Political MoJo

GM Petrified? Automaker Drops Survivor Sponsorship

| Thu Aug. 31, 2006 12:43 AM EDT

Earlier today, General Motors announced that's it's ending its 6-year sponsorship of the CBS reality show, Survivor, saying it needs to shift its media dollars from prime-time to live sports and award shows. Officials insist the announcment has nothing to do with the show's controversial new format that divides contestants by race.That struggling GM needs to rethink its strategy on all fronts is understandable. That the announcement comes today, in the midst of protests over the show? Their denial has a familiar ring.


Remember last year when that other ailing car company, Ford, pulled its ads for Jaguar and Land Rovers from gay publications, right around the time when anti-gay-rights groups were threatening a boycott of the company? Ford insisted their decision was strictly about numbers, advertising, the bottom line.


Then a week later the company reversed its decision, making its earlier denials sound downright absurd. In this case GM could, even if its decision is totally unrelated, use this opportunity to highlight the importance of diversity in the workplace, to say something in acknowledgment of the controversy, however reality show-esque, that is unfolding. This was a sliver of a chance for GM to stand for something other than a tanking business, I mean, could it kill them to mention their diversity program?

The American public is tired of denials in such announcements, and there was potential for nobility in this one (as opposed to Ford's cowardice) that might have even distracted folks from a company that is creeping further afield, and that is becoming less and less of a survivor.

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Scrub Pants On Fire

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 8:16 PM EDT

By now, most readers know that Sen. Bill Frist did not meet the requirements to have his medical license renewed in Tennessee. However, there is now a new twist to the story: Frist not only did not get the 40 ceus he needed for renewal--he informed the Tennessee Health Department that he did. Now Frist says he "may not have done his continuing education, after all."

Tennessee law states that physicians who do not complete their required continuing education "will be subject to disciplinary action."

This is not the first time Frist's medical ethics have been questioned. As a med student, he filled out adoption papers for a number of shelter cats, whom he later killed in order to do medical experiments. And during the Terri Schiavo affair, Frist "diagnosed" Shiavo via his television screen.

Supreme Court Now a Total Boys Club

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 5:07 PM EDT

A few days ago, a lawyer friend sent me a daily law journal article about the paucity of female Supreme Court clerks this year-- 19% of the 2006 clerks are women, down from 37-41% over the five previous terms. Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Souter hired only male clerks this term.

Somebody must have sent Linda Greenhouse the same article, because she's all over it today. (Legal Times covered this back in May, when the clerkships were announced.)

It's truly unfortunate that not only are there almost no women on the actual court, but the clerks (the people who actually write opinions and screen new cases) are also mostly male.

In a brief telephone interview, Justice O'Connor said she was "surprised" by the development, but declined to speculate on the cause. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg expressed no such surprise. In a conversation the other day, she knew the numbers off the top of her head, and [...] she also observed with obvious regret that "I have been all alone in my corner on the bench" since Justice O'Connor's retirement in January.
Justice Ginsburg, who will have two women among her four clerks, declined during the conversation to comment further on the clerkship numbers. Why not ask a justice who has not hired any women for the coming term, she suggested.

Souter explains that this is "no more than a random variation," which is a really annoying excuse for his lack of female hires. I suppose the fact that there's only one female justice on the bench is also just a "random variation"?

The dearth of female clerks is certainly not for lack of women at prestigious law schools-- in fact, schools are where women in law have made the most progress. American Bar Association data shows about half of recent law grads were female, and the percentage of women in tenured positions at law schools increased from 5.9%5 to 25.1% between 1994 and 2002. Women are making professional progress, too, but the numbers aren't as dramatic when you start talking about positions of power after graduation.

It's also worth noting, as the Legal Times article did, that there are very few minority clerks, too:

Eight years after attention was first called to the dearth of minorities among high court clerks, it appears that only three of the 37 clerks serving at the Court this term are nonwhite. [...] It appears that the current number of minorities is substantially lower than in recent years. The three minorities this term compare with five last term, eight the previous term and a record nine in 2002. ...if the proof is in the pudding, the pudding, this term at least, is vanilla.

Male vanilla.

See the Volokh Conspiracy for more.

Senator Holding Back Anti-Pork Bill Unmasked

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 4:09 PM EDT

In mid-August we reported that shortly before Congress recessed an anonymous senator placed a hold on widely popular anti-pork legislation introduced by Senators Barack Obama and Tom Coburn. The bill, which has backers on both sides of the aisle, would create a publicly accessible database that tracks federal contracts, loans, and grants, giving taxpayers the opportunity to actually see how their tax dollars are spent –- and, all too often, misspent.

After we broke the story, a grassroots campaign began in earnest to unmask the offending legislator, with citizens around the country contacting their senators. Well, the anonymous senator is no longer anonymous. TPMmuckraker is reporting that Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican, is holding the bill back from floor consideration. Yes, that's the same Ted Stevens who earmarked more than $200 million to build the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," which would connect Ketchikan, Alaska, a city of 8,900, with the its airport on Gravina island, home to all of 50 inhabitants. There's speculation that Stevens may have blocked this important legislation simply out of spite for its co-sponsor, Tom Coburn. Last fall, it was Coburn who led the charge to block Stevens' outlandish earmark, suggesting that the money be spent instead on rebuilding a Louisiana bridge damaged during Hurricane Katrina. When Coburn's proposal was considered, Stevens "threw the senatorial version of a hissy fit," as The Washington Post described it, during which he bellowed this warning to his fellow senators: "I will put the Senate on notice -- and I don't kid people -- if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state and take money only from our state, I will resign from this body." As the Post put it, and no doubt many would agree, that "sounds awfully tempting to us."

