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Music: LA Weekly Reveals Who Should Headline Coachella

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 6:54 PM EDT

mojo-photo-yelle.jpgWow, 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?

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McCain Strategist Vouched For "Convicted Felon, Disbarred Lawyer, And Failed Brothel Owner"

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 3:53 PM EDT

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John McCain, a longtime crusader against the corrupting influence of lobbyists in American politics, certainly has not shunned their help when it comes to his run for the presidency. The deeper into the campaign season we get, the more we seem to be learning about his not insignificant connections to the very influence peddlers he's so often railed against. Today, we get another piece of the puzzle, thanks to Sam Stein at the Huffington Post, who reports that Charlie Black, one of McCain's chief political strategists and himself a longtime Washington lobbyist, is the author of a pair of letters to federal officials in defense of Wayne Drizin, "a convicted felon, disbarred lawyer, and failed brothel owner with long business connections to the controversial Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi."

According to Stein:

The letters, obtained by The Huffington Post, were sent to a U.S. district court judge and the U.S. Justice Department's inspector general's office. They are scrupulously detailed and, at times, personal notes, praising Drizin and alleging that a conspiracy of zealous federal investigators was to blame for his legal woes.

Can Conservatives Trigger Obamaphobia by Tying Him to Rap?

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 2:55 PM EDT

mojo-photo-william2.jpg The generically-named conservative site HumanEvents.com (not to be confused with RobotEvents.com) has posted a pretty hilarious article which lists Barack Obama's supporters in the hip-hop world, and then quotes some profanity-featuring lines from their songs. They claim his "rapper" ties are even worse than the Jeremiah Wright scandal:

Although the media has finally exposed Barack Obama's ties to the unhinged pastor his support from rappers who propagate equally pernicious nonsense has gone almost entirely unnoticed. Rappers are gaga over Obama. The superstar Jay-Z, who raps about "b------," "hoes" and "n-----," even urged voters to support Obama in a robo-call for the March 4 Ohio primary and caucus. The equally foul-mouthed rapper Will.I.am, whose hit songs include "I love my B----," has hyped Obama in two widely-viewed videos posted on YouTube.

Okay, seriously, trying to portray Will.I.am as a dangerous, profanity-spewing thug is like calling Carrie Underwood a communist. There's also this most excellent line: "His complicity with rappers dates back to at least 2006." Well, that's basically when hip-hop started, right?

GAO: U.S. Lacks Coherent Strategy in Pakistan's Tribal Areas

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 2:12 PM EDT

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The GAO has released a new report (.pdf) that takes federal agencies to task for not coordinating their counter-terrorism efforts in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA)—the mountainous, fiercely independent border region where Osama Bin Laden is believed to be hiding and where Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents have begun to rebuild their operational strength. The report, titled "Combating Terrorism: The United States Lacks Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas," is the first in a series that the GAO plans to release in the coming months, documenting American missteps in the region and suggesting fixes that might jump start a more focused strategy.

An excerpt from today's release:

The United States has not met its national security goals to destroy terrorist threats and close the safe haven in Pakistan's FATA. Since 2002, the United States relied principally on the Pakistan military to address U.S. national security goals. Of the approximately $5.8 billion the United States provided for efforts in the FATA and border region from 2002 through 2007, about 96 percent reimbursed Pakistan for military operations there. According to the Department of State, Pakistan deployed 120,000 military and paramilitary forces in the FATA and helped kill and capture hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives; these efforts cost the lives of approximately 1,400 members of Pakistan's security forces. However, GAO found broad agreement, as documented in the National Intelligence Estimate, State, and embassy documents, as well as Defense officials in Pakistan, that al Qaeda had regenerated its ability to attack the United States and has succeeded in establishing a safe haven in Pakistan's FATA.

Clinton Bashes Obama's Weathermen Connection, But What About Her Own?

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 12:25 PM EDT

"I wish you could conduct a campaign on policy and policy differentiation," Howard Wolfson, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign communications director, said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday morning. He added that Clinton "would like nothing more."

