Gawker's Alex Pareene on Harold Ford's plan to (maybe) run against Kirsten Gillibrand for US Senate in New York:

The problem most people had with Kirsten Gillibrand was that she was a moderate from upstate whose career wasn't particularly distinguished and who held some beliefs (mostly gun control) that wouldn't fly with New York City Democrats.

So, of course, these brilliant minds decided that she would best be challenged by a conservative from Tennessee whose career is a joke and who holds no beliefs. Honestly, Democrats? Field conservative and moderate Democrats in conservative and moderate districts and states. In New York, field a fucking liberal New Yorker. There is not a Republican Senator from Mississippi who happens to be an anti-war atheist. There should not be a pro-gun anti-choice Senator from New York. [Emphasis added.]

The rest is here. The man who works for Nick Denton is right. There's a pretty good liberal argument to be made for Harold Ford as a senator from Tennessee. But you'd have to think that Sen. Ford (D-N.Y.) would make Nate Silver's next list of "least valuable Democrats." This doesn't make much sense.

Flickr/cesarastudillo (Creative Commons).Flickr/cesarastudillo (Creative Commons).RedState's Erick Erickson has been doing a lot of lying about Erroll Southers, the Obama administration's nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration. Erickson is trying to suggest that Southers said anti-abortion activists and Christians in general are a major terrorist threat to the US—bigger than Al Qaeda. As you can probably guess, none of that is true. The trigger for all this lying is this statement by Southers, who was responding to the question "Which home-grown terrorist groups pose the greatest danger to the US?":

Most of the domestic groups that we have to pay attention to here are white supremacist groups. They're anti-government and in most cases anti-abortion. They are usually survivalist type in nature, identity orientated. If you recall, Buford Furrow came to Los Angeles in, I believe it was 1999. When he went to three different Jewish institutions, museums, and then wound up shooting people at a children's community center, then shooting a fellow penal postal worker later on. Matthew Hale who's the Pontifex Maximus of the World Church of the Creator out of Illinois and Ben Smith who went on a shooting spree in three different cities where he killed a number of African Americans and Jews and Asians that day. Those groups are groups that claim to be extremely anti-government and Christian Identity oriented.

Erickson—and Andrew Breitbart's breitbart.tv, which also picked up the "story"—either don't know or are pretending not to know what "Christian Identity-oriented" means. Mother Jones' own James Ridgeway knows. So does my friend Matt Gertz at Media Matters, who enlightens the unenlightened:

According to the Anti-Defamation League, "Christian Identity is a religious ideology popular in extreme right-wing circles. Adherents believe that whites of European descent can be traced back to the 'Lost Tribes of Israel.' Many consider Jews to be the Satanic offspring of Eve and the Serpent, while non-whites are "mud peoples" created before Adam and Eve. Its virulent racist and anti-Semitic beliefs are usually accompanied by extreme anti-government sentiments."

I really hope that the mainstream media isn't dumb enough to make this mistake.

In her effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action on climate change, Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is getting help from some familiar faces: some of George W. Bush's top environmental officials who now lobby on behalf of dirty energy interests.

The Washington Post reports that Bush-era EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation Jeffrey R. Holmstead and general counsel Roger R. Martella, Jr. have worked with Murkowski to draft legislation cutting off the EPA's ability to regulate emissions.

Holmstead now heads the environmental strategies group at Bracewell & Guiliani, which lobbies on behalf of energy giants like Southern Company, Progress Energy, Duke Energy, and the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. Martella is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, where he lobbies on climate on behalf of clients like the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the Alliance of Food Associations.

Former Bush EPA officials know plenty about how to successfully avoid action on emissions—they ignored the issue for eight years. But letting lobbyists so explicitly help write legislation also raises some big ethical questions. Kert Davies, director of Greenpeace's PolluterWatch, told the Post that his group will ask the Senate Ethics Committee to look into it.

Murkowski's spokesman argued that there is nothing "improper" about working with "outside experts," and that it is "responsible legislating" to do so. Murkowski was expected to introduce a new bill dealing with EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions next week, but now it seems her measure might be considered at a later date.

Conan the Underdog

It looks like Conan O'Brien may get shafted by NBC's failed "Jay Leno at 10 p.m." experiment. It's sad for Conan, and embarassing for NBC. But it's good for viewers: Cone-Dog has always thrived under pressure. Behold—a truly great Conan monologue:

 

The American Farm Bureau, the major agricultural lobby group, is calling on farmers to be even more aggressive in their opposition to climate legislation. And in a vehement speech to an AFB conference last weekend, the organization's president, Bob Stallman, set the tone by comparing proposed regulation of the agriculture sector to a policy to attone for slavery following the Civil War. "A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule," said Stallman. "The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over."

Stallman's comments signaled that the farm lobby intends to intensify its already strenuous attacks on any government attempt to curb carbon emissions. Stallman vowed in his speech that his group would fight "aggressively" against "misguided, activist-driven regulation." The conference also included a session disputing the existence of climate change—titled "Global Warming: A Red Hot Lie?" and featuring climate skeptic Christopher Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

And the lobby's allies in Congress are taking notice. The Washington Independent reports that Agriculture Committee Chair Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who voted for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill in the House, recently told a conservative talk radio show that if a climate bill passes the Senate he wouldn't support its final passage. "First of all, this isn’t going anyplace in the Senate," Peterson said. "But if it did and we ended up with a bill that was similar to what came out of the House and that was going to become law, I would vote no."

