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Bangladeshis Take To Boats

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:08 PM EDT

While we weren't looking, the future got here. A story in today's Washington Post describes Bangladesh's brave new future as a Waterworld. In response to extreme flooding and sea level rise (yup, climate change, melting glaciers, monsoonal changes), schools and libraries are being relocated to boats, with plans to float villages, gardens and hospitals as well.

"For Bangladesh, boats are the future," said Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan, an architect who started the boats project here and who now oversees it as executive director of the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a name that means self-reliance. "As Bangladeshi citizens, it's our responsibility to find solutions because the potential for human disaster is so huge. We have to be bold. Everyone loves land. But the question is: Will there be enough? Millions of people will have nowhere to go."

Do I smell the next tourist wave? Floating travels through quaint Third World Venices? Well, let's hope the Bangladeshis can capitalize on our noxious emissions—something that'll be a little harder for those flooded out of more northerly climes. Check out the photo essay in the current MoJo, Sea Change (first subscribe, swabbies), on sea level rise in Alaskan native villages. JULIA WHITTY

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Burma: Saffron Flames Rage Against the Machine

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:08 PM EDT

Burma (or "Myanmar," as the military junta christened it) is in the throes of what some are calling the "Saffron Revolution." For the past two days, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks, nuns, students, activists, and civilians have been staging the largest demonstrations since the 1988 uprising, when thousands of unarmed, pro-democracy demonstrators were killed by the security forces.

Initially, fuel price hikes sparked the protests but they seem to now reflect decades of pent up anti-government sentiments and demands for democratic reform have been ringing through Rangoon for the past two days. On Tuesday, the military enacted a day long curfew prohibiting public gatherings of more than five people. Soldiers used tear gas, batons, and automatic weapons to disperse protesters and so far, nine people have died.

Anger about the military's treatment of monks has ignited even more protests. Soldiers launched several raids on Buddhist monasteries. At least 300 monks and other demonstrators have been hauled away in military vehicles.

China, Burma's principal trading partner, notified everyone that it would halt any UN sanctions, which isn't surprising. The US, for its part, tightened sanctions against Burma and has issued a joint statement with the European Union, stating that they are "deeply troubled" that the "security forces have fired on and attacked peaceful demonstrators and arrested many Buddhist monks and others." They "condemn all violence against peaceful demonstrators and remind the country's leaders of their personal responsibility for their actions." The statement then urges China, India, ASEAN, and surrounding countries "to use their influence in support of the people of Burma/Myanmar."

Too bad the US' foreign policies in Asia are not consistent. Some military regimes get scolded while others, namely Pakistan's, receive full US approval, weapons, and a blank check.

— Neha Inamdar

Rappers Find Common Ground With Lawmakers: Exploiting Homophobia is Fun!

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 4:13 PM EDT

David Banner in Congress

While the hip-hop community is understandably perturbed about the recent Congressional hearings on offensive lyrics, a few rappers are desperately trying to point the finger at an even greater moral outrage: the gays. Idolator points out that it's not only the admittedly loopy Ja Rule who's making these comments; mega-star Chamillionaire gave a rambling statement to BET's blog in which he compares bad words in hip-hop to, um, other "messed up" things:

 

The B word, the N word, the F word, it's all a moral thing inside of each person. If you look at TV, everything is messed up about TV. Gay people kissing each other on shows. The us is in general. Movies, they'll have guns everywhere, nobody pays attention to that.

 

Wait, gays kiss each other on shows? I thought there wasn't enough gay people on shows to even do that any more? Or maybe he means Broadway shows.

Ja Rule just gave an interview to Spinner where he tried to step back from his comments a little bit, but thankfully just today David Banner (above left) has taken the homophobia (and sexism) baton and run with it in an interview with Billboard:

 

Banner has butted heads with those trying to ban words like "bitch" and "hoe" from rap lyrics, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Master P. "Aren't there bitches out there?," he says. "Don't they exist? Those types of women exist, and if they didn't it'd be different. When someone yells in a room full of women the word 'dyke,' my mother isn't insulted because she isn't one." ... "Rap is an art, and I can say whatever the hell I want to," he continues.

 

Well, true, and I guess, true, but that also apparently doesn't prevent you from making a complete ass out of yourself. Anyway, it's nice to see society's pecking order reinforce itself: white government dudes pick on black rapper dudes pick on queer dudes. But wait, if us queers are upset, who do we get to pick on? The Irish? Okay... Damn you, uh, Bono! I'm sick of you kissing people on shows!

