Two congressional districts are holding special elections today.
Ohio's 5th district is a conservative district (Bush won 60% there in 2004) that, to the surprise of many, is being hotly contested by Democrat Robin Weirauch, whose only political experience thus far is losing the last two elections by wide margins. The seat came open when Rep. Paul Gillmor, a Republican, died in a fall at his apartment in September.
The Republican Party thought their candidate, Bob Latta, would win handily. A state representative, Latta has the right bloodline: his father represented this district for three decades. And the GOP has represented Ohio-5 since the 1930s, according to the AP. But Latta has run a poor campaign that has left Republican bewildered. "It's like the Latta campaign is trying to write a handbook on how to lose a Congressional campaign in 60 days or less," a D.C. Republican told Roll Call.
The already cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has thrown $428,000 at the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $244,000 in the district. (Those numbers are from the very good Swing State Project.) Though this race will likely be closer than anyone would have expected a year ago, and though Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) took the district in the 2006 midterm elections, Ohio-5 should stay red. A win for Weirauch would be a real coup.
The race in Virginia's 1st district is garnering less attention. The seat became vacant when Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R) died of breast cancer in October. The Republican candidate, state delegate Rob Wittman, is described as a moderate on the war and on the environment. He has a 4-to-1 fundraising advantage over the Democrat, a Navy reservist named Paul Forgit who won a Bronze Star in 2005 while serving in Iraq. Forgit has no prior political experience. He has the backing of Virginia's heavy hitters—Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), Sen. Jim Webb (D), and former Gov. Mark R. Warner (D)—but the DCCC has thrown no money his way.
MSNBC's First Read quotes a political analyst as saying, "This may be the election where we see what happens when you have an election and no one comes."
So if you're from Ohio's 5th or Virginia's 1st, get out and vote! Turnout matters a ton in off-year elections. We'll do our best here at MoJoBlog to keep you updated on the results.
While my recent month-long jaunt of DJ gigs around Europe didn't allow me much time for sleeping or eating, let alone exploring the local music scenes, I was lucky enough to have a variety of musical items cross my path in one way or another. Whether it was my fellow-DJs' favorite bands, a CD I grabbed at a random record store, or just something I saw on TV, here's some of the most memorable music from my trip. It's heavy on the France cause that's where I spent the most time... sorry, Belgium.
10. Sasha* (Germany)
Okay, I get one of these. This came on TV when I was in Germany, and while the song is a rather dull piece of throwaway pop-rock, and the video isn't anything to write home about, holy crap is he cute. Look at his little beard and his little T-shirt and his adorable little hairdo!! Who cares about the song, Sasha speaks the international language of hot. (*Not to be confused with slightly-less-hot-but-far-more-talented Welsh DJ Sasha) Sasha "Hide & Seek" (from Greatest Hits--who knew he had any?)
9. DJ Moule (France) (check out his website here)
Not that the other artists on my list aren't attractive men and women in their own right. For instance, this Bordeaux-based DJ and musician accompanied me on the French leg of my little tour and was liable to lift up his shirt and show off his abs at climactic points in his sets. Well, he deserves whatever silly indulgences he wants, since his productions are flawless pieces of energetic mashuppery, seamlessly blending classic rock riffs with breakbeats from the Chemical Brothers or Fatboy Slim. MP3: DJ Moule "Dig It On" (Chemical Brothers vs. T-Rex vs. Anne Lee vs. Marvin Gaye)
8. Village Kollektiv (Poland) (check out their MySpace here)
Blending the indigenous music of Poland and Bulgaria with dubby beats and drum 'n' bass rhythms, Village Kollektiv avoid the usual clichés of "world music with a beat" through sheer musicianship and a kind of dark intensity. Based around the creative partnership of producer Rafal Kolacinski and his wife, singer Weronika Grozdew-Kolacinski, the combo also brings together a wide range of traditional local musicians on instruments like the gadulka, the dulcimer, and everyone's favorite, the hurdy-gurdy. MP3: Village Kollektiv "Wysoki Ganecek" ("High Porch")
7. DJ Mehdi (France) (check out his MySpace page here)
I've featured Mehdi's epic electro track "Signatune" in my Top Ten previously; the track's surging chords were an oddly perfect fit with the awesome accompanying video's tale of competing car stereo systems. His second full-length album, Lucky Boy at Night, fits in with hipster Ed Banger labelmates like Justice and Uffie, but Mehdi's roots in the French hip-hop scene (along with his Tunisian background and childhood in the rough northern suburbs of Paris) show through in the music's gritty intensity. DJ Mehdi "I Am Somebody"
6. Plastic People of the Universe (Czech Republic)
The day I left for the tour, the New York Times featured an article about the Plastics that proclaimed the psychedelic combo had "catalyzed democracy in Czechoslovakia." Well! So, um, how does it sound? I stumbled into a record store in Prague and cobbled together a half-Czech sentence or two to ask the clerk what CD I should buy from the band, and he pointed me towards Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned, more of a collection of demos and live recordings than an album per se, and a little challenging of a listen on the iPod. More accessible is "Nikdo" ("No One") from a 1997 collection: its rolling rhythms evoke both Can and Frank Zappa. Stream: Plastic People of the Universe "Nikdo" (click here and scroll down to the music player)
Ever wondered about the real cost of that ridiculously cheap stuff we buy? I mean, how does it get it halfway around the world let alone designed, built, manufactured and then discarded for the pennies we pay? Well, the Story of Stuff tells us how, in a funny, fast, fact-filled film. Watch the YouTube teaser below, or check out the full 20-minute version.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.
