Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good thing Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. wasn't unionized...

Slate's Jacob Weisburg asks this week: Which State is More Crooked, Illinois or Louisiana?
Political Corruption Smackdown
By Jacob Weisberg

With the unmasking of Gov. Rod Blagojevich as a kleptocrat of Paraguayan proportion, Illinois now has a real chance—its first in more than a generation—to defeat Louisiana in the NCAA finals of American political corruption.

Illinois boasts some impressive stats. According to data collected by Dick Simpson, a political scientist at the University of Illinois, more than 1,000 public officials and business people from Illinois have been convicted in federal corruption cases since 1971. Of those, an astonishing 30 were Chicago aldermen; that's around 20 percent of those elected to the City Council during that period. If Blagojevich ultimately goes to prison, he will become the fourth out of the last eight governors to wear stripes, joining predecessors George Ryan (racketeering, conspiracy, obstruction), Dan Walker (bank fraud), and Otto Kerner (straight-up bribery). If he gets assigned to the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., Blagojevich could become the first governor to share a cell with a predecessor he defeated at the polls.

But don't count Louisiana out. According to statistics compiled by the Corporate Crime Reporter, it was No. 1 for the period between 1997 and 2006, with 326 federal corruption convictions. That's a rate of 7.67 per 100,000 residents. Illinois had 524 convictions in the same period, but with a larger population, its rate was only 4.68, which puts it an embarrassing sixth. And Louisiana can boast some impressive streaks. In 2001 Jim Brown became the third consecutive insurance commissioner to be convicted. New Orleans Rep. William Jefferson, who was just defeated for re-election, liked cold, hard cash so much he kept the bundles of bills supplied by a FBI sting operation in his freezer. His brother, sister, and niece recently joined him under indictment.

Illinois' corruption comes out of a tradition of patronage politics—not just the old Democratic machine in Chicago but also a Republican machine in the suburbs. Even as old-school politics have dwindled, however, Illinois scandals have retained their ward-boss flavor. They still tend to revolve around petty, methodical rake-offs from the quotidian operations of government—liquor licenses, elevator inspections, speeding tickets, and, above all, hiring.

The paradigmatic Illinois crook was the Paul Powell, who served as secretary of state in the 1960s. When Powell died, his executor found shoeboxes filled with $800,000 in cash (along with 49 cases of whiskey and two cases of creamed corn) in the Springfield hotel room where he lived. The money had been collected in $5 and $10 increments from applicants who wanted to make sure they passed their driving tests. Under the old Daley machine, city workers had to kick back around 5 percent of their salaries to the ward organization that guaranteed their jobs. When he insisted over a tapped phone line that "you don't just give it away for nothing," Blagojevich, the son-in-law of Alderman Richard Mell, was applying an old precept—though possibly for the first time at a senatorial level.

The Louisiana pathology is slightly different. Wayne Parent, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University, explains that with the discovery of oil and gas around 1912, politicians in the dirt-poor state suddenly controlled a gold mine in tax revenues. "They could spend this money virtually unsupervised," he says, "as long as they threw enough crumbs to the masses to satisfy them—direct, tangible goods like free textbooks and paved roads." This was the formula of populist governors Huey Long, his brother Earl Long, and Edwin Edwards. Louisiana politicians have always liked big bribes for big projects better than crooked little schemes. Edwards, for instance, is serving time for collecting a $400,000 gratuity in exchange for a casino license.

Illinois and Louisiana continue to have different styles of fraud—David Mamet vs. Walker Percy. Illinois' corruption culture tends to be mingy, pedestrian, and shameful. State legislators who sell their votes for $25 cash in an envelope (a scandal of the 1970s) do not tend toward braggadocio. When former House Speaker Dan Rostenkowski was caught filching postage stamps from the House post office, he pled guilty and apologized for his crimes (and was pardoned by Bill Clinton).

Louisiana's culture of corruption, by contrast, is flamboyant and shameless. Earl Long once said that Louisiana voters "don't want good government, they want good entertainment." He spent part of his last term in a mental hospital, where his wife had him committed after he took up with stripper Blaze Starr. When Sen. Allen Ellender died in office in 1972, Gov. Edwards didn't try to auction of his seat. He appointed his wife, Elaine, possibly to get her out of town. When Edwards ran for governor in 1983, he said of the incumbent, "If we don't get Dave Treen out of office, there won't be anything left to steal." (He also memorably said Treen was so slow it took him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.) Raised among figures like these, Louisianans tend to accept corruption as inevitable, to be somewhat proud of it, and to forgive it easily.

In recent years, however, Illinois and Louisiana seem to be copying each other. With Rod Blagojevich and his wife, Patricia—Lady Macbeth of Milwaukee Avenue—Illinois' corruption has gone carnival. And since Katrina, Louisianans seem to have lost their zest for the big heist. There's been no sympathy for those caught siphoning disaster funds. It's going to be a close contest again this year, but I'm betting on the Fighting Illini to claim the national championship.

