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“71st Governor Of Virginia”: Governor “Ultrasound” Receives An Engraved Rolex From Influencial Donor

Just when it seemed the controversy surrounding Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) couldn’t get worse, it gets worse.

A prominent political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to two people with knowledge of the gift, and the governor did not disclose it in his annual financial filings.

The $6,500 luxury watch was provided by wealthy businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr., the people said. He is the chief executive of dietary supplement manufacturer Star Scientific and the person who paid for catering at the wedding of the governor’s daughter.

Coincidentally, the governor’s Rolex, engraved with the inscription “71st Governor of Virginia,” arrived about two weeks after Williams met with a leading state health official about his products. The meeting was arranged by Maureen McDonnell, the governor’s wife.

And given the luxurious gifts Maureen McDonnell received from Williams, this isn’t a good development.

Indeed, in this case, the Washington Post reported that Virginia’s First Lady was the one who encouraged Williams to buy the Rolex for the governor — a recommendation she made “moments before the meeting she had arranged” with the state health official.

Making matters slightly worse, the governor’s office insisted months ago that neither McDonnell nor his wife ever “led an effort to lower health care costs in Virginia by encouraging the use of Anatabloc,” Williams’ product. What the statement neglected to mention is that what happened outside Virginia: “On June 1 — three days before [the governor’s daughter’s] wedding — Maureen McDonnell flew to Florida, where she touted the potential benefits of Anatabloc before a gathering of doctors and investors interested in learning more about its key chemical. There, one attendee said, she said she believed Anatabloc could be used to lower health costs.”

Remember when Bob McDonnell’s biggest problem was that he was “Governor Ultrasound”?

I don’t think this ongoing corruption controversy could get much worse, but then again, I’ve thought that before and been proven wrong.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 27, 2013


June 30, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Slipping A Little Deeper Into Madness”: The Imaginary White House Immigration Ruse

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) told Dave Weigel yesterday one of the main reasons he and his House Republican colleagues will not support comprehensive immigration reform.

“If you’re the White House right now,” he theorized, “and you have a signature law — that is, Obamacare — that is completely a legacy issue for the president, and it’s looking like implementation is going to be a disaster, and if you’re on your heels in terms of these scandals, and you’re flummoxed by the NSA, there’s one issue out there that’s good for the White House. That’s immigration. The question is: How much energy does the White House actually put into getting the legislation, or do they want to keep the issue for 2014?”

I hear this quite a bit from the right. Democrats say they want to pass reform legislation, the argument goes, but it’s a sham. What those rascally Democrats really want, conservatives argue, is for immigration reform to fail so Democrats can use the issue against the GOP in the 2014 midterms and beyond.

And every time I hear this, I’m convinced our public discourse has slipped a little deeper into madness.

Look, this isn’t complicated: Democrats want to pass immigration reform. President Obama wants to pass immigration reform. When the reform bill reached the Senate floor yesterday, it received 100% support from Democratic senators, and support is expected to be at a similar level among House Dems. If the party were engaged in some elaborate ruse, they’ve apparently managed to fool everyone, including themselves.

In fact, I’d love to hear Roskam and others who share his ideology explain the electoral rationale behind their strategy. He seems to be arguing, “Democrats want immigration reform to fail so they can use it against us, therefore, we should make sure reform fails so that they can use it against us. That’ll show ’em!”

If Roskam and his like-minded allies really believe their own rhetoric, wouldn’t they want to pass a reform bill, take the issue off the table, and undermine Democratic efforts to beat them over the head with the issue?

As for the notion that the president is keeping a low profile on immigration, Roskam thinks it’s part of a fiendish plan. In reality, Obama is giving lawmakers space because proponents in both parties asked him, too — the more the president is directly associated with the legislation, the harder it is to earn support from Republicans who are reflexively against anything and everything Obama is for.

Behind the scenes, however, the White House is heavily invested in helping reform succeed — it’s not because the president’s team secretly wants it to fail, delusional arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.

As for the policy approach Roskam would prefer, Weigel’s report added:

Roskam insisted again and again that “up until now, the immigration issue has been a powerful political issue for the White House,” and that Team Obama likely wouldn’t be “willing to give that up in 2014 in order to have a bill.” But “if they’re willing to get a remedy, that suggests we go to the consensus. The consensus is on a border that’s secure.”

First, the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate includes so much border security one of its conservative Republican supporters characterized it as “almost overkill.”

Second, Roskam is describing a fascinating scenario. The point of comprehensive reform is that the two sides effectively accept the others’ condition — Dems get a pathway to citizenship; the GOP gets increased border security.

Roskam’s argument is amazing: as soon as Democrats agree to give Republicans what they want, in exchange for nothing, then there will be a “consensus” bill.

And if Dems don’t agree to this, it’ll prove once and for all that they’re secretly against immigration reform.

And to think some policymakers find it difficult to negotiate with the House GOP….


