Friday, January 30, 2009

POLITICS - GOP, Not On Our Watch

"Daughter of working-class immigrants as Labor Secretary? Not on our watch say Republicans" by Ron Moore, San Francisco Examiner

Senate Republicans are dismayed that a daughter of working class immigrants who respects the dignity of work may be the next Labor Secretary. Some conservative lawmakers are vowing to hold up a vote on Rep. Hilda Solis’ (D-Calif.) confirmation as labor secretary because of their opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act, which she supports.

Solis, who comes from a union family, has been a champion of workers for more than 15 years combined in Congress and the California legislature, where she was the first Latina elected to the state Senate.

Solis backers have created two Facebook groups in support of her nomination: ”Americans for Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor,” and “1,000,000 Strong For Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor“. The groups give information on how to contact senators to urge that Solis be confirmed.

"During the Bush administration, working women were left to fend for themselves; but under Solis, that will change because she understands the challenges personally as well as professionally," said SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger in an article featured in today's Women's ENews.

Solis comes from a union family and has never forgotten her roots in her public service career. "As a member of the California Legislature, Solis pushed for pay equity legislation," says Burger. "She also marched with our union in Los Angeles to support low-income workers, many of them women, because she wanted them to have the same opportunities she has had."

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney also praised Solis’ nomination, saying:

“We’re confident that she will return to the Labor Department one of its core missions—to defend workers’ basic rights in our nation’s workplaces.

She’s proven to be a passionate leader and advocate for all working families. In fact, she’s voted with working men and women 97 percent of the time.”

WAAAA... The GOP (aka God's Own Party, in their minds) still sticking to their posture even after being rejected by the majority of American voters. This also continues to highlight that the GOP does not really give a damn about the little-guy.

They just refuse to even think that their core beliefs just may be wrong or NOT what Americans truly support.

ENVIRONMENT - Global Warming, Long Term Outlook

"Global Warming Is Irreversible, Study Says" by Richard Harris, NPR

Climate change is essentially irreversible, according to a sobering new scientific study.

As carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, the world will experience more and more long-term environmental disruption. The damage will persist even when, and if, emissions are brought under control, says study author Susan Solomon, who is among the world's top climate scientists.

"We're used to thinking about pollution problems as things that we can fix," Solomon says. "Smog, we just cut back and everything will be better later. Or haze, you know, it'll go away pretty quickly."

That's the case for some of the gases that contribute to climate change, such as methane and nitrous oxide. But as Solomon and colleagues suggest in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is not true for the most abundant greenhouse gas: carbon dioxide. Turning off the carbon dioxide emissions won't stop global warming.

"People have imagined that if we stopped emitting carbon dioxide that the climate would go back to normal in 100 years or 200 years. What we're showing here is that's not right. It's essentially an irreversible change that will last for more than a thousand years," Solomon says.

This is because the oceans are currently soaking up a lot of the planet's excess heat — and a lot of the carbon dioxide put into the air. The carbon dioxide and heat will eventually start coming out of the ocean. And that will take place for many hundreds of years.

Solomon is a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Her new study looked at the consequences of this long-term effect in terms of sea level rise and drought.

If we continue with business as usual for even a few more decades, she says, those emissions could be enough to create permanent dust-bowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest and around the Mediterranean.

"The sea level rise is a much slower thing, so it will take a long time to happen, but we will lock into it, based on the peak level of [carbon dioxide] we reach in this century," Solomon says.

The idea that changes will be irreversible has consequences for how we should deal with climate change. The global thermostat can't be turned down quickly once it's been turned up, so scientists say we need to proceed with more caution right now.

"These are all ... changes that are starting to happen in at least a minor way already," says Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. "So the question becomes, where do we stop it, when does all of this become dangerous?"

The answer, he says, is sooner rather than later. Scientists have been trying to advise politicians about finding an acceptable level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The new study suggests that it's even more important to aim low. If we overshoot, the damage can't be easily undone. Oppenheimer feels more urgency than ever to deal with climate change, but he says that in the end, setting acceptable limits for carbon dioxide is a judgment call.

"That's really a political decision because there's more at issue than just the science. It's the issue of what the science says, plus what's feasible politically, plus what's reasonable economically to do," Oppenheimer says.

But despite this grim prognosis, Solomon says this is not time to declare the problem hopeless and give up.

