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One Night Before Caucus, John Mellencamp Rocks for Edwards

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 3:01 AM EST

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WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — John Edwards' 36-hour "Marathon for the Middle Class" culminated tonight with a concert performance by John Mellencamp at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines. Mellencamp rocked classics like "Pink Houses" and "Jack and Diane" (which both got the notoriously cynical press corps taking pictures on their digital cameras), but he finished with the incredibly obnoxious "This Is Our Country," which has been used by Chevrolet to basically ruin several years worth of baseball playoffs.

Edwards' speech, which followed the musical performance, would have been familiar to regular MoJo readers, who know all about Edwards' "fight" theme. He has sharpened his attacks on Obama's approach to health care reform slightly. He tells the story of a 17-year-old girl who had to fight her insurance company for a much-needed liver transplant, only to get them to agree too late to save her from a premature death. "You want me to sit at a table and negotiate with those people?" Edwards shouted, indignantly. "It will never happen. Never!"

The Edwards message has been crystallized: "Corporate greed is robbing our children of the promise of America." His stump speech is basically an exercise in finding a dozen different ways of making that point. If you agree that corporations "have an iron-fisted grip on [American] democracy," and that only a candidate with "some strength, some fight... and some backbone" can break that grip, you've got your candidate.

Voters who don't mind corporations (perhaps because they work for one), or who feel that presidents can gain more with honey than with vinegar... they'll have to look elsewhere in tomorrow night's caucus.

I'll be in a caucus room, bringing you a blow by blow. Hopefully, I'll have a report from the victor's party as well. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, bone up a little on how the caucus works.

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Huckabee on the Writers' Strike: Sharp as a Tack, as Usual

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 10:48 PM EST

art.leno.ap.jpg Love this:

Republican Mike Huckabee, a presidential candidate sounding a populist theme, appeared on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno on Wednesday despite the strike and picketing by the show's writers.
Earlier Wednesday, Huckabee said he supports the writers and did not think he would be crossing a picket line, because he believed the writers had made an agreement to allow late night shows back on the air.
"My understanding is that there was a special arrangement made for the late-night shows, and the writers have made this agreement to let the late night shows to come back on, so I don't anticipate that it's crossing a picket line," Huckabee told reporters traveling with him Wednesday from Fort Dodge to Mason City.
In fact, that is true only of David Letterman, who has a separate agreement with writers for his "Late Show."
Told he was mistaken and that writers had cleared only Letterman's show, Huckabee protested:
"But my understanding is there's a sort of dispensation given to the late-night shows, is that right?"
Told again that he was wrong, Huckabee murmured, "Hmmm," and, "Oh," before answering another question.

New nickname ideas for Huckabee: Mr.-Not-Ready-For-Primetime or Mr.-Worst-Staff-Ever.

David Cross Explains Balance of Indie Cred and Chipmunk Cash

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 9:55 PM EST

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Hey, did ya see that Chipmunks movie yet? The one that looks like a sub-Garfield brain-dissolving Hollywood CGI cash-in? No? Well, me neither, but it turns out comedian David Cross is in it, which if you're like me you didn't know until this bit of news hit Defamer: Cross has posted a lengthy defense of taking Chipmunk money on his website, apparently in response to a dis from Patton Oswalt, who had a part in the considerably-more-highbrow Ratatouille and turned down the part in Chipmunks. The screed is vintage Cross, brutally honest, kind of mixed up, and pretty damn funny:

Top Ten Albums of 2008! Just Kidding

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 7:43 PM EST

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From left: Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, Kim Deal of The Breeders, Chan Marshall aka Cat Power, and Dr. Dre

So 2007 was a pretty good year for music, but now our thoughts must turn to the future: what can we look forward to this year? Music blog Stereogum points out that 2008's schedule of album releases is light on the "blockbuster appeal" of 2007, which saw Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, the Shins and LCD Soundsystem put out highly-anticipated albums. However, there's still a bunch of good stuff on the docket for '08, and here's an admittedly arbitrary list of some of the biggies for the first half of the year, and why one might care:

Late Night Talkers Returning, Some With Writers, Some With Protests

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 3:09 PM EST

Late Night

Those of us who have been missing our pre-bedtime comedy wind-down can get partially back on track tonight, as all the big network late-night shows will make their return to the wee screen for the first time since the beginning of the writers' strike. Only David Letterman and Craig Ferguson will have their writers, as Letterman's independent production company Worldwide Pants (which owns Ferguson's show too) made their own special deal with the scribes, something the other network-owned shows couldn't figure out, I guess. Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, and Jimmy Kimmel will be on their own; well, I mean that figuratively, as Leno will be accompanied by Mike Huckabee tonight, who can hopefully continue to expand on his latest comedy gold-mine, a hilarious set piece about how homosexuality is a pretty bad sin but not as bad as necrophilia. Too much! If you prefer Letterman (if!), you'll have to suffer through his first guest, Robin Williams. The other network shows may not have writers (or big-name guests), but they may be accompanied by protests, as the WGA has announced it will picket all three shows, as well as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who return on Monday. Whether any of this is enough to draw back discouraged viewers from other activities remains to be seen.

