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Pakistan's Sham Elections...Again

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 9:15 PM EDT

Once again, Pakistan is preparing for an election that is suspect, where General Musharraf will seek another five-year term.

The presidential "election," which will take place on October 6, 2007, will be far from fair and free: Pakistan's presidents are selected by an electoral college which is made up of the national and provincial assemblies. Yet the current parliament is a result of the rigged 2002 "elections." The current parliament's term is up come November, making the October date timely for Musharraf.

Musharraf's bid for re-election was approved on Friday by the Supreme Court, which threw out petitions contesting the constitutional legality of Musharraf seeking a re-election while keeping his military uniform on. Upon hearing the verdict, Pakistani lawyers in the courtroom angrily bellowed, "Shame, shame!" and "Go Musharraf, go!" Musharraf claims that if he "wins" (which he most certainly will), he'll take off his uniform before the presidential inauguration. Let's not bet on it.

Last weekend, prior to the verdict, Musharraf started locking up opposition members (which some say number in the thousands) in an effort to thwart protests that seized the day when Musharraf filed his nomination. These detentions prompted the normally reticent US Embassy in Islamabad to issue a press release stating:

The reports of arrests of the leadership of several major Pakistani political parties are extremely disturbing and confusing for the friends of Pakistan. We wish to express our serious concern about these developments. These detainees should be released as soon as possible.

Chief Justice Muhammad Iftikhar Chaudhry ordered the government to free hundreds of activists on Thursday. Then on Saturday lawyers, journalists, and activists observed a "black day" to protest Musharraf's bid. The Islamabad police cracked down on the protesters, injuring roughly 83 people. (The chief of police and two senior officials have since been suspended.)

But there are no worries for Musharraf and his allies. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz claims that this electoral process will put Pakistan on the path of democracy, and Pakistan's friend in need- the US- says that the Supreme Court's verdict was "based on the Constitution and existing laws of Pakistan. We do not want to make any sort of assessments." What was omitted was that the Constitution and "existing laws" of Pakistan have been tweaked by the General in order to allow him to hold both the army chief and presidential posts concurrently.

— Neha Inamdar

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Burma: The UN Might Just Be Useful

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 8:40 PM EDT

Burma is eerily quiet.

Thursday's protests were by far the most eventful yet— an estimated 70,000 people were on the streets demanding democracy. Soldiers fired tear gas and shots on crowds, the government says the death toll is ten; but some estimates put it as high as 200.

So what does the military do in an effort to contain further pro-democracy protests? It blocks the Internet. Since press freedom in Burma is fiercely curtailed, bloggers have played a critical role in showcasing the mayhem. The military government also launched raids on monasteries, beat and arrested at least 1,000 people, locked up tens of thousands of monks within the monasteries, and sealed off five "key" monasteries.

In spite of that, protests have continued- albeit their momentum slowed. Reports the Times, now that the monks have been locked up, the "demonstrations seemed to have lost their focus, and soldiers are quick to pounce on any groups that emerged onto the streets."

Demonstrations have cropped up across Asia, in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. ASEAN has issued a statement about their "revulsion" towards how "the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities." India, which has armed the Burmese military regime, has generally remained silent. The UN sent UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari, who arrived Saturday and is due to meet the Burmese senior general on Tuesday. Dana Perino says that "The United States is pleased that U.N. Special Envoy Gambari was able to see Aung San Suu Kyi. Mr. Gambari remains in Burma in order to see the top junta leader, Than Shwe."

At least the UN has some use for the U.S.

— Neha Inamdar

The Fake Web Site As Promotional Tool

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

Buy n Large

In this day and age, with cynical tweens skimming past ads on their Tivos, it's tougher than ever to come up with advertising that actually reaches the target consumer. Not surprisingly, movies and TV shows are at the forefront of a kind of viral internet promotion that's almost an extension of the creative work itself: the fake Web site for a fictional organization. ABC's "Lost" was one of the first to try this out, creating a site for The Hanso Foundation as part of the show's mythology; the site's calming turquoise palette and new age-y music struck a perfectly creepy tone.

