Blogs

More Newspaper Woes

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 9:33 PM EST

USA Today, the largest U.S. newspaper by circulation and Gannett Co.'s flagship publication, announced this week its plan to cut 45 newsroom jobs, or about 9 percent of the editorial staff, because of declining revenue.

And, there's more bad news. The Denver-based MediaNews Group, which operates Detroit's two daily newspapers, announced last month that it would offer buyout packages to employees with a goal of cutting 110 positions. Houston Chronicle honchos announced at the end of October plans to cut about 5 percent of the paper's work force through layoffs and the elimination of open positions. Check here for a Mother Jones report that explains what's really breaking America's newspapers.

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The Brothers Krongard: Buzzy 'Blown Over,' Calls Cookie Out

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 5:18 PM EST

State Department IG Howard "Cookie" Krongard's testimony before Waxman's committee earlier this week is becoming the gift that keeps on giving. At the hearing, Krongard stood accused of many improprieties, among them that he'd interfered in a State Department investigation of Blackwater (one being run out of his own office), perhaps due to a conflict of interest: Krongard's brother Buzzy sits on Blackwater's board of advisors.

Shortly after being sworn in at Wednesday's hearing, Krongard flatly denied his brother's connections to Blackwater, even after Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) presented documentary evidence to the contrary—two letters from Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince to Buzzy, one inviting him to join the board and the other thanking him for doing so. During a break in the hearing, Krongard called Buzzy, who admitted that he indeed was a member of Blackwater's advisory board and had, in fact, just returned from his first board meeting. After returning to the witness table, Krongard admitted as much to Waxman's committee and recused himself from involvement in any further matters related to Blackwater.

End of story? Not quite. Later that day, TPMMuckraker's Spencer Ackerman called Buzzy Krongard at home. He said that he'd told his brother Cookie of his decision to join Blackwater's board in early October. So, did Krongard knowingly lie to the committee under oath? If so, who was he trying to protect? Hopefully not his brother Buzzy, who has been very quick to sell him out. Just reference this latest missive from Waxman:

On November 15, I sent a letter to Buzzy Krongard requesting an interview and documents relating to his communications with Howard Krongard about Blackwater. After receiving the letter, Buzzy Krongard called Committee staff and provided information that differed significantly from Howard Krongard's testimony.

Help Save Africa With a Subpar Madonna Cover Album

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 4:43 PM EST

The second I hit play on Through the Wilderness, a Madonna tribute CD, I was mad at it. It starts off sounding like an Allman Brothers album, and though I love the Allman Brothers, and the first track, a Jonathan Wilson rendition, has some pretty chord changes, La Isla Bonita was not meant to sound long-form jam-band style with tambourines. Tambourines! I have to admit, I was instantly ready for hating.

But soon came the Golden Animals' "Beautiful Stranger Blues," which is fun and ho-down appropriate—truly the band's own incarnation—and a lovelier-than-the-original "Live to Tell" (loveliness, after all, is hardly Madonna's strong point) by the Winter Flowers. "Hung Up" (the Tyde) and "Oh Father" (Giant Drag) are pretty good, and Alexandra Hope's acoustic "Lucky Star" is something you'd put on a lovey mixed CD, an improvement over the Material Girl's version.

Still. Though some of these interpretations are interesting or even really likeable, on the whole the collection lacks a quality and cohesiveness, which means I wouldn't want to listen all the way through it again. After all, people listen to Madonna because her pop is fun, not for her stunning lyrics or compositions, and that fun isn't overall adequately captured or re-created here. The album is a charitable endeavor—25 percent of profits go to raisingmalawi.org—but if you really want to support the cause, I'd suggest donating straight to the website.

The Gender Trap: Yes, or Yes?

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 3:35 PM EST

Warning: I watched parts of the Democratic debate last night at the gym. This is the fate of the resident of the Pacific Time zone.

Watching Hillary Clinton smile as she listened to the final question, for a minute, I almost thought I liked her. But then the closed captioning caught up and I saw that the question had been, "Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?" Clinton's response was, "I want both."