 

Gangster Rap, Going the Way of All Gangsters?

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 3:13 PM EDT

50 Cent, or whatever his street value is now, may want to start counting his pennies.

According to Courtland Milloy and a University of Chicago study, rap's decline continues. Post-Imus, its sales are still dropping and, even though young people of color still listen to it regularly, they simultaneously feel it's over-sexed and demeans both black men and black women. Ray-Ray 'nem want to keep listening to rap. But now that the shock value's worn off, they just want the quality improved; soon, we'll find out which gangster rappers are actual artists and which the posing, community-despoiling carpetbaggers who've ruined it for everyone.

Milloy veers slightly off track, though, when he frowns on the "Taliban-ing" of rap's critics: protests, boycott calls, picketing and this week's Congressional hearings. I'm fond of the First Amendment, but I think rap's opponents are exercising exactly that (though picketing someone's home does go too far) in forcing the rap community to respond to its critiques. If rappers get to say objectionable things, very loudly and designed for maximum outrage, why not Rev. Calvin Butts or C. Delores Tucker (very early leaders of the fight against rap's excesses). I choose to believe that all our "shame on you's" have something to do with what I choose to see as rap's audience having had its consciousness raised by all our sermons.

Somthing else Milloy didn't get around to is noting that, while nihilistic rap may be snuffing itself out, conscious rap may be on the resurgence. Others have noticed though, and cite the phenom known as Barack Obama for helping blacks with mixing tables and a yearning for attention notice something other than the butt sashaying past them at the bus stop. It seems that:

"Many of today's more socially conscious rappers are putting the spotlight back on political issues and candidates – and their go-to guy has become Democratic contender Barack Obama, or "B-Rock" as he was recently dubbed by Vibe magazine. Rap artist Common, whose latest CD debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts earlier this month, brags that he'll "ignite the people like Obama." Talib Kweli echoes that on his latest release when he says, "speak to the people like Barack Obama." Is there nothing the junior Senator from Illinois can't do?

Soon, I'll get to meet my new MoJo colleague and we can thrash out our differences over rap, but til then, I'll bet that we can at least agree that talented rapping about black empowerment is a good thing.


Republicans Can't Find the Cash to Campaign

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 2:57 PM EDT

From The Blotter:

A crucial GOP fundraising committee is nearly broke, according to its latest monthly filing with the Federal Election Committee last week.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) reported $1.6 million in cash on hand and $4 million in debts as of Aug. 31. The group helps bankroll House campaigns for GOP candidates.
Its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, reported $22.1 million, more than 10 times its Republican counterpart.

For the record, I don't call that "nearly broke." I call that "completely broke" or "in debt."

Each party has two other organs, in addition to the House campaign committee.

Senate Republicans are in a state of relative poverty, also. The National Republican Senatorial Campaign has just over $7 million on hand, according to the new filings. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has more than $20 million.
While the Democrats' new congressional majority appears to have sapped much of the GOP lawmakers' fundraising power, its national group, the Democratic National Committee, still lags behind its Republican counterpart.
The RNC reported raising $57.3 million so far this year, with $16 million on hand, while the Democratic National Committee raised $36.8 million so far this year, with $4.7 million on hand.

It's worth pointing out that these trends are seen with the presidentials as well. The top Democratic candidates, Clinton and Obama, are murdering the top Republican ones in the fundraising department.

New Report Says Private Military Contractors Hurt Counterinsurgency Efforts

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 2:06 PM EDT

Long before the latest Blackwater flap, Brookings scholar P.W. Singer has been highlighting the dilemmas and legal loopholes presented by America's increasing reliance on private military contractors in para-military, peacekeeping, and post-war security operations abroad.

Singer sends a new report on this issue today (.pdf), Can't Win With 'Em, Can't Go to War Without 'Em: Private Military Contractors and CounterInsurgency.

Top lines: "Not only is the use of contractors actually undermining [counterinsurgency] efforts," Singer writes, "but the end result is that the military can no longer carry out its core mission of winning the nation's wars."

Worth reading alongside my colleague Bruce Falconer's profile of a PMC lobbyist in Washington. Also check out R.J. Hillhouse's blog, The Spy Who Billed Me, about, you guessed it, the outsourcing of a growing number of U.S. military and intelligence functions, often well beyond the realm of oversight.

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Why Can't We Close Guantanamo?

