Saturday, January 03, 2009


Open Thread

New Year, new thread. Any resolutions of which to speak?

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Thursday, January 01, 2009


Rush To (Mis)Judgment

Great catch by "BarbinMD" over at Daily Kos! Bobby Rush -- who threw racial Molotov cocktail into the Obama-seat succession process this week -- previously expressed a a more mainstream viewpoint on whether the indicted Blagojevich should be able to appoint the next Illinois senator:

... Rush has done everything he can to raise the specter of racism in this tainted process. And when he's not conjuring visions of fire hoses, dogs, and George Wallace, Rush has defended Blagojevich's right, and his duty, to appoint Obama's successor:

Well, I think what needs--what needs to happen now is that all these folks who are opposed to Governor Blagojevich, they need to take a chill pill. We're still a nation of laws and I believe that Roland Burris and Governor Blagojevich, they're on solid constitutional grounds in terms of them being--of him being selected.

...he has the constitutional responsibility as governor of the state of Illinois to appoint.

But that's not what Rush was saying after Blagojevich was arrested:

I believe that the acts that are alleged to have been committed by the Governor are so heinous that he has forfeited his right to appoint someone to fill the seat of President-Elect Barack Obama. My bottom line is that the Governor should not be the one to make the appointment to this important office.

Instead of trying to whip up racial tensions, perhaps Mr. Rush should explain why his bottom line has changed so dramatically in just three short weeks.

Good question, that. Given all the charges swirling around the governor, perhaps it's time to wonder if there's some quid pro quo going on between Blago and Rush.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


You Be Fillin'-in?

Thought I was done for the year, but I couldn't let this pass. While the possibly-illegal shenanigans involving the filling of Barack Obama's US Senate seat can't be topped, New York's trying to hold its with All-Star names like Kennedy, Cuomo and others all vying for Gov. David Paterson's nod to fill Hillary Clinton's about-to-be-vacant Senate seat.

On Thursday, news broke that Paterson is considering just appointing an elder-statesman "caretaker" to occupy the seat until 2010: Then, everyone can jump in without having an unfair advantage of being the incumbent.

I think it's a great idea: Come 2010, let Caroline Kennedy prove that she's got what it takes; let her introduce herself to the people of New York and let them decide if she's got what it takes.

Of course, this raises the question -- who should the "caretaker" be? Former Gov. Mario Cuomo has been mentioned, as has, former President Bill Clinton. Of course, if it's the former, other potential candidates will say that that gives his son Attorney General Andrew Cuomo an advantage because of name-recognition. On the other other hand, if it's Clinton, what would you do if he decides to change his mind and keep the seat? The man's only 62 -- pretty young to be an "elder statesman." And it wouldn't be the first time that he's broken a promise about running/not running. Oh, Bill and Hillary will be sharing the stage with Mayor Bloomberg (who has been pushing for Caroline for the Senate appointment) as the ball drops tonight in Times Square! Hmmm....

Geez, it's beginning to look like 2009 might be almost as much fun as 2008!

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2008: A Great Year...

...if you were a fan of politics in general, Barack Obama specifically, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Phillies (yeah, Moose, I'm lookin' at you!) or some combination thereof!

For everyone else, um, maybe not so much!

A year-long recession, the continued intellectual and moral collapse of the Republican Party and the cancellation of my favorite show, "Eli Stone," were a few things that made 2008 disappointing for me. Since I didn't have much money in the stock market, I didn't lose too much. Then again, my 401K is nothing to speak of -- and I mean that literally.

On the other hand, except for my minor vocal chord operation in September, my health has been good. I'm happy to have learned a few days ago that I will be an uncle for the first time come summer 2009. After a brief bit of post-election burnout, I'm feeling rather re-energized as far as posting, pontificating and punning!! There will be some exciting plans to announce around these parts in the early part of the new year -- including a long-overdue site redesign!

I wish all my readers the best for the New Year. Here's hoping for a healthy and fine '09!!!


