Public interest videos are rarely aesthetically appealing, but this one starring Keira Knightly just might buck the trend. Directed by her Atonement and Pride and Prejudice collaborator Joe Wright, the two-minute ad spot for Women's Aid features Knightly as a victim of domestic violence in a smartly shot movie-within-a-movie. You can watch it for yourself above, but suffice to say it's disturbing—and effective. I don't know much about advertising, but when a public interest ad works, it works

Spousal abuse has been especially linked with celebrity recently, so it's nice to see someone lend their time and energy to promote a solution. And the way this has made traffic around the web is testament to the power of a familiar name and some top grade directing. Well done.

The U.S. Public Interest Group has been doing an admirable job of tracking the government's failure to track what banks are doing with the billions in taxpayer dollars they've received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Today, they circulated a nice little chart showing the status of the many alleged efforts at transparency. It's not encouraging. Here's the running tally:

Hearings on or related to the Troubled Asset Relief Program:   24
TARP Special Inspector General reports received from banks:   364
Department of Treasury requests for lending data:   21
General Accounting Office reports urging more oversight: 11
TARP oversight bills pending Congressional action:  14
TARP oversight bills passed into law so far: 0
Comprehensive accountings made to public agencies or the public to date: 0
USPIRG observes that "Six months, $565 billion, 24 hearings and 364 reports later, the American taxpayers still don’t know where their money has gone."


As any tabloid reader knows, Madonna is back in the African country of Malawi, where her 3-year-old adopted son, David, was born. This time she's hoping to adopt a 4-year-old girl named Mercy James, whose 18-year-old mother died shortly after giving birth. Now an American organization that promotes reform in international adoption has started a grassroots fundraising effort to keep the child in Malawi, arguing that Mercy could likely remain with extended family for less than $300 a year. While Ethica admits it doesn't have specific information about the case, its "Call to Action" argues that the child is being fast-tracked to international adoption without regard to possible alternatives. Ethica argues that kids should only be adopted internationally when:

* The child is a "true orphan" with no family (including appropriate extended family).
* The child cannot find appropriate, permanent, in-country care in a family-like setting.
* There is an established system for intercountry adoption in the country of origin.

"For every child that does not meet the three criteria above but that enters the world of intercountry adoption anyway, another child that meets these criteria waits without a home," Ethica maintains. The group is asking supporters to help raise the $2,240 they calculate would be needed for extended family to raise Mercy until she turns 14; they say that if the girl does end up being adopted, they will donate the funds to child welfare efforts in Malawi.

Mother Jones has covered international adoption extensively, most recently here and here. What do you think? Is this fundraiser a good idea? And when is international adoption appropriate--or not?

In a surprising turn of events a Malawi court ruled today that Madonna will not be allowed to forgo the residency requirements to adopt Chifundo “Mercy” James. The BBC reported the judge's ruling this afternoon:

"By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts by their pronouncements could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals," she said. The judge also noted that Chifundo had been placed in one of Malawi's best orphanages and no longer suffered the severe poverty endured after her mother died in childbirth.

Though Madonna wasn't concerned enough to show up in court for the final ruling, she did release a wonderfully tactful statement: "To deny Chifundo James the opportunity to be adopted by me could expose her to hardship and emotional trauma which is otherwise avoidable." This afternoon the Associated Press reported that Madonna plans to file an appeal with the Malawi supreme court of appeal. If Madonna is so determined to adopt the girl, couldn't she move to Malawi, and raise Mercy and son David Banda in their homeland? Otherwise, there are plenty of places right here in the USA where she could rescue children from povertywithout breaking the law.

We've already weighed in on Iowa's legalization of gay marriage here on the mother blog and over in Kevin's space, but I wanted to add this portion of the court ruling highlighted by Marc Ambinder. Elegant, commonsensical -- it's language like this that gives confidence that more and more courts will begin to see things the same way.

We begin with the County's argument that the goal of the same-sex marriage ban is to ensure children will be raised only in the optimal milieu. In pursuit of this objective, the statutory exclusion of gay and lesbian people is both under-inclusive and over-inclusive. The civil marriage statute is under-inclusive because it does not exclude from marriage other groups of parents--such as child abusers, sexual predators, parents neglecting to provide child support, and violent felons--that are undeniably less than optimal parents. Such under-inclusion tends to demonstrate that the sexual-orientation-based classification is grounded in prejudice or "overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences" of gay and lesbian people, rather than having a substantial relationship to some important objective. See Virginia, 518 U.S. at 533, 116 S. Ct. at 2275, 135 L. Ed. 2d at 751 (rejecting use of overbroad generalizations to classify). If the marriage statute was truly focused on optimal parenting, many classifications of people would be excluded, not merely gay and lesbian people.

Maybe time to rethink the argument I laid out here.

