2011 - %3, December

Gun Owners Take On Newt Gingrich

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 8:31 AM PST
Gingrich in the 1980s.

Now that's he's the front-runner in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich's 33-year-record is officially open for scrutiny. There are plenty of reasons why conservatives might reject the former Speaker of the House, but here's another one: guns. Georgia Gun Owners, a grassroots gun rights group from his home state, is now blasting Gingrich for "his more than two-decade history of supporting gun control." The group has asked its 6,000 members to call Gingrich's new Iowa headquarters and make their complaints known.

Per the release the group blasted out this morning:

While Newt used the institutional gun lobby as a mouthpiece to convince millions of gun owners nationwide that "as long as he is Speaker, no gun-control legislation is going to move in committee or on the House floor," he was working behind the scenes to pass gun control.

In 1996, Newt Gingrich turned his back on gun owners and voted for the anti-gun Brady Campaign's Lautenberg Gun Ban, which strips the Second Amendment rights of citizens involved in misdemeanor domestic violence charges or temporary protection orders -- in some cases for actions as minor as spanking a child.

Gingrich also stood shoulder to shoulder with Nancy Pelosi to pass the "Criminal Safezones Act" which prevents armed citizens from defending themselves in certain arbitrary locations. Virtually all Americans know that Criminal Safezones don't protect law-abiding citizens, but actually protect the criminals who ignore them.

One of the problems with having a 33-year political career is that you accumulate a really long record of positions. It doesn't help Gingrich that he made his biggest impact in the '90s, when gun control and crime were much higher-profile issues than they are today. And as Elizabeth Drew recounts in her book Showdown, Gingrich viewed the gun lobby as a group that must be appeased, but it wasn't exactly his core constituency as Speaker.

An important caveat, though: If Gingrich is unappealing on guns, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is hardly a palatable alternative. A similar group in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition, has been handing out anti-Romney literature in the Granite State, touting (among other things) his support for a ban on assault weapons. If you're a hard-core Second Amendment rights activist, you likely cast your lot with Ron Paul a long time ago.

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Review: "Det Haster!" by Casiokids

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 4:00 AM PST

TRACK 2

"Det Haster!"

From Casiokids' Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen (Polyvinyl)

Liner notes: This loopy Norwegian quartet brings a playful tinge to synth pop, crafting delectable fun from analog blips, chunky beats, and Ketil Kinden Endresen's dreamy voice.

Behind the music: Known for spirited live shows, Casiokids have incorporated shadow puppets and animal costumes into the act. Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen, their first proper album following a 2006 singles compilation, translates as "the revelation over the mountain"—a supposed reference to Dr. Tarzan Monsoon, a fictional adventurer who discovered a hidden rainforest.

Check it out if you like: Electronica mavericks such as Devo, When Saints Go Machine, and New Order.

That's One Way to Use a Coal Plant

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 4:00 AM PST

In Soweto, they've found a new use for an old coal plant: public art, and bungee jumping.

More than a million people live in Soweto, a sprawling township just outside of Johannesburg. For decades, black South Africans were relegated to this suburb, and it became a major hub in the movement to end apartheid. To this day, nearly all of the residents are black; they range from wealthy upper middle class (including the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela, the former wife of the political leader) to a squatter camp that still lacks electricity. Rising from the middle of it are the remnants of Orlando Power Station, a coal-fired power plant with two massive cooling towers.

The towers date back to the early 1950s, though the plant was built in the '30s and used largely to provide power to the white areas of Johannesburg. The plant was shut down in 1998, but when it was in operation, some of those living in its shadow—and in the line of its pollution—lacked access to electricity. First National Bank funded the renovation project, which was finished in 2006. It is now home to the largest mural in South Africa: One stack celebrates Soweto's eclectic heritage: Nelson Mandela, musicians, folks warming around a fire, and chickens grazing in a yard. The other tower shows a favorite pastime, soccer.

Arguably the best part: From a tiny platform strung between the two towers, you can now bungee jump. A jump from a coal plant will cost you about $35, but then of course you're also buying bragging rights for the rest of your life. More on the power plant, and the extreme sporting opportunities, here.

18 Drinking Songs to Toast the End of Prohibition

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 4:00 AM PST
Folks chugging at a bar in Raceland, Louisiana, September 1938, nearly five years after the end of Prohibition.

