Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hip-hop minstrelsy is not a real trend

Thanks to the Reader's Miles Raymer for this post taking apart a silly Baltimore Sun article that, based on a few thin examples including "Chain Hang Low" by Jibbs, frets about the supposed trend of "minstrel rap":
"Chain Hang Low" shares a melody with the old minstrel song called "Zip Coon." That is a true fact. But--not to insult the musicological/historical knowledge of Jibbs and producers the Beatstaz--isn't it more likely that "Chain Hang Low" comes from the "Do Your Balls Hang Low?" song that every boy in America learns by age six, not the circa-1820s minstrel song that it (and "Turkey in the Straw") takes its melody from? And isn't it more likely that the tons of people who've bought, downloaded, and ringtoned "Chain Hang Low" are doing so because the song a) is impossibly catchy and b) sounds like "Do Your Balls Hang Low?" rather than because Jibbs is singing a song based on a 180-year-old pop hit?
(Link in the original.)
So now George Ryan doesn't have to go to jail this January while he's waiting for his appeal...
The New York Times' "100 Notable Books of 2006" is "the most boring list of books since they released their Notable Books of 2005."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ed Kilgore responds to Thomas Schaller's anti-southern strategy (discussed here) in Salon...
Don't look now: Nancy Pelosi getting her House in order. Drops Hastings as Intelligence Committee Chair.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Why Marlo Stanfield's lieutenant loves snap music

There's lots of more thematic stuff to be said about the new episode of The Wire, like what's gotten into Michael, whether the police department can survive without juking the stats and how things will turn out as the show's fourth season nears its end.

And yet for some reason I can't get over the fact that Marlo Stanfield's enforcer Chris Partlow loves Dem Franchize Boyz. Flipping through radio stations, he stops on "Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It," saying "That's my joint."

Dem Franchize Boyz are an Atlanta rap group making snap music, the fiercely minimalist pop-rap that New Yorkers hate so much. (Remember "Laffy Taffy"? New York rappers from Ghostface to 50 Cent acted like it was the end of civilization.) Chris and Snoop have been picking off interloping New York drug-slingers all season, so there's something appropriate about his predilection for New York's least favorite style of rap.

More than that, stylistically snap isn't too far removed from Baltimore club music. So even though Dem Franchize Boyz is hardly making gritty street-rap, Chris's enjoyment of "Lean Wit It" rings true.

That's the kind of detail only The Wire would bother to get right.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Obama vs. Hillary

Two views of the primary schedule--one of how it is and another of how it might be.

From Jonathan Alter in Newsweek:
[T]he primary schedule favors Obama. Hillary Clinton has no Rove-like master strategist yet (other than her husband), but the logic of her front-runner game plan suggests building a firewall in the South to recover if she's upset in Iowa or New Hampshire. Bill Clinton's popularity with blacks has been presumed to carry over to her and help her win the important South Carolina primary, where nearly 50 percent of Democratic voters are African-American, and other similar Southern primaries critical to the nomination. But that doesn't account for Obama, who would likely crush her among black voters.
Expanding on Alter's logic (which I agree with) I think the primary season as it is scheduled now goes something like this: 1.) First up is the Iowa caucus, which is probably neutralized because longtime Iowa pol Tom Vilsack has said he's running. So Vilsack wins in Iowa, but who cares because no one mistakes it for a national consensus; 2.) Possibly Hillary wins in the Nevada caucus, 3.) New Hampshire, well who knows what happens in New Hampshire, but honestly who cares, because then 4.) Obama crushes Hillary in South Carolina and pretty much across the board on Super Tuesday, securing the nomination, waltzing into the presidency, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity with steaks on every table, puppies in every yard, etc. etc.

But wait. The primary schedule may not stay as it is. From the Boston Globe via Election Central:
Political leaders in California, Florida, and Michigan are gaining momentum in their efforts to move up the 2008 presidential primaries in their states to shortly after New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, which could lead some candidates to focus less attention on the Granite State and trigger a dramatic increase in the cost of early campaigning. ...

