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Kanye on SNL: What the Hell?

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 12:58 PM EDT
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For weeks I've been hearing how great Kanye West's new CD is, so I was chomping at the bit to see his performance on Saturday Night Live's season opener this weekend. His first song? Awesome. But by the time his second song had ended, I was scratching my head trying to figure out what the hell happened.

His first , a "Stronger/Good Life" medley, was a seamless performance. He was high energy (almost too high), he had an all-female (under-utilized) backup orchestra, solid backup vocalists, a tight live band, and stage lighting brighter and flashier than I remember seeing anyone under on the SNL stage. So far, so good.

Then came his second song, "Champion." Once again, high energy coming from everyone on stage. Then Kanye tells the band to break it down, and he goes "off the dome" (what came across as an improvised, off the top of his head freestyle) without any backup from the band. A risky move indeed, considering he didn't really have much to say. There were several lines about him being on top of his game, being number one, and being "the Don," but unfortunately his freestyle meandered toward a complete anti-climax of him saying "I keep going, going, going going..." Well, yeah, that's what he did alright, for way too long (about six minutes).

He recognized the flubs of the performance by mixing "I meant to mess up" into one line. I give him a lot of credit for improvising on live television; that's a bold move. But in this case, I'm thinking he should have stuck to the script.

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After Killing 11 Iraqi Civilians, Blackwater Gets $92 Million Contract from Pentagon

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 12:44 PM EDT

Hey, here's a shocker — there's no accountability in the Bush Administration.

Rudy Giuliani and Those Horrible Phone Calls

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 12:29 PM EDT

If you're a regular user of the internets, you've probably seen the video of Rudy Giuliani awkwardly interrupting a speech to the NRA in order to take a phone call from his wife Judith.

Turns out, Rudy's made quite a habit of this behavior. According to John Fund at the Wall Street Journal, Rudy's own staffers estimate the candidate has taken phone calls from his wife "more than 40 times in the middle of speeches, conferences and presentations to large donors." And it's pissing people off. Witness:

Consider a spring incident in Oklahoma City. Mr. Giuliani spoke twice at the Oklahoma History Center, first at a small private roundtable for $2,300 donors and then to 150 people who donated $500 apiece. Ten minutes into the roundtable, Mr. Giuliani's phone rang. He left the room to take the call, apparently from Mrs. Giuliani, and never returned. The snubbed donors received no explanation. "The people there viewed it as disrespectful and cheesy," says Pat McGuigan, a local newspaper editor who was asked by the Giuliani campaign to moderate the roundtable.
An hour or so later, Mr. Giuliani was speaking to the bigger group of donors when his phone rang again. While he spoke with his wife, he invited her to say hello to the assembled crowd...
I've been told of many other incidents, from a California fund-raiser to a Florida speech to a gathering with top donors at Bear Stearns in New York. At the Bear Stearns meeting, Mr. Giuliani took a call from his wife and then noting the strained faces of his supporters, he sheepishly tried a joke. "I've been married three times," he explained. "I can't afford to lose another one. I'm sure you understand."

Rudy's bizarre behavior just gives the media more opportunities to bring up the "Queen Bitch" meme about his wife. Consider this from Fund's closing paragraphs: "Staffers have been fired, advisers shut out of meetings, schedules changed based on [Judith Giuliani's] whim. But it was her idea for Mr. Giuliani to suggest on national TV that he might let her attend cabinet meetings... The staff remains "terrified" of her, according to a former staffer. "Mollifying Judith is at the top of the to-do list for far too many people on the campaign," one person close to Mr. Giuliani told me."

So what's the deal? Is Rudy really so devoted to his wife that he can't resist taking her phone call even at the most inappropriate of times? Or does he think this staged tenderness humanizes him? Or is he as afraid of his wife as his staffers are? Whatever the explanation, I certainly hope this trend continues. I'd love to see Rudy interrupt a nationally televised debate by taking a phone call from his wife. Or, heaven forbid, the oath of office itself.

Oh, and PS — Rudy's explanation for all this? What else, 9/11.

Race War, Schmace War: Racial Porn is the Real Problem

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 10:34 AM EDT

My good buddy, and one of the smartest race-thinkers we have, the LA Times' Gregory Rodriguez has a very good question for America: "Why is everyone so anxious to elevate Latino-black violence to historic levels?" (Violent crime, generally, is down there due to police innovations like asking locals to help instead of only asking them to assume the position.)

As he wrote in his latest column, "A new study by three UC Irvine criminologists has concluded that Los Angeles is not on the brink of a major interracial crime wave. Surprised? That's understandable. Because for the last several years, the media have been increasingly fixated on the specter of black-versus-brown violence."

Sadly, violence remains intra-communal. It aint even close. Though Gregory's analysis is great, as usual, I think there's a puzzle piece missing in figuring out why everyone's primed for a good old-fashioned race war.

