2009 - %3, October

Republicans Threaten to Boycott Climate Bill Markup

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 1:37 PM PDT

After three days of hearings on the climate bill this week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee planned to start marking up the legislation on Tuesday. Or, at least the Democrats on the panel intended to do so. The Republicans are now threatening to boycott the session—which could prevent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) from moving the legislation out of her committee.

Boxer doesn't need Republicans to actually vote for the bill—Democrats hold a 12-7 majority on the panel. But she does need two GOP senators present to hold a markup, according to committee rules. The proposed boycott is apparently being lead by Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Voinovich says he wants extra time so the EPA can produce a more comprehensive assessment of the bill (read: an assessment that he agrees with).

 

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Bonner's "Legal" Astroturfing Activities Also Extremely Dubious

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 1:28 PM PDT

The congressional investigation into the forged Bonner letters has exposed a number of clearly or potentially illegal activities conducted by or on behalf of the coal industry in its fight against the Waxman-Markey climate bill. But the documents released by the investigation also made plain that even the ostensibly legal astroturfing activities of the industry and its contractors are at best really, really questionable.

The documents show that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) hired contractors who reached out to community groups representing vulnerable constituencies and blatantly mislead those groups about their motivations. ACCCE paid a PR company, the Hawthorn Group, nearly $3 million in 2009 for "outreach to individuals and groups representing the interests of minorities, seniors, business, and veterans." Hawthorn in turn hired Bonner and Associates to drum up letters from those groups. The plan, as an email between Hawthorn and Bonner confirms, was to send the letters to politically weak Democrats who were still on the fence about their vote on the climate bill.

The investigation shows that even the 45 supposedly "legit" letters that Bonner managed to generate from these groups were elicited under false pretenses. Bonner employees were provided with a script that directed them to identify themselves as "working with seniors" or "working with vets"—without ever mentioning that they were actually calling on behalf of the coal industry. Callers were then instructed to play on the economic anxieties of the constituency in question:

"Hi xyz, I am working with seniors/retirees to help stop their utility bills from doubling," reads one script offered to Bonner employees.

MoJo Guide to Last Minute Halloween Costumes

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 1:02 PM PDT

Still stuck without a costume for Halloween? Disillusioned by the onslaught of "sexy" versions of literary characters and public servants? Enraged by the appropriation of other cultures and offensive immigration policies?

Never fear, Mother Jones is here! Some last-minute alternatives for all you busy muckrakers:

George W. Bush—He's baaaaaaaaaack!

Vader in Afghanistan—Pull out your Darth Vader mask from Comic Con and pair with your desert BDU's.

Climate Change—Option 1: Go as a Maldives cabinet member in a business suit and snorkel. Option 2: If you live in a coastal city wear an inter tube and put a line of masking tape to mark how high sea levels will have to rise to put you and your fellow party goers underwater. Add a 350 on the back for good measure,

The Great 2009 Bailout—Wear a burlap sack stuffed full of money, or a suit and stuff the pockets.

Health Care for All—Don't be sick. Hold a Canadian or French passport.

The Yes Men—Um...you just have to figure out exactly what a Survivaball suit is.

Greenwashed Starlet—Wear your favorite eco-slogan shirt printed on organic cotton, stiletto heels, big sunglasses, and carry a bottle of Fiji Water.

Lady Blogger—A lap top case, your Twitter handle on your back, and some symbol of your content (newspapers, tech gadgets, your kid, etc.).

Factchecker/Mother Jones Intern—Give yourself ink stained hands, slip a pen behind your ear, carry a telephone reciever that you talk on periodically, and drink coffee all night long—lots and lots of coffee.

David Corn—Don a trench coat, classic understated scarf, White House Press Pass, and hard soled shoes comfortable for chasing down leads.

Kevin Drum—Don some glasses, bring your laptop, and be accompanied by two pleasantly plump and very photogenic cats.

Just remember, Sarah Palin was soooo last year.

Are there any we forgot?

Friday Cat Blogging - 30 October 2009

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 12:02 PM PDT

Today's picture is life imitating art.  Or is it art imitating life?  Hard to say.  Is Windows wallpaper art?  Is Inkblot life as we know it?  Questions, questions, questions.

(Note: I'm talking about the picture below, not the one on the left.)