Now, two upcoming films have created fake company sites, with varying degrees of creative success: first of all, the highly-anticipated "Cloverfield" project (from "Lost" producer J. J. Abrams) which may or may not be a new Godzilla movie, has spawned a website for the Tagruato Corporation, a deep-sea drilling concern whose subsidiaries include, bafflingly, the Slusho! drink company, or as they put it, "Slusho! brand happy drink is a icy cool beverage… [that] contains a "special ingredient" that customers can't get enough of." Hmm, what could this have to do with Godzilla? Even though the movie's hand-held trailer (watch it below) was pretty awesome, I'm not obsessed enough with this to really understand what's going on here.

Trailer for "Cloverfield" ("1-18-08")

A little more entertaining for the casual fan is Pixar's fake site for its upcoming robot movie, "WALL-E". The film is set some time in the future, and a single corporation apparently builds and owns just about everything. The company is called, awesomely, "Buy n Large," and its Web site is hours of fun. From the perfectly-calibrated corporate-speak ("…by visiting the Buy n Large web site you instantaneously relinquish all claims against the Buy n Large corporation…") to the "World News" stories about floating cities and ads for the mood-altering drug "Xanadou" ("effortlessly feel like you've just purchased that once-in-a-lifetime item!"), the site is both a stand-alone parody of corporate America and an intriguing teaser for the movie. There's a couple places you might want to call David Foster Wallace ("Buy n Large to brand direction 'North'") but the story on "Pix-Vue" Animation Studio's new "4-D" film is priceless. And I totally need that laundry robot and the 1,000,000-zettabyte hard drive, like, right now. Considering the movie looks like another cutesy romp with big-eyed creatures on some sort of quest, this site might be the best part of the whole deal.

The First Radio One DJ: Yeah, Baby, Yeah

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 6:14 PM EDT

Tony Blackburn

I know some of my recent posts have been a bit anglophilic, but anyone interested in the history of radio (or the swingin' 60s) will enjoy this. BBC Radio One is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, and while I've already mentioned my annoyance at their lily-white "legends" schedule, the shows themselves have been fascinating: Fatboy Slim's reminiscences included the story about getting sued by his heroes in The Clash when he pilfered the "Guns of Brixton" bassline for his first #1 hit, "Dub Be Good To Me" (under the name Beats International). Remember that one?

Good times. Anyway, today's Daily Mail features a personal history from Radio One's first morning show host, Tony Blackburn, detailing his experiences as a DJ whose celebrity eclipsed many of the stars whose records he was playing:

The opportunities to let this go to your head were manifold. There was an endless stream of record pluggers eager to wine and dine you, invitations galore, flattery from all sides - and a generous supply of women ready to throw themselves at you. Even at the height of my fame, though, I was well aware that my Mr Nice image - complete with catchy jingles and corny jokes - wasn't going down well with everyone. At the Radio One Roadshows, there would be a bit of ribbing from the more drunken elements of the crowd - and it was never very pleasant to hear the occasional chorus of "Tony Blackburn is a w*****" from a few blokes at the back.

I guess he means "wanker" there. Or, um, "wookie"? Anyway, Blackburn's commercial style was anathema to John Peel, Radio One's champion of the underground, and the two were enemies from the start:

Our strained relationship was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in the pop world. John was on the side of the long-haired, the drop-outs, the students - all those who regarded the three-minute pop single as a blot on the face of culture. I was the happy-go-lucky dispenser of the kind of song that an audience only had to hear once before rushing out to buy it. Fortunately, I've never given two hoots about street cred. If I'm being perfectly honest, I'd say that seeing Bobby Vee perform was far more enjoyable than watching The Beatles in their prime.

Bobby who? While Blackburn still seems to carry some resentment for not being as canonized as the late John Peel (and I have to admit I'd probably take Peely's side in the argument), on the whole he looks back at his wild times with a bemused "how did this happen to me" attitude. It's kind of like reading about a flesh-and-blood Austin Powers.


SNL Samples Aphex Twin Without Asking?