TV Can Kill You

Bad news, Mad Men fans:

Researchers found that each hour a day spent watching TV was linked with an 18% greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an 11% greater risk of all causes of death, and a 9% increased risk of death from cancer.

....People who watched more than four hours a day showed an 80% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 46% higher risk of all causes of death compared with those who watched fewer than two hours a day, suggesting that being sedentary could have general deleterious effects. The numbers were the same after the researchers controlled for smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, an unhealthy diet and leisure-time exercise.

OK, I guess this is really no surprise or anything. Still: get off the couch and do something useful instead! Like blogging.

What To Watch Tonight

Via the New York Times, I see that BBC World News has a truly incredible story on tap for tonight's broadcast:

New to Facebook, Brandon Neely was searching the site for acquaintances in 2008 when he typed in the names of some of the detainees he had guarded during his tenure as a prison guard at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Neely, an Army veteran who spent six months at the prison in 2002, sent messages to one of the freed men, Shafiq Rasul, and was astonished when Mr. Rasul replied. Their exchanges sparked a face-to-face meeting, arranged by the BBC, which will be shown on Tuesday. Mr. Neely, who has served as the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, says his time at Guantánamo now haunts him, and has granted confessional-style interviews about the abuses he says he witnessed there. In a message to Mr. Rasul, Mr. Neely apologized for his role in the imprisonment.... The BBC paid for Mr. Neely’s flight to London last month, where a camera crew filmed him meeting Mr. Rasul and a second former detainee, Ruhal Ahmed, on a Saturday afternoon.

(Click through to the Times story for a great photo.)

Neely is the same guard who gave the UC Davis' Center for Study of Human Rights in the Americas 15,000 words of testimony about his participation in prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay. He caught a lot of flak for that.

There's more over at the BBC's site, including this:

Mr Ahmed admits they had a secret agenda for entering Afghanistan, but it wasn't to join al-Qaeda.

"Aid work was like probably 5% of it. Our main reason was just to go and sightsee really and smoke some dope".

These guys don't sound like hardened jihadis. Anyway, I'll be watching. 

The award for worst lobbying effort of the day comes from a banking industry flack who's opposed to Barack Obama's plan to levy a tax of some kind on the financial sector:

Wayne Abernathy, executive vice president of the American Bankers Association, said in a telephone interview that an industry-specific fee would create a “real fairness issue,” forcing banks to pay for parts of the bailout that “didn’t work.” In addition, Abernathy said, banks are paying an “excellent” return to the Treasury.

That's right: out of the trillions of dollars of help provided to the industry, there was probably a billion here or there that didn't have any effect. And that whole economic collapse thing is really turning out to be a windfall for taxpayers anyway! It would be really unfair to hold bankers accountable for any of this.

More PR like this, please. We'll have pitchforks and torches in the streets yet.

The Point of Education

Matt Yglesias notes a new paper which suggests that a free market in charter schools really can improve education, but only as long as the charters take all comers and don't cherry pick students based on ability:

This is why a reasonably regulated charter school system holds a lot of [promise] but things like vouchers and the new fad for “education tax credits” do not. Once upon a time people on the right could be found to say good things about charter schools, since teacher’s unions often don’t like them. But crucially charter schools don’t do anything to entrench the privileges of the wealthy, so the main right-wing advocacy organizations have moved past them to more inequality-boosting alternatives.

Fair? Or a partisan cheap shot? I vote for fair. How about you?

Most Americans’ knowledge of the Maine prison system probably ends with the grim, gray penitentiary depicted in The Shawshank Redemption.  But the prison of Stephen King’s imagination is a benign place compared with the current reality of incarceration in Maine’s state prisons–especially its 100-man solitary confinement unit. Conditions in the lockdown unit have become the subject of public debate in recent years, and of a bill now making its way through the state legislature that would restrict and closely monitor the use of solitary confinement. If the bill is passed, Maine would become the first state in the union to directly confront this form of domestic torture through the legislative process.

One hundred out of some 900 cells at the Maine State Prison at Warren comprise what is euphemistically known as the Special Management Unit (SMU), where prisoners live in 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement (24 on weekends), allowed out only to take a shower, make a phone call, or exercise alone in what looks like the run in a dog kennel. About half of the inmates in the unit are there for disciplinary reasons, the other half because of special problems, mental or physical illness.  (For the record,  Maine’s Associate Commissioner of Corrections, Denise Lord, told The Crime Report in October that only 27 of Maine’s 2263 prisoners are in solitary.)

In 2005, Lance Tapley, a freelance journalist  for the Portland Phoenix, began writing about what he called “Torture in Maine’s Prisons.” Tapley treated the good people of Maine to a series of articles documenting conditions in the SMU. In one article, accompanied by a video, Tapley describes guards dragging a prisoner out of his cell, naked and screaming, forcing him into restraint chair (an excerpt appears at the end of this post).