GQ has gotten its manicured hands on the top sheets from the top-secret intel briefings Donald Rumseld delivered to the White House in early 2003, and—holy hand grenades! Each one is adorned with a biblical verse and a thematically appropriate photo. For example, an American tank under a verse referring to "the full armor of God," or an image of Saddam under 1 Peter 2:15: "It is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." Now if only someone had put an eye-catching verse on that August 2001 daily briefing given to George W. Bush in Crawford...

The Obama administration infuriated liberals and civil libertarians last Friday by extending the Bush administration's military commissions for terrorism suspects. But on Monday, when top officials from human rights organizations met with the Obama administration task force charged with rethinking detainee treatment, they heard a different message about the administration's ultimate plans for the tribunals.

In a conference call with reporters following the sit-down, Gabor Rona, the international legal director of Human Rights First, said that officials from the Special Interagency Task Force on Detainee Disposition told him that the administration's announcement on Friday was only prompted by the fact that it was bumping up against the 120-day suspension of the commissions that Obama ordered in January. According to Rona, administration officials worried that if they didn't act before the deadline passed, they could lose the option to use the commissions. To prevent that from happening, Rona explained, the White House will notify Congress of its proposed changes and seek another four-month delay in the proceedings that are already underway. Later, Rona told Mother Jones that he doubted the task force officials would have sought the input of the human rights groups—or tried to feed them the deadline excuse—if revised commissions were already "a fait accompli." "The administration was testing the water" on Friday, said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, who also attended the meeting. "I don't know how surprised it was by the outrage that resulted."

The Special Interagency Task Force on Detainee Disposition was created by executive order in January. Its report, which will "identify options" for changing detainee treatment, is due in late July. Roth said the task force seemed to be weighing whether to "stick with ordinary courts or move towards commissions. A "national security court," proposed by some law professors, "didn't seem to be the direction things were going," he said. According to Roth, the task force worries that trying terrorism suspects in ordinary courts might allow suspects to claim that they had Miranda rights that had been violated or to demand access to classified information used by the prosecution.

It's possible that the human rights officials are engaging in wishful thinking, hoping that Obama's decision on military tribunals is not as firm as it seems. In a statement on Friday, Obama said that (reformed) commissions are "the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values." That doesn't leave the White House much wiggle room.

Until last Friday, press secretary Robert Gibbs countered questions about detainee treatment by claiming that he didn't want to prejudge the reports of various commissions and task forces, including the interagency group. "I think what's best is to let that happen and see what happens when they come back," Gibbs said on January 22. On February 23, Gibbs deflected a question by referring to the "ongoing" process of "evaluating the detainees" at Guantanamo Bay. On May 5, he said it "wouldn't be wise to prejudge the review [of military tribunals] the president laid out." But on Friday, Obama announced his decision. The deadline for the completion of the review that was once so crucial was still more than two months away. So far, the White House has not publicly explained why it rendered a decision before the task force finished its work.

When it's not Dick Cheney in the media defending Dick Cheney and the Bush administration, it's Liz Cheney.

The elder daughter of Dick Cheney, who was a State Department deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in the Bush-Cheney years, appeared on ABC News' This Week on Sunday and, no surprise, repeatedly justified her father's actions as veep, especially his support of torture--or, as she called it, "these policies." Liz Cheney also called President Barack Obama "un-American" for even considering the prosecution of any former Bush administration officials. She claimed her father's recent public interviews have postively influenced public opinion and the Obama White House--and that these media appearances have helped the Republican Party.

Well, every daughter is entitled to her opinion. And every network is entitled to a new talking head. But Cheney's appearance reminded me of a forum she attended a year ago, when she demonstrated what seems to be a family trait: putting belief above facts.

Zombie Corporations

If you're interested in this kind of thing, John Hempton has a post over at his place examining why Korea snapped back from its late-90s banking crisis fairly quickly while Japan's crisis lingered on for over a decade.  It's interesting stuff, but the main reason I recommend reading it is that he debunks the common misconception that Japan suffered from an epidemic of "zombie banks" during the 90s.  For the most part, though, that wasn't the problem.  The problem was that their banks spent the 90s lending to zombie corporations.  Big difference.  Full story here.

RNC chairman Michael Steele's latest brainstorm is to cast gay marriage not as a moral issue, but as a small business killer: if gays get married, then small businesses will have to provide extra health insurance.  The bottom line?  "You just cost me money," he told an audience a few days ago.  Andrew Tobias brings the snark:

He’s spot on, which is why the GOP should come out against marriage generally, not just same-sex marriage.  Married workers cost more if you provide family health insurance.  So the smart hiring order is: single people first; and then married gay people (who are less likely to have kids needing health insurance and more likely to have working spouse’s with their own health insurance), and then, if you absolutely must, married heterosexual couples.  It’s just good business.

As Steele himself says, he's the gift that keeps on giving.  I'm sort of hoping for a Palin/Steele ticket to go up against Barack Obama in 2012.