Are these pictures great, or what?  They make quite a pair.  On the left, Inkblot is focused intently on a deadly laser beam (outside the frame, sadly) that was apparently smuggled into the house by SMERSH.  Needless to say, it met its match.  On the right, Domino isn't focused on anything.  She's just sacked out on the couch, wondering why Kevin keeps waking her up with that stupid big glass eye he carries around.  Humans are so weird.

Still, not a bad week for the human-in-chief, was it?  He did some good work on nuclear arms reduction, kept the peace between France and China, met the queen of England, helped broker a surprisingly good G-20 agreement, and (though this wasn't widely reported) won international support for the free flow of cat food.  Not bad for a human.

From Barack Obama, at a meeting with bank CEOs last week:

“My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.”

That's what FDR said too, and the captains of industry didn't believe him either.  But he was right, and for better or worse, Obama probably is too.

Robert O'Ryan, 34, is a little obsessed with Shawn Johnson, the 17-year-old Olympic gymnast from West Des Moines, Iowa. Last week the Florida man was arrested for trying to jump a fence outside Dancing With the Stars and carrying a loaded shotgun in his car. Before he arrived in sunny California, though, he was pulled over in Alabama. The cruiser-cam caught O'Ryan telling the officer he had spoken with Johnson and "I know it sounds a little crazy, but my intuition tells me we're going to have a beautiful relationship."

Nearly a year after the Beijing Olympics, the Des Moines Register still feeds readers the latest Shawn Johnson updates through a Shawn Johnson mini Web portal. Johnson devotees can enter their location on an international fan map, download Shawn desktop wallpaper, and go outside the lines in a Shawn coloring book. On Shawn's personal website, her book, Shawn Johnson: Olympic Champion: Stories Behind the Smile, is now on sale, as is the Peace, Love Shawn Johnson Collection by Adidas. The Shawn Johnson line of jewelery features pendants and diamond necklaces with an Olympic twist. Her face appeared on a box of Cheerios, and she competes, with some success, against the likes of Belinda Carlisle and Lil' Kim on DWTS. Let's cut this stalker some slack! O'Ryan is not alone in his obsession. Though he is probably the best armed.

Gaming Geithner

Via the Wonk Room, the Financial Times reports on plans for banks to game Tim Geithner's toxic waste plan by bidding on each other's assets:

US banks that have received government aid, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase, are considering buying toxic assets to be sold by rivals under the Treasury’s $1,000bn (£680bn) plan to revive the financial system.

....Wall Street executives argue that banks’ asset purchases would help achieve the second main goal of the plan: to establish prices and kick-start the market for illiquid assets.  But public opinion may not tolerate the idea of banks selling each other their bad assets. Critics say that would leave the same amount of toxic assets in the system as before, but with the government now liable for most of the losses through its provision of non-recourse loans.

Administration officials reject the criticism because banking is part of a financial system, in which the owners of bank equity — such as pension funds — are the same entities that will be investing in toxic assets anyway. Seen this way, the plan simply helps to rearrange the location of these assets in the system in a way that is more transparent and acceptable to markets.

Italics mine.  Look: I'm no financial rocket scientist, but I'm at least a halfway reasonable judge of bullshit.  Are the Treasury boffins seriously suggesting that the aim of their plan is merely to "rearrange" the assets from one distressed bank to another?  Someone might want to take a wee look at public opinion on this before they put their feet any further in their mouths trying to explain why this is such a great idea.  It's not gonna fly, folks.

The Iowa Supreme Court has decided unanimously that a law banning same-sex marriage violates the state constitution.  Basically, the court made a common sense ruling that the Iowa ban did indeed discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation:

Our responsibility [] is to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time....As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes poignantly said, “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.”

....[E]qual protection before the law demands more than the equal application of the classifications made by the law. The law itself must be equal. [...] In other words, to truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike.

....It is true the marriage statute does not expressly prohibit gay and lesbian persons from marrying; it does, however, require that if they marry, it must be to someone of the opposite sex. Viewed in the complete context of marriage, including intimacy, civil marriage with a person of the opposite sex is as unappealing to a gay or lesbian person as civil marriage with a person of the same sex is to a heterosexual. Thus, the right of a gay or lesbian person under the marriage statute to enter into a civil marriage only with a person of the opposite sex is no right at all....By purposefully placing civil marriage outside the realistic reach of gay and lesbian individuals, the ban on same-sex civil marriages differentiates implicitly on the basis of sexual orientation.

That's nicely and plainly said.  Very midwestern.  The court then went through the usual list of reasons for banning gay marriage (maintaining traditional marriage, promotion of optimal environment to raise children, promotion of procreation, promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships) and concluded that none of them had enough substance to overcome obvious discrimination against a relatively powerless class.  And that was that.

So for now, anyway, Iowa has gay marriage and California doesn't.  Who would have guessed?