2011 - %3, September

Tea Party Takes On Utah's Last Congressional Dem

| Mon Sep. 5, 2011 5:23 AM EDT

Utah is one of the nation's most conservative states. Barack Obama won only 34 percent of the vote there in 2008. The Mormon-dominated western outpost, which also happens to be my home state, hasn't had a Democratic senator in about 40 years. It hasn't had a Democratic governor since 1985. So in that climate, Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson is a bit of an outlier. He has had a few things going for him—mainly his name. In a state with few Democratic scions, the Matheson family is practically synonymous with Democrat in Utah; Jim's father Scott Matheson, served as the state's last Democratic governor. But for the past decade, Republicans have been trying hard to oust the younger Matheson, namely by redistricting him out of office.

In 2002, Republicans redrew the boundary of Matheson's 2nd district, which had been mostly confined to the more liberal Salt Lake City area, and extended it so that it was glued to some ultra-right wing rural counties in far southern Utah near the Nevada border. The change made him famous as the Democrat representing the most Republican district in the country. (To see how bad this is, take a look at the map of his district here.) Republicans are targeting his district again this year for another boundary change.

So far, Matheson, a member of the Dem's centrist Blue Dog contingent, has managed to survive the gerrymandering and stay in office for a remarkable 12 years,calibrating his votes carefully to acknowledge the precariousness of his situation. He was one of a handful of Democrats, for instance, who voted against Obama's health care bill and raising the debt ceiling.

But even those sorts of hedges may not save him in the next election. Things have changed significantly in a state that I didn't think could get any more conservative. Last year, angry tea party activists managed to bump off Republican establishment figure Sen. Robert Bennett, whose father also represented the state in the Senate. Bennett was a rockribbed, popular Republican, but still not conservative enough for the tea partiers, who ended up electing tea partier Sen. Mike Lee (R).

Two weeks ago, one of the tea party candidates who was among those challenging Bennett in the GOP primary last year, Cherilyn Eagar, threw her hat into the ring and announced that she planned to challenge Matheson. Eagar is an example of the marriage of the tea party with traditional evangelical political groups. She's a longtime activist with Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, where she serves as the national chairman for constitutional studies. Schlafly has endorsed her, along with immigration foe Tom Tancredo (Eagar cut her anti-immigration chops working for Pat Buchannan in 1992.) She's also been active with and endorsed by the founder of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the kooky doctor's group that opposes vaccinations, thinks it's immoral for doctors to participate in Medicare, believes abortion causes breast cancer but that HIV does not cause AIDS, and has speculated that Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters through "neurolinguistic programming." AAPS gained notoriety in 2009 after one of its members circulated a photo of Obama dressed in tribal gear with a bone through his nose. 

A graduate of Brigham Young University, Eagar has worked with the school as a parent adviser to its academic freedom committee after she helped root out "pornographic" masters theses, and she's been an outspoken anti-gay activist (despite having a drama degree and having run a musical theater program in New York for a while). Sorry Jim, but with that kind of record in Utah, she's probably a shoe-in.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Deadmau5 Is Not a Cuddly DJ

| Mon Sep. 5, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

When electronic music producer and performer deadmau5 (pronounced "dead mouse"), a.k.a. Joel Zimmerman, does a show—as he did at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco on August 14—his fans manage to pack it. This time, they spread across the outdoor field in front of the Twin Peaks stage, dancing, screaming, and gazing in awe at his elevated, flashing stage cube as Zimmerman bobbed his giant mouse head to the beats he created. With the exception of the one dude who shouted, "You guys are crazy; Arcade Fire is on!" as he shoved past me in the stacked crowd, the fans didn't care that this year's Album of the Year Grammy winner was playing on the other side of the park.

Deadmau5 is ranked No. 4 on DJ Mag's list of best DJs in the world, but unlike No. 1, Armin Van Buuren, or No. 2, David Guetta, there is something different about the way fans interact with him and his music. Most DJs stand on a podium, outshone by the brilliant light shows flashing across their stages. But with his lit-up mouse head pulsing to the beat, and sometimes illuminating in a giant LED smile, deadmau5 is the centerpiece of his own light shows, including a brand new one developed for the three-month Meowington's Hax tour he launched this summer at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Deadmau5 is also unique because he doesn't consider himself a DJ—to quote his publicist, he is "an electronic music producer and performer [who] performs live all his own music—the way a drummer drums or a guitarist plays guitar."

As I'd seen when deadmau5 played Coachella in 2010, many kids in the crowd at Outside Lands were wearing tattoos of his mouse symbol on their bodies, glow sticks fashioned into mouse ears on their heads, and their own homemade versions of his mouse head. As they danced to his hits, I kept hearing shouts like, "Deadmau5 is the shit!"

