Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Is there another way to say "Happy New Year"?

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Peter, Paul and Mary (or, to be technical, Paul, Mary and Peter) -- a bunch of years later. Note that Peter, the co-writer of "Puff," has always been touchy about those rumors that the lyrics contained hidden drug references. And now this!


Ever since Noah told us the appalling story about Republicans wetting their pants over some sad soul's transformation of "Puff the Magic Dragon" into a racist giggle, I've been trying to think, What do you say to, or about, people capable of doing such a thing? Or, worse, to people who think it's funny?

I haven't come up with anything. Maybe this is one of those things where either you get it or you don't. So let's just say, Thanks, Peter, and (co-writer) Lenny, and, oh yes, Paul and Mary too!

By way of an encore, though unfortunately in audio-only form, here's the original:



Happy New Year, everyone, from everyone here at DWT! -- Ken
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Harold Meyerson: "Laissez faire be damned, the ideologues concluded: When handed a Lehman, make Lehman aid"

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It's a terrible price to pay for such a modest benefit, but it's something. At least our friends on the Greed-and-Selfishness Right have learned their lesson and won't dare open their mouths on economic matters for, oh, a long long time!

Nah, I suppose that's too much to hope. Lesson-learning doesn't come easily to those folks. Harold Meyerson proposes a couple of lessons in his Washington Post column today which we might hope they learn, though. -- Ken

The Big Bailout Lessons

By Harold Meyerson

Two things we learned about our politics and our economy in 2008:

Lesson One: If it's big and you don't regulate it, you end up nationalizing it.

One of the major lessons of the year is that unregulated and underregulated capitalism ends up confronting democratic governments with a subprime choice: Either let a major institution go down and watch as chaos follows (the Lehman option) or funnel gobs of the public's money into such institutions to avoid such Lehman-like chaos.

It was the Bush administration, more than the government of any other nation, that demonstrated this iron law of economics, for it was the Bush administration that was most committed to laissez-faire economics. The White House and the Treasury, under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, let an entire unregulated financial world rise alongside the more regulated consumer banks and brokerages. Uniquely under Bush, however, the regulation of regulated banks and brokerages broke down as well. In 2000, the Justice Department filed 69 cases of securities fraud based on Securities and Exchange Commission investigations. In 2007, it filed nine. And this year, Bush's Office of Thrift Supervision allowed IndyMac Bank to doctor its books so it wouldn't appear to be as insolvent as, in fact, it was.

When the American financial industry came tumbling down this year, the laissez-faire ideologues of this most ideological administration indulged their ideology just once, allowing Lehman to go under. Thereafter, as one giant institution after another tottered under the weight of dubious deals, the administration tossed ideology out the window and funneled money to the banks.

Laissez faire be damned, the ideologues concluded: When handed a Lehman, make Lehman aid.

The lesson for 2009 couldn't be clearer: To avoid nationalization, you need regulation. Or, the lesson's ideological corollary: To avoid socialism (to whatever extent throwing public money at banks is socialism), you need liberalism (that is, the willingness to restrain capitalism from its periodic self-destruction).

Presumably, these lessons haven't been lost on Barack Obama, who has pledged to re-regulate Wall Street. Whether he's selected the right people for this task remains to be seen. To head the SEC, he chose Mary Schapiro, who led the financial industry's own regulatory authority, over such proven investor advocates as former SEC commissioner Harvey Goldschmid. The issue isn't Schapiro's competence or probity, which are well established, but whether she shares the "deep suspicion of bankers, of Wall Street lawyers, and of corporation lawyers in general" that characterized (in the words of FDR consigliere Raymond Moley) Tommy Corcoran and Ben Cohen, the New Deal attorneys who drafted the original and highly successful Securities and Exchange Act. If she doesn't, considering that Wall Street and its apologists are already warning about the dire effect of new regulations on the economy -- and, one presumes, their annual bonuses -- we'll be bound for a new cycle of light regulation and heavy public bailouts.

Lesson Two: In matters economic, the Civil War isn't really over.

If Abraham Lincoln were still among the living as he prepared to turn 200 six weeks from now, he might detect in the congressional war over the automaker bailouts a strong echo of the war that defined his presidency. Now as then, the conflict centered on the rival labor systems of North and South. Now as then, the Southerners championed a low-wage, low-benefits system while the North favored a more generous one. And now as then, what sparked the conflict was the North's fear of the Southern system becoming the national norm. Or, as Lincoln put it, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Over the past century, of course, the conflict between North and South has been between union and non-union labor. The states of the industrial Midwest and the South had common demographics (Appalachian whites and African Americans, though the Northern states also were home to Catholics of Eastern European origin) but developed two distinct economies.

Residents of the unionized north enjoyed higher living standards, both from their paychecks and the higher public outlays on health and education, than did their counterparts in the union-resistant South.

But, just as Lincoln predicted, the United States was bound to have one labor system prevail, and the debate over the General Motors and Chrysler bailout was really a debate over which system -- the United Auto Workers' or the foreign transplant factories' -- that would be. Where the parallel between periods breaks down, of course, is in partisan alignment. Today's congressional Republicans are hardly Lincoln's heirs. If anything, they are descendants of Jefferson Davis's Confederates.

The Republicans in the White House, however, couldn't afford to be so sectional, since they were still subject to Lesson One: Even if the cars were lemons, they had to make -- okay, once per column.

Happy regulated new year.
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Did the hair scientists who cured Chimpy the Prez's Brillo hair save the Imperial Unitary Executive?

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The one image of the old Bush Brillo hair that the Hair Revisionist Police haven't been able to obliterate is the one that was used on the $200 bill.

by Ken

Everyone's doing their year-end retrospectives. Heck, we offered our own over the weekend. But the one that will be remembered, the one that really held up a mirror to who and what we are, is that supreme patriot Gen. JC Christian's "2008: The Year in Hair" -- from Bush to Blagojevich by way of Princess Sarah Palin.

The one point on which we might offer a quibble, or a correction -- or no, an amplification, is in the matter of the one incontestable positive development of the Bush regime: the Deliverance of the Dear Leader from the Deadly Scourge of Brillo Hair.

The General rightly pays tribute to the near-miraculous cheveluriferous adaptability of Chimpy the Prez:

Let us begin with the hair of Our Glorious Leader, George W Bush. Gray one day and brown the next, the Chosen One's hair served as a threat level indicator to a fearful public. Times of relative calm were announced with shades of ancient dirty white, while a deep chocolate, symbolic of youth and vigor, signaled a crisis like dropping poll numbers or cash-flow problems in the lobbying sector. Ever-shifting polychromatic hair is not easily managed, but Our Leader boldly and bravely met the challenge by constantly adjusting his body chemistry via an internal application of alcohol.

Think back to the way that hair used to look, back in the days before five brave Supreme Court justices stood up for America by saying, "This boy has no shot at ever landing a real job. The Gore kid could probably get a job in any mail room in the country, but if we don't make the Bush boy president, let's face it, he's essentially unemployable." It was like Brillo pads had been Crazy Glued to his scalp. Like the guy had just stepped out of the dishwasher, after a particularly vicious "dry" cycle. Back then the only thing that could be done with that hair was to simply plaster it to his head with the Greasy Kid Stuff.

Well, you better remember, because the Hair Revisionist Police appear to have erased all photographic evidence from the Google with the exception of the shot used on the $200 bill (above).

Now it's true that if the masters of chevelurology (well, there must be some technical term for the science of hair) hadn't been able to come up with a cure for the Bushian Brillo hair . . . well, it's almost unthinkable. The son of a bitch probably would have been impeached by August of 2001 and would likely have been awaiting his Senate trial on 9/11. Off his triumph as the Mayor of 9/11, Rudy Giuliani would have been declared president by unanimous acclaim.

