Archive for the ‘government’ Category

CIA officers rape women, steal money, pamper mistresses

The CIA logo. How patriotic.

The patriotic CIA logo

Longtime CIA case officer Andrew Warren is being investigated for apparently raping two women in Algeria where he was stationed.   Warren (Wikipedia article) had a reputation for taking potential recruits to strip clubs and brothels.  As the Washington Post reports:

As CIA case officers attempt to recruit a foreign spy, they often offer personal inducements, ranging from cash to medical care. In some cases, a potential recruit may be taken to a strip club or even to a prostitute if it is deemed critical to cementing the relationship, longtime officers say. But for Warren, “it was a lifestyle thing,” costing the agency thousands of dollars, said one former co-worker who describes himself as a friend.

Several of his colleagues (i.e. multiple people) said they were not surprised by the sexual assault allegations.  And this guy was still in a position of trust and responsibility why?  Though the matter has attracted the attention of Congress, and resulted in a joint statement by the chairperson and the ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees the CIA, charges have not been filed against Warren.

Happily, not all of the corrupt  CIA employees have been so lucky. Steve Levan, a 16-year veteran who worked for the No. 2 man in the agency, recently pleaded guilty to misusing agency credit cards which were supposed to be used by undercover agents—to the tune of $115,000, much of which he spent on his mistress.  His attorney filed a motion saying that the judge should consider Mr. Levan’s allegedly strong record of service at the CIA—a record which hasn’t been released.  In other words, the mere fact that he worked for the CIA means that he should be held to an easier standard than common folks.

Then there’s Kyle “Dusty” Foggo (Wikipedia article), the agency’s former No. 3 officer, who was indicted on corruption charges two years ago.  He helped a high school friend of his, Brent Wilkes, score CIA contracts.  Oh, and he also used the agency to provide for his own mistress.  The Post reports:

After … his mistress was turned down for a job in the general counsel’s office, Foggo, who was the CIA’s executive director, called an associate general counsel into his office and “grew increasingly loud in tone and condescending,” according to a memo the counsel placed in her files. “[S]peaking in the third person, [Foggo] said, among other things, that when the EXDIR has an interest in a candidate for employment that I had better respect the EXDIR’s interest.”

The mistress was subsequently hired after an accelerated security check, because her paperwork was tagged “ExDir interest.” When her failure to perform required duties provoked her supervisor’s complaints, Foggo arranged for the supervisor—a 20-year veteran who had won many performance awards—to be ousted and moved to the Defense Department. The supervisor alleged in a court affidavit that her ouster was retaliatory.

The matter of his mistress was not a one-time mistake on Foggo’s part.  A 1989 performance review stated that he “takes a very liberal and self-serving position regarding the interpretation of Agency rules and regulations” and warned that “he is likely to remain a potential threat to security through his poor judgment.”  After the September 11th attacks, he used his position as the agency’s top administrator—hand-picked by the director—to steer CIA contracts to a friend of his, who repaid him with, among other things, a $30,000 vacation in Hawai’i.  As the U.S. Attorney said at his sentencing hearing, “A man who exploits a national crisis should be humble enough to not call himself a patriot.”

CIA HQ. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and vaillainy

CIA HQ. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy

But Foggo does claim to be a patriot: in a court filing, his attorneys claimed that he has “committed his life to public service” and that his dedication and skills justified his promotions, the record of misconduct in his personnel file notwithstanding. They declined to elaborate.  Again, the mere act of working for the CIA should get him a lighter penalty, nevermind the fact that he used his position to enrich and benefit himself, not the people.

One former intelligence officer, a 26-year veteran of the CIA, writes that

This affair demonstrates what officers in the closed society of the CIA have known for years: that senior management uses a double standard that allows members of the agency’s “good ol’ boy” network to do whatever they wish.

Mr. Foggo’s offenses included breaches of agency regulations that, for others, have raised questions of loyalty and sometimes resulted in dismissal. Yet, Mr. Foggo simply got a wink and a nod from superiors who continued to protect him. This sort of cronyism continues to harm agency morale.

