Informed Dissent: The Sixth Great Extinction

We've been blogging about biodiversity loss over at the Blue Marble quite a bit, and Gone, the lead story in our May/June issue, does a great job of covering the issue. If you've already read Gone and it left you wanting to learn and do more, then check out the latest edition of the "Informed Dissent" newsletter, which is full of ideas and ways to take action.

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— Martha Pettit

Jailing Toddlers in Texas

Close readers of know that a year ago the government began incarcerating small children for months at a time in a converted Texas prison. The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center, near Austin, holds roughly 200 kids and their families on immigration charges. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has begun jailing increasing numbers of kids since August, when it ended its controversial "catch and release" program for families with children who are apprehended on immigration charges.

After the story appeared in the Austin Chronicle and Mother Jones, it hit the New York Times and other major newspapers, and continues to garner headlines. A United Nations human rights official had been scheduled to tour T. Don Hutto last week, but ICE canceled the visit at the last minute because of a pending lawsuit over conditions there by the American Civil Liberties Union, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced in the Texas legislature would call on the federal government to seek alternatives to family detention. A coalition of activists, Free the Children, has been holding rallies in support of the bill.

Since our story was published, conditions at the prison have somewhat improved--kids no longer have to wear prison scrubs, and they now receive something akin to school lessons. Still, you'd think ICE would have gotten wise to the root of its ongoing PR crisis. Locking out journalists and human rights inspectors only feeds our worst fears: that this issue really is as black and white as what's implied by "free the children."

If the surge's success can be measured in arrests, we're doing just great. According to a Newsweek article, the number of people residing in Iraqi jails has jumped from approximately 7,000 to 37,641, all since the end of January.

And while U.S.-run detention centers have been closely monitored since Abu Ghraib was splashed all over the front pages in 2004, Iraqi-run jails are "black holes." And independent monitor of Baghdad jails says, "Torture and abusive behavior are widespread."

People on the right might say, "These are Iraqis mistreating other Iraqis, it's not our problem. Let's worry about protecting American troops." And people on the left might say, "These are Iraqis mistreating other Iraqis, it's not our problem. Let's worry about getting American troops home." I say this situation is our responsibility and our problem.

It's our responsibility because we trained the Iraqi policemen and we built the Iraqi jails. If we went to Iraq to spread democracy, and then did such a bad job that law enforcement there routinely beats its prisoners and ignores the contents of Amendments Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight, it's our moral responsibility to do something about it. I know this points towards murky conclusions about our involvement on the war as a whole. I know, I know -- but even if we're not involved in combat operations any longer, we can still work to strengthen Iraq's civil infrastructure, right?

Anyway, more importantly, it's our problem. The people festering in these jails are more likely to (1) hate Americans after their experience, (2) want to disrupt the Iraqi state that has mistreated them, and (3) find connections to extremists through their jail time.

Says Newsweek:

The long-term question is whether mass arrests are actually counterproductive. According to former detainees, community leaders and even Iraqi officials, many prison facilities have become breeding grounds for extremists. New prisoners are quickly won over by, or bullied into joining, militants in the jails. "The biggest school for Al Qaeda is prison," contends Zaidan al-Jabri, an influential sheik from Anbar province who's lived in Jordan since 2005 to escape the instability back home. "All these banned books are allowed in. Speeches and lectures by Al Qaeda terrorists are let in."

Not good news. Everyone in an Iraqi jail is supposed to get a review every six months, but that deadline is routinely missed. Petraeus devised the strategy that is putting tens of thousands in hellish Iraqi jails -- but does he have a plan to deal with the blowback?

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey (he held the post before the now-disgraced Paul McNulty) testified before Congress today. Comey is well-regarded in legal circles, and his tenure at DOJ is actually known for good things and not bad ones -- specifically, he was the acting-AG who refused to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program when then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was hospitalized, making him one of the few federal employees who took a strong stand against executive overreach. (More on why Comey's professionalism, high character, and effectiveness would make him an excellent candidate for AG in a better world.)

In Comey's testimony today, he described the fascinating scene surrounding the authorization of the wiretapping program -- all of the details he provides make it clear Alberto Gonzales was willing to circumvent the law in order to ram through a supposed national security necessity. Gonzo quite literally ignored the rights and responsibilities of the Department of Justice in an attempt to get what he wanted -- and roughly a year later Bush named him the head of the DOJ! The whole episode sheds light on how fundamentally wrong Gonzales' appointment was, and how shameful it is that he still has a job.

Riveting details courtesy of the Muckraker:

The events took place in March of 2004, when the [wiretapping] program was in need of renewal by the Justice Department. When then-Attorney General John Ashcroft fell ill and was hospitalized, Comey became the acting-Attorney General.
The deadline for the Justice Department's providing its sign-off of the program was March 11th (the program required reauthorization every 45 days). On that day, Comey, then the acting AG, informed the White House that he "would not certify the legality" of the program.
According to Comey, he was on his way home when he got a call from Ashcroft's wife that Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card were on their way to the hospital. Comey then rushed to the hospital (sirens blaring) to beat them there and thwart "an effort to overrule me."

Yesterday, when Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty resigned, Alberto Gonzales had nothing but nice things to say about his top assistant. Gonzo called McNulty a "dynamic and thoughtful leader" and said McNulty is "an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney who has been valued here at the Department... On behalf of the Department, I wish him well in his future endeavors."

