and a floating riverboat casino called "The Isle of Capri." Walk just a few blocks, though, and you'll find crumbling wooden houses and businesses so thoroughly shuttered no one's even bothered to board them up.

Obama's War on Churchgoers

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 7:21 PM EDT

Evolution of Species: The Neshoba County Fair is like "one big family reunion," says one attendee. That's me in the blue. (Photo: Tim Murphy)More Bros in More Places: The Neshoba County Fair is like "one big family reunion," says one attendee. That's me in the blue. (Photo: Tim Murphy)Natchez, Mississippi—I only have a few rules for this trip: never turn down a free meal; don't use the bar soap at a public shower; and if a political candidate begins her stump speech with the phrase, "What I've gotta say is not gonna be politically correct," always—always—make sure I have plenty of juice left in my Quick-Quotes Quill.

So with that in mind, I present Gail Giaramita, Constitution Party candidate for the House seat currently held by Travis Childers, a Democrat. Ms. Giaramita probably won't be the next US Represenative for Mississippi, but if she loses in the fall, it won't be because she ran away from her principles. As her campaign site puts it, "As a nurse, Gail views America as a body with cancer."

That's pretty much her stump speech, too. Here's what she told the crowd at the Neshoba County Fair last week:

"What I've gotta say is not gonna be politically correct, but it's gonna be the truth. Nothing's gonna save America, unless we turn back to Holy God," says Gail. "And when I say that, I'm talking about Jesus Christ."

"There are two reasons why God has blessed America and the first is because we stand by Israel...There's a book out there that's interesting, and it shows that when America pressures Israel, catastrophes happen." And what does that entail exactly? Two words: Hurricane Katrina (gays: you're off the hook!). Gail is running for Congress to put a stop to the nonsense. Ever since the Supreme Court outlawed school prayer, the nation has been in a precepitous decline falling deeper and deeper as Christians become relegated to second- and then third- and maybe even fourth-class citizens.

Under Obama, things may be worse than they've ever been: "I don't know if we're gonna be arrested for going to church. I don't know!"

This may have only been the second most bizaare speech I saw at the Fair, though. First place goes the Honorable Vernon Cotton, an incumbent circuit court judge who began his speech by speaking directly to his challenger, seated a few rows from the front: "You were in my dream last night. I dreamed that you were robbed at gunpoint. Killed. Dead." Just like the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

Kate Sheppard on Rachel Maddow Tonight

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 7:00 PM EDT

Ever wondered what your faithful Blue Marble blogger Kate Sheppard looks like? Tune in to The Rachel Maddow Show tonight at 9:30 p.m. EDT. Kate will be talking about Big Coal, Citizens United, and elections. Not to be missed!

Andrew Revkin on the Death of the Climate Bill

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 5:56 PM EDT

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he will not bring a comprehensive climate bill before the Senate this session. A bill, which called for a cap-and-trade policy to regulate carbon emissions, was approved by the House in June 2009 but the measure lost momentum in the Senate. Is this the end of cap-and-trade? PBS Need to Know's Alison Stewart asks New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin to share his reporting on the subject to find out what happened and what might be next.

 

This podcast was produced by Need to Know for the Climate Desk collaboration.

Click here to watch an animation by Zina Saunders illustrating how Congress gambled with our future when they killed the climate bill.

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Wall Street's Dead Soldier Problem

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 2:37 PM EDT

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the state's top candidate for governor, is a brazen headline-grabber. But that doesn't preclude him from occasionally doing the people's work. His office announced Friday that it would investigate top life-insurance companies Prudential and MetLife over allegations that they're defrauding dependents of service members—and others—out of their full death benefits.

"It is shocking and plain wrong for these multi-national life insurance companies to pocket hundreds of millions in profits that really belong to those who have lost family members and have already suffered immensely," Cuomo said in announcing his office's investigation. "To make matters worse, the insurance industry appears to be hoarding millions that belong to military families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country."

