If you're a MoJo reader, you're already aware that the Mexican army is committing gross human-rights abuses under the guise of fighting the cartels. Chuck Bowden's amazing profile of a Mexican journalist forced to flee to the US and seek asylum put it best:

There are two Mexicos.

There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic.

It does not exist.

There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed.

Today, Steve Fainaru and William Booth of the Washington Post have come out with a fine piece rounding up other stories of horrific treatment at the hands of the Mexican Army:

Giant Robot Update

Last week I went to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  I did this because the movie had gotten such mind-bogglingly bad reviews that I was curious to see if anything could really be that bad.  Unfortunately, the sound system in the theater kept cutting in and out, and after about 45 minutes I finally gave up and asked for my money back.  Sadly, the only thing I had learned up to that point was that I had no idea what was going on since I never saw the first Transformers movie.

No matter, though.  Via the WaPo's domestic and robot affairs blog, Rob Bricken's Transformers FAQ explains it all and is probably a lot more entertaining than the movie itself.  Also shorter and cheaper.

Quote of the Day

From Fox News anchor Jon Scott, flailing around trying to describe my employer:

There's a recent article in Mother Jones magazine, not exacty a....uh....magazine that is....what....how to put it?....against lightening up on marijuana laws....

Nice save, Jon!  This was just before quoting an excerpt from my marijuana piece — and needless to say, they chose practically the only paragraph in the entire story that had much of anything negative to say about marijuana legalization.  But I guess all PR is good PR as long they spell my name right, isn't it?  And they did spell my name right....

UPDATE: Hmmm.  Bad day for Fox anchors.  Apparently Brian Kilmeade is upset because in America "we keep marrying other species and other ethnics."

Other species?

The practice of reducing forest fuels to lessen the chances of catastrophic fire undercuts a more vital service performed by old woodlands: the sequestration of carbon to offset global warming.

According to a new study in Ecological Applications, even if forestry biofuels were used in an optimal manner to produce electricity or make cellulosic ethanol there would still be a net loss of carbon sequestration in the forests of the Pacific Northwest for at least 100 years—and probably much longer.

Here's what the study found: In a Coast Range forest, if you remove solid woody biofuels to reduce fire risks and then use them for fuel, you need 169 years before you reach a break-even point in carbon sequestration. If you use the same woody materials for the inefficient production of cellulosic ethanol, you need 339 years to break even.

Prior to this study, it was widely believed that using biofuels to produce energy would offset the carbon emissions from this process. But these data negate that hypothesis.

Instead, the authors conclude, we should forego fuel reduction treatments to enable forest ecosystems to provide maximal amelioration of atmospheric CO2 over the next 100 years.

The hypothetical benefits of fuel reduction went up in flames when the fossil fuel costs of transportation, fuel for thinning, and other energy expenditures, was factored in. With those calculations, forestry biofuels recovered only 60 to 65 percent of the energy they cost. Producing cellulosic ethanol recovered as little as 35 percent.

The bottom line: Transforming old existing forests into anything other than old existing forests produces a net loss in carbon sequestration.

Interesting note: Another study recently concluded that the forests of Oregon and northern California, if managed exclusively for carbon sequestration, could double or even triple the amount of sequestration in many areas.

Not considered in this study: How global warming might affect the increase of catastrophic fire. However, the authors write that fire severity in many forests may be more a function of severe weather rather than fuel accumulation. Therefore fuel reduction efforts may be of only limited effectiveness, even in a hotter future.

So what'll it be—more fuel or a more stable world?
 

Blood, prepare to boil. According to the NBC affliate in Philadelphia, the Valley Swim Club booted a day camp of inner city kids—which had paid $1900 for summer swimming rights—after members refused to swim with black kids. Really.

"I heard this lady, she was like, 'Uh, what are all these black kids doing here?' She's like, 'I'm scared they might do something to my child,'" said camper Dymire Baylor....

"When the minority children got in the pool all of the Caucasian children immediately exited the pool," Horace Gibson, parent of a day camp child, wrote in an email. "The pool attendants came and told the black children that they did not allow minorities in the club and needed the children to leave immediately."

