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.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; it commemorates his birth on 15 January 1929.

A great man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A great man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Instead of reading some inane comments by me about Dr. King, why don’t you read something from Dr. King instead?

Once you’ve done that, you may want to watch this video of King’s last speech, which was rather prophetic, given that he was assassinated just a few hours later.  It was just a few minutes long; here is the peroration:

To learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr., see his Wikipedia page and/or check out MLK Online.

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.

Same-sex marriage bill introduced in Maine Legislature

The Maine State House in Augusta, where a battle over same-sex marriage is likely to be fought

The Maine State House in Augusta, where a battle over same-sex marriage is likely to be fought

Dennis Damon, a Democrat who serves in the 35-member Maine Senate, has introduced legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in that state.  The bill is entitled “An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedoms.”  Maine’s governor, Democrat John Baldacci, has opposed gay marriage in the past, but indicates he supports civil unions.  The state already has a form of domestic partnership available.

According to the Washington Blade, an LGBT newspaper, Equality Maine collected over 33,000 signatures to send to the legislature in favor of same-sex marriage.  A newly formed opposing group, the Maine Marriage Alliance, which wants to limit marriage rights, is advocating to make Maine the 31st state which prohibits same-sex marriage in its constitution; currently, marriage is limited only by statute.

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.

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.

New experiment shows indifference to racism

An interesting experiment reported on by MSNBC indicates that the way people react to overt acts of racism and the way people say they would act to such acts are two different things.

The study involved 120 non-black students from York University in Toronto who were recruited for a purported psychology study.

A participant was directed to a room where two actors posing as fellow participants — one black, one white — waited. The black person said he needed to retrieve a cell phone and left, gently bumping the white person’s leg on the way out. The white actor then did one of three things: Nothing. Said, “I hate when black people do that.” Or used the N-word.

Then a researcher entered and said the “psychology study” was starting and that the student should pick one of the two others as a partner for the testing.

Half the participants just read about that scene, and half actually experienced it.

Those asked to predict their reaction to either comment said they’d be highly upset and wouldn’t choose the white actor as their partner.

Yet students who actually experienced the event didn’t seem bothered by it — and nearly two-thirds chose the white actor as a partner, the researchers report Friday in the journal Science.

The lead author of the study, Kerry Kawakami, said the results indicate that “just because a black man has been elected as president doesn’t mean racism is no longer a problem or issue in the States.”

A stimulus package for… the porn industry?

There are news reports that Larry Flynt of Hustler and “Girld Gone Wild” creator Joe Francis are planning to ask Congress for a $5 billion federal stimulus package.   Apparently, adult DVD sales are down 22 percent over the past year, so maybe porn isn’t as recession-proof as some previously thought.

Anyway, like that’s really gonna happen.  A $5,000,000,000 bailout for pornographers, about a third as much as the auto industry was seeking?  I think the auto industry is more than three times as important to our overall economic well-being as the porn industry.  The pornography industry makes about $13 billion per anum and, as Flynt and Francis admit, is in no danger of collapsing any time soon.

I’m sure that Messrs. Flynt and Francis also know this and are simply making this request to get publicity.  Maybe sort of like the folks that tried to hit up Virgin Galactic to film a porno on one of their space ships.

Incidentally, Francis, of “Girls Gone Wild Fame,” is scheduled to be tried in federal court in a few months on tax evasion charges, according to the LA Times.