Blogs

New Face of Lawsuit Abuse Looks A Lot Like the Old One

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 2:25 PM EST

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is apparently gearing up for a new round of legislative fights over the nation's civil justice system. The Chamber's Institute for Legal Reform has unveiled a slick new PR campaign to convince Americans that the little guy, and not, say, the enormous corporations that fund the campaign, is at risk of personal disaster at the hands of a greedy trial lawyer. Not surprisingly, the campaign is headlined by the now-famous Chungs, the owners of a D.C. dry cleaners sued for $54 million for losing a man's pants.

The Chamber raised more than $70,000 for the Chungs' legal bills, and has turned them into the poster children that corporate America has been waiting years to find. They are featured prominently in YouTube videos and Internet ads that link to the Chamber-sponsored site I Am Lawsuit Abuse. What happened to the Chungs is tragic and indefensible. It's also extremely rare, and very little of the Chamber's legal "reform" agenda would have prevented it, either.

While the medium is new for the Chamber, the new lawsuit abuse videos consist of the same old corporate propaganda bashing the civil justice system, and most of it is highly misleading. One of the segments features a "victim" that was actually a plaintiff in a lawsuit. Particularly egregious is a video of a Georgia professor who specializes in studying "play." She sweetly contends lawsuits are making children obese because they've taken dangerous playground equipment out of the school yard. The junk food companies that fund the Chamber should be especially pleased with that one.

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Hillary, Romney Up in Iowa, We Think

| Wed Dec. 26, 2007 11:12 AM EST

The latest statewide survey in Iowa shows that Hillary Clinton is up five points to 34 percent of voters, with a surging John Edwards at 20 percent and Barack Obama falling into third close behind at 19 percent. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee lost five points, dropping to 23 percent to Mitt Romney's bump up four points to 21 percent.

Worth noting that the American Research Group may not be the bellweather for accurate polling. A little digging shows that the group is backed by New Hampshire pollster Lafell Bennett, and that ARG was widely off the mark in New Hampshire in 2004 when it called a victory for Bush, only to see John McCain take the state by an 18-point margin.

Also, turns out ARG doesn't believe in including cell phone numbers in its random draws, which of course lops off a chunk of Obama supporters. He defended his rationale telling the New Hampshire Business Review that he omits cell phones because mostly young people "don't vote."

Bottom line here is that polls are polls, and while they give us all something to talk about they are by no means the beating pulse of a horserace.

Another Baad, Baad Santa

| Mon Dec. 24, 2007 2:53 PM EST

I didn't want to laugh at this, but in the end, I had to.

Ashton Kutcher and his production company made a far too vulgar, but irresistible, video about a drunk, horny Santa looking for work during the writer's strike. Don't watch this at work, but it's Xmas Eve; if you're at work today, nobody's caring what you're watching.

Why Not Smoke 'Em Since you Got 'Em?: The "Boys of Satire" Returning to Work Much, Much Too Soon

| Mon Dec. 24, 2007 12:07 PM EST

For an armchair sociologist and culture critic, I'm hilariously wrong about how people will behave.

When I heard that Stewart and Colbert were returning to the air just after the New Year, I had two responses: bafflement and fear. First, my bafflement.

Given the pace, the stress, the monstrous pressure of being funny four nights a week about stuff that had happened only hours before, I'd thought the 'talent' would be secretly thanking the gods for this unplanned vacation from their own success. I assumed that was why they were being so ostentatiously generous with their support of the writers - so they could stay out til spring and the big names could sleep for six months and luxuriate in their ignorance for a change. I pictured Colbert and Stewart showering their gleeful families every morning with confetti made of unread NY Times, then spending the day in their jammies ginning up fake emails from the network brass dissing the writers and threatening their families. Instead, these guys are so desperate to get back on the air, they're willing to humiliate themselves to do so. I know these guys are innately funny, but nightly-broadcast-with-no-help funny? Why on earth are Letterman, Colbert et al so desperate to get back on the air?

Y'all know I love me some satire shows. So much so that, pre-strike, I worried about my boys spiraling into drugs, drinking and sordid sex scandals - VH1 Behind the Music-style - from all the pressure. Turns out that they're as addicted to what they do as we are to watching them do it. I 'spoze I shouldn't be so surprised. God knows I churn out book after book, post after post for far less money and with every chance of being either ignored or excoriated (see: your comments). Wrong again. Note to self: performing is as much an irrestible calling as punditry. Who knew?

