Blogs

Part of the Problem: Sen. Max Baucus

| Mon Apr. 14, 2008 8:54 AM EDT

max-baucus.jpg Montana Senator Max Baucus, head of the Senate Finance Committee, has rightfully been called "one of corporate America's favorite Democrats." It's no surprise, then, that he's all lobbied up.

Since 1996, one-fifth of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus' highest-paid staff members have left their jobs to become lobbyists, usually for industries regulated by the powerful committee that Baucus heads, a Missoulian State Bureau analysis shows.
Take Jeff Forbes, for example. In 2003, Forbes was Baucus' lead staffer on the Senate Finance Committee working extensively on the Medicare prescription drug bill. Baucus, then the top-ranking Democrat on the panel, was one of the bill's central architects.
In late November, just five days before the Senate took the final, key vote on the bill, Forbes quit. Six weeks later, he was registered to lobby for two drug companies and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobby representing the nation's biggest prescription drug companies.
Those same companies got a multimillion-dollar windfall in the Medicare drug program, critics of the program contend, because the law forbids the government from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper prices.

The Nation reported in 2007 that Baucus once asked 50 lobbyists to raise $100,000 each for his upcoming re-election campaign. If Barack Obama becomes the standard-bearer of his party, he's going to have to decide if, in his quest to cleanse the system in Washington, he wants to demand change from powerful members of his own party.

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Ex-Bushie Still Pounding the Pavement

| Sat Apr. 12, 2008 11:27 PM EDT

Loyalty took no one so far in the Bush administration as Alberto Gonzales. But eight months after he resigned amid allegations of possible perjury and enabling arguably unconstitutional activity, the former Bush administration attorney general still cannot find a job, the New York Times reports:

Alberto R. Gonzales, like many others recently unemployed, has discovered how difficult it can be to find a new job. Mr. Gonzales, the former attorney general, who was forced to resign last year, has been unable to interest law firms in adding his name to their roster, Washington lawyers and his associates said in recent interviews.

On Joss Whedon, Male Feminist

| Sat Apr. 12, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

How I wish I'd remembered to link to this when I wrote earlier this week about the misogyny of the Horton Hears A Who movie.

It's Joss Whedon, the man who gave us Buffy the Vampire Slayer (go ahead and laugh—LOVED it), Angel, Firefly, and much more. Here's a guy who builds killer vehicles around strong, female protagonists and gets rich.

It's his acceptance speech for an award from Equality Now and is one of the best indictments I've encountered of media pack mentality, intellectual laziness, and the near impossibility of having a national conversation around sexism.

Problem is: people think merely asking a seemingly feminist question, while tuning out on the answer, will suffice. Also, the speech is hilarious. Whedon is riffing about all the poseur 'journalists' who interview him and ask the same question, one to which they clearly never do more than type up the answer: How come you write about such strong women?

Enjoy, with my compliments.

Oil Trumps Whales

| Sat Apr. 12, 2008 2:18 PM EDT

rightwhale_georgia_dnr.jpg

Northern right whale with calf,
Eubalaena glacialis. Photo: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

The Bush administration wants to open 5.6 million acres in the Bering Sea off Alaska to oil and gas leasing, including an area north of the Aleutian Islands near Bristol Bay designated critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale. The proposal was published in Tuesday's Federal Register by the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS), as reported by the Center for Biological Diversity. North Pacific right whales once ranged from California to Alaska and across the North Pacific to Russia and Japan. They were decimated by commercial whaling and remain the most endangered large whale in the world. Fewer than 50 individuals remain in the Bering Sea population.

"Drilling in Bristol Bay would be drilling through the heart of the most important habitat of the most endangered whale on the planet," said Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity. "If the North Pacific right whale is to have any chance of survival, we must protect its critical habitat, not auction it off to oil companies." The CBD reports the leasing proposal was made the same day the National Marine Fisheries Service, another federal agency, published a final rule in the Federal Register naming portions of the lease area as critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale. Ooops.

"Unfortunately, for the right whale it's one step forward, two steps back," said Cummings. "One branch of the federal government is acting to protect the critical habitat of the North Pacific right whale, while another branch is simultaneously proposing to destroy it." It's also reminiscent of the recent MMS decision to lease important polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea at the same time the US Fish and Wildlife Service was considering offering the bears protection under the Endangered Species Act. Both agencies are part of Dirk Kempthorne's Department of the Oilterior, uhm, Interior.