15 Minutes With !!!'s Nic Offer

| Mon Sep. 5, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

After the food trucks rolled out and the klezmer dust settled at San Fransico's Outside Lands music fest, the impossible to Google dance-punk band !!! (alternatively pronounced chk-chk-chk, pow-pow-pow or bam-bam-bam) had one last Bay Area funk out. During !!!'s private set at the Barrel House, a SoMa hideaway that lives up to its saloon moniker, front man Nic Offer rocked the very same purple shirt and blue shorts from the festival to a packed audience of industry folk and hardcore fans. Boogieing with the best of the front row, Offer sounded off on SF bars closing at 2 am, donned a glow jacket, and caroused with his band mates as they blasted a lightning-rod set of a dozen electro-synthed, percussion-heavy dance tracks.

With regards to !!!'s frank and freaky titles like, "Jamie, My Intentions are Bass," "Pardon My Freedom" and "Even Judas Gave Jesus a Kiss," Offer tells me that keeping things funkin' weird is where the band finds its staying power. "Each record is a record we never dreamed we could have made. But it's that same strange, funky thing we've been trying to do the whole time, and that consistency is there throughout." Thumbing an edamame pod after the show in the venue's hideaway loft, Offer sat down for a quick interview.

Mother Jones: How was Outside Lands

Nic Offer: It was really good, we had a great time. It's a beautiful festival, great crowd, great energy, great weather. No complaints.

MJ: What's your favorite festival to play? 

NO: Probably the Benicàssim International Festival in Spain because they have a pool backstage. That pretty much trumps everything. And they have someone around who'll take your drug order, and that's pretty cool too.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for September 5, 2011

Mon Sep. 5, 2011 4:57 AM EDT

Air Force Basic Military Training trainee Nicholas Warila low crawls through an obstacle course July 27, 2011, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, during the Creating Leaders, Airman and Warriors course. CLAW is a three-hour, mission-oriented exercise designed to test teamwork, leadership skills and the ability to perform under pressure. Warila is assigned to the 322nd Training Squadron. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marleah Miller.

Mitt Romney Tries to Win Over the Tea Party

| Mon Sep. 5, 2011 1:50 AM EDT

Tea partiers don't really seem to like Mitt Romney. This isn't all that difficult to understand: He is from Massachusetts, has said some pretty liberal things over the years, and was at one point proud of a piece of health care legislation that was eerily similar to the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010. Those aren't the kinds of things that sell really well at tea party rallies, and Romney, recognizing this, has for the most part avoided those kinds of events.

Until Sunday. The former Massachusetts governor addressed a crowd of about 150 here at a Tea Party Express rally in Rollins Park. Things went, well, better than they could have. Romney, joined by his wife, Ann, spoke for about 15 minutes, delivering a speech that managed to appeal to the crowd without pandering to them too brazenly. He noted—twice—that he's not a career politician (a not-so-veiled shot at fellow candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry) and touted his business experience and work with the 2002 Winter Olympics. He cracked a joke about enticing Californians to move to Massachusetts to enjoy its superior business climate (Perry says the exact same thing about Texas), and he offered up some patriotic red meat by telling the story of the time he received a fallen soldier at Boston's Logan Airport and looked up to see an entire terminal with their hands on their chests. The event's most memorable line might have come from Ann, who said of her initial reluctance for another presidential run, "Mitt knew not to listen to me because I said that after every pregnancy."

Europe's Day of Reckoning

| Sun Sep. 4, 2011 10:54 PM EDT

Ezra Klein recommends this LRB piece about the current phase of our economic crisis by popularizer John Lanchester. And why not? It's pretty good.1 European banks, he says, are in way worse shape than they've ever been willing to admit. This is true — and it's something that a lot of us have been puzzling over for a good many years. Our puzzlement was related to the fact that although European banks really did appear to be in bad shape, they mostly managed to sail along seemingly unscathed regardless. But Lanchester thinks the era of the brave facade is finally over, and a day of reckoning is near. Unfortunately, as always, Europe is still unwilling to fully recognize reality and do what it must to fix things properly. The best-case scenario is already out of reach:

The next scenario — the one we are on course for at the moment — is not so much the next-best as the next-least-worst. It is modelled on what happened to other parts of the world over recent decades, from Latin America to Russia to South-East Asia, as they underwent debt crises and consequent economic collapse. In all cases, the relevant economies recovered, after about a decade of hard times and widely shared economic pain. In this model, the debts are gradually paid down, the economy is slowly and miserably rebalanced, and eventually things grow back to where they were when the bubble burst. There is a general sense of baffled incomprehension in the West at the idea that this should be happening to Us, instead of to Them; it turns out that this trajectory of crisis and slow recovery is a lot more bearable when it happens to other people, ideally in far-away countries of which we know little. But that is what we look to be on course for at the moment.