"I guess if it's irreversible, to me it seems all the more reason you might want to do something about it," she says. "Because committing to something that you can't back out of seems to me like a step that you'd want to take even more carefully than something you thought you could reverse."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

POLITICS - GOP Definition of Bipartisanship, Our Way or No Way

"Time for the kick ass part of bipartisanship" by Steve, Democracy Café

Call us a cynical bunch if you must, but the biggest question most hardcore liberal Democrats have had about Barack Obama’s very public love affair with bipartisanship has been the following: how will he respond when it finally bites him in the ass? And at least in the case of his economic stimulus package, his ass is already starting to look a little red.

There’s no denying that Obama tried; his initial stimulus package seemed designed as much to placate Republicans, as to please Democrats. His hope seemed to be that he could buy a little right wing love by putting way too much of the proposal’s spending into (relatively ineffective as stimulus) tax cuts, instead of public spending.

But congressional Republicans are having none of it. They may not have much actual power left, but that doesn’t seem to have put them in a mood to compromise. Either send up a pure George W. Bush-style tax cut package, they insist, or they’ll vote against the bill.

The major media, speaking right on cue, is spinning this as a test of Obama’s commitment to bipartisanship. I suppose they think that makes for a better story than the truth of Republican obstructionism. To these media “elites” the question now is whether Obama will be a good little post partisan president by giving GOP representatives everything they want, or an evil partisan politician (because he stands by his own principles as well as what might actually work).

So exactly what is it that the GOP wants?

This from The New York Times:

“Right now, given the concerns that we have over the size of this package and all of the spending in this package, we don’t think it’s going to work,” the House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And so if it’s the plan that I see today, put me down in the no column.”

While the plan can potentially pass the Democratic-dominated House without Republican support, it will continue to face opposition when it comes before the Senate, said Senator John McCain of Arizona, speaking on “Fox News Sunday.” At least two Republicans will need to approve the bill for a filibuster-proof majority vote of 60.

Senator McCain, who lost the presidential election to Mr. Obama in November, said that he planned to vote no unless the bill were changed.

So what sort of proposal will McCain and his defeated brethren support? From the same Times article:

“We need to make tax cuts permanent, and we need to make a commitment that there’ll be no new taxes,” Mr. McCain said. “We need to cut payroll taxes. We need to cut business taxes.”

Yeah, that’s the ticket. Let’s extend and even expand Bush’s tax giveaways to the rich. I mean, that’s worked out real well for us so far, hasn’t it?

There’s no mystery about what’s going on here, of course. The GOP smells blood. What Obama intended as an extended hand they took as evidence of a weak spine: they’re starting to think — or at least to hope — they can push him around, at least a little. For what it’s worth, I strongly suspect they’re wrong. Underestimating Barack Obama’s political skill has generally proven to be a mistake. But Obama’s the only person who can prove it, and the way he can prove it, of course, is by pushing a strong stimulus package, reflecting Democratic Party values, through Congress.

The message would be unmistakable: if Republicans want to participate in the formation of future legislation in good faith, his door is open. But pure obstructionism will not be tolerated.

And all he has to do is to say the word. As he himself said, he won the election. And you can forget about the filibuster. There’s no way the GOP would use it to kill the stimulus bill. If they did, they would own the resulting economic carnage lock, stock and barrel, and they know it.

Obama’s path seems clear enough. The time has come for the kick ass part of bipartisanship.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

HUMAN RIGHTS - Comment on California's Prop-8

Gay Marriage is a Question of Love
Keith Olbermann

ENVIRONMENT - More on Global Warming

The following are a set of articles updating the impact of Global Warming.

"Enormous Ice Shelf Collapse Imminent in Antarctica" ChattahBox

The enormous Wilkins Ice Shelf, running the span of several thousand kilometers, is on the verge of collapse, due to melting caused by global warming.

Scientists have returned to Antarctica, after a scope last summer showed that the last threads of ice that kept it from collapsing into the ocean were nearly melted through, making it one of 25,000 square kilometers of ice shelf that has disappeared in recent years.

The phenomenon is being caused by global warming, as temperatures in the area drastically increase. Many are worried about the long term, or even permanent damage, this event points to.

“This ice shelf and the nine other shelves that we have seen with a similar trajectory are a consequence of warming,” David Vaughan, a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey, told local science journals.

“Miraculously we’ve come back a summer later and it’s still here. If it was hanging by a thread last year, it’s hanging by a filament this year.”

"Study: Antarctica joins rest of globe in warming" by SETH BORENSTEIN, AP

Antarctica, the only place that had oddly seemed immune from climate change, is warming after all, according to a new study.