And here's another question: who's the cutest cat of them all?  Inkblot knows the answer, but as an employee-by-concatenation of the Foundation for National Progress, aka the publisher of Mother Jones magazine, he's ineligible for our upcoming cat contest.  But your cat isn't!  Go here and register a first-round vote in our contest to find the cutest cat made into a Mother Jones cover.  If you think you can do better, make a cover out of your cat and submit it for the cat-off to be held in two weeks.  May the best cat win.

As for Inkblot, the powers-that-be tell me that he'll be appearing in costume on our home page over the weekend.  An e-costume, of course.  Check it out tomorrow.

UPDATE: No, it turns out that it's Domino who gets the e-costume.  Which is appropriate since she's the black cat in the house.  So everyone gets a picture this week!

Messy but Effective in Honduras

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 10:42 AM PDT

I was on vacation and not watching the news back in June when Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup.  Ever since then I've used this as an excuse not to blog about it, since I hadn't really kept up with the twists and turns that got it all started.  But today, both sides signed a deal that restored Zelaya to office for the remainder of his term and allowed the scheduled November election to proceed with everyone's blessing.  Tim Fernholz comments:

If the election in Honduras goes smoothly — doesn't every foreign-policy article these days include the sentence, "If the election in ________ goes smoothly"? — then Honduras' democratic system will have been reinforced without harsh sanctions, which would mainly affect the people of the state, or military conflict. Affirming democracy in Latin America is a positive step, especially coming from the United States, which does not have a particularly good history in that department. While the White House's domestic opposition will no doubt call this deal a sham or attack the president for helping restore a controversial leader to power, this outcome will likely improve inter-American relations, and that is a win for a relatively green foreign-policy team.

The truth is that I still don't know all the ins and outs of what happened in Honduras and whose side I'm supposed to take.  But what I do know is that conservatives came out of the chute almost instantly with demands that the Obama administration adopt the hardest line possible in favor of the coup leaders.  This appeared to be for no special reason except that Zelaya was friendly with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, and to call this idiotic would be an insult to idiots everywhere.  Tim is right: the Obama administration's calmer approach was the right one, and messy or not, it helped get the job done in a region where the U.S. is not exactly known for subtlety and respect for local customs.  Not bad.

Learning From California

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 10:09 AM PDT

Rich Yeselson says, "We are living through the Californiafication of America — a country in which the combination of a determined minority and a procedural supermajority legislative requirement makes it impossible to rationally address public policy challenges."  Ezra Klein agrees.

Me too!  Here's what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, back when the Dodgers and Angels still had a chance of getting to the World Series:

Unfortunately, a local championship or two are about all the good news we’re likely to get anytime soon in the Golden State.  We have structural deficits as far as the eye can see.  A Republican governor took over a few years ago and cut taxes, making things even worse.  Healthcare costs have gone through the roof.1  Unemployment is over 12%.  And a rabid Republican minority in Sacramento can — and does — prevent any of these things from being seriously addressed because the state constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget or raise taxes.

But no schadenfreude, please.  In Washington DC, federal deficits have become enormous, Republican tax cuts have made them even worse, healthcare costs are skyrocketing, unemployment is about to break double digits, and it’s nearly impossible to seriously address these problems because the Republican Party has adopted a policy of making the filibuster a routine tool of state.  If you can’t get 60 votes in the Senate, you can’t pass anything of consequence these days.

In the past, California has been a bellwether for the nation, and that’s been no bad thing.  But this time?  Fasten your seatbelts, gang.  It’s going to be a very bumpy ride indeed if it happens again.

Don't remember reading this?  That's because I wrote it for our weekly email newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.  All I can say is this: for years I was basically uninterested in Sacramento politics because it was such a cesspool.  It made Washington DC look like a model of good government.  But no longer: Sacramento is still a cesspool, but DC is catching up fast.  If we keep it up much longer, the entire country may end up in the same mess we've made for ourselves here.  That would be decidedly not a good thing.

1And prison costs!

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Eco-News Roundup: Friday October 30

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 10:00 AM PDT

Blue Marblish news from our other blogs, and elsewhere.

Smart Start: Obama admin announces billions to create a smart grid.

Women's Voices: Women make up half of the population, so why not half of bloggers?

Reid's Plan: Sen. Harry Reid's announced support for a public option. So what is it?

No Going Back: Pollution is so bad in China's Pearl River, it can't be undone. [MongaBay]

Expensive Jokes: Yes Men pranksters get sued by the Chamber of Commerce.

Belle of the Ball: Coal company pays for basketball player's dorm.

