Blago Update

BLAGO UPDATE....Thanks partly to this being a slow news day and partly to the sheer juiciness of the whole thing, the blogosphere is ablaze with chatter about the arrest of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges. Main theme: the guy has been under investigation for three years by the same prosecutor who convicted both Scooter Libby and the previous governor of Illinois, but he was merrily blathering away to friends anyway about selling off Barack Obama's senate seat to the highest bidder? What kind of fucking moron is this guy?

Other, slightly more substantive comments from around the 'sphere:

  • Who are the six possible candidates for Obama's senate seat mentioned in the idictment? Adam Serwer tries to track them down.

  • It wasn't just senate seats in play! Blago also told the Tribune Company that he wouldn't approve any state financial assistance for their effort to sell the Chicago Cubs unless they fired some editorial board members who had been critical of him. Apparently Blagojevich told the Tribune Company's representative, "our recommendation is fire all those [expletive] people, get 'em the [expletive] out of there and get us some editorial support."

  • Is Barack Obama implicated in any of this? At a press conference today, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said no: "I should be clear that the complaint makes no allegations whatsoever about the president-elect or his conduct." What's more, the indictment quotes Blagojevich telling a friend that he wasn't willing to appoint Obama's favored candidate to the Senate because "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them."

    Still, Time's Michael Scherer thinks this is going to be a problem for Obama anyway: "The President of the United States has a higher burden than just about any elected official anywhere. His staff will be called on by the press to account for all their conversations with Blagojevich and his aides. Obama will have to explain what he knew about these discussions." Etc. My guess is different: I think Obama will be so open about this, and so obviously uninvolved, that it won't cause him any pain whatsoever. It's an Illinois story, not an Obama story.

  • My colleage Jonathan Stein runs down the corruption record of Illinois governors since 1973. It's not pretty.

  • Bizarrely enough, despite his 4% approval rating and ongoing corruption investigation, Blago seriously considered appointing himself to Obama's open senate seat because he thought it would a good launching pad for a 2016 presidential run. The mind reels.
    Anyway, that's your Blago roundup for the morning. More, much much more, to come later, I'm sure.

We've already mentioned that Obama-Biden domains are on sale on eBay. We've also mentioned that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat.

Thus, we would be remiss not to point out that Barack Obama's former Senate seat is now on sale on eBay. Oh, you internets...

And in another funny coincidence, today is International Anti-Corruption Day.

THE KIDS THESE DAYS....PART 476....Here's the latest international report card on how American kids are doing in science and math. Short answer: not badly, really. According to the latest TIMSS report, eighth grade Asian kids outscore everyone, and American kids outscore nearly everyone who's not Asian (only Hungary, England, and Russia do slightly better). The story in science is about the same. TIMSS doesn't conduct their tests in every country, but among the countries that do worse than the U.S. are Australia, Sweden, Italy, Norway, and Israel.

Full results here. They're pretty much the same as in years past, by the way. It would obviously be nice if American kids were doing even better, but the evidence hardly suggests that the United States is some kind of educational hellhole. In science and math, anyway, we're better than most and roughly average among our first world peers.

UPDATE: Sorry, I guess the charts are a little hard to decipher. Basically, they show what percentage of kids scored at or above various levels on the TIMSS test. For example, 92% of American eighth graders scored above the cutoff point for low performance on the math test and 67% scored above the intermediate level, compared to an international average of only 75% and 46% respectively. Basically, at every single level, more American kids scored above the cutoff point than the international average.

However, keep in mind that these international averages include lots and lots of very poor countries. If you look only at other rich countries, the United States is right around average.

Social Happiness

SOCIAL HAPPINESS....Remember all those news reports from last week hawking a study about how happiness is spread via social networks? Via Justin Wolfers, a couple of spoilsports have done a competing study that looked at a few other characteristics. From their writeup:

As we intended to investigate potential biases in previous methods, we looked at three health outcomes that could not credibly be subject to social network effects and were available in all three waves of the data: self reports of skin problems, self reports of headaches, and height over time.

Long story short, they found network effects for all three of these things even though network effects almost certainly don't exist. The problem, they say, is that shared environments (same school, similar eating habits, etc.) can explain much of the supposed "contagion," but the datasets used for social network studies often don't include enough information on individual environments to allow it to be factored out.

In other words, be careful accepting breathless claims about the spread of this or that via social networks. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. On the other hand, it can't hurt to have happy friends, can it?

BCS Uber Alles

BCS UBER ALLES....Via Lee Sigelman, apparently this has been circulating virally:

After determining the Big-12 championship game participants the BCS computers were put to work on other major contests and today the BCS declared Germany to be the winner of World War II.

"Germany put together an incredible number of victories beginning with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland and continuing on into conference play with defeats of Poland, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Their only losses came against the US and Russia; however considering their entire body of work — including an incredibly tough Strength of Schedule — our computers deemed them worthy of the #1 ranking."

Questioned about the #4 ranking of the United States the BCS commissioner stated "The US only had two major victories — Japan and Germany. The computer models, unlike humans, aren't influenced by head-to-head contests — they consider each contest to be only a single, equally-weighted event."

German Chancellor Adolph Hiter said "Yes, we lost to the US; but we defeated #2 ranked France in only 6 weeks." Herr Hitler has been criticized for seeking dramatic victories to earn 'style points' to enhance Germany's rankings. Hitler protested "Our contest with Poland was in doubt until the final day and the conditions in Norway were incredibly challenging and demanded the application of additional forces."

The French ranking has also come under scrutiny. The BCS commented "France had a single loss against Germany and following a preseason #1 ranking they only fell to #2."