This was moments after Wolfson and Phil Singer, another top Clinton aide, had hammered Barack Obama for having held a fundraiser during his first state senate campaign in Illinois at the home of William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois and a former aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who was a member of the radical Weather Underground Organization, which was responsible for several bombings in the early 1970s. Ayers was never arrested for his activities. But in 2001, he did say, "I don't regret setting bombs." The issue had come up during the previous night's debate. Responding to a question about Ayers, Obama had said, "the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense." Wolfson, this morning after, insisted that Obama had "to be more forthcoming about that issue" and state clearly whether it had been "appropriate" to attend a fundraiser at Ayers' home.

When it came time for questions for Wolfson, I asked an obvious one: Did Hillary Clinton believe that it had been appropriate in 2001 for President Bill Clinton to have pardoned two members of the Weather Underground as he left office? The two recipients of Clinton's munificence were Linda Evans, who was sentenced to five years in prison for her participation in a string of 1980s bombings, and Susan Rosenberg, who was charged with participating in a bank robbery that left one guard and two police officers dead. And, I continued, has Senator Clinton ever criticized this decision? Has she ever said anything publicly about it? Rosenberg, I noted, had been apprehended with 740 pounds of explosives in her possession.

Even The Pope Can't Shame Court on Death Penalty

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 11:41 AM EDT

pope.jpgThe pope came to town yesterday to speak to the nation's Catholic faithful, including some 9,000 people on the White House lawn in a crowd that included the president and 146 Catholic members of Congress. Conspicuously missing were the very prominent Catholic Supreme Court justices, who were too busy at the courthouse paving the way for states to kill a few more prison inmates, in a decision that won't be washed away by a lifetime of Hail Marys.

Today's Supreme Court not only has a conservative majority, but a Catholic one. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Kennedy and Roberts are all relatively devout Catholics, yet while the pope was exhorting Americans to be nicer to people, every last one of them voted to continue lethal injection, regardless of how painful it might be or how much their church opposes it. These are the very same guys who we are chomping at the bit to overturn Roe v. Wade.

No word on whether the justices will meet later with the Pontiff, but we can only hope that His Excellence might remind the brethren of how little tolerance he has for "cafeteria Catholics." After all, if they're going to let faith guide their decisions, they should at least be consistent about it. The rest of American Catholics seem to be figuring that out. According to the latest polls, nearly half of all American Catholics now oppose the death penalty, up from only 20 percent in 1994. In fact, this year, U.S. bishops used Holy Week to kick off the American bishops' latest campaign to end the death penalty. Perhaps when the justices do see the Pope, it ought to be for confession.

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The Smallness of Our Politics on Display at the ABC Debate

| Thu Apr. 17, 2008 1:00 AM EDT

clinton-obama-philly-debate.jpg The Reverend Wright controversy, the flag pin controversy, and the William Ayers controversy were all dying or dead. Now, they're back in the headlines.

In lieu of questions on education, the environment, trade, health care, or almost any other serious issue, the moderators of Wednesday's Democratic presidential primary debate on ABC chose to reinvigorate what Barack Obama called "manufactured" issues.

"Manufactured" issues are ones the media and the blogosphere believe should be a big deal, and treat as such, even if there is little evidence that voters really care about them. They are less frequently about a controversial position on a serious topic, since no mainstream presidential candidate ever dares to take one of those, than they are guilt-by-association situations that say little or nothing about the candidate him or herself.

William Ayers is a perfect example of this. Ayers was part of a domestic terror group from the '60s and '70s called the Weather Underground or the Weathermen. Obama knows Ayers and his wife, also a member of the Weather Underground, because they ran in the same Chicago political circles in the 1990s. Ayers hosted the event in which Obama was unveiled as a state senate candidate, and gave money to Obama's state senate reelection campaign in 2001. The men are not friends, though they have been described in the past as friendly. Ayers, now a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, declines to disavow his past, leaving Obama open to headlines like "Obama worked with terrorist."