Driving DNA: Some people may be genetically predisposed to be bad drivers. [WIRED]

Majority Rule: A majority of Americans support cap-and-trade, a new poll shows.

Max Factor: Sen. Max Baucus threatens to hobble healthcare legislation's progress.

Tough Shot: Two HPV vaccines are on the market, re-igniting controversies. [LiveScience]

Ready to Rumble: A look inside the fake letters ACCCE sent to sway Congress members.

Scarlet Letters: ACCCE will have to answer to Congress on forged letters scandal.

Testify: ACCCE CEO claims he never opposed Waxman-Markey. But he's wrong.

Denial-ism: A new breed of pundit is in denial about denying global warming.

So How's That GDP Growth Treating You?

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:47 AM PDT

GDP was up 3.5% in the third quarter, and yesterday I wondered where all that growth was going.  Today we get part of the answer: not to workers.

The BEA reports that personal income and disposable personal income, adjusted for inflation, were down again in September and down for the entire quarter.  Spending was up in August thanks to Cash for Clunkers, but dropped 0.6% in September.

Separately, the BLS reports that the Employment Cost Index was up 0.4% in the third quarter.  However, since inflation rose about 0.6% in the same period, that's a real decrease of about 0.2%.  "With incomes so soft," analyst Ian Shepherdson said in a statement of the obvious, "increased spending will be a struggle."

So: the economy is growing, but very little of that growth seems to be trickling down to us middle class types.  Happy holidays!

Note to Matt Continetti: Liz Lemon = Not A Real Person

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:15 AM PDT

Now that excerpts from Weekly Standard writer Matt Continetti's new book on Sarah Palin are in wider circulation, it's worth revisiting a great post on the subject from earlier this week by my friend Matt Gertz at Media Matters. Here's the relevant excerpt from Continetti's book, via US News' Washington Whispers blog:

Liberal-leaning feminists, especially comic Tina Fey, the 30 Rock star who portrayed Palin on Saturday Night Live, were jealous of Palin. "Palin's sudden global fame rankled those feminists whose own path to glory had been difficult. To them, Palin was less a female success story than she was the beneficiary of male chauvinism," writes Continetti. He holds out Fey and her TV character for special criticism. "It was telling that Fey should be the actress who impersonated Palin. The two women may look like each other, but they could not be more dissimilar. Each exemplifies a different category of feminism. Palin comes from the I-can-do-it-all school. She is professionally successful, has been married for more than 20 years, and has a large and (from all outward appearances) happy family. And while Fey is also pretty, married, and has a daughter, the characters she portrays in films like Mean Girls and Baby Mama, and in television shows like 30 Rock, are hard-pressed eggheads who give up personal fulfillment-e.g., marriage and motherhood-in the pursuit of professional success," he writes. "On 30 Rock, Fey, who is also the show's chief writer and executive producer, plays Liz Lemon, a television comedy writer modeled on herself. Liz Lemon is smart, funny, and at the top of her field. But she fails elsewhere. None of her relationships with men works out. She wants desperately to raise a child but can find neither the time nor the means to marry or adopt. Lemon makes you laugh, for sure. But you also would be hard pressed to name a more unhappy person on American TV."

There is so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start. Dave Weigel at the Washington Independent notes that "even the fictional Liz Lemon has fewer problems than the real-life former governor of Alaska, who quit her job under the pressure of frivolous ethics complaints and who seems to get into monthly feuds with her daughter’s ex-boyfriend." But I think Gertz takes an even better tack on this:

Continetti claims that Fey and Palin "could not be more dissimilar." Why? Well, Palin "is professionally successful, has been married for more than 20 years, and has a large and (from all outward appearances) happy family." On the other hand, Fey... well... is also apparently married with a daughter, but the CHARACTERS SHE PLAYS are not. In short, his evidence that Fey and Palin "could not be more dissimilar" is that Palin and LIZ LEMON are different.

Liz Lemon, of course, is not a real person. As Gertz says, this is like comparing Barack Obama and Will Smith (subject of many Obama biopic rumors) based on the number of alien motherships they've blown up.

Important Christmas News

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 9:04 AM PDT

Via Media Matters, I see that Fox News has begun its annual attempt to defend America in the War on ChristmasTM:

(Other groups started their fight to defend Christmas earlier this month.) It's probably hopeless to point this out, but Christians are not an embattled minority in this country and Christmas is in no danger of becoming any less of a holiday. This seems like a good time to repeat my favorite statistic: a higher percentage of America's population is Christian than Israel's is Jewish.