Can a Brother Get Some Morphine? Not at the ER

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 3:05 PM EST

From CNN:

Even for the severe pain of kidney stones, minorities were prescribed narcotics such as oxycodone and morphine less frequently than whites.
The analysis of more than 150,000 emergency room visits over 13 years found differences in prescribing by race in both urban and rural hospitals, in all U.S. regions and for every type of pain.

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Japan 'Failing' at Science and Math: Who They Gonna Call? Not Us.

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 2:16 PM EST

While we get dumber and dumber (God knows we couldn't get much fatter), the rest of the world is doubling down on education. Our own President knows that our children "isn't" learning which is cool with him and his ilk, because the children of the rich are and somebody's got to make the fries. The three R's receive a lot less attention here, than the one big R: religion. Intelligent design, abstinence only; seems we're more fired up about having, or not having, those things in our schools than having academic standards which are challenging and geared toward future success. That's how Japan sees education (and that's how they opened that can of econmic whoop ass on us, post-war); now that their international rankings have dipped, they're inclined to get all innovative and actually work harder. Fascinated with India's burgeoning economy, teachers and schools from that country are turning away students in Japan. From the New York Times:

Last month, a national cry of alarm greeted the announcement by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that in a survey of math skills, Japan had fallen from first place in 2000 to 10th place, behind Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. From second in science in 2000, Japan dropped to sixth place....
While China has stirred more concern here as a political and economic challenger, India has emerged as the country to beat in a more benign rivalry over education. ...India's success in software development, Internet businesses and knowledge-intensive industries in which Japan has failed to make inroads has set off more than a tinge of envy.
Most annoying for many Japanese is that the aspects of Indian education they now praise are similar to those that once made Japan famous for its work ethic and discipline: learning more at an earlier age, an emphasis on memorization and cramming, and a focus on the basics, particularly in math and science.
India's more demanding education standards are apparent at the Little Angels Kindergarten, and are its main selling point. Its 2-year-old pupils are taught to count to 20, 3-year-olds are introduced to computers, and 5-year-olds learn to multiply, solve math word problems and write one-page essays in English, tasks most Japanese schools do not teach until at least second grade.

And we never teach to far too many of our citizens. Imagine, your American five year old writing one-page essays in English (let alone in Japanese). Now, imagine what's likely going on in your kids' class room right now, unless you're very, very lucky. I found myself aghast one day when my pre-schooler cam home singing a classroom song composed entirely of fast food joint names that his school had taught him and graded him on. He's in an excellent public charter now, not least because of the dumbing down of our public schools. His school is challenging and loving and constantly checking itself for best practices to absorb from elsewhere. Sorta like Japan.

Is Sound Quality Really "Worse Than Ever"?

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 1:59 PM EST

I Can't Hear YouLast week, Rolling Stone posted an extensive (6 online pages!) diatribe against sound quality in the age of mp3s. The article seems to have two, somewhat related points: a) that music is being mastered really loud these days, and b) mp3s sound crappy. RS posits that these two factors have become a kind of self-reinforcing spiral of doom for audiophiles, a "global loudening," if you will:

The Iraq War: Still Bloody

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 1:45 PM EST

dead_iraqi130.gif The Iraq War remains the number one priority for Democrats (see graphic on left side here) although it has almost completely dropped off the national radar.

Perhaps that because 2007, despite reports of the situation in the country getting better and better, was the deadliest year of the war for American soldiers and was deadlier for Iraqi civilians than 2006.

Governor Riley Accused Of Violating Campaign Finance Laws

| Wed Jan. 2, 2008 12:21 PM EST

The Montgomery Independent, having completed an investigation of Governor Bob Riley, has concluded that Riley may have violated campaign finance laws in 2002 and 2006. According to the Independent's reporters, the governor may have tried to conceal corporate donations during both those years, when he was running for office.

This is hardly the first time that the words "Riley" and "election" have appeared together in a suspicious way. Karl Rove is alleged to have been involved in the 2002 Alabama election, when GOP consultant Bill Canary, an adviser to Riley, worked with Rove to bring Governor Don Siegelman to prison on ethics charges.

In that very close election, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor--another of Canary's clients--clinched Riley's victory when he declared that unsealing the ballots for a recount would be a crime. The request for a recount came after there was a last-minute switch of several thousand votes in one county from Siegelman to Riley.

The Montgonmery Independent discovered that in 2006, the Riley campaign reported the use of airplanes owned by two corporations as personal "in-kind" donations from the corporations' presidents. Also listed as a personal donation was the use of an advertising billboard from the president of the ad agency. Together, these donations had a value of over $25,000, significantly exceeding the $500 limit allowed for any one corporation in a single election cycle.