2007 - %3, August

Insurance Companies Continue to Screw Katrina Victims

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 5:20 PM EDT

Victims of Hurricane Katrina have been screwed so many times. First it was by the local government, then by the federal government, and finally by insurance companies that have been weaseling out of their obligations to policyholders from the start. Yesterday, insult was added to injury when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that insurance companies, including some of the big dogs like Allstate and Travelers, don't have to pay for losses caused by flooding. The policies only cover wind and rain damage.

The shady dealings are sort of fuzzy. Apparently, many of the homeowners were assured that their policies provided full hurricane coverage. Also, some of the houses and businesses were destroyed by wind and rain hours before waters breached the levies and flooded New Orleans. Katrina victims may still have a chance for mercy. The case will head to the Louisiana Supreme Court next, and there are several similar civil suits waiting in the wings.

—Celia Perry

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Reno's Makin' Mix Tapes

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 4:48 PM EDT

When Song of America, a three-CD, 50-track journey through centuries' worth of American music hits record stores in September, it comes with a stamp of approval—and an executive producer credit—from former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

No, seriously. Reno put together a bona fide, red-white-and-blue mix tape. To learn more about Reno's music compilation, read the rest of this post on our Arts & Culture blog, The Riff.

Reno's Makin' Mix Tapes

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 4:16 PM EDT

When Song of America, a three-CD, 50-track journey through centuries worth of American music hits record stores in September, it comes with a stamp of approval—and an executive producer credit—from former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.

No, seriously. Reno, along with producer (and nephew-in-law) Ed Pettersen and Grammy-winning co-producer David Macias put together a bona fide, red-white-and-blue mix tape. Reno, a big fan of Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, Mahalia Jackson, and Verdi, told Mother Jones that she stayed as far away as possible from the recording studio on this project. "I belong in the music studio even less than on the dance floor," Reno joked via email. "But [these songs] can take your mind off of work or school and help you relax after a long day."

Be warned. This CD does not rock. It saunters. There are songs in here that I haven't heard since elementary school. Or Sunday School. Or ever. The box set includes contemporary versions of songs like "Yankee Doodle," "Trail of Tears," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Home on the Range," and the World War II anthem "Over There" performed by the likes of Janis Ian, Marah, Martha Wainwright, Blind Boys of Alabama, Bettye LaVette, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Don't worry, I've never heard of most of these performers either.

Reno wraps things up with some juicier tracks like "What's Going On," "I am Woman" and "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," and concludes the disc with John Cougar Mellancamp's rendition of "This Land is Your Land." This predominantly country-folk compilation would seriously buzzkill any legitimate house party, but I wouldn't be surprised if this thing is booming from speakers at the RNC and the DNC in 2008.

Cute Knut Under Pressure to Shed Lbs.

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 4:07 PM EDT

fatty_knut.jpgHey, remember Knut? He was the high-profile, environmental poster-bear who made an appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo diCaprio during "Knut-mania," a time when Europeans flocked by the millions to see him in his Berlin zoo. He was so hot that a neighboring animal died and no one noticed.

The appeal of "Cute Knut" was in his miniature size; he was a cute little white fuzzball who romped around with his keeper. But, times are changing. The paparazzi attention has subsided and the chubby cub has been asked to slim down. It's all summed up in a Der Spiegel headline: "Fatty Knut Put on Strict Diet."

Knut's caretakers claim he weighs 132 lbs, but they're not sure because their scale only goes up to 110 lbs. Apparently, they're keeping a vigilant watch on him to ensure Knut doesn't steal scraps from the kitchen table while his meals are being prepared.

Critiques of his appearance, tales of bad behavior—Lindsay Lohan could have told him such is the life of a media darling.

Cute Knut Under Pressure to Shed Lbs.

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 4:06 PM EDT

fatty_knut.jpgHey, remember Knut? He was the high-profile, environmental poster-bear who made an appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo diCaprio during "Knut-mania," a time when Europeans flocked by the millions to see him in his Berlin zoo. He was so hot that a neighboring animal died and no one noticed.

The appeal of "Cute Knut" was in his miniature size; he was a cute little white fuzzball who romped around with his keeper. But, times are changing. The paparazzi attention has subsided and the chubby cub has been asked to slim down. It's all summed up in a Der Spiegel headline: "Fatty Knut Put on Strict Diet."

Knut's caretakers claim he weighs 132 lbs, but they're not sure because their scale only goes up to 110 lbs. Apparently, they're keeping a vigilant watch on him to ensure Knut doesn't steal scraps from the kitchen table while his meals are being prepared.

Critiques of his appearance, tales of bad behavior—Lindsay Lohan could have told him such is the life of a media darling.

Friday a Fine Day for Music News

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 2:29 PM EDT

mojo-photo-villagepeoplecop.jpg

  • 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 2:17 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 2:12 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 2:01 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 12:17 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.