Campaigning in California, Florida, and Michigan ... would be extraordinarily expensive, which could benefit well-financed front-runners such as Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. That is a sensitive topic at the DNC, which is chaired by Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential contender who sought the 2004 nomination with a grass-roots effort.
(Emphasis added.) Momentum matters a lot in primaries, which tend to domino. So if these states do move their primaries forward, the question becomes: Where if anywhere does Hillary beat Obama?

I'm not sure myself. Obama isn't a Dean-style outsider--he'll have lots of dough, lots of name recognition (by then), a big organization. But probably not as big as Hillary, who has been building her infrastructure for much longer.

Anyone have any thoughts on this? Can Obama beat Hillary in California, Florida and/or Michigan?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Me in DC, writing for Missouri

As soon as I finish several big final projects (some of which I've even started on!) in the next couple of weeks, my second quarter of school will be over. From January to March, then, I'll be heading out to Washington, D.C. to report on the federal government and its newly Democratic legislative branch.

Just before the holiday I was notified of the paper I'll be writing for as Washington correspondent for those few months. It is: The St. Joseph News-Press of St. Joseph, Missouri.

This means I'll cover the just-elected Democrat Claire McCaskill and, because St. Joseph is on the Missouri/Kansas border, probably also the religious right's darling Sam Brownback. Should be a lot of ground to cover and it should be fun.

Downside: Most of the content on the News-Press site is for subscribers only. Solution: There's always the MNS DC site!
Mr. Straight Talk covering his ass with an intentionally disingenuous position on Iraq...
The ugly, misguided, incompetently prosecuted war at home claims another victim...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ed Burns on Fresh Air

Terry Gross spends a full hour talking to The Wire co-creator Ed Burns on Fresh Air. It's a fascinating and informative interview and I recommend it to all... Like Pryzbylewski on the show, Burns was a police officer in Baltimore for many years, then became a teacher in the inner-city. Burns' partner David Simon was a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun before the two of them wrote The Corner and made the TV shows Homicide: Life on the Streets, The Corner and The Wire. Worth a listen...

UPDATE [11:45am 11/25] ... CORRECTION: Having just Netflix'd the first episodes of Homicide, I learn that Simon and Burns didn't actually create the TV series. But it was based on Simon's book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The South in the North

I am one of the people driven batty by Thomas Schaller's "non-southern strategy" for Democratic victory.

Schaller's book is Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, and though I haven't read it yet, I'm familiar with the argument, which is that the South is currently so hostile to Democrats that the party is better off focusing on more fertile regions. The Democratic Party should do what Schaller has called "fill[ing] its basket with low-hanging fruit."

But there's also another component to the argument, which Ed Kilgore summed up this way:
Schaller's worried about the ideological risks involved in any Democratic strategy that involves the weird, religiously-oriented, "backward" South, as opposed to allegedly progressive ground in the Midwest and West.
I see the same cultural revulsion in Schaller's argument that Kilgore does. That's why Schaller plays down the importance of conservative Democrats in the midterms, and it's why he opposes reaching out to moderate evangelicals.

The perils of his approach extend way beyond Alabama and Mississippi. As someone who grew up in rural central Illinois, far above the Mason-Dixon line, I assure you the South is not a place, it's a cultural identity.

The problem is not so much that Dems need the literal South to win--it's the cultural South, that fantasy-South of good-ol'-boys and pickup trucks, that Democratic politicians need to be able to speak to. It's a fantasy that resonates to millions of Americans in all regions for complicated reasons that have to do with class, pastoralism and an idealized sense of the American character. Democrats certainly don't have to embrace all of these notions uncritically, but they do need to do something other than actively run the other way.

Targeting the cultural South won't always mean "moving to the right," though on certain issues in certain places it sometimes may. More broadly, though, it simply means speaking in moral terms about the concerns of working-class Americans, and above all not ever sounding like John Kerry.

