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CIA Director Says We Waterboarded Only Three People - Then Based One-Fourth of Our Intelligence on What They Said

| Thu Feb. 7, 2008 1:30 PM EST

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The Senate Intelligence Committee picked a hell of a day to hold a hearing on national security. With every news source in the country vying for the most up-to-date primary information and the chattering classes glued to the exit polls, nobody really noticed when CIA director Michael Hayden admitted to Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. has, in fact, waterboarded three terrorism suspects: 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and al Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The waterboarding took place from late 2001 through early 2003, he said, and has since stopped.

Hayden's testimony confirmed what we already knew, though his statement marked the first time that a senior intelligence official has publicly acknowledged using the technique. And he didn't just acknowledge it; he quantified its importance. According to Hayden, the confessions of two of the suspects—Mohammed and Zubaydah—made up a full one-fourth of our human intelligence on Al Qaeda for the next five years.

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Does War Make Iraqi Teens More Self Confident?

| Thu Feb. 7, 2008 12:05 PM EST

iraq%20teens%20150.jpgIraqi teens have relatively high levels of self esteem, according to a University of Cincinnati study. Not only that, but "the higher the perceived threat of the war, the higher the teens reported their self-esteem."

The researchers say that though this finding may seem counterintuitive, it supports their theory that during a war, individuals' sense of self is tied to their sense of national identity:

"In the presence of conflict-related trauma one generally observes lower levels of psychological well-being (e.g., PTSD, grief reactions), and sometimes lower self-esteem," write the authors. "Our results, however, are consistent with a body of theory and research that predicts self-esteem striving and higher self-esteem among the individuals who face indirect threats to central components of their social identities (rather than directly facing traumatic war-related events). In other words, in a situation where we observe a broad social context involving the presence of foreign forces ( a clear violation of Muslim principles) combined with general violence throughout Baghdad and Iraq, we also observe a heightened sense of self, at least to the extent that one's self is tied to one's nation."

McCain vs. the Right: Give Peace No Chance

| Thu Feb. 7, 2008 10:43 AM EST

Yesterday, John McCain asked his foes on the right to "just calm down a little." He was talking about Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and other conservative big-mouths who in recent days have pumped up the volume of their anti-McCain crusade. Just the day before, James Dobson, a leading social conservative who heads Focus on the Family, declared, "I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative, and in fact has gone out of is way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are." (Last year, Dobson also accused Fred Thompson of not being a real Christian.)

As the Republican Establishment swings behind McCain--each day his campaign sends out several emails noting this or that endorsement from a GOP figure--the conservative ideologues are holding firm. This is setting up a dramatic split between the GOP elite and the conservative movement's leading influentials. The ideologues hate McCain for several reasons. He has pushed bipartisan, Democratic-backed legislation on campaign finance reform, global warming, and, worse, immigration reform. He never got on his knees before the conservatives--particularly the religious right. In 2000, he blasted Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for exerting too much influence over his party. And--egads!--he has been a favorite of Washington journalists, that band of well-known, America-hating liberals. The fact that McCain has been a prominent champion of the Iraq war--the number one issue for most of his detractors--means nothing to these ingrates.

Today, McCain is appearing at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a gathering of hundreds, if not thousands, of rightwing activists. Imagine John Kerry speaking to a convention of Swift Boat Veterans for the Truth. (My colleague Jonathan Stein will have a report on McCain's appearance later.) But if McCain believes he can make nice with the rightwing talkers, he's kidding himself. This group--especially Limbaugh, Hannity, and Coulter--have no incentive to be pragmatic. They each earn much money by being provocative. Their first loyalty is to their audience, which expects hard-edged ideological warfare from them. They go soft--or reasonable--and they risk their reputations.

It's possible McCain could engage in an act of self-flagellation so extreme, his right-wing critics could claim victory and boast that he kissed their rings. But in the absence of such a move, they will keep pounding him. It makes good TV and radio. So if the Democrats are stuck with a months-long battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the GOP could have on its hand a never-ending cat-fight between its nominees and the spiritual leaders of the conservative movement. As of now, the conflict between Obama and Clinton has not gone so far that it cannot be resolved when that race is done. The McCain wars on the right could continue right up to Election Day.

Washington Encounters: Perils of ... the Elevator

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 8:27 PM EST

It had been a long day, by the time I slipped out towards the end of a two hour late afternoon event on (what else?) Iran held at the Hudson Institute in downtown Washington's K-Street corridor, down the street from the White House. After nabbing a bottle of water for the road, I pressed the down elevator button in the foyer between the two Hudson Institute sixth floor offices, and then waited, and waited, and waited for one of the five elevators to arrive. Minutes went by. At some point, another guy came out of the Iran conference, to wait for the elevator down.

"Interesting event," I offered.

"We had a good Iran event at Middle East Institute last week," he replied.

"It was great. Lots of people from the region," I responded.

And we continued to wait for the elevator in the foyer.

Just then, a slender, wizened, besuited type carrying a brief case, came into the foyer to wait for the elevator with us. And I double-taked. It was none other than I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to vice president Cheney, the subject of the big trial you might have heard about, and for my purposes, a major player in the life of someone whose memoir afterword I wrote.

Naturally, I asked Libby, now a fellow at Hudson, and looking a lot thinner than at the trial last year, about what was up with the elevators.

How Clinton Won California

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 4:30 PM EST

The big surprise is not that Clinton won among women (59 percent to 34 percent) and Latinos (2 to 1). Those votes more or less met expectations. What few people had anticipated was the massive turnout among Latinos, who comprised 29 percent of the California Democratic electorate yesterday--nearly double what pollsters predicted.

As Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden pointed out in their recent Mother Jones feature, Latino voters embody one of two major demographic waves that will change the nation's politics. That they turned out in such huge numbers to support Clinton might indicate they actually really like her, as opposed only to preferring her over an African American or recognizing her name. Or maybe Latinos were politicized even more than anyone had thought by the immigration debate.

Obama has been riding the second major demographic trend--the rise of the Millennial Generation, or Gen Y, a huge, liberal-leaning echo-boom. Nationally, he captures a larger overall chunk of this vote. But last night in California, age was trumped by race. White voters under 30 broke for Obama 2 to 1 but Hispanic voters under 30 broke for Clinton by an even larger margin. And each group voted in equal numbers. Needless to say, if that trend persists across the West and in places like Texas, Obama is in trouble.

Obama's challenge is embodied by people like Eric Hernandez, who I profiled last week and hung out with again last night. Hernandez is 18-years old, Latino, and a hard-working Obama partisan. On Saturday he spent the day block-walking with a group of 15 young people in the large Hispanic neighborhoods of Northern California's Santa Clara County. But only about half of those volunteers spoke Spanish. That kind of outreach in a county of 500,000 Latinos is a drop in the bucket. Santa Clara ultimately went for Clinton 55/40. In the coming races Obama will need need to enlist many more Spanish-speaking volunteers if he still expects the grassroots to animate his campaign.

Hidden Costs of Solar Power

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 4:10 PM EST

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Wondering which solar technology has the smallest environmental footprint? In recent years new photovoltaic technologies have nearly doubled the efficiency of solar cells. Yet production methods, whether from silicon, metal, or other material, raise doubts about their environmental friendliness. For example, purifying and producing silicon uses a lot of water and energy, whereas refining zinc and copper ores to get cadmium, telluride, and other elements creates metal emissions and an energy sink.

Now Environmental Science & Technology calculates the impact. They've released a life-cycle assessment of some of the leading photovoltaic technologies. Some appear better than others. You can read the pdf here.

The study notes that, even with the costs, the benefits of replacing gas- and coal-fired grids with photovoltaics cut greenhouse & particulate emissions 89–98%. Rooftop panels reduce emissions even more due to the resulting decrease in transmission lines and other infrastructure.

The winner? Thin-film cadmium–telluride (CdTe) photovoltaics—with more efficient energy conversion and lowest costs.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Maybe a Drawn-Out Dem Race is a Good Thing

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 1:49 PM EST

I've been saying for quite some time that the long, drawn-out race that the Democratic candidates apparently have in front of them is bad for their long-term prospects: McCain will have all the time he needs to unify the Republicans, raise money, hone his message, and rest up, all while the Democrats are bashing each other over the head.

But Brad Plumer at TNR has the opposite take:

Vote Totals vs. Recent Polling: Who Exceeded Expectations on Feb 5?

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 1:12 PM EST

In an effort to see which Democratic candidate exceeded expectations on Super Tuesday, I grabbed the most recent polling numbers from pollster.com and actual vote totals from the New York Times. The result is this chart, which shows that the percentage of the vote that Obama actually received exceeded the percentage of the vote polling said he would receive in every state except Illinois (where expectations for BHO were in the stratosphere). In some instances, Obama shattered expectations: he did 11.8 percent better that polling suggested in Alabama, 8.5 percent better in Connecticut, 15 percent better in Georgia, and 12 percent better in Oklahoma.

But Clinton did better as well, which means that some portion of both candidates' gains can be attributed to voters who told pollsters there were undecided but chose a candidate on election day. Clinton picked up slightly fewer of these voters, and in three states, underperformed by a moderate amount.

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On average, Obama beat the polls by 6.5 percent and Clinton beat them by 2.4 percent. States that had insufficient polling were not included on this chart. Those states include one that went for Clinton (Arkansas), four that went for Obama (Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, and Kansas), and one that is still undecided (New Mexico).

CPAC's Coulterkampf

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:44 PM EST

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When it was revealed last week that Ann Coulter had not been invited to speak at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, it seemed, at first glance, like a principled move, a decisive refutation of the nasty, degrading speech that is Coulter's trademark. At CPAC 2007 Coulter famously used the word "faggot" in reference to John Edwards.

But at least one of the 6,000 conservatives expected to attend the D. C. conference isn't buying it. "It's all a fraud," the conservative activist and longtime Coulter critic Daniel Borchers told me yesterday. "I think the entire thing shows a lack of character and integrity within the leadership of CPAC." Borchers, who founded the Christian conservative newsletter BrotherWatch, is angry not only that Coulter will be attending CPAC this year, but also that, despite no official invitation from CPAC organizers, she will be delivering a speech during the conference—and that speech will be given in the same hotel ballroom as several CPAC events and is being put on by five organizations who are also cosponsors of CPAC.

In other words, Ann Coulter is speaking at CPAC this year.

Democrats Set Turnout Records in Multiple States

| Wed Feb. 6, 2008 12:28 PM EST

Impressive voter turnout numbers that will hopefully translate in general election enthusiasm:

STATE: MISSOURI
PREVIOUS RECORD: 528,000
VOTES SO FAR: 778,000 (98% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +47%

STATE: ILLINOIS
PREVIOUS RECORD: 1,504,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,809,000 (91% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +20%

STATE: NEW YORK
PREVIOUS RECORD: 1,575,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,744,000 (99% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +11%

STATE: NEW JERSEY
PREVIOUS RECORD: 654,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,104,000 (99% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +69%

STATE: MASSACHUSETTS
PREVIOUS RECORD: 793,000
VOTES SO FAR: 1,170,000 (98% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +48%

STATE: ARIZONA
PREVIOUS RECORD: 239,000
VOTES SO FAR: 314,000 (67% reporting)
% CHANGE OVER PREVIOUS RECORD: +31%