Why ‘most corrupt’ title may not fit Mississippi

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Determining America’s most corrupt state is not unlike trying to ascertain history’s most prolific forger: In the latter, the counterfeiter too skilled to be caught remains forever unknown, while in the former, the most dishonest state is one that has tolerated and even declined to prosecute dishonest behavior.

That’s not the argument that Mississippi officials are putting forth to dispute a recent study that ranks the Magnolia State as the most corrupt in the US, but it would make sense.

Instead, Mississippi officials are arguing that the study by two public policy researchers – Cheol Liu of the City University of Hong Kong and John L. Mikesell of Indiana University – fails to take into account the state’s recent anti-corruption efforts.

The pair looked the rate at which public employees in each of the 50 US states had been convicted on federal corruption charges from 1976 to 2008 to determine which state was the most corrupt in the union, according to Fortune magazine.

They concluded that Mississippi had the highest ratio of public workers who were censured for misuse of public funds and other charges. The researchers looked at the hard numbers – federal convictions – to control for differences in spending on law enforcement and the rigor of state corruption laws, according to Fortune.

But Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering argued in an interview with Fortune that the study relied on old data and didn’t take into account the state’s anti-corruption efforts.

Pickering contended that many Mississippi laws have changed since he took office in 2008, with the state legislature putting an investigative arm into the state auditors office.

What makes just as much sense, however, is the idea that truly corrupt states – think Nigeria, Liberia or Russia – simply decline to prosecute corruption.

It’s not unlike the purported actions of law enforcement in bad areas of certain metropolises, which, often at the request of politicians, underreport crime in order to either create a false sense of security or to give the impression that crime is declining.

Put another way, if every county in your state but one chooses to ignore speeding laws, is it fair to label the one that enforces the law – provided it does so justly and impartially – a speed trap?

Those caught speeding may not be happy, but that doesn’t mean the county following the rules should be singled out as the problem.

Does Mississippi have challenges? Yes. Is it the only one? No. Is it the worst offender? Probably not.

California: Swimming pools, movie stars and an 8-foot gator

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Over the years, California’s San Fernando Valley has been known for its motion picture studios, aerospace technology and nuclear research.

One thing “The Valley,” located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was not recognized for was alligators. Until this week, that is.

Officers from the Los Angeles Animal Services Department discovered an 8-foot alligator Monday inside a wooden crate at a home in Van Nuys, where it is believed to have lived for nearly 40 years, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We tried to give him a good home,” said Ron Gorecki, 53, who was among those caring for the gator, named Jaxson, for the last two years. The alligator’s original owner was Gorecki’s brother-in-law, who died last year. “He loved him; it was his pride and joy.”

The alligator was purchased at a Los Angeles pet shop 37 years ago. At first, Jaxson lived inside the home, Gorecki said.

Once he grew, Jaxson became a decidedly “outdoor” pet.

The alligator’s presence was something of an open secret in the neighborhood: “Everybody knew Jaxson,” Gorecki said.

When investigators arrived at the home Monday, the crate housing Jaxson was covered in foliage and other debris, according to an official with Animal Services.

Along with the alligator, animal control officers found two cat carcasses inside the crate. One suspects that there weren’t a whole lot of strays in Jaxson’s neighborhood.

The alligator was then taken to the Los Angeles Zoo, with zoo staff helping with transportation. Once at the zoo, Jaxson underwent a health examination but results weren’t immediately available.

Animal Services is continuing a criminal investigation and anticipates forwarding the case to the city attorney for prosecution, according to a statement from the department.

Keeping wildlife without a permit is illegal in Los Angeles, and department Commander Mark Salazar said the home’s occupants lacked a permit for the alligator.

It’s unclear what species Jaxson is, but American Alligators typically live 65 to 80 years in captivity, the Times reported.

(Top: Jaxson, the 8-foot alligator found in a San Fernando Valley home earlier this week. Photo Credit: Los Angeles Department of Animal Services.)