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Obama's Ag Challenge: Our Caves Runneth Over

With the government buying up excess milk supplies, Mother Nature's refrigerator -- actually a network of caves near Kansas City -- is overflowing with more than 1 billion pounds of dried milk stashed underground.

If the bags of dried milk were laid out end to end (and who doesn't enjoy being laid out end to end?), it would stretch 12,000 miles. Click here and scroll down for the painful details. Here is a news item from late last year -- from Wisconsin, of course, where cheeseheads track these things.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

"Hell, the next thing you know, they'll be questioning our safety standards..."

The Orlando Sentinal reports that NASA administrator Mike Griffin is not cooperating with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, is obstructing its efforts to get information and has told space transition team leader Lori Garver that she is “not qualified” to judge his rocket program.

In a heated 40-minute conversation last week with Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator who heads the space transition team, a red-faced Griffin demanded to speak directly to Obama, according to witnesses.

In addition, Griffin is scripting NASA employees and civilian contractors on what they can tell the transition team and has warned aerospace executives not to criticize the agency’s moon program, sources said.

Griffin’s resistance is part of a no-holds-barred effort to preserve the Constellation program, the delayed and over-budget moon rocket that is his signature project.

Chris Shank, NASA’s Chief of Strategic Communications, denied that Griffin is trying to keep information from the team, or that he is seeking a meeting with Obama. He also insisted that Griffin never argued with Garver.

“We are working extremely well with the transition team,” he said.

However, Shank acknowledged Griffin was concerned that the six-member team – all with space policy backgrounds – lack the engineering expertise to properly assess some of the information they have been given.

Garver refused comment about her conversation with Griffin -- and his remark that she is “not qualified” -- during a book-publication party at NASA headquarters last week. Obama’s Chicago office – which has sent similar transition teams to every federal agency – also had no comment.

People close to Garver, however, say that she has confirmed “unpleasant” exchanges with Griffin and other NASA officials. “Don’t worry, they have not beaten me down yet,” she e-mailed a colleague.

And this week, Garver told a meeting of aerospace representatives in Washington that “there will be change” to NASA policy and hinted that Obama would name a new administrator soon, according to participants.

Those who spoke for this article, including a member and staff in Congress, NASA employees, aerospace executives and consultants, spoke only on condition that their names not be used.

Garver’s team is one of dozens of review panels that over the last few weeks have descended on every government agency. Armed with tough questions, they are scrutinizing programs, scouring budgets and hunting for problems that may confront a new president.

Though their job is to smooth the transition between administrations, their arrival also brings a certain level of anxiety, particularly when programs face tough questions, as at NASA.

Said John Logsdon, a George Washington University professor who co-wrote the book honored at the NASA party, "There is a natural tension built into this situation... Mike is dead-on convinced that the current approach to the program is the right one. And Lori’s job is to question that for Mr. Obama. The Obama team is not going to walk in and take Mike’s word for it.”

Read the full articlehere.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

"And Then Mary and Joseph Were Cast Out from Eden..."

Obama Spiritual Advisor Criticizes US Nuking Japs At Start of World War II

Mark Hemingway at the National Review reports, "The esteemed Rev. Jeremiah Wright, preaching this past Sunday," declared as follows:

"Today! Is December 7! The day that this government killed! Over 80,000 . . . Japanese civilians, at Hiroshima in 1941. Two days before giving . . . an additional 64,000 Japanese civilians, at Nagasaki -- by dropping nuclear bombs on innocent people."

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jackson, "Five"

Obama '08 National Co-Chair Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D. Ill.) Is ‘Candidate 5’ in Governor Bribery Case

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities on Wednesday identified Democratic Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois as the potential United States Senate candidate who was portrayed in court papers made public Tuesday as being the most deeply enmeshed in the alleged scheme by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to benefit from his appointment of a new senator to the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

Jackson staff members allegedly offered Blagojevich up to $1 million if the governor would appoint Jackson to the post vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama.

A lawyer for Mr. Jackson acknowledged that Mr. Jackson was the person identified as "Candidate 5" in the criminal complaint, but said that Mr. Jackson denied any wrongdoing and was not aware of anyone attempting to cut deals on his behalf.

The full article, from the NY Times, can be found here.

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Save the Last Stance for Me...

Appeals Court Rejects Craig's Attempt to Pull Back Guilty Plea in Sex Sting
By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008; A03

A Minnesota appeals court yesterday rejected Sen. Larry E. Craig's latest effort to withdraw his guilty plea, 18 months after the Idaho Republican was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom during an undercover sex sting.