Schaller's interpretation of the politics of "the South" is over-literal. Losing the South doesn't just mean losing in the South. And Democratic gains there will be felt--are being felt--nationwide.
R.I.P. Robert Altman.

My favorite Robert Altman movie is Nashville, followed closely by MASH and the very underrated Brewster McCloud. Honorable mention: McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Yours?
Africa is huge.

(h/t Daily Harold)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Robert Sorich gets a little under four years for doing exactly what Mayor Daley told him to do...

Phony Posnermania has bitten the dust

My story about Judge Richard Posner's book Not a Suicide Pact was picked up by the Northwest Indiana Times...

UPDATE ... They did cut it down significantly, though. For the super-sized extended director's cut, see the version on the MNS Web site.
Vladimir Putin: Still more like a mob boss than a president.

Jay-Z Final Fantasy remix

(via AllHipHop)
How The Wire helps progress toward a gay Jackie Robinson...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Oral history of J Dilla beats in The Fader...
Happy birthday Dom! And do blog again soon. The food blogosphere misses you, and where else can I learn about sea urchin pasta and Chicago's best Italian beef in the same place?

Friday, November 17, 2006

As a 2008 presidential nominee, Joe Biden isn't much. But when he talks foreign policy, my heart goes pitter-pat... Everything he tells NPR about Iraq sounds exactly right to me--his plan to partition the country could end the civil war, he's right about the need to draw American troops down starting, like, now, he's right that Iran has at least some self-interest in helping find a solution... And of course he is right about the fact that there aren't any truly good options left...
Copyright is harmful to society watch: "Sample trolls" manipulate ill-conceived copyright laws, bringing junk lawsuits that harm artistic free-expression...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

AMillionMonkeys comments on the issues of the day

  • My House representative, Luis Gutierrez, has done business with Tony Rezko, too. On the scandalometer, it looks to be a little more serious than the fact that Rezko bought a lot behind Obama's house and not nearly as bad as Blagojevich's many Rezko-related big-money schemes. But still not great.

  • My brother, who is not often speechless, was rendered speechless by the Borat movie. Me too, but only because I was laughing too much. I guess I agree with the people pointing out that Borat is not really the deeply serious social satire some critics have inexplicably mistaken it for. But so what? Can't a movie be mean and funny?

  • Hoyer vs. Murtha, two lousy choices. But this is just Beltway shit, right? Those of us who aren't Democratic members of the House are just reading tea-leaves, trying figure out how things will go next year. Not that it's not important, but I'll be more comfortable commenting on the Democratic Congress when there is a Democratic Congress.

    • UPDATE ... El Vaquero Frio says it right, they are "both dongs and it doesn't really matter." So it's Hoyer, which, whatever, and I'm pretty much inclined to agree with this here.

  • I thought I heard something today about a book or something by someone named O.J. Simpson? Is that the guy who was in The Naked Gun? And I feel like his name was in the news awhile back for some reason...
How virtue ethics is like jazz...

New Timbaland track

Status Ain't Hood wrote about the new track, which has Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake on it, and about Timbaland's changing ethos. Get it for yourself here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Posner: Americans are too stupid to understand politics

On his blog, Judge Richard Posner offers a slew of willfully contrarian opinions on what the midterm elections "prove" about American democracy--for example that gerrymandering and faulty voting machines are no big deal. To my mind some of his proofs make more sense than others, but here is one of several that sticks in my craw:
[A]lthough surveys reveal that most Americans are indeed political ignoramuses, even the significance of this fact for the healthy functioning of the democratic process can be doubted. Issues of public policy, especially at the federal level, and issues of the competence and leadership qualities of officials at that level, are so difficult for outsiders to government to assess that it is unrealistic to think that the electorate could become well informed--unless the American population reallocated a substantial amount of its time from work, family, and cultural and other leisure activities to the study of politics and policy. That might not be an efficient reallocation of time, especially if its principal product was confusion.

