Blogs

Blackwater's Erik Prince on Human Rights - China Bad; Azerbaijan Good?

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 5:22 PM EDT

Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince granted an interview July 7 to editors and reporters at the Military Times. An excerpt, printed in this week's issue of the Army Times:

Do you work for other countries, or just for the U.S.?
We do some training work for other countries, some helicopter support and training and maintenance and that kind of stuff. In Azerbaijan, we were hired by DoD to build for them a naval special warfare capability to defend the oil platforms and interdict weapons and drugs and whatever else in the southern Caspian [Sea]...
Have you turned down any countries?
Sure. We had a lot of inquiries from China a couple years ago wanting police training before the Olympics, and that's just not something we wanted to do.
What's the difference between working for the Azeris and working for the Chinese?
Well, China has plenty of human rights challenges and we didn't want any of our training to be used in another Tiananmen Square-type faceoff. Simple.
Another difference is also the U.S. government said they wanted you to go to Azerbaijan. They didn't ask you to go to China.
Correct. They hired us to do that [in Azerbaijan].
Because Azerbaijan doesn't have the best human rights record, either.
In this case, they're trying to build a small, focused capability to do maritime protection. But it was something that was in the U.S. foreign policy interest, and our training has to align with that.

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Ouch: Climate Change Means More Kidney Stones

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 2:08 PM EDT
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Some squirm-inducing news from the global warming front: Climate change means more kidney stones. Rising temperatures mean people sweat more, which means they get dehydrated, which means salt crystals form in their kidneys, which means—insert your favorite big object-tiny opening image here. Researchers say that the region known as the "Kidney Stone Belt" (who knew?), which is basically the Bible Belt, is expanding northward into the Rust Belt and Grain Belt. By 2095, they predict, 70% of Americans will be living in a high-risk zone for kidney stones. Ouch. Fortunately, preventing kidney stones is easy—drinking plenty of water helps. So stay cool, drink up, and maybe this too shall pass.

Photo of kidney stone from stock.xchng user heyrc

No, Really: It's the Liberals Who Are Elitists

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 1:29 PM EDT

Cindy McCain to CNN:

"In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is small private plane."

Pissed that you don't have a plane? (Or that gas is $5.00 a gallon?) That's because you're part of a nation of whiners.

Taliban Sets Up Permanent Courts in Pakistan's Tribal Areas

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 1:23 PM EDT

A report released today (.pdf) by Dan Markey, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, outlines the frustrations of U.S. efforts to tame Taliban fighters operating in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or the FATA, the region in which most terrorism analysts believe Osama Bin Laden is probably hiding. Writes Markey:

Nearly seven years after 9/11, neither the United States nor Pakistan has fully come to terms with the enormity of the challenge in the tribal belt. Washington has failed to convince Pakistanis that the United States has positive intentions in the region and is committed to staying the course long enough to implement lasting, constructive change. Pakistan, for its part, has demonstrated a disturbing lack of capacity and, all too often, an apparent lack of will to tackle head-on the security, political, or developmental deficits that have produced an explosion of terrorism and extremism within its borders and beyond.

Also today, reports the BBC, there is new evidence that the Taliban is settling down in the tribal areas, relatively untroubled by U.S. and Pakistani attempts to disrupt its operations. Until now, to enforce its strict variant of Sharia law, the Taliban has operated mobile courts, handling cases dealing with everything from land transactions to family disputes to spying. But according to a Taliban spokesman, it has now divided the northwest Mohmand district into four judicial areas. Each one features a permanent court staffed by two judges. These join similar courts said to already be operating in the neighboring Bajaur district.

The fact that Taliban courts can operate from fixed addresses without fear of outside intervention demonstrates, "the diminishing authority of the central and local governments," said the spokesman.

Sigh. A Brand New McCain Flip-Flop. This Time, the DREAM Act

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 1:11 PM EDT

I'm getting tired of slamming the guy over and over, but the DREAM Act is important to me so I'm going to mention this.

Speaking at an event hosted by La Raza, a nationwide organization that fights for the rights of Hispanic Americans, John McCain was asked by a young girl if he would commit to supporting the DREAM Act. McCain said, "Yes. Yes, but I will also enforce the existing laws. That's why we must secure the border."

That's great. It really is. I hope McCain means it, because he has said pretty explicitly in the past that he is opposed to the DREAM Act. For example, the conservative National Review quoted McCain as saying, "I would have voted against it I have said a thousand times, I have heard the message from the American people. They want the border secured first."

Of course, that was in the primary, when McCain was getting hammered for supporting comprehensive immigration reform by the conservative base. Now it's the general and there are moderates and Hispanics to which McCain must appeal. Recently, there have been so many mistakes, flip-flops, little hypocrisies, big hypocrisies, deceptions, and policy boondoggles that none of them are getting any oxygen. It's all just a wash, and it shouldn't be.

21st-Century Land Grab

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

513px-Daintree_Rainforest.JPG Escalating global demand for fuel, food and wood fiber will destroy the world's forests. Unless efforts to address climate change and poverty empower the billion-plus forest-dependent poor.