The next day the club told the camp director that the camp's membership was being suspended and their money would be refunded....


The explanation they got was either dishearteningly honest or poorly worded.
 
"There was concern that a lot of kids would change the complexion … and the atmosphere of the club," John Duesler, President of The Valley Swim Club said in a statement.

In a statement! Wow. The mind reels. First at the racism. And then at the PR bungling. When I posted this to Facebook, a got a note from a (white) friend who grew up in Philly. It didn't surprise him, he said; racism in that 'burb is entrenched. Worth noting that the comments on the NBC site, many of which were horrifc a hour ago, have been disabled.

You can follow this link to let Valley know what you think.

 Update: Senator Arlen Specter has said he'll investigate. And the nice people at Girard College, "a private Philadelphia boarding school for children who live in low-income and single parent homes," have offered their pool. (H/T Tim Dickinson via FB)

The Chris-Dodd-is-no-K-Street-pawn campaign is ramping up. I just received an email from Colleen Flanagan, communications director for the Connecticut Democratic Party. She'd seen my blog item commenting on today's Roll Call story on the senator's recent efforts to "distance himself from K Street" and wanted to direct my attention to a press release the party issued earlier today defending Dodd's record.

It’s tough being a lobbyist in Washington these days, and Senator Chris Dodd isn’t making it any easier. Yet another story today in the DC press features unnamed lobbyists, who will speak only on the condition of anonymity, whining that they aren’t getting their way with the Banking Committee Chairman and Senator Kennedy’s top deputy on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

The release goes on to list a series of quotes in which lobbyists whine that Dodd's shutting them out and ends with a quote from Flanagan:

“It speaks volumes that these industry insiders aren’t willing to be named, yet they continue to peddle their stories to anyone who will listen, trying to gain sympathy and a leg up on these critical legislative measures. The only sympathy these unnamed sources deserve to get is that they sound so silly in article after article complaining that Main Street has Dodd’s ear and not K Street.”

As the world's most powerful leaders convene in L'Aquila, Italy for the largest G-8 summit ever, one wonders, will anything actually be accomplished?

The Associated Press reported that many of the leaders arrived to the summit in electric cars. (We presume that for security purposes, Obama arrived in a traditional American-made hyper-bulletproof gas guzzler.)

This begs the question, will America take the lead in initiating global change?

As Kevin Drum reported earlier:

The basic problem isn't the 80% reduction by 2050, which is supported by both Obama and congressional Democrats.  The problem is the 2020 goal.  Right now, the Waxman-Markey climate bill requires a 17% cut by 2020, but that's from a baseline of 2005.  Depending on how you crunch the numbers, that works out to a cut of only 0-4% from 1990 levels.
The Europeans, conversely, want to see a 20% cut from 1990 levels by 2020.  Obama, presumably, sees no chance at all of getting Congress to agree to that, and the Europeans aren't willing to compromise their more stringent goals.  So for now, no agreement.  And Copenhagen is only five months away.

Torture in Iran

For weeks, I have been reading Twitter messages from Iran with reports of opposition supporters being detained and beaten to extract forced confessions. Now Human Rights Watch confirms these accounts. From a statement accompanying a report it has released:

The Iranian authorities are using prolonged harsh interrogations, beatings, sleep deprivation, and threats of torture to extract false confessions from detainees arrested since the disputed June 12 presidential election, Human Rights Watch said today. The confessions appear designed to support unsubstantiated allegations by senior government officials that Iran's post-election protests, in which at least 20 people were killed, were supported by foreign powers and aimed at overthrowing the government.

One detail:

A 17-year-old boy who was arrested on June 27 and released on July 1 told Human Rights Watch how his prison interrogator forced him and others to sign a blank statement of confession:

"On the first day, while blindfolded, the interrogator took me to a parking garage. They kept everyone standing for 48 hours with no permission to sleep. On the first night, they tied up our hands and repeatedly beat us and other prisoners with a baton. They kept cursing at the prisoners. The atmosphere was very frightening. Everyone had wet themselves from fear and stress. There were children as young as 15 and men as old as 70; they'd be begging and crying for mercy, but the guards didn't care.

