2007 - %3, September

The Attack of the Brain-Eating Amoebas

| Sun Sep. 30, 2007 1:11 PM EDT

Yet another reason to worry about rising global temperatures: Brain-eating amoebas are apparently thriving in warmer water in lakes and other popular swimming spots. The amoebas have killed a record six people nationwide this year, a trend that's expected to get worse as the world gets hotter. The amoebas swim up your nose and eat away at your brain until you die. Experts warn against performing somersaults in shallow water where the bugs hang out. Nose plug sales are expected to skyrocket...

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McKibben On The Race Against Warming

| Sat Sep. 29, 2007 2:45 PM EDT

A rousing op-ed by MoJo's contributing writer Bill McKibben in today's Washington Post—just in case you're unclear on what Bush's tepid and untimely global warming conference is really about. Some highlights:

It's the oldest and most clichéd of metaphors, but when it comes to global warming, it's the only one that really works: We're in a desperate race. Politics is chasing reality, and the gap between them isn't closing nearly fast enough.

Shaken scientists see every prediction about the future surpassed by events. As Martin Parry, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told reporters this month, "We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it's us."

The panel's chair, Rajendra Pachauri, offered the planet an absolute deadline: We need to be producing less carbon dioxide—which is to say burning less coal, gas and oil—by 2015 at the latest, and after that we would need "very sharp reductions" or else there is no hope of avoiding an eventual temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius and the accompanying prospect of catastrophe.

Such news has finally begun to penetrate the bubble of denial that has surrounded Washington for two decades. President Bush, after ignoring the issue for six years, has convened a conference of the major carbon-emitting nations to begin considering . . . something. Bush said in a speech yesterday that "we acknowledge there is a problem," but few expect the process to amount to much; cynics see it as a way to derail ongoing U.N.-sponsored talks for a firm agreement on reducing emissions.

The only real hope is for decisive legislation from Congress; activists are calling for a law that commits the United States to early cuts, closes all coal-fired power plants and auctions the right to pollute so that we can raise the revenue to fund the transformation of our energy system. President Bush won't sign such a law, so it doesn't have to pass this fall; we're working to set the stage for 2009, when a new leader takes over.

It will take a movement to force that kind of change—a movement as urgent, and one to which people are as morally committed and willing to sacrifice, as the civil rights movement was a generation ago. Last spring, I worked with six college students to put together StepItUp07.org. In the course of 12 weeks, with almost no money, we helped put together 1,400 rallies in all 50 states demanding action. This fall we're trying again.

I've blogged StepItUp07.org before. Check it out. Better yet, participate. —Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, to read from her new book "The Fragile Edge" and other writings…

The Politics of Pistolera

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 9:46 PM EDT
pistolera.gif

The band Pistolera proves that the accordion can be as mighty as the bullhorn. With its squeeze box, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, the NYC-based quartet mixes traditional Mexican music with rock and political commentary to create a sound that's like an outdoor Folklorico festival happening smack dab in the middle of an immigration rally.

In the song "Cazador (Hunter)," the band plays festive Mexican folk music while guitarist/vocalist Sandra Lilia Velasquez sings about Minutemen that patrol the border: "…You with the binoculars, who comes to patrol; GO HOME! Hunter, you have no place here...They say they are protecting the country from illegals, but how, if this land was stolen from the Mexicans?"

Pistolera plays a mixture of norteño (polka beat with accordion), ranchera (waltz or polka feel, similar to mariachi music), and cumbia (a mixture of Latin rhythms similar to salsa and merengue). And their unique sound hasn't gone unnoticed; their album Siempre Hay Salida peaked at #1 on the CMJ (College Music Journal) Ñ Alternative Select Albums chart earlier this year.

It's not the kind of music I seek out on a regular basis, but the ideology of the band makes the seemingly harmless music kick a little ass. In a recent Rolling Stone Mexico interview, Velasquez said, "In Mexico, people are not attracted to rancheras, they are interested in anglo indie rock. For me the real alternative in music is to explore one's roots. People think that if you are born in the United States you should play rock and if you are born in Mexico you should play banda. I was born on the border. I play both."

Nike Goes Native

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 9:30 PM EDT

I waited a couple of days to blog about Nike's new shoe for Native Americans, thinking some sort of backlash would reveal itself in the form of a few web posts, but alas I've seen no scathing critiques. What gives?