Update: This is rich. Stevens' spokesman, Aaron Saunders, is now saying that the senator placed a hold on the bill because he's concerned about its potential cost. Stevens "wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve," Saunders said. The whopping price tag of the database: about $15 million, which is approximately $208 million less than the amount Stevens earmarked for the "Bridge to Nowhere."

Interactive Timeline, Lie By Lie, is Up and Running

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 12:29 PM EDT

Here. Have at it!

Leaving a Whole Lot of Americans Behind: Number of Uninsured Reaching Epidemic Proportions

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 11:51 AM EDT

And the bad news keeps on coming. New census figures released yesterday show that 46.6 million Americans had no health insurance in 2005, 16%, or one in six people. That's more than the estimated number of people living with HIV (an estimated 42.6 million), and we call that a pandemic.

Of those with insurance the percent covered by their employers fell to 59.5% from 59.8% a year earlier. This change may seem small but there are two things to remember: one, each tenth of a percent represents hundreds of thousands of people, and, two, these numbers have been on a steady decline since 2001 when:

-14.6% of Americans were uninsured (15.9% now).

-62.6% were covered by their employers (59.5% now).

The Census survey also found that Texas has the highest number of uninsured (24.6%) and Minnesota the lowest (8.7%), and that last year the number of uninsured children increased from 7.9 million to 8.3 million.

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Suddenly There Came A Tapping...

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 8:02 PM EDT

A bill that would expand George W. Bush's power to wiretap American telephones is headed for the Senate Judiciary Committee next Thursday, according to The Raw Story. Written by Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, the bill institutes program-wide warrants that do not expire for a year.

The original intention of the committee was to bring NSA wiretapping into compliance with FISA guidelines, but as it reads now, Specter's bill gives Bush even more power. Specter is co-author, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, of another bill that would do more to limit NSA wiretapping and would also require judicial review. That bill is also scheduled to appear before the committee next Thursday.

The mandatory judicial review is a sticking point for the White House, whose spokespeople said that "you can trust us....Just don't make it mandatory for us."

Specter has expressed frustration at having to write a wiretapping bill when he does not know the details of the NSA wiretapping program.

Coming Soon: Mother Jones' Interactive Timeline: The Bush Administration, Lie by Lie

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 5:42 PM EDT

In a speech last week, President Bush said "the terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East." Pressed by a reporter on what 9/11 had to do with Iraq, Bush testily responded: "Nothing. Nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack."

That may be true in the most hairsplitting, literal sense. (Nobody said "Saddam ordered the attack," though you've got to believe it was on the tip of Dick Cheney's tongue more than once.) But a look at Mother Jones' interactive timeline, Lie By Lie: A Chronicle of a War Foretold, to be released online tomorrow, reveals that on Sept. 24, 2002, Bush said "you can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein when you talk about the war on terror." Three days later, Donald Rumsfeld said that the link between Saddam and Al Qaeda was "accurate and not debatable." And on back Sept. 9, 2002, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice went on the Sunday morning talk shows to warn Americans "the first sign of a smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud." And so on. (And on. And on....)

This is just one example of how you'll be able to use our timeline. Each entry is sourced to original news accounts and source documents, and the timeline, as well as being fully searchable, will be sliceable and diceable by category and topic, allowing journalists, bloggers, and ordinary citizens to, say, parse what the president meant by "ordered" and judge for themselves.

Check back tomorrow for Lie by Lie.

Yet More Evidence That the Average Worker's Getting the Shaft

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 5:00 PM EDT

As those in the nation's highest income brackets continue to see gains, we now find out that the median hourly wage for American workers (adjusted for inflation) has declined a full 2% since 2003, even as the productivity of those workers has increased. Will the ever-increasing struggles of the average worker have an impact on Republican incumbents facing midterm elections this fall? That remains to be seen, but anyone who thinks the economy's not so bad for the every-man should think again. This summer Mother Jones detailed the many ways that, since Bush took office, the haves are getting more

-In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

-Only estates worth more than $1.5 million are taxed. That's less than 1% of all estates. Still, repealing the estate tax will cost the government at least $55 billion a year.

-Bush's tax cuts give a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.

-A 2-child family earning $50,000 gets $2,050—or 1/5 the cost of public college for one kid.

-Public companies spend 10% of their earnings compensating their top 5 executives.

While the have-nots are getting even less...

-1 in 4 U.S. jobs pay less than a poverty-level income.

-Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

-Among households worth less than $13,500, their average net worth in 2001 was $0. By 2004, it was down to –$1,400.

-Bush has dedicated $750 million to "healthy marriages" by diverting funds from social services, mostly child care.

-Bush has proposed cutting housing programs for low-income people with disabilities by 50%.

The lists go on, with sources here and here.

GOP Take Note: New Immigrant Voters Don't Respond Well to Offensive Comments

| Tue Aug. 29, 2006 3:04 PM EDT

Try as they might, Republicans can't seem to make much headway with minorities.

One Republican senator described his house painter as a "little Guatemalan man." Another called an Indian man a "macaca," a type of monkey.

Just as the GOP is pushing for minority voters, the two recent gaffes have fed the perception among some blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans that Republicans are out of touch with the changing face of the nation.

"There is disconnect at some level," said Michael K. Fauntroy, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "The country is becoming browner and new voters, particularly new immigrant voters, don't respond favorably to (offensive) comments."

(Whereas experienced voters take offensive comments in stride?) True, the piece offers a few examples of Democrats saying idiotic and racially insensitive things. But Republicans, of course, labor under the perception that this kind of thing is close to the norm for them--a little unfair, perhaps (stuff happens!), but not entirely unfounded. And calling such comments "misstatements," as does an RNC type quoted in this story, won't change that. Hence, the polls show minorities squarely, though to shifting degrees, in the Democratic camp.