2011 - %3, July

Review: "The Goo Goo Muck," by Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

TRACK 15

"The Goo Goo Muck," by Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads

from Keb Darge & Little Edith's Legendary Wild Rockers: A Collection of Rare Rockabilly, Surf and Exotica (BBE)

Liner notes: "I cruise through the city and I roam the streets/Lookin' for something that is nice to eat," purrs Ronnie Cook over a sleazy sax groove on this 1962 obscurity out of Bakersfield, California. The song was memorably covered by psychobilly greats The Cramps on their 1981 album, Psychedelic Jungle.

Behind the music: Scottish DJ Keb Darge played a pivotal role in establishing Britain's northern soul club scene, which celebrates obscure US R&B. Following his compilations of funk and jump blues, this boisterous 20-track set also features The Reekers' "Don't Call Me Flyface" and "King Kong," by Tarantula Ghoul and Her Gravediggers.

Check it out if you like: Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Link Wray, and other early rock mavericks.

Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Review: Arctic Monkeys' Suck It and See

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 6:30 AM EDT

TRACK 8

"Reckless Serenade"

from Arctic Monkeys' Suck It and See (Domino)

Liner notes: Rebounding from Humbug, their overly heavy third outing, the British quartet corrects course with a brighter sound that emphasizes Alex Turner's gritty-yet-tender voice.

Behind the music: An old-school guitar band for the modern age, Arctic Monkeys built a loyal audience before they landed a record deal by releasing their music free online. Their subsequent 2006 album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, became the fastest-selling debut in UK history.

Check it out if you like: Confident hipster dudes, including The Strokes, The Libertines, and Oasis.

Click here for more Music Monday features from Mother Jones.

Front page image: Tammy Lo/Flickr

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 25, 2011

Mon Jul. 25, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

US Army Pfc. Sean Jamison with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) provides security atop a mountain during Operation Sarak Basta II at Paktika province, Afghanistan, June 19. The operation eliminated an illegal route between the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Photo by the US Army.

VIDEO: Sumatran Tiger Killed in Pig Trap

| Mon Jul. 25, 2011 5:30 AM EDT

Sumatran tigers are having a tough time. Because of habitat loss in the Indonesian rainforest, this big Asian cat is among the most endangered species in the world: Only 400 of them are left in the wild. (There's some incredible footage of them here.) The major force driving the clear-cutting around their home is Asia Pulp & Paper, a vast paper company that wields a lot of power; its clients include Disney and several major toy manufacturers.

Earlier this month, in Riau, Indonesia, one of the 400 tigers stumbled into a snare set by villagers who wanted to catch pigs. When Indonesian conservationists learned of the situation a few days later, they sent in a rescue team to free the tiger, which by that point was badly wounded. Watch the video (footage courtesy of Greenpeace; edited by my MoJo colleague Jen Quraishi) to see what happens. Warning: The video is fairly graphic.

Translating Standard & Poor's

| Sun Jul. 24, 2011 5:43 PM EDT

A few days ago, Standard & Poor's announced that even if Congress passes a debt ceiling increase, they might still downgrade U.S. debt if there's not also an agreement to cut the long-term deficit by at least $4 trillion. Now, there are all sorts of reasons why no one should care much what S&P thinks. For example, there's the fact that they don't know anything more about U.S. solvency than anyone else. There's the fact that they displayed monumentally bad judgment during the housing bubble. And as Mike Konczal pointed out earlier today, there's the fact that they routinely do a lousy job of rating sovereign debt.

But there's another interesting aspect of the whole thing. Here is S&P's explanation for why they're so concerned:

U.S. political debate is currently more focused on the need for medium-term fiscal consolidation than it has been for a decade. Based on this, we believe that an inability to reach an agreement now could indicate that an agreement will not be reached for several more years. We view an inability to timely agree and credibly implement medium-term fiscal consolidation policy as inconsistent with a 'AAA' sovereign rating, given the expected government debt trajectory noted above.