The bigot, the five-day governor and the much-needed reformer

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One hundred years ago this month, Lt. Gov. Charles A. Smith began the shortest reign in South Carolina gubernatorial history, a five-day stretch as the Palmetto State’s chief executive that ran from Jan. 14-19, 1915.

Smith’s brief tenure as governor came about as the result of the actions of one of the more reprehensible South Carolinians to hold office in the state’s nearly 350-year history: Coleman Livingston “Cole” Blease.

Blease, a self-proclaimed pro-lynching, anti-black education politician cut from the same cloth as Pitchfork Ben Tillman, earned election to the state’s highest office through his ability “to play on race, religion and class prejudices,” appealing especially to South Carolina’s farmers and mill workers, according to Ernest Lander’s work, “A History of South Carolina 1865-1960.”

The state was anything but a hotbed of progressivism in the early 20th century, but Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Ben Tillman. For example, Blease is said to have once buried the severed finger of a lynched black man in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden in Columbia.

In their book “Columbia: History of a Southern Capital,” Lynn Salsi and Margaret Sims identified some of Blease’s more “endearing” legacies:

Despite the need for reform, he fought regulation of safety, public health and education. He also pardoned a record number of criminals, some say more than 1,500. His vetoes included hand-written messages using profane language, the wrote.

Worse yet was his treatment of blacks.

In his 1911 inauguration address, Blease stated, “I am opposed to white people’s taxes being used to educate negroes.” He later added that he was opposed to white convicts being placed in the same labor camps as black convicts, adding that he believed that “a governor would be justified in granting a pardon to a white man who is thus treated, …”

In the same address, he urged the re-institution of public executions, particularly those of blacks.

Continue reading

Dirtbag desecrates Civil War veteran’s grave

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Grave robbing may not rank up there with murder, rape or assault with a deadly weapon, but there seems something particularly heinous about the crime. One supposes an individual willing to disturb the dead has, in all likelihood, little respect for the living, either.

It’s unclear how often this reprehensible act takes place, but it likely occurs more than most of us realize.

Among the most recent cases is one that came to light earlier this month in Georgia.

Nearly 150 years after a Confederate officer succumbed to disease contracted during the War Between the States, his remains were desecrated and dug up from a Crawford County cemetery.

First Lieutenant James Alexander Nichols of Company F of the 57th Georgia Infantry Regiment died from dysentery on Nov. 9, 1866, and was buried in Old Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery in west-central Georgia.

More than likely, Nichols’ remains were disturbed by a cretin looking for artifacts, such as uniform buttons or similar items. Many men who served in the Civil War, particularly those who died during or just after the war, were buried in their uniforms.

The Crawford County sheriff, Lewis Walker, said he was initially unsure why someone would disturb the grave, but, in a comment showing remarkably little intuition, said he was “hoping family members of the deceased might have ideas.”

Last year, two Georgia men were arrested and charged with grave robbing after the remains of five Confederate and Revolutionary soldiers were disinterred in Burke County, Ga., which is due east from Crawford County, on the border with South Carolina. Both men were later sentenced to five years in prison.

According to records, Nichols was elected brevet second lieutenant for Company F, 2nd Regiment, Georgia State Troops on Oct. 14, 1861. He was mustered out in 1862 and elected second lieutenant for Company F of the 57th Georgia on May 3, 1862, in Savannah. He was promoted to first lieutenant on Jan. 11, 1863.

Nichols was surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and paroled three days later. According to terms of his parole, Nichols agreed not to “ … take up arms again against the United States, nor serve in any military, police or constabulary force in any Fort, Garrison or field work, held by the Confederate States of America, nor as guard of prison, depots or stores, nor discharge any duties usually performed by Officers or soldiers, against the United States of America, until duly exchanged by the proper authorities.” Continue reading

Yemeni man takes himself out of ‘Father of the Year’ competition

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While there were many times my own parents likely felt the need to, as they say, “drop the bomb” on me during my formative years, they were on the whole quite subdued in their response to my youthful antics.