If the electorate can be expected to focus only on highly salient issues of policy and leadership, it may not need to be well informed. Maybe all it needs to know is that things are going badly or well and that the party in power bears some responsibility for the situation.
It's true that a large part of political strategy in a democracy is figuring out how to communicate with people who don't pay attention to politics. But Posner is a bit cavalier in dismissing the undesirable effects that flow from this, namely the necessity of negative ads that may distort the truth. Of misleading ads, Posner says only that blogs have "diluted" their effects. Which of course is only true of people who read blogs.

I wouldn't argue that it's necessary for Americans to spend all their time boning up on the fine points of government policy, but it's also not obvious that confusion would in fact be the "principal product" if they did. There is lots of evidence that a better-informed society makes for a better society, and the only evidence Posner offers against the idea is that the Democrats won this year, which most experts think is a good thing for policy.

Sure, the American public has realized now that the Iraq war is a disaster, the Bush style of governance doesn't work, etc. But surely we would have been better off figuring that out sooner.
Fun for SCOTUS nerds (and maybe not even them): My story on an upcoming case about the very hot and sexy topic of when insurance companies must send out adverse action notices is now up on the On the Docket Web site...

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Well, he did it. Rahm Emanuel--U.S. Rep, DCCC chairman, Daley crony, ex-Clinton political director, micromanager, political architect--is probably the one man most responsible for last week's massive Democratic House victory.

And the Chicago Tribune's kajillion-word profile today is filled with fights, expletives and other play-by-play of Rahm's marshalling the troops, raising massive amounts of cash and generally taking to the warpath. I love what the Trib's Naftali Bendavid calls "a fairly typical sign-off" from Rahm to one of his candidates: "Don't [mess] it up or ... I'll kill you. All right, I love you. Bye." Or this outburst:
[H]e began ranting about his conservative party colleagues. "They hate me too, because I'm arrogant and pushy with them. ... Because they've never, ever WORKED! NOBODY! NONE OF 'EM!"
So, is Rahm Emanuel "one of the most cynical, power-hungry politicians on the planet"? Or is he "the golden boy of the Democratic Party today?" Can he be both?

Emanuel came up through the Daley machine, so he is more than just acquainted with the unsavory side of politics. But on the other hand, so what? Political campaigns run on dollars, and all told Rahm's campaigns this year were record-breaking--over $120 million raised, Bendavid says.

Emanuel is right for campaign work, and no doubt he'll serve admirably as Dem caucus chair. But let's not get it twisted: At least in some ways, he does seem a little like a mirror-image of Tom DeLay, and probably ought to be deployed carefully.

Of the late (politically) DeLay, conservative blogger Ross Douthat once wrote:
You always need a hatchet man in Washington, but the whole point is to use him to further your agenda, not to let his priorities ... become your agenda.
(Original emphasis.) Sounds about right to me. By any means necessary, Rahm won us the House. Now let's use it.
Never mind the sex video, I want to see the Britney vs. K-Fed chess games...
The Game's new record Doctor's Advocate the "best hip-hop album of the year"? Hard to believe it's better than T.I.'s King, Ghostface Killah's Fishscale, Lil Wayne's Dedication 2, Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor, Trae's Restless and J Dilla's Donuts, but I guess you never know...

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Luis Gutierrez had hinted that he didn't want to run if Daley ran, but having Jesse Jackson, Jr. drop out of the race is a shame for Chicago. But maybe a good thing for the U.S. House of Reps...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bolton no, Khalilzad yes?

Now that the nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador is "dead dead dead," the Washington Post's Dafna Linzer hints that the post may go to Iraq Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.

The White House says Khalilzad is not stepping down any time soon--and following Rumsfeld rules, this means he'll be out the door any day now. My sense is that he actually might not be a bad choice.

