The hysterical reaction in Congress to Jimmy Carter's trip to the Middle East, where he met with a Hamas leader today, is precisely the sort of thing I hope the new "pro-Israel, pro-peace" group J Street speaks out against. This week Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) said she wants to revoke Carter's passport. And Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-MI) introduced the Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act (CARTER) Act to cut all federal funding to the Carter Center at Emory University. That's the organization that pours resources into humanitarian projects like eradicating the Guinea worm parasite in Africa and was lauded in Carter's 2002 Nobel Peace Prize citation.
New York Democratic representative Gary Ackerman came out against the CARTER Act, but, in the process, managed to be just as petty and juvenile as his Republican colleagues. As the New York Sun reported today:
"The man is entitled his idiotic, moronic, nonsensical, anti-commonsensical, foolish opinions. And all that being said, he is still entitled to have them. I don't think we should be cutting off funding for any ex presidents to do things. We didn't cut off Richard Nixon," he said. Mr. Ackerman added that if Mr. Carter came to his home for the Passover Seder, he would ask him to read the part of the simple son, the boy who does not know enough to even ask a question about the story of the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt.
Shouldn't the Democratic leadership be bothered by this kind of rhetoric directed against a former president of their own party? More important, would Ackerman slap his offensive "simple son" label on Colin Powell or Brent Scowcroft or Zbigniew Brzezinski or Lee Hamilton or Shlomo Ben-Ami, all of whom have called for engagement with Hamas. And what about the 64 percent of actual Israelis who favor direct talks with Hamas?
What's that, kids? You want grandpa to tell you what a record store is? Well, imagine an iTunes you can actually walk around in. Neat, thanks Grandpa! Now bring Grampy his illegal Pall Malls. And, scene. Ahem. Few brick-and-mortar shops have suffered as much in the wake of the intertubes as have independent record stores: the NY Timesreports over 3,000 have closed in the last five years, half of them independent. Tomorrow, in what can be viewed as either an innovative attempt to spark renewed interest in the neighborhood vinyl emporium or as a desperate plea for help, a consortium of music retailers will present Record Store Day, with all sorts of events to draw people in. Manhattan's Other Music will play host to "celebrity" DJs from bands like Grizzly Bear and Deerhunder, while closer to home, Metallica will perform at Rasputin's in Mountain View, and Jello Biafra will work the "help desk" at Amoeba in San Francisco. Plus, bands like R.E.M. and Vampire Weekend are selling vinyl singles available for one day only. Fun! But will it save the record store?
Capitol regulars cried in the halls and fellow state senators gushed with praise for Ernie Chambers' service as the self-proclaimed "defender of the downtrodden."
But the Omaha senator wasn't in any mood to reminisce on Thursday, his last day on the legislative floor he prowled for 38 years. He was a reluctant, mostly absent, observer of his own legislative funeral and mostly spent the day like he has thousands of others since first being elected in 1970 — working....
Chambers logged more years as a state senator than anyone in Nebraska history. And while term limits won't officially push the muscled 70-year-old and state's only black senator out of his cluttered Capitol office until the end of the year, he's done making, and mostly stopping, laws for the state.
"He has just been a stalwart in making sure people get justice and that justice is administered fairly," said Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, one of the 14 other senators who won't return next year because of term limits.
"Nobody's paid in the lobby to speak out on behalf of people on death row, for black youth, for poor kids," said Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha. "Ultimately, the downtrodden will be defended by our conscience, and Ernie is a man of conscience, a man of determination."
A hellraiser in Mother Jones' own tradition, Chambers was able to inspire solemn reverence even in ever-snarky bloggers like this one. He'll be missed.
Welcome back to the "staff picks" shelf at The Riff.
1. Gary: Janet Jackson's new album, Discipline, dropped in February, so she's back in action. And it's good! I resisted the urge to include "When I think of You," one of the BEST songs from my junior high career, and instead went with a new track, "Rock With U," because it's saucy.
2. Gary: The combination of Faith No More's Mike Patton with the "math" rock/hardcore band Dillinger Escape Plan produced what I consider some of the most interesting and badass aggressive/metal/thrash/loud/angry music of the early 2000s. The band's chaos is precise, and nobody screams the way Mike Patton screams. Turn it up.
3. Kiera (on a Russian kick this week): "Id," Nogu Svelo! This band's name, I'm told, translates to something along the lines of "cramp in the leg!" They've been giving Russians cramps in their legs...from dancing...for 20 years. Like it? You're in luck! They have a new album coming out. Or at least that's what this Google translation of part of their website makes it sound like:
I hasten to inform joyous news: Musicians Nogu Svelo!...locked in the studio and prepare a surprise for all their fans!
4. Kiera: "Dvornik," Agata Kristi. Since you've always wished Depeche Mode would sing in Russian, I've decided to make your day. Masters of Russian indie pop Agata Kristi synth it up in this track. I won't lie: It's a little gothic, too.
