Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Rod Blagojevich impeached, 114-1

Once the people of Illinois get a new, hopefully less-corrupt governor, they may want to look into a new state flag.

Once the people of Illinois get a new, hopefully less-corrupt governor, they may want to look into a new state flag.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been impeached by the State House of Representatives by a vote of 114-1.  The 118-member body currently has 67 Democrats and 51 Republicans; they acted only hours after a 21-member panel voted unanimously to recommend impeachment.

The lone dissenting vote came from Chicago Democrat Milton Patterson.  He represents a largely African American district; Gov. Blagojevich still maintains a fair amount of support among the African American community.  Representative Elga L. Jefferies voted present.  Two members of the House did not vote.

One Representative, Chicago Democrat Jack Frank, said “It’s our duty to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that’s become Illinois government.”  Indeed.

Governor Blagojevich will now be tried by the 59-member Illinois Senate; conviction requires a 2/3 supermajority, or 40 votes.  Hopefully they convict him by 12 February, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

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Obama to use Lincoln Bible for swearing-in

President-elect Barack Obama will use the same Bible for his swearing-in as the prior president from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.  The Bible is held by the Library of Congress who will make it available for the January 20th inauguration.  No president since our 16th has used this particular Bible, which is burgundy velvet with gilded edges; it was published in 1853 by Oxford University Press.  It was a by William Thomas Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, specifically for Lincoln’s inauguration; the Lincoln family Bible was unavailable for the event as it was still packed away with the family’s other possessions.

FBI agents stole $7.8 million from taxpayers

The logo of a very corrupt organization that's run for itself, not for you

The logo of a very corrupt organization that's run for itself, not for you

MSNBC reports that FBI agents posted to Iraq received $7.8 million in overtime and pay that they weren’t entitled to, an average of $45,000 per employee between 2003–2007.  They claimed the pay for, inter alia, doing watching movies, exercising, and attending parties.

One employee defended the fact that he claimed pay for the time he spent doing laundry, “When you’re in that environment, anything you do to survive is work for the FBI.”  It must be nice to work for that agency when you can do immoral things and get away with it.  Just about all the agents posted to Iraq claimed 8 hours of overtime per day, every day, for the three months they were there.  There’a a term for that sort of behavior: stealing.

South Korean lawmakers get in fight, break out power tools

MSNBC reports that members of South Korea’s unicameral parliament have gotten into fisticuffs.  Again.

The chamber of the South Korean National Assembly looks like this when there is no fight going on

The chamber of the South Korean National Assembly looks like this when there is no fight going on

This time, the ruling party locked opposition members outside the committee room where the recently signed South Korea-U.S. trade pact will be introduced.  They feared that the opposition would try to oppose ratification of the pact.  Go figure.  Opposition members tried to batter down the door to the room, using a sledge hammer and eventually a power saw to break through—but to no avail, as the ruling party members had piled furniture up behind said door as an additional barricade.

The ruling Grand National Party controls 172 out of 299 seats in the National Assembly and so should be able to push the trade pact through.  The U.S. Congress has not yet approved the deal.

Fights are not at all uncommon among South Korean lawmakers—even on the floor of the National Assembly itself.  Sometimes they even throw chairs and microphones.  Here is a video of a fight that broke out last December:

Maryland commission recommends abolishing death penalty

The Free State's excellent flag

The Free State's excellent flag

A 23-member commission set up in Maryland to investigate the death penalty in that state has released its final report; they recommend, by a vote of 13-9 with one abstention, abolishing capital punishment in the Seventh State.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment included five legislators along with lawyers, civilians, and clergy; most were appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley, a death penalty opponent.  It was chaired by former U.S. Attorney Benjamin Civiletti who said the commission recommended repeal rather than reform because “There are so many faults, so many flaws within the system that we could not imagine … ways in which to cure it.”

By a vote of 20-3 the commission found that  racial disparities and differences in how the death penalty is sought from one jurisdiction to the next created significant problems.

The present administration of capital punishment shows substantial disparities in its application based on race and jurisdiction. … These disparities are so great among and between comparable cases that the death penalty process is best described as arbitrary and capricious.

For instance, the chances of receiving the death penalty in Baltimore County is about 23 times higher than the chances of receiving the death penalty in Baltimore City (they are geographically and politically distinct entities).

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger was a member of the commission and wrote a 22-page dissent which seven other members signed.  He says that prosecutors must be able to “reflect the will of the people,” and said regional disparities can be explained by “local rule.” “Different sentences in different counties for the same kind of crime are legal and constitutional,” Shellenberger wrote in the dissent. “Disparities in sentencing exist in each county across the entire spectrum of crimes committed in Maryland.”  He argued that the state should retain the death penalty as a tool to wield against “the worst of the worst.”

