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Friday a Fine Day for Music News

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:29 PM EDT

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  • The cop from the Village People says he left the group because his bandmates were "too gay," and that "Y.M.C.A." is about "straight fun." (After Elton)

  • The newly reunited Spice Girls ask their fans to vote on where they should play a concert; fans answer, "Baghdad." (NME)
  • Actress Scarlett Johansson is recording an album with help from TV On the Radio's Dave Sitek as well as members of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Baltimore up-and-comers Celebration. (Yahoo! Music)
  • Lollapalooza kicks off in Chicago today with Pearl Jam, Daft Punk, and a billion more bands. (Pitchfork)
  • Madonna spends two hours at Bill Clinton's offices in Harlem, fueling rumors she's, um, being considered as Hillary's VP? (The always-reputable TMZ.com)
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    Weird Weather Watch: Biblical Flooding in South Asia

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

    Flooding in India and Bangladesh has drowned out more than 12 million acres of farmland and killed almost 200 people in the last few days. The number of dead is expected to rise dramatically as news begins to flow from remote areas. In India's Uttar Pradesh, the army is attempting to evacuate 500 villages. The Red Cross and other groups are attempting to provide much-needed food, drinking water, and medical aid, but people on the ground report that their efforts are nowhere near adequate.

    Several lessons here about our future with climate change: Developing nations are likely to be hardest hit. Military rule will likely be invoked regularly, diminishing civil liberties. Food and water supplies will be threatened as major disasters like this one become more commonplace.

    Smells like apocalypse, huh? I'm only hoping that Bible thumpers will stop devoting their energy to denying marriage rights to gays and freedom of choice to women and start campaigning against greenhouse-gas pollution.

    European Heat Waves Last Twice as Long As In 1880

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:12 PM EDT

    Heat waves in Europe have doubled and the frequency of extremely hot days has nearly tripled in the past century. The new data show that many previous assessments of daily summer temperature change underestimated heat wave events by 30 percent. The results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. "These findings provide observational support to climate modeling studies showing that European summer temperatures are particularly sensitive to global warming," said Paul Della-Marta of the University of Bern in Switzerland. "Due to complex reactions between the summer atmosphere and the land, the variability of summer temperatures is expected to increase substantially by 2100." JULIA WHITTY

    Bloggers and MSM: Can't We All Get Along?

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

    Can bloggers and the mainstream media get past their prejudices against one another, and the bitter invective that is a product of that prejudice, and work together to enrich both their work?

    That's the question at this panel, "Blogs and the MSM: From Clash to Civilization." Speaking are Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico; Jill Filipovic from Feministe; Jay Carney, Time Washington bureau chief; and Glenn Greenwald, author, pundit, and blogosphere superstar.

    Allen claims that the days when the MSM thought the bloggers were pajama-wearing wahoos are over. There was initial suspicion on both sides, because motives were unknown and everyone looked new and strange. But now, says Allen, we're heading towards an increasingly symbiotic relationship.

    Greenwald takes a very different (and less conciliatory) tack. He points out that while many establishment journalists blog (see Time's Swampland) and many bloggers have been co-opted by the traditional media (see Greenwald's work for Salon), there is still a vast difference between how the groups approach the government (reverential vs. skeptical) and how willing they are to state the truth when it is harsh (for example, no establishment media actually stated the NSA wiretapping program was a violation of an American law, which it was, when it was revealed). Greenwald followed Allen and Carney's kind words for the blogosphere by ripping the media, Time and Politico specifically, at great length.

    Take home point from Greenwald: Journalists think bloggers want them to become partisan. Actually, bloggers just want journalists to be adversarial and skeptical.

    Now they're opening the floor to questions — Allen and Carney are going to get killed. I've got a question for Carney, but the lines are about ten deep at each microphone, so I'm not going to get a chance to ask it. I'll put it here: "Time magazine's columnists currently include Joe Klein, Bill Kristol, and Peter Beinart, all men who supported the war in Iraq. My question is, how badly does one need to screw up to lose plum media positions?"

