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U.S. Military Faults Blackwater in Shooting Incident

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 12:50 PM EDT

It looks like military sources on the scene of the Nisoor Square massacre support the horrifying descriptions put forward by the Iraqi government and by the New York Times. (That Times article is a must-read, by the way.)

"It was obviously excessive, it was obviously wrong," said the U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident remains the subject of several investigations. "The civilians that were fired upon, they didn't have any weapons to fire back at them. And none of the IP or any of the local security forces fired back at them," he added, using a military abbreviation for the Iraqi police. The Blackwater guards appeared to have fired grenade launchers in addition to machine guns, the official said.

Of course, none of this stopped the Pentagon from handing Blackwater another contract. But it may lead to the beginnings of oversight.

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Senate Session Southern Style: State Senator Punches Peer

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 12:20 PM EDT

Chaos in the Alabama State Senate! After Democratic State Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe called State Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper a "son of a bitch," Bishop responded by punching Barron in the face. Watch the video!

And just to double the funny, the Calhoun County GOP actually gave Bishop — the puncher, not the punched — a trophy of a boxer. He deserved the honor, said the local party, because of the extent to which Bishop went in the "defending of womankind."

Update: I'm going to use this as an opportunity to post one of my favorite videos from YouTube. It's two politicians from the Czech Republic sorting out their differences. Note the subtitles.

Widestance Forever!

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 11:08 AM EDT

Larry Craig is sticking around, even though his guilt was reconfirmed yesterday. Craig, who earlier said that he would resign if his guilty plea was not withdrawn, released a statement making it clear he intends to serve out the rest of his term.

"As I continued to work for Idaho over the past three weeks here in the Senate, I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively," Craig said. "I will continue my effort to clear my name in the Senate Ethics Committee -- something that is not possible if I am not serving in the Senate."

Republicans are not happy. "It's embarrassing for the Senate, it's embarrassing for his party," said Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada.

This is completely awesome.

Senators Write Letters & Demand Torture Docs

| Fri Oct. 5, 2007 10:51 AM EDT

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee Jay Rockefeller writes to acting attorney general Peter Keisler, asking why the New York Times has copies of secret torture memoes that the Justice Department has so far refused to turn over to the appropriate Congressional oversight committees, among them his.

Letter below:

October 4, 2007

The Honorable Peter D. Keisler
Acting Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Mr. Acting Attorney General:

The New York Times published an article today entitled "Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations" that describes the classified opinions provided by the Department of Justice on the legality of the CIA's interrogation practices, as well as the internal deliberations surrounding those classified opinions. As Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence I have repeatedly asked the Department of Justice to provide those classified opinions; the Department of Justice has never provided a formal response.

This letter reiterates my longstanding request for the opinions of the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel analyzing the legality of the CIA's interrogation program. In particular, please provide the principal classified Office of Legal Counsel opinions issued since December of 2004 on the legality of CIA's interrogation program. This should include Office of Legal Counsel opinions assessing the legality of the CIA's practices under section 2340A of the U.S. criminal code, which implements the Convention Against Torture; the substantive provisions of Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture; the Detainee Treatment Act; Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions; and the War Crimes Act, as amended by the Military Commissions Act.


The New Gideons Bible Or How To Really Save The World

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 9:45 PM EDT

I've got an idea. You know all those free Gideons Bibles in hotel rooms all over the world that nobody reads (how many trees? how many carbon emissions?). Let's start a new movement. Let's, one by one, replace them with copies of The Hydrogen Age: Empowering A Clean Energy Future, by Geoffrey Holland and James Provenzano. It's loaded with stories (and pictures) of one view of salvation. Don't like hydrogen? Pick the vision/book that you offers your version of redemption.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Good News On Ozone Hole

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

In a year of bad news from the Polar regions, a bright note. The ozone hole over Antarctica shrunk 30 percent compared to last year's record size, reports the European Space Agency. This year's ozone loss peaked at 27.7 million tons, compared to the 2006 record of 40 million tons—although the researchers caution the data don't prove the ozone layer is actually recovering. This year's hole was probably smaller because it was less centered on the South Pole, allowing it to mix with warmer air, reducing its growth.

