Political corruption: it’s in the attitude

The local political story is the continuing trial of former State Senator Vincent Fmo (D-Philadelphia) on theft and obstruction of justice charges. When you read about the daily testimony concerning Mr Fumo, you just shake your head: what could ever have possessed the man to do this stuff, and to think that he could get away with it?

But it was a smaller story that caught my eye, one which, to me, says a lot more about the culture of corruption that surrounds politicians, and this one isn’t even about something illegal:

Rendell ally gets job despite hiring freeze¹

By Mario F. Cattabiani, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

HARRISBURG – When is a hiring freeze not a hiring freeze? When you are a deposed state representative who needs a job and you know the governor really well.

Gov. Rendell made an exception this week to his administration’s four-month-old hiring freeze to create a $95,002-a-year bureaucratic post and fill it with a fellow Democrat, former State Rep. Dan Surra.

The 18-year representative from Elk County began his new job – senior adviser to Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – on Monday.

In his new role, Surra will focus on the administration’s Pennsylvania Wilds initiative to increase ecotourism and development in a 12-county region in the northern part of the state.

When the state is facing a budget deficit, and has responded with a hiring freeze to keep from taking on new obligations, Governor Rendell finds a $95,002 job for one of his friends.

My guess is that6 this isn’t anything illegal.

If you read the local section, not only will you see the stories about the Fumo trial, but about Mayor Michael Nutter’s (D-Philadelphia) planned budget cuts, to deal with the city’s looming budget deficit, a plan which includes shutting down eleven of the city’s libraries. The people re up in arms, the proposal is drawing all sorts of protests, one of which is seen in this photo:

Before a rally held at City Hall by The Coalition to Save the Libraries, Richard Hwang (left) and Matt Rinaldi (right) hold signs to attract the attention of passersby. (Eric Mencher/Staff Photographer) Editor's Note: The Coalition to Save the Libraries convenes a "people's court"  outside City Hall to hold Mayor Nutter and Free Library Director Siobhan Reardon in contempt for "sabatoging the library system." Jesters, musicians and a float of a shuttered library will be part of the circus-like scene. 1/13//09 LIBRARY14A

While I’m somewhat amused that the gentleman holding the sign doesn’t understand that you have to have a budget to buy books, it does show that there are some real concerns in Pennsylvania about money, and the government not having enough to meet all of the things people want. That’s why Governor Rendell imposed the hiring freeze. Yet, when it came to the Governor’s friend needing a job, well, the rules that apply to the rest of us mere mortals somehow don’t apply.

This is what happened to Mr Fumo, and this is what seems to be happening throughout government: an attitude that they are somehow different from us, somehow better than us. Vince Fumo apparently liked to boast about spending OPM: other people’s money. He apparently thought that he could have an ex-wife tailed, and have his private eye call the cops when he observed her getting behind the wheel while possibly intoxicted, and that he could even pay for it with state money. One of the charges against him is that he used state funds to have this done, but just as important, to me, is the attitude that this was something he could and should do, even if he had paid for it all himself.

We common folks tend to understand that some things are just wrong, some things are maybe funny to fantasize about but stupid to do, and don’t do them. For Mr Fumo, who is an attorney and thus should have known what the laws are concerning the use of public funds, the self-importance of being a powerful state senator, a decades-long state senator, apparently outweighed common sense. For Mr Rendell, it’s the idea that he can help a friend in need, without regard to the hiring freeze he put in place himself.

As much as I’d like to blame it all on Democrats, Republicans haven’t been exempt. Convicted felons Randy Cunningham, Bob Ney and Ted Stevens all acted like the rules simply didn’t apply to them.

Our ideal is of the public servant, the man who has the interest of the people at heart. Maybe a lot of these guys come into office actually feeling that way, but as the sycophants and flatterers and people wanting things keep sucking up to them, it’s as though some of them — most of them? all of them? — lose sight of why they are there and that they really aren’t better than everybody else.

I don’t know how else to explain it.
¹ – The Philadelphia Inquirer, Wednesday, 14 January 2009, p. B-1

The guy who should get thrown under the bus, isn’t — at least, not yet

Sometimes you just can’t make up this stuff. Via Patterico, we learn that Timothy Geithner, designated by President-elect Barack Hussein Obama to be the next Secretary of the Treasury, had an illegal immigrant for a housekeeper and didn’t pay self-employment taxes — totalling $34,000 — until found out by an IRS audit.