As Mr. Foggo’s defenders have done, these senior officials also would undoubtedly like to portray themselves as great “patriots.” But Samuel Johnson said it best when he noted that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

John Radsan, a former CIA assistant general counsel, agrees.  He says that the internal guidelines and structures that are supposed to guard against corruption and misconduct are really a self-regulating system with few incentives for reporting bad behavior. That’s why we end up with a swell fellow like Kyle Foggo atop the CIA.

The CIA’s response to these many scandals is to point out that they have lots of employees and not all of them lie, cheat, and steal and, really, only a very tiny minority of them go around raping women.  So it’s all really okay, thank you for your interest—and go screw yourself while we patriots keep saving America.

Charges may still be filed against Andrew Warren.  If convicted, he’ll probably resort to the last refuge in order to save the only thing he cares about: himself.

See also this blog post, about FBI agents who fleeced taxpayers for $7.8 million

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District of Columbia may soon have full representation in U.S. House

A bill that would give the District of Columbia full representation in the U.S. House has cleared a key hurdle in the Senate, a procedural vote invoking cloture, 62-34, that will allow it to face a final vote in that chamber later this week.  A majority of senators appear to support it.  If passed by the Senate, it will then go to the House of Representatives, where such bills have previously been approved in past Congresses.  President Obama has indicated he will sign the legislation.

In 2002 the District almost added "Taxation Without Representation", which would have ruined their excellent flag. If this bill passes, the flag will be even safer.

In 2002 the District almost added "Taxation Without Representation" to their excellent flag. If this bill passes, the flag will be even safe from such defacement.

The District presently has a Delegate in the House of Representatives, since 1991 Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).  Delegates can vote in committee and on amendments but not on final passage of legislation.  Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands also currently have delegates in the House; none has representation in the Senate (which the present bill would not change for the District).

Washington, D.C. is overwhelmingly Democratic; typically only about 10-15% of the city’s vote in presidential elections goes to the Republican ticket.  It is extremely unlikely that the District would elect a Republican to any House seat that it is given.  I don’t think such political considerations should bear on the matter, however.  The bill in question, S. 160, would also grant another House seat to the State of Utah, which is currently represented by two Republicans and one Democrat, in the lower house.  Utah is one of the most Republican-leaning states in the Union and would likely elect a Republican to that seat.  The state missed out on gaining a fourth representative by just 856 people after the 2000 census (it went instead to North Carolina; there were some lawsuits over the way people were counted, but they went against Utah).

I think that the people of Washington, D.C. should have full representation in Congress—and not just because I don’t want them to mess up their flag, either; it seems like a matter of right to me.  However, I think that the bill is probably unconstitutional.  The Constitution says that Representatives shall be chosen “by the people of the several states” and a normal reading would seem to limit full congressional representation to states, which the District clearly is not.  The Supreme Court’s precedents on the matter are divided, but it does appear likely the Court would strike down the bill.  A Constitutional amendment may be needed to rectify the problem.

Woman appointed to Saudi Council of Ministers

The Saudi flag bears does not appear on the nation's military uniforms because it bears the shahada ("There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet") which it would be blasphemous to display while going to the bathroom

The Saudi flag bears does not appear on military uniforms because it bears the shahada ("There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet") which it would be blasphemous to display while going to the bathroom

This blog’s very first post concerned women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and we have since followed other developments in the desert kingdom, good, bad, and ugly.  This one is good: King Abdullah has appointed a woman to the Saudi Council of Ministers for the first time.  Noor Al-Fayez will serve as deputy minister for women’s education.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchies.  The Council of Ministers is appointed by and responsible to the king and merely advises him on the formulation of general policy and assisted with managing the activities of the bureaucracy. The council consists of a prime minister, the first and second deputy prime ministers, 20 ministers (of whom the minister of defense also is the second deputy prime minister), two ministers of state, and a small number of advisers and heads of major, autonomous organizations.

King Abdullah (b. 1924) has a net worth of about $21 billion

King Abdullah (b. 1924) has a net worth of about $21 billion

Khaled Al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper in Saudi Arabia, called many of the other appointments in what is the council’s biggest shake-up since Abdullah became king in 2005 very “progressive”, which is a very good thing.

