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I'll be Twittering from some inaugural festivities tonight. You can follow my tweets below the fold.

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Now this is an interesting new gambit from the Coleman campaign. They're now calling for all 12,000 rejected absentee ballots -- regardless of whether the local officials think they were properly tossed based on state law -- to be counted.

Previously the Coleman campaign was only trying to put about 650 rejected envelopes into the count, which came almost entirely from precincts that he had carried in the election. If Coleman were to succeed at this latest move -- which at first glance looks unlikely, as it would require throwing out the state laws governing absentee ballots -- would it help him?

Intuitively, it would seem as if errors in filling out absentee ballots would make up a random sampling of all absentee ballots -- which as we know, went overall to Al Franken by a comfortable margin. On the other hand, as we've reported, both campaigns have demonstrated a skill for figuring out which voters they'd like to get into the count and which voters they'd like to keep out.

So does the Coleman campaign know something about these ballots that the rest of us don't? Or is this some sort of statistical Hail Mary pass -- a blind attempt to try something new, since the alternative is to continue on their present course and still lose?

Late Update: Franken spokesman Andy Barr just sent us a statement ridiculing Coleman for first opposing the counting of rejected ballots, then agreeing, then opposing, then agreeing and so on: "We're not going to respond to any proposal they make until they figure out what, exactly, their proposal is."

Full statement after the jump.

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Joe Biden's office just put out this statement, doing some quick messaging/damage-control on Jill Biden's declaration today on the Oprah Winfrey show about how Joe was offered either the Vice Presidency or Secretary of State:

"Like anyone who followed the presidential campaign this summer, Dr. Jill Biden knew there was a chance that President-elect Obama might ask her husband to serve in some capacity and that, given his background, the positions of Vice President and Secretary of State were possibilities. Dr. Biden's point to Oprah today was that being Vice President would be a better fit for their family because they would get to see him more and get to participate in serving more. To be clear, President-elect Obama offered Vice President-elect Biden one job only -- to be his running mate. And the Vice President-elect was thrilled to accept the offer."


This sort of statement does seem curious. As ABC News pointed out, Joe Biden himself seemed to imply in a pre-election interview with the New Yorker that he was offered either of the two posts, a statement that hardly seemed controversial before the election -- and before Hillary Clinton's name was thrown into the mix for State.

Hmmm...

We interviewed House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) this morning for TPMtv. It was a far-reaching conversation that covered a lot of ground, from the legal rights of mortgage holders to the return on the government's TARP investment, and we'll be posting a full transcript by tomorrow.

But one of Frank's answers stuck with me more than all the rest. I asked about Paul Krugman's concern -- echoed by Josh yesterday -- that "fair value" accounting would be used to artificially inflate the value of toxic assets that remain on the books of struggling banks. And Frank spoke directly to the social and economic divide that's plaguing the country right now.

Yes, the term is enough to put most people to sleep. But federal bond insurance has the potential to play a key role in lifting the economy out of recession, as House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) explained to us today.



I wanted to flag this portion of Frank's comments precisely because they sound inaccessible at first. When he says that municipal bonds are going to be a great buy for the government as it invests the second half of the $700 billion bailout, Frank isn't just predicting what can make a profit for taxpayers (and Wall Street). Buying municipal bonds -- which hardly ever default, as Frank points out -- is also a perfect way to expedite an economic recovery.

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TPMtv caught up with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) today to talk about the full plate of economic challenges -- from the bailout to the stimulus -- that faces the president-elect and the new Congress this year.



Ever since the Democratic Congress decided simply to trust the incoming administration to spend its half of the $700 billion financial bailout more wisely than George Bush, I've been wondering why they didn't just pass a law setting those conditions. Incoming White House economic adviser Larry Summers has sent two letters to Congress detailing the Obama team's plans to use its $350 billion lifeline more responsibly -- but even the most well-intentioned letter doesn't have the force of law.

So it was a relief to hear today from Frank that Congress is reserving the right to play bad cop if banks resist the Obama administration's call for more foreclosure aid, for example.

