ThinkFast: April 2, 2008

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"ThinkFast: April 2, 2008"

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In 2003, the Justice Department issued a legal memo “asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes.” Former Justice Department lawyer Marty Lederman says the memo “effectively gave the Pentagon the green light to disregard statutory limits on torture” and “maltreatment.”

Approximately one-third of U.S. soldiers “in hard-to-reach outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan lack timely access to mental health care, according to Pentagon officials and a recent survey.” In Afghanistan, for example, “it can take an average of 40 hours for a psychologist to visit soldiers.”

A new BBC World Service poll finds that the U.S. image abroad “has begun to improve after worsening for years, but the United States is still viewed more negatively than the European Union, Brazil, China, India and Russia.” According to the new survey, 35 percent of the world believes the United States has a positive influence, but 47 percent still believe its influence is negative.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, Army vice chief of staff Gen. Richard A. Cody said the 30,000-plus troop increase in Iraq and Afghanistan is “inflicting ‘incredible stress’ on soldiers and families” and posing “‘a significant risk’ to the nation’s all-volunteer military.”

After taking timid steps to help borrowers, the Bush administration is now “embracing” the “main tenets” of a housing bill from Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). Senate Democrats and Republicans are edging closer to deal on a bipartisan housing bill.

Six months after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced phased withdrawal from Iraq, “his defense secretary announced on Tuesday that the reduction had been postponed” after recent violence in Basra. The U.K. will maintain about 4,000 troops outside Basra instead of 2,500.

The Pentagon is expected to shut a controversial intelligence office,” known as the Counterintelligence Field Activity office, that has been described by critics as “part of an effort by the Defense Department to expand into domestic spying.” In 2005, it was revealed that the office managed a database “that included information about antiwar protests planned at churches, schools and Quaker meeting halls.”

Intelligence centers run by states called “fusion centers” have access “to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver’s license photographs and credit reports.” The centers were created after the 9/11 attacks.

Lawmakers urged Exxon Mobil yesterday to invest more in alternative energy, beyond its $100 million for research at Stanford University. “Does the oil fairy have to show up? … When are you going to put some real money into it?” said Jay Inslee (D-WA).

And finally: Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s telecommunications subcommittee held a hearing on “online virtual worlds.” The hearing was also broadcast online in Second Life, where several avatars — including a pink cat, winged grasshopper, and “a naked man floating through the air” — were allowed to participate. Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) noted that his avatar — named EdMarkey Alter — looked “like he’s been working out.” The guest avatars also “kept up a virtual dialogue,” adding comments such as “smile,” “wave,” “hooo!” and “hahahaha.”

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.

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