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Profile In Courage -- NOT

Guess Michael Bloomberg became wealthy by learning how to quickly cut his losses. Wednesday's Post reports that Bloomberg's right-hand man is abandoning the full-court press to get Caroline Kennedy into the Senate.

Apparently, the disastrous media "roll-out" -- putting Kennedy in front of a number of New York local media outlets -- completely backfired. Rather than Kennedy's allowing the public to get to know her, the interviews made Caroline look -- alternately -- testy, uninformed, and, like,, seriously lacking verbal skills, knowwhatI'm sayin'?

Well, with Bloomberg telling his primary aide to dial back the hard-sell hectoring, the writing might be on the wall.

Ambassador Kennedy, anyone?


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Tuesday, December 30, 2008


You Be Illin(ois)

OK, everyone had their nice laugh at Rod Blagojevich when US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald released the audiotapes earlier this month -- the profanity, the megalomania,etc. Then his press conference quoting Rudyard Kipling -- and, of course, the hair. Ha! Ha! What a joke.

Well, joke no more, boys and girls.

With his announcement that he would appoint former state attorney general Roland Burris to the US Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama, Blagojevich demonstrated that he is a damn canny politician who should not be underestimated.

But, then again, why should anyone be surprised? You think you make it through the Illinois political machine to become governor by playing beanball? Politics in Illinois is Chicago Bears '86-defense tough. Beyond that, "Hot Rod" continues to do exactly what I thought would be the case when his scandal first broke: He, more than any other individual or issue, would be responsible for ruining Obama's political "honeymoon."

By selecting Burris -- a 71-year old African American former state attorney general, and the first black to win statewide -- Blagojevich implicitly dared the now-all white US Senate not to seat his candidate. And, to make the implicit explicit, US Rep. Bobby Rush -- a former Black Panther -- just "happened" to be at the press conference. Blagojevich invited him up to speak.
He did not disappoint:
"Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate," Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois, told reporters.
"I don't think that anyone — any U.S. senator who's sitting in the Senate right now — wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate," Rush added.
That man was former state attorney general Roland Burris, 71, named by Blagojevich on Tuesday to fill Obama's seat.
Senate Democrats needed no reminder that blocking one black man to fill the seat of another might not go over well in a party whose presidential candidate soon would become the nation's first African-American commander in chief.

And in case people thought he was being too subtle, Rush warned the media not to "hang or lynch" Burris because of his connection to Blagojevich. This is Chicago politics, folks!

Bringing Rush into this was a masterstroke on several levels. Aside from the "high-tech lynching" rhetorical sequel he unleashed, he has a psychological advantage in Illinois and national politics that no one else can claim: He was the last person to defeat Barack Obama in an election. When the then-state senator made an ill-advised decision to challenge incumbent Rush in a House primary in 2000, Obama got his head handed to him.

In the campaign, Rush had no qualms about raising questions about how "black" Obama really was:
Mr. Obama’s Ivy League education and his white liberal-establishment connections also became an issue. Mr. Rush told The Chicago Reader, “He went to Harvard and became an educated fool. We’re not impressed with these folks with these Eastern elite degrees.”
Mr. Rush and his supporters faulted him for having missed experiences that more directly defined the previous generation of black people.
“Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it,” Mr. Rush told The Reader.
Mr. Obama was seen as an intellectual, “not from us, not from the ’hood,” said Jerry Morrison, a consultant on the Rush campaign. Asked recently about that line of attack, Mr. Rush minimized it as “chest beating, signifying.”
The implication was not exactly that Mr. Obama was “not black enough,” as some blacks have suggested more recently; his credentials were suspect. “It was much more a function of class, not race,” Mr. Adelstein said. “Nobody said he’s ‘not black enough.’ They said he’s a professor, a Harvard elite who lives in Hyde Park.”
Indeed, Rush did to Obama what another old-school black veteran, Sharpe James, did to a similarly light-skinned "mainstream" Young Turk, Cory Booker, in the mayoral race in 2002.