Did you see the card they palmed via use of the passive voice? Here's the translation: If Congress had just gone through its usual kabuki and then raised the debt ceiling, S&P wouldn't have cared. Life would go on as usual. But because "U.S. political debate" is currently so focused on the deficit, that makes addressing the deficit suddenly important regardless of what action is taken on the debt ceiling.

But this focus on the deficit didn't spring fully formed out of Zeus's forehead. It's the product of a deliberate political offensive by one of America's two major parties. (The other major party is more focused on addressing sky-high unemployment and poor economic growth.) So what S&P is saying here is this: If Republicans unilaterally decide to focus on something for partisan reasons, then the nation had better address it. And if the nation doesn't address Republican concerns, then its credit rating will go down.

Nice.

Sunday Campaign Blogging: A More Presidential Inkblot

| Sun Jul. 24, 2011 2:26 PM EDT

Inkblot's senior campaign staffers have decided that Friday's campaign poster didn't show the candidate at his presidential best. Too squinty-eyed. So here's their second bite at the apple, a truly visionary and inspiring Inkblot dedicated to winning the future. How could you not vote for him?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Republicans and the Deficit Narrative

| Sun Jul. 24, 2011 1:10 AM EDT

God only knows what offers Obama really made to John Boehner last week and what offers Boehner might have been willing to accept. Reporting is all over the map on this. Like nearly every liberal, though, I'm pretty stunned by White House confirmation that Obama offered to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67 — a truly terrible idea that wouldn't even save very much money. If this is true, it means either (a) Obama really is willing to sell out the left almost completely, or (b) he's trying to demonstrate how completely instransigent Republicans are. I can't even guess which at this point. Maybe both.

Frankly, though, the endless "inside" reporting of offers and counteroffers isn't very interesting any more. I think we've seen pretty much every permutation possible. Details aside, what's obvious is that Obama is willing to concede a helluva lot while a big chunk of Republicans are not only unwilling to concede anything, but think it would be great to just go ahead and default. So what if the economy goes kablooey? It'll help defeat Obama! And anyway, it's only a bunch of long-haired economists saying so, and they're probably just making stuff up, the same as the long-haired climate scientists and the long-haired biologists.

But here's what I am curious about. Up until very recently, Republicans were mostly taking a hard line on the deficit and weren't shy about making sure everyone knew it. The hard line itself hasn't changed since then, but over the past few weeks they've come to realize that it doesn't make for very good PR. So now their enablers in the media are furiously pushing the story that it's really Obama who's completely intransigent and insincere, rejecting deal after deal no matter how much Republicans try to accomodate his crazed desire to punish the rich. This narrative, as near as I can tell, is now virtually unanimous among conservative commenters.

So the question is, will anyone buy this? It's so self-evidently preposterous that it doesn't seem possible, but then, I wouldn't have figured that they could successfully make the world so quickly forget that they were responsible for the deficit in the first place, nor that they were also responsible for the most epic financial meltdown since the Great Depression. But they have. Their ability to shape popular narratives can hardly be overestimated.

Even now, House Republicans are apparently readying a plan that appears to have no purpose except to be so obviously outlandish that it will get rejected out of hand, thus helping their storyline. Conservative pundits will spin it in lockstep as yet another example of Obama's obduracy, and the rest of the media will.....

What? Slowly buy into it? I don't know. The American press, as long as it's bound by its usual standard of objectivity, just isn't set up to deal with a two-party system in which one of the parties has gone completely off the rails. So we'll see. They might yet pull it off.

Langhorne Slim Hits the Alt-Country Road

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 9:30 PM EDT
Langhorne Slim (front) and The War Eagles.

Years ago, Sean Scolnick would have told you he's the bastard child of Hasil Adkins, the Appalachian country-and-blues legend known for birthing rockabilly songs like "No More Hotdogs" and "Chicken Walk." He wasn't far off, since, like Adkins, Scolnick spends most of his time on the road, often solo. And with a boyish frame usually found under a vest and a tilted porkpie hat, he's a natural fit against a backcountry landscape.

