Political MoJo

The Plight of the Ugliest Endangered Animals

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 1:39 PM EST


Watch this Slate slideshow and you'll come out hating pandas for everything they represent. While millions of dollars have gone into saving the last three thousand pandas just because they're cute, at least one sorry creature—the aye-aye—is bound for extinction because it's ugly. The aye-aye looks like a balding, emaciated gremlin. So even though it minds its own business in life, foraging for bugs in tree bark with claws bigger than its face, superstitious people in Madagascar go out of their way to kill it on sight. "Aye-aye, aye-aye," indeed, as the maudlin Ranchero song goes, "Canta y no llores." The world is not fair. Not even environmental philanthropists are.

After pointing out injustice, fortunately, the writer poses solutions. Savvy conservationists can market the most charismatic creatures to raise money for the rest. The World Wildlife Federation already does so with its panda logo. "One lovable animal might stand in for an entire ecosystem—the jaguar, for example, could serve as a spokesmodel for the Amazon rainforest where it lived," Michael Levitin writes. To summarize the argument of biologist David Stokes, conservationists "must understand the ways that aesthetic appeal can be used to motivate the public—and then try to promote the "less attractive" creatures by highlighting their most endearing feature."

To their ideas I'd like to add another. Endangered wildlife t-shirts—the ones painted with blue whales underwater or gray wolves in the snow—went out of fashion by 1990. (I reluctantly retired mine some years later). But can't you picture the aye-aye (or the golden-rumped elephant shrew or the hairy-eared dwarf lemur) becoming an icon emblazoned on ironic t-shirts to raise funds for their conservation? And not just for hipsters. The scrawny, bug-eyed Chihuahua mascot was fast food industry's most effective ad campaign in decades; Americans bought 13 million stuffed ones from Taco Bell and far too many more dashboard bobble-heads. Paris Hilton has one too. And Sam the World's Ugliest Dog ranks among this millennium's most famous canines. Today the t-shirts and mugs made in Sam's memory are sold out. So conservationists who want to draw attention to the less photogenic animals could make use of this trend: in the era of Ugly Betty, a beatific defense of homeliness itself may be garnering popularity.

—April Rabkin

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Fired U.S. Attorneys Update -- The Ax is Falling

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 1:37 PM EST

Talking Points Memo reports that in anticipation of the fired federal prosecutors testifying before Congress tomorrow, Michael Battle, the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, has resigned. According to TPM, Battle was the one who made the calls to the prosecutors letting them know they had been fired. Of course, Battle was complicit in a larger scheme orchestrated by higher-ups in the Bush Administration. His resignation in no way means the culprit has been punished or that the scandal is over.

TPM also reports that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed an ethics complaint against Republican Representative Pete Domenici of New Mexico. Domenici is one of two congresspeople that contacted fired U.S. Attorney David Iglesias before the November 2006 elections, pressuring Iglesias to speed up a probe of a Democratic lawmaker up for reelection. Mother Jones recently profiled the woman who is the heart and soul CREW -- possibly the most hated woman in Washington -- Melanie Sloan. Check it out.

Elsewhere, Slate has an excellent article by Dhalia Lithwick on the reasons behind the prosecutor purge.

1) Cronyism (Carol Lam was let go for hurting the GOP; her replacement is a card-carrying member of the Federalist Society.)
2) Candidate grooming (The Bush administration is grooming Republican lawyers for higher office with sweet stepping-stone jobs.)
3) Presidential politics (an opposition researcher gets a prosecutor's gig in Arkansas right before Hillary Clinton's run for president. Sneaky.)
4) It's a very short hop from a U.S. attorney gig to the federal bench. I wouldn't be surprised if Rove and Co.—who truly live to makeover the federal bench—were willing to suffer a little short-term political embarrassment in order to better situate some loyalists for future judgeships.
5) This administration really does see loyalty to the White House as inseparable from loyalty to the law. Historically, the frequent disputes between the DOJ and renegade U.S. attorneys were resolved through compromise. This president doesn't compromise with insubordinate subordinates. He fires them.
6) The conspiracy theorist in me cannot leave unmentioned the possibility that someone at the Bush White House—let's call him "David Addington"—does nothing all day but mark up legislation to diminish congressional and judicial oversight while increasing executive branch authority. Someone at the White House figured out that with a little Wite-Out and the distractions of the Christmas season, the president could remove both the federal judiciary and the Congress from the U.S. attorney appointments process.
7) This was merely a monumental screw-up.

I've rearranged the numbering, but all the words in block quotes are Lithwick's. Check out her full article here. We'll have coverage of the hearings tomorrow as they happen.

Scary New Stat on Health Insurance

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 12:36 PM EST

"Today, more than one-third of the uninsured — 17 million of the nearly 47 million — have family incomes of $40,000 or more." That's from today's New York Times, and if there is a better explanation for why universal health care has broad support amongst voters or a better argument for why we need a new system, anything at all, I certainly haven't seen it.

Go Deep Inside the Conservative Movement

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 12:20 PM EST

Nation staffer Max Blumenthal went to the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting (known as CPAC) recently and took some excellent video. Yes, he has Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" but he also has Michelle Malkin chewing him out over a kinda-funny joke, Grover Norquist saying some intelligent stuff, a dolphin that hates Mitt Romney, a dude refusing to let the video camera see his Confederate flag pin, and other delights. Check it out here.

Whenever I think of CPAC, I think of our friend the principled conservative, Daniel Borchers, who was kicked out of the convention one year and denied entrance two others because he has made it his mission to try and convince his conservative brethern that Coulter is hijacking their ideology and ruining America's political discourse. You can read our short profile on him here. It's called "Counter-Coulter."

