Cell Phone Lawsuit Follows Mojo Investigation

On the heels of a recent Mother Jones investigation into the mortal dangers of driving while gabbing on a cell phone, the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety has sued the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, accusing it of illegally withholding information related to the risks.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in US District Court in Washington, DC, claims that the federal agency violated the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by refusing to release documents—including the first-ever government estimate of auto fatalities related to cell phone use: 955 deaths in 2002. NHTSA is a branch of the Department of Transportation that regulates the auto industry and aims to reduce injuries and deaths on the nation's highways. Contacted today, agency spokesman Rae Tyson declined to comment on the suit.

Obama's First Policy Retreat?

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Did Barack Obama just break his first campaign promise?

On the campaign trail, Obama railed against big oil companies. He often criticized John McCain for backing tax cuts that would reward ExxonMobil and other top oil manufacturers. But now Obama's proposal to apply a windfall tax on big oil has vanished... at least from his transition website. The President-elect's transition team hasn't explicitly announced it will drop the windfall tax plan, but a transition aide, commenting on the condition he not be identified, backed off the promise in an email. "President-elect Obama announced the [windfall profits tax] policy during the campaign because oil prices were above $80 per barrel," he said. "They are currently below that now and expected to stay below that."

The windfall profits proposal was deleted from the transition website almost three weeks before the eagle-eyed American Small Business League (ASBL), an advocacy group for small businesses, noticed the change and protested in a press release Tuesday. The plan was mentioned in a version (PDF) of the site that existed after Obama's election win. But when the transition website relaunched on November 8, references to a excess profits tax on the oil and gas industry were gone.

Should Blacks Gain From Obama's Win?

So the New York Times thinks more TV stars will be black, but The Root doesn't think black political reporters will see any advancement. I think both got it right.

Hard as it is to land a TV role, it's not so hard to make a lead character black. At least, not as hard as landing the plum job of White House reporter. The Root points out that many black reporters made their names covering Jesse Jackson's presidential run. But that run was never more than symbolic; basically, you send black reporters to cover the civil rights movement, which is the best way to characterize Jackson's play. But the White House? The press corps there won't be darkening any time soon. And it shouldn't. The White House beat should, by rights, go to those who've earned it. Which black reporters can, and will do.

Auto Execs Starting to Get It?

Bad PR works wonders, apparently. Just two weeks after incurring public wrath for flying private jets to Washington in order to beg for bailout money, Detroit's top dogs are returning this week (driving hybrid cars to get here) with a plan to make amends:

Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally plans to tell Congress he is accelerating his company's development of hybrid and electric vehicles and is willing to cut his salary to $1 a year if Ford uses any federal funds.
General Motors Corp. is expected to focus on efforts to lighten the company's heavy debt load and consolidate or sell at least one of its eight automotive brands, most likely Saab, people familiar with the matter said. GM CEO Rick Wagoner also will take a $1 salary, those people said....
In a phone interview Monday, Mr. Mulally said Ford will explain to Congress it is rushing to launch new hybrids and electric vehicles by 2011, including a battery-powered commercial van and compact sedan. A plug-in electric vehicle that can be recharged from a standard electrical outlet should follow in 2012, he said.
In a separate interview, Ford Chairman William Ford Jr. said the company is looking beyond survival to opportunity. "We want to come blasting out as a global, green, high-tech company that's exactly where the country and the Obama administration want us to head," he said.

There is serious reason to doubt Bill Ford on this issue — he has long talked a good game on environmental matters while his company continued to mass produce gas-guzzling over-sized vehicles. At this point, though, reality appears to have finally penetrated the auto executives' thick skulls. No more private jets, no more massive salaries, no more ignoring the market for hybrids, and hopefully, no more business plans that produce SUVs and little else.

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San Francisco- and New York-based mostly-electronic music magazine XLR8R has just released its Best Albums of 2008 list, and while they wimped out and didn't rank their 25 titles (come on, hippies!) their choices are so much better than the last magazine's list I'll give them a pass. Noted Party Ben faves Flying Lotus, Beach House, Portishead, M83 and Tobacco xlr8rare in the mix, as well as intriguing choices from Atlas Sound, Daedelus, The Notwist and Spiritualized. Interestingly, they've rejected Lil Wayne (with hip-hop represented by Bun-B and Dizzee Rascal) as well as TV on the Radio (gasp, swoon). And of course there's the requisite super-obscure ridiculousness from Syclops, whose MySpace page announces huffily, "We are sorry, we don't do interviews or tour." But you have an awesome MySpace page! The magazine's inclusion of Yelle is a little iffy, since Pop Up came out in France in September, 2007 (remember me talking about Tecktonik last year?) but my own list archive has a few inaccuracies as well so, you know, glass houses.

Anyway, props to the '8R, and check out their full (and alphabetical—sigh) list after the jump.