But Scolnick, better known as Langhorne Slim, hails from the suburbs of northeast Pennsylvania, where he didn't get out much, he says, and was once kicked out of school. That might explain his sidewalk-scuffed style, which transcends the traditional blues genre. Some time after moving to New York for college, Scolnick hit the road and his nomadic career has saved him for most of his adult life from having to to pay rent. Reviewers have compared the 30-year-old singer-songwriter to Bob Dylan and The Avett Brothers (with whom he has toured), and his last album, 2009's Be Set Free, was produced by Chris Funk of The Decemberists.

Scolnick distinguishes himself, meanwhile, with heartbreaking lyrics sung over punk-rock country blues with a dash of Kurt Cobainesque angst. "I’m not sure that there’s any other kind, but the songs I write are love songs," he says. I caught up with Mr. Slim in advance of his July 22 show at The Independent in San Francisco. (Click here for his full tour schedule.) The singer, battling a cold, put up with my questions about hunky bachelorhood, vegetarianism on the road, and why he named his act after his hometown. 

Mother Jones: You grew up in Langhorne, a big Philly suburb, as well as New York City. How'd you get into folk and blues?

Langhorne Slim: I love all kind of music and I think there's a bit of a lot of different styles in my own music. Early blues and folk are to me as raw and real as it gets. I'm most drawn to the roots of various musical styles whether it be blues, rock 'n' roll, jazz, or whatever. For me it's at the beginnings of these forms that they are at their most primitive, honest state.

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week [25]

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 8:46 PM EDT

Mother Jones guest blogger Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads, a site devoted to uncovering the best long-form nonfiction articles available online. And what better time to curl up with a great read than over the weekend? Below, a hand-picked bouquet of five interesting stories, including word count and approximate reading time. (Readers can also subscribe to The Top 5 Longreads of the Week by clicking here.)

Senate Ponders End to DOMA

| Fri Jul. 22, 2011 4:53 PM EDT

Friday marked the official demise of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, 18 years after it was first put in place under President Bill Clinton. Could the 15-year-old law that made it a federal policy to pretend gay marriages don't exist be the next to go down?

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing this week on the "Respect for Marriage Act," a bill that would essential nullify the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that Clinton signed into law 1996. The federal prohibition means that same-sex couples—even those who live in states where their unions have been legalized—are not given the same federal protections as heterosexual pairs. They aren't allowed to take tax write-offs or family leave, and if a same-sex spouse dies, the partner can't collect their pension or Social Security.

There are already up to 80,000 gay couples who have been married in the five states and the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal. On Sunday, many more will join their ranks as gay marriages are performed in New York, too, for the first time.

The proposed new law, from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would end DOMA and allow those couples the same federal rights as any other married couple. The the Obama administration voiced support for the measure this week as well. Of course, the bill is opposed by gay marriage foes. Even if it passes the Senate this year (which is probably a stretch), it wouldn't go anywhere in the GOP-majority House.

A taste of that opposition, via the Los Angeles Times:

But Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family, which opposes gay marriage, said there was a "mountain of evidence" that showed the best environment for children was an "intact home with a married father and mother." Minnery noted that voters in 31 states had rejected gay marriage.

In a video that's been making the rounds online, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) rips Minnery apart for his inaccurate claims about a Department of Health and Human Services report that he cites as evidence that children who grow up with two opposite-sex parents are better off. As Franken points out, the report only says that kids are better off with two parents who are married and in the home—the HHS report makes no mention of the parents' gender.

What's most interesting to me, though, was Minnery's suggestion that because a number of states have rejected gay marriage, the federal government should respect that. In reality, though, this bill doesn't seek to impose anything on those states. States that have legalized gay marriage will continue to marry gay couples. Those that haven't will continue to not marry gay people.

It's basically a bill that would stop the federal government from interfering in the states—something that Republicans have supported on, for example, clean water protections. But apparently "states' rights" don't extend to marriage.