The answer, by region: the eastern US in North America; China, Bangladesh and Myanmar in Asia; western Sahel and southwestern nations in Africa; Brazil in South America; Russia, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean nations, including France, Italy and Spain, in Europe. This according to a new study from Purdue University and the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Italy that goes beyond the physical aspects of climate change—changes in temperature, sea-level, and precipitation—to examine socioeconomic side-effects worldwide. The study forecasts that the merger of climatic and socioeconomic variables will trigger lopsided responses.
"Patterns emerge that you wouldn't recognize from just looking at either climatic or socioeconomic conditions," [said Noah Diffenbaugh, lead author]. "For example, China has a relatively moderate expected climate change. However, when you combine that with the fact that it has the second largest economy in the world, a substantial poverty rate and a large population, it creates one of the largest combined exposures on the planet. We see similar effects in other parts of the world, including India and the United States, which also have relatively moderate expected climate change. So it's where the socioeconomic and climatic variables intersect that is the key."
In David and my new piece on Huckabee and religion, we point out that the Huckabee campaign is denying access to sermons Huckabee delivered as a Baptist pastor in Arkansas from 1980-1992. That's likely because men and women of the cloth often say things that make complete sense when said in a church in front of a congregation of believers, but look awkward when identified as the beliefs of a possible president.
One sermon I was able to find on YouTube illustrates this. Below are parts two and three of that sermon. I've transcribed a portion of the videos below.
First video: "The Bible says God has plans to prosper us God plans for us to succeed, not to fail. Your remember what Ethel Waters used to say when she sang at the Billy Graham crusades years ago, I never will forget her statement, she said, "God don't sponsor no flops." God is not in the business of leading us to a disaster. It is not in His best interest to lead us to a point where you're humiliated as a result of following Him. Now, there is no guarantee that following Jesus means we're going to be wealthy. Neither is it his goal to make us poor. His goal is to make us like Jesus, and that is prosperity. To put in us the character of Christ so that whatever happens in our lives, we are able to reflect the personhood and the very life of the savior who is in us."
Second video: "I think sometimes that we forget that to be a believer it means that we have some confidence of the outcome that nobody else can share. It's not an arrogance confidence it's a confidence in the promise of God being true The only thing in this world that really makes sense is to follow Him. If you lose everything, but you still have Jesus you have everything you need to finish at the finish line with success . If you're in Jesus Christ, we know how it turns out at the final buzzer. I've read the last chapter in the Book and we really do end up winning at the end. It's really good news there in the end."
Everyone is entitled to their faith. Many people across America may believe this way. But how would a man who speaks in such black and white terms operate as a president? How would he govern for non-Christian Americans? How would he treat allies and enemies in the Muslim world? Religion is not off-limits. These questions need to be answered.
Over at YTMND—the user-generated site that produced the Cosby Bebop and proof of Paris Hilton's eerily unchanging facial expression—an anonymous Kucinich supporter has created a simple but effective mashup using the candidate's 2002 prayer for America speech. Check it out (make sure your sound is up). I guess Mike Gravel already proved this, but isn't the message of peace and justice even more appealing when it's set to a hip beat?