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 4:33 PM EDT

The Drukqs Don't Work
While I was out and about and missed "Saturday Night Live"'s season premier, there were a couple items of note; first, Kanye's odd musical appearance (more on that here), and second, the "Iran So Far" digital short. This is Andy Samberg's deal, once again proving that just as he continues to be nearly unwatchable as a live performer on the show, he knocks every one of these pre-recorded pieces out of the park. It's a fair trade-off. This "Iran" piece riffed on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent remark at Columbia that there are no gays in Iran, with Samberg professing his love for the Iranian president, and in a most definitely gay way. With cameos by Maroon 5's Adam Levine and Jake Gyllenhaal, the track could go on to be another internet hit like "Lazy Sunday," but NBC seems to be holding back. Copies of the clip have been removed from YouTube, but you can't watch it on NBC's site either; clicking on the video brings up an error. What could be the problem?

Well, it turns out Samberg might have gotten a little too sample-happy. It turns out that the delicate piano melody that forms the basis of the tune was taken directly from an Aphex Twin song, "Avril 14th," off the 2001 album drukqs, and it appears they didn't have clearance for it. Oops. You can just imagine the stern talking-to Lorne Michaels probably gave Samberg this morning. "Andy, I just got a very angry phone call from Warp Records, would you know anything about that?" "Sorrrryyy..." The Daily Swarm is reporting that an "SNL source" says they're working on getting all the right clearances, and hopefully then you'll be able to watch it without guilt on NBC's site. But until then, I found a link they haven't shut down yet. I have to say, I get a little verklempt hearing the cheers after the line, "I know you said there's no gays in Iran, but you're in New York now baby."

Citigroup Gets What It Deserves

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 3:27 PM EDT

Citigroup today announced that its third-quarter earnings dropped 60 percent, in large part because of more than a billion dollars worth of bad subprime loans in its portfolio. But no one, especially not Citigroup, should be surprised that its loan portfolio is a minefield of rotten debt.

For years, Citigroup has preyed on the mentally retarded, the elderly, and the illiterate, particularly in the South, to push predatory subprime loans on people most ill-equipped to pay for them. Reporter Mike Hudson, now at the Wall Street Journal, has been chronicling this story for a decade, and in 2003, Southern Exposure magazine won a George Polk award for his investigative package on Citigroup and its history of assembling some of the country's sleaziest subprime lending companies under one roof. Lots of people who got subprime loans from Citigroup and its subsidiaries ended up losing their homes long before the current foreclosure crisis.

Just five years ago, Citigroup agreed to pay $240 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission over its predatory lending practices, and it has settled a host of private lawsuits over similar charges. The lawsuits never seemed to put even a hitch in Citigroup's step, but it looks like all those bad loans are finally coming home to roost. Citigroup deserves to collapse under the weight of its scummy business practices, but it's unfortunate that the reckoning threatens to bring down the rest of the economy with it.

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Obama Releases Fundraising Numbers; Has Raised $75M in 2007

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

Here are the raw numbers for Obama's fundraising, snatched from a press advisory email his campaign just sent out:

Third quarter totals:
• Primary dollars raised: at least $19 million
• Overall dollars raised (with general election): at least $20 million
• Number of new donors: over 93,000

Total 2007:
• Primary dollars raised: at least $74.9 million
• Total number of donors: 352,000

It's that last one that I find most impressive. If Obama has managed to find 352,000 donors from January 1 to September 30, that's roughly 1,290 new donors every single day.

I'm interested to know what Obama's cash-on-hand is. He may have raised a whopping $75 million up to this point, but how much does he have left to spend? I've placed a call to the Obama press office to find out.

Update: No call back. From other news reports, it looks like they are keeping the cash-on-hand number under wraps.

Radiohead to Release New Album in Ten Days!