The latest leasing proposal would sell the North Aleutian Basin lease in 2011… One more reason we need the Right President to protect the Right Whales. Not to mention the right one to wean us off the oil economy rather than enable it.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Gavin Newsom's San Francisco: The New Windy City?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 8:51 PM EDT

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It is the greenest home in the city of San Francisco, and one of the greenest in the world. Nestled in the city's Mission district amidst old and colorful Victorians, La Casa Verde is built entirely from sustainable and recycled materials, has a green roof and solar panels, and draws 40% of its energy from a single wind turbine (.pdf), which rises 45 feet in the air.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom loves it—unsurprising, considering the many green initiatives he's supported in the city. He couldn't stop talking about how "great" and "fantastic" he thought La Casa was as he toured the building this morning, and listened attentively as homeowner Robin Wilson described the building's many green features: the countertops made from discarded rice hulls, the recycled flooring, the chandelier whose shimmering LED lights will last for over 15 years. "This is not a modest or symbolic effort," he commented. "This is real. This is not fanciful."

And for San Francisco residents, "real" green housing is about to be a lot more attainable. Speaking to reporters after the tour, Newsom announced that he is creating a residential wind working group, tasked with figuring out how to revamp the city's zoning and building codes to allow wind turbines on private lots. If implemented, it would be the first urban program of its kind.

TV: "Greatest Comedy Sketches" Inspire Deadly Serious Writing

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

mojo-photo-50greatest.jpgOkay, I'll bite: Nerve.com (the sexy website) and IFC.com (the, er, indie film channel's website) have combined forces for some reason to bring us a list of the Top 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time. Sure, we've all got three hours to watch a bunch of YouTube videos of sketches we've all seen 100 times already. And I can ignore the fact that this joint venture requires one to jump back and forth between the two websites (opening a new browser window each time), and the fact that The State scored more entries than the Kids in the Hall. But it's the writing that does my head in: leaden descriptions of each sketch that are so brutally unfunny, they seem to siphon off the comedic energy of the sketches themselves. Check out this neutered portrait of Monty Python's "Spanish Inquisition" sketch (#33):

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Updated: Obama's Hebrew Blog

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 12:53 PM EDT

Earlier today I passed on the news that according to Israel's Ynet news, Barack Obama today became the first US presidential candidate to start a Hebrew blog.

But an Obama aide, Sam Graham-Felsen, has since been in touch with my colleagues to say the new site is not an official one. "Some supporters made it on their own," Graham-Felson writes. "Obviously any official blog would be on barackobama.com and I would know about it." Oy vey, the perils of blogging. My apologies.

John McCain's Age: An Issue?

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 12:10 PM EDT

Yesterday, the DNC released some internal polling it conducted on John McCain. There's nothing groundbreaking — some people know a lot about McCain, some don't; some can be swayed by new (presumably negative) information about McCain, some can't — but there is one interesting observation. When swing voters are asked about McCain, the "most frequently volunteered concerns" are his age (19%), his position on the Iraq War (18%), his support for continuing the policies of the Bush Administration (10%), and his positions on economic issues (8%).

That first number is pretty stunning: nearly twice as many people are worried about McCain's age — he'll be 72 in August — than his manifold similarities to a failed president who has an approval rating hovering around 30 percent.

But will the Democrats make an issue of McCain's age? Not according to party chairman Howard Dean, who said yesterday, "I doubt we will bring it up in the election." Dean tried to portray the decision as a moral one: "There is somewhat of a higher ethical bar on what we do. We don't have any Lee Atwaters or Karl Roves on our side." In reality, Dean is probably unwilling to risk upsetting the AARP vote, which turns out reliably and doesn't want to hear that an energetic man of its age should be disqualified from holding office. Age discrimination, and all that.

That doesn't mean age won't be an issue. There will be independent liberal groups, not to mention liberal blogs, that will be all too happy to suggest McCain is "too old-fashioned" or "out of touch with modern views." Heck, even the Democratic nominee can play this game — a surrogate can "accidentally" make a comment that inserts age into the national debate, and then apologize the next day after the damage is done.

And of course, every story and blog post that debates whether age should be an issue makes age an issue.

I'm Not Crazy, Sexism Is

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 11:59 AM EDT

More, as if we were running low, on sexism, its pervasiveness, and its actual effect on its victims.

From mindhacks.com:

Female anger at work seen as worse, a character flaw:

Psychological Science has just published an eye-opening study that found that women who express anger at work were thought of more negatively than men and were assumed to be 'angry people' or 'out of control'. Male colleagues who did the same were typically viewed in a more positive light and were assumed to be upset by circumstances.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

So who's crazier: a woman who expresses basic human emotions appropriately based on relevant stimuli? Or the man who 'sees' anger differently based on the presence, or lack, of a penis on said angry person. But wait, female evaluators also came to the same conclusions when observing angry people in the workplace. Men get angry. Women go insane. And are professionally punished for it.


Medical Nonprofit Designed for 3rd World Helps Here at Home

| Fri Apr. 11, 2008 11:24 AM EDT

This is a heartbreaking look at the uninsured and underinsured in America, and one nonprofit that is doing what it can to help them. If you've got 13 minutes, watch it through the end — the last two minutes are excellent.

If you were looking for a place to make a charitable donation...