For years, Antarctica was an enigma to scientists who track the effects of global warming. Temperatures on much of the continent at the bottom of the world were staying the same or slightly cooling, previous research indicated.

The new study went back further than earlier work and filled in a massive gap in data with satellite information to find that Antarctica too is getting warmer, like the Earth's other six continents.

The findings were published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

"Contrarians have sometime grabbed on to this idea that the entire continent of Antarctica is cooling, so how could we be talking about global warming," said study co-author Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University. "Now we can say: no, it's not true ... It is not bucking the trend."

The study does not point to man-made climate change as the cause of the Antarctic warming - doing so is a highly intricate scientific process - but a different and smaller study out late last year did make that connection.

"We can't pin it down, but it certainly is consistent with the influence of greenhouse gases," said NASA scientist Drew Shindell, another study co-author. Some of the effects also could be natural variability, he said.

The study showed that Antarctica - about one-and-a-half times bigger than the United States - remains a complicated weather picture, especially with only a handful of monitoring stations in its vast interior.

The researchers used satellite data and mathematical formulas to fill in missing information. That made outside scientists queasy about making large conclusions with such sparse information.

"This looks like a pretty good analysis, but I have to say I remain somewhat skeptical," Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said in an e-mail. "It is hard to make data where none exist."

Shindell said it was more comprehensive than past studies and jibed with computer models.

The research found that since 1957, the annual temperature for the entire continent of Antarctica has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit, but still is 50 degrees below zero. West Antarctica, which is about 20 degrees warmer than the east, has warmed nearly twice as fast, said study lead author Eric Steig of the University of Washington.

East Antarctica, which scientists had long thought to be cooling, is warming slightly when yearly averages are looked at over the past 50 years, said Steig.

However, autumn temperatures in east Antarctica are cooling over the long term. And east Antarctica from the late 1970s through the 1990s, cooled slightly, Steig said.

Some researchers skeptical about the magnitude of global warming overall said that the new study didn't match their measurements from satellites and that there appears to be no warming in Antarctica since 1980.

"It overstates what they have obtained from their analysis," said Roger Pielke Sr., a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado.

Steig said a different and independent study using ice cores drilled in west Antarctica found the same thing as his paper. And recent satellite data also confirms what this paper has found, Steig added.

The study has major ramifications for sea level rise, said Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria in Canada. Most major sea level rise projections for the future counted on a cooling - not warming - Antarctica. This will make sea level rise much worse, Weaver said.

"N.C. among most at risk to rising seas" by Wade Rawlins, Charlotte Observer

With its long low coastline and large land area less than two feet above sea level, North Carolina is among the states most vulnerable to sea-level rise, a new federal report warns.

The new report focuses on the coastal states from North Carolina to New York where the rates of sea level rise are moderately high. The region has extensive coastal development, a high population and is likely to be at increased risk.

After Florida and Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas have the largest land areas threatened by sea-level rise.

“You're vulnerable,” said Jim Titus, project manager for sea-level rise for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and lead author of the report, “Coastal Sensitivity to Sea Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region.” “The people whose land could be permanently submerged aren't even flooded today.”

A rise in sea level increases the vulnerability of development in coastal floodplains and diminishes the rate at which low-lying areas drain. It will result in a loss of wetlands in the mid-Atlantic.

Rising temperatures cause ocean waters to warm and expand, like water heated in a tea kettle. In addition, rising temperatures near the poles cause massive ice sheets to melt, adding to the volume of water.

The report predicts that coastal erosion will occur at higher rates as sea level rises. Particularly in the sandy shore of the mid-Atlantic coast, the report says, it is nearly certain that barrier islands, spits and coastal headlands will erode faster due to sea-level rise. The Outer Banks are particularly vulnerable.

The report, produced by a collaboration among agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Transportation, offers three scenarios for sea-level rise by 2100: A rise of about 16 inches; of about two feet, and of about three feet.

In 2007, an international scientific panel projected that sea level would likely rise between 7 inches and two feet by 2100. Those estimates do not take into account any contribution from rapid changes in ice flow from Antarctica or Greenland.

Rising sea levels might be especially disastrous to North Carolina, as some sections of the coast are slowly sinking, magnifying the effects of rising seas.

Tide-gauge readings in the mid-Atlantic indicate that relative sea level rise (the combination of rising waters and sinking land) was generally higher – by about a foot – than the global average during the 20th century.