Unfortunately, I think I agree with Lanchester. I'd prefer to think that we'll all come to our senses soon and do what needs to be done, but as he says, "I fear that the grip of anti-spending ideology is so strong throughout the West, and the politicians’ fear of the banks is so entrenched, that the ten-year slog looks more likely." Urk.

1And be sure to read the footnote!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What's in a Name?

| Sun Sep. 4, 2011 11:11 AM EDT

From the Washington Post today:

Next up: How Kafakaesque was Kafka? Was Old Blood and Guts really bloody and gutsy? How Platonically lovely was Plato's life? Did Oedipus actually have an Oedipus complex? Was Christ a Christian? Was Buddha a Buddhist?  Did Henry Ford truly practice Fordism? Was Julius Caesar born by Caesarean section? Did Jelly Roll Morton eat jelly rolls? Was Homer really homeless? All this and more in Part 2 of this series.

10 Eye-Popping Labor Day Stats

| Sun Sep. 4, 2011 9:30 AM EDT

Labor Day was created more than 100 years ago to celebrate the might, ingenuity, and achievements of American workers. But for many, this year's holiday is a painful reminder of how few good jobs are out there. To mark this Labor Day weekend, here's a roundup of 10 eye-popping statistics on the American jobs crisis. It's a sobering snapshot of the issue that worries Americans more than any other—and which hangs over President Obama as he gears up for his big jobs speech on Thursday (not to mention his reelection campaign).

25.3 million Americans: The true size of the unemployment crisis. This figure includes people who are out of work, forced to work part-time, or unable to find a full-time job, as well as those who want to work but have given up searching for a job in the past month, most likely out of frustration.

6.9 million jobs: How many fewer jobs there are today than in December 2007.

0.22 jobs: The number of job openings per one unemployed worker.

Twenty-eight out of 32 months: The number of months since January 2009 that job growth failed to keep up with basic population growth (roughly 150,000 jobs a month). All those headlines saying job growth has stalled are wrong; it's not even doing that.

43%: The percentage of jobless workers who haven't pulled a steady paycheck in more than six months. That's 6 million workers.

16.7%: The jobless rate for African-Americans. Black unemployment is now at its highest in 27 years.

11.3%: The Hispanic unemployment rate. This figure has held steady since February 2009.

17.7%: The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds of all races, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds. Often overlooked, youth unemployment has a long-term toll; young people who enter a weak job market are almost guaranteed to earn less over their lifetimes than those who find jobs during boom times.

280,000: The number of jobs the American economy needs to add each month to fill its 11.3 million-job deficit by the middle of 2016.

35,000: The average number of jobs the economy actually added in the past three months.

Brazil's Soy Frontier: Next Stop, Africa

| Fri Sep. 2, 2011 4:57 PM EDT
A soy field in Brazil's Cerrado region.

A couple weeks ago, the government of Mozambique offered farmers from Brazil 50-year leases on 15 million acres of land: an area equivalent to a bit more than half of the acreage under cultivation in Iowa.

According to Reuters, the price is right: $5.30 per acre, vs. a going rate of as much as $8,800 per acre in Brazil. Understandably, Brazilian farmers are jumping at the offer.

Why the dirt-cheap offer? The Mozambique government is looking for farming expertise. The farmers the governemnt is courting operate in Brazil's Cerrado region, a vast, scrubby savanna with unpromising, acidic soil. They operate on the frontier of industrial agriculture: In just 30 years, they have turned what was once considered an agricultural wasteland into one of the globe's most productive sources of corn, cotton, and, most prominently, soy. The land on offer in Mozambique (like Brazil, a former Portuguese colony) is similar to that of the Cerrado.

So Brazil's industrial-ag frontier has jumped the Atlantic and is about to take root in Africa. To grasp the significance of this development, it's important to understand the place Brazil's Cerrado has come to occupy in the global industrial-agriculture chain.

Chart: Happy Labor Day! (If you're a CEO)

| Fri Sep. 2, 2011 4:34 PM EDT

Just in time for Labor Day, here's a handy illustration of how labor is getting shafted by Corporate America:

Source: Jared Bernstein, Center for Budget and Policy PrioritiesSource: Jared Bernstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

The red line is the share of the economy taken up by wages, salaries etc. The blue line is the share taken up by corporate profits. So the graph shows that corporations have bounced back from the recession even as workers' share of the economic pie continues to narrow.

Why is this happening? Jared Bernstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, who put together the graph, says companies have raked in the dough by selling into emerging markets while cutting costs through outsourcing and automating domestic jobs. I'd say the demise of unions certainly also plays a role.

As the chart also makes clear, widening income inequality in America is no longer just a matter of stratified wages. Today's investment class—the CEOs, the hedge fund managers, the bankers—owns a stake in an economic system that no longer needs to share much of its wealth with anyone else. In other words, it takes money to make money. And of course, spending some of it to buy off Washington doesn't hurt either.