Reporters playing dumb

Today in my legal reporting seminar we talked on the phone with a fairly successful Supreme Court reporter (I had never heard of him, but whatever) who attended this week's oral argument on late-term abortion. He said some of the justices, Samuel Alito in particular, had kept their opinions "close to the vest" and that he didn't know how Alito would vote because Alito hadn't asked any questions at oral argument.

Here are questions I didn't get to ask that reporter: "Why are you pretending you don't know how Alito is going to vote in this case? Are you more 'impartial' that way? Or do you just think your job as a legal reporter is simple transcription of the pronouncements of the powerful?"

I didn't ask those questions because class was already running late, you see, and by the time the reporter opened it up for questions the topic was long gone. But I do wonder.

PS ... We also spoke today to Steve Bogira, author of the incredibly accomplished Courtroom 302, who was articulate and passionate and all-around interesting and worthwhile. Just so you don't think all the guests we get are a waste of time...
Some wisdom from Kos here and here... (Except for that pointless snipe at the DLC. Take your own advice, Markos!...)
Jake posts on that funny Pelosi internets thing...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fun with interns

Attended the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's "Fitzgerald on Fitzgerald" luncheon today, in which Peter Fitzgerald, the Republican former U.S. Senator, discussed his recommendation of Patrick Fitzgerald to be U.S. attorney in Chicago. (No, they're not related.) By pretty much any measure, that appointment has worked out wonderfully for everyone except corrupt pols, and good on Peter Fitzgerald for making the recommendation against the wishes of the Illinois Republican Party and the White House.

Decent lunch, interesting speech, I wrote a story about it here. (Focused the story on new details Fitzgerald offered about Denny Hastert's attempts to block the appointment. I know the guy's having a terrible week, and I just wanted to pile on...)

But for me the most enjoyable part of the day was when I leaned across the media table to a group of 20-year-old ICPR interns and said, loud enough for everyone to hear:
I don't know about all this talk about political reform. I feel like, when you buy a politician, you should be able to know he's going to vote your way. People out there pay good money to buy these politicians--and you all want to take that away from them! That's just not fair!
What really made it work was the way one of the interns just ideally took the bait: "What about people who can't afford to do that?" she demanded, outraged. "What about everyone else? What about our democracy?"

"Oh, hmmm," I said. "Maybe you are right. I hadn't thought about it that way before..."

Diddy buys himself a pretty good album

Speaking of updating the enemies list, Press Play is not half bad. Worth illegally downloading or burning from your 14-year-old cousin!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Who's got next?

Rumsfeld out as SecDef, Hastert out of leadership, Santorum and the spineless Mike DeWine out of the Senate. They are dropping like flies.

Who's left on the enemies list? Still plenty of Illinois Democrats: Blagojevich, Daley, Stroger. Still Bush and Cheney. Bob Corker now gets added for the dirty, race-baiting campaign he ran. Peter Roskam definitely gets added, for some of the same reasons.

And I'm taking recommendations...

The Bush press conference

Funniest projection is Josh Marshall's:
My best guess is he comes in with a group of his father's cronies, announces that these gents have formed a business consortium and that he's selling them the country.
With Santorum out, what should Dan Savage do now?

Evangelical Democrats

Okay, just one more, just because I want to crow for a minute. I have been a proponent of the theory that a significant slice of evangelical Christians could be persuaded to vote Democratic since way back.

And look what happened tonight.

Time for bed

So it is down to the two recount elections in Virginia and Montana. Dems lead in both cases, and can hold on to both.

But let's take a moment to appreciate the size of tonight's House victory, and the apparent Senate victory, both of which exceeded expectations. It's a wave. And about time.

I can't wait to see Bush at his press conference tomorrow at 1pm.
Missouri is huge.
Democrat Tester ahead of Burns in Montana by about 6,000 votes and they're already starting the recount. Burns won't make it up.

UPDATE ... He won't concede, either. Oh, but he will...