Remembrance of Houses Future

REMEMBRANCE OF HOUSES FUTURE....If, like me, you adored the House of the Future at Disneyland when you were seven years old, you might enjoy P.J. O'Rourke's account of his visit to the HP/Microsoft revival version this summer. Unsurprisingly, considering the designers, it was closed down at the time due to "technical difficulties," but he was at least able to view it from above:

According to Disney, the shape of things to come can be found at Pottery Barn, with a quick stop in Restoration Hardware for "classic future" touches and a trip to Target to get throw rugs and cheap Japanese paper lanterns. HoF II was designed by the Taylor Morrison company, a home builder specializing in anodyne subdevelopmental housing in the Southwest.

....Any random dull normal person (we have one in our family) could come up with snappier ideas for the future than HoF II seems to contain. How about self-washing windows? Automobiles have had them since the 1930s. And have you watched the clever manner in which convertible car tops operate? What keeps that technology from being applied to self-making beds?....I didn't even see one of those robot vacuum cleaners that trundles around hoovering on its own agenda, never mind, say, a helium balloon with a propeller and a mop of feathers that flies about dusting things (it might not do a very good job dusting, but at our house neither do we).

More here on the original HoF if you want a trip down memory lane. More here on the new one.

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Is that still an "industry," even? Billboard is pointing out that while many retail sectors are breathing a sigh of relief after post-Thanksgiving weekend sales rose slightly, the world of music you pay for didn't do so well. First up, high profile album releases from Guns N' Roses and Kanye West both underperformed expectations, with G N' R's Chinese Democracy selling around 250,000 copies (compared to expectations of 300-700K), and Kanye's 808s and Heartbreak moving 425,000-450,000 units (while many expected double that). Maybe people just don't like those albums? Unfortunately, it looks like music sales in general suffered as well: stores like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart showed declines of up to 40% compared to last year.

The Shootout in Mumbai

THE SHOOTOUT IN MUMBAI....After a photographer at the Mumbai Mirror expressed his dismay that police on the scene didn't immediately open a gun battle against the terrorists behind last week's attacks, it became a trope in the right blogosphere that many lives could have been saved if only the Mumbai police had been more ballsy. "This whole unwillingness to shoot business is becoming a problem," sighed Instapundit.

Today, however, Israeli defense officials had a different take in the Jerusalem Post:

"In hostage situations, the first thing the forces are supposed to do is assemble at the scene and begin collecting intelligence," said a former official in the Shin Bet's security unit. "In this case, it appears that the forces showed up at the scene and immediately began exchanging fire with the terrorists instead of first taking control of the area."

I report, you decide. But if it were me, I'd probably listen to the Shin Bet folks. Via Robert Farley.

Fairness Doctrine Update

FAIRNESS DOCTRINE UPDATE....The conservative Media Research Center, not content with the current state of the art in wacko conspiracy theorizing about the imminent return of the Fairness Doctrine, has decided to create a whole movement to oppose it. The newly created Free Speech Alliance is, they say, "a gathering of a multitude of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens" designed to prevent the revival of something that no one is working to revive. Alex Knapp explains what's up:

Given the current political climate, conservative wins in the next two years are going to be few and far between. So conservative lobbying organizations are going to need a lot of funds to get anything accomplished. But it's hard to raise money when it looks like you're losing all the time. The solution? Raise money by fighting a policy that nobody supports! The continued lack of a Fairness Doctrine is the MRC's ticket to "proving" that their being effective with their donations. All they have to do is harp in their fundraising letters that they're being "successful" in fighting the Fairness Doctrine, and voila! Instant comparative advantage!

That's pretty much the NRA strategy these days too, and it seems to work pretty well. Maybe it'll work out for the MRC too.

Democrats at the Pentagon

DEMOCRATS AT THE PENTAGON....With Republican Bob Gates staying on as Secretary of Defense, does that mean that all his Republican deputies will be staying on too? Matt Yglesias says no:

To provide some background and context, you need to understand that a lot of these guys were never Gates' people anyway. Gates and Donald Rumsfeld had some pretty different ideas about a lot of stuff, but when Gates joined the Bush administration he wasn't given the opportunity to clean house, fire everyone, and bring his own people on board. Since he's been in office for a couple of years there's been some turnover since that time, but still a guy like [Eric] Edelman has always been a Cheney/Rumsfeld guy who happens to be serving as one of Gates' top deputies, not a Gates guy who Gates is desperate to hang on to. In fact, I think we can be fairly certain that Gates' views are closer to those of a moderate Democrat like [Michèle] Flournoy than to Edelman. So whether or not to get rid of people probably wasn't a bone of contention between Gates and the transition. What needs to be negotiated isn't whether or not some of these folks need to go, it's who to replace them with.

I doubt that Obama has asked for a complete purge of the upper ranks of the Pentagon, but at the same time it's almost inconceivable that his conversations with Gates didn't make clear that a whole bunch of Democrats ought to move into senior positions pretty quickly. Gates, not being an idiot, surely understands this as the way the world works, and is OK with it.