Since pleading guilty in August 2007 to disorderly-conduct charges after allegedly trying to solicit sex from an undercover police officer in June of that year, Craig has tried to pull back that plea, arguing that his behavior was not illegal and that the police pressured him into the plea. The Hennepin County District Court denied Craig's petition in October 2007, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed that decision yesterday.

In his appeal, Craig argued that the district court fundamentally erred in its decision, that the state's disorderly-conduct statute was unconstitutionally broad and that his behavior in the airport bathroom stall should be considered legally protected speech. The court rejected those arguments.

"Appellant has not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying his petition to withdraw his guilty plea, and neither he nor amici have shown that the disorderly conduct statute is unconstitutionally overbroad," wrote Edward Toussaint Jr., the appeals court's chief judge.

Toussaint added that even if Craig's actions in the stall were considered speech, they can be restricted because they invaded the "privacy interest" of a "captive audience" -- in this case, the undercover officer in the neighboring stall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

In a statement released by his office, Craig, 63, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling.

"I disagree with their conclusion and remain steadfast in my belief that nothing criminal or improper occurred at the Minneapolis airport," he said. "I maintain my innocence, and currently my attorneys and I are reviewing the decision and looking into the possibility of appealing" to the Minnesota Supreme Court, he added. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a brief in support of Craig's appeal.

After initially vowing to stay in office, Craig bowed to pressure from his colleagues and pledged to resign from the Senate. Then he decided to stay in the chamber but not run for reelection this year. Jim Risch (R) won the contest to succeed Craig last month.

In February, the Senate ethics committee admonished Craig for his behavior, calling it "improper conduct which has reflected discreditably on the Senate."

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Politics of Change

Governor of Illinois is indicted for trying to "sell" President-Elect Obama's Senate seat.
. . . may represent business as usual, as the Democratic Governor of Illinois is indicted for trying to "sell" President-Elect Obama's Senate seat. Although this action cannot be attributed to Mr. Obama, it shows how deep the currents of corruption run in the party that campaigned on a theme of bringing change to politics.

Full Article here.
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Monday, December 8, 2008

"I'm Not Dead Yet"

The Republican Comeback

Don’t look now, but the Republicans are making a comeback. For all the talk of an Obama political machine, and for all the arguments that the GOP is merely the party of “old white men,” it was the Republican Party that gained a House seat in Louisiana on Saturday.

Now admittedly, the Democrat who lost was the indicted William “$90,000 in the freezer” Jefferson. But Jefferson’s alleged corruption aside, it was still seen as a safe Democratic seat. And now, obviously, it’s not. Moreover, the Republican victor, Anh “Joseph” Cao, proves something hopeful about the Grand Old Party—that it can recruit bright new talent into its ranks.

Lousiana Republican Anh 'Joseph' Cao (AP)

Cao, 40, was one of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” who escaped the communist tyranny of his home country in the 70s. Which is to say, Cao epitomizes the American Dream, and he chose the Republican Party as the expression of that dream.

This is hardly the narrow Republican Party of liberal media stereotypes.

Now Rep. Cao will represent Louisiana, the same state where Republicans a year ago elected Bobby Jindal, an Indian-American, to the governorship. This is hardly the narrow Republican Party of liberal media stereotypes.

But not only is the GOP recruiting new and exciting candidates, but familiar faces are winning big, in spite of the supposed transformative sweep of the well-funded Obama-fied Democratic Party.

Last Tuesday, in Georgia, Republican Senate incumbent Saxby Chambliss—who had won a 3 percent plurality of the vote on November 4, but fell two-tenths of a percent shy of the needed 50 percent—earned a landslide 14-point victory in the runoff against his Democratic challenger. Chambliss’ 57:43 re-election, along with the pick-up in Louisiana, suggests that maybe the anti-George W. Bush wave of Election Day has already crested.

And it underscores the continuing Republican grip on the South. The South is not the whole country, to be sure, but it represents about a third of the population. In other words, it’s a strong base.

Yes, the Democrats have the White House and both chambers of Congress. But this is very much a two-party country, and statewide elections are coming up next year in New Jersey and Virginia. And then, of course, there’s 2010.

Stay tuned.

Fox News

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Newspapers Losing Battle to Evolution

Tribune teetering on bankruptcy. McClatchy searching for a buyer for the Miami Herald (turns out 19 Pulitzer Prizes don't pay the light bill). 50,000 students on campus at U of F, but not one wants to edit the student newspaper.

In a boon for law firms worried about making their end-of-year hours, the owner of The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and The Baltimore Sun is facing bankruptcy. Where Henry Mencken when we ned him to cover the survival of the fittest? Click here for the full article from The New York Times.

The legendary Herald, which used to cover the world from its Biscayne Boulevard headquarters, may soon sink into Biscayne Bay. Click here for the full article from The New York Times.

Gator U has apparently decided that 102 years is long enough to run a student newspapera. Click here for the full article from The SunSentinel.
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