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Gangster Rap, Going the Way of All Gangsters?

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 2:13 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.


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Republicans Can't Find the Cash to Campaign

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 1:57 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 1:06 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.

Why Can't We Close Guantanamo?

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 12:09 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 11:17 AM 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 11:16 AM 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.

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

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 10:09 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.

Go Home Productions: Everything Must Go!

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 7:45 PM EDT

Gone Home Productions
The Metallica of bootleggers, otherwise known as Mark Vidler, has posted basically every single thing he's ever made in a series of grouped "online compilations," over at his website. This is the guy who made the legendary Blondie-meets-The Doors combo "Rapture Riders," as well as like 90% of the top 100 best mashups ever made. Full disclosure: I'm a bit player in the, er, "mashup scene," or whatever, and we've had Mr. Productions over to DJ at our mashup club and stuff, but I promise my adoration is by no means logrolling—his astounding work stands on its own.

When you head over to his website, there's a couple options: first up, for those unfamiliar with Go Home, there's a link to grab a compilation he's calling This Was Pop (2002-2007), featuring 20 of his most appreciated and influential tracks. "Girl Wants (To Say Goodbye To) Rock & Roll," marrying Christina Aguilera to Velvet Underground, is a highlight: Vidler's work always makes the originals sound tangential, like the new mix is how the music was always supposed to be.

For completists, grab one or more of twelve (!) grouped collections of his work, featuring, in total, hundreds of bootlegs, remixes, and random tracks. It's all free, but the links are all to file-sharing sites like RapidShare, and demand is high; you might have to keep trying, but I assure you it's worth it.

Vidler is one of the few mashup artists to score legitimate, artist-approved releases, putting out the album Mashed this year, which featured both his and other producers' work. But as he seemed to acknowledge in an e-mail message to fans, the time it took for the album to wind its way through the approval process seemed to take its toll, and its release was greeted with little fanfare. The lack of appreciation (or financial reward) for even the brightest mashup artists seems to be taking its toll as well, as many (including Vidler) are making announcements of "leaving the scene;" French superstar DJ Zebra (again, full disclosure: I'm DJing some dates with him in France later this year) is moving on, and Australian Team9 (my partner in Dean Gray) has also made noises about "retiring" from bootlegs in 2008. What's up, mashups? It's easy to call the phenomenon "dead," but then I hear something new from some random guy in Stockholm and I think, "there's life left in this musical phenomenon yet." What do you think, oh Riffers: have reports of mashuppery's demise been greatly exaggerated, or should we go back to enjoying one song at a time like respectable music fans?

Neato Viddys on the Intertubes: Music/Movie Mashups

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 4:36 PM EDT

So yes, mashups can be many things: two or more songs put together, and then you can make a video to accompany that; or they can be like a Google map with something else laid on top of it, or who knows what. Here we mean "a song set to the wrong (yet somehow so right) video, in this instance scenes from movies." We can get to the other mashup concepts later.

Soulya Boy - "Crank Dat" vs. Bambi
In which the steel drum-featuring megasmash is set to classic Disney animation, and the New York Times pays attention

Depeche Mode - "Suffer Well" vs. Tron
In which the melancholy UK synth-poppers provide an appropriate soundtrack to the 1982 film that I totally have to rent and watch again like right now.

Junior Boys - "In the Morning" vs. Bande a part
In which the melancholy US synth-poppers seem to inspire some coordinated dance steps in the classic Jean-Luc Godard film

Sunni Insurgents Launch Assassination Campaign

| Wed Sep. 26, 2007 4:04 PM EDT

It began with the September 15 killing of Abu Risha, a Sunni tribal leader in Iraq's Anbar province who had been cooperating with U.S. troops against Al Qaeda in Iraq, and who had met with President Bush only a week before his death. Since then, Sunni insurgents have continued with targeted killings of other tribal leaders, police chiefs, police officers, and other Interior Ministry officials. The New York Times reports that in the last 48 hours alone, insurgents have staged 10 attacks, killing eight and wounding about 30 others. From the Times:

The latest outbreak of violence closely follows the concerted efforts of President Bush and Gen. David H. Petraeus to portray the American troop "surge" as having succeeded in bringing more stability to Iraq. Iraqi officials said Tuesday that the attacks might well have been intended to blunt that message.
"The main reason behind all these attacks are the signs of improvement of the security situation mentioned in the Crocker-Petraeus report," said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, the Iraqi spokesman for the security plan, in a reference to the recent Congressional testimony of General Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker. "The terrorist groups are just trying to say to the world that the report did not reflect the reality of the security situation in Iraq."
Mr. Sheikhly played down the recent violence, though, saying the groups were seeking publicity to compensate for their inability to conduct major offensive operations, which have been sharply curtailed by the surge.
Indeed, the enormous car and truck bombs that plagued Baghdad for so long have been absent in recent weeks. But the string of attacks this week served as a reminder of the insurgency's persistence, particularly in areas outside of Baghdad and its environs.
In addition to the attack on Monday in Diyala, insurgents struck in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, Falluja, Kut and Samarra. The strikes occurred primarily in mixed areas of Shiites and Sunni Arabs or in exclusively Sunni Arab areas where there is fighting between Sunni Arab tribes and extremist groups like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. Each attack on its own would hardly be notable, since almost every day in Iraq brings a few roadside bombings and shootings, but so many attacks singling out similar victims suggest a more concerted campaign.