Blogs

Pyongyang to Close Nuclear Weapons Facility

| Sun Jul. 15, 2007 5:09 PM EDT

Kim Jong Il has finally agreed to shut down the plutonium production facility at Yongbyon, rare good news in the longstanding dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. For those of you who, like me, have grown disoriented by the constant twists and turns in this story, a piece in today's Washington Post offers a good recap of the last few years of diplomatic wrangling. An extended excerpt after the break.

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Longer than World War II...And About As Expensive

| Sun Jul. 15, 2007 4:49 PM EDT

Sunday's Washington Post includes a piece about the profits of war—the rising fortunes of companies supplying the war effort. It cites a report, released June 7 by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, showing that current military expenditures, expressed in real dollars, are at their highest level since 1946.

See Mother Jones' breakdown of the Iraq War's costs here.

Paris Provides Bikes To Fight Traffic, CO2

| Sun Jul. 15, 2007 12:59 PM EDT

The Paris city council is launching a free bike scheme to encourage people to give up the motor in favor of pedal power. The BBC reports this morning that the local authority in Paris is depositing 20,000 heavy-duty bicycles, called Velib, in 750 or so special racks around the city and anyone who wants one simply swipes his or her public transport card and pedals off wherever they want to go. The bike can be returned to any Velib stand. Subscriptions range from one day (one euro, $1.38) to a whole year (29 euros, $40). The first half hour of pedalling time is free but if you fail to return the bike after 30 minutes you get charged an extra euro and the penalties go up over time. The scheme has worked well in the French city of Lyon. But out of 2 million Parisians, only 150,000 own bikes. (Other Europeans don't need encouragement.) Tourists will love them and every city should have them. After all, why not use that fastest-growing and INFINITE fuel source: fat. JULIA WHITTY

Three More Iraqi Media Workers Killed Risking Their Lives For Our Headlines

| Sat Jul. 14, 2007 12:34 AM EDT

Three Iraqis working for foreign news outlets were just killed, raising the total number of Iraqi media workers killed this year to at least 27, according to the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists.

A few days ago two Reuters employees, a photographer and driver, were killed in eastern Baghdad during what witnesses say was a U.S. helicopter attack, and then earlier today a 23-year-old reporter and interpreter for the New York Times was shot and killed on his way to work in south central Baghdad.

In the current issue of Mother Jones, Greg Veis profiles an Iraqi Reuters journalist whose peril in war is multiplied because of his association with Western media outlets.

"My wife has begged me to quit my job and even to leave Iraq. But I told her that every day tens of Iraqis are being killed for no reason, and they will be forgotten otherwise. To die as a journalist, I would know that I was killed while I was reporting the truth. I would die proud."

Veis points out the growing trend of American media outlets closing their bureaus in Iraq, or radically downsizing their presence, estimating that the current tally of American print correspondents in Iraq caps out at around 20. Which leaves the on-the-ground, dangerous reporting to Iraqis who string for most news outlets.

And the Army's take on Iraqis sending stories stateside? Veis talked to a lieutenant who feels they feed "the symbiotic relationship between violence and the media," in that they have access to stories because they have a "tacit agreement" with the enemy.

Read Veis' story soon on motherjones.com, or pick up the July/August issue from your local bookstore today.

Vitter Watch: If You Guessed Rehab Was Next, You're Probably Right

| Fri Jul. 13, 2007 9:54 PM EDT

According to Citizens for Legitimate Government, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter has checked into Ochsner Foundation Hospital. Ochsner is not a pscyhiatric facility, but since Katrina, most such facilities have closed. Ochsner does have a department of psychiatry, though. Or perhaps he is just there for a stress check.

Vitter's spokespeople say that he is planning to return to work next week. He is described as being "in seclusion."

Neato Viddys on the Intertubes

| Fri Jul. 13, 2007 7:32 PM EDT

In this edition: Prog rockers! Cartoon ladies! Hot rappers! And, um, Courtney Love!