In the Red: Bono's AIDS Ad Campaign Tanks

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 11:25 AM EST

Bad news for Red, the Bono-inspired, star-studded ad campaign to sell Gap t-shirts, and—oh, yes—raise some money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Despite all the hype, its total contribution to the Fund so far has been a paltry $18 million. A Global Fund spokesman explains to Ad Age that this was to be expected: "Red has done as much as we could have hoped for in the short time it has been up and running.... The launch cost of this kind of campaign is going to be hugely frontloaded." Translation: Most of the money raised has been blown on ad budgets by Gap, Motorola, Armani, Apple, and other companies that are taking a cut from selling Red stuff. To give you a sense of just how big the corporate cut is, for every special edition Red iPod nano sold, Apple donates just $10.

This isn't the first time an altruistic corporate campaign has been revealed to be too good to be true—we collected some other examples in our November issue. But there's an easy way to not get snooke(red)—cut out the middleman and give directly to the Global Fund. Visit buylesscrap.org to find out how.

Ann Coulter, on a Roll

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 2:19 PM EST

ann_coulter.jpg At the annual American Conservative Union meeting—attended by the V.P. and all the 2008 Republican candidates but McCain—Ann Coulter gave her latest gaydar reading. John Edwards, like Bill Clinton and Al Gore before him, is a "faggot."

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Age-Old Tradition Felled by Climate Change

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 1:38 PM EST


Today's New York Times reports that sugar makers in Vermont—maple syrup farmers, that is—can no longer rely on generations-old traditions to tell them when to tap the trees. Maple season has moved up at least a month and become shorter, sugar makers say. The U.S. used to make 80 percent of the world's maple syrup and Canada, 20. Their roles have now reversed as the maples thrive in the northernmost reaches of their traditional range.

Maple trees not only produce the sweet, delicious sap; they also provide the most exquisite of fall foliage.

What the Bush Administration is Doing About It (Climate Change)

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 1:31 PM EST

Short answer: Nothing. Actually, that's not fair: Less than nothing. The Department of Energy predicts that, if nothing were done to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. would produce just under 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. The Administration claims that if nothing were done, emissions in that year would be closer to 10 billion tons. With Bush's all-voluntary restrictions, emissions will be exactly what the DOE says they would be, anyway. Addressing Bush's plan, David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council told the New York Times, "If you set the hurdle one inch above the ground, you can't fail to clear it." But the better metaphor is digging a one inch trench then setting the hurdle an inch above the ground.

The estimates come from the draft of the United States Climate Action Report, a final version of which was promised for the summer of 2005. Explaining the delay, officials blamed "the recent departures of several senior staff members running the administration's climate research program." (Don't you wonder why they'd quit?) The officials also said "no replacements had been named." Survival of the species on the line and the Bush administration is too busy firing nonpartisan U.S. attorneys to staff the climate research program.

Portion Of Ryan White Act Could Remove $60 Million From Prevention Budget

| Sat Mar. 3, 2007 11:32 AM EST

Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, according to his offiicial biography, is dedicated to "improving health care access and affordability, protecting the sanctity of all human life...." Not quite, if you consider his hat trick that could wipe $60 million of the HIV/AIDS prevention program. Coburn added a provision to the recently renewed Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Act that will divert $60 million from the Centers for Disease Control's HIV/AIDS prevention budget over the next three years into a fund for which no state qualifies.

The HIV Early Diagnosis Grant initiative mandates that $30 million of the CDC's prevention budget be set aside each year for states that meet a particular set of guidelines for HIV testing. The problem is that not one state meets these specific guidelines. However, the $30 million will be taken out of the CDC's budget, regardless.

Under the Early Diagnosis Grant program, states could receive money if they provide voluntary HIV testing of pregnant women and universal testing of newborns, and voluntary HIV testing at sexually transmitted infections clinics and at substance abuse treatment centers.

In anticipation of a loss of funds, the CDC has requested an additional $30 million in its 2008 budget. George W. Bush has already cut state and local prevention grants by $21 million since 2003. Laura Hanen, Director of Government Relations for the National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, reports that HIV/AIDS advocates had asked Coburn for a compromise that would allow any unused portion of the $30 million to return to the CDC's prevention budget each year, but he will not budge.

Diana Bruce of the AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families defends Coburn as "a senator who cares a lot about HIV/AIDS" issues, but says that his initiative is misguided. "There already is a massive effort to prevent mother to child transmission ...the CDC has its own prenatal transmission programs," Bruce said.

It Was Just a Matter of Time Until the Rudy Flip-Flops Began

| Fri Mar. 2, 2007 1:31 PM EST

I think the Republican strategy in the 2008 election is to flip-flop so many times, the public becomes completely immune to it. It'll be a massive paradigm shift in which people go from seeing flip-flops as indicative of weakness in character (see Kerry, John) to seeing flip-flops as politics as usual. (I'm only half kidding.)

MoJoBlog has documented McCain and Romney's flip-flopping and pandering over and over and over. So very many times, I'm starting to doubt I have the stomach for it. Not to be outdone, Rudy Giuliani is getting in on the act.

A top Rudy advisor has told the conservative National Review that Rudy opposes public funding for abortions. That's very different from Rudy's position in the 90s, when he ran for office touting his support for public funding.

This isn't the first time Rudy has pulled a U-turn on abortion. Earlier this month, he told Sean Hannity that he opposes late-term abortions, which is funny because once in 1999 and once in 2000 Rudy said very clearly he supports a woman's right to a late-term abortion. And when asked about the issue again in 2000, he said, "All of my positions are firm. I have strong viewpoints. I express them. And I--I do not think that it makes sense to be changing your position."