    Doctors Who Deny IVF Are Not Choosing Life

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 1:17 PM EDT

    Doctors refusing to perform abortions. Standard. (The procedure isn't even taught in medical schools.) Doctors refusing to provide fetal tissue for stem cells, pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions. All of these things happen based on peoples' belief that providing such services threatens unborn life. And as much as I don't agree with these decisions, I get it (sort of). If these people feel, really feel, that lives are threatened by their action, then following through is a difficult choice.

    But how about when doctors refuse to perform, not abortions, not stem-cell procedures, but in vitro fertilization, which actually helps create life? The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which two doctors refused a woman IVF treatment because she's a lesbian. Which means that they felt that Guadalupe Benitez and her partner (whom Elizabeth Weil wrote about for Mother Jones last year) did not have the right to the life they hold so dear.

    The case, which began in 2001 with Benitez claiming that the doctors violated California's anti-discrimination laws, is seen as one of the most controversial the Court has heard in years. The doctors were not refusing a service—they routinely performed IVF on other patients—but instead cited religious beliefs in this specific instance. The court could find that doctors will have to take an "all-or-nothing" approach, which would mean loss of lucrative IVF business if such doctors stick to their religious standards.

    The doctors' defense all along has been that they didn't perform the procedure because Benitez is unmarried. (Benitez has said, under oath, that the doctors told her it was because of her sexual orientation.) Okay, so let's give them their defense for a sec. Do they then support gay marriage so that newborn life can be cherished? And how come they have religious objection to IVF for unmarried women, but are fine with assisting in the production of up to a dozen excess embryos per woman they treat? These embryos now number half a million nationwide; they're sitting frozen in storage and are most likely destined to be destroyed.

    The Choose Life argument doesn't wash when the same moral high ground is used to deny it.

    Some Good News for "Dollar Bill" Jefferson

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 1:02 PM EDT

    Today, "Dollar Bill" Jefferson received the first bit of good news he's had in some time, at least since August 2005, when the FBI descended on the Louisiana congressman's home and turned up $90,000 in alleged bribe money stashed in his freezer. A federal appeals court ruled today that the bureau's subsequent raid of the lawmaker's congressional office in May 2006, an unprecedented move which sparked outcry from Jefferson's colleagues on both sides of the aisle, was unconstitutional and infringed on the independence of Congress. ''The review of the Congressman's paper files when the search was executed exposed legislative material to the Executive,'' the court ruled. ''The Congressman is entitled to the return of documents that the court determines to be privileged.'' Jefferson's not out of the woods yet. Far from it. According to the Justice Department, it didn't rely on the documents in question when making its case against Jefferson, who was indicted on 16 counts in June.

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    The New Bosses Congregate at YearlyKos

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 12:17 PM EDT

    I'm sitting in a YearlyKos panel called "Evolution and Integration of the Blogosphere." The panelists are the blogosphere's heavy hitters: Matt Stoller and Chris Bowers, now of OpenLeft, formerly of MyDD; Duncan Black of Atrios; Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and the John Edwards controversy; Ali Savino, co-founder and Program Director of the Center for Independent Media; and Amanda Terkel of Think Progress. Basically, all the folks we quasi-attacked in Dan Schulman's piece entitled "Meet the New Bosses."

    Bowers, moderating the panel, begins by describing the entrenched nature of the top of the blogosphere: the most-viewed 50 progressive blogs have remained constant the last two years and hot new bloggers are just becoming diarists or contributors to these blogs. And, lest we here at MoJoBlog forget it, those 50 blogs get 95 percent of the blogosphere's traffic.

    Some panelists reject the idea of a blogosphere establishment, even in the face of Bowers' facts, but Stoller makes the only legitimate point: the growth of the blogosphere may have occurred a few years back because the Bush Administration was so nasty and the mainstream press was so unwilling to expose the truth. There was a space for blogs. But now the press is critical of the administration and there is slightly less need for blogs. I'll consider that. Savino, perhaps more willing to accept Bowers' point than the rest, points out new bloggers' best hope: local blogs and niche blogs.

    In my mind, the facts are irrefutable: the blogosphere isn't really the wild frontier with thousands of disparate voices that some people think it is. It has its own hierarchy, and even those who advocate opening up the voices in American democracy are content to perpetuate that hierarchy if they are at the top of it.

    Man, I am never going to get on Townhouse.