It's true that scaring readers sells newspapers and magazines. It's also true that whites like to believe that black-white relations are good (75% of white Angelenos think so, given how well our racial rivenings work out for them), while black-Hispanic (black-anybody) relations must be bad (46% think so). Funny, then, that 68% of blacks and 59% of Hispanics think the opposite. True, too, that white racial fatigue, well underway while Kunta Kinte was getting his toes chopped off, compels them to flip the script. "We're not the problem anymore. Look at how those people behave." Career criminals are always bored by their victims' complaints. Still, however real white fatigue may be, it's only a slice of the phenomenon.

People see what they want to see. In this racially ridiculous country, people want, need, to see 'the other' reduced to the characteristics assigned to them by their worst enemy. Blacks and browns are lazy, rapacious animals who could never handle freedom. Raping, clawing and murdering each other in the Super Dome post-Katrina. Grandmothers at 14. Welfare queens. Super predators. Sing good, though and boy can they box/dance/shoot hoops. All's right with the world when whites are socially constructed as beneficent, enlightened, long suffering. When white criminals are culturally understood as individuals, minority criminals: mascots. When there's lots of blacks and browns to feel superior to. And here's the bonus: jones-ing for minority crime 'proves' that our criminal justice system isn't racist. Just a sad fact of life.

We all do it.

Worldcom, Enron, Halliburton's no-bid Iraq contracts, Blackwater, insider trading, stolen elections, corporate kickbacks--we Negroes LOVE that stuff. Don't even get us started on how sexually kinky we believe whites to be. I'm guessing, Hispanics get off on white corruption, too (but I have no idea how Asians fit into this except as the 'model minority'). Even as we lose our jobs, pensions, and houses, wer'e crowing, we can't forward each other emails fast enough, because we have the threadbare, pathetic joy of seeing whites exposed as their 'true' selves: hypocrites who'd deal with the devil for a dollar, happily selling their own mothers out for a time share in the Hamptons. Selling out the nation? No problem if the price is right.

It's porn. Racial porn. And we all do it.

David Corn To Become Mother Jones' Washington Bureau Chief

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 2:05 AM EDT

Everybody here at Mother Jones is very pleased to announce that David Corn, long-time Washington Editor for The Nation, best-selling author, blogger, and TV commentator has agreed to take the reins of our greatly expanded Washington bureau.

You can read our old school, fully committeed, awesome press release after the jump. (Quick, somebody "leak" it to Romenesko.) But the gist is: David will head up a team of seven reporters and all this firepower in D.C. represents a fundamental change in the way we do business. Better, stronger, faster than before.

Look out D.C.! Oh, and we've also hired Debra Dickerson (author of The End of Blackness) as an on-line columnist and Nick Aster (who built Treehugger and a lot of the Gawker blogs) to head up our web team. Read more after the jump.

The Attack of the Brain-Eating Amoebas

| Sun Sep. 30, 2007 12:11 PM EDT

Yet another reason to worry about rising global temperatures: Brain-eating amoebas are apparently thriving in warmer water in lakes and other popular swimming spots. The amoebas have killed a record six people nationwide this year, a trend that's expected to get worse as the world gets hotter. The amoebas swim up your nose and eat away at your brain until you die. Experts warn against performing somersaults in shallow water where the bugs hang out. Nose plug sales are expected to skyrocket...

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McKibben On The Race Against Warming

| Sat Sep. 29, 2007 1:45 PM EDT

A rousing op-ed by MoJo's contributing writer Bill McKibben in today's Washington Post—just in case you're unclear on what Bush's tepid and untimely global warming conference is really about. Some highlights:

It's the oldest and most clichéd of metaphors, but when it comes to global warming, it's the only one that really works: We're in a desperate race. Politics is chasing reality, and the gap between them isn't closing nearly fast enough.

Shaken scientists see every prediction about the future surpassed by events. As Martin Parry, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told reporters this month, "We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it's us."

The panel's chair, Rajendra Pachauri, offered the planet an absolute deadline: We need to be producing less carbon dioxide—which is to say burning less coal, gas and oil—by 2015 at the latest, and after that we would need "very sharp reductions" or else there is no hope of avoiding an eventual temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius and the accompanying prospect of catastrophe.

Such news has finally begun to penetrate the bubble of denial that has surrounded Washington for two decades. President Bush, after ignoring the issue for six years, has convened a conference of the major carbon-emitting nations to begin considering . . . something. Bush said in a speech yesterday that "we acknowledge there is a problem," but few expect the process to amount to much; cynics see it as a way to derail ongoing U.N.-sponsored talks for a firm agreement on reducing emissions.

The only real hope is for decisive legislation from Congress; activists are calling for a law that commits the United States to early cuts, closes all coal-fired power plants and auctions the right to pollute so that we can raise the revenue to fund the transformation of our energy system. President Bush won't sign such a law, so it doesn't have to pass this fall; we're working to set the stage for 2009, when a new leader takes over.