King Abdullah appears to be, very slowly, moving the country in a more liberal direction, but considering how reactionary the place is it’s still just about the most conservative place on the planet.  He is 84 years old and the Crown Prince is just two years younger.  Succession to the Saudi Monarchy can be a messy process and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the next two decades when the last of the sons of Ibn Saud, the nation’s modern founder, pass on.

Two Afghan men could be executed for translating Qur’an

The Flag of Afghanistan, adopted in 2004.  Afghanistan has had 23 flags since the start of the 20th century---more than any other country--- including one that was all white and another that was all black.

The current Flag of Afghanistan

Just when you thought the human rights situation in Afghanistan couldn’t get more outrageous: two men in said country now face possible execution, and four others have been jailed, for the crime of… translating the Qur’an.  Frequent readers of this blog will no doubt recall the case of Parwez Kambakhsh who was first sentenced to death and then had that commuted to 20 years in jail for discussing women’s rights.  His case is still pending.

The present case involves Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai who translated to Qur’an from Arabic into one of Afghanistan’s several local languages for people who can’t read the document in the original language.

Many clerics rejected the book because it did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation. It’s a particularly sensitive detail for Muslims, who regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and a mistranslation could warp God’s word.

The clerics said Zalmai, a stocky 54-year-old spokesman for the attorney general, was trying to anoint himself as a prophet. They said his book was trying to replace the Quran, not offer a simple translation. Translated editions of the Quran abound in Kabul markets, but they include Arabic verses.

Most English-language editions of the Qur’an include the Arabic text side-by-side with the English, and since books written in Semitic languages (including Hebrew) read back-to-front (from out point of view) you turn the pages of such books from left to right, not right to left.  Editions of the Qur’an without the Arabic are often considered to not really be the Qur’an, by some Moslems, but merely interpretations thereof, thus Marmaduke Pickthall’s well-known translation (as we would call it) is titled The Meaning of the Glorious Koran instead of just The Qur’an.

The Qur'an, or Koran, if you prefer

The Qur'an, or Koran, if you prefer

I can find no source indicating what, if any, errors or mistranslations the mobs in question are upset about.  Quite possibly, this is just an excuse for the imams to exercise power to keep people in line and for and the crowds to demonstrate their loyalty thereto.

All the men charged are pleading ignorance: the publisher didn’t read the book, the imam who signed a statement of support for it was tricked into doing so, Zalmai didn’t know it’d be a problem to omit the Arabic text.  Hopefully this case will garner international attention and the central government, led by Hamid Karzai, will be able to work something out.  Like they did with that convert to Christianity who, instead of being executed, was declared insane and allowed to flee the country.

Tories favored by 12 points over Labour

In a new poll released today by the Guardian, if the United Kingdom held elections for Parliament today 44% would vote Conservative, 32% for Labour, 16% for the Liberal-Democrats, and 8% would vote for another party. 

Across the poll, Labour is flatlining – the charge once thrown at struggling Conservative leaders who could not lift their party’s support below the low 30s. Labour has been on 31%, plus or minus two points, since August in ICM polls.

The prime minister can draw comfort from the fact that this new support has come almost entirely from the Lib Dems and smaller parties. Labour support is down only one point, and at 32% is well above the low points in the mid-20s it hit in the early summer last year.

But that simply suggests the party is on course for a big defeat rather than a calamity. One estimate suggests that the Conservatives would win around 360 seats on today’s figures, a majority of about 70. Labour could expect to win around 240, 30 more than it did at its nadir under Michael Foot in 1983.

The results seem largely driven by economic concerns. 

Elections must be held on or before 3 June 2010, as the maximum length of a Parliament is five years; however, Prime Ministers typically call elections after four years—unless they’re guaranteed defeat and think they can turn things around if given another year.  If elections are held this year, 4 June is a likely date, as they would then coincide with elections for the European Parliament.

This blog, which is more favorably predisposed to the Conservatives, predicts that Gordon Brown will not call elections this year and will let the current Parliament expire, or come very close to it before elections are held next year.  Furthermore, it is likely that David Cameron, the leader of the Conservatives, will probably be the next Prime Minister.

