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What if They Gave a Debate and Nobody Showed? Again.

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 1:01 PM EDT

Well, somebody showed at historically black Morgan State University in Baltimore last night for the All-American Presidential Forum, just no one likely to be our next president and, man, is the Afro-sphere hacked off about it. My inbox was humming like a tea kettle.

Touted as "the first time that a panel comprised of journalists of color is represented in primetime," focused on 'minority' issues like unemployment and the criminal justice system, and moderated by Tavis Smiley on PBS, you'll understand why the GOP's A-Team all misplaced their invitations. Introducing the world's first invisible perp walk, Rudolph W. Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson found themselves silently indicted as spotlights glared on their empty lecturns all night. (If you can name the ones who showed, C-SPAN must indeed be your dearest friend. And why, oh why, was the Ayatollah Alan Keyes allowed to attend, let alone mic'd for sound? I thought the election for the President of Heaven wasn't til after the Rapture.)

Unsurprisingly, the GOPs usual-suspect mouthpieces made quick work of any notion that their homies were either too scared, too uninterested or too disgusted to show this time either. Having brushed past lame excuses about fundraising cycles and their astrologer's travel advisories, a few addressed the main issue: an auditorium full of hostile Negroes (or, seen another way, the candidates' embrace of an agenda designed to incarcerate every hostile Negro in the auditorium). Jim Geraghty wrote: "when asked about Republicans not showing up for this debate, Smiley responded, "When you reject every black invitation and every brown invitation you receive, is that a scheduling issue or is it a pattern?... I don't believe anybody should be elected president of the United States if they think along the way they can ignore people of color. That's just not the America we live in." Then, Geraghty noted, "When you pretty much accuse candidates of racism before they walk in the door, that doesn't make them more inclined to accept your invitation."

It also doesn't make your "accusers" anymore likely to vote for you. And note the disgraceful sleight of rhetorical hand: Smiley didn't "pretty much accuse" the candidates of anything except either disdaining or passing on the minority vote. However racist he may believe the GOP and/or its candidates to be, Smiley merely pointed out that minority votes have to be both valued and earned or the GOP should formally renounce its renunciation of the Southern Strategy.

Still, you have to give Tancredo, whoever he is, the nod for having the vertebrae to shoot back that he couldn't "agree with th[e] race-baiting comments" of his fellow candidates, who did indeed pander with both hands and all day Sunday. I'm a little embarrassed for them. But since when is pandering new?

But. I started this entry because I, too, am sorta queasy with all these "If not 'A,' then B must be true" denunciations. Barack Obama skips Jena and Jesse Jackson, who endorsed him, accuses him of "acting white". Black Republicans are self-hating sell-outs doing The Man's bidding. Black women who criticize the community's misogyny have been brain washed by white feminists.

If playing "spot the Uncle Tom" has played itself out, perhaps "spot the racist" should, too. Condemning actions and policies as racist is one thing, but mandatory appearances at prescribed black (or most other) venues should not become a litmus test. I hate myself for it, but I had to give Bush his props for refusing to address the NAACP for so long. The organization's rhetoric regarding him had been far too intemperate for far too long (for instance, Willie Horton-ing him with the men who dragged James Byrd to death behind a pick up truck).

Landing at Ground Zero but doing a fly-by over Katrina's devastation? Racist.

Ignoring those who dog you unmercifully, let alone immaturely? Good time management.


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Gary Condit Refuses to Go Quietly

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 10:53 AM EDT

Six years after the disappearance of Washington's second-most famous intern, Chandra Levy's former paramour and ex-congressman Gary Condit is back in the news. On Sept. 24, an Arizona judge ordered Condit to pay $43,000 in legal fees to the editor and publisher of the tiny Sonoran News for bringing a frivolous libel suit against the paper, which had no libel insurance. Condit has filed a host of similar suits against other publications that covered the Levy investigation, most of which have since been dropped.

Serial plaintiff Condit is also about to become a defendant. The Modesto Bee reports that his Baskin-Robbins franchise has flopped, and his former business partners are about to sue him over his role in the meltdown.

Party Ben Tries Out the New Amazon.com MP3 Store

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 10:10 PM EDT

Amazon.com MP3s
In our next story, "Monkey learns to type!" But seriously folks, Amazon.com launched its highly-anticipated MP3 store on Tuesday, the first serious competitor with Apple's dominant iTunes service, and I'm interested in checking it out. I'm a pretty big fan of the whole iTunes experience (although a bit annoyed with the protected files and stuff), and I'm somebody who happily grabs free mp3s, or buys mp3s, and then buys CDs, so I consider myself a skeptical yet open-minded consumer. I began my self-administered experiment this afternoon.

Senate Passes Matthew Shepard Act

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 9:38 PM EDT

The U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Act today. The Act expands federal hate crime laws to include the commission of violent crimes based on the victim's sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability, and provides new resources to help law enforcement prosecute such crimes.

The act passed by a voice vote. Its companion legislation in the House of Representatives is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which passed the House with a vote of 237 to 180. The legislation is supported by a strong contingent of organizations, including the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, the Episcopal Church of the U.S., the League of Women Voters, and the United Methodist Church.

George W. Bush has called the legislation "unnecessary," and is threatening to veto it.