Nike this week unveiled what it said is the first shoe designed specifically for American Indians, hoping to promote physical fitness in a population with allegedly high obesity rates. The shoe, the the Air Native N7, is designed with a larger fit (a "taller shoe") for what Nike says is a distinct foot shape of American Indians, and has a "culturally specific look" to it (They look like shoe designs from the 70s to me). Tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide can purchase the shoe at wholesale price ($42.80) and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost.

All of the articles I found today (USA Today, Fox News, MSNBC, Boston Globe) were reprints of the original AP story, which essentially reads like a press release promoting the socially-conscious folks at Nike. I did track down some good fodder in the blogosphere. On the Huffington Post, Milwaukee Dan wrote: "Wow, how nice. After stealing their land, destroying their culture and shoving them on to "reservations," Nike is going to give them a shoe made by slave labor in China. That's so American."

Raising awareness about the issue of high obesity levels of folks living on tribal lands sounds like a great idea to me, but I'm not exactly jumping up and down just because Nike came up with an affordable shoe with added toe room. Hopefully by Monday some real dialog will surface.

US Air Raids Quietly Continue to Kill in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 8:05 PM EDT

Obama may want to pre-emptively strike Pakistan, but we're already well on our way.

From June to September Afghan and Pakistani civilians were killed during U.S.-led air strikes in record numbers. Afghan civilian casualties reached its climax in August, when 168 civilians died. Two-thirds of the deaths were attributed to "military operations conducted by international forces." And today it was reported that over 2,500 families have been displaced in southern Afghanistan due to the Taliban; of that, hundreds were forced to flee due to "intense aerial bombing by international forces."

Some have pointed out that there is a gruesome air war quietly going on in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Foreign Policy in Focus points out that some of these air strikes are conducted by unmanned aerial vehicles called MQ-1 Predators (which we fly over our south-west border, I might add). The missiles are guided from a base in Nevada. There has been a "five fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007 over the same period in 2006," and more than 30 tons of that have been cluster bombs. More civilians, the writer suggests, are being killed by coalition forces than the Taliban.

Furthermore, 59,787 pounds of cluster bombs have rained upon Iraq since April 2003; the Air Force dropped 111,000 pounds of bombs over Iraq in 2006 over a span of 10, 519 "close air support missions." This figure does not include all the other types of weapons and munitions dropped over Iraq, as well as some Army, Marine and private security contractors' operations. Overall, an average of 75 to 100 airstrikes are carried out in the 2 countries everyday by the U.S.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission remarks how Coalition bombardments against civilians come "at a time when the government and people of Afghanistan expect...international forces to cooperate and assist them in ensuring security, rule of law and reconstruction of Afghanistan. But, regretfully, the people of Afghanistan have always been witnessing civilian casualties in their operations against terrorists, particularly during last year [2006]."

— Neha Inamdar

Blackwater's Troubles Deepening

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Blackwater USA's involvement in the shooting deaths of up to 11 Iraqi civilians on September 16 is metastasizing into the the largest scandal the company has yet faced regarding its conduct in Iraq. Numerous investigations are underway, both here and in Baghdad. There is growing speculation that, if the political pressure in Washington continues to build (a big if, given the legion of DC lobbyists the company employs to represent its interests), Blackwater's Iraq contract could be in jeopardy.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday at which Blackwater founder Erik Prince will make a rare public appearance. In the run-up to the hearing, Waxman's committee has been trying, without success, to obtain relevant documents from Blackwater. The company's reluctance to cooperate has led to a stand-off between Congress and the State Department, whose contracts with Blackwater for the physical protection of its diplomats are at issue in this month's shootings in Baghdad.

According to a letter sent Tuesday from Waxman to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, "Blackwater has informed the committee that a State Department official directed Blackwater not to provide documents relevant to the committee's investigation into the company's activities in Iraq without prior written approval of the State Department." The State Department issued a statement later the same day, claiming there had been a "misunderstanding" and that all available documentation requested by Waxman's committee "has been or is in the process of being provided."

Perhaps, but according to a congressional staffer I spoke with this morning, Waxman's committee has yet to receive any documentation from the State Department or Blackwater.