Yeah, this is the flip side of the "magic Negro" stuff that the Republican Party is, bizarrely, obsessing itself with currently: Issues of class in the black community often get played out in the broader dynamic of how "culturally black" a given individual is. Indeed, often the word "Negro" is used among blacks as an in-house rhetorical device to bring another member of the race "down to earth." (Which, by the way, parody or not, conservatives and Republicans are doing themselves no favors by wading into a cultural mire of which they continually prove themselves totally clueless.)

Don't underestimate how much personal satisfaction Rush would feel in getting to be a de facto racial kingmaker replacing the "above-race" Golden Child. Burris -- who Rush supported in the 2002 gubernatorial primary against Blagojevich -- thus becomes something of a happy willing pawn serving the tactical and cultural ambitions of two far savvier politicians.

Obama supports Harry Reid and the US Senate's assertion that they will refuse to seat any Blagojevich-appointed senator. But, the issue of whether the Senate can block this appointment could end up in the Supreme Court. In a previous decision involving, yes, a black member of the House, New York Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the court determined that the chamber could only assess the objective "qualifications" of a member -- age, citizenship, residency, etc -- in deciding whether to seat him. Reid claims that the Senate is a different chamber, not bound by that precedent. We shall see. Regardless, anyone want to guess what Bobby Rush might be doing while the high-court of the land is deciding whether a black man should be allowed to sit in the Senate?

Such a scenario would be a nightmare for Obama, whose entire campaign -- and political life story -- is about bridging America's racial divide. Instead, the immediate fallout of his successful run for the presidency has been a farcical RNC campaign over Obama's cultural identity as the "magic negro" and now a potentially far more ominous racial conflagration over his former Senate seat.

Magic Negro? Try "tragic" negro.

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RNC, Please

Ignoring that old adage about what to do when in a hole, Republican National Committee members choose to keep digging. When a candidate for party chair distributes a CD with a song entitled "Barack The Magic Negro," members turn their righteous anger on -- other candidates for the post who criticized the first candidate:

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Gary Emineth said he was “disappointed” when he heard about the story and questioned Saltsman’s viability as a candidate going forward.

“There are a lot of things about Chip that would have made a good a RNC chairman, but this has definitely hurt him,” he said in an interview with Politico. “With less than a month to go, Chip needs to be talking about where he wants to lead the party, and he is not going to get
that opportunity.” Not everyone is so sure, with some RNC members contending
that [Michigan Chair Saul] Anuzis and [incumbent Mike] Duncan may have actually hurt their candidacies with their responses. “Those are two guys who just eliminated themselves from this race for jumping all over Chip on this,” one committee member told Politico. “Mike Duncan is a nice guy, but he screwed up big time by pandering to the national press on

While South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson and former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele have decided to stay away from the controversy, offering no comment, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who would be the party’s first black chairman, has drawn notice for his vigorous defense of Saltsman.

“Unfortunately, there is hypersensitivity in the press regarding matters of race. This is in large measure due to President-elect Obama being the first African-American elected president,” Blackwell said in a statement. “I don't think any of the concerns that have been expressed in the media about any of the other candidates for RNC chairman should disqualify them. When looked at in the proper context, these concerns are minimal. All of my competitors for this
leadership post are fine people.”

As a result of his position, a source close to the race said that at least 12 uncommitted committee members have contacted Blackwell to thank him for his support for Saltsman and have expressed anger toward Duncan and Anuzis “for throwing a good Republican under the bus.”

Welcome to the world of GOP internal politics.

Just to clarify the chronology of events:

1)Liberal David Ehrenstein writes
an LA Times column in May 2007 saying that whites like Obama because he is the cultural "magic Negro" who assuages white guilt -- the safe choice who doesn't remind him them of the tough, scary, homeboy on the streets.

2) Conservative song satirist Paul Shanklin, inspired by Times column,
writes a song parody to the tune of "Puff The Magic Dragon" (though, as a colleague notes, "Barack The Magic Negro" actually scans better to the tune of "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer").

3) Rush Limbaugh then
plays the song -- apparently part of Rush's crusade to expose the media silence on the fact that Obama isn't really, you know, black ("Half-rican" is Rush's preferred descriptor).