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:49 PM EDT

Radiohead - In Rainbows

Well now I feel bad, since I'd been complaining about how cryptic they were being. Radiohead have announced they will be releasing their new album, In Rainbows, in ten days. Rumors had been swirling about the band's upcoming material in recent days, with coded messages on their official site leading some to look for a March, 2008 release of a new album. Radiohead left EMI in 2005, so their next move had been the topic of great speculation. Thus this announcement has come as a major shock, with Pitchfork headlining their article, "NEW RADIOHEAD ALBUM AAAAAAAHHH!!!"

The unexpectedness of the announcement may be the least unusual thing about the release, which is breaking with many record industry conventions. First of all, the album will be available for the first two months after its release only as a digital download from the band's website; second, and most interestingly, fans will be able to "name their own price" for the purchase. A disclaimer on the checkout screen reads, "It's up to you." Agh! Pressure!

The band will also sell In Rainbows on traditional CDs and double vinyl, just not immediately; the CDs will begin shipping in early December. Billboard has a tracklisting.

[update] For an interesting take on In Rainbows UK Telegraph blogger Shane Richmond has a piece called "How Radiohead Killed the Record Labels." His point is mostly that while Radiohead isn't doing anything that new here, it's still a big deal because, well, Radiohead is a big deal:

None of the things Radiohead are doing with this is unique. All of them have been developed and used by other artists for quite some time. But this is Radiohead. When one of the world's biggest bands does something like this, it will get noticed and it will start people thinking. ...Record labels survived for years on the value they added to the process. They made it possible for bands to make records and get them into the stores and then used their marketing weight to get those records played on the radio and featured in magazines. In the process they made enormous profits by overcharging fans and underpaying artists. ...[But] they no longer add any value to the process. In fact, they act as a barrier between fans and musicians. It's time to move them out of the way and Radiohead have just showed us how.

Well! All praise be to Radiohead! The album's popularity is assured, but the question remains on how all this will work out; the website has already crashed once due to overwhelming traffic. Any problems with delivering the mp3s (or the actual CDs) could be looked at as a warning for any band trying to imitate Radiohead's move. We'll see in ten days...

[update #2] As news emerges that no advance copies of In Rainbows will be sent to the press, British music weekly NME has taken it upon themselves to match up the album's tracklisting with YouTubed live footage of the band, and they've found clips of almost every one of the songs. Whether they're completely accurate, it's hard to be sure, but if you can't wait ten days for your Radiohead experience, check the videos out here.

More Blackwater Revelations

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:35 PM EDT

This from the office of the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Henry Waxman: "Previously undisclosed information reveals (1) Blackwater has engaged in 195 'escalation of force' incidents since 2005, an average of 1.4 per week, including over 160 incidents in which Blackwater forces fired first; (2) after a drunken Blackwater contractor shot the guard of the Iraqi Vice President, the State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq and advised Blackwater on the size of the payment needed 'to help them resolve this'; and (3) Blackwater, which has received over $1 billion in federal contracts since 2001, is charging the federal government over $1,200 per day for each 'protective security specialist' employed by the company." Memo available here.

Christian Right Considering Supporting 3rd Party if Giuliani Gets GOP Nod

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:08 PM EDT

It's been well-documented that James Dobson hates most of the Republican field, but he realllly hates Rudy Giuliani. According to Salon's Michael Scherer:

A powerful group of conservative Christian leaders decided Saturday at a private meeting in Salt Lake City to consider supporting a third-party candidate for president if a pro-choice nominee like Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.
The meeting of about 50 leaders, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who called in by phone, took place at the Grand America Hotel during a gathering of the Council for National Policy, a powerful shadow group of mostly religious conservatives...
"The conclusion was that if there is a pro-abortion nominee they will consider working with a third party," said the person, who spoke to Salon on the condition of anonymity. The private meeting was not a part of the official CNP schedule, which is itself a closely held secret. "Dobson came in just for this meeting," the person said.

I wonder if this is just another form of pressure — that is to say, perhaps the Christian right is letting it be known in the press that they will consider supporting a third party if Giuliani wins the nomination as a way of pressuring Giuliani into moving his views on gays and abortion closer to theirs.

If you think that theory presumes too much organization and discipline on the part of the evangelical community, you obviously haven't read our cover package on the Christian right.