Arctic Lands Slumping From Heat

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 8:04 PM EDT

Temperatures got so hot in the Arctic this summer that researchers are scrambling to revise their forecasts—fast-forwarding to a future they thought was decades away. On Melville Island, site of a Queen's University study, July air temperatures soared over 20ºC (68ºF). Average July temps run 5ºC (41ºF). The team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom that piled up like a rug. Scott Lamoureux, leader of the International Polar Year project, and an expert in hydro-climatic variability and landscape processes, described: "The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come. If this were to occur in more inhabited parts of Canada, it would be catastrophic in terms of land use and resources." Well, guess what? It is going to occur in inhabited parts of Canada. It's going to occur in your neighborhood, too, wherever you live, whatever your local variant of catastrophe: flood, drought, thaw, freeze, cyclone, or strange, mutant combinations thereof… On a personal note, I just got back from the high Sierra (Nevada), where the glaciers have dwindled to dirty icefields and the creeks run with dust and hungry bears are biting sleeping tourists, then getting killed for it. Makes you want to cry. JULIA WHITTY

Gray Whales Grow Thinner, Fewer

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 7:14 PM EDT

The Pacific gray whales' near-miraculous return from the edge of extinction (twice) may be more precarious than we thought. From the AP a couple of days ago, notice of a new DNA study out of Stanford estimating we've underestimated the whales' historic population by a factor of five. In other words, there weren't 20,000 or 30,000 whales pre-whaling, but 100,000. Worse, our current (supposedly recovered) population is starving. The National Marine Fisheries Service reports this year that at least 10 percent of gray whales are underweight and hungry. It seems our increasingly impoverished ocean can no longer support the whales it once did. Why not? Well, let's start with that ugly symbiosis between food shortages and climate change. Then factor in the more than one billion of us—that's right, one in six people on Earth—who are overweight, 300 million of whom are clinically obese, according to the World Health Organization. Add the fact that humanity gobbles more than a quarter of the planet's natural resources. Presto! The lardass equation: more of us equals less of them. JULIA WHITTY

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When Justice Delayed Starts to Look Pretty Good

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 6:05 PM EDT

Big businesses have long argued that arbitration is cheaper and quicker than lawsuits for resolving disputes. That's why they now force customers to waive their constitutional right to sue every time they get a credit card or buy a computer and submit to private arbitration for any future conflict resolution. Now comes the consumer group Public Citizen with a new report on how consumers actually fare when they face off with credit card companies, the major purveyor of arbitration agreements.

As it turns out, arbitration is almost never used to "resolve" a dispute. Instead, credit card companies are using arbitration as a sneaky and unaccountable way to collect debts from overextended customers, even when those customers have been the victim of identity theft or billing errors. In 34,000 cases Public Citizen reviewed, arbitrators (all hired by the credit card companies, of course) ruled against consumers 90 percent of the time, to the tune of $185 million.

Public Citizen's most intriguing finding, though, was the case of arbitrator Joseph Nardulli, who, in a single day, resolved 68 cases—one every seven minutes— all in favor of the credit card companies who hired him. Now that's swift justice!

Dobson Slams Fred Thompson in Private Email

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:59 PM EDT

In a long article about how Fred Thompson has lost the evangelical endorsement many expected him to get (in part because Thompson won't sign on with a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage), Politico cites a private email from Focus on the Family honcho James Dobson. Dobson wrote:

Isn't Thompson the candidate who is opposed to a constitutional amendment to protect marriage, believes there should be 50 different definitions of marriage in the U.S., favors McCain-Feingold, won't talk at all about what he believes, and can't speak his way out of a paper bag on the campaign trail?
He has no passion, no zeal and no apparent 'want to.' And yet he is apparently the Great Hope that burns in the breasts of many conservative Christians? Well, not for me, my brothers. Not for me!

Whoa, boy. Dobson sure is cranky. He's already said, "I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances" and already written, "I cannot, and will not, vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008."

So that leaves Romney. Or a second-tier guy like Huckabee. Or nobody, I guess.

New Music: Baby Elephant - Turn My Teeth Up!

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:30 PM EDT

Baby ElephantIn light of the recent kerfuffle between myself and other Mother Jones staffers on whether offensive hip-hop can be good hip-hop, I thought I'd extend an olive branch with some progressive, jazzy grooves from Baby Elephant. Made up of De La Soul producer Prince Paul, vocalist Don Newkirk, and Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, their new album is understandably more in tune with classic funk than the current styles causing government entities (and supposedly liberal bloggers) to have fits. Lead single "Plainfield" features Digital Underground vocalist Shock G, but its mellow organ solo separates it from "Humpty Dance" by about a light year; track 6, "If You Don't Wanna Dance," with its wandering bass line and insistent chorus, could be straight out of the '70s.

Anybody who remembers (or, say, still gets out and dances around the room to) De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising will remember the goofy skits between the songs; Prince Paul kind of invented this concept, we get even more elaborate mini-sketches here. What's fun is that since iTunes gives you 30 second previews of songs, any track shorter than 30 seconds is, well, free; that means you can listen to most of the skits in their entirety without paying a dime, ladies and gentlemen! Check out how the "Funk Master," on track 5, mistakes our heroes for cable repairmen!

The trio team up with David Byrne for "How Does My Brain Wave," which sounds, understandably, like P-Funk meets Talking Heads, in the best possible sense. The album occasionally sinks into silliness: "Cool Runnins," a kind of jokey reggae number, sounds a little like something from a Disney movie; and ballad "Crack Addicts in Love" is funny, but not really worth multiple listens. But the updated psychedelia of "Skippin Stonze," with its filtered vocals and loping beat, has more in common with J Dilla than a comedy routine.

Grab an mp3 of "How Does the Brain Wave" at Spin.com or listen at their MySpace; Turn My Teeth Up! is out now on Godforsaken Music. Why didn't I think of that name for a label?

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