Fortunately, a crash hair-care research program kicked in just in time, thereby sparing us the need to look at the hard question: What the hell is the use of the Imperial Unitary Executive if it can't do anything about hair like that?
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Ringing-out-the-old-year update: (1) Tonight at 11, Rachel Maddow is doing a New Year's Eve special. (2) Howie waves good-bye to Mali.

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(1) FOR NEW YEAR'S EVE: IT'S THE FIRST ANNUAL
RACHEL MADDOW AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE


If you haven't made your New Year's Eve plans, or even if you have, note that Rachel's got this special airing tonight -- according to the MSBNC website "at 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. (two halves with the ball drop in Times Square in the middle)."

Now that sounds like just the way to get the new year off to the right start.


(2) LEAVING MALI: IF NOTHING ELSE, HOWIE
REPORTS, YOU CAN EAT WELL IN BAMAKO


By now, if I'm calculating correctly, and barring unforeseen developments, Howie is in Paris. I'm waiting to find out whether Down With Tyranny is actually blocked in France, as appeared to be the case on the outbound leg of the trip.

Yesterday there was a new post on his Around the World travel blog with some parting thoughts from Mali: "Bamako May Be Hot, Dusty, Expensive & Polluted, But They Sure Make Some Good Chow."

On his return to Bamako the other day, by the way, Howie wrote, "The trip to Dogon country was amazing, and I took tons of photos, but that must all wait til I get back." We haven't heard much about the trip to Dogon country, either here or on Howie's Around the World blog. He promises, "The real story I'll write when I get back."
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Somewhat belatedly, we pass along Melissa Etheridge's thoughts on the Pastor Rick situation

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I've already had my say about Pastor Rick and the regrettable invitation ("It seems safe to say that President-elect Obama doesn't give a damn what we think of the choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation"), and so has most everyone else. Last week from Africa Howie passed along a HuffPost post by Melissa Etheridge, which I've held off passing on -- frankly because I thought it was too easy to foresee the reflexive response to it, and the reflexive response to the response, and in all likelihood the reflexive response to that. So I tossed it on my steadily growing pile of "stuff I want to come back to when I have a chance to draw a breath."

Somewhat belatedly, I commend it to your attention, and I hope folks will at least listen to Melissa, not because she's a "celebrity," or because she claims any great political sophistication, which, please note, she doesn't. But clearly a lot of people take her seriously as an artist, and I think the qualities that make her an artist who has won a place in so many hearts -- including, apparently, Pastor Rick's! -- are apparent here. -- Ken

The Choice Is Ours Now

By Melissa Etheridge - The Huffington Post, Dec. 22, 2008

This is a message for my brothers and sisters who have fought so long and so hard for gay rights and liberty. We have spent a long time climbing up this mountain, looking at the impossible, changing a thousand year-old paradigm. We have asked for the right to love the human of our choice, and to be protected equally under the laws of this great country. The road at times has been so bloody, and so horrible, and so disheartening. From being blamed for 9/11 and Katrina, to hateful crimes committed against us, we are battle weary. We watched as our nation took a step in the right direction, against all odds and elected Barack Obama as our next leader. Then we were jerked back into the last century as we watched our rights taken away by prop 8 in California. Still sore and angry we felt another slap in the face as the man we helped get elected seemingly invited a gay-hater to address the world at his inauguration.

I hadn't heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know. One more hater working up his congregation to hate the gays, comparing us to pedophiles and those who commit incest, blah blah blah. Same 'ole thing. Would I be boycotting the inauguration? Would we be marching again?

Well, I have to tell you my friends, the universe has a sense of humor and indeed works in mysterious ways. As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I'd agreed to play a song I'd written with my friend Salman Ahmed, a Sufi Muslim from Pakistan. The song is called "Ring The Bells," and it's a call for peace and unity in our world. We were going to perform our song for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group of Muslim Americans that tries to raise awareness in this country, and the world, about the majority of good, loving, Muslims. I was honored, considering some in the Muslim religion consider singing to be against God, while other Muslim countries have harsh penalties, even death for homosexuals. I felt it was a very brave gesture for them to make. I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night... Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, "Are you really about peace or not?"

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.
Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.

Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.

I know, call me a dreamer, but I feel a new era is upon us.

I will be attending the inauguration with my family, and with hope in my heart. I know we are headed in the direction of marriage equality and equal protection for all families.

Happy Holidays my friends and a Happy New Year to you.Peace on earth, goodwill toward all men and women... and everyone in-between.
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The people who voted twice for Chimpy the Prez already seem to have forgotten him. The rest of us, suggests Tom Schaller, can at least try

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by Ken

I think it was in a comment that I mentioned I was going to a periodic brunch of some New York-area bloggers, and it came off fine -- either helped by or in spite of the weird weather, with temperatures in the 60s! (Around Christmas we had a stretch of several days where the temperature didn't get up to freezing.) But there was a heavy gray overcast all day, and a uniform coat of wet on the pavement everywhere, even though no one could recall it raining.

Anyway, over the dim sum someone mentioned something that someone had mentioned, or proposed, or something for the final day of Chimpy the Prez in office. I honestly don't recall what the proposal was, and I'm not even sure it really registered at the same time. I was just overwhelmed with the thought of "the final day of Chimpy the Prez in office." We knew it had to happen eventually, but there were times, I tell you, when I wondered. (For years my poor mother, now just past midway between her 89th and 90th birthdays, would say that she wouldn't live to see it, and while it looks like she may be proved technically wrong, I'm afraid it's coming to late for her to be aware.)

Anyway, today's Baltimore Sun column by our colleague and friend Tom Schaller caught Howie's eye (still in Mali, if my calculations are correct), and we'd like to share it with you. Tom, a regular columnist for the Sun, is a political scientist by profession, and is perhaps famliar to you as the author of the enormously influential 2006 book Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South. Given the "countdown" format (it took all I had to resist spoiling the buildup by pulling "No. 1" out to exerpt at the top of this post), rather than try to excerpt the column, I'm just going to pass it on whole:
43 reasons we won't miss President Bush

Thomas F. Schaller
December 30, 2008

The Bush family devised a simple, numerical means to distinguish between the presidencies of father and son: George H.W. Bush was called "41," and George W. Bush became "43." To mark the imminent -- and merciful -- end of 43's reign, here are 43 remembrances of the departing administration.

There were actions to pacify or mobilize the right-wing elements that brought Mr. Bush to power:

43. Restoring the so-called Mexico City policy prohibiting American aid to groups that provide abortion counseling in other countries.

42. Brokering an embryonic stem cell compromise by falsely claiming there were 60 viable cell lines (about five times the actual number).

41. Attorney General John Ashcroft's puritanical cloaking of the Justice Department's semi-nude "Spirit of Justice" statue.

40. Political adviser Karl Rove's use of gay marriage ballot measures to rally evangelicals for the 2004 election.

There were poor staffing choices and the willful ignoring of sound advice:

39. White House adviser Claude A. Allen's arrest for illegal merchandise exchanges at Target.

38. The Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers, whose sycophancy trumped her lack of qualifications for the bench.

37. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill's puzzlement that the president could sit through an entire briefing without asking a single thoughtful question.

36. "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."

35. Rejecting Gen. Eric K. Shinseki's estimate that "several hundred thousand" American troops would be needed in Iraq.

34. Dumping Secretary of State Colin L. Powell even though he risked his reputation with the 2003 U.N. testimony about supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which he later deemed the "lowest point" of his life.