Monday marks the 78th anniversary of the ratification of the 21st Amendment, which officially ended Prohibition in the United States. On December 5, 1933, the federal government brought to a close a 13-year era deeply scarred by Mafia power grabs and draconian law enforcement measures…and all the American people got for it were some cool movies, an HBO series, and this stupid T-shirt.

To commemorate the abrogation of the "Noble Experiment," here's a round-up of the best songs about getting tanked, pie-eyed, crapulent, and loaded. Some tracks are mellow and emotional, others are noisy and visceral—all are guaranteed to put you in the mood to party like FDR just got into office. And, no, Blake Shelton's "The More I Drink" will not be appearing anywhere on this list. Ditto, that damn Jimmy Buffett song.

1. The Rolling Stones, featuring Buddy Guy, "Champagne and Reefer": In this killer jam from Martin Scorsese's 2008 concert film Shine a Light, the Stones and Buddy Guy take a Muddy Waters favorite out for a spin, riffing on the simple pleasures in life: women, dope, and gallons upon gallons of white sparkling wine.

2. The Gourds, "Gin and Juice": In 1996, the Austin alt-country outfit released their endearing reinvention of Snoop Dogg's 1994 hit. The Gourds' cover is a gleefully down-home toast to hard debauchery and buzzed driving, as well as a bizarre hat tip to thug rap.

3. John Lee Hooker, "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer": George Thurogood and the Destroyers might have the better-known, monologue-heavy rendition of songwriter Rudy Toombs' classic, but John Lee Hooker is John Lee Hooker. So enjoy the man's definitive style:

Y La Bamba's Mariachi Makeover

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 4:00 AM PST

Y La Bamba (photo by Alicia J. Rose)Y La Bamba photo by Alicia J. RosePortland indie band Y La Bamba doesn't serenade you at restaurants or feature a trumpet, and its members don't sport matching embroidered tuxedos. Its resemblance to a mariachi band is more subtle: emotive lead vocals, a plethora of stringed instruments, an accordion, songs of lament. Though her music is now rather folky, lead singer Luzelena Mendoza's past reveals an adoration of traditional Mexican singers whose influence on the band is undeniable.

"When I was a little girl I loved mariachi and the conjuntos and all the little trios and singing at church," Mendoza fondly remembers. It's hard to imagine Mendoza, six feet tall with striking tattoos scrawled across her shoulders and neck, as a small, pious child. But as she continues to resurrect memories, the picture comes into focus.

The singer grew up in sheltered Mexican communities, first in Michoacan and later in California and Oregon, and her list of childhood favorites sounds like a classic Latin jukebox medley: "Ramón Ayala, Los Madrugadores, Los Panchos, Los Dandys, Los Caminantes, Pedro Infantes, Pepe Aguilar, Javier Solís." During Mendoza's teenage years in the US, R&B entered her repertoire and prompted her to develop her voice. "I would sing along with mariachi stuff in the background because I loved the way it felt."

The reason she was entranced with Mexican singers in the first place? "I was born into it." Her dad was a fan of the accordion and someone who "always wanted to be the center of attention and sing his heart out." But her parents haven't always been supportive of her career path. "They didn't really know how to accept who I was. It's not like I'm half-Mexican or something—it was the real fuckin' deal. To see something like me come out of something that strict and thick and beautiful," she explains, referring to her conservative Catholic upbringing, "they were like, who is this?"

She pushed onward, dabbling in punk rock and working as a body piercer before creating Y La Bamba with fellow Portlanders in 2003. Mendoza writes most of the band's songs, dipping into legends and stories as much as her own personal experiences. Recently, for instance, she wrote a song called "Lamento de Madre," which juxtaposes her own mother with the famous Mexican legend of "La Llorona," the crying woman, whose wails of grief over her children's deaths plagued waterways in Mexico and Central America.

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

Mon Dec. 5, 2011 3:57 AM PST

Soldiers from Bravo Battery, FIRES Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment launch a round downrange, Tuesday, November 30, 2011 during a M777 Howitzer live fire exercise on the Grafenwoehr Training Area. Photo by the US Army.