Stroger vs. Peraica: still counting

Okay, I am back. Just saw Todd Stroger's deputy campaign manager on CBS-2 saying that 89 percent of "our precincts" are in and Stroger has a "healthy margin." There's something to that--they do have a healthy margin. But Peraica has made up ground even in the two hours that I've been at the bar. Surely it's not a good sign for Stroger that most of the ballots that remain will go to Peraica.

I voted for Peraica, and I hope he wins. At this point, it still seems unlikely that he'll make up the necessary ground. But there's no question that the remaining districts are more his districts than Stroger's. Let's see what happens...

crossposted to the Medill Election Night blog

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Duckworth concedes

Well that sucks, a low point in an otherwise very good night.

Blagojevich: Illinois is not great because of its topography

Blagojevich in his victory speech:
What makes Illinois great is not its shape, it's not it's size. It's not even its climate.
So what is it, Rod? I don't know, I kind of drifted off. I think something to do with hard-working families...
Virginia, holy crap Virginia is a squeaker. Right now with over 87 percent reporting it's Allen 49.48% to Webb 49.31%. And could change at any moment.

Worth noting, there's a Green candidate in the race, capable of losing it for Democrats...

UPDATE ... Just took a turn for the worse. At 90 percent reporting now...
You're seeing this, right? Still out: Virginia, Tennessee, Montana. Dems hold New Jersey and Maryland, win Ohio, Pennsylvania and now crucially Rhode Island.

Whither the K-Fed vote?

How does news of Britney Spears' divorce affect the midterm elections? More or less than news of Saddam Hussein's death sentence?

Just wondering.
Unconfirmed, possibly unreliable exit polls here. All very good--Ryan Lizza notes that they "seem too pro-Dem to be true."
I'll be heading down to the newsroom shortly. Medill Election Night blogging, already in progress over at the Wordpress blog, will commence in earnest sometime shortly after 5pm. And I'll be posting some over here, as well, so keep refreshing! And emailing with hot tips and such...
This exact same shit was depicted in The Wire, including the fact that the phony volunteers were bussed in from Philly...
Heavy turnout in Virginia "awful" for George Allen, according to anonymous aide being quoted on MSNBC...

Senate state of play before the polls open

Bad news first: Tennessee doesn't look good for Harold Ford. Apparently race-baiting still works.

Then, a couple of races where Dems have been ahead, but which could still go either way: In Rhode Island, moderate Republican Lincoln Chafee could still pull it out--Chafees as a longstanding R.I. political institution, name-recognition and all that. Montana will be the evening's nail-biter, and it's at least imaginable that some of the voters out West will get into the booth and find they can't quite bring themselves to vote for a Democrat. I think Dem Claire McCaskill will take Missouri, though that one, too, is very very close.

I also think Democrats win what have been close races in Maryland and New Jersey. Somewhat incredibly, Jim Webb looks like he's going to win in Virginia, which is great. (UPDATE ... Though a late Gallup poll yesterday had Allen ahead.) Ohio and Pennsylvania are in the bag.

The math is six pick-ups. And Dems already held the seats in Maryland and New Jersey. That means without Tennessee, we need to get those toss-up races in Rhode Island, Missouri and Montana. That's not impossible. Just difficult.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Election night blogging

Tomorrow night all the Medill reporters will be scattered across the city, covering all the races discussed below, plus other important races like Duckworth vs. Roskam and Bean vs. McSweeney. Somebody is following around Rahm Emanuel, somebody else is with soon-to-be ex-Speaker Denny Hastert.

I will be in the newsroom downtown overseeing the Medill Election Night blog, which will be updated throughout the evening with election news, color, rumors and speculation and all the information we get as soon as we get it. Join us!

Most of the Illinois stuff I see or hear will go up over there. As the evening unfolds I'm sure I'll post some national stuff here, too, just because I cannot help myself...


Okay, I've made up my mind on Illinois governor, for me it's Whitney. Thanks to all commenters on the previous thread.