If sea level should rise more than three feet during the 21st century, the report says, “it is likely that some barrier islands in this region will cross a threshold” destabilizing and breaking apart.

Rob Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University, said the report underscored that sea-level rise is a real management concern.

“There is some very important stuff in here that North Carolinians should take seriously,” said Young, who said state policy-makers and coastal communities should use a three-foot sea level rise by 2100 as a target.

“Whether sea level is rising is not something scientists argue about it,” Young said. “It is. It's different than an argument about whether humans are causing global warming. We have directly measured an acceleration … over the last two decades.”

As sea level rises, the most basic decision that states and beach communities must wrestle with is whether to try to hold back the sea or let nature take its course. Both have costs. Replenishing sand on eroding beaches allows houses and businesses to remain in place for a period of time, but is expensive to maintain. Retreating from the rising sea avoids the costs but concedes a loss of land and, in a worse case, entire communities, the report notes.

Greg Rudolph, shore protection officer for Carteret County, said people generally accept that sea level is rising. But planning for something that is occurring over decades is difficult.

“Let's face it, we live on four-year cycles when people are elected,” Rudolph said. “Not many people are going to plan out 14 years or 21 years in advance.”

Beach towns representing about a third of the North Carolina's 325 miles of coastline are seeking to replenish the sand on their beaches. But holding the beach may be an increasingly expensive response if erosion rates increase. “One size does not fit all,” Rudolph said.

Titus, of EPA, said the report shows it is rational to take into consideration the risk of accelerated sea-level rise.

“A reasonable hope is people making decisions will start factoring it in, rather than continuing to assume that sea level is stable,” Titus said. “Anyone who is making an investment, a regulation or a policy, has good reason to ask: how does sea level change the outcome of my decision?”


The following is an excerpt of the transcript from the Newshour (PBS)

"Change Comes Quickly to the White House Web Site"

Obama wants to keep Blackberry

RAY SUAREZ: The transition team has posted video of policy team meetings. And with an eye toward moving the entire government toward better use of digital technology, the new administration is expected to name a chief technology officer, a newly created position, in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, they're throwing out ideas for new uses of the Internet, including connecting supporters to various forms of service and activism in their own communities.

One recent example: the Obama Web site raised money for the victims of the Southern California fires.

Some who logged on during the campaign now have high hopes for continuing the connection.

RON STEVENS, Obama supporter: This was a revolutionary kind of campaign. What they're trying to do is to maintain that sense of engagement, meaningful, substantive engagement, that so many people felt they had during the campaign itself.

RAY SUAREZ: The president and his top aides regularly communicate by BlackBerry. And despite legal and privacy concerns, President Obama himself said in a weekend interview he may opt to keep his personal BlackBerry after all.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What this does -- and it's just one tool among a number of tools that I'm trying to use to break out of the bubble, to make sure that people can still reach me, that if I'm doing something stupid, somebody in Chicago can send me an e-mail and say, "What are you doing?" You know? Or, "You seem detached," or, "You're not listening to what is going on here in the neighborhood."

I want to be able to have voices other than the people who are immediately working for me to be able to reach out and send me a message about what's happening in America.

RAY SUAREZ: Obama says he'll keep in mind anything he writes could become public.

Whitehouse WEB Site

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

AMERICA - History in the Making

Obama's Inaugural Address

Monday, January 19, 2009

AMERICA - A Definition of True Patriotism

"For Progressive Patriotism" by John Nichols, The Nation

This is a long article, but it is so to-the-point that I had to post it in its entirety.

If George Bush and Dick Cheney accomplished anything during the eight long years of their misrule, it was to confirm Dr. Johnson's observation that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. The soon-to-be-former president and vice president wrapped everything--from their initially illegitimate claim on the White House to undeclared wars, spying on Americans and even torture--in a red-white-and-blue flag of convenience. Borrowing more heavily from Joe McCarthy than Thomas Paine, Bush/Cheney gave a bad name not just to America but the to honorable inclination of Americans to express pride in their country.

Now it falls to Barack Obama to confirm the less commonly quoted but no less true adage of a World War II hero named George McGovern: "The highest patriotism is...a love of one's country deep enough to call [it] to a higher standard." Obama's challenge is neither romantic nor rhetorical. It is a practical responsibility, and the extent to which he accomplishes it will determine the success of his presidency and of the process of American renewal that begins with his inauguration.