The firms are accused of a fairly simple, yet devious, scheme to keep (and grow) their cash as long as possible before giving a red cent to the spouses and parents of the dead. Bloomberg Markets first revealed the activity this week after a months-long investigation. "It's institutionalized bad faith," an insurance-law professor told the news organization. "It's turning death claims into a profit center."

Here's how it works:

Friday Cat Blogging - 30 July 2010

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 1:37 PM EDT

Hey, did you know that a cat is about the same size as a computer keyboard? An old school keyboard, anyway. I'd never really thought about this before, but Domino certainly seems to fit quite nicely in this keyboard box I had out this week. Of course, by this standard, cats are about the same size as a lot of things, aren't they?

But no box for Inkblot. Over on the left he's doing his best impression of a Vermeer painting. He's a handsome devil, isn't he?

New York Schools Doing About the Same as Always

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 1:15 PM EDT

The New York Times reports that the passing rate on state English and math exams plummeted this year. Down in the 11th paragraph, here's the explanation:

New York State said the tests had become too easy, with some questions varying little from year to year, making it simple for teachers to prepare students because each test is made publicly available after it is given. So this year, the state made the questions less predictable and raised the number of correct answers needed to pass the tests, which are given to every student from the third through the eighth grades.

Last year, for example, a fourth grader had to get 37 out of 70 possible points on the math test to reach Level 3 (out of 4), or grade level. This year, a fourth grader needed to earn 51 out of 70 points to reach that level.

Well, that would do it, wouldn't it? I don't know how much impact the less predictable questions had, but if you change the passing grade from 53% to 73% you're going to have a whole lot fewer kids passing. So what about the raw scores? How did students actually do on the tests? Here's the state ed department report:

The average scale scores on the English Language Arts test this year were about the same as last year in all grades....The average scale scores on the Mathematics test this year were about the same as last year in all grades.

So....nothing much happened. How dull.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, when I say "nothing much happened" I mean only that test scores stayed about the same. Obviously the change in passing standards will have a big regulatory impact, as schools that were previously deemed OK are now deemed failures. This will, I presume, set off a long chain of reactions.

Majority Rule is Good for Liberals

| Fri Jul. 30, 2010 12:55 PM EDT

Oh well, let's talk more about the filibuster. News is slow today. Over at TalkLeft, BTD takes Chris Bowers to task for suggesting that ending the filibuster would be good for liberals:

Bowers [is] not imagining what a GOP President and GOP Congress would have achieved with the elimination of the filibuster. You thought the actual Bush tax cuts were bad? They would be TWICE as bad without the filibuster. And twice as hard to undo as they would have been passed in regular order, meaning that to undo them would require passage of new legislation.

You can be for eliminating the filibuster on principles of democracy, as Ezra Klein is. But you can not be against the filibuster, as Chris Bowers is, based on advantage to Democrats and progressives.

Actually, I don't think this is right. Obviously conservatives would be able to get more done if the filibuster didn't exist. This is a two-way street, after all. But conservative legislation, on average, tends to be easier to overturn than liberal legislation. Taxes, for example, go up and down all the time, and conservative tax cuts could be washed away easily by liberals if the filibuster didn't exist. But liberal programs tend to be more permanent. Once they get entrenched, even conservatives are loath to eliminate them. For all the big talk about Social Security in 2005, it wasn't the filibuster that kept George Bush from passing his privatization plan. In the end, he couldn't even get majority support for it.

As conservatives know pretty well, this is generally true. Liberal social welfare programs are objects of enormous legislative battles when they're enacted, but they tend to be pretty popular once they've been passed and had a chance to swing into action. Tea party rhetoric aside, most Americans like government bennies. Who wouldn't, after all?

Anything that prevents change is, almost by definition, helpful to conservatives, since preventing change is one of their core interests. Ending the filibuster wouldn't be a liberal panacea, but on net it would almost certainly be a benefit to progressive causes.