How Fishing Screws With Ecosystems

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 10:06 PM EDT

800px-Pieni_2_0139.jpg Fishing provokes volatile fluctuations in the targeted populations, though no one really knows why or how. Until now. Researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography have found that current methods of fishing decapitate the "age pyramid:" lopping off the few large, older fish who make up the top of the pyramid and leaving a broad base of faster growing small fish. This rapidly growing base is unstable, a finding with profound implications for fisheries management. The reason being that even though fishing typically extracts the larger members, fishing regulations often impose minimum size limits to protect the younger fishes.

For example: Imagine a container of water with one 500-pound fish. With food, it grows a little bigger. Without food it gets a bit smaller. Imagine the same container with 500 one-pound fish. They eat, reproduce and the resulting thousands of fish boom, quickly outstripping the resources and the population crashes. These many smaller fish—with the same initial biomass as the larger fish—can't average out the environmental fluctuations, and in fact amplify them through higher turnover rates that promote boom and bust cycles.

"The type of regulation which we see in many sport fisheries is exactly wrong," said George Sugihara of Scripps. "It's not the young ones that should be thrown back, but the larger, older fish that should be spared. Not only do the older fish provide stability and capacitance to the population, they provide more and better quality offspring." These more valuable (to the ecosystem) older fish are what some researchers have called the BOFFFs: the big old fat female fish.

Italy's CIA Rendition Trial Back On -- For Now

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 9:38 PM EDT

What timing. In the same week that Italy elected the flamboyant Silvio Berlusconi to serve as its prime minister again, so too comes the news that the long-delayed trial of those officials accused of being involved in the CIA's 2003 extraordinary rendition of Egyptian cleric Abu Omar from Milan to Egypt is back on. Armando Spataro is the Milan prosecutor pursuing the case, which has faced multiple obstacles getting to the courtroom, and staying there. Among the hitches faced, charges that the case threatened state secrecy, the geopolitical complications of the fact the US refuses to turn over for trial the almost two dozen CIA officials named by prosecutors as having carried out the botched and highly troubling rendition, and the fact that among those Spataro contends had knowledge of the CIA snatch were top official in the Italian military intelligence service, Sismi.

Tonight, Spataro emails reporters following the case that the prosecution is celebrating a rare moment of victory (I tweaked the English a bit):

A Very Serious, Very Thoughtful Debate Live Blog

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 7:05 PM EDT

We've decided to try to hold off on the snark for this, the 1052nd Democratic presidential debate. Instead, we'll deliver a debate live blog of the kind that has never been written with such detail or such care. Joining me in the Mother Jones debate coverage center (read: my living room) is Mr. G, a proud member of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

The main topic of campaign discussion for the past week has been the "bitter" controversy, which I wrote about earlier this week. Everyone's hoping the moderators steer away from the "bitter" stuff (and Hillary's alleged screw the Reagan Democrats comment), but that doesn't seem likely. George Stephanopoulos told Sean Hannity that "electability" issues like the "elitism" controversy and the Jeremiah Wright situation will be a prime focus of the debate. If Stephanopoulos keeps his word, Mr. G (a diehard Yankees fan) and I (a proud member of Red Sox nation) will be itching to switch to ESPN2 (You want to see bitter, watch a Sox-Yankees game with a divided crowd).

8:05: Both candidates spent their fairly uninspiring boilerplate opening statements talking about issues—health care, the economy, government responsiveness. It will be interesting to see how much time the moderators choose to spend asking them about those issues.

8:07: Gibson asks the "dream ticket" question: "Will you take the losing candidate as your vice president?". It's pretty disappointing that ABC led with such a totally unoriginal question that neither candidate is likely to answer in full. But Clinton's answer was very gracious and hit all the right notes.

8:11: Here's the "bitter" question. Let's see how Obama responds.

8:16: Clinton articulated her criticism of the "bitter" controversy very well. Obama seemed a little uncertain.

8:18: Clinton and Obama both say that the other can win.

8:20: Obama's second try at responding to the "bitter" stuff is brilliant. He's attacking the politics of soundbites. This is the clip that will be played all day tomorrow. "This is what passes for our politics."

8:22: Jeremiah Wright. We still haven't heard about issues. Clinton's playing really rough here. But Obama's response to Stephanopoulos' follow-up: "If it's not this, it would be something else," was very clever.