Sixty and Out. At last, the other hush puppy has dropped, and Al Franken is to be seated as the second Senator from Minnesota. Franken, a former Saturday Night Live comedian and author of dense theoretical tome ‘Rush Limbaugh is a big fat liar’, was roundly mocked by the right when he won the Democratic primary for the Senate seat, as a sign of liberal indulgence. But Franken, a vociferous opponent of the Iraq war who has nevertheless done several military entertainment tours in Iraq, campaigned like a terrier, converting himself into the sort of person who Minnesotans could get behind — a horn-rimmed spectacle wearing guy with a wool tie, and a penchant for ‘hot dish’, the Minnesotan term for, well just about any dinner-type food. Despite facing an independent candidate who siphoned off 20% of the votes, most of them from the Democrats, Franken took Coleman to the wire, initially losing by a few hundred votes.

An exhaustive series of recounts followed, with stories of lost ballots, unreceived military absentee ballots etc etc, before Franken pulled ahead by 225 votes. Coleman then went to court to challenge this result — at which point at least some Republicans quietly asked him to desist. Eight months after other Senators were elected and certified, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that the result should stand and (Republican) Governor Tim Pawlenty has announced that he will certify the result. Coleman could still take the result to the US Supreme Court, but he’s starting to look like a sore loser, and the case has been draining Republican funds — which are precarious in these dog days — and there is no guarantee that SCOTUS would hear the case anyway.

The one political argument for Coleman continuing his campaign was that Franken represents the magic 60 Senate seats for the Democrats, the alleged filibuster-buster. That cause was made even more urgent when Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter changed party allegiances.

But as we’ve seen in recent weeks and months, the magic 60 is something of a chimera. Obama’s attempt to put through a modest bill to give more direct help to foreclosure-threatened homeowners died in the Senate, killed by a brace of midwestern Democrat Senators with funding from the insurance and banking industries. Forget filibuster. The bill couldn’t even muster a simple majority.

Climate bill cut-up: Indeed one of the tricky things about US Congressional politics is that the closer a party gets to a supermajority, the more pressure is exerted on its cross-state reps (ie Democratic Senators in a Republican state) to act independently — since they can now be held responsible by their gormless fridge-sized constituents for the passage of liberal legislation.

A case in point is the recent climate vote in the House of Representatives, which passed 219-212, with the support of eight Republicans. Why such a narrow margin? Well Speaker Nancy Pelosi released 44 cross-state Democrats to vote against the bill. Even better, the Democratic leadership calibrated the vote so that it would get up on the vote of the Republican group — a group that the base are now calling the ‘Tr8tors’ (cool, huh?). If the Republicans realised they were being used to create more turmoil within their party, they may not have cared — after all they’re mostly from Democratic states or districts too. Wasn’t this a big risk for the Democratic party to take? Well, not really since Congressional division votes can last for half an hour or more, with people changing their votes back and forward, until the ruling party gets the number it wants (when things go to plan). It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

Justice Denied? One of the reasons that the Republicans were so eager to keep Franken unseated was because of the upcoming confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Sotomayor’s confirmation has been kicked into touch by the Supreme Court’s recent Ricci decision, concerning equal opportunity. Ricci concerns a test set for promotion for firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut. When no black firefighters passed the test, the department threw the test out holus-bolus, and white and Hispanic firefighters who did pass sued.

Sotomayor was on the appeals court that heard the case on its way upwards, and affirmed the fire department’s actions, on points of law. The Supreme Court has now reversed that, in a 5-4 decision, arguing that Article VII of the Civil Rights Act did not require, as the fire department believed, that practically discriminatory results required such actions.

Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the court, hedged the bets of the majority by setting conditions under which the law would mandate such an act — and so the whole case has been a line ball.

For the right however, the reversal is a godsend, allowing them to portray Sotomayor — a cautious and even mildly conservative judge in such rights’ rulings — as an activist judge making bad law. The 5-4 result is a problem though — so they have hit on the exciting strategy of calling it a 9-0 reversal. How? They’ve dug into Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion (on behalf of all four dissenters) — which Ginsburg, unusually, read from the bench, a sign of strong dissent — to find a line that disputes one part of Sotomayor’s upholding lower court judgement. That — brewed up in the National Journal’s ‘Ninth Justice’ law blog — then becomes the right’s talking point, going out to FOX News, Rush Limbaugh etc for endless repetition. Whether that will work remains to be seen — there’s now doubt that Sotomayor would be confirmed in a simple majority, the question is whether it can be filibustered. It seems unlikely — there are at least half a dozen Republicans likely to confirm Sotomayor, to counterbalance nervous Democrats.

Sanford and Sin: Wow, South Carolina’s Governor Sanford just keeps giving. Sanford’s lover has now been revealed — Maria Belen Chapur, a Buenos Airesista from central casting, with high cheekbones, chestnut hair, golden skin, a near-unibrow, a five thousand dollar tan wardrobe — the sort of gal you see getting off a horse on her Fray Bentos ranch to polish off a breakfast steak before going to her Lacanian psychoanalyst. Beats South Carolina. Sanford has now clarified that the tryst involved a number more steamier sessions than he had admitted earlier — although there were also ‘non-romantic’ occasions, including an open-air evening dance party in Montevideo*. Sorry? Non-romantic? An open air evening dance party in Montevideo with a lean gauchista with a talent for expressive love-mail? My god, if Sinatra himself was following you with a roving string quartet singing ‘Strangers in the Night’, this could not be more romantic. Republicans. Ayee.

Sanford attended his last-but-one meeting with Chapur accompanied by a spiritual chaperon — which was then superseded by the more standard breakup of a weekend of crying and humping, the fateful Father’s Day weekend.

To his credit, Sanford had tried to put this all on a 70s footing, asking his wife for permission to visit his mistress (she said no), and then asking if his wife would come to meet Chapur, fulfilling Jane Austen’s observation that it is a truth commonly held that a man with a wife and a mistress is in want of a threesome.

She said no — principally because it is now revealed that Chapur was not Sanford’s first transgression, though he had never ‘fully crossed the line’ as he had with Chapur, which appears to be the GOP equivalent of Clinton’s limited definition of sexual relations. ‘I did not get to third base with that woman’.

So he’s a mess — a man genuinely in love, a hypocrite, a self-deluding narcissist, a coward who can’t address the contradictions of his own moral system etc. Will he resign? Noooooooooooo. Why? God wants him to stay as governor — or so his spiritual advisor Cubby Culbertson told him. As the old Yiddish proverb has it, when the prick stands the brains get buried in the ground. Respect for the threesome bid though.