2007 - %3, August

Princeton Prof Raps, 'Edutainment to the Fullest'

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 2:16 PM EDT

Outspoken Princeton professor, decorated scholar, and bestselling author Cornel West recently released a political hip-hop album that features songs about topics like September 11th, racial profiling, the "N" word, and the Bush administration. It's no wonder that Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations has been slugged "Edutainment to the fullest."

With a spoken word delivery backed by hip-hop beats, West reminds me of Gil Scott-Heron, a political spoken word artist from the 60s and 70s. Similar to Scott-Heron and also the 70s spoken word group the Last Poets, West's CD skewers our nation's political and ethical choices through music. But with guests like Prince, Andre 3000, Black Thought, Talib Kweli, and KRS-One, this album has a more current sound.

In an NPR interview about the CD, West explained that "A paradigm shift is taking place in hip hop. It's going back to the best of the tradition, by connecting with young folk…In the end it's about dignity and respect." And I think 2007 is ripe for it.

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Toyota Is King

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:15 AM EDT

Recently a Michigan friend wrote me of her concerns about Detroit's flagging auto industry and its impact on her family and friends:

Jobs are few and far between, and those that have jobs constantly worry about keeping them. Every time there is a layoff at GM, Ford, or Chrysler, it's another set back for the city. People panic. Our state has been rooted in manufacturing and automobiles for so long that it's hard to imagine losing that identity. Somehow, U.S. automakers are losing ground to foreign car companies. Toyota is just about ready to take over as the number one auto manufacturer, which would put GM in the number two spot. How does this happen?

Well, this morning's Washington Post brings news that foreign manufacturers have officially surpassed Detroit. They grabbed more than 50 percent of the U.S. market share for the month of July—the first time foreign companies have done so. GM's sales dropped 22.4 percent compared with a year ago. It remains the country's biggest automaker (in terms of the number of cars sold), but is feeling increased heat from Toyota, which now occupies the number two spot, ahead of Ford and Chrysler.

So, how does this happen? According to U.S. automakers and industry analysts quoted in the article, the housing market is to blame; falling home values have caused many people to hold off on making large purchases. Analysts also blame decisions at GM and Ford to scale back their sales to rental car companies, a practice that yields little profit, but which has traditionally padded Detroit's sale numbers.

Receding market share for U.S. companies may turn out to be a boon to consumers. As automakers seek to make up the difference in sales, a price war is looming. GM has threatened that it will begin aggressively discounting its pick-up trucks. As the company's chief market strategist told the Post, "If you have everybody throwing hand grenades at you, you have to respond."

Of course, automakers will almost certainly be forced to cut costs, compounding the pain of American workers. According to the Post:

If the market doesn't pick up, the sales slowdown will continue to complicate the financial outlook for carmakers. The three Detroit auto companies are waging cost-cutting campaigns. They've closed plants, cut jobs and sold off some of their best assets.
"There is no question there has been a tremendous change in the market over a long number of years," said Dana Johnson, chief economist of Comerica bank. "What the numbers tell you is that consumers have more, and more learned to prefer foreign cars."
Japanese automakers have been much healthier. They enjoy lower U.S. labor costs, positive foreign exchange rates and more popular product lines.
Toyota's Lexus brand sold 27,141 in July -- nearly double the sales of Ford's entire European luxury line from Volvo, Jaguar and Land Rover.
Shoppers also are gravitating toward small, fuel-efficient models, market segments where Japanese rivals lead.

Hello From YearlyKos!

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:00 AM EDT

I'm at the YearlyKos convention in Chicago, a literal wonderland for political junkies of the left-leaning, internet-savvy type. The next three days will be packed with seminars called things like, "Outfoxing Fox," "Mock Iowa Caucus," "Creating a Culture of Grassroots Giving," "The Art of the Killer Campaign Ad," and on and on. Liberal bloggers and internet gurus (and those seeking to court both groups) will be all over the McCormick Center on the shores of Lake Michigan.

I'll have all the facts and all the color. According to a convention organizer, the convention is "sold out" at 1,500 attendees, with 250 credential press members from 200 outlets. But only one, I can assure you, forgot his pen on the first morning — that's the kind of quality work you can expect here on MoJoBlog.

We're off to slow start, though. The first event I'm attending, "Holding Congress Accountable for a Progressive Agenda," is in a massive room with over 300 seats. Just under 50 people are here. But such luminaries as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, and Nancy Pelosi are scheduled to make appearances later, so things should pick up. The weather is here, wish you were beautiful!

A Catastrophe of Historic Proportions

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 11:29 PM EDT

This evening's collapse of the eight-lane Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis remains unexplained, but it's clear from the pictures that the damage is horrendous.

The major artery between Minneapolis and St. Paul, crossing 1,000 feet of the Mississippi River, came down in three sections, dropping 60 feet into the water, part of it onto a freight train passing along the banks. It was during rush hour, around 6pm, though reports have the number of cars that fell into the water at only 50. Thus far the death toll is at 7, with 38 injured.

The bridge was being repaired at the time of the collapse, but what exactly caused 1,000 feet of steel and concrete to calve in three is unclear. A civil engineering study at the University of Minnesota in 2001 found that the bridge's steel girders were "susceptible to fatigue cracking." Still, more recent studies found that the bridge did not need replacing.

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty called the collapse a "catastrophe of historic proportions" and Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak said that he was concerned that it could "be a very tragic night when this is over."