I had just turned 12 years old when Thriller came out, and while my musical taste was already showing signs of techno snobbery (boy, did I love that Human League album) I was just as caught up in Michael Jackson mania as everyone else. Released on December 1st, 1982, Thriller suddenly seemed to be everyone all at once, and even at the time, the album felt like an Event, with an almost electric feeling in the air when we'd put on "Beat It." Of course, an album that's sold 104 million copies can never be said to really have "gone away," but its thin, oddly minimalist sound couldn't have been less in fashion in the 90s. Listen to "Billie Jean's" legendary bassline: when it steps up a fourth on "who will dance/on the floor/in the round," it's almost comically high, barely a bass at all. But clearly "Billie Jean," which along with "Beat It" is the album's creative and popular peak, has remained a dance floor staple, achieving an iconic status that inoculated it against divergent trends. It's only this year, however, that some of the album's "lesser" tracks seem to have found new life in high-profile samples and remixes.
It's really nice to see Harvard putting it's $35 billion endowment to good use. This is a huge move:
Harvard University sweetened its financial aid for middle class and upper middle-class families, responding to criticism that elite colleges have become unaffordable for ordinary Americans.
The Ivy League school said undergraduates whose families earn up to $180,000 would be asked to pay 10% or less of their incomes annually for the cost of Harvard, which this year totals $45,456. The university said the initiative would reduce the cost of attending the college by one-third to one-half, making the price comparable to in-state tuition and fees at top public universities.
For example, the university said a family making $120,000 will be asked to pay about $12,000 for a child to attend Harvard College, compared with more than $19,000 under current student-aid policies. A family making $180,000 would pay $18,000, down from $30,000.
At lower income levels, families would pay a smaller percentage of income, declining to zero at $60,000 a year. Harvard said it would eliminate loans from all financial-aid packages and no longer consider home equity in calculating eligibility.
"We want all students who might dream of a Harvard education to know that it is a realistic and affordable option," said Harvard President Drew Faust.
If other schools who are traditionally one step behind Harvard in admissions and financial aid policies, like Yale, follow suit, we could have a higher education revolution on our hands. Bravo.
It's a big (extended) weekend for fans of long-lost bands, with highly-anticipated performances from two wildly different UK legends (although it suddenly occurs to me that their music often shares similarly sludgy tempos which could possibly engender an amusing mash-up). First up, on Friday night Bristol's reclusive trip-hop combo Portishead played their first live show in a decade at a place called, erm, Butlins Minehead, apparently some sort of "resort" or something on England's west coast. Butlins' website, with its big-eyed teddy bear mascot, could not be a greater contrast with the bleak sounds of the jazzy trio, and the UK Guardian's review found the venue disappointing, with its dinner options limited to Pizza Hut and Burger King. Not surprisingly, they also found the performance underwhelming, with the band sounding "nervous" and new material "hard to get a handle on." The paper admitted that the band "caught fire" during the classics like "Sour Times" and "Numb," but perhaps it's a sign of how desperate people are for anything Portisheaddy when they say that the "highlight" of the show was notoriously dramatic singer Beth Gibbons laughing off a mistimed entry into a new song. Like, hooray, they didn't have an emotional breakdown? The UK Telegraphwas more generous, calling Gibbons' voice "undiminished" and saying the new material seemed to be "moving in wider directions."
Led Zeppelin's return is set for only minutes from now and the band have already made news with their backstage demands, and they're not of the "no green M&Ms" variety: the band's rider requested only tea, coffee and an ironing board, although the promoters said they'd give them a bottle of wine anyway. Details of the band's rehearsal have also hit the press, with a fan who was supposedly at the soundcheck posting on the band's official forum that they heard "Good Times/Bad Times," "Ramble On" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" at the rehearsal, and that "Page was on fire completely awe inspiring!!" NME will be live-blogging the show with a song-by-song account, if you're obsessing and weren't lucky enough to with the ticket lottery.
Call it a trend. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court gave judges the OK to issue more lenient sentences to drug dealers than those mandated in the official federal sentencing guidelines. Last month, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the disparity in prison sentences given for possession of crack versus powder cocaine, a problem that has had a disproportionate impact on African-American defendants. Tomorrow, the commission will vote on whether that change ought to apply retroactively. If it says yes, nearly 20,000 prison inmates stand to have their sentences reduced.
All of this is good news for the small-time drug addicts who've been given excessive prison sentences for piddly little drug offenses. It's bad news, though, for Democrats, as it's about to turn crime into a major campaign issue, and it's not their strong suit. No surprise, then, that the biggest opponents of retroactively reducing drug sentences, according to the Sentencing Law and Policy blog, are the Bush Justice Department, Republicans on the House judiciary committee, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Yes, Hillary has thrown her lot in with the law and order types in the GOP, largely on the advice, apparently, of her pollster Mark Penn. Penn told The Politico last week that former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani was already using the change in sentencing to bash the other Democratic candidates, all of whom support retroactivity.