Obama takes oath of office… again

Due to some technical difficulties with the oath of office as given on Tuesday, Barack Obama had Chief Justice John Roberts administer the oath again Wednesday evening.

Due to an apparent misunderstanding of where Roberts would pause in the oath for Obama to repeat after him, Roberts flubbed part of the Constitutionally-stipulated oath, reversing the order of some words. As Article II of the U.S. Constitution says:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Here is the original oath:

The administration and legal scholars said this probably wasn’t necessary, but was done out of an over abundance of caution.

Craig, the White House lawyer, said in a statement Wednesday evening: “We believe the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday. Yet the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of the abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice John Roberts will administer the oath a second time.”

The Constitution is clear about the exact wording of the oath and as a result, some constitutional experts have said that a do-over probably wasn’t necessary but also couldn’t hurt. Two other previous presidents have repeated the oath because of similar issues, Calvin Coolidge and Chester A. Arthur.

Hopefully Justice Stephens, who delivered the significantly longer Vice Presidential oath to Joe Biden without incident, isn’t giving Roberts a hard time about all of this back at SCOTUS headquarters.

Factual error in Obama’s inaugural address

Well, Obama was president for all of maybe seven minutes* before he made his first mistake, a factual error.  It came in the second paragraph of his inaugural address:

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

Of course, we do need to remain faithful to the ideals of our forbearers and to our founding documents; and of course the oath of office has been taken amidst many circumstances.  However, it has not been taken by 44 Americans, despite the fact that Obama is the 44th president.

This man's defeat in the 1888 presidential election screwed up Obama's inaugural address

This man's defeat in the 1888 presidential election screwed up Obama's inaugural address

This is because, including Obama, only 43 people have held the office.  Why?  Because Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and the 24th President of the United States, having served two non-consecutive terms—the only person, thus far, to do so.  C’mon, Barack, don’t be hatin’ on one of your predecessors.

The fact that Cleveland takes up two ordinals has some other consequences.  For instance, there will be two $1 coins minted for him in the Presidential Dollar Coin program (presumably with somewhat different designs, unless the mint just wants to be cheap).

Incidentally, Cleveland was a good president, according to the assessments of most historians.  He issued 414 vetoes, more than all other presidents up to that point combined and more than any other two-term president (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served just over three terms, vetoed 635 bills); only two bills were passed over Cleveland’s veto.  Over 200 of those vetoed bills concerned Civil War pensions for individual people, many of whom never even served in the military (one would have given a government pension at taxpayer expense to a man who fell off his horse on his way to enlist and so never served).

One further anecdote concerning Grover Cleveland may be informative.  In 1902 there was a serious strike of coal miners who wanted better working conditions.  But this was a serious threat to the country, which used coal in most of its industry and to heat many private homes in the winter.  President Theodore Roosevelt put together a commission to get the facts of the situation and wrote the following to his predecessor on 11 October of that year:

In all the country there is no man whose name would add such weight to this enquiry as would yours.  I earnestly beg you to say that you will accept.  I am well aware of the great strain I put upon you by making such a request.  I would not make it if I did not feel that the calamity now impending over our people may have consequences which without exaggeration are to be called terrible.

Cleveland replied “You rightly appreciate my reluctance to assume any public service. … [However,] I feel so deeply the gravity of the situation, and I so fully sympathize with you in your efforts to remedy present sad conditions, that I believe it is my duty to undertake the service.”

Cleveland’s only substantial savings were invested in the anthracite industry, and due to possible conflicts of interest, he had to sell those assets, which he did at the then-deflated prices.  However, Roosevelt never subsequently called upon him to serve on the planned commission.  It was an unfair way to treat a good man—much moreso than simply forgetting that he’d served two non-consecutive terms.

* Note that, under the Constitution, Obama took office at noon, even though he didn’t take the oath until about 12:05.  Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution just says that “Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation…” [emphasis added]; he still holds the office prior to that point, according to legal scholars.

Godspeed, Mr. President

I am setting this post to automatically be published at noon on the 20th of January 2009—at just about the moment when power transfers from George Walker Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, to Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th.  To our new Commander in Chief I have only this to say: Godspeed, Mr. President.