33. The president's petulant refusal to consult with his actual father, who knew something about invading Iraq, in favor of war counsel from a "higher father."

There was a penchant for deception and secrecy:

32. A gay male escort, working under a pseudonym for a bogus news agency, was permitted access to White House press conferences.

31. The executive order rebuking the Presidential Records Act, sealing 41's vice presidential papers from public view.

30. The altering of a 2003 Environmental Protection Agency report showing evidence of global warming.

29. Hiding from Congress the Medicare prescription plan's internal cost estimate until the bill passed.

28. The creation under Vice President Dick Cheney's supervision of the Office of Special Plans to cherry-pick Iraq intelligence data.

27. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction stored "around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

26. The later attempt to blame pre-war intelligence failures on CIA Director George J. Tenet.

And, at No. 25, Mr. Bush's infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Though Mr. Bush in 2004 couldn't cite a single mistake he had made (No. 24), for the self-described "Decider" (No. 23) indecision was often costly:

22 through 18: As the terrorist attacks unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, he froze for seven precious minutes in that Sarasota, Fla., classroom, reading The Pet Goat; he wasted vital weeks that autumn before dispatching special forces to hunt down Osama bin Laden; his re-election at stake in summer 2004, he delayed for six months sending troops into Fallujah to suppress the growing insurgency; he fiddled for three days in August 2005 before delivering federal resources to New Orleans after Katrina; and he sank four years, 4,000 deaths and billions of dollars into Iraq before changing his failed strategy there.

On the domestic front, there were tax cuts for the wealthiest sold as an economic stimulus that never occurred (No. 17), a failed attempt to privatize Social Security that would have cost the treasury billions (No. 16), and budget deficits all eight years (No. 15). Despite trillions borrowed or lost to tax cuts, the administration claimed there were insufficient funds for children's health insurance (No. 14), college tuition assistance (No. 13) or veterans' benefits (No. 12).

Nos. 11, 10 and 9: Opponents were smeared, from John Kerry via the Swift Boat Veterans front group to Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his wife, CIA asset Valerie Plame, to triple-amputee Vietnam veteran Max Cleland during the 2002 Georgia U.S. Senate race.

American values were sullied abroad in Abu Ghraib (No. 8), at home through domestic wiretapping (No. 7) and in between at the jurisdictionally murky Guantanamo prison (No. 6).

Most of all, there was hubris, from Mr. Rumsfeld's glib "known unknowns" monologues at press conferences (No. 5) to Mr. Cheney's media-dodging after shooting his friend in the face (No. 4), and from Mr. Bush's infantilizing habit of giving everyone nicknames (No. 3) to his failed promise to be a "uniter, not a divider" (No. 2).

If polarizing the country, wrecking the economy and turning the world against us was the goal, then the No. 1 entry is painfully obvious: "Mission accomplished."

Thanks, Tom! Mission accomplished!
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So Illinois has a new senator -- or does it?

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Former state Att'y Gen. Roland Burris is named by Governor Rod.

First the announcement:
Blagojevich Names Obama Replacement

CHICAGO (Dec. 30) – Defying U.S. Senate leaders and his own state's lawmakers, Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to replace President-elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate. Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, praised the 71-year-old Burris' integrity and asked that the corruption allegations not "taint this good and honest man."

"The people of Illinois are entitled to have two United States senators represent them in Washington D.C.," Blagojevich said. "As governor I am required to make this appointment."

Burris, standing at the governor's side, said he's eager to get to work in Washington. He said he has no connection to the charges against Blagojevich, who was arrested on Dec. 9 and accused of trying to profit from appointing Obama's replacement.

Burris was the first African-American elected to major statewide office. He's served as Illinois' comptroller and ran for governor three times — the last time losing to Blagojevich.

The Democratic governor's announcement as Burris as his pick may be an empty gesture. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who must certify the appointment, said Tuesday he will not do so. And U.S. Senate leaders reiterated that they wouldn't accept anyone appointed by Blagojevich, who was arrested Dec. 9 on federal corruption charges.

In a statement Tuesday, Senate Democrats maintained that Blagojevich should not make the appointment because it is unfair to Burris, unfair to the people of Illinois and ultimately won't stand.

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," the statement said.

"Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus." . . .

[Blagojevich's] own lawyer said recently that there would be no point in Blagojevich naming someone to the Senate because leaders there would reject his appointment.

White, who handles the state's paperwork, said he would not formally certify any appointment made by Blagojevich "because of the current cloud of controversy surround the governor."

It's not clear whether White's administrative hurdle would be enough to prevent a Blagojevich appointment from taking effect.

Burris, 71, was the first black politician elected to major statewide office in Illinois and has connections across the state. He's a native of Centralia in southern Illinois who graduated from Southern Illinois University before earning his law degree from Howard University.

Burris served as Illinois' comptroller from 1979 to 1991 and as the state's attorney general from 1991 to 1995. He also served as vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1985 to 1989.

More recently, however, Burris has had a string of political disappointments. He lost campaigns for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1994, 1998 and 2002 -- the last time losing to Blagojevich. In 1995, he was badly beaten when challenging Chicago Mayor Richard Daley in the primary.

Before taking public office, Burris worked in banking and served as national executive director and chief operating officer for Operation PUSH, the Chicago-based civil rights organization. . . .

Now some political analysis from Politico's Arena, in the form of a "bold prediction for 2009" from attorney Thomas C. Goldstein:
Roland Burris is very likely to be a U.S. Senator until the Illinois Legislature can hold a special election to replace him, which they may now decide to do quickly. It's clear that if Burris were elected and duly qualified, the Senate couldn't refuse to seat him. That's the Supreme Court's holding in the Adam Clayton Powell case, Powell v. McCormack (1969). The question is whether there is a different rule for appointments by governors rather than elections. Those are covered by the Seventeenth Amendment, which lets states give the appointment power to governors "until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."

But what if Blago gave the seat to someone who bribed him? The Senate could probably refuse to seat that person as not genuinely fulfilling the "qualifications" of the seat (which it gets to decide under Article I of the Constitution) because the appointment would be unlawful under other provisions of federal and state law (due to the bribery) and therefore not a valid exercise of the appointment power under state law. But there presumably was no bribe with respect to the Burris appointment, which means that he gets the seat.

The Senate's remaining option would be to seat Burris but then turn around an expel him by a 2/3 vote (another power under Article I). But that would open up another can of worms because Burris will not have engaged in misbehavior and it would be an obvious attempt to circumvent his right under the Constitution to be seated.
Stay tuned!


UPDATE: THE PRESIDENT-ELECT WEIGHS IN

President-elect Obama, whose Senate seat it is that is being filled (or not), issued the following statement:
Roland Burris is a good man and a fine public servant, but the Senate Democrats made it clear weeks ago that they cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat. I agree with their decision, and it is extremely disappointing that Governor Blagojevich has chosen to ignore it. I believe the best resolution would be for the Governor to resign his office and allow a lawful and appropriate process of succession to take place. While Governor Blagojevich is entitled to his day in court, the people of Illinois are entitled to a functioning government and major decisions free of taint and controversy.

Meanwhile, what I'm still hearing from legal eagles familiar with applicable law, neither the folks in Illinois nor the U.S. Senate appear to have legal or constitutional grounds to reject Governor Blagojevich's appointment, absent indication that there was something illegal about the actual appointment, like a bribe -- of which there is no indication that anyone is aware of.
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An agency with "occupational" and "safety" and "health" in its name was always a sitting duck at the hands of the merciless Bush regimistas

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"Heckuva Job Foulkie" (left) at a 2007 congressional
hearing, alongside injured worker Eric Peoples

by Ken

So, another federal agency bites the dust. Or, to be technical, turns out to have bitten the dust.