Now a wave of really hating her passed over me. It's not just the starving children in Africa who can't afford precious gems—which, in case I need to remind you, have absolutely no function other than to advertise that the wearer has the money to buy something with absolutely no function. No, middle-class Americans with kids in school and mortgages can't afford diamonds and pearls. The right answer would have been, "I'm much more worried about getting our soldiers home from Iraq."

But now a wave of compassion for Clinton washed over me (yes, as a matter of fact, I am ambivalent about her). Any answer other than one which could be translated roughly as "I love jewelry" would have insulted the questioner. So Clinton was set up, something like this: "Okay, lady, so you're a politician, but you're still just a girl, right?" And she had to say, "Yes, that's right, I'm just a girl—a middle-class girl who loves to be pampered."

Now to add insult to injury, the MC then guffawed about whether he could ask the question to any of the other candidates—who are, you know, obviously not girls.

Because gender is the most obvious thing there is, right? Wrong. There are tons of people walking around who aren't immediately readable as male or female. Say it is obvious, as in Clinton's case. The debate question made it seem that her love of jewelry—and being regaled with it by a man who pampers and cares for her—follows just as obviously. Huge leap, people! And extremely misogynist.

Well, it turns out that the questioner had actually wanted to ask something about plans for a nuclear dump site at Yucca Mountain. So it was male reporters who planted a female questioner to ask a question that forced Clinton to say with a smile that yes, she did throw like a girl, and diamond's are a girl's best friend!

Does this shed any light on McCain's bitch problem?

Party Ben's European Tour Update #1: Poland

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 9:32 AM EST

mojo-photo-pbpolskie.JPGGreetings from the land of Pierogi and pope-worship, as I'm ramping up the first leg of my amusing little European DJ tour here in Poland. It's my first time here, and my impressions are colored (perhaps unfairly) by the years I lived in Russia: the language, culture and even the look of the place is both oddly familiar and totally weird. Poland seems to have had a head start on capitalist enterprise, and the city is full of fancy restaurants, nice hotels and brightly-lit shops, but the Stalinist "Palac Kultury i Nauki" still towers over the city and rickety old tramways share the rails with fancy new models. But every time I forget I'm in the Eastern Bloc, someone will swear using an all-too-familiar elaborate Slavic-rooted verb construction, and I'll remember: this ain't Vegas.

Las Vegas Smackdown? Nah, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards Play to a Draw

| Fri Nov. 16, 2007 1:14 AM EST

Is that the best they got?

Anyone who watched Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate hoping to see Barack Obama or John Edwards tear Hillary Clinton apart had to be disappointed. In the run-up to the this face-off in Las Vegas, both Edwards and Obama had intensified their attacks on the woman leading in the polls. And with the most recent survey in Iowa showing the race in that all-important state tightening to almost a three-way tie, there was reason to assume that Edwards and Obama would continue the assault.

They did try, but at the end of the two-hour event it was hardly apparent that they had scored any new points. Why not? There were two main reasons. First, Clinton was well prepped for the slams. Second, the attackers had no new ammo to fire at her. Moreover, the audience at the debate was not eager to see Dem-on-Dem violence, and people in the crowd booed when a knife came out.

The first question addressed the meme of the evening. CNN's Campbell Brown asked Clinton to respond to the Obama/Edwards charge that she avoids taking stands on tough issues and practices the politics of parsing. She had her lines down. Joking that her pants suit was made of asbestos, she insisted she had been fighting for women, children, working families, and union members for 35 years and that in this critical election the Democrats must pick a candidate "who's been tested and who is ready to lead on day one." This has been her pitch from day one--and it's a jab at Obama, the freshman senator.

Next Wolf Blitzer gave Obama the chance to advance his offensive against Clinton. Noting that Obama a few nights ago had suggested that Clinton is "triangulating" and "running a textbook Washington campaign," he asked Obama what he meant by that. Obama essentially repeated what he had previously said: Clinton's botched answer in the previous debate to a question about awarding driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and her less-than-specific response to queries about Social Security show she cannot provide "straight answers to tough questions" and cannot respond to the American people's desire for a "different kind of politics" that challenges the "standard practices of Washington."

