Kennedy, Byrd, and Assorted Reflections

The pair of medical emergencies at today's inaugural luncheon reminds me of one of the lessons you learn if you live in Washington for even a little while: when living in this city and following politics closely, it's easy to forget the humanity that lies behind all the partisanship and power plays. Ted Kennedy's seizure and Robert Byrd's reported removal for unknown reasons should bring to mind these men's accomplishments and produce a concern for their well-being. I'll admit that my first reactions were: (1) big news! and (2) holy cow, Obama is drifting dangerously afield of that all-important 60-vote mark.

Those are awful responses, and the people who end their careers in this city beloved by their peers (think Tim Russert) are the ones who suppress them. They're political junkies like the rest of us, of course. But they never forget that big shots in this town, hard as it may be to recognize sometimes, are people, too. They keep in touch because they care about people, not because they want to network. They help out up-and-comers because they genuinely want to share the success they themselves experience. When they retire or pass away, all of the people who lived by a different set of values wax poetic, with a twinge of regret.

Obama's 7-Minute Walk Down Pennsylvania Ave

In an (according to CNN) impromptu move, President Obama and First Lady Michelle got out of their limo and walked a 7-minute stretch in the middle of the inaugural parade about an hour ago, to the delight of a roaring crowd, and to the likely dismay of their secret service crew. (Apparently they were scheduled to walk the last bit near the White House, according to tradition, but not earlier sections.)

Commentating for CNN from the parade Rev. Jesse Jackson, after the Obama's got back into their car, said he was nervous the whole time given our "history of violence in this country." He warned that Obama "must risk on the side of caution." CNN's Soledad O'Brien came back with this instant classic:

"You can't talk about hope and change and the promise of a nation, and not get out of the vehicle."

bush_turkey300.jpgIf there was a sure bet about George W. Bush's final moments in office, last-minute pardons seemed like they were it. Intrade once had the likelihood of a pardon for Scooter Libby at 93%; Frank Rich said a Libby pardon was a "slam dunk." Mother Jones even got into the action: In our current issue, Jonathan Schwarz explores the history of preemptive presidential pardons and speculates about a blanket pardon that would have covered everyone from Dick Cheney and David Addington down to the guys who actually did the waterboarding. (For a list of all the journalists and pundits who predicted pardons, this site has been collecting examples.) But now (barring some kind of shady shenanigans in his last nanoseconds) it appears that Bush hopped on Marine One without leaving behind Get Out of Jail cards for anyone but two former Border Patrol agents doing time for shooting a drug dealer. So what happened? Did Bush just leave his subordinates out to dry? Did he recognize pardons as an admission of guilt? Or was he just calling Democrats' bluff, daring them to investigate or prosecute actions that they'd signed off on back before the political winds changed? Or, as a final gesture as self-styled Beltway outsider, did he decide not to play the midnight pardon game? Probably a bit of all those. I'll be curious to hear from legal experts if Bush just left an opening for the kind of legal reckoning and accountability that went AWOL during the past eight years. Meanwhile, count me in the ranks of those who didn't expect the Decider to forgo this final perk of executive power.

Image of Bush pardoning a turkey from Wikimedia Commons

Rosa Parks Didn't Act Alone: Meet Claudette Colvin

Rosa Parks, left, and Claudette Colvin.

In his warm-up for the first-ever inauguration of a black American president, the actor Samuel L. Jackson stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial, speaking of the sacrifices of everyday people to bring about the event we were witnessing, including the well-worn story of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus. Jackson told the story as the old history books do, more or less the way my child, then six years old, had learned it at school: Parks, a department store seamstress en route home from work, told the police she hadn't boarded the bus intending to get arrested. She was simply tired, and wanted to get home like anyone else. But the true story was far more nuanced, as revealed in Claudette Colvin, Twice Toward Justice, by Phillip Hoose, which is written for teenage readers.

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Parks was certainly brave. (Standing up to white power in that place and time made you a target.) And she may not have boarded that particular bus, on that particular day, intending to get arrested. But Parks also knew what she was doing. Sure, she was a seamstress, one widely known and respected in Montgomery's black community. But as secretary of the local NAACP chapter, Parks also was deeply involved in a movement to reform the city's draconian segregation laws—one primed for action thanks to a then 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin.

Colvin was a smart and rebellious teen whose family lived in King Hill, a small, poor section of town flanked by white neighborhoods. She became politically active in high school after her classmate Jeremiah Reeves was accused of raping a white woman. Reeves confessed to the crime, and an all-white jury convicted the boy and sentenced him to death. Reeves later recanted, saying the police had forced him to confess. The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which ordered a retrial, but the outcome was the same.