Oh, I know, I'm as bored as you are with this tiresome procession of Inspector General reports, congressionally mandated inquiries, GAO reports, CBO studies, independent inquiries, and on and on -- each revealing that yet another arm of the federal government was either reduced to impotence or transformed into an enforcement arm of the Far, Far Right totalitarian, megalomaniacal, constitution-shredding goons of the Bush regime. So what else is new?

Is there really much point sifting through the wreckage? Maybe trying to figure out how it all happened? Aren't we supposed to, you know, just get on with it?

Just like with Iraq. Why would troublemaking lefites insist on asking embarrassing questions about how the country got snookered into playing neocon war games, only for real? I would have thought that the "for real" part is explanation enough all by itself for why yes, we have to know how it all happened.

But I suppose we need to get some of the dreary facts on the record. Yesterday's Washington Post story began, typically enough, with a now-familiar sort of Incriminating Episode:

Under Bush, OSHA Mired in Inaction

By R. Jeffrey Smith

In early 2001, an epidemiologist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration sought to publish a special bulletin warning dental technicians that they could be exposed to dangerous beryllium alloys while grinding fillings. Health studies showed that even a single day's exposure at the agency's permitted level could lead to incurable lung disease.

After the bulletin was drafted, political appointees at the agency gave a copy to a lobbying firm hired by the country's principal beryllium manufacturer, according to internal OSHA documents. The epidemiologist, Peter Infante, incorporated what he considered reasonable changes requested by the company and won approval from key directorates, but he bristled when the private firm complained again.

"In my 24 years at the Agency, I have never experienced such indecision and delay," Infante wrote in an e-mail to the agency's director of standards in March 2002. Eventually, top OSHA officials decided, over what Infante described in an e-mail to his boss as opposition from "the entire OSHA staff working on beryllium issues," to publish the bulletin with a footnote challenging a key recommendation the firm opposed.

The usual stuff, right? Next, of course, comes the revelation (gasp) that this was (a) by once-normal standards extraordinary, even unprecedented behavior inside an executive-branch agency, and (b) this behavior wasn't the exception, it was the rule at OSHA:

Current and former career officials at OSHA say that such sagas were a recurrent feature during the Bush administration, as political appointees ordered the withdrawal of dozens of workplace health regulations, slow-rolled others, and altered the reach of its warnings and rules in response to industry pressure.

The result is a legacy of unregulation common to several health-protection agencies under Bush: From 2001 to the end of 2007, OSHA officials issued 86 percent fewer rules or regulations termed economically significant by the Office of Management and Budget than their counterparts did during a similar period in President Bill Clinton's tenure, according to White House lists.

Then of course there's the regimistas' standard indignant how-dare-you denial of all:

White House officials have dismissed such tallies, emphasizing in recent regulatory overviews that their "objective is quality, not quantity," and that heavy restrictions on corporations harm economic performance. During Bush's presidency, they said in a September report, average annual regulatory costs were kept 24 percent lower than during the previous two decades. OSHA says it has issued many rules of lesser consequence that nonetheless clarified industry responsibilities.

Talk about pathetic! Do they think that at this late date they don't owe us better lies and cover-ups? (Maybe they've given up even trying?) We don't have to wait long to hear from people who actually care about occupational safety and health, and are actually for it, people who've known what's been going on -- and have probably been trying to get someone to listen -- for years:

"The legacy of the Bush administration has been one of dismal inaction," said Robert Harrison, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco and chairman of the occupational health section of the American Public Health Association. It has been "like turning a ketchup bottle upside down, banging the bottom of the container, and nothing comes out. You shake and shake and nothing comes out," Harrison said.

More than two dozen current and former senior career officials further said in interviews that the agency's strategic choices were frequently made without input from its experienced hands. Political appointees "shut us out," a longtime senior career official said.

I suppose we should go through the whole bloody thing. Listen, for example, to former administration director Edwin Foulke (technically "assistant secretary of labor for OSH," since OSHA is an agency within the Labor Dept.) brag --

* about "levying heavy fines after major workplace disasters" (after major disasters? and what constitutes "major"? and were the fines actually collected?),

* about continuing "a drop in reported workplace injuries that began in 1974" (without mentioning the "14 percent drop in U.S. production and manufacturing jobs since 2001" and the "2002 change in the government's record-keeping rules").

Heckuva job, Foulkie!

In retrospect, without any investigation or inquiry we can say two things about the decimation of OSHA with a high degree of certainty:

(1) We can date the beginning of the agency's demise to the day those five Supreme Court justices decided (as Noah was just recalling), "To hell with counting the votes, for the good of the country let's make the guy who's trying to steal the election president." Maybe the idea was that since his people wanted it so much more, that would mean good things for the country? (In which case, oops, the joke's on them!)

(2) An outfit with a name like Occupational Health and Safety Administration was a sitting duck from the outset. In Bushworld, these are weasel words for "just drains money out of the pockets of deserving, regulation-oppressed businessmen, in order to do stuff no right-thinking [or, particularly, Right-thinking] person gives a crap about." Safety and health in the workplace? Gimme a break! Who says workers have any right to either? The only right workers have is to the absolute minimum financial compensation management can get away with giving.

I almost fell into the trap of saying "the absolute minimum the law allows." But that, as Richard Nixon might have said, would be wrong. (And who would know better about what's "wrong"?) It assumes that your Right-thinking managers:

(a) can't get laws and administrative rules changed (in which case, what was the point of buying up a whole government?), and

(b) feel any obligation to follow either laws or administrative rules (after all, the president they bought didn't).

We don't need no stinkin' reggolation, the Good Friedmanite intones solemnly. All's we need is God's Own Free Market.

But of course they don't really want no stinkin' free market. They want a market that's rigged to relieve them of as much obligation to society and to their workers as possible -- and by golly, they were (and still are) prepared to buy a government to do it. In addition to which, the Good Friedmanite's doctrine is a fantasy -- always was, especially is now, and always will be.

The Friedmanite theory is that if workers are sickened and injured or maimed or even killed on the job, the competitive pressures of a free market will lead those managements to upgrade their health and safety practices in their own economic interest. Which is nonsense, of course. Especially if those managements can get their bought government to lighten the administrative burdens of paying for their lapses. Far cheaper than keeping those old workers on the job is jettisoning them and replacing them with younger, less experienced, and above all cheaper workers. Heck, it's not as if workers get trained to do their jobs anymore. (Too expensive! Unproductive!)

Do we not have that executive memo from WalMart? You know, the one detailing corporate policy to do everything possible to shed older, more experienced, and above all more expensive workers so they can be replaced by less skilled people who are more desperate for work, any kind of work, including (especially?) work for minimal pay, under any conditions, and with few if any benefits?

The only shame about the OSHA "revelations" is that they come within weeks of the final slinking away of the Bush regime. Where the hell have we been all this time?

Oh, there have been malcontents shouting about this as well as the innumerable other Bush regime depredations, going back before 9/11 -- the event that in retrospect provided cover for ideological ransacking of our legitimate government which followed. But nobody wanted to hear. They were dismissed and derided as "Bush-bashers."

Can we at least hope that the Obama transition team is paying attention? Close attention.


POSTSCRIPT: THE NEW YORK TIMES WEIGHS IN EDITORIALLY

While we're on the subject, and while outgoing Labor Secretary Elaine Chao (aka Mrs. "Miss Mitch" McConnell, and as labor secretary OSHA's overboss), who has presidied over what we have abundant indications is a similar reign of political terror and enforced ineptitude within the department as a whole, but lately has been attempting, astonishingly, to portray her stewardship as a boon for working people, yesterday's NYT carried this editorial, which I think speaks for itself:
December 29, 2008

EDITORIAL
The Labor Agenda

There is no doubt that President-elect Barack Obama has chosen a labor secretary who could be a transformative force in a long-neglected arena. The question is whether he will let her.