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 28, 2013

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“John Roberts, Pitcher And Batter”: The Voting-Rights Decision Spells The End Of Fair Elections

The Supreme Court delivered a sucker punch to fair elections today, striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. It is a ruling that will make it much easier for partisan election officials and legislators to rig the voting system — and a lot harder for ordinary voters to participate in democracy.

The ruling is also a huge Supreme Court power grab. How big? In 2006, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act by a vote of 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House (and President George W. Bush signed it into law). Now, five Justices have swept away the decision of all those elected leaders — over the vociferous dissent of four other Justices.

At his confirmation hearing, Chief Justice John Roberts — who wrote today’s majority opinion — famously declared that as a Justice, “my job is to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” But in nullifying one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history, he picked up a bat and swung for the bleachers.

The part of the Voting Rights Act that the court held unconstitutional (Section 4) was a critical one: the formula that specifies which particular states and localities must clear significant voting changes in advance with the Justice Department. That process — “preclearance” — ensures that unfair voting rules can be stopped before they are allowed to interfere with actual elections.

An example of why it’s needed: in 2001, the all-white leadership of Kilmichael, Miss., abruptly canceled the town election when it looked like voters might elect the first black mayor. Using the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department required that the election go forward — and a black mayor was elected. That was only one of more than 700 discriminatory voting changes the Justice Department blocked from 1982 to 2006.

The Supreme Court’s majority was troubled by the specific states and localities that the Voting Rights Act’s “preclearance” rules apply to. Why Alabama and not Vermont? Why Brooklyn and the Bronx, but not Lincoln, Neb.? The simple answer is that these are the jurisdictions Congress chose after careful consideration. It held 21 hearings and heard from scores of witnesses — it produced a 15,000-page record — before reauthorizing the law in 2006. Without doing any of that work, five Justices have said they know better.

Now that the formula has been thrown out, the whole process of preclearance is effectively thrown out as well. In theory, Congress could come up with another formula — and a list of states and localities — that the Supreme Court would find constitutional. But it would be a legislative nightmare for Congress to try to do that — and no one expects that to happen anytime soon.

So what does the gutting of the Voting Rights Act mean for American democracy? It will be easier for bad-apple election officials to revive classic vote-suppression tactics — like moving polling places at the last minute, so voters cannot find them, or getting eligible voters off the rolls. And it will be easier for state legislatures to draw district lines to divide up minority voters and dilute their power at the polls.

The majority dismisses all these very real concerns, arguing that “things have changed” since the bad, pre-civil-rights-era days. Of course, even if that were so, it would not mean that we don’t need the Voting Rights Act. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the dissenters, that sort of logic is “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Now that the Supreme Court has gutted the Voting Rights Act, we should get ready for an antidemocratic downpour.


By: Adam Cohen, Time, June 25, 2013

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Supreme Court, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He Evened No Scores, Waged No Vendettas”: Nelson Mandela Remains The Standard By Which We Must Judge Ourselves

With Nelson Mandela, the devil would not like the details. We all know that he spent 27 years in jail, much of it on Robben Island. We all know about his remarkable strength, intellect and tolerance. But I did not know that when he was in prison, he studied Afrikaans, the language of his jailers, so he could get to know them better and possibly convert them to his cause. Physically he was a big man. But it is how he conducted himself that made other men seem so small.

Mandela is no demigod. He has his faults, but rage, anger, jealousy, egotism and the need for revenge are not among them. He was born into tribal nobility: he is the son of a counselor to the chief and, later, was a ward of the chief. An easy life was his for the asking. But he chose the path of rebellion against racist apartheid, which is to say he chose to be on the run, to live underground, to forsake the love of the astonishingly attractive Winnie — and yet all the time to pursue knowledge. It seems he did not waste a moment in prison. He was forever studying something.

On Robben Island, where he spent 18 years, he was largely confined to a fetid cell. He slept on a straw mat. He was persecuted by the guards. He spent his days breaking rocks. Because he was forbidden to wear sunglasses, his eyes were damaged. On occasion, he was put into solitary confinement for the infraction of reading a smuggled newspaper. At night, somehow, he studied for advanced degrees and when, eventually, he got out of prison, he brimmed with forgiveness and demanded a colorblind society.

When Frank Lautenberg died, we noted that he was the last World War II veteran in the Senate. Not many of our politicians have been to war, fewer still have been in solitary and few of those have chosen to forsake the easy life for the deprivations of a cause. They talk — and so do we journalists — about the bravery of this or that political position, but, to my knowledge, only Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), both prisoners of war in Vietnam, know the utter terror of hearing the approaching footsteps of the torturer.

I remember when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin met with Ronald Reagan in 1981. The contrast could not have been more vivid. Here was the amiable movie actor, a man who had had an easy, fortunate life. And here was a man who had been a terrorist, a guerrilla fighter, who had lost his family in the Holocaust and had been imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag. At night, “after twelve or fourteen or sixteen hours of work, we had to dig ourselves deep into the snow and go to sleep,” Begin wrote in “White Nights,” a memoir of those days. In the morning, he would awake to find some of his fellow prisoners frozen to death. Reagan probably told Begin some Hollywood story. Begin probably kept his mouth shut.