4) Chip Saltsman, former Tennessee GOP chairman and Mike Huckabee campaign manager -- and pal of Shanklin -- makes a Christmas gift of a CD with a bunch of Shanklin songs, including "Magic Negro."

5) The Hill
reports on it. Sh*tstorm ensues.

Oh, some may note that Blackwell's move -- and the reaction of several RNC members to it -- aside from being
politically astute, actually proves Ehrenstein's original point: By washing away any perceived racial sin that Saltsman may have committed Ken Blackwell has, for certain GOPers, become their own "magic Negro."

Well, ya can't spell "ironic" without R-N-C.

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Musings from Bickerstaff

Topic 1

I played Santa for a charity just before Christmas. I have a wonderful suit and a wig and beard made from Siberian yak hair. I was so convincing, even my daughter did not recognize me. I knew all the children's names devised by a clever system and an able staff. Each child came up and sat on my lap and asked for whatever gift they wanted whilst their parents beamed proudly. I, of course promised Santa would see what he could do. I then realized I was like a bank. I could take their wants, promise them the sky, and pass the delivery onto those who would fund the venture without me bearing any risk and getting most of the reward.

As an aside, only one child wanted to just play with her friend. That was all she wanted for Christmas. Her friend was sick and at Children's Hospital. Sometimes, even Santa cries.

Topic 2

Since Hamas has begun launching Rockets in 2006, only 20 Israeli's have been killed -- four of which happened in the past few days. Israel, upon Hamas being elected in 2006, froze tax and customs receipts worth $50 million per month. It then shelled Gaza calling it a preemptive strike against rocket attack. In a far reaching article in today's Guardian, Rory McCarthy details some missteps Israel took that escalated this conflict.

Israel also destroyed a prison in Gaza that housed political prisoners accused of cooperating....wait for it..with Israel. With no wall to protect them, many were summarily executed in the streets by angry mobs. I do not fault Israel for striking back for Hamas led rockets being launched into Israel. If the mission is to topple the Hamas leadership, so be it. But allow supplies and International aid get to the hospitals to care for the citizen wounded. The spilled blood of an Arab child is as equally horrific to the spilled blood of an Israeli child. Both are an affront to humanity.

The US is the only nation in the world standing by Israel while the rest are condemning the action of killing children and civilians. It gives pause to wonder sometimes.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year, except Madoff and and anyone who ever profited from derivatives.

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Monday, December 29, 2008


Chocolate Chip & Vanilla Fudge

It's good to see that some things never change. Consider the Republican National Committee contest for chairman: One Chip Saltsman -- endorsed by Mike Huckabee for whom Saltsman was his campaign manager -- apparently is committed to the GOP living up to its role as the "Stupid Party" (as opposed to the Dems'"Evil Party"). Saltsman decided -- as part of the political schwag that inevitably comes with campaigning for party chair -- to distribute a CD that included the "Barack The Magic Negro" parody popularized by Rush Limbaugh (and based on an LA Times column) several months ago.

I thought Limbaugh was pretty stupid pushing the parody crap during the campaign. Why play to one's own stereotype (fairly tossed or not)? But, still, Limbaugh, for all his pretensions to being a "serious" political analyst, is ultimately an entertainer and commentator -- and a good and successful one. If he wants to play the parody -- as he's done with other song parodies in the past -- sure, why not?

But Saltsman isn't an "entertainer" or "commentator." He wants to be the mouthpiece and face of the Republican Party. All jokes have context. In the real world of free speech, we may not like the fact that black comics get away with racial humor, whereas white ones rarely do. Unfortunately, that's the way the world works. Furthermore, a joke pushed by a professional satirist or talk show host has a different impact when shared by a professional politician.

Saltsman's move is stupid in another way. He happens to have two black opponents in the race for GOP chair -- Michael Steele and Ken Blackwell. Leaving that song on the CD opens Saltsman up to the charge that he is not-too-subtley suggesting to RNC members that they might want to avoid supporting their own "Magic Negro" candidate (AKA "celebrity") in the RNC race. Blackwell, playing a canny politics of his own, came to Saltsman's defense, while current chairman Mike Duncan and Newt Gingrich -- also discussed as a possible candidate denounced the song. Of course, all candidates have their own reasons for making their statements. Duncan and Gingrich want to look inclusive, while Blackwell can afford to be solicitous -- while picking up support from RNC members who appreciate his towing the conservative view on race ("It's the media's fault for making this a racial controversy.")

