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54 posts from December 2008

December 31, 2008

Roland Burris=Dwight Shrute of The Office

Ezra asks why Roland Burris is willing to accept Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's nomination to serve out the remainder of Barack Obama's term in the US Senate.

Good question.

My guess is that Burris is willing because he's a 71-year-old man who has already tried and failed to run for the Senate on his own.

At this point in his career, he doesn't have to worry about his future in the Democratic Party.

Burris  can cross the incoming president and the Senate Majority Leader and still end up with a much better political career than he would have had if he'd declined the nomination. It's a pretty selfish way to look at things, but it's also pretty rational.

He reminds me of Dwight Shrute from The Office--the guy who's so desperate to advance he relishes all the thankless tasks that make his coworkers despise him.

December 30, 2008

The presumption of innocence is a bitch: Blagojevich edition

There's a lot of uncritical reporting of claims about who has the legal right to do what in the battle over Barack Obama's senate successor. Good on TIME for pausing to ask the key question: "Can they do that?"

We'll get to who "they" are and what "that" is in a second. First, let's review the latest developments in the Saga de Blago.

Today, Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to serve out Barack Obama's term as the junior senator from Illinois.

Earlier this month, Blagojevich shocked political observers by refusing to resign even after he was arrested for allegedly attempting to auction off the seat to the highest bidder.

Note that Roland Burris was not shortlisted when Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell off Obama's seat. Nobody is alleging that Burris was involved in any kind of corruption.

Burris is respected political figure in Illinois who has served as controller and attorney general and whose personal integrity is (so far) considered above reproach. He's also an African American, which is a big deal because when Obama ascends to the Oval Office, the Senate will lose its only black member.

Appointing Burris was a shrewd move on the governor's part. While under suspicion for influence peddling, Blago picked someone who might actually be qualified and ethical, instead of a political crony. Nobody saw that coming. That sneaky bastard!

Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate Democrats will refuse to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich. President-elect Obama is backing Reid's play.

But why shouldn't Rod Blagojevich be allowed to appoint the next senator from the State of Illinois? He's still the governor. He hasn't been convicted of anything, or even indicted. The legislative branch could have impeached him, but it hasn't done so yet.

Protocol dictates that a governor in Blago's position would resign, but he didn't do the done thing. So, as far as I can see, Blago is still a full-fledged governor with all the usual rights and responsibilities.

At a televised press conference today, Blago went a step further and claimed that, as governor, he had not only the option, but the legal obligation to make sure that Illinois gets its second senator with all due speed. Anyone want to weigh in on the legal merits of that claim?

The Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has vowed to reject the paperwork for the Burris nomination "because of the current cloud of controversy surrounding the governor."

Can he do that? I doubt it. Presumably, secretaries of state must have good reasons for refusing to certify gubernatorial appointments. The fact that a governor has been accused of wrongdoing doesn't seem like a very good legal reason to reject otherwise valid paperwork. It seems like a bad precedent to let secretaries of state block appointments just because they suspect that the governor is a criminal. 

Getting back to the TIME item that sparked this post... "They" are the Senate Democrats, and "that" is refusing to seat Burris.

Political Hotsheet says they probably can't:

In the past, the Senate has ruled on appointments where the power of an outgoing governor to make an appointment was unclear. But as of now, there seems little question that Blagojevich is still the governor; the state legislature has not changed the appointment power; and as of now, Blagojevich has not been convicted, or even indicted. [CBS]

One might argue that Blagojevich doesn't have the power to appoint Senators unless the secretary of state certifies the appointment. But that begs the question as to whether the SOS may refuse to certify on the mere suspicion that the governor is a crook.

Absent some further argument, it seems that Blago has the right to appoint Burris and the Senate Democrats have an obligation to seat him. Nobody has to like it.

Blagojevich is accused of flouting the rule of law. It would be ironic if politicians allowed themselves to disregard more laws in their haste to repudiate him.

December 29, 2008

Chemistry is not a crime, and Lewis Casey is not a criminal

More war on drugs hysteria: Canadian college student Lewis Casey was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of operating a meth lab in his family's garage. The police later admitted that 18-year-old Casey wasn't making drugs, but they kept him in jail anyway on the grounds that he had materials that could have been made into explosives.

