Blogs

Worth the Wait? Harper Lee Breaks Decades of Silence

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 7:45 PM EDT

After forty years of fame, Harper Lee, author of the beloved American classic To Kill a Mockingbird, uttered her first words in public. At the Alabama Academy of Honor induction ceremony Monday, the 81-year-old writer said, "Well it's better to be silent than to be a fool."

Lee has spoken with only a handful of reporters since the 1960 publication of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. She briefly emerged earlier this year to present awards to winners of the To Kill a Mockingbird essay contest. In recent years, she has been portrayed on screen by Catherine Keener in Capote (2005) and Sandra Bullock in Infamous (2006).

Lee's years of silence have maintained an aura of mystery around her. After selling 10,000,000 copies of a book denouncing racism, she declined to offer up any political opinions. The audience of fellow Alabamans that heard Lee speak that one droll sentence yesterday did not fail to grasp the significance of the moment: they met her witticism with laughter and a standing ovation.

— Ellen Charles

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Bush Okays Blowing Up Mountains for Mining Companies

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 3:50 PM EDT

Bush is set to release a regulation tomorrow that will allow mining companies to blast the tops off mountains and dump the resulting waste in nearby streams and valleys.

To learn more about Bush's latest assault on the environment, continue reading this post on our science and health blog, The Blue Marble.

Who's Behind "Allawi-for-Iraq.com"?

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 3:02 PM EDT

IraqSlogger reports that on August 17, White House-connected lobby powerhouse, Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BGR), purchased a domain name, Allawi-for-Iraq.com.*

The timing was interesting. As Slogger's Christina Davidson reports, former Iraqi prime minister Ayad "Allawi argued in an August 18 Washington Post op-ed that Iraq will descend into chaos unless Maliki is replaced as prime minister."

Presumably, replaced by himself, he might have been hinting.

A couple months ago, I reported here on BGR's lobbying for another of Iraq's players, the Kurdistan Regional Government.

*Update: Whois registration for the Allawi domain below the fold:

Will Too Much Joy Division Love Tear You Apart?

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 2:14 PM EDT

Joy Division
Will it make your new dawn fade? Will it cause you to lose control? I can keep going! No? Alright, fine. Legendary post-punk Manchester four-piece Joy Division had an all-to-brief run, playing their first gig (as Warsaw) in 1977, and releasing only two full-length albums, 1979's Unknown Pleasures and 1980's Closer, before lead singer Ian Curtis committed suicide in May, 1980. While the remaining members continued (continue?) as New Order, Joy Division gained far more attention after Curtis' death, with at least four major collections of their work gaining wide release. But now, the Joy Division publicity machine is about to kick into an even higher gear.

Not one, but two Joy Division-themed films are set for release in the upcoming months. First up, Pitchfork reports that a documentary, helpfully titled Joy Division, will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month. Then there's Control, the Anton Corbijn-directed profile of Curtis, currently playing festivals and set for limited release in the US in October. NME says that the band's most well-known single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart," will get a re-release in the UK ahead of Control's premiere (this whole recycling-singles phenomenon being a distinctly British phenomenon), and that the band's two studio albums, as well as Still, the live/rarities collection, will get remastered and repackaged for re-release on September 10th.

So here's the question: how much attention to a defunct band is too much? Nobody loves Joy Division more than me, but even I feel a little strange about "Love Will Tear Us Apart" being tossed in with Mika and Plain White T's to see where it'll land in the Top 40. On the other hand, anything that helps introduce the band to a new generation is worth it, right? Give us your comments: has your favorite musician been glorified or diminished by extensive posthumous publicity?

New White House Surge Surrogate, Freedom's Watch

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:48 PM EDT

Politico's Mike Allen reports that a new pro-war group, Freedom's Watch, fronted by former Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, has launched a $15 million advertising blitz to promote the surge:

A new group, Freedom's Watch, is launching Wednesday with a $15 million, five-week campaign of TV, radio and Web ads featuring military veterans that is aimed at retaining support in Congress for President Bush's "surge" policy on Iraq. ...
The board consists of Blakeman; Fleischer; Mel Sembler, a Florida Republican who was Bush's ambassador to Italy; William P. Weidner, president and chief operating officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corp.; and Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. The donors include Sembler; Anthony Gioia, a Buffalo businessman who was Bush's ambassador to Malta; Kevin Moley, who was Bush's ambassador to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva; Howard Leach, a former Republican National Committee finance chairman who was Bush's ambassador to France; Dr. John Templeton of Pennsylvania, chairman and president of the John Templeton Foundation; Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor, the huge Philadelphia sports and entertainment firm; Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and ranked by Forbes magazine as the third-wealthiest American; and Richard Fox, who is chairman of the Jewish Policy Center and was Pennsylvania State Chairman of the Reagan/Bush campaign in 1980.

