Evaluating the risk of corruption in your state government

The State Integrity Investigation, a partnership between the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International to measure the risk of corruption in every state, released full state report cards today. They include letter grades, reporter comments and research details, as well as each state’s rank among all 50 states.

See How Your State Ranks

The State Integrity Investigation is an unprecedented, data-driven analysis of each state’s laws and practices that deter corruption and promote accountability and openness. Experienced journalists graded each state government on its corruption risk using 330 specific integrity indicators. The Investigation ranked every state from one to 50. Each state received a report card with letter grades in 14 categories, including campaign finance, ethics laws, lobbying regulations, and management of state pension funds.

I’ve been a supporter of the Center for Public Integrity since it started over two decades ago. A source for serious research and journalist reports on the state of ethics in the United States and – the matching half of the equation – corruption.

Got this report in the morning’s block of emails and feel it should be up on every blog. Just as all politics is local, trying to change politics in this nation starts at the local level – if you want to take an active part in the process.

Read ’em and weep – or cheer. New Mexico surprised me by being 12th from the bottom. I wouldn’t have assumed we’d do that well. 🙂

Giant German satellite was minutes from crashing into Beijing

A two-and-a-half ton German satellite came within minutes of crashing into Beijing the European Space Agency has disclosed…

“Our calculations showed that, if Rosat had crashed to the ground just seven to 10 minutes later, it would have hit Beijing,” Heiner Klinkrad, head of the agency’s space debris team, told German magazine Der Spiegel, adding that an impact on the city “was very much within the realm of possibility.” The satellite eventually landed, as hoped, in the Indian Ocean.

Although most space debris burns up on entering the earth’s atmosphere Rosat, a defunct satellite launched 20 years ago, was made of durable material. Experts said that as much as 60 per cent of its bulk survived re-entry so if it had crashed into a highly populated like Beijing it could have caused the worst disaster in the history of space exploration.

The satellite’s remnants, travelling at speeds of 280mph, would have destroyed buildings, left craters and would have almost certainly caused casualties…

If it had crashed into Beijing it would also have landed the German government with an expensive bill. Under an international agreement the country responsible for placing the satellite in orbit is also responsible for any damage caused when it comes down.

Can you imagine the conspiracy theories that would have circled the Earth faster than any satellite?

Now, imagine the dead satellite being Russian and crashing, say, into Chicago. Phew!

Manchester United 1 – 6 Manchester City…WTF?

The worst defeat for Manchester United since the founding of the English Premier League in 1992. Listless, mediocre defending, few shots taken at goal much less into the goal – while Manchester City played a professional, workmanlike match throughout.

There will be plenty of professional coverage of the match by those writers paid to do so. I recommend the GUARDIAN UNLIMITED for that task. The result was just so stunning I had to make mention, had to record this at my personal blog.

Sir Alex’ strategy can’t sufficiently motivate a team that doesn’t reach its own standard. Roberto Mancini can take credit for bringing together an international aggregation into a real team.

Mario Balotelli [center] celebrates with teammates after scoring the first goal of the match
Daylife/Reuters Picture used by permission

Gulf oil spill + design flaw in blowout preventer ≠ BP!

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The blowout preventer that should have stopped the BP oil spill cold failed because of faulty design and a bent piece of pipe, a testing firm hired by the government said…in a report that appears to shift some blame for the disaster away from the oil giant and toward those who built and maintained the 300-ton safety device…

The report by the Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas is not the final word on the Deepwater Horizon disaster last April that killed 11 workers and led to more than 200 million gallons of oil spewing from a BP well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico.

It helps answer one of the lingering mysteries nearly a year later: why the blowout preventer that sat at the wellhead and was supposed to prevent a spill in case of an explosion didn’t do its job.

The report cast blame on the blowout preventer’s blind shear rams, which are supposed to pinch a well shut in an emergency by shearing through the well’s drill pipe. In the BP crisis, the shear rams couldn’t do their job because the drill pipe had buckled, bowed and become stuck, according to the DNV report.

The 551-page report suggested that blowout preventers be designed or modified in such a way that the shear rams will completely cut through drill pipe regardless of the pipe’s position.

The blowout preventer was made by Cameron International and maintained by Transocean Ltd.

The report suggested that actions taken by the Transocean rig crew during its attempts to control the well around the time of the disaster may have contributed to the piece of drill pipe getting trapped.

“This is the first time in all of this that there has been a clear design flaw in the blowout preventer cited,” said Philip Johnson, a University of Alabama civil engineering professor who did not take part in the analysis. “My reaction is, ‘Holy smokes, every set of blind shear rams out there may have this problem…'”

Speculation on why the blowout preventer failed has persisted during the year since the disaster…

Johnson, the professor, said the report indicates that the blowout preventer had a design flaw that may have gone unnoticed by the entire industry, not just by Cameron.

RTFA if you feel you really need to know how each company’s lawyers attempts to pass the blame along to one or more of the other companies. Predictable.