How should Obama--a man whose reluctance to play the flag-pin game drew a campaign season inquisition by the media--approach the matter of patriotism? Not by avoiding it, and not by falling back on cheap symbolism. As Obama the candidate observed last year, "When we argue about patriotism, we are arguing about who we are as a country, and more importantly, who we should be." With that in mind, Obama the president must make it his mission to give voice to a patriotism dramatically more enlightened and inspiring than that preached by his predecessor.

For one thing, he can extend the definition of patriotism to include not just civic virtues but economic rights. It is a given that if Obama takes the oath he swears on January 20 seriously, he will restore executive branch respect for the system of checks and balances; he'll renounce torture; he'll restore the rule of law. But if there is hope for turning the American experiment in a more responsible and sustainable direction, the process must begin with a new understanding of patriotism that includes, finally, guaranteed healthcare for all, access to a good education and a fair distribution of this nation's resources.

Obama has already sketched the soft outlines of a liberal patriotism, with its respect for dissent and reverence for equal opportunity, which takes on new meaning when expressed by the nation's first African-American president. In one of the most important, if underreported, speeches of the campaign, he told a Missouri crowd, "I remember, when living for four years in Indonesia as a child, listening to my mother reading me the first lines of the Declaration of Independence: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' I remember her explaining how this declaration applied to every American, black and white and brown alike; how those words, and words of the United States Constitution, protected us from the injustices that we witnessed other people suffering during those years abroad. That's my idea of America."

As president, Obama has the position and the pulpit that will allow him to help us embrace a deeper, richer, more progressive patriotism. This, far more than any program, is where presidents define not just the transitory debates of their day but a fundamental understanding of America. Conservatives know this, and it is why they devote so much time to challenging the patriotism of all who stand to their left. Great progressives have known it as well. Franklin Roosevelt did not place his imprint on America with mere programs; he used every available means--from inaugural addresses to Thanksgiving proclamations--to foster a patriotism that included not just civil rights but economic rights. "There is, I fear, too great a tendency to give to patriotism merely an interest in making our country unconquerable in war, a feeling that our chief aim is to see that our army and our navy are sufficient for our protection. That is but a part of our patriotic duty," he declared on a distant Armistice (Veterans) Day. "Our country is in a sense continually at war against the ramparts of liberty, equality and justice on which our Republic is founded. Surging constantly are the evil forces of greed, of materialism, of selfishness, headed by those who cynically deny that there is any prosperity that cannot be expressed in dollars and cents, or happiness except in bank balances."

It falls to Barack Obama to tip the balance once more. Recent Democratic presidents have fallen short in this work--Jimmy Carter offered too much malaise and too little inspiration; Bill Clinton was too much of a tinkering technocrat to think big. John Kennedy was better at it, but his truncated presidency was always more about traveling hopefully than arriving. So FDR remains the touchstone. But he is no more than that. From Roosevelt we learn that it is possible for a president to speak seriously of grafting an economic bill of rights onto the founding documents of the Republic. But even if the current economic crisis recalls the mess Roosevelt inherited in 1932, these are different times, and America is a different country. Obama will have to find his own language of American renewal. This new president does not need to borrow words from his predecessor, but he should borrow FDR's determination to take one word--patriotism--and give it a definition as visionary, and as progressive, as this moment, with all its peril and potential, demands.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

POLITICS - On Unions

"Employees' Free Choice?" Bill Moyers Journal

This week, the JOURNAL explored the present state – and potential future – of America’s unions.

As of 2007, approximately 12 percent of America’s workforce was unionized, down from 20 percent in 1980 and a height of more than a third of U.S. workers in the mid-1940s. Last year unions spent heavily on campaign contributions for Democratic candidates and to promote controversial legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT summarized EFCA as follows:
The key provision of the Employee Free Choice Act could make it more feasible for the workers of smaller businesses to unionize. Under current law, in order for a union to be recognized at a business, 30 percent of the workers of the business in question must express support for joining a union. This is then followed by a secret ballot election where half of the workers must vote in favor of joining. The Employee Free Choice Act would make this election unnecessary and allow the union to be recognized through a process known as "card check." A majority of workers simply need to sign cards expressing their intent to join the union, and this process need not be secret.