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Occupy Calendar: Check Out #OWS' Jam-Packed Schedule

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 3:30 AM PST

Occupiers are going to need a spring break, judging from the packed winter itinerary of national protests being planned under the Occupy Wall Street banner. The movement's "Beyond the Park" faction may think it's time to stop erecting tent cities in public spaces, but if these plans all pan out, the Capitol Lawn could be booked through May Day. Check out this calender of events for what some are calling Occupy's "Valley Forge moment."

December 5-9: Occupy Congress
A coalition of labor and progressive groups plans to camp out in DC and "Occupy Congress" in what could be the biggest coordination yet between union officials and Occupy activists. Service Employees International Union is helping secure buses and housing for thousands of protesters from around the country and rallying support through MassUnited, the SEIU-backed group best known for the "Bobblehead Brown" campaign targeting Gov. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.*

A Zagat-Style Guide for Ethical Diners

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 3:30 AM PST

jeffreysclark/Flickrjeffreysclark/FlickrDiners, foodies, and hungry folk across America: There's a new, handy guide to restaurants for you to peruse. Except, this isn't your typical set of reviews. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United's report from last week scores 186 US eateries based on wages (for both tipped and non-tipped jobs), paid sick days, and opportunities for advancement. After surveying the 150 highest revenue-grossing restaurants in the US as well as 4,300 workers, the ROC found a rather sobering picture of the labor and sanitation practices in the industry, which the group says employs more than 10 million people and is one of of the largest and fastest-growing in the country:

  • The median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just under the poverty line for a family of three. More than half of all restaurant workers earn less than the federal poverty line.
  • 90 percent of the 4,300 workers surveyed report not getting paid sick leave. Two-thirds of respondents reported cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick.
  • Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower paying positions in the industry. ROC found that on average workers of color make $4 less than white workers. Nearly three-quarters of workers surveyed said they did not receive regular promotions.

While it might not shock you that the neighborhood Chuck E. Cheese's is underpaying the busboy, in the report you'll find four-star steakhouses and foodie meccas like Nobu also among the guilty. And Starbucks, which touts "competitive pay," health insurance, bonuses, and even domestic-partner benefits on its career page, scored rather poorly by ROC's measure.

Since these aren't the sorts of reviews you'll find in go-to sources like Zagat or on Yelp! we've compiled our own abbreviated guide for you, pairing the things you normally look for when searching for a place to eat next to their reported labor practices. Sift away.

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Book Review: 420 Characters

| Mon Dec. 5, 2011 3:00 AM PST

420 Characters

By Lou Beach

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT

"It says 'shit,'" observes my six-year-old, spotting Jonathan Lethem's cover blurb: "Holy sh*t! These are great!" And they are. Rendered as Facebook updates in 420 characters or less, these thought-provoking vignettes from illustrator Lou Beach are funny, poetic, touching, sexy, twisted—scene-and-character sketches replete with bumpkins, criminals, angry teens, truckers, boozers, bimbos, animals, and sentient objects. Best savored one or two a day, like a New Yorker cartoon calendar.

Not All Tax Cuts Are Created Equal

| Sun Dec. 4, 2011 11:20 PM PST

So are Republicans going to agree to extend the middle-class payroll tax cut that expires at the end of the year? The LA Times reports:

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) met behind closed doors with rank-and-file lawmakers Friday morning, but opposition to continuing the payroll tax break still runs high among conservatives in the House, showing the difficulty Boehner will face in drawing backing for the measure.

...."I'm just not sold on this payroll tax extension, this unemployment extension" said Rep. Allen West, a freshman Republican from Florida. Like many foes of the payroll tax break, he said he opposes the way it reduces the revenue stream to Social Security — even if those funds are replenished with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

I hope no one is really surprised about this. The modern Republican Party is interested in two things: tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor. This doesn't fit into either category.

Of course, there is one other thing they're interested in: anything that Barack Obama opposes. That's why Boehner has proposed a sweetener to the payroll tax cut bill: legislation that would advance the Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama recently postponed. Apparently, though, even the prospect of giving Obama the finger over the pipeline isn't enough to overcome Republican opposition to something that's neither a tax cut for the rich nor a spending cut for the poor. The rank and file still aren't biting.

Note to the middle class: the GOP is just not that into you. Maybe it's time to call off the relationship?