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

Robert Gates began arguing for the shuttering of Guantanamo as soon as he took office as the Secretary of Defense. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has always agreed with him. In May 2006, President Bush told the German press, "I very much would like to end Guantanamo." In June 2006, he told the American press, "I'd like to close Guantanamo."

So why is Gitmo still open? What force within the national security apparatus is keeping the Guantanamo Bay prison, a national disgrace and monument to how America has lost its ideals, open for business?

It's the Vice President's office, of course. Therein lives Cheney and Cheney's chief lawyer, David Addington, perhaps the most powerful man in the country when it comes to determining this country's approach to balancing rights and security.

Gates acknowledged as much when he went before Congress yesterday and reiterated his desire to close Guantanamo, but said he was unable to do so because "I was unable to achieve agreement within the executive branch on how to proceed."

So if you didn't know, now you know: everyone in the government, including the Secretary of Defense and the President himself want to close Gitmo, but can't because Cheney and his minions are powerful enough to keep it from happening.

Intelligence Manipulation Alleged

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 12:17 PM EDT

Newsweek reports:

A leading House Democrat has charged that congressional Republicans promoted "bogus" intelligence about a reputed terror threat on Capitol Hill last summer, inflaming debate over the Bush administration's proposal to dramatically expand the U.S. government's electronic surveillance powers.
Rep. Jane Harman, who chairs a key homeland-security subcommittee, has provided new details this week about an alarming intel report in August that warned of a possible Al Qaeda attack on the Capitol. The report, which was quickly discredited, was circulated on Capitol Hill at a critical moment: just as the administration was mounting a major push for a new surveillance law that would permit the U.S. intelligence community to intercept suspected terrorist communications without seeking approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
In the days before the vote on the surveillance bill in early August, the U.S. Capitol Police suddenly stepped up security procedures, and one top Republican senator, Trent Lott, seemed to allude to the report when he claimed that "disaster could be on our doorstep" if the Congress didn't immediately act. Inside the Congress, "there was a buzz about this," Harman told NEWSWEEK. "There was an orchestrated campaign to basically gut FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], and this piece of uncorroborated intelligence was used as part of it."

Yet another example of the deeply cynical and dangerous way this administration and its supporters have manipulated the public, citing hyped and bogus terror threats for short term political gain. Good for Jane Harman for calling her colleagues on it.

More from Marcy Wheeler who noted Harman's comments a few days ago.

Nixon Hated the Jews: Even More Evidence

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 12:16 PM EDT

Slate just got its hands on some old Nixon-era memos, and wow, did Nixon ever hate those Jews. I guess we already knew that, but the degree to which he tried to root Jews out of the federal government was new to me. The good stuff starts on page two of this article.

Report: Saddam Was Willing to Accept Exile Before Invasion (!!)

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 11:09 AM EDT

Diane mentioned in a blog post yesterday that the Spanish newspaper El Pais claims to have a transcript of a pre-war meeting between George W. Bush and then-Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar. The transcript, El Pais says, shows Bush was determined to invade Iraq regardless of what happened at the U.N. and in the international diplomatic community.

According to a fuller treatment in the Washington Post today, Bush said a lot more than that.

First of all, Bush was apparently uninterested in a report out of Egypt that Saddam Hussein would accept exile rather than see Iraq invaded. "Saddam Hussein signaled that he was willing to go into exile as long as he could take with him $1 billion and information on weapons of mass destruction," says the Post. Bush was not impressed. No indications are given that the administration discussed the possibility.

Also, Bush had nothing but disregard and disgust for foreign leaders that opposed the invasion. Then-French President Jacques Chirac "sees himself as Mr. Arab," said Bush. Others could be, and should be, strongarmed into support. Then-Chilean President Ricardo Lagos "ought to know that the Free Trade Agreement with Chile is waiting for Senate confirmation and that a negative attitude on this could endanger ratification," Bush warned. "Angola is getting money from the Millennium Account, and those agreements could also be in danger if they don't show themselves to be favorable. And [Russian President Vladimir] Putin ought to know that his attitude is endangering relations" with Washington. Bush does not come off as a man who seeks war as a "last resort," as he said publicly so many times before the invasion.

El Pais is a leading Spanish newspaper. It opposed the war. There has been no independent verification that the transcript, which was allegedly prepared by Spain's ambassador to the United States, is legit. According to the Post, El Pais will not reveal how it obtained the transcript.