It seems that Obama spokesmen are calling the non-payment of thousands of dollars in back taxes for years a minor thing. One news report described it as “a speed bump.” Sam Stein over at HuffingtonPost calls it an “embarrassing public relations headache” but really a mistake “quite common in nature.”

Quite common? Given that this mistake would be limited to people who actually could afford to hire domestic servants, you’ve already made it rather uncommon.

This is, of course, the same problem that sank the nominations of Zoë Baird and Kimba Wood and Linda Chavez. Our incoming president supposedly had all of his prospective appointees fill out very detailed questionnaires; did Mr Geithner fail to disclose this? If so, then he should dive under the bus himself; if he did tell the transition office of this, then the nomination should never have been made.

Let them be rankled

In yet another attempt to piss off people, our “freethinking” friends are trying to impose their will on the inauguration:

Activists sue to keep God out of inauguration¹

By Sam Wood, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

When Barack Obama takes the oath of office a week from today, should God play a part in the proceedings?

Since at least 1881, presidents have added the words “So help me God” at the end of their inaugural oaths.

The phrase, however, is not included in the Constitutional oath. And that has rankled leaders in the atheist and humanist communities.

So, let them be rankled! Let them be offended, let them wail and gnash their scummy teeth.

So they’ve sued. A hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

“Our Founding Fathers knew that to put an oath to God would be hypocritical to the entire secular Constitution,” said Margaret Downey, founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia.

She is one of two dozen atheist activists from across the nation who have asked a federal judge to ban God from the Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony.

They also want to stop Pastor Rick Warren of the evangelical Saddleback Church from delivering an invocation at the ceremony.

Their chances of success may be slim to none, but they are hoping to lay the legal groundwork for 2013.

“When an invocation or the ‘So help me God’ is uttered, it empowers the religious community to demean atheists,” Downey said. “It . . . reinforces the notion that America is only comprised of God believers.”

No, Miss Downey: what empowers the religious community to demean atheists is the behavior of people like you. The incoming president is a Christian, was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ for two decades, and if we don’t know just how seriously he takes his faith, it is nevertheless his own — and the Constitution directly states that there shall be no religious test imposed to hold public office.

Since the words “so help me God” do not appear in the Constitution, they are optional, and if an incoming president decided that he didn’t want to include the words, he could certainly omit them; one assumes that he would inform the Chief Justice, “Hey, leave out that part,” and the Chief Justice would comply.

Our Constitution forbids the government from requiring Miss Downey to attend church. Our Constitution forbids the government from establishing an official state church or compelling people to pray. But it does not forbid people from making expressions of faith, even when being sworn in as president.

Barack Obama has said that he will use the Bible on which Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office in 1861. Perhaps Miss Downey would like to forbid that as well.
Update: Patterico, as always, is on the case, and he kindly linked the .pdf file of the complaint filed. The .pdf includes the email addresses of attorneys Michael Newdow and Robert Ritter, who are included amongst the Plaintiffs as well as being the attorneys.

I wasted a bit of ink and printed out the complaint. As nearly as I can tell, the Plaintiffs are claiming that hearing the words “so help me God” and the invocation and benediction by two clergymen would hurt their feelings, and remind them of things that they see as just terrible, terrible things. Most of them state that they plan to watch the inauguration on television, though some state that they wish to attend in person.

Now, perhaps their televisions are less capable than mine, but mine comes with both a mute button and an off switch; if there’s something to which I do not wish to listen, why, shockingly enough, I don’t listen to it! Practically speaking, the Plaintiffs have all been forewarned that there may be Religious Content, and they even know when it will occur; it’s not like they’ll have to fumble for the remote without notice.

I wonder if nk would accept my proposed lawsuit against Mr Newdow et al, for causing me untold grief and stress in worrying that my right to hear the next President conclude his Oath of Office with “so help me God” might be infringed upon by their lawsuit.

¹ – The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tuesday, 13 January 2009, p. A-4

Gort handles it for me!

Gort was apparently trying to pick up the slack for me:

It shouldn’t snow on the weekend

I noticed that Dana hasn’t done his usual bad weather post blaming Al Gore so I’ll pick up the slack. The forecast says this will over before the NFL playoff games in Pittsburgh and New Jersey tomorrow which is disappointing because I love watching football in the snow. But I’m sure we will still see the obligatory shots of idiots without shirts. I blame Al Roker.

OK, So I didn’t write about the snow, but I have an excuse: Mrs Pico was making me work!

I haven’t been moving as fast on the kitchen project as she would like, and she insisted suggested that I get my lazy ass to work on it.  So, I spent that part of Saturday not involved in snoveling the show cutting wood.