As PZ says, "Errm, having the "materials necessary to produce explosives" is an awfully low bar to set. If we're going to go that route, let's round up and arrest all the farmers — they've got fuel oil and fertilizer in bulk, and are a far more serious danger."

Friends and family say Casey is just an enthusiastic science student who likes to dabble at home. He has been released from jail but he's not allowed to perform experiments, except under school supervision. His trial will continue on Jan 26.

December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Dinner, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Edward R. Murrow: We'll split the advertising, Fred [Friendly] and I. He just won't have any presents for his kids at Christmas.

Sig Mickelson: He's a Jew.

Edward R. Murrow: Well don't tell him that. He loves Christmas.--Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

(Nobody told the Beyersteins, either.)

Addendum: Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins celebrates Christmas, too.

December 24, 2008

Corrective action, poodle-style

Corrective Action, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


Miles has figured out that he can swat Dio without even getting up.

No shelties were harmed in the shooting of this sequence.

December 23, 2008

Ten bucks says Dennis Prager tried the "blue balls" line in high school...

Prager's latest essay is the equivalent of the "blue balls" claim for old married guys.

"You must have sex with me because otherwise I'll die" is just too easily disproved--even in the era of abstinence-only "education."

So, for long-term relationshps, Prager suggests a three-pronged rhetorical strategy: A wife must give her husband sex whenever he wants because i) God and nature say so, ii) He's already a hero for not cheating on her (and heroes are entitled to extort anything they want from anyone), iii) How else will he know she loves him?

The physical chemistry of making fudge

Chocolate Fudge Cubed, originally uploaded by ZakVTA.

A little science to enhance your holiday confections: The Physical Chemistry of Making Fudge.

Big Brown Poodle Eyes

Big Brown Poodle Eyes, originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.


Another picture of Miles enjoying the snow.

Miles has developed some fascinating new behaviors since I last saw him. He's still a puppy, but he's closing in on adolescence.

Dio, my uncle's Sheltie, is visiting this week. Dio is constantly trying to swipe Miles' rawhide bones. Miles has figured out that if he puts his bones up on the ottoman or the couch, the much shorter Dio can't get at them.

Miles is also learning how to grab and swat with his front legs, much to Dio's dismay. Miles can now smack him down without standing up.

Most dogs don't use their front legs for much beyond locomotion. Whereas, poodles do a lot of swatting, grabbing, and reaching for objects with their long, flexible forelimbs.

NH calls freezes jury trials to save money

Wow, things are bad:

Financially strapped New Hampshire has become a poster child for the problem. Among other cost-cutting measures, state courts will halt for a month all civil and criminal jury trials early next year to save $73,000 in jurors' per diems. Officials warn they may add another four-week suspension. [LAT]

Couldn't it easily cost more than $73,000 to keep suspects in jail for an extra month, waiting to go to trial?

Smooth jazz from the Sultan of Brunei: Odd gifts from foreign leaders

Jazz for Quiet Moments CD The WaPo has an interesting little post about the various and sundry gifts that have been bestowed upon US officials by foreign leaders.

Recent offerings include ruby earrings, machine guns, and abstract art by the wife of Ehud Olmert.

And some smooth jazz from the Sultan of Brunei...

President Bush got two books and a jazz CD from the Sultan of Brunei, "Stayed Tuned" [sic] by Joe Garner and "1,001 Reasons to Love America," by Hubert Pedroli and Mary Tiegreen, along with "Jazz for Quiet Moments" by Greg Howard. Value: $70. He also got a Husqvarna 335Rx brush cutter with "comfort grip handles" from Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. Its estimated value was $570.

The recipients don't get to keep this stuff. They have to turn the loot over to the General Services Administration (GSA). If an official really likes an item, s/he can buy a gift back--at market rates, I hope. Otherwise the presents go to the National Archives, or to charity.

Where are these charities that get lavish government goodies? Are they the same charities that got Sarah Palin's suits?