We the undersigned deplore the conduct of ABC's George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson at the Democratic presidential debate on April 16. The debate was a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world. This is not the first Democratic or Republican presidential debate to emphasize gotcha questions over real discussion. However, it is, so far, the worst.
For 53 minutes, we heard no question about public policy from either moderator. ABC seemed less interested in provoking serious discussion than in trying to generate cheap-shot sound bites for later rebroadcast. The questions asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gibson were a disgrace, and the subsequent attempts to justify them by claiming that they reflect citizens' interest are an insult to the intelligence of those citizens and ABC's viewers. Many thousands of those viewers have already written to ABC to express their outrage.
The truly funny and risky political ad is a rare beast. This one, from Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, is about as close as they come. Wyden is trying to promote the "portability" of his universal health care plan (they're not just for presidential candidates!), which in human-speak means the ability to keep your health care coverage when you switch jobs, go back to school, or start your own business. Check it out:
Just last week, following the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on Capitol Hill, President Bush held a White House press conference at which he remained as optimistic as ever about U.S. prospects in Iraq. From the official White House transcript:
The immediate goal of the surge was to bring down the sectarian violence that threatened to overwhelm the government in Baghdad, restore basic security to Iraqi communities, and drive the terrorists out of their safe havens. As General Petraeus told Congress, American and Iraqi forces have made significant progress in all these areas. While there is more to be done, sectarian violence is down dramatically. Civilian deaths and military deaths are also down. Many neighborhoods once controlled by al Qaeda have been liberated. And cooperation from Iraqis is stronger than ever—more tips from residents, more Iraqis joining their security forces, and a growing movement against al Qaeda called the "Sons of Iraq."
Improvements in security have helped clear the way for political and economic developments described by Ambassador Crocker. These gains receive less media coverage, but they are vital to Iraq's future. At the local level, businesses are re-opening and provincial councils are meeting. At the national level, there's much work ahead, but the Iraqi government has passed a budget and three major "benchmark" laws. The national government is sharing oil revenues with the provinces. And many economic indicators in Iraq—from oil production to inflation—are now pointed in the right direction.
This is the sort of presidential spin to which we've grown accustomed. And, yes, Iraq's security situation has improved of late, notwithstanding the recent battles in Baghdad and Basra and a renewed series of Al Qaeda bombings. But as rosy a picture as President Bush would like to paint, a growing number of strategic thinkers in the Pentagon are reaching far different conclusions. Among them is Joseph J. Collins, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, currently a professor of national security strategy at the National War College. Collins is the author of a study (.pdf) released yesterday by the National Institute for Strategic Studies (and first reported by McClatchy), which, in direct contradiction of the President's recent remarks, calls the Iraq War as a "major debacle" and describes its outcome as "in doubt."
If you haven't already, please read this NYT article about how spiking food prices is leading to hunger and civil unrest across the globe. Here's a snippet.
Saint Louis Meriska's children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry,' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."
That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.
In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.
Jurors from the first trial of the Miami-area men accused of plotting to blow up the Sears tower probably weren't surprised to hear that the evidence has now produced a second hung jury. A juror from the first trial, librarian Delorise Thompkins, said, "When you see the evidence, there's not a lot thereno plans, no papers, no pictures, no nothing connecting them to Osama bin Laden."
As we've written before, the defendants had no explosives and no concrete plans. What they did have was a well-paid government informant posing who coaxed them into doing surveillance on federal buildings...and gave them the equipment to do it. The men were then arrested for providing "material support" to a terrorist group, even though they had never made contact with a real terrorist and the idea of blowing up buildings originated from the informant himself.
The tenuous connection between the men and al Qaeda led to one of the defendants being acquitted in the first trial.
Wow, somebody's been brushing up their Excel skills: the LA Weekly has done some serious data entry work on the 128 acts playing next weekend's Coachella festival, and they've come up with some pretty interesting charts 'n' graphs describing today's musical trends. And I do love charts 'n' graphs.
Sure, the pie chart showing most bands are white and the bar graph proving most lead singers are male aren't exactly surprises, and the fact that "most recent Pitchfork review" averages out to between 6.1 and 7.4 is probably due to the fact that every Pitchfork review is between 6.1 and 7.4. But ranking artists by their most-viewed YouTube clip isn't such a far-fetched way to gauge popularity in this day and age, and the results are eyebrow-raising. Turns out, if internet video ruled the world, French techno would be, er, king: Justice and Yelle (pictured above) were #1 and #2, with over 7 million views for their most popular videos. Zut alors! They were followed by Kate Nash, Serj Tankian and Mark Ronson, none of whom are, in fact, headlining. Actual headliner Jack Johnson doesn't show up on this list until #9, with about a third of Justice's click-throughs. While I can understand Justice's internet popularity, I'm most intrigued by Yelle's sudden notoriety: the video getting all the love is the Tecktonik-style Tepr mix of "ACDG" that I posted as part of my France wrap-up back in December. You go, Yelle. After the jump, let's watch that video again, pourquoi pas?