Hilda Solis, a United States representative from Southern California, is the daughter of immigrant parents with union jobs. She has been an unfailing advocate of workers’ rights during eight years in Congress and before that, in California politics.

Ms. Solis has been a leader on traditional workplace issues, like a higher minimum wage and an enhanced right to form unions. She also has helped to expand the labor agenda by sponsoring legislation to create jobs in green technology, and in her support for community health workers and immigration reform.

Her record in Congress dovetails with the mission of the Labor Department, to protect and further the rights and opportunities of working people. It also dovetails with many of the promises Mr. Obama made during the campaign, both in its specifics and in its focus on the needs of America’s working families.

The main issue is whether the Obama administration will assert a forceful labor agenda in the face of certain protests from business that now — during a recession — is not the time to move forward.

The first and biggest test of Mr. Obama’s commitment to labor, and to Ms. Solis, will be his decision on whether or not to push the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. Corporate America is determined to derail the bill, which would make it easier than it has been for workers to form unions by requiring that employers recognize a union if a majority of employees at a workplace sign cards indicating they wish to organize.

Ms. Solis voted for the bill when it passed the House in 2007. Senate Republicans prevented the bill from coming to a vote that same year. Mr. Obama voted in favor of bringing the bill to the Senate floor and supported it during the campaign.

The measure is vital legislation and should not be postponed. Even modest increases in the share of the unionized labor force push wages upward, because nonunion workplaces must keep up with unionized ones that collectively bargain for increases. By giving employees a bigger say in compensation issues, unions also help to establish corporate norms, the absence of which has contributed to unjustifiable disparities between executive pay and rank-and-file pay.

The argument against unions — that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands — is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad, so the recession by itself is not an excuse to avoid pushing the bill next year. The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would.

There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. Without a united front, workers will have even less bargaining power in the recession than they had during the growth years of this decade, when they largely failed to get raises even as productivity and profits soared. If pay continues to lag, it will only prolong the downturn by inhibiting spending.

Another question clouding the labor agenda is whether Mr. Obama will give equal weight to worker concerns — from reforming health care to raising the minimum wage — while the financial crisis is still playing out. Most members of his economic team are veterans of the Clinton administration who tilt toward Wall Street. In the Clinton era, financial issues routinely trumped labor concerns. If Mr. Obama’s campaign promises are to be kept, that mindset cannot prevail again. Mr. Obama’s creation of a task force on middle-class issues, to be led by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and including Ms. Solis and other high-ranking officials, is an encouraging sign that labor issues will not be given short shrift.

There are many nonlegislative issues on the agenda for Ms. Solis. Safety standards must be updated: in the last eight years, the Labor Department has issued only one new safety rule of its own accord; it issued a few others only after being compelled by Congress or the courts. Overtime rules that were weakened in 2004 need to be restored. To enforce labor standards, the Labor Department will need more staff and more money, both of which have been cut deeply by President Bush.

Only the president can give the new labor secretary the clout she will need to do well at a job that has been done so badly for so long, at such great cost to the quality of Americans’ lives.
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When a left-leaning crook leaves progressive charities teetering on the brink, we have to help

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by Ken

I'm trying to remember who it was among Calvin Trillin's coterie of battling old-time lefties who was the author of the timeless aphorism, "There's no goniff like a left-wing goniff." I'm thinking maybe Harold the Committed? (Somebody out there must remember!)

This was, note, decades before Bernie Madoff staked his hard-to-dispute claim to the title of Goniff of Goniffs. Since our Bernie's empire came crashing down, we've been hearing a growing chorus of institutional cries of agony, an alarming number of them turning out to be death throes, from charitable organizations that had come to count on the G of G's contributions -- or, frequently, contributions from foundations supported by Madoff and Ponzi Partners.

Many of them turn out to be organizations dear to many of our hearts. I don't know whether anyone has yet attempted to compile a master list of the pained and actually imperiled (not to mention already-defunct) organizations. At a time when so many of us are buckling under the weight of the meltdown and recession, it isn't going to be easy for those of us who feel their pain to help plug the budget gaps, but for those in a position to help out, even a little, it would be nice to know (in verifiable form, or at least from credible sources) which worthy nonprofits are really hurting, or even teetering on the edge.

No doubt inspired by the reality that a couple of days remain for donors making qualifying charitable contributions to make them count toward their 2008 tax year, MoveOn.org's Civic Action wing has circulated an e-mail appeal on behalf of "some really important progressive organizations."
Groups that fight for human rights, fair elections and racial justice are getting hit hard—just in time for the holidays. We've worked side-by-side with many of them.

If these groups can't replace the funding that came from investment accounts that Madoff stole, they may be forced to start cutting important projects or, in some cases, even lay off staff.

Can you pitch in $25 or $50 for each of the four organizations we're highlighting below? Our friends at Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Institute will each match every dollar that comes in until January 1! So, for the next three days, your donation of $25 or $50 means $75 or $150 for groups affected by Madoff. If a few thousand of us give together, it can make an enormous difference -- and help repair some of the damage Madoff has done.

MoveOn has set up a webpage to collect contributions ("we will forward 100% of your contribution to the organizations you select") for four organization they've "worked closely with over the last few years":
The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Their work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform to checking presidential power in the fight against terrorism. MoveOn has worked with the Brennan Center closely in the fight for fair elections.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, they give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Its rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. MoveOn has worked with Human Rights Watch on campaigns to preserve the constitution and protect human rights in America and abroad.

Advancement Project is a policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1998. They have pursued critical litigation to protect voters and also support grassroots movements for universal opportunity and just democracy in the areas of education and immigrants' rights. MoveOn has worked with Advancement Project to stop vote suppression, especially among minority folks.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a nonprofit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. MoveOn has worked with CCR to hold President Bush accountable for his unconstitutional acts, from illegal wiretaps to Guantanamo.
There are still two days left in 2008. For anyone in a position to help, these are obviously worthy causes. And if anyone has information about other verifiably imperiled and deserving organizations, please pass it on. The right-wing goniffs always seem to manage to take care of their own. Maybe we can help cushion the blow on our side.

And if you're reading this after December 31, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that worthy organizations that were in need in 2008 will be just as worthy and at least as needy in 2009.
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Will Repugs who see their world ending ever be able to overcome their deep-rooted racism?

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Music lover and would-be RNC chairman Chip Saltsman

by Noah

If ever there was a doubt about just how deep racism runs in Republican veins, the Repug reaction to both Barack Obama's campaign and his election present us with a reeking pile of proof. In his post about Coultergeist's latest fetid verbiage, an attack on Kwanzaa, Ken almost rhetorically asked yesterday, "But what would lead an individual, no matter how inappropriately self-important and flat-out deluded, to invest herself in something as harmless as Kwanzaa?" I agree with his hypothesis that she is becoming increasingly more desperate for attention. I also suspect that it goes back to various high school experiences or perhaps something even earlier in her childhood, a childhood that seems to be still in progress.

But I'm not here to psychoanalyze Annie's inner screaming child. It's irrelevant to the bottom line. That bottom line is that Repugs across the country are in shock about Obama's victory over them. They can't stand it. They are incredulous, even if they don't know what the word means. For them, the world is over, under, sideways, down, and they are lashing out -- in Coulter's case, by attacking a harmless holiday because, in her twisted mind it's a symbol for something she doesn't like.