Saltsman's action, however, went across the line in a far more basic way: Obama isn't just Top Democrat; he's the soon-to-be President of the United States! Even as a joke, the wouldbe head of the opposition shouldn't be making "Negro" comments about the POTUS. It would be the equivalent of the Democratic Party chair candidate releasing a CD in 2001 calling George W. Bush "The Magic Silver-Spooned Hillbilly." There's a certain level of respect that the president should receive from the head of the opposition party (no, it's not always practiced, but it should be).

If Saltsman doesn't "get" that, well, he's just too stupid to be chairman.

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Swinging For The Free Market

Here's an item I missed during the Christmas week. The Yankees' acquiring Mark Teixiera made all sorts of headlines. But huge of an increase is that on the Bombers' budget over the past season? Umm, actually, it creates no increase. In fact, the Yankees '09 budget is projected to go down from last year: From $209 million on Opening Day 2008 to somewhere between $201-205 million on OD '09. Yes, that's more than other teams, but so what? In the context of their budget, the Yankees haven't moved into another stratosphere. Furthermore, as the Shysterball blogger notes,
...Let's not go crazy talking about salary caps and manifest injustice and all of that jazz. The Yankees have spent extraordinary amounts of money this decade. The result of that has been the ability to bypass the typical success cycle by never truly cratering competitively and always being in the playoff hunt. The result of that has not been the disruption of overall competitive balance or the prevention of success on the part of the other teams such that radical changes are necessary, let alone desirable.

I will grant you that the former point is somewhat disheartening, but it is certainly not devastating. If you don't like Tampa Bay as an example of why the Yankees' spending isn't terrible (i.e. because it took a decade in the wilderness for the Rays to get where they are) I'll give you the Angels. Or the White Sox. Or the Phillies. Or the Twins. Or the Marlins. Or the Cardinals. Or any other team that has found success without spending $200 million.
In fact, since the Yankees last won in 2000, seven different teams have won the World Series, the Red Sox being the only repeat champion (though the Beantowners were in the Top Four in spending). What happened during that same period in the salary-cap sports? In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers won the title three times (and making the finals two other times), the San Antonio Spurs twice, the Pistons won one championship, lost another and have made the conference finals five years in a row. In the NFL, the Patriots won the Super Bowl three times and made it to another.

But, because of the New York Yankees, baseball has a competitive balance problem? (Speaking of which, how is it that the NFL -- the paragon of "parity" in sports -- managed to produce both an undefeated team and a winless club in consecutive years?)

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Chad, Bill & Poetic Justice

Not so much football stuff around RT this year, given how big politics was. However, I couldn't let the regular season end without a couple of reflections concerning one of the local teams -- and related matters.

Who would have thought that the biggest winner of the big Green Bay Packers-New York Jets Brett Favre trade would be -- the Miami Dolphins!?!?

Both the Packers and the Jets miss the playoffs: The Packers went from playing in the NFC championship game to a 6-10 record.

And Chad Pennington -- discarded by the Jets --leads a team that went 1-15 a year ago, returns to the Meadowlands, beats his former team and lays claim to the AFC East title!!! To paraphrase Barack Obama, only in American sports is such a story even possible!

Look, I'm a Jets fan. I was ecstatic over the Favre trade. But, even at the time, I was wistful over the departure of Chad Pennington. Chad was the anti-Favre. In the media spotlight of New York, he always kept a low profile. He didn't have a rocket arm. But all he did -- in the limited context of the New York Jets -- was win. Every year he was completely healthy, he took the Jets to the playoffs. Indeed, he's the only quarterback to take Gang Green to the playoffs three times. Oh, and the last time the Jets won the AFC East -- 2002, when they won the division on the last game of the season, beating, yep, Bret Favre and the Green Bay Packers.