Japan was ranked #3 with victories including Manchuria, Borneo and the Philippines.

Time for Obama to get cracking on that college football playoff he says he favors. That would be change we can believe in.

Pat_Quinn_Photo%20Small.jpg Looks like it is Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, the man on the right. He better have zero uncovered corruption scandals in his past, because the entire national media is going to turn its eyes to him as soon as it's done digesting Fitzgerald's complaint.

Given the track record of Illinois governors, I'm not optimistic. Here's the list of pols who have recently held that position: Blago (2003-present?), George Ryan (1999-2003), James Edgar (1991-1999), James Thompson (1977-1991), and Daniel Walker (1973-1977). Blago is Blago. Ryan was convicted of 16 charges of conspiracy, fraud, and lying under oath and currently resides in federal prison. (Patrick Fitzgerald, apparently the greatest prosecutor walking the planet, was Ryan's prosecutor.) Edgar was indicted (but not charged) with saw his subordinates charged with giving a sweetheart deal to a major campaign contributor. Thompson does not appear to have run into any legal trouble, but the law firm he heads did represent Ryan against Fitzgerald. And Walker was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for his role in a savings and loan scandal after leaving office.

So that would be... four three of the last five Illinois governors charged with some kind of wrongdoing. Excellent work, Land of Lincoln.

* Correction made. Thanks to the commentor.

Malaria Vaccine

MALARIA VACCINE....My morning paper reports some spectacularly good news for Africa:

A vaccine against the parasitic disease malaria cut illnesses by more than half in field trials and could be safely given with other childhood inoculations, two studies have reported.

....Malaria kills nearly 1 million people each year and sickens about 2 million others, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. Most of the deaths are among children younger than 5 in sub-Saharan Africa, the population that the vaccine targets.

More here.

Idiocy in Illinois

IDIOCY IN ILLINOIS....I seem to recall reading somewhere recently that Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich has a 4% approval rating. So I guess he figured he had nothing to lose:

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois was arrested on Tuesday morning and charged with corruption, including an allegation that he conspired to profit from his authority to appoint President-elect Barack Obama's successor in the United States Senate, prosecutors said.

As Mr. Blagojevich mulled the Senate appointment, prosecutors say, he discussed gaining "a substantial salary" at a nonprofit foundation or organization connected to labor unions, placing his wife on corporate boards where she might earn as much as $150,000 a year and trying to gain promises of campaign money, or even a cabinet post or ambassadorship, for himself.

A 76-page affidavit from the United States Attorney's office in Northern Illinois says Mr. Blagojevich was heard on wiretaps over the last month planning to "sell or trade Illinois' United States Senate seat vacated by Pres-elect Barack Obama for financial and personal benefits for himself and his wife."

....According to the statement from prosecutors, Mr. Blagojevich told an adviser last week that he might "get some (money) upfront, maybe" from one of the candidates hoping to replace Mr. Obama. That person was identified only as "Candidate 5."

In an earlier recorded conversation, prosecutors say, Mr. Blagojevich said he was approached by an associate of "Candidate 5" with an offer of $500,000 in exchange for the Senate seat.

Jeebus. Is Blagojevich also the world's biggest moron? The evidence says yes.

blagojevich-sucks.jpg Already pointed out that Blagojevich is incredibly corrupt and incredibly ballsy. He's also incredibly delusional. Look at the reasons why he was considering appointing himself to fill Obama's Senate seat. From Fitzgerald's press release:

Blagojevich also allegedly spent significant time weighing the option of appointing himself to the open Senate seat and expressed a variety of reasons for doing so, including: frustration at being "stuck" as governor; a belief that he will be able to obtain greater resources if he is indicted as a sitting Senator as opposed to a sitting governor; a desire to remake his image in consideration of a possible run for President in 2016; avoiding impeachment by the Illinois legislature; making corporate contacts that would be of value to him after leaving public office; facilitating his wife's employment as a lobbyist; and generating speaking fees should he decide to leave public office.

Really? The two bolded sentences didn't strike him as conflicting in any way? He thought, sure, if I can just get past those impeachment charges, I can run for president! I smell a new segment of "Really!?! With Seth and Amy."

Rod_Blagojevich2.jpg The most corrupt politician in America is, apparently, also the gutsiest. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, has been under investigation for three years because of a litany of corruption charges and has the most famous prosecutor in America, Patrick Fitzgerald, circling him — so what does he do? He embarks on an effort to literally SELL the Senate seat vacated by the president-elect. And for that, he is finally in FBI custody.

From Fitzgerald's press release, out this morning:

A 76-page FBI affidavit alleges that Blagojevich was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps during the last month conspiring to sell or trade Illinois' U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for financial and other personal benefits for himself and his wife. At various times, in exchange for the Senate appointment, Blagojevich discussed obtaining:

  • a substantial salary for himself at a either a non-profit foundation or an organization affiliated with labor unions;
  • placing his wife on paid corporate boards where he speculated she might garner as much as $150,000 a year;
  • promises of campaign funds —l including cash up front; and
  • a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself.
Just last week, on December 4, Blagojevich allegedly told an advisor that he might "get some (money) up front, maybe" from Senate Candidate 5, if he named Senate Candidate 5 to the Senate seat, to insure that Senate Candidate 5 kept a promise about raising money for Blagojevich if he ran for re-election. In a recorded conversation on October 31, Blagojevich claimed he was approached by an associate of Senate Candidate 5 as follows: "We were approached 'pay to play.' That, you know, he'd raise 500 grand. An emissary came. Then the other guy would raise a million, if I made him (Senate Candidate 5) a Senator."

Sounds like some other folks are in trouble as well. Starting with "Senate Candidate 5."