They can't accept that "someone who looks like he does" is about to enter the White House and live there with his family and, worst of all, be president of the country. They bizarrely blame the media, yes, but they are also expressing themselves in some very sad ways, ways that reflect just what it is to be a repug, what's at the very core of being a Republican. Some examples from the list:

* Michelle Malkin's "baby mama" aspersion. Well, to Malkin it was an aspersion, a description of our about-to-be First Lady meant to convey severe negativity. Note to MM: Millions of us who live in the 21st century see nothing wrong with the Obamas and their heritage.

* Alaska state government e-mails have been recently discovered which make racist jokes about how yet another black family will be living "in Washington on government subsidized housing."

* The nonstop use of code words for "he's B-L-A-C-K," words like Muslim and terrorist, and pointing extra attention to his "unusual" name. If any of you listen to righty radio, you know this hasn't stopped one bit with the election.

* Continued attempts to make it more difficult for African-Americans to even vote during the election, by making fewer machines available in certain parts of town or even by sending threatening mail to households in those certain parts of town, mail that threatened arrest if proper ID wasn't shown (may we see your papers, please!) or maybe if you had some outstanding minor traffic-ticket problem.

* The chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, Katon Dawson, felt he was perfectly qualified to be national chairman of his party, and certainly there was nothing in his resume that would preclude his getting the job. Not only that, many in the party agreed. Until some little irritating so-what of a technicality became public, that technicality being that he belonged to a whites-only club. Let me point out that this wasn't in the distant past, but this year! Repugs apparently see nothing wrong with that and rushed to his defense. Sadly for him, some of us see something wrong in it. Of course, to them it was just one more thing to blame the media for, rather than their own "shortcomings."

* And, now, we've come to the "Barack the Magic Negro" song (sung to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon," a former Top 40 hit that is a classroom staple with young children). It's "welfare queens" and Willie Horton all over again. The term "Magic Negro" was coined by an L.A. Times op-ed writer who defined a magic Negro candidate as one who enough white folks would feel comfortable with to vote into office. A certain resentful open racist and Oxycontin freak has been playing "Barack the Magic Negro" on his radio show.

This little slice of bigotry was recently sent out as part of a holiday CD by Chip Saltsman, who "served" as Mike Huckabee's campaign manager and is an RNC official in Tennessee. Saltsman feels like Katon Dawson -- that he too is a perfect fit for the national RNC-chairman slot. The irony is, of course, that being a bigot DOES boost your credentials for the RNC Chair job. Also, think about the fact that this CD was sent out as a holiday greeting, peace and goodwill towards men and all that. Peace and goodwill haven't been Repug attributes in almost 100 years, so maybe this guy is very qualified.

Man, you just can't make this stuff up. If you did, no one would believe it possible -- unless they know some Republicans, that is. I can even see them thinking that this song could be a way to capture minds at an early age. To them it's probably more of that "catapult the propaganda" stuff. It's worthwhile to note that Saltsman's candidacy has been endorsed not only by Huckabee but by former Senate Majority Leader Bill "Let's Play Doctor" Frist, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich takes a rare reasonable position, saying, "This is so inappropriate that it should disqualify any Republican National Committee candidate who would use it." No wonder Gingrich is on the outs with his party.

Current RNC Chairbozo Mike Duncan says he's "shocked and appalled." Reminds me of the famous moment in the movie Casablanca when Claude Raines says he is "shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on" at Rick's, when he's bribed to allow it. Imagine that! The head of the RNC is "shocked and appalled" to find racism in the Repug Party! Who knew?

The assclown who sent out the CD to 40 of his dearest fellow Repugs just can't understand why we don't appreciate the "humor" and the "satire." Well, guess what, bozo. We get the humor and the satire. Too bad you don't get that it's still racist. The source of humor in your sick, puny mind is someone's skin color.

Saltsman even tries to explain his actions by bringing up the Repug-talking-point explanation, spewed nonstop on righty radio, that Obama only got elected because of "white guilt," that the senator was considered "safe enough" to enough whites, blah-blah-blah. To Republicans, Obama couldn't possibly have gotten elected on his own qualifications and merits. I guess sometimes it takes a racist to not see that something is racist.

Today some Repugs are saying that the reaction against this incident is overblown and that some people are just being oversensitive. There they go again, blaming the victim. But what should we expect from a party that runs a guy for President who tells jokes about a woman enjoying being raped on the sidewalk by a gorilla?

What does Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary), one of the writers of "Puff the Magic Dragon," think about all of this?

"I and my co-writer of 'Puff,' Lenny Lipton, have been eagerly awaiting an end to the mean-spiritedness, outright disrespect and bigotry that was commonplace prior to this last presidential election. What might have been wearily accepted as 'the way it was' in the campaign is now unacceptable. Obama is not a candidate. He is president-elect, and this song insults the office of the presidency, the people who voted for him, as well as those who did not -- and taking a children's song and twisting it in such a vulgar, mean-spirited way is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism."

Well said, Peter. Too bad, though, that Republicans obviously do not agree about that moving-beyond-racism stuff. This sort of thing has a proud history in the party of Trent Lott, a man who still wishes Strom Thurmond and his segregationist party had won the Presidency back in 1948 when things were more like they should be and everyone knew their place. The Republicans welcomed racist "Dixiecrats" to their ranks after LBJ signed various civil rights bills into law back in the 1960s and racist Democrats fled to a place where they could be more comfortable.

Current Louisiana Repug and KKK Grand Whizz David Duke has boasted that Senator Obama's election is boosting enrollment in the KKK as we get ready for the January 20th inauguration. Then there's the infamous anti-Harold Ford "call me" ad that actually helped elect Bob Corker to the U.S. Senate in Tennessee. This sort of thing goes on and on and on. Repugs even do it to each other, as evidenced by the Bush "McCain fathered a black child" phone calls during the 2000 South Carolina primary.

I'd like to point out at this point that while there are no Republican African-Americans in Congress, there are actually two Republican African-American candidates for the party chairman position. One is Ken Blackwell of Ohio 2004 fame. The other is former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Watch the Repugs trip all over themselves to choose one of the two and get all smug and tell us, "See, nasty racism all gone -- it's a brand new day."

So, my questions to Coultergeist and all these others who are bashing at various things African-American start with: What are you afraid of?

Is this fear of a black planet? Fear of the unknown? Just plain fear? Well, look around you. Why do you fume about Kwanzaa? Why do you still fume about Martin Luther King Day? Does it hurt so much that your presidential candidate, who voted against MLK Day, not only lost but lost to "one of them" (aka "that one")?

Why not join the great American experiment where all are created equal? You were the party of Lincoln once. Wake up! It's not a Dobie Gillis world anymore. In fact, Zelda Gilroy might have another surprise for you that you can't handle. You are acting just like your forebears did when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball back in 1947, when things were more like you would apparently like them to be now. Many major leaguers threatened to refuse to play on the same field with Jackie. Some, even among his own Brooklyn Dodger teammates, would not even shake his hand.

It was damn ugly then, and it's damn ugly now. How'd that all work out for you? You can slow social progress down, but you haven't been able to stop it. You'll keep trying, though. But you just might chose to look at this "magic negro" thing the way I'm about to suggest. Warning: This might cause you to convulse at the horror of the truth.

Yes, racism is still very much a problem in our society, but Senator Obama's election is a sign of progress to many of us. Some, apparently, even overcame lingering misgivings about voting for a, er, a "you know." Maybe you should look at it this way. (Remember, I warned you.) Maybe you think your feelings are the norm. Sadly, that may be true, at least for too many people in our country, but -- are you sitting down? -- maybe your guy Bush was so bad that America did the unthinkable (to you) and voted for a black man.