This was not a major blast. Clinton retorted by accusing Obama of not "stepping up" on universal health care because his health care proposal would not create mandates that force people to obtain insurance. The two then engaged in a rather wonkish back-and-forth on their health care plans. Actually, a calm and detailed discussion about the differences in their plans would have made for an interesting debate. But this exchange looked more personal than policy.

Then it was Edwards' turn. Blitzer asked Edwards to explain his charge that Clinton is a politician who parses. The former one-term senator suggested Clinton could not be trusted because she has said she will end the Iraq war but would still keep some troops there and because she recently voted (with 70-plus other senators) to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist outfit (which could help the Bush administration cook up a case for war). Edwards also maintained that Clinton is a defender of a "broken" and "rigged" Washington system.

She fired back, saying she didn't mind taking shots on the issues but she resented anyone throwing mud at her that is "right out of the Republican playbook." Not content to play defense, she went on the offense, pointing out that when Edwards ran for vice president in 2004 he did not advocate universal health care but does so in this campaign. So perhaps he's the flip-flopper.

In these opening skirmishes, no one gained ground. But that was good news for Hillaryites. She held her own, and neither Obama nor Edwards advanced their critique of her.

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Nixon on Tape: Reagan Was "Shallow" and of "Limited Mental Capacity"

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 11:02 PM EST

Richard Nixon, say what you will of this criminally minded president, was a keen observer of politics. But he seems to have underestimated fellow Republican Ronald Reagan (or the American public). On the morning of November 17, 1971, Nixon, while meeting with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office, shared a few sharp--and negative--comments about California Governor Ronald Reagan, who had recently told Kissinger that Nixon had a "real problem" with conservatives who believed Nixon was not sufficiently hawkish on foreign policy matters.

For years, the Presidential Recordings Program of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia has been transcribing and analyzing the tape recordings Nixon secretly made in the White House. Even though it's been 33 years since a disgraced Nixon left office, his tapes are still being processed by the National Archives, and the Miller Center has only recently gotten to the tape of this particular conversation. According to the newly created transcript of the meeting, both Nixon and Kissinger believed Reagan was not the brightest bulb in the GOP. Here are some key excerpts:

President Nixon: What's your evaluation of Reagan after meeting him several times now.

Kissinger: Well, I think he's a--actually I think he's a pretty decent guy.

President Nixon: Oh, decent, no question, but his brains

Kissinger: Well, his brains, are negligible. I--

President Nixon: He's really pretty shallow, Henry.

Kissinger: He's shallow. He's got no...he's an actor. He--When he gets a line he does it very well. He said, "Hell, people are remembered not for what they do, but for what they say. Can't you find a few good lines?" [Chuckles.] That's really an actor's approach to foreign policy--to substantive....

President Nixon: I've said a lot of good things, too, you know damn well.

Kissinger: Well, that too.

Later in the 24-minute-long discussion, the two discussed the possibility of Reagan running for president:

President Nixon: Can you think though, Henry, can you think, though, that Reagan with certain forces running in the direction could be sitting right here?

Kissinger: Inconceivable.

So much for Kissinger's powers of prognostication. As they were finishing up--after discussing other matters--Nixon slammed Reagan again:

President Nixon: Back to Reagan though. It shows you how a man of limited mental capacity simply doesn't know what the Christ is going on in the foreign area. He's got to know that on defense--doesn't he know these battles we fight and fight and fight? Goddamn it, Henry, we've been at--

Kissinger: And I told him--he said, "Why don't you fire the bureaucracy?" I said, "Because there are only so many battles we can fight. We take on the bureaucracy now, they're going to leak us to death. Name me one thing that we have done that the bureaucracy made us do."

President Nixon: The bureaucracy has had nothing to do with anything.

Kissinger: No, no. They've made our lives harder. They've driven us crazy. But that doesn't affect him.