Wrong! Today, Gonzales threw McNulty under a bus in a big way. Speaking at the National Press Club, Gonzales said this morning, "You have to remember, at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names... And he would know better than anyone else, anyone in this room, anyone — again, the deputy attorney general would know best about the qualifications and the experiences of the United States attorneys community, and he signed off on the names."

Good luck finding employment, Paul! Go ahead and put "Fall Guy for Major DOJ Embarrassment" at the top of your resume.

Washington can be so vicious, can't it?

Strangest New York Times Clarification Ever?

At the end of a long NYT Sunday Business section story about the unpredictable alchemy that makes a best seller—a story that centers around the tale of Random House's Prep (a prep school coming-of-age tale written by Curtis Sittenfeld and originally titled Cipher)—comes this:

Editors' note: The editor of the Sunday Business section is under contract to Random House and did not edit this article.

Nope, just green-lighted it and decided it should go on the section's front page. To me, though, the strangest part about this piece is the notion that book publishing is such a crap shoot is because it is full of starry-eyed liberal arts majors, content to work for peanuts, who daren't soil their pure souls with notions such as marketing, and that "compensation is not tied to sales." Uh, maybe once. But you ask anyone who works in publishing or who's written a book in the last few years and the problem is the exact opposite. Sales are completely driving the business, meaning more and more editors' sole concern is acquisitions—there's barely any EDITING going on any more.

(True, the acquisitions process seems to be largely driven by group think, which is why we have a ten-year run of far-too-many dysfunctional family memoirs, for example.)

The horror stories of lack of editing are legion. Book publishers almost never fact-check, so you got to find someone to do that for you. And more and more writers are hiring editors, because the ones they've got through the publishing house—particularly if their original editor has moved on—just can't be bothered. One friend recalls how after toiling over a manuscript for three years, his editor gave it a quick read-through, marking it with little else than smiley faces (stuff she liked) and z's (stuff she found boring). "Three years of my life, smiley faces and z's." Sadly this is hardly an isolated incident.

Gonzales' Deputy Resigns, Citing Family Reasons

And not, you know, the U.S. attorney firing crisis. Or his boss' bizarre behavior.

Read text of Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's resignation letter here.

[Late Update: Not to butt in, Clara, but I want to make one point: Gonzales has repeatedly said in congressional testimony that the advice/recommendations of his senior staff guided the U.S. Attorneys purge, not Gonzales' own thinking. Senior staff means McNulty, even if he's been more forthcoming than most, and even though Kyle Sampson seems more responsible for the purge. I think McNulty's resignation was inevitable. The only question now is whether enough heads have rolled to take pressure off Gonzo. -- Jonathan]

The average national price for a gallon of gasoline hit $3.073 today, the highest on record according to the AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

If you still own an SUV, I'd like your justification in the comments. Thanks.

Baby Bubba's Got a Gun: True Story

Here's a bizarre tale out of Illinois. A local newspaper columnist decided to see what would happen if he applied for a gun owner's ID card for his 10-month-old son and, well, here's the story...

Little Bubba Ludwig got a 12-gauge Beretta from his grandfather as a present. While it's illegal for minors to buy a gun in Illinois, it isn't illegal for them to own one, and if Bubba was going to legally own his he needed a Firearm Owner's Identification Card.

So like any good (and mischievous) father, Daily Southtown columnist Howard Ludwig sent in a picture of his son (featuring a toothless grin), filled out the appropriate form (2 feet, 3 inches; 20 pounds), and mailed in five bucks. A month later -- boom -- Baby Bubba's got a gun. He's even allowed to carry it unloaded under state law, but as his father says, "he can't walk yet, so that's not an issue."

Check out the father's column on the whole thing here. (Via Fox News and Wonkette.)

I can't tell what to make of this story. The family in question -- particularly the father who wrote the column -- seems to see it as just good fun. They're responsible gun owners, after all, and while this whole episode is kind of absurd, little Bubba will be taught how to use his gun only when he's good and ready. And when that time comes he'll be taught all the proper safety procedures by a family with a long history of responsible gun ownership.

At the same time, good God -- is Illinois insane? Have we reached the point where we are so afraid of gun control that we have no restrictions whatsoever? Why have a gun owner's ID card at all when a bureaucrat somewhere in the state house will stamp "APPROVED" on an application featuring the grinning mug of a 10-month-old baby?

And do you think the NRA would support a bill titled "Keep America's Cribs Gun-Free"? I'm guessing no.

The New York Daily News has conducted a poll in which it asked New Yorkers who they thought was a better mayor and a better potential president -- current Mayor Michael Bloomberg or former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

The results? Bloomberg in a landslide. For both.

Who is/was a better mayor -- Bloomberg 56%, Giuliani 29%.

Who would make a better president -- Bloomberg 46%, Giuliani 29%.

Now I know that New York is a heavily Democratic city, but if America's love affair with Rudy Giuliani is based on the fact that he "protected us" or "showed us strength" on 9/11, what does it say if the people who needed protection most, and who needed to see strength the most, don't like the man? Shouldn't it be a requirement if running for office that the last people you governed are satisfied with your performance?

Actually, if that was the case, Romney and McCain would be out too.

Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton would be just fine. For some reason, I can't find numbers on Obama, but I'd bet he's doing just fine in his home state.

Update: Yes, I know Bloomberg is technically a Republican, but he was a life-long Democrat before he ran and is about as liberal as any "Republican" can be. He's well-liked across party lines because of his effectiveness. That's why I once called him post-partisan.