It will take a movement to force that kind of change—a movement as urgent, and one to which people are as morally committed and willing to sacrifice, as the civil rights movement was a generation ago. Last spring, I worked with six college students to put together StepItUp07.org. In the course of 12 weeks, with almost no money, we helped put together 1,400 rallies in all 50 states demanding action. This fall we're trying again.

I've blogged StepItUp07.org before. Check it out. Better yet, participate. —Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, to read from her new book "The Fragile Edge" and other writings…

The Politics of Pistolera

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 8:46 PM EDT
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The band Pistolera proves that the accordion can be as mighty as the bullhorn. With its squeeze box, guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, the NYC-based quartet mixes traditional Mexican music with rock and political commentary to create a sound that's like an outdoor Folklorico festival happening smack dab in the middle of an immigration rally.

In the song "Cazador (Hunter)," the band plays festive Mexican folk music while guitarist/vocalist Sandra Lilia Velasquez sings about Minutemen that patrol the border: "…You with the binoculars, who comes to patrol; GO HOME! Hunter, you have no place here...They say they are protecting the country from illegals, but how, if this land was stolen from the Mexicans?"

Pistolera plays a mixture of norteño (polka beat with accordion), ranchera (waltz or polka feel, similar to mariachi music), and cumbia (a mixture of Latin rhythms similar to salsa and merengue). And their unique sound hasn't gone unnoticed; their album Siempre Hay Salida peaked at #1 on the CMJ (College Music Journal) Ñ Alternative Select Albums chart earlier this year.

It's not the kind of music I seek out on a regular basis, but the ideology of the band makes the seemingly harmless music kick a little ass. In a recent Rolling Stone Mexico interview, Velasquez said, "In Mexico, people are not attracted to rancheras, they are interested in anglo indie rock. For me the real alternative in music is to explore one's roots. People think that if you are born in the United States you should play rock and if you are born in Mexico you should play banda. I was born on the border. I play both."

Nike Goes Native

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

I waited a couple of days to blog about Nike's new shoe for Native Americans, thinking some sort of backlash would reveal itself in the form of a few web posts, but alas I've seen no scathing critiques. What gives?

Nike this week unveiled what it said is the first shoe designed specifically for American Indians, hoping to promote physical fitness in a population with allegedly high obesity rates. The shoe, the the Air Native N7, is designed with a larger fit (a "taller shoe") for what Nike says is a distinct foot shape of American Indians, and has a "culturally specific look" to it (They look like shoe designs from the 70s to me). Tribal wellness programs and tribal schools nationwide can purchase the shoe at wholesale price ($42.80) and then pass it along to individuals, often at no cost.

All of the articles I found today (USA Today, Fox News, MSNBC, Boston Globe) were reprints of the original AP story, which essentially reads like a press release promoting the socially-conscious folks at Nike. I did track down some good fodder in the blogosphere. On the Huffington Post, Milwaukee Dan wrote: "Wow, how nice. After stealing their land, destroying their culture and shoving them on to "reservations," Nike is going to give them a shoe made by slave labor in China. That's so American."

Raising awareness about the issue of high obesity levels of folks living on tribal lands sounds like a great idea to me, but I'm not exactly jumping up and down just because Nike came up with an affordable shoe with added toe room. Hopefully by Monday some real dialog will surface.

US Air Raids Quietly Continue to Kill in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan

| Fri Sep. 28, 2007 7:05 PM EDT

Obama may want to pre-emptively strike Pakistan, but we're already well on our way.

From June to September Afghan and Pakistani civilians were killed during U.S.-led air strikes in record numbers. Afghan civilian casualties reached its climax in August, when 168 civilians died. Two-thirds of the deaths were attributed to "military operations conducted by international forces." And today it was reported that over 2,500 families have been displaced in southern Afghanistan due to the Taliban; of that, hundreds were forced to flee due to "intense aerial bombing by international forces."

Some have pointed out that there is a gruesome air war quietly going on in Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Foreign Policy in Focus points out that some of these air strikes are conducted by unmanned aerial vehicles called MQ-1 Predators (which we fly over our south-west border, I might add). The missiles are guided from a base in Nevada. There has been a "five fold increase in the number of bombs dropped on Iraq during the first six months of 2007 over the same period in 2006," and more than 30 tons of that have been cluster bombs. More civilians, the writer suggests, are being killed by coalition forces than the Taliban.

Furthermore, 59,787 pounds of cluster bombs have rained upon Iraq since April 2003; the Air Force dropped 111,000 pounds of bombs over Iraq in 2006 over a span of 10, 519 "close air support missions." This figure does not include all the other types of weapons and munitions dropped over Iraq, as well as some Army, Marine and private security contractors' operations. Overall, an average of 75 to 100 airstrikes are carried out in the 2 countries everyday by the U.S.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission remarks how Coalition bombardments against civilians come "at a time when the government and people of Afghanistan expect...international forces to cooperate and assist them in ensuring security, rule of law and reconstruction of Afghanistan. But, regretfully, the people of Afghanistan have always been witnessing civilian casualties in their operations against terrorists, particularly during last year [2006]."

— Neha Inamdar