Most of us are like Ronald Reagan. What do we know of such travails? Could we be as brave, as indomitable and as averse to self-pity? Could we rise above it all as Mandela has or, less successfully, as Begin did? When Mandela’s mother died in 1968, he was not permitted to attend her funeral. When his son died a bit later, he was not allowed to attend his funeral. When his wife Winnie cheated on him, he stood by her, divorcing her only later. When Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sided with the apartheid regime and refused to join the calls for Mandela’s release, he forgave them and later met with them. He is not merely a big man. He is bigger than any man.

What you find often in insurgents is a bitter hatred and the need to carry on the struggle even after it’s over. This is not what happened with Mandela. He was not a freedom fighter looking to continue the fight — a Yasser Arafat unable to put down his gun and take yes for an answer. Mandela was able to administer, to turn to politics, to plead for racial understanding and tolerance. More important, he embodies those qualities. He evened no scores, waged no vendettas, never made himself the cause and casts a shadow across the inner lives of all people. He was the first black president of South Africa. He remains the standard by which we must judge ourselves.


By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 28, 2013

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Nelson Mandela | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rachel Jeantel Explained, Linguistically”: She Made A Lot More Sense Than You Think

Let’s face it, none of us would want to be Trayvon Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel in the last couple of days. Much of the country is laughing at the “ghetto” black girl who keeps getting tripped up in her story. But Jeantel has made a lot more sense than it may have seemed.

Yes, she was dissimulating in pretending that Trayvon Martin’s referring to Zimmerman as a “creepy-ass cracker” wasn’t “racial”—of course it was. Cracker is today’s “honkey,” a word now about as antique as The Jeffersons in which George used it so much. It is both descriptive and pejorative, although it’s important to note that according to Jeantel, Martin was not calling Zimmerman a cracker to his face but when trying to give his friend on the phone an update on the situation.

The origins of the word in reference to persons as opposed to snacks is obscure, but most likely started when cracking could mean bragging in Elizabethan English. Upper-crust colonial Americans had a way of referring to lower-class British immigrants to the South as loud-mouthed “crackers,” as in boastful beyond their proper station.

Pretty soon the word just referred to the people, period, with elegant Central Park architect Frederick Law Olmsted even casually writing in 1850 after a Florida jaunt that “some crackers owned a good many Negroes.”

Jeantel may well have heard some whites in Florida using the word for themselves with a kind of in-group pride – just as black people use the N-word that way. But surely she knows that’s a different meaning, just as anyone who claims it’s okay for Paula Deen to have used the N-word because Jay-Z does is faking it.

The important thing is that it made perfect sense for Martin to use that word to describe a white man chasing him for no reason. Few fully understand that the tension between young black men and the police (and by extension, security guards, traffic cops and just about any sort of watchman) is the main thing keeping America from getting past race. If ten years went by without a story like the Martin case we’d be in a very different country.

There are several possible reasons why Jeantel feigned on whether calling someone a cracker was racially-motivated. It could be because she wants to protect her dead friend. It could be because she’s extremely uncomfortable. Much of her irritable reticence is predictable of someone of modest education reacting to an unfamiliar type of interrogation on the witness stand. As natural as many educated people find direct questions, they are culturally rather unusual worldwide, an artifice of educational procedure. In oral cultures – i.e. most cultures— direct questions are processed as abrupt and confrontational. In that, Jeantel is operating at a clear disadvantage.

Yet one problem Jeantel is not having is with English itself. Many are seeing her as speaking under some kind of influence from the Haitian Creole that is her mother’s tongue, but that language has played the same role in her life that Yiddish did in George Gershwin’s – her English is perfect.

It’s just that it’s Black English, which has rules as complex as the mainstream English of William F. Buckley. They’re just different rules. If she says to the defense lawyer interrogating her “I had told you” instead of “I told you” it’s not because it’s Haitian—black people around the country use what is called the preterite “had,” which I always heard my Philadelphia cousins using when I was a kid.

If you think Black English is primitive, here’s a test – is it “I ain’t be listening that much” or “I don’t be listening that much”? It’s don’t, and Jeantel and millions of other black people nationwide could tell immediately that using “ain’t” in that sentence is “off.”

This was what defense attorney Don West failed to understand yesterday when he asked Jeantel:

“Are you claiming in any way that you don’t understand English?”

“I don’t understand you, I do understand English,” said Jeantel.

“When someone speaks to you in English, do you believe you have any difficulty understanding it because it wasn’t your first language?” asked West.

“I understand English really well,” said Jeantel.

She understands it as well as West or anyone. So now who’s the dumb one?


By: John McWhorter, Time, June  28, 2013

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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