Bush's Last-Minute Land Grab Halted

This weekend, a last-minute Bush maneuver that would have made more than 110,000 acres of federal land available to oil and gas exploration was halted by a temporary restraining order issued by a District Court judge, reports the Los Angeles Times. As we wrote in our September/October 2008 issue, environmentalists say the recent attempts to free up public lands for oil and gas companies were "parting gifts" to the energy industry by Bush's Interior Department. Made official in mid-December, the move would have given oil and gas companies the right to begin drilling in sensitive riparian areas and key wildlife corridors throughout Utah. Several environmental groups, including the NRDC and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, filed suit against the government to stop the Interior Department from leasing the lands. In his decision this weekend, Judge Ricardo Urbina found that the groups' logic held, and that any energy development would be "...far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands and the environment." Some of the leased lands, which included parts of Canyonlands National Park and Dinosaur National Monument, contained ancient rock art and other sensitive cultural resources. However, though Judge Urbina's ruling keeps Utah's public lands safe pending a decision by the Obama administration, it doesn't help the land in five other states that have also been slated for increased drilling by the Bush administration.

Change You Can Click On

The 44th president's official website was apparently "fired up and ready to go" before he took office. At precisely 12:01 pm EST, the White House web page that greeted Americans for most of the 21st century was no more. In its place was a very change.gov-esque replacement:

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Users of barackobama.com or change.gov will immediately recognize those sites in the new WhiteHouse.gov. The new site features the latest in Obama-style web design: lots of white space, lots of logos, lots of small caps, and lots of Gotham, the font that his campaign made famous. It also includes a sexy front-page slide show to display multiple top stories (just like MotherJones.com!), a front-page blog (with an RSS feed!), and a promise that "WhiteHouse.gov will be a central part of President Obama's pledge to make his the most transparent and accountable administration in American history."

Economy Down, Military Recruitment Up

army.jpg With the ranks of the jobless increasing in droves it's not surprising that Americans are joining the ranks of a ready and willing employer, the Armed Forces. The Pentagon announced yesterday that all active duty and reserve components, and the Army National Guard, met or exceeded their goals for the first time since 2004, the year that violence intensified in Iraq.

This includes our beleaguered Army, which is plastering its ads (like this one to the right) with dollar signs. Still, let's not forget we are involved in two wars, and while the new GI Bill is a good thing, we still want more career choices all around. Because otherwise we'll continue to have what's akin to an economic draft, further forcing those without financial means into military service.

A People's History of Obama's Inauguration and MLK Day

This morning, while taking the kids to school, I regaled them with tales of how they, too, could someday be president, since Obama was "taking the Oval Office" today. ("Oath of Office" got no traction with them.)

My 5-year-old daughter started to cry. "I don't wanna be president!"

Why?

"Cuz then I'd have to wear boy clothes. I'll look ugly! WAAAAAA!"

Yeah, feminism has outlived its usefulness.

My 7-year-old was crying because, during the morning shakedown, I busted him trying to smuggle a whole buncha Bionicles in his book bag. This has gotten him in much trouble before. (Why shouldn't he play with them during lectures since they're right there?)

Me: "Honey. This isn't a new rule. Mommy couldn't take toys to school when I was little either."

7-year-old: "But black people couldn't have toys back then. WAAAAAA!"

Later, I watched the inauguration ceremony with a friend. We spent quite a bit of time discussing Aretha Franklin's.....hat? Infected contusion? (My mom just called to offer that Aretha knew she wouldn't be taking that hat off without a hairdresser nearby, lest her wig come off with it. MEOW!) We sat trading bitchy quips (all at Bush and Cheney's expense). When the poet came on, as one, we rose, looked at each other and asked, "Cigarette?"

Out on the porch, I could see most of my neighbors heading for their cars. Chagrined, each admitted that the poet was their signal to finally get to work.

OK, here's my best quip from the ceremony. When Michelle Obama kissed W goodbye at the helicopter, my friend said, "Bet that's the first black woman he's ever kissed."

What else could I say?

"Probably. But not the first one he's ever fucked."

Happy inauguration!

Auto Bailout Watch

AUTO BAILOUT WATCH....The French government plans to bail out Renault and Peugeot-Citroen to the tune of $7-8 billion or so. By the time this is all over, will there be a car company in the world that hasn't hoovered up a few billion taxpayer dollars?

Quote of the Day - 01.20.09

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Barack Obama, signing the papers to put himself on the government payroll:

"I'm a lefty. Get used to it."

That's for my sister. Though, honestly, after 20 years of lefties in the past 28 years there's not much to get used to, is there?