Supporters of EFCA contend that larger unions might empower workers and help rebuild the middle class, while opponents argue that scrapping the secret vote could subject workers to coercion and intimidation. Former Senator George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972, explained his opposition to EFCA in a column for the WALL STREET JOURNAL:
As a longtime friend of labor unions, I must raise my voice against pending legislation I see as a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor... There are many documented cases where workers have been pressured, harassed, tricked and intimidated into signing cards that have led to mandatory payment of dues. Under EFCA, workers could lose the freedom to express their will in private, the right to make a decision without anyone peering over their shoulder, free from fear of reprisal... To fail to ensure a vote free of intimidation and coercion from all sides would be a betrayal of what we have always championed.

Responding to critics' objections, JOURNAL guest and EFCA supporter Leo Gerard, International President of United Steelworkers, said:
“What is a greater vote than putting my name on a card, signing my name and saying I want this union?... The fact of the matter is that kind of myth is the myth that's created by the union busters... [Bosses] come into the workplace now and call the worker into the room and say, 'you know, buddy, if you join this union we're gonna move this plant to Mexico. Now go out and decide to vote.' What are you going to do when your family and you are making $9 an hour, $10 an hour, and the boss is taking home $10 million? What are you going to do with your so-called 'secret ballot' vote?"

What do you think?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

POLITICS - Lesson on "How to be Insulting" by Bush Administration

MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Jan. 6, 2009

Ah, yes. The "We don't need to be nice," Administration.

POLITICS - Shakin' Them Up

"New Sheriff Time: Obama Shakes Up The Senate" by Jane Hamsher, FireDogLake

It may not have been intentional. Obama was still in his first term when he hit the campaign trail, so it was only natural that he would forge most of his close connections to DC insiders within the Senate. But as he filled out his administration with one Senator after another, he precipitated a desperately needed shakeup in that musty, ancient, bloviating and self-important entity that considers itself "the most exclusive club in the world."

The musical chairs began when Democratic leadership decided the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of disbursing more than $1 trillion a year in federal spending, was too important to be chaired by the 91 year-old Robert Byrd (who was sending his aides to the meetings he didn't sleep through). But they observed those august rules of Senate seniority and replaced him with the largely ineffectual Daniel Inouye, 84, so that hardly signaled radical change.

Inouye's decision to take over Appropriations meant he had to give up Commerce. Then Biden's departure from Foreign Relations triggered a mad scramble for powerful committee chairmanships that ended with Kerry taking over after he failed to receive a cabinet appointment. Mary Landrieu took over Kerry's chair of small business. Rockefeller gave up Intelligence and took Inouye's seat at Commerce, and Diane Feinstein assumed the Intelligence helm.

And that was that. The Senators decided amongst themselves how power would be distributed -- they swatted away the pesky gnats who questioned their right to decide what goes on in their club and handed a gavel back to Joe Lieberman, and everyone set out to assert their new authority and exercise control of their new turf.

We are not amused howled Feinstein when Obama had the temerity to offer Leon Panetta the helm of the CIA without consulting her. Jay Rockefeller and Evan Bayh were sighing about how this is very disconcerting indeed, and they are hailing Feinstein's decision to do something she never did to George Bush -- put forward her own candidate, Stephen Kappes. They are flashing the ever fashionable fuscha terror alert button and wagging their fingers about Panetta's lack of intelligence background, but the message was clear -- this challenge to their authority was not acceptable.

They all sound like Sally Quinn.

There is insufficient space here on this blog to recount all the things that the Intelligence Committee has screwed up in recent years, but suffice to say that Feinstein enabled most of it. She has been a key Bush ally who cast critical votes in support of his most extremist assertions of power. Her default position is consistently to protect establishment power, and she never batted an eyelash about casting votes that were worth billions in defense contracts to firms owned by her husband. There are few people in public office more territorial and consumed by a sense of entitlement than Diane Feinstein.

Bush neutralized meaningful opposition to his worst, most extra-legal and noxious actions from Congressional Democrats by bringing them into the fold, flattering them and playing to their own sense of self-importance as he explained to them the things he hid from the public. Chief among those were Jay Rockefeller, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Jane Harmon (who was evidently a Feinstein favorite for the CIA post).

If someone truly were to come in from the outside and try to find out what happened at the CIA with regard to torture and illegal spying, the complicity and ensuing silence of this entitled crew risks exposure. They've already demonstrated they'll do just about anything to keep that from happening -- that's how we got retroactive telecom immunity in the first place.

It's notable that Ron Wyden, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, was consulted about Panetta and approved of his choice.

I have no idea if Panetta would make a good CIA chief or not. But if there is a better place for someone to come in and start shaking up Washington DC, I can't think of a better place for Obama to start than the club currently in high caterwaul about his appointment.