The commission reported that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent, saying they found “no persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters homicides in Maryland.” They also found that the additional costs that the death penalty incurs do not bring corresponding benefits.  They estimate that $186 million could have been saved between 1978–1999 if the state had sought life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in lieu of the death penalty.  Of course, they also cited the chance that an innocent person could be executed, despite advances in forensic science, including DNA evidence (which is only available in a minority of death eligible cases).  For a summary of their findings, click here.

Fifteen other states, plush the District of Columbia, have no death penalty; and in many other states it is rarely used.   Efforts to abolish capital punishment failed in the Maryland General Assembly the past two sessions, last year on a tied vote in a Senate committee.  It is expected that the commission report will increase the chances of abolition passing during the 2009 session and will certainly make the debate one of chief interest.

Maryland has carried out five executions since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1978, two of them since 2000.  Currently five people are on the state’s death row.  Unlike most other states with the death penalty, Maryland does not offer the condemned a “last meal”; he or she is simply served whatever is on the prison menu that day.  For more info, see Wikipedia’s article on capital punishment in Maryland, which has data going back to 1638.

Governor of Illinois arrested for corruption!

The Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has been arrested for attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder. Under state law, when there is a midterm vacancy in the state’s Senate representation the Governor can appoint a replacement; Federal authorities tapped his phones and claim evidence that Blagojevich was trying to sell the appointment for cold hard cash as well as other benefits for himself and his wife, including lucrative appointments to corporate boards.

The Flag of Illinois was so unrecognizable that they had to add the state name to it, making it even worse.

The Flag of Illinois was so unrecognizable that they had to add the state name to it, making it even worse.

In the affidavit, the Governor is quoted as saying “I want to make money,” and noting that a Senate seat “is a f—ing valuable thing, you just don’t give it away for nothing.”  He allegedly said that he would appoint himself to the seat if he didn’t “get something real good” for it, saying “I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain.” Another time he said “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—ing golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for f—in’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me   there.”  Apparently he thought it could put him in good position to run for President himself in 2016.  That’s probably pretty unlikely now.

Blagojevich is under investigation for numerous other alleged acts of corruption, including trying to use government powers to pressure the Chicago Tribune to fire reporters who were critical of him.  Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has called this “the most staggering crime spree in office I have ever seen.”  Unfortunately, the only way he can be impeached right now is if the legislature convenes, which can only happen if he calls for it.  Which probably isn’t too likely.  Apparently they are trying to convene to call for a special election, to get around having the governor appoint someone.  The Times Online out of London has a good story detailing some of the alleged deals that the governor was trying to make; I highly recommend it.

If these allegations are true—and I don’t think you arrest a sitting state governor without a surfeit of evidence—then Blagojevich is one corrupt dude and needs to be in jail, not the Illinois governor’s mansion.  But one must admit that he fits right in at the Illinois executive mansion, three other Governors of the Land of Lincoln have been jailed in the past 35 years, as reported by MSNBC:

— OTTO KERNER, a Democrat who was governor from 1961 to 1968, served less than a year of a three-year sentence after his 1973 conviction on bribery, tax evasion and other counts. He was convicted of arranging favorable horse racing dates as governor in return for getting horse racing association stock at reduced prices. Kerner died in 1976.
— DAN WALKER, a Democrat who was governor from 1973 to 1977, served 1 1/2 years of a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty in 1987 to bank fraud, misapplication of funds and perjury. The charges were not related to his service as governor.
— GEORGE RYAN, a Republican who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted of corruption in 2006 for steering state contracts and leases to political insiders while he was Illinois secretary of state and then governor. He is serving a 6 1/2-year prison term.
Additionally, William Stratton, a Republican, governor from 1953-1961, was later indicted but then acquitted on charges of income tax evasion. What’s going on over there in Illinois, folks?

New groups wants total elimination of nuclear weapons

A new group that will formally launch this Tuesday (9 December), Global Zero, seeks the total elimination of nuclear weapons over the next 25 years.  After their big kickoff in Paris, they’re going to Moscow to meet with Russian officials and subsequently to Washington to meet with Bush administration figures, and possible advisors to President-elect Obama.

The 11-megaton Castle Romeo nuclear test, the third largest ever conducted by the United States

The 11-megaton Castle Romeo nuclear test, the third largest ever conducted by the United States. This image is often used to make nukes look scary, which they are.

The group, which has been organizing for 18 months already, is not a bunch of wild-eyed peaceniks.  Listed supporters include former President Jimmy Carter; former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger; former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci; former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; Shaharyar Khan, a former Pakistani foreign minister; retired Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi of India;  Malcolm Rifkind, a former British foreign secretary; Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.); Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Robert Blackwill, a former top Bush administration official on Iraq policy; former Nebraska Senator and Governor Bob Kerrey; Strobe Talbott and Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution; former U.S. Ambassador Tom Pickering; former diplomat Richard Burt; retired Marine General John J. Sheehan; former national security advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski, Anthony Lake and Sandy Berger; and retired four-star Marine General Anthony Zinni.  Other supporters include British billionaire Richard Branson and Jordan’s Queen Noor.