"After two days of interrogation while blindfolded, we were asked about everything: where we had studied, what our parents do, who we voted for, who is educated in the family, if anyone in our family is part of the military. We were forced to give the names of everyone. It was a scary situation because they were threatening us and were very harsh. All we could hear were other people crying and screaming.

"They provided us with a big piece of bread once, but no water. On the last day, they took away the blindfold to force us sign a paper that was blank on top but said at the bottom: ‘I agree with all of the above statements.'"

While many Americans have been obsesing over Sarah Palin or Michael Jackson, there have been a series of Stalinesque confessions broadcast on Iranian television:

State-backed media already have broadcast the confessions of some detainees. Amir Hossein Mahdavi, editor of reformist newspaper Andishe No, confessed on Iranian TV on June 27 that reformist groups had laid plans to create unrest before the June 12 elections. Friends of Mahdavi who saw his confession told Human Rights Watch that it was clear from his demeanor that he confessed under duress.

All of this violates Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party. And the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment states, "No detained person while being interrogated shall be subject to violence, threats or methods of interrogation which impair his capacity of decision or judgment." (The Bush administration clearly did not hold this accord dear.) Is any government going to raise Iran's treatment of opposition supporters at the UN?

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

The day before the Senate began hearings on HR 2454, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired up the troops with this call to arms: "As a legislator, everything is negotiable."

Indeed. And we saw how that process worked in the House. The Obama administration's tough beginnings melted like a snowman in December under the heat of industry lobbying. Oil. Coal. Agriculture. They all demanded concessions. They all got them.

Many progressives are holding their noses and supporting the "kludge of a bill" for a variety of reasons, all thoroughly debated throughout the blogosphere at this point. The only real news on this front is the action taken today by Greenpeace -- scaling Mt. Rushmore and unfurling a banner that exhorts President Obama to hang tough in this fight.

It was a beautiful sight.

But it will take more than that to get the job done. A blogger at 1Sky rightly points out that "grassroots pressure will be essential" in keeping the climate bill intact, let alone in making it stronger.

Yesterday's hearing before the Senate's Environment committee, was typical Kabuki Theatre. Committee Chair Barbara Boxer warned viewers to prepare for the GOP Hymn #137, "No, We Can't."

Republican Senators spoke early and often about the need to add billions for new nuclear power plants -- not that global warming is real, mind you, but, well, just because...

There are several committee hearings left (including more before Boxer's committee) and time for a grassroots movement to grow under the banner demanding a stronger bill. But that will take more concerted action than supporters have shown so far.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

Overtreated

David Leonhardt's column today suggests that maybe I'm not quite as out of touch as I thought I was about the realities of healthcare for most people.  His piece is about slow-growing, early-stage prostate cancers, and to make a long story short, it turns out there are lots of different treatments for it but pretty much zero evidence about which one works best.  However, the price tags range from about $2,000 for doing nothing ("watchful waiting") to $50,000 for the latest whiz bang proton radiation therapy.

But here's the tidbit that caught my eye:

A fascinating series of pilot programs, including for prostate cancer, has shown that when patients have clinical information about treatments, they often choose a less invasive one. Some come to see that the risks and side effects of more invasive care are not worth the small — or nonexistent — benefits. “We want the thing that makes us better,” says Dr. Peter B. Bach, a pulmonary specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, “not the thing that is niftier.”

When I read about healthcare, pretty much the only thing I hear is that everyone wants infinite amounts of it.  And they always want the latest and greatest stuff.

Not me.  My motto is, "That healthcare is best that cares the least."  Or something like that.  Basically, I prefer to get the minimum reasonable amount of healthcare possible, and I have a strong preference for the simplest, oldest, best-known treatments.  I'm not exactly a fanatic about this, but generally speaking I think that most new treatments turn out not to be nearly as effective as we think, and the more time you spend around hospitals the better your chances of catastrophe.

Does that make me an outlier?  It seems like it.  But maybe the difference is just information: I read an awful lot about this stuff, and it's convinced me that there are dangers to overtreatment just as there are dangers to undertreatment.  Leonhardt's "fascinating series of pilot programs" suggests that with better information, more people might agree.