The only item of substance – aside from laying the blame at the feet of Cameron International and Transocean – is that all the blowout preventers of this type may be potentially faulty. And that had better be changed real soon, folks.

Which airline has worst food? Rude staff?

Southwest turns out to be the best – again
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Overall, air travelers’ level of contentment with carriers is on the rise, according to the University of Michigan’s latest American Customer Satisfaction Index for the airline industry. The findings are similar to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 North America Airline Satisfaction Study released last week…

“Airlines are creating more satisfied passengers, but the… data suggest this won’t last for long,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the satisfaction index, in a statement.

“Airlines are already beginning to charge higher fares. Flights are becoming more crowded, and the increasing number of carry-ons could lead to cabin congestion and delays.”

When it comes to individual airline satisfaction rankings, Southwest Airlines leads the pack for the 17th straight year, followed by Continental and American, according to the index, which uses customer interviews to come up with a score on scale of 0 to 100. United Airlines was at the bottom of the list…

Southwest’s flight attendants were also voted as the friendliest in the industry, followed by Delta/Northwest, JetBlue and American.

But the staff at Delta/Northwest seems to have as many foes as fans, because the airline was also ranked as the carrier with the least-friendly flight attendants in the survey. United and American were ranked second and third in that category…

As for which airline has served the worst food over the past 12 months, Delta/Northwest led the pack, followed by United and American.

Paranoid politicians and chickenshit voters have solved the whole question of air travel for me. As long as DHS and TSA are in charge of air travel – I won’t go anywhere I can’t drive in my pickup truck.

Motherhood in Norway vs. Motherhood in the U.S.A vs. Motherhood in Afghanistan

This is NOT Norway

Norway is the best country in the world in which to be a new mother, followed by Australia, according to Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report, issued this month.

Afghanistan was at the bottom of the 160 countries listed.

The United States did not fare well; it was 28th, below Greece, Portugal and virtually all of Western Europe. It ranked just above Poland and most of the former Soviet bloc.

The chief reason for the low American ranking, the authors said, was that despite advanced medical technology, more young mothers die, either in childbirth or in the years after, than in most rich countries. The United States also lost points because American working mothers get less maternity leave and lower benefits…

After Norway and Australia, the top-rated countries were Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, New Zealand, Finland and the Netherlands.

The truly low-rated countries achieve their status as you would expect – from treating women as something between a new pair of sandals and a baby-vending machine.

More to the point is a wealthy nation like the United States that reinstates a sex-based mirror of class society whenever words like healthcare enter the equation. Don’t forget – American conservative politicians still think the best politics comes from the 19th Century or earlier.

Mike Myers, Paris Hilton big ‘winners’ at Razzies

It was a night for neon pink bow ties and words like “disaster” and “monstrosity.” It was not the night, however, to be Paris Hilton, Mike Myers or Uwe Boll.

“It wasn’t just the economy that tanked, so did the qualities of the movies being offered,” Razzie founder John Wilson told CNN several weeks before the show. “I would suggest putting away all sharp [instruments] before putting the DVDs in your machine.”

Paris Hilton and Mike Myers came out on top — or bottom — for the awards. Hilton earned both the worst actress and worst supporting actress awards for her roles in “Hottie & the Nottie” and “Repo: The Genetic Opera.” She was also awarded worst screen couple for her on-screen time with her co-stars Christine Lakin and Joel David Moore.

Hilton’s film had a budget of $2 million but only earned about $27,000 at the box office…

Myers added worst actor to the “Love Guru” worst picture and worst screenplay Razzies.

But perhaps the biggest “winner” of the night was Uwe Boll. Recipient of the worst director award, the foundation also recognized his lifetime work with the worst career achievement award. Boll is the “worst living director on Earth,” Wilson told CNN.

Even at no extra charge on satellite TV, I must admit I’ve never seen any of these. Phew!

10 worst predictions of 2008

This is why pundits should be more careful about making predictions. It’s easier than ever to check back on them.

Here’s a couple of the Top Ten from Foreign Policy magazine:

#1 – “If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.” —William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Weekly Standard editor and New York Times columnist William Kristol was hardly alone in thinking that the Democratic primary was Clinton’s to lose, but it takes a special kind of self-confidence to make a declaration this sweeping more than a year before the first Iowa caucus was held. After Iowa, Kristol lurched to the other extreme, declaring that Clinton would lose New Hampshire and that “There will be no Clinton Restoration.” It’s also worth pointing out that this second wildly premature prediction was made in a Times column titled, “President Mike Huckabee?” The Times is currently rumored to be looking for his replacement.

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10 worst ads of the political season

Politico asked campaign operatives on both sides to nominate their favorite commercials of the cycle — and by favorite, we mean the most memorably bad.

This was a bipartisan exercise. Offered anonymity, some Democrats nominated Democratic ads and some Republicans chose GOP ads.

Ineptitude, as we discovered, knows no party.

Politico rated this advert as #3 on the stinker scale. My #1 choice as characteristic of those who favor an “Imperial” Texas.