So, we're not off the hook on this one. Though it does mean that for one season, at least, fewer phytoplankton, penguins, leopard seals, and great whales, had to suffer life in the ultraviolet. May that come to pass again next year.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

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Hatchery Fish Struggle To Reproduce In Wild

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 8:51 PM EDT

Here's another surprise from the unpredictable frontlines of biology. A new study from Oregon State University finds that steelhead trout raised in hatcheries face a dramatic and unexpectedly rapid drop in their ability to reproduce in the wild—nearly 40 percent per captive-reared generation. Fish reared in a hatchery for two generations had around half the reproductive fitness of fish reared for a single generation. The effects appear to be genetic, and probably result from evolutionary pressures that quickly select for characteristics that are favored in the safe, placid world of the hatchery, but not in the comparatively hostile natural environment. The study, to be published Friday in the journal Science, raises serious questions about what happens to wild populations when they interbreed with hatchery fish, and the wisdom of many hatchery practices.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Le Concorde, Ready For Zach Braff

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 8:47 PM EDT
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Visions of teen flicks with happy endings dance in my head when I listen to Le Concorde's EP, Suite. The lyrics are sweet and romantic, and the songs have titles like "I Want You Back" and "Lullaby for Dollface." This is music for someone who just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, you know, at the junior high prom.

In fact, the music is perfectly suited for a soundtrack to a romantic comedy. I can just see the montage now, of a new, young, and happy couple going on their first string of dates together, while Le Concord's "Break You Like a Promise" is playing in the background. "Lullaby for Dollface" could easily have been featured in Zach Braff's uber sentimental Garden State soundtrack in place of that wispy Iron and Wine song, "Such Great Heights."

Le Concorde's music earned the band enough credibility to headline a 2005 CMJ (College Music Journal) showcase performance. Their website fills you in on lots of personal details (Honestly, it was more than I needed to know) about founding member Stephen Becker's journey (earning a PhD, getting a divorce) toward making "Suite." Becker describes the music as "a love—approaching obsession—with the finest details of the sonic sculpture."

Long Arm of the Law May Finally Reach Blackwater

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:55 PM EDT

The legal black hole in which private contractors have been operating in Iraq may be narrowing. Earlier today, the House voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure that would extend the reach of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) to include any contractor (or subcontractor, at any tier) working outside the United States for any federal agency in any place where the U.S. military is engaged.

This is the second proposed revision of MEJA since 2000. The law initially covered only civilians working directly for the U.S. military overseas. A 2004 amendment expanded its jurisdiction to include employees of any federal agency supporting a DOD mission abroad. But the law still does not apply to civilians working in areas not directly related to the U.S. military.

Blackwater operators involved in the September 16 shootings in Baghdad, which left 17 dead and another 24 wounded, were protecting U.S. diplomats under a State Department contract. It is therefore unclear whether the incident would fall under MEJA's jurisdiction. All contractors are immune from Iraqi law.

This loophole would be closed by the bill—sponsored by David Price, Democrat of North Carolina—that passed the House today by a margin of 389 to 30; all dissenting votes were cast by Republicans. A similar measure is expected to come before the Senate. If senators vote in similar numbers, any veto from President Bush could be easily swept aside.

The White House issued a statement yesterday, opposing Price's bill as carrying "unintended and intolerable consequences for crucial and necessary national security activities and operations." An AP reporter asking for clarification was referred to the Justice Department, which refused comment.

For its part, the private military industry appears to be in favor of Price's bill. The International Peace Operations Association, an industry trade group, has expressed its support, as did Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince in his testimony before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday.

Why I Hate the Blue Angels

| Thu Oct. 4, 2007 5:33 PM EDT

I loathe the Blue Angels. Always have. Maybe it's the screaming noise pollution. Or maybe it's the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on what is essentially a PR stunt. I used to think it was mostly those things, when for the past 10 years, I have had to brace myself for oohs and ahhs on the streets of San Francisco when the Angels come to town.

But now I hate them even more, and less. More because I now have a cousin who's an Air Force pilot who's flying real fighter jets in a real war in Iraq. It's one thing to waste millions of dollars during peacetime, but wholly another to do so when we are sinking hundreds of billions into a war of desperation.

And less because, well, the Armed Forces are desperate for recruits. So the show of speed and acrobatics serves an actual purpose these days. The military needs to spread the patriotic flame amongst everyday citizens, whether it's the Navy's Angels above the Golden Gate or the Marines handing M16s to kids in Times Square. Without a draft recruiting tactics have to become more and more creative. I am not hoping for an onslaught of enlistments necessarily, but it would be nice if we all woke up and realized what the stretch of our military means for those currently fighting, and, who knows, the buzz of a fighter jet might be just the thing to wake us up.