Shallow, negligible brains, limited mental capacity? Well, Reagan did manage to get elected twice, and he served out his two terms--a feat Nixon did not accomplish. And Kissinger happily served on Reagan's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Kucinich Campaign Hoping to Rolling Out Energy-Efficient Computers Cooled by Veggie Oil. Seriously.

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 10:32 PM EST

veggi-computerforblog.jpg

Some say Dennis Kucinich is a little off-kilter (enter UFO joke here), and his most recent idea does seem pretty out there. But is it really? Turns out the campaign's multimedia director, Chad Ely, is also an inventor and is assisting the camp in rolling out veggie-oil-cooled computers to every office. The entire processing system is submerged in oil, which keeps it cool and decreases the energy used to run it. It's also economical and dead quiet (you know, because it doesn't have all those fans). The prototype pictured above, which has been going strong for eight months, lives in a fish tank, although Ely claims the computers going out to the offices will be surrounded by Plexiglass. I think it's pretty wild. Apparently, other "computer modifiers" are already hip to it. This according to our tech guy.

But that's not all. Kucinich signed an agreement yesterday with SmartPower in which he promises that if elected president, he will make the White House 100 percent energy efficient (enter veggie-oil-filled WH joke here). Mother Jones has more fun facts about the presidential campaigns' commitment—or lack there of—to decreasing their environmental impact. Stay tuned.

Correction: Ok, so technically the Kucinich campaign is not yet rolling out these veggie-oil-filled, wonderfully efficient and quiet computers. According to the campaign, it is still waiting on funding, but as commenter Croydon Kemp reminded us, it's more than most are doing for the planet.

Barry Bonds Going (Jail)Yard?

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 9:54 PM EST

In a federal indictment, just handed down, Barry Bonds has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice for denying that he knowingly took illegal steroids. Surprising? Not really. Revelatory? Perhaps not, but for the media mayhem that will inevitably unfold in the latest act of this beleaguered play.

You won't hear much new, or different. Bonds will be torn apart, his records questioned, his career asterixed. He faces up to 30 years if convicted. But lest you miss this on the ESPN or CNN crawl: in all of Barry's years in Major League Baseball, he's never tested positive for steroids. And even this indictment fails to directly charge him with taking the drugs; the evidence that links Bonds to illegal drugs is a doping calendar seized from the home of his former trainer (who was just released from prison today).

Plenty of ballplayers have tested positive recently, some of them playing the very same season. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman was suspended at the beginning of last season, and he made the Pro Bowl. And as the testing system has ramped up, dozens of minor and major league players have tested positive, and though they've all been fined and suspended, none have lost more than Bonds has.

It's easy to see why he's so vilified:

Ron Paul Refuses to Divest of Donations from Neo-Nazis

| Thu Nov. 15, 2007 9:24 PM EST

When I read this very well-documented story in the Lone Star Times about the $500 donation to Ron Paul from well-known white supremacist Don Black, I didn't really blame Paul for taking the money. After all, it's hard to screen out every kook in advance. I assumed Paul would immediately return the money (or donate it to a group like the Holocaust Museum), prevent a link on Black's Neo-Nazi website, Stormfront, from connecting to the campaign's donation page, and announce these moves on the official Ron Paul website. I assumed wrong.

Five days after the Lone Star Times story appeared, Paul spokesman Jesse Benton told the paper he was still unsure whether the campaign would return Black's money. "At this time, I cannot say that we will be rejecting Mr. Black's contribution," he said, "but I will bring the matter to the attention of our campaign director again, and expect some sort of decision to be made in coming days." Would the campaign at least block fundraising links from Stormfront's IP address? Again, Benton said, he'd have to bring up the idea with the campaign director.

Since then, more than two weeks have passed without an update from the Paul campaign, so I sent Benton and email today asking what the campaign manager had decided. Would Paul be returning Black's money and blocking further donations from Stormfront? A few minutes later he wrote back, and this is what he said:

(Continue reading after the jump)