Cheers to Chad Pennington. I wish him well during the AFC playoffs.

The fact that the Dolphins managed to edge out the New England Patriots is all the sweeter! Indeed, here's an interesting fact. Except for the New York Giants (NFC East champions with home-field advantage through the playoffs), every one of Miami Dolphins VP of football operations Bill Parcells' former teams missed the playoffs this year! Jets (1997-2000 -- the last year as GM only, when he first drafted Pennington) -- out. Patriots (1993-1997) -- out (even with an 11-5 record). And, sweetest of all, Dallas (2003-2006) -- out (and, by the way, Terrell Owens -- the Philadelphia Eagles in)! Bill Parcells may not be the patron saint of poetic justice, but he seems to play him in the NFL.

Of course, Parcells -- being Parcells -- may decided one year in Miami is enough: There's a report that he has an opt-out clause that could have him leaving Miami for...Detroit? Oakland? the Jets again? Who knows? Regardless, the NFL's ultimate turn-around artist could walk with his $12 million fully guaranteed -- and be a free-agent again! Parcells, coming back to the Jets? Could it be? Would him coming in -- with Eric Mangini blessedly gone -- be enough to get Favre to stick around for another year? Dare we to dream?

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London Calling?

My friend Steve Clemons suggested last Friday -- appropos of the UK's Boxing Day -- the idea of Caroline Kennedy for US ambassador to the Court of St. James instead of being appointed New York's next senator to replace Secretary of State in waiting Hillary Rodham Clinton. Given how she's suddenly become a media punching bag now, that's not a bad idea.

Jonah Goldberg noted the -- until this weekend -- incredibly favorable coverage Kennedy's Senate "campaign" was receiving compared to Sarah Palin's vice presidential run. Maybe Jonah should have just waited a couple days

The Daily News began by zeroing in on a certain Kennedy, ahem, verbal tic, if, um, you know, um, what I mean. Now, as someone who's done his fair share of TV and radio -- and had a more pronunced stutter doing public speaking than I do now -- I think it's a little unfair to print a raw transcript of an interview in this manner. Most transcripts are "cleaned up" before being published. Of course, with YouTube now, more people can actually see and hear someone's extended comments, so perhaps it's more honest to print something exactly as it is said. Regardless, a Daily News editor -- not the reporter -- had to make that judgment on whether to run that interview with all the "you knows" left in. The fact that that editor chose to do so suggests that the New York media is turning against Kennedy.

Then, Kennedy did something that's a big no-no for a New York liberal -- getting on the bad side of the New York Times:
With several weeks to go before Mr. Paterson makes his decision, she is doling
out glimpses of her political beliefs and private life. But when asked Saturday
morning to describe the moment she decided to seek the Senate seat, Ms. Kennedy
seemed irritated by the question and said she couldn’t recall.
“Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” she asked the reporters. “I thought you were the crack political team.”

Hmm...insulting the political reporters for the paper that every liberal worth his or her salt in New York reads and breathes on a daily basis isn't such a good idea. Another not good idea?
Blithely denigrating women's magazines! Memo to Caroline: There are a lot of women's groups that are pushing to have a woman fill Hillary Clinton's seat. Oh, and you're not necessarily their pick!

As an aside, Mayor Bloomberg's entrance into the issue -- having a key adviser lobby on Kennedy's behalf while urging Gov. Paterson to make a decision on the appointment "quickly" -- may have done more harm than good.

And, no, Sen. Clinton hasn't left the stage yet. Hillary supporters had been sniping behind the scenes that picking Kennedy would be a slap in the face to Hillary -- given Kennedy's support of Obama in the primary. Then the word went out that Sen. Clinton wanted her friends to calm down. Oops! Someone forgot to tell Hillary fundraiser Robert Zimmerman -- who also demonstrates some of the increasing disdain for Bloomberg among some New York Democrats.

So, the media is ganging up on her, the Clintons may still be doing some classing backbiting -- and she may be the cause of a war between Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Maybe representing US interests to the UK might not be such a bad idea?


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