The same cannot be said for a Yemeni father who recently attempted to end his sons’ disobedience by tossing two grenades at them when they were at his house.

Earlier this month, according to police, the unidentified father, age 70, ran out of patience with his sons’ failure to abide by his instructions.

“After exhausting many methods of discipline, the father decided to bomb them,” according to gulfnews.com.

Shortly after his sons entered his house in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, the father threw the grenades in.

Hand grenade: Generally not effective as means to discipline children.

Hand grenade: Generally not effective as means to discipline children.

According to the Yemeni ministry of interior’s official website, the sons, aged 22 and 30, suffered shrapnel wounds in their legs, and were being treated in a hospital in the capital.

Police arrested the dad.

Among the many troubling questions raised by this account – besides the fact that someone would attempt to use an explosive device as a form of disciple:

Who throws grenades into his own house? Just how easy is it to procure explosives in Yemen? What other forms of discipline did the father attempt before turning to the tried and trusted hand grenade?

Hopefully the dysfunctional clan will have things patched up by the time Ramadan rolls around next summer.

It ain’t a party til someone gets naked, busts out windows

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Further evidence that people who get naked in public aren’t the sort of folks you want to see naked in public.

Over the weekend, Tina Robinson, 40, of Anderson, SC, was charged with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature after deputies were alerted that a naked woman was allegedly busting out vehicle windows.

Authorities said the incident stemmed from a domestic incident.

Deputies said a 54-year-old man claimed he and Robinson, his wife, had been arguing about her “being on dope and being gone for days” when she punched him and then went after him with a knife that she ended up plunging into the wall near him, according to WYFF.com.

When she learned he had called 911, Robinson punched out a window of their house and the windows of their vehicle before departing.

Witnesses told deputies a naked female was later seen busting out windows in the neighborhood and had visible injuries.

Anderson was taken into custody after K-9 units were called in to locate her.

Methinks there may be bigger issues here than public nudity and a few broken car windows.

(HT: Waldo Lydecker’s Journal.)

Idiot fined for pretending to be ghost in graveyard

It was said that Samuel Colt’s famed revolver was the great equalizer in that it put men on a comparable footing when it came to defending themselves. That wasn’t necessarily the case, however, unless one knew how to wield a weapon.

The real equalizer has always been and will always be alcohol, for if one imbibes enough one can sink to a level of idiocy on par with most any other Grade A souse.

Take Anthony Stallard of Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, who was fined for, among other things, pretending to be a ghost in a cemetery, according to The Guardian.

The unemployed 24-year-old had been out drinking with friends when they went to Kingston cemetery in Portsmouth, where they started to play soccer.

Witnesses reported the group then began engaging in rowdy behavior, with one – Stallard – throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” within earshot of mourners visiting graves, according to a Hampshire police spokesman.

Stallard was fined £35 (nearly $60) and ordered to pay a £20 (nearly $35) victim surcharge and £20 in costs.

Stallard also had an extra three months added to a conditional charge for previous harassment which he was found to be in breach of, according to a Crown Prosecution Service spokeswoman.

A charge of causing criminal damage to gravestones was dismissed.

Sure, some potted lout throwing his arms in the air and saying “woooooo” is good for a laugh, but the part about doing it while people visit the graves of family members and the damaging of gravestones is hardly funny.

As the photo above indicates, Kingston cemetery is filled with many old gravestones; just because Stallard is without self-respect doesn’t mean he should get away with disrespecting others, whether they be dead or living descendants of the dead.

Wreaking havoc in cemetery may seem to some a victimless crime, but the desecration of gravestones shows a very real contempt for society as a whole.

A more fitting punishment would have been to have Stallard repair damage done and spend weekends maintaining the graveyard. While unlikely, there’s always the chance he would have gained at least a small understanding of why cemeteries are held to be reverent and historic locales by many.

However, one suspects this won’t be Stallard’s last brush with the law, so it’s likely there will be future opportunities for a judge or judges to consider interesting sentences for this miscreant.

(Top: Kingston cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. Photo credit: The Guardian.)