If you do think, in your warped little minds, that it was unthinkable, then enjoy your own personal hell that you set up for yourself.
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Do Virginians understand that Terry McAuliffe's fund-raising genius is unlikely ever to be used to benefit them? Plus: Rahm slips out of the House

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Former Democratic National Committee chair (and current
Virginia gubernatorial candidate) Terry McAuliffe

"[Terry McAuliffe] has an astonishingly strong personality," said [Virginia billionaire Randal J.] Kirk, a biotech and investment mogul. "When you meet someone, you often get a gut feeling whether this is an integrated personality. Are they the same with Joe Blow as they are with me? To me, this guy just seems utterly consistent."
-- quoted by Tim Craig in today's Washington Post

by Ken

In case you didn't see the article, it starts like this:

McAuliffe's Prowess As Fundraiser Grabs Spotlight in Va. Race

By Tim Craig

RICHMOND -- With his booming voice, quick wit and gregarious nature, Terry McAuliffe established a reputation as one of the world's best political fundraisers, soaking up hundreds of millions of dollars for Democratic causes and candidates.

Now, after spending much of his adult life soliciting donations for others -- most notably, former president Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- McAuliffe is considering using those prodigious skills and extensive contacts for himself, as a candidate for governor of Virginia. McAuliffe's potential candidacy has created what Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, calls "the perfect fundraising storm."

Virginia is a state with no limits on how much an individual, corporation or union can donate to a candidate running for state office, and some say McAuliffe could wage an $80 million campaign -- triple what Kaine spent four years ago -- if he is the Democratic nominee.

"I think the sky is the limit in terms of Terry McAuliffe's fundraising potential in Virginia," Toner said. "I suspect there will be a lot more interest in Virginia politics in Manhattan and Palm Beach than there usually is."

Already, McAuliffe is showing what's possible. . . .

And it goes on from there. Boy, does it go on. And on and on. Anyone looking for a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of fund-raising -- or a highly sanitized version of same -- has come to the right place. Ah yes, the sky is the limit. I think we get it: This man can fund-raise the feathers off a chicken. Check.

I suppose this is the sort of thing that gives Rahm Emanuel or Chuck Schumer a hard-on. We're talking about that prized political species the self-funding candidate. Usually SFCs self-finance from their own personal fortunes, exercising the right of no-price-too-high free speech which the non-activist strict constructionists of our Supreme Court cherish. But it would be unfair to say that our Rahm and Chucky only like rich people. Rich people certainly do occupy a special place in their, er, hearts, it's true, but if you've got a guy like Terry McAuliffe who can extract campaign cash from a stone, well, sign him up! (To my knowledge, our Terry isn't exactly a candidate for welfare himself.)

I know a lot of people out there don't understand why Howie and I are always going off on Rahm Emanuel, would-be master of the political cosmos. Why, isn't he the Democratic answer to Karl Rove? A Dem with the muscle and balls to stand up to the blasted Other Side?

Um, no and no. As a matter of fact, Master Rahm often seems to get along with Republicans better than Democrats. (Many of his most prized new "Democratic" candidates actually are Republicans, often up to the very moment of the filing deadline.) As Howie has frequently suggested, Master Rahm in his tactics and goals much more closely resembles a Dem version of Tom DeLay, a man for whom the political cosmos begins with money (lots and lots of it), continues with influence-peddling (the backbone of American democracy, no?), and ends -- if you've done it right -- with power (lots and lots of it).

As to the uses of that power, it's hard for a long-term observer to divine much vision or even principle at play, unless you count the clearly felt urgency of protecting the interests of fat-cat donors, the people and corporations who cough up all that campaign cash. It's not hard to understand why Master Rahm values those candidates who are long on cash and short on political vision: because he will own them. Even new representatives who join the House infected with some nasty desire to make the country and the world a better place quickly find themselves under pressure to be coopted to the bosom of the master's Realpolitik -- the way things are done, Rahm-style.

People I trust insist that Master Rahm really didn't want to take the job of White House chief of staff, that in fact he regarded it as a derailment from his painstakingly laid fast track to power in the House of Representatives. But, say these sources, his old pal Barack Obama maneuvered him into a position where he couldn't say no. Howie has already reported that Master Rahm has made clear his ardent wish that his House seat be filled on a temporary basis by a "caretaker" who will step aside as soon as he's ready to return to the House.Link
(This represents high-quality political maneuvering on the president-elect's part, but highly questionable judgment. Rahm looks to be the pre-installed cancer on the Obama presidency. I'll bet the Vegas oddmakers already have him as the odds-on favorite to be the first member of the new administration to be the target of a congressional investigation and the first to be indicted.)

From all accounts, Master Rahm was already exercising considerable influence within the House Democratic caucus. And yet I'm not aware of any significant instance where the public good benefited from his use of his vaunted political "muscle" in a meaningful tough fight.

I keep coming back to the point David Sirota made some months after the Democrats retook control of the House: that the likely reason why the new majority was doing squat to end the war in Iraq was that important segments of the leadership didn't want to. As we know, Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained the House's consistent record of inaction on "not having the votes." I would love to hear just once that there was ever a meeting at which Master Rahm looked the speaker in the eye and said: "We have to stop that damned war, Nancy -- whatever it takes to do it. Don't you worry about the votes -- I'll get you the votes! We'll show that friggin' David Sirota!"

It may seem that we've ventured far afield from our subject: Terry McAuliffe's fitness to be governor of Virginia. I would argue, though, that this is just what we've been talking about. What made Terry chairman of the Democratic National Committee and what makes him a force in Democratic politics is his prodigious fund-raising ability.
Hassan Namazee, a New York investment banker who was a top fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, said McAuliffe has a gift for persuading people to invest in causes that matter. He has "the most fundamental skill that you have to have when you ask people for money. . . . He makes you feel good when he asks you to write a check."

And what more could you ask from a prospective governor?

I suppose at some point candidate McAuliffe will say a word or two relative to some sort of policy he might wish to enact as governor -- like a solution for Virginia's long-simmering, crippling transportation crisis. Or maybe it's just going to be an unending string of well-tried, consultant-tested bromides about responsible and fiscally prudent government.

Here's about as close as we get to good news, policy-wise, in the Post article:
Advisers to [rival Democratic candidates Brian] Moran and [Creigh] Deeds said they had been expecting that it would cost about $3 million to win the June 9 primary, but McAuliffe could spend triple that amount, launching a wave of television advertisements early in the spring that could drown out his opponents' messages. [No, no, that's not the good news! Just wait. -- Ed.]

Political strategists said it's not clear whether money will make the difference. [Emphasis added. This is the good news, or the good-as-it-gets news. -- Ed.] In the 2006 primary contest between Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) and lawyer Harris Miller, Webb was outspent 4 to 1. But he won the race because antiwar activists and liberal bloggers were drawn to his military background and opposition to the war in Iraq.

"I think the money is important, but you have to have a message," said Democratic strategist Kristen Denny Todd, who was Webb's communications director. "I strongly feel that Virginians expect it to come from the heart and come from the soul, and I don't know if it can be manufactured or if Virginians can be bought."

Confidential to Virginia Democratic voters: Have you heard the old saying "Money talks, bullshit walks"? Did somebody out there say, "Money talks bullshit"? Yeah, that too.


UPDATE: THE SEARCH FOR A CARETAKER . . . ER, REPLACEMENT
FOR MASTER RAHM'S HOUSE SEAT IS OFFICIALLY UNDER WAY

After writing the above, I found the following e-mail from Howie (in Bamako):
I don't know if you're in the mood for some Rahm-bashing or not but...

http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?docid=news-000003001169
As I wrote back promptly, "Not in the mood for Rahm-bashing? When would that be?" I explained that at that very moment I was in the act of Rahm-bashing.