    Iran Launches English-Language News Channel

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 11:09 AM EDT

    If you prefer that your news come from the mullahs in Tehran, try Press TV. The channel is funded by the Iranian government, but claims it will operate without interference from the state. Press TV's "vision," as spelled out on its website:

    1- To break the global media stranglehold of western outlets.
    2- To bridge cultural divisions pragmatically.
    3- To highlight the versatility and vitality of political and cultural differences, making up the human condition.

    What's Up With Nouri al-Maliki?

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 11:02 AM EDT

    If you're wondering why the Iraqis haven't met those pesky benchmarks, today's Washington Post provides an explainer. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hails from Iraq's Dawa party, a secretive Shiite organization that was forged in opposition to Saddam's regime. It is tight-knit and suspicious of outsiders, even (and perhaps most especially) those belonging to competing Shiite political groups. According to the Post:

    Maliki, observers say, is trying to compensate for his party's frail position against his Shiite rivals. Unlike influential Shiite clerics Moqtada al-Sadr or Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Dawa party controls no militia and has a small grass-roots following today.
    "He's trying to strengthen the Dawa party at the risk of marginalizing other political groups," said Wamidh Nadhmi, a political analyst.

    And divisions among Shiites pale in comparison to the chasm that has developed between them and the Sunnis. Much has been made of the recent American effort to enlist Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar Province and elsewhere to assist in the fight against foreign al Qaeda fighters. The strategy appears to be working (at least for now), but the Post article notes that it is also fueling Shiite paranoia:

    Maliki and his advisers are already mistrustful of new U.S. alliances with Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq. Where the Bush administration sees a success story, Maliki and other Shiites worry that the United States is empowering groups still determined to overthrow their government.

    It does make you wonder... If we arm, equip, and train Sunni tribesmen to fight al Qaeda and organize Sunni "neighborhood watches" to help protect them against Shiite death squads, it might earn us their short-term appreciation and deter them from attacking U.S. troops. Then again, it might fuel the civil war that many people believe will follow our departure from Iraq. This is surely not lost on American planners. General Petraeus recognized the risk, telling a reporter: "You have to make sure that the neighborhood watch doesn't end up watching someone else's neighborhood." Good luck.

    Democrats' Ground Game for 2008 Revealed at YearlyKos

    | Fri Aug. 3, 2007 12:35 AM EDT

    Earlier today at YearlyKos, the Democratic Party's plan for winning the 2008 ground game was presented to interested activists, bloggers, and members of the media by the DNC's new political director, David Boundy.

    The Democrats' number one priority is to "organize everywhere," an unsurprising fact to anyone familiar with DNC Chairman Howard Dean's 50 State Strategy. The second priority is to "count everything," which means that any get-out-the-vote (GOTV) tactic from this point forward must be measurable. Boundy asked how many people in the room had held up signs on a freeway. Several attendees raised their hands. "How many votes do you think you got from that?" he asked. No one answered, some laughed nervously. "We're not doing that anymore."

    Boundy claimed that local activists constantly approach him with new widgets that improve canvassing or direct mailing. He responds to them, "How do you know?" "Well," they say, "we used it in my state and we won three state senate seats." But if the local organizer can't prove quantitatively that his or her widget was responsible for victory, Boundy isn't interested in working with them. "If I don't know how I'm going to gain votes from what you are doing, I'm not going to do it," he said. "You can work with someone else. Hopefully the Republican Party."

    If the party/D.C./establishment arrogance inherent in any of this rubbed the people in the room the wrong way—they were, after all, local activists, who probably thought they were helping the party by developing new tools in the absence of institutional support—it was washed away by the sense that the Democrats are finally getting their act together and developing a GOTV machine that rivals Karl Rove and the Republicans.

    Building that machine anew—and Boundy admits it is a work in progress—instead of using a holdover from 2000 or 2004 likely has serious advantages because the rules have changed since even a few years ago. Cable and TiVo have reduced the importance of television advertising, satellite radio and mp3 players have lessened the impact of radio ads, and caller ID and cell phones have damaged the power of robocalls, push polls, and other forms of direct phoning. (The cell-only generation is a factor here: 15 percent of Americans don't have landlines; in the mid-30s-and-lower age demographic, that number raises to 40 percent.)