I’ve only used cope-and-stick joinery once before, for a door on the medicine chest in the bathroom; this project is considerably larger.  Considering that the first piece is a radiator cover, I was concerned that carpenter’s glue alone wouldn’t hold it, but would get weakened by the heating and cooling cycles.

In the current issue of Fine Woodworking, there’s an article about strength tests for racking on different types of joinery — and cope-and-stick, which is fine for things which don’t get much stress, came out poorly.

So, I said to myself, “Self, I wonder if it would be possible to reinforce the joint with pocket screws.”  Because the tenon is longer than the exposed wood, it made using the pocket hole jig a bit trickier, and I was concerned that the tips of the screws would emerge through the finished face.  A test set on a couple pieces of scrap showed that I could use the pocket screw technique to reinforce the joint.  As a side benefit, the use of pocket screws will create as much pressure on the joint as clamping, so that just helps with the gluing process.

So, yes, I did fall down on the job of blaming Al Gore, but I had an excuse: I was actually working!

However, the forecasters are calling for high temperatures in the single digits by the end of the week, with lows below zero; I hereby blame our former vice president, in advance!

Pirates of Somalia

Hollywood has often glamorized pirates as swashbucklers manning tall ships. The typical pirate operated from a rather small and agile craft and was often utterly heartless. The penalty for the crime was typically hanging and burial in the sand near the water’s edge at low tide so the ocean would take the carcass. Sometimes the head of a pirate would be displayed as a trophy of justice.

Piracy is alive and well around Somalia and the often youthful offenders seem to be preying on ships flying a variety of flags. The number of nations with a vested interest in the suppression of piracy is increasing. Besides the United States, there are: China, France, Great Britain, Iran, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the maritime efforts of these nations could be combined into a command and control structure that would use shared resources to defeat and destroy all pirates. The United States should exercise a leadership role on the basis of technical assets to locate and track pirate vessels. The others could provide the terminal search and destroy functions. This would not be traditional naval warfare but a policy of extermination. After notice is served that all pirate vessels will be sunk on sight, the game would be over.

Technical means could be used to monitor merchant vessels. Microwave transponders linked with GPS could uplink current position in encrypted form using a known pseudo-random frequency agility. This would allow a geosynchronous satellite to be placed in orbit directly above the region of concern. The uplink angle would not allow some technically-adept pirate to locate a potential target. Implementation of such technology would not be as costly as a few ransom payments of the environmental cost of the sinking of a supertanker.

Another approach would be to put armed guards on board merchant ships and equip them with long-range weapons and a rudimentary fire control system.

The goal would be to minimize the number of trials by taking as few prisoners as possible. Let the pirates make arrangement for their own rescue.

Class shows

Former President Bush, President Bush and Brit Hume

Former President Bush, President Bush and Brit Hume

I didn’t watch the entire thing, and didn’t see it early, but caught the last half of Brit Hume’s interview with both Presidents Bush yesterday afternoon on Fox News Sunday. Mr Hume asked George W Bush about President-elect Barack Obama and the transition, and despite Mr Obama’s harsh criticism of President Bush last week concerning the deficit, Mr Bush had nothing but kind and positive words for his successor and the appointments he has made so far. From the transcript:

HUME: Now, you’ve watched this range of appointments that Barack Obama has announced; your take on it, your feeling about it?

G.W. BUSH: I’ve been impressed.

HUME: Why?

G.W. BUSH: Well, because, one, he showed decisiveness. Two, he has picked people that are capable and competent people. And I think he’s had a very good transition. And frankly, I think Josh Bolten, my Chief of Staff, and the people that work here in the White House have also had a good transition because they have reached out to the President-elect’s team at all levels. And the message is we want there to be a seamless move from us leaving and you coming in, and we want you to succeed.

And so I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen since the election.

The closest that the current President came was this:

G.W. BUSH: — and Dad knows as well as anybody, you’ll get plenty of opinions when you’re the President, and you’ll get plenty of flattering statements, and you’ll get your fair share of not so complimentary comments.

I also remember what it was like to have people disappoint you. I mean, you’ll be picking up the newspaper and reading comments from people that you just say, well, I just can’t believe that that person would be so kind of not respectful of their own office, much less yours, to call those kind of names. And to me that has been the biggest disappointment in the political process up here; there has been this kind of bitterness by a few people to the point where they don’t want to have a logical discussion or a civil discussion about policy, they just want to tear you down.

I interpreted that to be a criticism of former President Jimmy Carter, but even there, President Bush was very subtle and named no names.

The man was reared right, and has class.