The official portrait of President Obama

The official portrait of President Obama

Vice President Biden will be sworn in first, just before noon.  And then Obama will take the Constitutionally mandated oath of office; he will follow tradition and use his full name: Barack Hussein Obama, contrary to some reports (and the official programs) which said he’d only use his middle initial.  Then after a 21-gun salute and “Hail to the Chief” he’ll delivery his inaugural address.

To commemorate the event, here are the actual words to “Hail to the Chief“, which are only very rarely sung:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

In terms of patriotic music, it’s not bad; but I do see why it’s not often sung.

In the movie My Fellow Americans, two ex-Presidents played by Jack Lemmon and James Garner discuss their annoyance at hearing the song played wherever they would go. Apparently unaware that it really does have lyrics, they both admit they made up their own lyrics in their head and imagined them whenever hearing the tune.  I would imagine that the real president is at least aware that it has lyrics, even if he doesn’t know them by heart.  I also don’t think he ever gets tired of hearing the tune.  (Though Gerald Ford had the Marine Corps marching band play the fight sonf of his alma mater, the University of Michigan, in lieu of “Hail to the Chief.”)

Anyway, all the best, Barack.

Gerrymandering legislative districts

Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, one of the nation's most gerrymandered

Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, one of the most gerrymandered in the United States

Slate magazine has an interesting article about using computer algorithms to draw, or at least analyze, cogressional and legislative districts.  It includes a slide show with 20 of the most gerrymandered districts in the Union, two of which are in Maryland, which has eight districts.

In Maryland, as in most states, the boundaries for Congressional and State Legislative districts are drawn by the state legislature, which makes it very tempting to draw lines favorable to yourself.  This can be especially problematic in a state like Maryland where one party (in this case the Democrats) control a supermajority in the legislature.  (After the 2010 census the Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the map drawn by legislators and substituted their own, it was that badly done.)   Some states have non-partisan boards which have authority to craft district lines, which leads to somewhat better outcomes.  Voters in California very narrowly (49.5% in favor) rejected Proposition 11 this past November which would have set up such a body in that state.

I’m skeptical if computer algorithms are the best way to draw final legislative districts, though they can certainly help generate ideas and be used to analyze plans.  I think the best route to go would be to create an independent commission with Democrats, Republicans, independents, along with Libertarians and Greens where no party has a majority and something more than a simple majority is needed to agree to a final plan.  They could take cognizance of already existing political boundaries, like county and city lines, along with major natural formations that make sense to use, like rivers.  Such an institution wouldn’t be perfect (nothing here can be, I don’t think) but would be much better than the way most states do it now.

Mayor of Baltimore indicted for corruption

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has been indicted for corruption. She is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon has been indicted for corruption. She is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Mayor of Baltimore, Sheila Dixon,  has been indicted on 12 counts of corruption by the Maryland State Attorney’s Office.  This is the result of a three-year long investigation that resulted in one of the 14 city council members being indicted earlier this week. According to the Baltimore Sun:

Dixon was charged with four counts of perjury and two counts of theft over $500, as well as theft under $500, fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and misconduct in office. The charges stem in part from gifts she received from former boyfriend and developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, who was also charged earlier this week.

A grand jury indicted Dixon on 12 counts, including four counts of perjury and two counts of theft over $500. She was also charged with theft under $500, fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary and misconduct in office.

According to the Baltimore-area news station, WBAL,

one allegation listed in the indictment said that on Dec. 16, 2004, 15 $50 Best Buy gift cards were purchased with cash by the city. Two were used on Dec. 11, 2005, at the Best Buy store downtown by Sheila Dixon to purchase $237 worth of merchandise, including a PlayStation2 and DVDs.

Baltimore City Hall, a very handsome building

Baltimore City Hall, a very handsome building

The investigation had been going on for three years.  Dixon became mayor in January of 2007 when Martin O’Malley left office to become Governor of Maryland.  She was elected mayor in her own right in November 2007.  Formerly she was a member of the Baltimore City Council, the first African-American female to serve as its president, and Baltimore’s first female mayor. She is Baltimore’s third African-American mayor.