2009 - %3, March

Backing Tracks: Still Controversial!

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 3:57 PM EDT

Back in April, I posted about an enjoyable live performance by The Ting Tings where the UK duo used some form of backing track or sequencer for extra harmonies, bass and percussion. It got me to thinking about what the boundary is between "live" and "not live" music in a performance setting, and why audiences are willing to accept certain amounts of prerecorded material in some live shows, but not in others. I even drew a little graph in an attempt to define what we call "live." Of course, as an electronic music enthusiast and DJ, I wasn't passing judgment, just trying to describe the phenomenon, but commenters (always a charming bunch) went on the attack, saying I didn't understand anything about live music and insulting me in vivid enough terms they got their comments deleted. Crazy! Well, today the folks at NPR's All Songs Considered blog waded into the topic, and I hope they get nicer comments. They noticed backing tracks a-plenty at the recent SXSW music festival in Austin:

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Exclusive: Rachel Maddow's Anxiety Dream (and More Video Highlights From Her MoJo Gala)

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 2:42 PM EDT

Talk about MoJo rising! Rachel Maddow did us a huge solid and came to San Francisco to appear at a jam- and star-packed fundraiser for Mother Jones on Saturday, March 28. Before a sold-out crowd at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, she talked with Monika and me about everything from why women are closeted about being smart, to her impending interview with Colin Powell, what she'd ask Dick Cheney, Tweeting vs. blogging, her David Petraeus work anxiety dream, and why America needs to do more to ensure the future of serious investigative reporting and editing. Special props to Rachel for recognizing how newscasters depend on print reporting for the building blocks of their shows; "without the [MoJo DC bureau chief] David Corns of the world, there's no show. David Corn can do his job without me, but I can't do my job without him."

And if all that weren't fun and ego boosting enough, it was officially "Mother Jones Day" in San Francisco on Saturday (see proclamation after the jump)—whereby, according to SF Supervisor Bevan Dufty and California State Senator Mark Leno, nobody on staff could get arrested. Good thing, because at a reception before the big show, local mixologist extraordinaire Thad Vogler was making a killer signature cocktail, "The Maddow," and even those of us who had to get on stage and talk serious policy had a hard time saying no.

Rachel mixed it up with her adoring fans after the show, and everybody had an awesome time. Check out our exclusive videos, and (after the jump) the recipe to The Maddow and the Mother Jones Day proclamation.

10 Video Clips of Rachel Maddow in Conversation With MoJo Editors Clara Jeffery and Monika Bauerlein

1) The Venn diagram of Rachel: Entertainer, journalist, self-indulgent dork.

2) The show on Afghanistan, ratings be damned.

3) The reason America needs full time reporters and editors, not hobbyists.

4) Why she's not closeted about being smart.

5) The lowdown on Tweeting vs. blogging.

6) The David Petraeus work anxiety dream.

7) The drink she would have fixed Lincoln.

8) The reporters she trusts on the bailout.

9) The state of the 4th Estate.

10) The reason she's optimistic about the country's future.

Click Here to Launch a Photo Slideshow of the Evening.

Then mix yourself a Maddow* and go watch Rachel's show tonight.

My Super Awesome Maddow Pre-Show Playlist

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 2:26 PM EDT
If you missed it, then I hate to rub it in, but Yerba Buena Center for the Arts was totally the place to be here in San Francisco on Saturday night, as Mother Jones' dynamic editorial duo of Clara Jeffrey and Monika Bauerlein shared the stage with everybody's favorite MSNBC host Rachel Maddow at an event packed with enthusiastic supporters of good journalism. In addition to having the most enviable cowboy shirt this side of Jack White, Maddow was also charming and informative, although I'm still troubled that this TV star doesn't actually watch any TV. Not even Aqua Teen?! Anyhoo, those of you who showed up early to get a good seat may have noticed a delightful little music mix playing over the loudspeakers. And who, pray tell, could have put together such an awe-inspiring CD? Why, your idiotically-named DJ and contributor, of course. Organizers asked me to come up with an hour of tunes to entertain the early arrivals, so I took it upon myself to find tracks that were not only diverse and entertaining, but also had (perhaps wryly) appropriate lyrics. Unfortunately, when I showed up at 7:45, the CD was just starting, so I don't know if the whole thing got played or not. But if you're curious about what you heard (or what you were supposed to hear), look after the jump for the full list of tunes. And yes, I totally included "The Bleeding Heart Show."

Cars vs. Cash

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 1:48 PM EDT
In one sense, I was surprised and impressed by Barack Obama's auto bailout announcement this morning.  He was, appropriately I think, fairly tough.  From GM, he insisted that they fire their CEO and submit a tougher restructuring plan.  From Chrysler, he insisted that they consummate a deal with Fiat and said flatly that they'd be allowed to go under if they didn't.  This is appropriate: a private investor wouldn't treat Chrysler and GM identically, and there's no reason the federal government should either.

Still, it's hard not to do a double take at his actual words:

"We cannot, we must not, and we will not let our auto industry simply vanish. . . . It is a pillar of our economy that has held up the dreams of millions of our people. But we also cannot continue to excuse poor decisions. And we cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars. These companies — and this industry — must ultimately stand on their own, not as wards of the state."

In the same way that GM is different from Chrysler, the banking industry is different from the auto industry.  Still and all, don't you wish that Obama were willing to treat bankers the same way he's treating the carmakers?  It's pretty much impossible not to compare his tough words this morning with the conciliatory tone and even more conciliatory actions he's taken with the financial industry.