Here's a partial list of who I'll be voting for:

Governor: Rich Whitney (G). Topinka is not good enough, doesn't have the power or the will to clean up Springfield.
Secretary of State: Dan Rutherford (R). Jesse White is too ridiculous, a pure creature of the machine.
Attorney General: Lisa Madigan (D). She's a good Dem, not one of Blagojevich's people, and she's been serving Illinois well.
Treasurer: Christine Radogno (R). Democrat Alexi Giannoulias seems like a crook.
Comptroller: Dan Hynes (D). Another non-crooked Illinois Democrat. We need to encourage these people.
Cook County Board President: Tony Peraica (R). This is an important race. Peraica is a genuine reformer who can do real good for the county. Todd Stroger is an imbecile. Peraica is what the Cook County Board needs.

And yes, come to think of it, my ballot bears a strong resemblance to the Beachwood Reporter's, that's only because I too have an interest in throwing the bums out and smashing the machine...

UPDATE ... Forgot to mention U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, for whom I happily voted today. On ballot advisories, voted against the gun ban, for the minimum wage increase and for bringing troops home from Iraq.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Obama pulls the rug out from under the Trib

Barack Obama is characteristically graceful and honest in defusing the trumped-up Tony Rezko vacant lot story.

Here is what Obama said, in comments quoted in part in today's Tribune story by David Jackson and Ray Gibson:
I regret that while I tried to pay close attention to the specific requirements of ethical conduct, I misgauged the appearance presented by my purchase of the additional land from Mr. Rezko. It was simply not good enough that I paid above the appraised value for the strip of land that he sold me. It was a mistake to have been engaged with him at all in this or any other personal business dealing that would allow him, or anyone else, to believe that he had done me a favor.
Rezko is a creature of machine politics. His game is to do favors for pols, then use those favors as a way to extract financial benefits for himself. In the case of extraordinarily corrupt politicians like Rod Blagojevich, the arrangements are explicit and involve actual kickback agreements and other truly criminal stuff.

But in the case of a rising star like Obama, Rezko's strategy is simply to get close, to try to build a relationship on the expectation that maybe it will benefit him in the future. When Rezko independently decided to purchase the vacant lot next to Obama's home, he hoped that it would give him some inroads into the senator's political work.

As I noted before, though, the facts leave the clear impression that Obama kept everything above-board and held Rezko at arm's-length. He made sure "all the T's were crossed and I's were dotted" in the purchase, and this closing quote in the Trib story is absolutely key:
"I haven't been involved with him in any legislative work whatsoever or any government activities of any sort," Obama said.
There is no machine politics without quid pro quo.

Look, I'm an Obama-booster. One of the reasons I am is because Obama is a clean, honest politician in a dirty, dishonest political culture.

The Sun-Times has a transcript of Obama's remarks on the subject (from which I took the long quote above), so take a look and draw your own conclusions. Do you feel differently than I do? Make your case in comments. Then let's be done with this foolishness.
Missouri and Virginia to break for Democrats? Tennessee has "slipped away" from Ford? And what is going on in Montana and Rhode Island?

PS ... Charlie Cook on Tim Russert: There's a "domino effect" in the Senate--toss-up races don't split down the middle. Cook said in previous elections 60-70 percent of toss-up races have gone the same way.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Still undecided: Help me vote for Illinois governor

1. Rod Blagojevich: A crook and an incompetent who governs by press release. His eventual (or maybe not so eventual) indictment will only harm the Democrats' national image--could even indirectly harm Obama's presidential candidacy. He is terrible. Any Democrat has ample reason to vote against him.

2. Judy Baar Topinka: Objectively less corrupt than Blagojevich, and a moderate on social issues. That's a direction I'd like to see the Republican party take because it's a direction I'd like to see the whole country take.

But it's Illinois, and the corruption issue matters. Even if Topinka is not crazy corrupt herself, she is certainly sure no reformer, and wouldn't do a damn thing to change the culture or move beyond machine politics. On the other hand, her fiscal policies would likely be a concrete improvement to the state. So what's the right balance here?