Map of the Day

Via Ezra Klein, here's an instructive map that visually makes a point I've brought up a few times in the past: as bad as global warming is in general, one of its worst aspects is that developed countries (like us) are the ones causing the biggest part of the problem, but it's underdeveloped countries that are going to suffer the biggest part of the damage.  In the map on the right, taken from a Lancet study, the top panel shows each country by the size of its carbon emissions, while the bottom map shows each country by the number of deaths its likely to suffer due to global warming.  Long story short, we spit out the carbon, but it's people in Africa and South Asia who are mostly going to die because of it.

This comes from Ezra in his new digs, by the way.  He's at the Washington Post now, and his new URL is:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/

Other miscellaneous info (RSS feed etc.) is here.

Election Day

Tomorrow is special election day here in California and lots of people have been emailing me to ask how I'm going to vote on the miserable collection of propositions on the ballot.  The honest answer is that I don't know.  Staying home seems like the best alternative right now.  It's hard to remember an election in which voters were given quite such a stark choice between bad and worse.

Besides, the polls say almost all the propositions are going to lose.  So it hardly matters.  Still, here's where I am right now:

Prop 1A - Spending Cap: NO.  Lots of other states have spending cap/rainy day fund requirements of various kinds, and their success seems to be fantastically sensitive to the precise wording of the cap and the way different figures are estimated.  That means 1A could be halfway reasonable or it could be a disaster, and there's really no way to tell in advance.  That's not the kind of thing I want enshrined in the constitution.

Prop 1B - More Spending for Teachers: NO.  This is ballot box budgeting of the worst kind and interest group politics at its most blatant.

Prop 1C: Sell Future Lottery Profits: NO.  This raises a fair amount of money, but it's just horrible, horrible policy.  I can't bring myself to support it.

Props 1D and 1E: Raid Money From a Couple of Previous Initiatives: YES.  Ballot box budgeting locked up this money in the first place, so there's no other way to unlock it.  It would be better to get rid of the original initiatives (and all their kin) entirely, but in the meantime this is the only choice the legislature has.

Prop 1F: No Pay Raises Until a Budget is Passed: NO.  This is just stupid.

That's it.  If you vote exactly the opposite way, I understand.  My views on these initiatives are about as firm as jello right now.  Make your case in comments if you think I'm full of it.

So yesterday was awesome. Rachel Alexandra—a name you'd expect maybe out of Gossip Girl—turned out to be a kick-ass racehorse, a filly, who led practically gate to finish (from the outside post, the toughest starting spot) in yesterday's Preakness, becoming the first lady horse to win that Triple Crown race in 85 years. The press is going wild, mostly because fast girls don't come around all that often, and when they do tragedy is too often not far behind (two of the greatest, Ruffian and Go for Wand died on the track after breaking down during big races, and last year, filly Eight Belles had to be put down right after she came in second in the Kentucky Derby).

So are fillies too fragile to compete with the guys in the big races? They are treated that way. An ESPN article late last week warned that the decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness Stakes was risky and that the world would "be holding its breath until, win or lose, she finishes standing and returns safely.") But horses break down all the time, with horrific consequences, it's just that the male ones don't always make the headlines. Horseracing is a brutal sport, and, like boxing, people get really antsy when they see the ladies in the ring. Another thing about the sport and the mare's role: bloodlines. When you get fast horses you get them together and make babies. There will certainly be the pressure for little Rachel Alexandras prancing around the paddock. But to get there she'll need to make it out of her racing years alive and well. Luckily (for whom, I'm not sure) horses race competitively at such a young age that they can become broodmares at, say age 5, and still have decades of time to establish a lineage. Wherever you end up next, Rachel, you're already a hero for ladykind, showing the ladies can be just as competitive—and fast—as the gents.

Which brings me to another competitive female. On 60 Minutes tonight Morley Safer interviewed Vogue's editor, the legendary Anna Wintour. He starts out by wondering if she's indeed Darth Vader, Nuclear Wintour, or maybe, "just peaches and cream with a touch of arsenic." He then asks her, twice, whether it was fair for people to call her a bitch. Sure, she's the devil who wears Prada, she's hardnosed, ruthless, and the fashion diva extraordinaire, but she's also at the top of her industry. Would Safer dare ask Donald Trump or Richard Branson if they were bitchy because they of their no-smile, hard-nosed business attitudes?

Even after following the increasingly precarious position of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers for the past few months, it's hard to believe that their civil war is finally over.  But apparently it is:

Cornered into a tiny patch of jungle about the size of a football field, the Tamil Tiger rebels — who once operated a shadow state complete with a law school, tax system, navy and even traffic police — vowed Sunday to lay down their weapons for good, in a stunning and unprecedented admission of defeat in Asia's longest-running war.

....In Washington, Sri Lankan ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya credited President Obama's recent public statements with helping to end the crisis. In an e-mailed statement, he said the Tigers "effectively folded shortly after President Barack Obama told the world that the terrorists were holding innocent Tamil civilians as hostages. He was one of the few world leaders to note that fact so forcefully."

And now the hardest part: can the Sinhalese majority bring itself to treat the defeated Tamil minority charitably after a quarter century of brutal war and nearly 100,000 deaths?  Stay tuned.

From Fran Townsend, George Bush's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, when White House chief of staff Andy Card called during Hurricane Rita to ask her what she needed:

“I want to know if the president knows what a fucking asshole Don Rumsfeld is.”

Probably not.  But plenty of other people did.  Robert Draper's full story is here.