As for the news that the stock market plunged on the news, spare me.  Investors are idiots if they think this is bad news.  A tougher restructuring plan is better in the long run for everyone but the auto industry's bondholders, and I'll bet that even most of them have either hedged their positions or else sold off their holdings at 70 cents on the dollar to speculators.  Save your tears for someone else.

Wall Street, Above All Else

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 1:23 PM EDT

Former IMF chief economist Simon Johnson, writing in the Atlantic Monthly (via Open Left):

Top investment bankers and government officials like to lay the blame for the current crisis on the lowering of U.S. interest rates after the dotcom bust or, even better—in a "buck stops somewhere else" sort of way—on the flow of savings out of China. Some on the right like to complain about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or even about longer-standing efforts to promote broader homeownership. And, of course, it is axiomatic to everyone that the regulators responsible for "safety and soundness" were fast asleep at the wheel.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector....

From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent. Pay rose just as dramatically. From 1948 to 1982, average compensation in the financial sector ranged between 99 percent and 108 percent of the average for all domestic private industries. From 1983, it shot upward, reaching 181 percent in 2007.

The great wealth that the financial sector created and concentrated gave bankers enormous political weight—a weight not seen in the U.S. since the era of J.P. Morgan (the man).

You should read the whole thing.

The Blog Bubble

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 1:01 PM EDT
Responding to a reader who suggests that a 95% tax rate on very high incomes would be like legally capping the number of words a blogger is allowed to write, Matt Yglesias says he'd welcome such a thing:

Personally, I would love a legal cap on the number of words a blogger is allowed to produce per day. I’m privileged to have a job that I really enjoy. But at the same time, I would prefer to write somewhat less — this pace is stressful and doesn’t leave me as much time to pursue other projects and interests. But though I would prefer to write somewhat less, I have a stronger second-order preference to produce a blog that’s competitive with other major offerings on the internet. And over the years competition between bloggers has led to escalating word-counts. The resulting situation isn’t terrible, there are lots of people you should cry for before you get to me, but basically we bloggers are engaged in a red queen's race where we all need to keep trying harder and harder just to maintain our positions. A cap would be helpful.

This is the mentality of the bubble.  Or cable news.  Or something.  Whatever it is, though, it's bad.  We already have plenty of news mediums that reward instant, unthinking reaction, and the last thing the world needs is another one.  The blogosphere would  be a better place if everyone took a deep breath and decided that quality was more important than boosting traffic by simply having a post — any post — on every news event of the day.  Slow down and think instead!

And as long as I'm in Andy Rooney mode, will all you kids get off my lawn?  Thanks.

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Travel Day Today....

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 11:24 AM EDT
....so light blogging from me.  In fact, probably no blogging unless I have some time at the airport later this afternoon.  Otherwise, I'll be be back on the job tonight, and regular blogging will resume on Tuesday.

DREAM Act Supporters Try Again

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 10:56 AM EDT

If you are the son or daughter of an illegal immigrant, brought to this country at a young age, you have the opportunity to go to high school, and with some complications, college. But frequently, that's where your pursuit of the American dream ends -- becoming a professional (i.e. using your expertise to contribute to the arts, letters, commerce, or social development of this country) can be immensely difficult. The DREAM Act, which was recently reintroduced in the House, would remedy that. It would give undocumented immigrants who arrived in this country before the age of 16 the opportunity to become American citizens if they have no criminal record and they complete two years of college or serve two years in the military.

The bill has its supporters. And they've got lots of reasons -- moral and economic -- why it ought to pass. But it failed last year in the Senate. One would think that an immigration bill would have conservative support if it only makes citizens out individuals in the undocumented population who (1) have raised themselves up from nothing to the point where they are ready and willing to contribute to society, (2) will not be taking low-wage jobs from everyday working Americans, and (3) who came to this country at such a young age that their illegal status was clearly something that happened to them, not that they chose. And yet, it faces persistent opposition from those who believe it is back-door amnesty. So if you're the type to support legislation, and you are represented by a Blue Dog Democrat or a moderate Republican, consider picking up the phone.

Iran Nuke Update and Media Imbalance

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 10:26 AM EDT
I want to point out that when the current administration gives non-inflammatory updates on the state of Iran's nuclear capability, it earns way less media attention than the previous administration's public fear-mongering. The result is that Americans still nervous about Iran because of Bush, Cheney, et al's repeated but unfounded warnings don't have the information they need to know they can breathe easy. This strikes me as problematic. 

Torture Follies (Confirmed!)

| Mon Mar. 30, 2009 9:40 AM EDT

For all of you who don't get the Washington Post over the weekend (which, I'm assuming, is the vast majority of you), here is the beginning of its very important Sunday front-pager, on how useless torture enhanced interrogation techniques were under the Bush Administration.

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations," and other top officials called him a "trusted associate" of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Not much of this is new -- if you've read books like The One-Percent Doctrine and The Dark Side, you know that torture never produced the bounty of information that Dick Cheney still wants you to believe it did, and that Zubaida (most news outlets have spelled it Zubaydah in the past) was a fixer, a functionary, a glorified travel agent. And he was mentally unstable to boot. The idea that he is an example of how the Bush Administration got detainee policy right is one of the great and enduring fictions of the last decade., and this article confirms that.

Update: Andrew has some additional thoughts.