The Washington Post and ThinkProgress have more. "Freedom's Watch will go head to head with Americans United for Change, a Democratic Party ally, backed by organized labor, that is pressuring the same wavering Republicans to break with the White House," the Post reports. "Although louder and more experienced, Americans United is not so moneyed, with a fundraising goal of $10 million for the year, and $1.75 million to $2 million already spent on ad campaigns."

Watch has money, organization and the White House on its side. But the recently released NIE on Iraq does not easily lend itself to the flag-backed ad blitz, which rallies "those who believe we must win the war on terror" to call and tell their congressperson "defeat is not an option."

Unclassified NIE on Iraq Key Judgments

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

An early copy of the unclassified key judgments from the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, "Prospects for Iraq's Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive," prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and available to the masses in a few hours.

Hot off the presses (.pdf) and below the fold. Analysis to come.

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Bush Okays Blowing Up Mountains for Mining Companies

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:59 PM EDT

Bush is set to release a regulation tomorrow that will allow mining companies to blast the tops off mountains and dump the resulting waste in nearby streams and valleys. Currently the practice, called mountaintop mining, exists in a hazy legal status but has been used regularly for the past two decades. The new rule will loosen a 1983 law which prohibits disturbing soils within 100 feet of streams (in the past, companies have been sued under the Clean Water Act for dumping mining waste into streams), essentially giving coal companies the go-ahead.

As we reported last year, the Appalachian mountains (where the majority of mountaintop removal mining takes place) have been so degraded that the public can take tours of the mind-boggling environmental damage. But mining companies and their coal mining advocates think they are providing a great service. Proponents claim that coal reduces our reliance on foreign oil and mountaintop removal provides more flat land for big box stores like Wal-Mart. Woo-hoo!

The Drug War Continues Apace (Underwater)

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:30 PM EDT

Now the smugglers have subs:

A submarine-like vessel filled with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cocaine was seized off the Guatemalan coast, U.S. officials said....Several drug-carrying submarines operated by Colombian drug cartels have been discovered in recent years. [emphasis mine]

There's nothing like basic economics to undermine the drug war. If you buy it, they will come. In subs, if necessary.

— Nick Baumann

GOP Senators Need Only Half Day in Iraq to Declare Significant Progress

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:07 PM EDT

Senator Jim Webb has called the military-organized trips American politicians take to Iraq "dog-and-pony shows." Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Bob Corker (R-TN) must have seen one hell of a show earlier this week, because they're declaring "clear success, province by province" after just a half day in country.

Yup. The Tennessee duo spent 10-14 hours of their four day trip actually in Iraq. Yet Alexander felt comfortable saying, "There are probably seven provinces where enough progress has been made to involve Iraqis in their own security."

The good news, amidst all this disingenuousness, is that both Senators seemed to think things were going so well in Iraq that we could start reducing the number of soldiers there. I'm smelling a positive September report, followed by Republicans claiming it's time to start shuffling troops home. Bush will claim we have grand obligations to Iraq, but will reduce troops in time to kill the Democrats' biggest 2008 advantage.

The Atmosphere Ate My Laptop

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 12:07 PM EDT

The Government Accountability Office, source of so much amusement to the denizens of DC, has released a report (PDF) that says NASA employees stole almost $100 million in supplies from the agency in the past decade. From the New York Times:

One thief appropriated an office laptop as his own by declaring the machine lost. It had been thrown from the International Space Station, he explained, apparently with a straight face, and burned up in the Earth's atmosphere.

The GAO report uses very strong language to condemn NASA's management, noting a "lack of accountability" and "weak internal controls." Let's not forget that this is at the organization responsible for sending people into space. Maybe a little accountability is in order? Just a thought.

— Nick Baumann