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In Defense of Uncomfortable Air Travel

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 2:55 PM EST

air%20travel%20200.jpgThe heaviest travel weekend of the year is over, and the verdict is in: "Flying coach has become an increasingly miserable experience," says the New York Times. In an article called "Aboard Planes, Class Conflict," Michelle Higgins enumerates the various ways in which modern air travel, well, sucks: The seats are tiny. Blankets and pillows are scarce. Free meals have become a distant memory.

This weekend, I traveled a round-trip total of 5,408 miles to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Boston. Sure, it was cramped (barely even enough room to turn the pages of Sky Mall) and the miniature allotment of pretzels (flung at me in my window-seat cave) didn't exactly tide me over for six hours, but basically, I spent most of both plane rides asleep, and the whole thing was astoundingly easy. From one coast to another! In only five hours! Coming back yesterday morning, I boarded the plane while it was still dark and rainy in Boston, but as the trip wore on the day dawned clear in the West, and I spent a good half hour staring out the window and marveling at how I was being whisked across the country. There go the snow-capped Rockies! Onto the Sierra Nevadas! I arrived at work in San Francisco only an hour late. I'd love to see my family more often, and after this easy trip back home, I began to think I could. But should I? Probably not.

Convenient though it may be, air travel is not exactly green. By some estimates, flights account for nearly four percent of human contribution to global warming. But there's a deeper problem, too. Environmentalists like Wendell Berry would argue that we've allowed ourselves to abuse our earth as much as we already have because we feel disconnected from it. No matter how tiny your seat is on a plane, it's pretty easy to feel divorced from the planet when you're zooming across it at 30,000 feet up.

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Romney: No Muslims in My Cabinet

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 2:10 PM EST

Mitt Romney was recently asked if a Muslim American might serve in his cabinet, considering the magnitude of the threat Romney believes radical Islam poses to America. According to a first-hand account in CS Monitor, Romney responded, "…based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."

Muslims are one percent of the American population. Mormons are two percent. Using Romney's weird quota-based system for deciding the ethnic makeup of his cabinet, which he seemingly decried on CNN, Romney would have to discriminate against members of his own faith.

One wonders if a Mormon should be president at all, considering how few members of that faith there are in America. Maybe Romney should run for governor of Utah. The ethnic mathematics make more sense there.

Update: Steven Benen adds, "Open and unabashed discrimination towards certain Americans — Muslims and gays, among others — is not only acceptable to too many conservatives, it's expected. It's why Romney's vow to discriminate against Muslims will probably not hurt him politically."

Update Update: A commentor at Think Progress notes that Romney's cabinet will have to be 51 percent women.

More Affordable Gift Ideas, Courtesy of Liberal Bloggers Fighting the War on Christmas

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 12:22 PM EST

If you don't have the big bucks needed to buy anything off of Salon's holiday shopping guide, you might find something more affordable on this list, a real oldie-but-goodie if I do say so myself. All of the George W. Bush action figures (cod pieces included!) listed there are still available, though spending $19.99-$29.99 to buy your dog a chew toy might be a tad steep. Into Salon territory, even.

partridge-pear-tree.jpgUpdate: Speaking of unaffordable gift ideas, anyone looking to buy all of the gifts in The Twelve Days of Christmas better have a serious chunk of change. Swans-a-swimming and lords-a-leaping are all pretty pricey (and just getting pricier): the total cost of all the gifts, according to the PNC Christmas Price Index, is $19,507, a 3.1 percent increase over last year. A partridge, however, might make a nice symbolic gift. You can get one for $15. (Pear tree: $149.)

Update: This isn't the first time we've examined the rising cost of french hens.

DaimlerChrysler Financial Forces Army Reservist to Fight Car Rip-Off From Iraq

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 12:13 PM EST

On Monday, I posted a story about one of the new hazards of buying a used car, namely the now-common practice by car dealers of forcing customers to waive their rights to access the legal system as a condition of buying a car. The idea is that if the dealership rips you off, you have to submit to private, binding arbitration, conducted by an arbitration firm hired by the dealership instead of filing a lawsuit. The rules in arbitration are a lot different than the regular courts, in ways that create hardships for consumers. Those hardships are a lot worse if you happen to be deployed to Iraq.

Congressmen and Senators: "If You're Really Good, You Can Move Up to Become a Lobbyist"

| Tue Nov. 27, 2007 11:44 AM EST

Politico takes its lumps every now and again, here and elsewhere, but today they shall get their praise. They have a really great piece by Jeanne Cummings on Trent Lott's resignation, which uses Lott's dash for cash as a microcosm for the way in which lobbying has poisoned Washington.