Meanwhile, new details have emerged about the September 16 shootings, suggesting that at least one Blackwater operator refused to cease fire when told to do so. He allegedly stopped firing only after another member of the security team leveled a weapon in his direction. A narrative of the incident as reported in this morning's New York Times:

The episode began around 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16. Diplomats with the United States Agency for International Development were meeting in a guarded compound about a mile northwest of Nisour Square, where the shooting would later take place.
A bomb exploded on the median of a road a few hundred yards away from the meeting, causing no injuries to the Americans, but prompting a fateful decision to evacuate. One American official who knew about the meeting cast doubt on the decision to move the diplomats out of a secure compound.
"It raises the first question of why didn't they just stay in place, since they are safe in the compound," the official said. "Usually the concept would be, if an I.E.D. detonates in the street, you would wait 15 to 30 minutes, until things calmed down," he said, using the abbreviation for improvised explosive device.
But instead of waiting, a Blackwater convoy began carrying the diplomats south, toward the Green Zone. Because their route would pass through Nisour Square, another convoy drove there to block traffic and ensure that the diplomats would be able to pass.
At least four sport utility vehicles stopped in lanes of traffic that were entering the square from the south and west. Some of the guards got out of their vehicles and took positions on the street, according to the official familiar with the report on the American investigation.
At 12:08 p.m., at least one guard began to fire in the direction of a car, killing its driver. A traffic policeman said he walked toward the car, but more shots were fired, killing a woman holding an infant sitting in the passenger seat.
There are three versions of why the shooting started. The Blackwater guards have told investigators that they believed that they were being fired on, the official familiar with the report said. A preliminary Iraqi investigation has concluded that there was no enemy fire, but some Iraqi witnesses have said that Iraqi commandos in nearby guard towers may have been shooting as well, possibly leading Blackwater guards to believe that militants were firing at them.
After the family was shot, a type of grenade or flare was fired into the car, setting it ablaze, according to some accounts. Other Iraqis were also killed as the shooting continued. Iraqi officials have given several death counts, ranging from 8 to 20, with perhaps several dozen wounded. American officials have said that no Americans were hurt.
At some point during the shooting, one or more Blackwater guards called for a cease-fire, according to the American official.
The word cease-fire "was supposedly called out several times," the official said. "They had an on-site difference of opinion," he said.
In the end, a Blackwater guard "got on another one about the situation and supposedly pointed a weapon," the official said.

In a separate article, the Times also reports that Blackwater operators may be a lot quicker to the trigger than their counterparts from other private security firms. The State Department revealed yesterday that Blackwater contractors have fired their weapons 56 times so far this year while escorting diplomats on 1,873 convoy runs. This may seem like a relatively low number. But compare it with that of Blackwater's biggest competitor, DynCorp International. In all of 2006, DynCorp operators fired their weapons just 10 times during about 1,500 convoy runs—this at a time before the much heralded 'surge' supposedly reduced the level of violence in Baghdad.

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Friday? Don't Cry For Me Music News Day

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

Beyonce

  • Beyonce's November 1 concert in Kuala Lumpur has been cancelled after the singer refused to conform to the country's dress code for performers. Muslim groups had protested the concert, which would have been Beyonce's first Malaysian show. The nation's Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage instituted performance rules in 2005 including the dress code, which mandates that female performers show no skin between the tops of their chests and their knees. Insert "Bootylicious" joke here.
  • Radiohead have announced that a website containing a cryptic countdown and purporting to be related to the band is a hoax. Radiohead's actual site features coded messages that many have interpreted to be announcements about the band's upcoming album, including a message that it could be released in March, 2008. Why make us work so hard, Radiohead?!
  • The latest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees include Madonna, Beastie Boys, John Mellencamp, Leonard Cohen, Donna Summer, Chic, Afrika Bambaataa, The Dave Clark Five, and The Ventures. Five acts will receive the honor. What's the point of this again?
  • The "Who Killed Biggie Smalls" mystery gets more mysterious: an inmate who had previously implicated the LAPD in the crime has now renounced his testimony, saying it was a "scam" to get money from the city. Waymond Anderson, serving time for murder, says he "did what he had to to survive," and that a lawyer for Biggie's family was in on the scheme. Confused? Me too.
  • Does Scalia Think Clarence Thomas is a Nutter?

    | Fri Sep. 28, 2007 2:48 PM EDT

    In his new book on the Supreme Court, The Nine, Jeffrey Toobin apparently claims that Justice Antonin Scalia called his conservative colleague a "nut" in a public speech. While we can't really blame Scalia if he did, not everyone agrees with Toobin's analysis. Read more about it here.