Howie's link is to CQ's report of Master Rahm's announcement -- in a letter to Illinois Gov. Rod Blogojevich (well, it's not Rahm's fault that that's who he has to announce it to) -- that he will resign from the House as of January 2.
Emanuel’s resignation will trigger a special election in Illinois’ 5th District, which takes in parts of Chicago and its suburbs and is strongly Democratic. At least 10 Democrats have filed candidacy papers with the Federal Election Commission or announced plans to run. Republican Tom Hanson, who received 22 percent of the vote as Emanuel’s Republican opponent in 2008, also intends to run.

It’s not clear when the special primary and general elections will be held. The Illinois election law gives Blagojevich five days after a vacancy occurs to set the date for the special general election, which must be held within 115 days.

The timing of Emanuel’s resignation will make it difficult if not impossible for the special election schedule to coincide with regularly scheduled local elections on Feb. 24 and April 7 because Illinois law calls for a candidate filing period 50 to 57 days before the primary election.
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To Timbuktou and back -- Howie reports from Mali

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Roland and I were traipsing around Sanga last week -- a place so foreign to the American experience that one would have to be on another planet to find something more exotic -- when we ran into a gaggle of American Peace Corp volunteers on holiday. They're stationed around West Africa, mostly Mali and Burkina Faso, I gathered, and the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Bamako have decreed that no Peace Corp volunteers are allowed to venture north of some imaginary line (like around Mopti, I think), which means no Timbuktou. They said it is too dangerous because of Tuareg bandits on the roads, and that the local airlines, C.A.M. and M.A.E., are too dangerous (i.e., noncompliant with FAA guidelines) for Americans to fly on, so that their employees could not go to the northern two-thirds of the country.

We spent a few days in Timbuktou, which gets bad-mouthed by most tourists as not worth the trip. They're wrong. Timbuktou is fascinating and exotic, and if it doesn't live up to your dreams of the 13th century or to Paul Bowles' Sheltering Sky, get real and open up to what there actually is being offered. As for danger, there's nothing remotely dangerous, other than a difficult road getting there, the bad exhaust fumes from motorbikes in town and the fucking mosquitoes. (We've just given up on not being bitten; it's not possible. Just learn to love the Malarone.)

We were waiting for a couple hours for the ferry to take us across the Niger on the way to Timbuktou.

The settlement there is a Bella one. Until 1973's epoch drought nearly wiped out the Tuareg's camels and herds, the Bella had been their slaves. In 1973, basically because the Tuareg couldn't feed them anymore, they emancipated them -- although I have heard that there are still some small services that many of them do for the Tuareg (like when there is a wedding or something).

Anyway, this Bella settlement was all festive and bustling, like all the villages we visited in Mali, when a couple of pickup trucks filled with Tuaregs pulled up to the bank of the river. Suddenly things got much quieter. Many of the little children seemed to disappear. It reminded me of a scene from Star Wars, when some alien warrior people dropped by a space cafe.

Anyway, the Tuaregs were pretty well-armed with swords and daggers and God knows what else, and they don't seem to smile much -- no chatty "bonjour"s, and they certainly don't ask you for a Bic or an empty water bottle or candy. The Tuareg War ended in the mid-'90s, though, and they seem to be peaceable enough (except around Kidal) and way in the northern Sahara where Mali, Algeria and Mauretania share vast trackless wastes. In Timbuktou, they were certainly easy enough to get along with.

In fact, one of our most memorable adventures was when our guide, Mohammed, took us out into the desert one night to meet some Tuaregs who had just come from Araouane to trade for millet. They were also open to trade for the stuff we no longer needed -- mostly stuff Roland had picked up at the 99-cent store before coming here, like a pair of cheap extra sunglasses, as well as my REI walking sticks, half a dozen cans of sardines, shaving kits from Air France, a T-shirt, a roll of toilet paper, organic mosquito repellent (which seems to attract mosquitoes), etc. We got some nice Tuareg "silver" bracelets, a pipe and an agate necklace, and had a long Tuareg tea ceremony before this whole thing got started -- all by the light of the moon and stars.

I mentioned the other day that Mali is a Muslim country, in the context of how Muslim countries are normally safe places to travel. Like I've been saying, Mali certainly seems safe enough, but it doesn't actually seem all that Muslim. Women aren't covered up, and are everywhere, and seem to play leadership roles in society. I've seen more women covered head to toe in London than in Bamako. And the dancing -- well, to say some of it is erotic doesn't even begin to suggest how a Muslim fundie cleric would react.

The dour Tuaregs seem to take it more seriously than most.

A couple weeks ago I went to a wedding celebration out in the sticks. For some reason I had imagined it would be something like one I went to in a small village in Afghanistan in 1969 -- real small, two family compounds. There were no women at that one. No bride, no groom's mother. No, it wasn't a forerunner of a "No on 8" reform in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. The women were kept in strictest purdah, and although I was living in the house for months and the groom was my best friend, I never did meet his new wife. Instead of women, the entertainment at the Afghan wedding was dancing boys -- really, really young ones-- with some kohl and cheap jewlery. My friend's grandfather grabbed one, quite forcibly, and raped him behind a building while the festivities proceeded. Afterwards the disheveled boy straightened his outfit and got back into the dance, looking mighty pissed off.

The Malian festivities were nothing like that -- a fully integrated affair with raucous joy, lots of music and dancing, mostly led by women. Almost all the local celebrities who were made a big fuss over were women, including celebrated singer Mah Kouyate, who now lives in Burkina Faso and made the trip all the way to Mali. The only male celebrity, other than a famous drummer who was playing, was some local version of Liberace, who fancied himself the M.C.

But below the surface, Malian women have some big problems to contend with, even if you don't consider polygamy a problem in and of itself. Everyone tells me that as soon as a Malian man marries he's out looking for as much side action as he can find and that the women are pretty pissed off. They're also pregnant a lot. Men here hate condoms. One guy we met in Dogon country -- although he's from Segou and has been to NYC -- says he would never use a condom because it would make him unable to perform up to par. And, yes, AIDS is a gigantic problem here.

Anyway, if you're now forewarned about the dangers of sex here, consider the road travel -- or any travel. We didn't let the knowledge that a hippo can break apart a pinasse ruin our wonderful day of floating down the Niger and Bani Rivers near Mopti visiting Bozo fishing villages. Some tourists took the three-day boat trip (two nights camping) from Bamako to Timbuktou. We drove from Sanga in Dogon country after three days there. Simply put, the road from Sanga to Douentza, halfway from Dogone to Timbuktou, has to be the worst road on earth. People talk about how bad the Timbuktou road itself is -- and it's rutted, washboardlike and uncomfortable, and we broke down in the desert twice -- but it is nothing compared with the Sanga road, which is just various-sized boulders that you drive over while praying.

Roland fears Tupolevs [Russian aircraft] the way I fear sharks and crocodiles, but he was willing to pay anything to get on one to get out of Timbuktou without having to get back on the terrible road again. (I might mention that the road from Bamako in the west to Gao in the east, which covers much of the populated parts of the country, is a decent two-lane paved road.) The airlines were a little lax and dicey, but we made it fine, and who cares if there was no security whatsoever, and if the stewardess returned some guy's spear as soon as we took off?

[This is drawn from a post on Howie's Around the World blog.]


UPDATE FROM HOWIE

Roland reminded me that I should have mentioned that in every Dogon village we visited, there was a "special" women's house, where menstruating women are quarantined while they have their period. Pretty primitive!
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