The Lott resignation and its fallout offer a striking, if somewhat unusual, glimpse at how incestuous the relationships between lobbyists and politicians have become in recent years.
In a nutshell, the story goes like this: A U.S. senator resigns to become a lobbyist, a former lobbyist (Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour) is in charge of naming his replacement, and a lead candidate to fill the slot (Mississippi Rep. Chip Pickering) finds himself in a complicated spot, since he recently put in motion his own plan to cash out from the U.S. House.
Maybe it has always been this way, but the dizzying pace of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists these days suggests not.
After all, it was not so long ago that K Street jobs were considered consolation prizes for loser lawmakers — charity cases, if you will, that leaned on the quiet generosity of grateful lobbyists after being rejected by voters or becoming too aged or controversial to remain on Capitol Hill.
Money changed all that. As the jobs became more lucrative, including million-dollar contracts, lawmakers found it easier to get over any squeamishness about pitching a client's cause to a former colleague. It also moved up the timing of such a career change, from the closing days of a political career to its twilight to, in Lott's case, a peak.
"It's very clear that being able to go and lobby is seen as the upward track," said Meredith McGehee, of the Campaign Legal Center. "In the old days, you would make money and do these things and then maybe get to run for Congress or the Senate. Today, you run for Congress or the Senate and then, if you're really good, you can move up to become a lobbyist."

Lars and the Real Girl

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:35 PM EST
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The second the credits started rolling after a recent showing of the film Lars and the Real Girl, my friend turned to me and said, "That was the most boring film I've ever seen in my life. I fell asleep, like, five times."

Boring? I disagree. The film creeps along at a slow pace, but can you tell the story of an extremely sensitive, emotionally wrecked young man whose platonic relationship with a blow-up doll helps him get over the death of his mother and social anxieties at a fast pace? You could, but it probably would have to star Will Ferrell and be directed by Judd Apatow.

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Rainforest Swap = "Moral Offset"

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:33 PM EST

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The Independent tells a great story of South American nation Guyana preparing to cede control of its tropical forest to a British-led, international body in return for a bilateral deal that would secure development aid for shifting the country to a green economy. Guyana, a former British colony, possesses an intact rainforest larger than England.

The deal would represent potentially the largest carbon offset ever undertaken, securing the vast carbon sinks of Guyana's pristine forest in return for assisting the economic growth of South America's poorest economy. Speaking in his office in the capital, Georgetown, on the Caribbean coast, Guyana's President, Bharrat Jagdeo, said the offer was a chance for Britain to make a "moral offset" and underline its leadership on the most important single issue facing the world—climate change. "We can deploy the forest against global warming and, through the UK's help, it wouldn't have to stymie development in Guyana."

Scientists working in the Iwokrama Reserve in central Guyana estimate the forest holds close to 120 million tons of carbon—an amount equivalent to the annual emissions of the UK. The reserve is part of the Guyana Shield, one of the last four intact rainforests left in the world, home to mountains, 200 lakes, rivers flowing over volcanic dykes, lowland tropical rainforests, palm forests, and sheltering some of the world's most endangered species, including jaguars, harpy eagles, giant anteaters, giant river otters, anacondas, black caimans and giant river turtles.

What's not to like here?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Fed Up With Crisis, Salon Says, Go Shopping!

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 10:12 PM EST

The world's a rough place. Just today, headlines brought us news of violent clashes between French youth and police, tense talks between the President and the Man-Who-Could-Have-Been about global warming, and a plummeting stock market. Oh, and there's a war on.

Under the circumstances, the good people over at Salon could be forgiven for taking a few hours out of their day to focus on life's pleasures, and so they have—life's very, very expensive pleasures.

Among the offerings on the front-page holiday gift guide:

Remixing Rudy Giuliani's Broken Record

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 8:57 PM EST
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Nice. WFMU's Beware of the Blog is collecting remixes of Rudy Giuliani mentioning his favorite (only?) topic. As DJ Joe Biden might say, all Rudy needs is a noun, a verb, September 11... and a beat. My favorite so far is Miguelito Contraband's "Gold Plated 9-11 Diapers" [MP3].

Massachusetts GOP Bigwig Endorses Romney's Opponent

| Mon Nov. 26, 2007 7:25 PM EST

Former Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Rappaport endorsed Rudy Giuliani today. Rappaport has long been critical of former MA Governor Mitt Romney (aka Mr. Fantastic). In November 2006 he told the Boston Globe, "Mitt Romney, through his stalwart efforts, has managed to bring our party back to where it was in 1986."

Rappaport's message was no different today on a conference call with the media. "[Romney] has a strong record of showmanship as opposed to actual performance," said Rappaport. "His word is no good…Mitt Romney would say one thing in a meeting and literally go out of the meeting to the press and tell the opposite story. There was no desire in the legislature to be accommodating to him because they couldn't trust him."

Yowza.