3. Rich Whitney: He's okay if you like that sort of thing, though as a general rule I try not to encourage the Greens. I do have respect for Whitney's pledge to pull Illinois National Guard troops out of Iraq, and for his universal health care plan in spirit if not in letter. Also a good way to register discontent with the current governor.

Q. Does voting for Whitney hurt progressive causes in the long run--i.e., does a strong showing by a Green gubernatorial candidate here mean that Green candidates are more likely to run in races where they can actually do harm? Or is this overthinking? After all, I can simply not vote Green in future elections if doing so will hurt a progressive candidate.

4. Randy Stufflebeam: My favorite gubernatorial candidate by far on a personal level, but probably the one I disagree with the most on policy. Much respect to Randy for the campaign he's run, it has got to be a lot of work mounting this type of effort, and there's something respectably quixotic about a write-in campaign by a guy whose last name is 11 letters long.

NOTE: If my concerns about voting for the Green Party are valid (a serious if), then there's a perverse logic to voting Stufflebeam--I do want the Constitution Party to get a toehold nationally, the better to take votes away from Republicans in future races. But here again this plan seems a bit remote.

So who is best? I guess I am leaning toward Whitney, but haven't quite ruled out Topinka or hell even Stufflebeam...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

My story about strip-club and adult bookstore regulations in Lake County picked up in the Daily Herald...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

If this is the best dirt they can find on Obama, he is definitely going to be our next president

This morning my pal Logan Molyneux pointed me to a bizarre article in the Trib titled "Rezko owns vacant lot next to Obama's home." It uncovers the shocking fact that the crooked businessman and political fundraiser Tony Rezko, um, purchased a vacant lot next to Obama's home.

That's it.

There's no evidence--not even a whisper, a rumor or anonymous source--to suggest that Rezko was involved in Obama's real estate deal. He just independently bought the vacant lot next to the Obamas' house. Yet the Tribune treats the story like it's the damn Pentagon Papers, running it at the top of its Metro section.

Rezko, who got indicted a couple of weeks ago on schemes that implicate the governor, is one of Blagojevich's big money guys. He is friendly with Obama and has contributed some money to his campaigns. (Not nearly on the scale of his contributions to Blagojevich, and that's only counting the ones we know about.) But the impression one gets from the story is that Obama has to a large extent kept him at arm's length:
For years, it's been Rezko's practice to befriend up-and-coming political figures, from Blagojevich to the godson of former County Board President John Stroger. Rezko often weaves those political friendships into business ventures.

Rezko first reached out to Obama in about 1990 when the future senator made headlines as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Rezko and two real estate partners called out of the blue to offer a job building inner-city homes.

"I said no, but I remained friendly with all three of them," Obama said.
Damning stuff, I know.

Ace Trib reporters Ray Gibson and David Jackson also uncover the terrible truth that Obama's house has four fireplaces and that his landscaper also mows Rezko's lawn. What's next? A front-page exposé on the fact that Michelle Obama has a walk-in closet?

PS ... Here is the real proof Obama doesn't walk on water...

Stroger: I'm not a reformer

On WGN-TV this morning:
Q. How would you be different from your father and how would you be the same? You're kind of painting yourself as a reformer, but a lot of people say you got in because of your father and got the nomination. How would you be a reformer?

Stroger: I never paint myself as a reformer. A reformer is just a word people like to throw around. But whenever you have a new leader, there's going to be change, because they are a different person.
Yeah, real different.

Is preaching "soliciting"?

Very interesting First Amendment case in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday about a travelling evangelist called Brother Jim who sued a public university in Indiana after the school limited where on campus he could speak.

Here is my story about the case from yesterday.

The problem here is that the university's policy is against "soliciting," which gives Brother Jim an opening to argue that he isn't selling anything, he's just tryna spread the Gospel...