Though I’ve heard nothing about him being affiliated with Global Zero, former Kennedy- and Johnson-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara has voiced support for reducing and eventually eliminating nuclear weapons.  He included an appendix in his 1995 book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam on the topic, writing that “insofar as achievable—and I underline that phrase—we should move back to a nonnuclear world. ”  McNamara argues, after some analysis, that “the military utility of nuclear weapons is limited to deterring one’s opponent from their use.  Therefore, if our opponent has no nuclear weapons, there is no need for us to possess them.”

Global Zero says its goal is achieving a binding verifiable agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons by working through diplomacy and international public opinion.  They hope to organize a summit of world leaders in January of 2010.  Global Zero is funded by several charitable foundations.  This blog commends the group’s efforts.

People know more about American Idol than about America

Since Paula Abdul is not in this picture, most Americans probably have no idea what is going on.

Since Paula Abdul is not in this picture, most Americans probably have no idea what is going on here.

Most Americans—56% to be precise—know that Paula Abdul is a judge on American Idol, but less than half can name the three branches of their government, according to a study administered by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the University of Connecticut.  It also found that only 27% of us could correctly identify what the First Amendment explicitly proscribes—and these were multiple choice questions (20% chance just by guessing). 

You can take the 33-question quiz for yourself here.  Hopefully all readers of this blog get the 7th question correct.

High school graduates averaged 44% correct; college graduates did only slightly better, 57%—getting one more question right for each year of higher education.  The quiz was given to 2000 Americans this past spring and only 29% received what would be a passing mark on it.  Amazingly, elected officials actually scored lower than the general public.

Politicians … scored five points lower than the Average Joe, a performance that former Deputy Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok labeled “abysmal and alarming.”
 
— Seventy-nine (79) percent of elected officeholders did not know that the Bill of Rights expressly forbids the government establishing an official religion for the U.S.
 
— A large number (43 percent) of politicians did not know what the Electoral College does.
 
Only 32 percent of politicians can actually define what the free-enterprise system is – even though many of them may have campaigned for office pledging to defend it.

I’m guessing that most of those politicians were local officials and not national figures, though I could be wrong.  Anyway, why should we expect our officials to know what they’re doing when we don’t?  You get the government you deserve.

Further information on the study is available at http://www.americancivicliteracy.org

Obama will likely have to give up e-mail as president

The New York Times has an interesting story saying that, after taking office, Barack Obama will likely need to give up e-mailing, which the BlackBerry toting Senator and candidate has hitherto relied upon heavily.

The story says that any e-mails will be subject to later disclosure and even subpoena under the Presidential Records Act (passed in 1978).  Also, there are security concerns; e-mail is subject to interception and hacking, and it wouldn’t be much harder to send an e-mail from his account while impersonating him.  Additionally, he’s going to have a lot less time to be e-mailing and following everything on his BlackBerry soon.

The article gives some other details on how Obama, as well as George W. Bush and Al Gore, has stayed wired and connected.  He and his staff have yet to reach a final decision on whether he really will give up e-mail totally, just the outgoing variety, or not at all.

Some trivia on presidents and President-Elect Obama

Well, Senator Barack Obama is now President-Elect Barack Obama, albeit unofficially until the electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on January 6th.  Obama will be the second U.S. President from Illinois; the first, of course, being Abraham Lincoln.  But here is some useless presidential trivia that you may not know.

He is also the first president to be elected from outside the Sun Belt since John Kennedy in 1960.  (Note that Michigander Gerald Ford was appointed, not elected.)   When he assumes office at noon on 20 January 2009 he will be 47 years, 5 months, and 16 days old; that will make him the fifth youngest person to become president, after Theodore Roosevelt (42 years, 10 months, 18 days); John F. Kennedy (43 years, 7 months, 22 days); Bill Clinton (46 years, 5 months, 1 day); and Ulysses S. Grant (46 years, 10 months, 5 days).  He is the fourth youngest person elected to the presidency, since Teddy Roosevelt, as Vice President, took office upon the death of President William McKinley.

Perhaps surprisingly, Obama is just the third sitting U.S. Senator to be elected president.  The other two were Warren Harding and John Kennedy.  Thirteen other presidents had previously served as a U.S. Senator, but not immediately preceeding their becoming president.

Obama is the first Democrat to win a majority of the popular vote in 32 years; the last one to do so was Jimmy Carter, who won 50.08% of the popular vote in 1976.  (Due in part to the participation of Ross Perot, Clinton received only 43% and 49.24% of the popular vote in his two winning campaigns.  Though Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000, he also didn’t get an absolute majority, securing only 48.4% of the vote, due to Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan being in the race.)

Had John McCain won, he would have been the second U.S. President to have spent time as a prisoner of war; the first was Andrew Jackson.  McCain, who is from the Sun Belt state of Arizona, would have been the oldest president to assume office, beating out Ronald Reagan by over two years.