This according to two reports released today by the Rights and Resources Initiative. The first study finds that world will need a minimum 2 million square miles by 2030 to grow food, bioenergy, and wood products.

This is almost twice the amount of land actually available—roughly two-thirds the size of the continental US.

The second study reports that developing-country governments still claim an overwhelming majority of forests. They've made only limited progress in recognizing local land rights. Consequently, great violence lies ahead, as some of the world's poorest peoples struggle to hold on to their only asset—millions of square miles of valuable and vulnerable forestlands.

"Arguably, we are on the verge of a last great global land grab," says Andy White, Coordinator of RRI and co-author of the first report. "Unless steps are taken, traditional forest owners, and the forests themselves, will be the big losers. It will mean more deforestation, more conflict, more carbon emissions, more climate change and less prosperity for everyone."

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AP's Ron Fournier To Karl Rove: "Keep Up The Fight"

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 6:40 PM EDT

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Change is in the air at the Associated Press, the 162-year old wire service known for its painfully even-handed—and, yes, often dull—approach to presenting the news of the day. Ron Fournier, its new Washington Bureau chief, is responsible for much of it. The former staff reporter, who took over the top job last May, is profiled in today's Politico, as is his enthusiasm for what he calls "accountability journalism"—a more aggressive style of writing and reporting intended to hold the rich and powerful closer to the fire. "The AP's hard-earned reputation for fairness and nonpartisanship must not be used as an excuse for fuzzy language when a clear voice is demanded," Fournier wrote last summer, in an internal newsletter to AP employees. "Nor should it force us to give both sides of a story equal play when one side is plainly wrong." Statements like these signify a clear break from wire service's longstanding editorial practices and, not without controversy, prompted Fournier's immediate predecessor, Sandy Johnson, to tell the Politico, "I loved the Washington bureau. I just hope he doesn't destroy it."

John McCain, Meet the Czech Republic

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 4:51 PM EDT

mccain_closeup_250x200.jpg Okay, history lesson: On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia separated into two independent countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The split is sometimes referred to as the "Velvet Divorce" because it proceeded so amiably.

It seems unlikely that John McCain doesn't know this. He is running for president on the strength of his foreign policy credentials and has served in Congress since 1982.

So how to explain today's comment to reporters: "I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia."

Sure, the guy had a senior moment. Except he's been doing this for quite some time. In April 2008, he told Don Imus that in order to ensure the success of the European Missile Defense System, he would "work closely with Czechoslovakia and Poland and other countries." In October 2007, he suggested in a Republican debate that he would show Putin a little tough love. "The first thing I would do is make sure that we have a missile defense system in place in Czechoslovakia and Poland, and I don't care what his objections are to it."

So three times in less than a year. And we're not done yet.

New Radiohead Video Made Without Cameras

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 4:35 PM EDT

Unless you count super-geeky spinning laser detection systems as cameras. On the haunting "House of Cards" from last year's In Rainbows, Thom Yorke seemed to exhort a lover to let her old life dissolve and "get swept under" with him; exploring this theme of dissolution by pointing lasers at a suburban party and using computers to reconstruct the reflected data into a surreal, pointillist 3-D image of the scene may seem a bit on the elaborate side, but remember, this is Radiohead we're talking about. The end result is pretty interesting, although in the end it's the flickering image of Yorke himself that seems most compelling -- that shot of electrical towers collapsing is a little too reminiscent of the terrible Stephen King movie The Langoliers.

[Update: Aspiring video directors, take note. The band will partner with Google to allow fans to make "remixes" of the video footage; there is a specific YouTube page dedicated to the new versions as well as an iGoogle gadget that lets you stream the videos on your web site. Fun.]

Via the UK Guardian comes a "making-of" video that's actually slightly more interesting than the video iteslf. Watch that after the jump.

Hey Buffy Fans: Joss Whedon Back with Online Special

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 3:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-horrible.jpgIt turns out some people put their down time during the recent writers' strike to good use: Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon got around the TV- or film-writing prohibition by penning a musical for the intertubes. Because that's what you do, right? The result is "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," a 75-minute superhero spoof starring Neil Patrick Harris (!) as a maniacal supervillain, or at least someone who wishes he was a maniacal supervillain. The miniseries was produced on the cheap, using affordable (and sometimes real) locations, and Whedon fans will be pleased to know it features some old Buffy, Angel, Serenity and Firefly cast and crew. You'll be able to watch it for free at the Dr. Horrible web site, but the schedule is a little tricky: Act One debuts tomorrow (Tuesday, 7/15), Act Two starts Thursday, July 17th, and Act Three will be posted Saturday, July 19th. The videos will stay up on the site for free viewing through Sunday, July 20th, at which time Whedon promises they will "vanish into the night like a phantom." Or, maybe they'll be available on DVD or something.

[Update: Well, it turns out "Dr. Horrible" is pretty terrible at javascript too, or something, since there have been a ton of problems since the first episode went live at midnight. International viewers can't seem to use the site's Hulu player, the promised iTunes download apparently doesn't work, and overwhelming traffic crashed the main website, drhorrible.com, this morning. As of 3:30pm Pacific time, the site is still down. Boy, remember when you'd turn on this box across from your couch and shows would just be there? Those were the days...]