Nicholas Kristof's Times column on Obama's potential Secretary of Agriculture picks has generated a manure storm in the blogosphere. At issue is the fact that he may pick a typical agribusiness guy like Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop. This is ironic, and perhaps a bit duplicitous, given that Obama recently professed to reading, and being down with, Michael Pollan's sun-food agenda piece in the Times Magazine. Many liberals have not protested Obama's other less-than-progressive cabinet picks in part because they believe that Obama himself will balance them. But the problem with applying that theory to agriculture is that the Democratic Party is not really much more progressive on ag than Republicans. Indeed, opposition to the most recent farm bill was an odd coalition of California progressives and the Bush Administration. There will be so much institutional inertia to overcome on agriculture within the Democratic Party that it's hard to see how the system will ever change without a secretary who is truly committed to shaking it up. Obama might have the will, but he certainly won't have the time or energy.
Update: More on potential Obama picks. And this petition to encourage Obama to make a progressive Secretary of Agriculture pick has been gaining steam.
Update II: The names of possible Ag Secretary contenders keep shifting, indicating that the criticism might be having an effect. According to the AP, as of Monday December 15th the contenders are:
Dennis Wolf (PA Secretary of Agriculture)
Tom Buis (President of the National Farmers Union)
Charles Stenholm (Former West Texas Congressman and ranking member of Ag Comittee)
Stephanie Sandlin (Congresswoman from South Dakota and Ag Committee member)
Jill Long Thompson (Former Undersecretary of Ag under Clinton)
Still, none of these names are picks that have been circulated by activists in the Food Democracy petition.
Yesterday California approved a landmark global warming plan that would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 30 percent reduction. Meanwhile, the state is suffering through a fiscal crisis that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supports the global warming plan, describes as "financial Armageddon." The same day that California approved the climate measure, the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle ran a giant Schwarzenegger block quote:
Every second, the state is losing $470, every minute, $28,000, and every hour $1.7 million and every day $40 million. That is approximately more than $1 billion a month if legislators don't act [to pass a new budget].
The California Air Resources Board, which approved the global warming plan, estimates that it would actually have "an overall positive effect on the economy" by spurring energy efficiency and technological innovation. However, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analysis Office questioned that estimate, saying that the evaluation of some costs and benefits was "inconsistent and incomplete." As U.S. Congress prepares to debate its own climate bill in the near future, expect Republicans to argue that the California climate plan is a financial sink hole; in response, Democrats should note that the benefits of energy efficiency and technology investment will take awhile to materialize. The same could be said of bailing out Wall Street and the automakers, and, so far, that hasn't stopped us.
The excellent Hollywood biopic, Milk, has unwittingly exposed a subtle form of homophobia--"a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia," as the Washington Post puts it--that remains a fixture of the Hollywood media circuit. Today the Post has compiled a disturbing account of interviews given by male actors who play gay men in the movies, and who are invariably asked by journalists and talk show hosts what it was like to kiss another man (with the obvious subtext: wasn't it kind of nasty?).
Exhibit A is a conversation between David Letterman and Milk's James Franco, in which Letterman asks him what he was thinking going into a minute-long kissing scene with Penn:
"I didn't want to screw it up," Franco told Letterman.
"See, if it's me, I kind of hope I do screw it up," Letterman shot back. "That's what you want, isn't it?"
"To screw it up?" Franco asked.
"I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?" Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.
Even worse was an interview Chris Potter, an actor in Showtime's Queer as Folk gave to MSNBC: "Soon as they say 'cut,' you spit," he sneered. "You want to go to a strip bar or touch the makeup girls. You feel dirty. It's a tough job."
On a bright August afternoon in Scotia, a logging town in Humboldt County, California, Amy Arcuri drove her van to the end of Main Street and parked near a locked gate. For three years she and her friend, who calls himself Lodgepole, had been sneaking food through a gap in the fence and up to fellow tree sitters camped in an ancient redwood tagged for the chainsaw. But on this day, just after they stepped out of Arcuri's van, a timber-company truck spotted them and crunched to a halt. A large, ruddy man with a thick mustache sprang from the driver's seat and approached with a glint of metal in his hand.
In an 11th hour move, the Bush Administration today reversed an old federal rule that would have allowed Congress to take action to protect the Grand Canyon from a rash of new uranium mining claims. Driven by renewed national interest in nuclear power, the number of uranium claims staked within five miles of the Grand Canyon has increased from 10 in 2003 to 1,181 as of this October. Rampant mining near the Canyon would threaten the water quality of the Colorado River, potentially jeopardizing the drinking water supply of millions of residents in Las Vegas and Southern California. Prompted in part by the concerns of local water agencies, in June the House Committee on Natural Resources invoked its right under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act to withdraw the mining claims. But the Bureau of Land Management refused to implement the order, and the Bush Administration's rule change today gives it official authority to thumb its nose at Congress.
Ultimately, Bush's move will probably do more to increase his radioactivity with voters than it will to heat up the tap water in Las Vegas; the Obama Administration will certainly reverse Bush's reversal. But more important, the Grand Canyon flap underscores the hopeless antiquity of the nation's mining laws. The General Mining Law of 1872, which was written by Nevada's first senator and signed into law by President Grant, enshrines mining as the "highest and best use" on 350 million acres of federal land. It also allows mining companies to cart off public minerals without paying a cent of royalties. Efforts to reform the law began almost as soon as it passed and have failed at ever turn, including this year, when a reform bill was to have been introduced in the Senate but wasn't. But with Bush-era environmental horrors fresh on the mind, and public coffers emptied, expect that to change in the coming session.