Kanye West Collaborating with Takashi Murakami

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 9:26 PM EDT

mojo-photo-murakami.JPG First we hear Kanye is off to Sweden to perform with Peter Bjorn & John; now we get news that the hip-hop superstar is working with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami on the visual aspects of his upcoming album Graduation, out September 11th. Murakami has already designed two covers for the first two singles from Graduation, "Stronger" and "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" (see below). West met the "Japanese Warhol" on a recent trip to Japan, where he visited Murakami's Kaikai Kiki studios; photos from the visit are here on the Kaikai Kiki website (including a possibly NSFW glimpse of Hiropon, the girly anime sculpture). Apparently Murakami has also created an animated video to one of the tracks from the album. Artnet points out the rapper and the artist have something in common: a fascination with Louis Vuitton.

Cover artwork after the jump.

Ohio's 2004 Presidential Election Records Mysteriously Disappear Again

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 8:19 PM EDT

Exactly two years ago, Mark Crispin Miller, writing for Harper's, presented a highly detailed and shocking report of the presidential election shenanigans that took place in Ohio in 2004. There is no way anyone can read this collection of facts and still believe that the election in Ohio was honest. Everything from violation of Ohio's own election laws to destruction of ballots to intimidation of voters is clearly documented.

The news media, however, paid little attention to Miller's report, and the Democratic Party paid even less attention to it. Almost a year later, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a similar story for Rolling Stone, and for some reason, liberals paid more attention to that piece, in most cases, behaving as though the Miller story had never seen the light of day. But in no time at all, even the Kennedy story faded away.

Earlier this week, Steven Rosenfeld, writing for AlterNet, reports:

Two-thirds of Ohio counties have destroyed or lost their 2004 presidential ballots and related election records, according to letters from county election officials to the Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner.

The lost records violate Ohio law, which states federal election records must be kept for 22 months after Election Day, and a U.S. District Court order issued last September that the 2004 ballots be preserved while the court hears a civil rights lawsuit alleging voter suppression of African-American voters in Columbus.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was sued in 2006 by a community organization in Columbus for allegedly conspiring to prevent African Americans from voting in the 2004 election. The current secretary of state is Jennifer Brunner, the woman who discovered the missing records in the spring.

Though it is unlikely that anyone will be able to prove that the records were intentionally destroyed, there has been a clear pattern of obstruction, evasion and lawlessness in the Ohio election Republican community. Possibly the worst part of this story, however, is that hardly anyone will even learn about the destroyed records, and even fewer will care.

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Ozomatli: Diplomacy You Can Dance To

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 7:46 PM EDT

Ozomatli, the Los Angeles-based Latin-rock-funk band, is touring the world on the government's dime.

U.S. officials, who I'm sure are eager to present an image of an America different from the footage of soldiers fighting insurgents in Iraq, recently sent the Grammy-winning band to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia on a U.S. State Department grant. Their trip included visits to orphanages, schools, and community centers. They also hosted master classes and music workshops.

A government-sponsored trip of diplomacy really does suit this funk band, which was founded 12 years ago—at a labor workers' protest—to promote issues of social justice and community involvement.

Ozomatli: Diplomacy You Can Dance To

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 7:33 PM EDT

Ozomatli, the Los Angeles-based Latin-rock-funk band, is touring the world on the government's dime.

U.S. officials, who I'm sure are eager to present an image of an America different from the footage of soldiers fighting insurgents in Iraq, recently sent the Grammy-winning band to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia on a U.S. State Department grant. Their trip included visits to orphanages, schools, and community centers. They also hosted master classes and music workshops.

A government-sponsored trip of diplomacy really does suit this funk band, which was founded 12 years ago—at a labor workers' protest—to promote issues of social justice and community involvement.

Piracy Prevention Reaching New Heights

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 4:47 PM EDT

Illegal piracy has been around for quite some time, but alarm over the issue has increased dramatically with the rise in downloading and sharing capabilities. Students and young people are often targeted as the most likely culprits. It appears, though, that stern letters and a shaken finger from a parent or official aren't taking care of the situation, and some are taking the matter into their own hands.

One solution attempted by the film industry is that Los Angeles boy scouts are now able to earn a copyright patch by watching public service announcements about copyright violations, touring movie studios to find out how piracy can harm people, and identifying types of copyrighted works and ways they can be stolen.

And the government has their own scheme. Universities will soon have to submit annual reports to the U.S. Education Department on illegal downloading. Punishment for the worst offenders? Decreased government funding.

What ever happened to the days of a good old-fashioned fine?

—Anna Weggel

M.I.A. Track Review Correction: Hooray for Bollywood

| Wed Aug. 1, 2007 2:53 PM EDT

mojo-photo-discodancer.jpgIn my recent rundown of the new M.I.A. album Kala, I said track four, "Jimmy," sounded like Boney M; turns out I was both way off and weirdly close. The track is in fact a spot-on cover of "Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja," by Parvati Khan and Mithun Chakravarty, off the soundtrack to the 1982 Bollywood musical "Disco Dancer." Actually, it pretty much sounds like M.I.A. just sampled the whole song and sang over it. The reason it was confusing to me is probably because both this and Boney M were huge in Russia—er, the Soviet Union—back in the '80s and '90s. By the way, how weird is Russia's obsession with super-gay disco? Army of Lovers, anyone? That song was inescapable back in 1990 when I was studying over there, and it's basically like full-on trannies covering "Haveinu Shalom Alleihem." Seriously. Anyway, like most Bollywood stuff, "Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja" is super super duper awesome, and you can buy it on iTunes, watch the video below, or grab an mp3 at Gorilla vs. Bear who tipped me off on all this.

"Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja" from "Disco Dancer"