Frank said that his bailout oversight bill will be a "sword of Damocles" hanging over the financial industry (not to mention the executive branch). If the second $350 billion isn't being spent the way that Democratic lawmakers or the Obama team envisioned, Frank explained, his bailout oversight bill can be passed by the Senate "in a very short period of time."

It's a cliche that people who came of age after the civil rights movement, can't imagine the world of Jim Crow and segregation that preceded them. To a lesser extent, at 45--I turn 46 on Wednesday--I find it slightly hard to explain what America's racial environment was like in the late 80s and early nineties when I was the same age as some of my new colleagues at TPM. While in some ways the country had advanced from the 60s and 70s--some indicia were encouraging such as more black elected officials--there was a deep well of despair about race relations in ways that now seem puzzling if not quaint.

Intellectuals were authentically worried about the rise of Louis Farrakhan in the mid 80s and the crowds he would draw for his conspiratorial rants. The debate over afrocentrism roiled intellectual circles. The surge of interest in Malcolm X seemed to mark an end of King-era reconciliation. The persistence of seemingly intractible black poverty was a source of endless debate. Charles Murray's rightfully maligned "The Bell Curve" suggested that IQ might be partially to blame. In popular culture, I think it would be hard to overstate the unsettling feeling many whites had seeing Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" which began with what then seemed like a menacing rendition of Chuck D and Flavor Flav's "Fight the Power" to its riotous end. After all, Howard Beach and Rodney King and Crown Heights followed as did the LA Riots and later the O.J. Simpson verdict which led to a national moment of soul searching that seems a lifetime away from the events of this week. Clearly there was some kind of thaw in race relations between then and now. I say that with the obvious caveat that racism persists, all is not right, etc, and yet....here we are on the eve of the Obama presidency.

Why is America's racial atmosphere less poisonous than it was then?

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The first public poll is out in the 2010 Ohio Senate race, which is expected to be a tight election for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich. Republican former Congressman Rob Portman starts out with an early advantage over three potential Democratic candidates -- but it's not a very solid one at all.

The numbers from Public Policy Polling (D):

• Portman 42%, Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner 34%.

• Portman 41%, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher 39%.

• Portman 40%, Rep. Tim Ryan 34%.

The margin of error is ±4.1%.

Along with the very high undecideds, the internals also show some clear untapped potential for the Dems to catch up. For one thing, the undecided number among self-identified Democrats is higher than for self-identified Republicans in all three heats. And Portman is also registering support among black respondents of over 30%, which is something we never realistically expect to see for a Republican in an actual general election.

In short, it appears that Portman's lead right now owes more to the fact that the Democratic candidates aren't very well known to the voters -- nor is Portman, for that matter, but it helps him that he is the only Republican being tested against three different Democrats.

The White House has announced that President Bush has commuted the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Joe Compean, the two former border agents who became a cause célèbre of anti-immigration conservatives when they were convicted for shooting and wounding an unarmed drug smuggler, spending the last two years in prison.

The two are now scheduled to be released on March 20, 2009, seven years ahead of schedule for Ramos and eight years early for Compean, with Bush choosing to leave intact three years of supervised release.

Some of the right-wingers out there might be dissatisfied that this wasn't a full pardon -- the two are still convicted felons -- but the conservative movement overall can chalk this one up as a small victory.

Late Update: Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the anti-illegal immigration group the Minutemen Project, has sent out an e-mail praising the commutation, and thanking everyone who supported the grassroots effort -- especially Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.

I'm delighted to be helping out with TPMDC and TPM's coverage of the new administration. I've been a fan of Josh Marshall and the site for a long time and it's nice to be a part of it. I continue to write for Conde Nast Portfolio, where I'm a contributing editor, as well as its website, and other publications. But I'll be doing a lot here, trying to make sense of this new era and what it means. I covered the Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies for mainstream media outlets like Time and Newsweek, but I have deep roots in publications like this, having started my journalism career at The Washington Monthly and later having written the "White House Watch" column for The New Republic. Like so many people I'm deeply interested in two questions: How will Barack Obama solidify his political power and pass his agenda and will it work to address both the financial crisis and the country's longer-term problems. I don't know what the answers are but hopefully in a dialogue with you, the readers of TPM and its off shoots, and through reporting and thinking hard we'll begin to get them. It's good to be with you.

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