    What if They Gave a Debate and Nobody Showed? Again.

    | Fri Sep. 28, 2007 1:01 PM EDT

    Well, somebody showed at historically black Morgan State University in Baltimore last night for the All-American Presidential Forum, just no one likely to be our next president and, man, is the Afro-sphere hacked off about it. My inbox was humming like a tea kettle.

    Touted as "the first time that a panel comprised of journalists of color is represented in primetime," focused on 'minority' issues like unemployment and the criminal justice system, and moderated by Tavis Smiley on PBS, you'll understand why the GOP's A-Team all misplaced their invitations. Introducing the world's first invisible perp walk, Rudolph W. Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson found themselves silently indicted as spotlights glared on their empty lecturns all night. (If you can name the ones who showed, C-SPAN must indeed be your dearest friend. And why, oh why, was the Ayatollah Alan Keyes allowed to attend, let alone mic'd for sound? I thought the election for the President of Heaven wasn't til after the Rapture.)

    Unsurprisingly, the GOPs usual-suspect mouthpieces made quick work of any notion that their homies were either too scared, too uninterested or too disgusted to show this time either. Having brushed past lame excuses about fundraising cycles and their astrologer's travel advisories, a few addressed the main issue: an auditorium full of hostile Negroes (or, seen another way, the candidates' embrace of an agenda designed to incarcerate every hostile Negro in the auditorium). Jim Geraghty wrote: "when asked about Republicans not showing up for this debate, Smiley responded, "When you reject every black invitation and every brown invitation you receive, is that a scheduling issue or is it a pattern?... I don't believe anybody should be elected president of the United States if they think along the way they can ignore people of color. That's just not the America we live in." Then, Geraghty noted, "When you pretty much accuse candidates of racism before they walk in the door, that doesn't make them more inclined to accept your invitation."

    It also doesn't make your "accusers" anymore likely to vote for you. And note the disgraceful sleight of rhetorical hand: Smiley didn't "pretty much accuse" the candidates of anything except either disdaining or passing on the minority vote. However racist he may believe the GOP and/or its candidates to be, Smiley merely pointed out that minority votes have to be both valued and earned or the GOP should formally renounce its renunciation of the Southern Strategy.

    Still, you have to give Tancredo, whoever he is, the nod for having the vertebrae to shoot back that he couldn't "agree with th[e] race-baiting comments" of his fellow candidates, who did indeed pander with both hands and all day Sunday. I'm a little embarrassed for them. But since when is pandering new?

    But. I started this entry because I, too, am sorta queasy with all these "If not 'A,' then B must be true" denunciations. Barack Obama skips Jena and Jesse Jackson, who endorsed him, accuses him of "acting white". Black Republicans are self-hating sell-outs doing The Man's bidding. Black women who criticize the community's misogyny have been brain washed by white feminists.

    If playing "spot the Uncle Tom" has played itself out, perhaps "spot the racist" should, too. Condemning actions and policies as racist is one thing, but mandatory appearances at prescribed black (or most other) venues should not become a litmus test. I hate myself for it, but I had to give Bush his props for refusing to address the NAACP for so long. The organization's rhetoric regarding him had been far too intemperate for far too long (for instance, Willie Horton-ing him with the men who dragged James Byrd to death behind a pick up truck).

    Landing at Ground Zero but doing a fly-by over Katrina's devastation? Racist.

    Ignoring those who dog you unmercifully, let alone immaturely? Good time management.


    Gary Condit Refuses to Go Quietly

    | Fri Sep. 28, 2007 10:53 AM EDT

    Six years after the disappearance of Washington's second-most famous intern, Chandra Levy's former paramour and ex-congressman Gary Condit is back in the news. On Sept. 24, an Arizona judge ordered Condit to pay $43,000 in legal fees to the editor and publisher of the tiny Sonoran News for bringing a frivolous libel suit against the paper, which had no libel insurance. Condit has filed a host of similar suits against other publications that covered the Levy investigation, most of which have since been dropped.

    Serial plaintiff Condit is also about to become a defendant. The Modesto Bee reports that his Baskin-Robbins franchise has flopped, and his former business partners are about to sue him over his role in the meltdown.