Battles - "Atlas" (from Mirrored on Warp)
In which the quartet perform their neo-post-electro-prog-punk track (that sounds something like Helmet being remixed live by Aphex Twin over a Gary Glitter beat) in what appears to be a glass box floating through space

Mark Ronson - "Oh My God" (from Version on Columbia)
In which a young man develops an interest in a sexy young... cartoon. She's not bad, she's just drawn that way

Lil' Wayne - Rap City Freestyle (performed live on BET's Rap City, 4/20/07)
In which the Miami-via-New Orleans rapper takes a breather from guesting on every single track in the whole world to prove why he's in demand, with an awe-inspiring off-the-cuff live performance over a syrupy reggae-inflected beat

Courtney Love - "Pacific Coast Highway" (live at Bush Hall, London, 7/9/07; from the forthcoming Nobody's Daughter on Universal)
In which the often-troubled singer, currently on a "low-key" tour to familiarize her band with new songs, gives a London audience a glimmer of what was so compelling about her music ten years ago

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Deadline Looming for Webcasters... Or Not

| Fri Jul. 13, 2007 6:13 PM EDT

mojo-photo-radiosilence.jpgAs the Sunday (July 15) due date for internet broadcasters to pay new royalty rates approaches, it's still not clear who will be left on the web on Monday. The new rates, as we've discussed here before, follow a Copyright Royalty Board ruling earlier this year specifying higher per-listener-per-song rates paid to artists and labels retroactive to January, 2006, potentially putting webcasters large and small out of business. There are some last-minute developments; first, on Wednesday a federal appeals court denied a petition from webcasters hoping to delay the rate increase. Then, late on Thursday night, two U.S. representatives introduced a bill that would at least postpone the Copyright Board ruling, although Billboard quotes sources as saying "it's unlikely this bill could or would be passed quickly."

The unlikely coalition of companies like Yahoo, AOL, and Viacom (who say 47 percent their 2006 revenue would go to the new royalties) with independent webcasters like BAGeL Radio and noncommercial stations like KCRW makes parsing the situation a bit difficult; are big corporations just trying to get out of paying artists what their music is worth by raising the flag of "musical diversity?" On the other hand, KCRW's own Celia Hirschmann reports (pdf link) that SoundExchange, the RIAA offshoot that advised the Copyright Board on the new rules, has engaged in some shady tactics of its own, like proposing a "compromise" proposal that required webcasters to abandon support for new rules in the meantime.

In any event, Billboard again quotes their super-secret sources as saying there is "no present intention" to enforce the new rules: the new rates are apparently a "right" the artists and labels will hold, but whether to exercise it or not will be up to them. Unless they do so, webcasters large and small will still be on your computers on Monday.

"We Have Made Remarkable Progress" - GWB Video Smackdown

| Fri Jul. 13, 2007 5:01 PM EDT

Viral videos have a power that partisan media lacks. If a video succinctly makes a point about Bush's record in Iraq, thousands or even millions of people, regardless of party affiliation, may decide to spend a minute and a half to check it out. All it takes is a click of the mouse.

An excellent article in a magazine, however, requires finding a copy and reading for half an hour. Too often, the people willing to make that investment already agree with the article's point.

You tell me. What catches your attention — the video below (spotted on TAPPED) or this article?

Answers for Morning Political Trivia for July 13

| Fri Jul. 13, 2007 4:39 PM EDT

We didn't get many bites on today's morning political trivia, but here's the answer anyway: The two current Senators who served as congressional pages are Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.). No one guessed this — we'll try something a little easier for tomorrow. CQ Politics has more on the subject of former pages in congress. Unsurprisingly, both Dodd and Pryor served as pages during their fathers' tenures in congress. Check back tomorrow for more trivia.

— Nick Baumann

Canadian Study Reveals New Class of Organic Pollutants

| Fri Jul. 13, 2007 4:36 PM EDT

A Canadian team reports in this week's Science that efforts to crack down on persistent organic pollutants (POPs) may have missed an entire set of them. Dioxin, PCBs, and DDT are considered among the most dangerous pollutants on the planet because they don't break down easily, are highly toxic, and build up in the food chain. These chemicals persist in our body fat, and even miniscule amounts in food can add up over time and contribute to health problems such as cancer. More than 140 countries have endorsed the 2001 Stockholm Convention, which aims to banish a dozen POPs from the environment. The Convention's target list is based on risk assessments of these POPs accumulating in fish food webs. But that assumption, the authors argue, could be missing chemicals that fish remove from their bodies but that mammals and birds don't, due to their different respiratory physiology. One-third of the 12,000 or so organic chemicals on the market in Canada fit this new category. . . Whoa. Here comes Silent Spring, Summer, Fall & Winter. JULIA WHITTY