Now, my fear. I'd been trying to wean myself off television for a looong time now. With a personality as addictive as mine, It's such a time waster; I want my kids to grow up watching only in moderation, unlike their mother. I'd sooner show you nude, secretly snapped photos of me than tell you what, and how much, I watch. So, once the strike hit, I cravenly made the plunge, knowing I wouldn't miss much this time of year. Smugly, I dragged my 'leventy-seven boxes back to the cable folks. You'd have thought I was donating both kidneys to Iraqi war refugees the way I carried on. No one expected the strike to be over before the end of January by which time I figured I'd have detox'd enough to resist the siren call of Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock and...never mind. I couldn't wait to lord my cultural ignorance over you lowly TV gawkers at dinner parties - "The Office? What office, I don't understand. Oh. TV. I'm reading Proust" - obnoxious as those wankers who spend a semester abroad (in Canada) and come back pretending to have forgotten English.

I could never have given up TV with late night satire still airing, never.

What the f*&^ am I supposed to do now?

Elephants Get Safe Passage

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 4:20 PM EST

asia_india_elephant_400h.jpg More than a thousand wild elephants have officially been given safe passage. A wildlife corridor linking two reserves in Karnataka, Southern India, has been handed over by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to forest officials. WTI reports this is the first time land has been bought by a nonprofit and signed over to the government to protect the habitat of the endangered Asian elephant. "This is a great step forward for elephant conservation in India," says Vivek Menon, Executive Director of WTI and elephant biologist, "and a model I hope other wildlife groups will follow. One of the greatest threats facing Asian elephants today is the shrinking and fragmentation of their habitat. Protecting corridors that link these "inland islands" is vital to ensuring the species' survival." … Happy holidays.

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

Listen Up, Pandas, You Need to Fight

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 3:59 PM EST

panda01.jpg Scientists in China may use a police dog to teach pandas to fight. This after the first artificially-bred panda released into the wild was apparently killed after a battle with other animals, reports Reuters. The Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre plans to have four pandas live with a specially trained police dog or other animals. The pandas would learn how to protect themselves by observing the dog. Five-year-old Xiang Xiang, the world's first artificially bred panda released into the wild, was found dead in the snow early this year after less than 12 months of freedom… Hmm, can we train them to attack bad people too?

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

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Missing a Testicle? Say Goodbye to That Tour in Iraq You Were Hoping For

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 1:59 AM EST

Hey, guess what? The Army isn't just intolerant of gays and transgendered Americans. It appears to object to anyone who has any sexual abnormality, no matter how large or small or completely unrelated to job performance. Here are examples of people who do not meet the official standards in the Army's Standards of Medical Fitness (available here):

Women who experience unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, or bleeding at irregular intervals, or no periods at all.
Women born without a uterus.
In men, "Current absence of one or both testicles, either congenital (752.89) or undescended (752.51) is disqualifying."
And, for both men and women: "History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex (P64.5), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7) or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions is disqualifying."

As Obsidian Wings puts it, "Unless I am very, very wrong about what exactly service in the military involves, I can't see that an undescended testicle would affect a soldier's ability to perform his duties."

Merry Christmas From the U.S. Military

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 11:20 PM EST

Politically%20Incorrect%20Guide.bmpIf you are a soldier in Iraq, is it alright to wish people a merry Christmas, or would "happy holidays" be better? Like, whatever dude. As Ann Coulter says on a poster hanging on the door of the military police office in Fort Riley, Kansas: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." It's Jesus time!

That, at least, appears to be the way the military is heading according to a bevy of findings released by the of Military Religious Freedom Foundation this week, just in time for the holidays. MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein (see our recent profile) believes the military has been colonized at all levels by evangelical Christians bent on converting it into an army of God. The group's recent findings certainly support the idea:

Hide the Condoms, Syphilis is Back!

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 8:51 PM EST

Syphilis is making a comeback. The Associated Press reports that the all-but-forgotten STD is breaking out in major cities in Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent, the United States, which reported about 10,000 cases last year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that reported cases of the disease increased by nearly 12 percent in 2006, mostly afflicting the South and urban areas. Considering that half of new STD cases affect 15- to 24-year-olds, you'd think that we'd be passing out condoms left and right in order to stop the resurgence of syphilis, right? Guess again.

No More Sexy Time?

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 8:43 PM EST

Ali G, Borat, Bruno

It's being reported (thanks to a Drudge Report top-line link, natch) that British actor Sacha Baron Cohen is "offing" two of his most beloved characters, Ali G and Borat, but looking at the original quote in the Telegraph, I'm not sure there's a story here. Here's what Cohen actually said: