Friday, July 31, 2009

Kanye West Proclaims Self New King of Pop?

Michael Jackson has been dead a whole month. That means it's totally time to anoint someone the new King of Pop, and Kanye West thinks he knows just the guy:

Kanye West.

Okay, not really. But would you be surprised?

This is all a sham, as Scrape TV made up a faux interview in which it quoted West as saying so. And as with some satirical jokes that just hit too close to home, the Onion-esque story was picked up as legit by multiple sources.

Ace Showbiz, Celebuzz, the Superficial and a handful of other news sites all reported Kanye's claims as fact. While that's shoddy reporting, and the joke on them, it shows what an egomaniac Kanye West is that this would be blindly accepted:

Despite what some celeb gossip sites are reporting, Kanye West made no quotes about being the new King of Pop. But he probably did think it.

"You know everyone loves and respects Michael, but times change," the humble star said. "It's sad to see Michael gone, but it makes a path for a new King of Pop."

"I'm willing to take that on. There's nobody who can match me in sales and in respect, so it only makes sense for me to take the crown and become the new King."

"First there was Elvis, then Michael, now in the 21st century it's Kanye's time to rule. I have nothing but respect for Michael, but someone needs to pick up where he left off, and there's nobody better than me to do that. I am the new King of Pop."

Unfortunately, these quotes are all made up. Reports of him hooking up with Kim Kardashian and sparking her breakup with Reggie Bush? Less clear.

The world’s fisheries may be seriously depleted, but a comprehensive new study shows that all is not lost–and suggests that when humans really put the

The Union Leader reports:

For the fourth time in the last five years, New Hampshire is ranked as the best place in the country to raise children in a national survey released Tuesday.

The Kids Count report card ranks states in 10 categories such as low-birth weight, children in single-parent households, high school dropouts, teen pregnancy and infant mortality. The information is based on 2007 U.S. census data.

New Hampshire ranks first in two of the 10 categories -- teen birth rate and percent of children in poverty -- and is in the top five in eight of the categories. New Hampshire lags in infant mortality rate, ranking 17th, and low-birth weight babies, ranking eighth.

Done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, survey officials acknowledge the latest report cards do not reflect the current economic environment which would likely include more children being raised in poverty, the best indicator of children's well being.

The Global Collapse of Fisheries Can Be Averted, Researchers Say

The world’s fisheries may be seriously depleted, but a comprehensive new study shows that all is not lost–and suggests that when humans really put the effort into turning the tide, fish stocks can be returned to good health. The researchers found that efforts introduced to halt overfishing in five of the 10 large marine ecosystems they examined were showing signs of success. A combination of measures - such as catch quotas, no-take zones, and selective fishing gear - had helped fish stocks recover [BBC News].

The new study sprang from another report from marine ecologist Boris Worm in 2006, in which he made an alarming prediction: if current trends continue, by 2048 overfishing will have destroyed most commercially important populations of saltwater fish. Ecologists applauded the work. But among fisheries management scientists, reactions ranged from skepticism to fury over what many called an alarmist report [The New York Times]. Eventually the two groups agreed to collaborate on a study that would bring both their perspectives to the table, and which would determine the best ways to revive and manage the ocean’s fish stocks.

The resulting study identified five rebounding ecosystems: around Iceland, Newfoundland–Labrador, the northeast United States, Southeast Australia, and the California Current, explains fishery management scientist Ray Hilborn. “The biggest surprise was how much progress had been made in the regions viewed as the ‘bad boys’ of fisheries,” says Hilborn. “This shows that we have the tools to manage fisheries, and they work quite well” [Nature News]. However, the scientists note that the ecosystems that are improving are in developed regions with active management and strong enforcement, and say that the situation is more dire in less developed areas.

But the report, published in Science, was certainly not all good news. In addition to looking closely at 10 ecosystems, the researchers also conducted a broad survey of the world’s stocks and found that almost two-thirds of all fisheries are being fished at unsustainable levels. Says marine biologist Daniel Pauly: “The findings demonstrate that the gap between what we could do and what we actually do is enormous in most of the world…. Here are some fisheries that work. Why aren’t they all like that?”

Microsoft announces pricing for Windows 7 family pack, upgrading

Micosoft's announced some Windows 7 pricing today, starting with a "family pack" option, which will allow users to upgrade three PCs to the Home Premium edition of the operating system for $149. The upgrade from XP or Vista to Home Premium for individual users, as previously announced, is $119. The company's also announced the Microsoft Anytime Upgrade option, which will allow users to move from one version of Windows 7 to another for a discounted price. Moving from Windows 7 Starter to Home Premium will run you $79.99, while the move from Home Premium to Professional will set you back $89.99. Finally, the move from Windows 7 Professional to Ultimate will cost $139.99, and Microsoft says that the upgrades can be done in about 10 minutes. The company did not, however, specify what the move from Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows 7 Uber-Super Awesome would run, but we'll keep an eye out for you, and let you know when we do.

GDP Report Second Quarter 2009: A Depression By Traditional Definitions

The latest GDP report from the U.S. Commerce Department shows that the economy shrank at an annualized rate of 1% from April to June of this year. That means the economy shrank in the last four quarters, and five of the last six quarters.

Traditionally, economists define a depression as four quarters of decline in gross domestic product. These days, there is no generally agreed upon definition of a depression, other than that it is a really long recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research declared this recession began in late 2007. By this winter, we’ll have had at least a two-year recession already.

Even if things stop declining in the next few months, it’s unlikely the NBER will declare the recession over until we see some extended period of growth, which even optimistic economists say will not happen for a long time, as reported here.

The Obama administration will be very wary of using the term Depression. The failure of the economy to improve thus far despite a record stimulus package has hurt him politically. However, he’s managed to skirt most of the blame for the bad economic news, by pointing to his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama may be in big trouble however in the coming months. As pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, there are some fundamental weaknesseses that will haunt this economy for years. Jobs won’t come back until at least late 2010, even by the most optimistic forecasts. Unemployment will hit 10% very soon. Consumer spending will continue to remain flat, meaning the economy may not shrink, but it will not grow at a rapid pace for quite a while.

In other words, while we may be officially out of a recession/depression by the end of 2009, the average American will not feel any of the benefits until much later.

The last President during a jobless recovery was a guy by the name of George H.W. Bush. We all know what happened to his Presidency. No second term.

Only 42 Percent of Republicans Say the President Was Born in America

Ben Smith has the results of a disturbing Research 2000 poll that asks Americans whether they “believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not.” Independents (83 percent) and Democrats (93 percent) say he is. Republicans are more divided: Forty-two percent say yes, twenty-eight percent say no, and thirty percent aren’t sure.

A 2007 Rasmussen poll about the 9/11 attacks, which found 35 percent of Democrats said Bush might have known about the attacks in advance, became a frequently used bludgeon against the party and its voters. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen here.

Judge Guilty In Bribery Scheme

A respected Mississippi judge, who as a prosecutor earned acclaim for the conviction of a white supremacist in a civil rights-era murder, has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and is headed to prison.

The popular Hinds County circuit judge, Robert DeLaughter, was indicted earlier this year with five felonies—including bribery and conspiracy—but the plea deal drops the four more serious charges and avoids a messy and embarrassing trial. Prosecutors say that the disgraced judge exchanged favorable rulings for consideration to the federal bench.

A millionaire attorney (Richard Scruggs) in prison for bribing two judges, influenced DeLaughter by promising to help him get the federal appointment through his brother-in-law who at the time was Republican U.S. Senator (Trent Lott). DeLaughter presided over a multi million-dollar asbestos fee dispute between Scruggs and his former business partner when he was bribed and his ruling saved Scruggs $15 million.

The corrupt judge repeatedly lied to FBI investigators about his role in the bribery scheme and confidently demanded the charges against him be dropped because he never received anything of value but rather a “meaningless courtesy call” from the lawmaker who tried to influence him.

In a motion to dismiss the charges, DeLaughter claimed the senator’s phone call did not meet the criteria of a bribe because it was nothing of value. Lott, who abruptly resigned in 2007, has acknowledged calling DeLaughter and telling him that his attorney brother-in-law (Scruggs) had told him what a “fine judge” he was. As a U.S. Senator one of Lott’s duties was to recommend nominees for federal judgeships and DeLaughter had already thrown his name into the pool.

The plea agreement essentially ends the career of a highly regarded jurist who earned worldwide accolades in the 1990s for prosecuting the man who killed Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers in 1963. The trial was the subject of a Hollywood movie (“Ghosts of Mississippi”) in which an award-winning actor starred as DeLaughter.

Miami Herald: Vick Works Out For Patriots Today

It should be noted also that other reliable sources say it’s not true. During a week when New England is rolling out their new mechanical Tom Brady at the beginning of training camp, and with the region still reeling from the Manny/David Ortiz doping news, this comes as another shock to the system. And at least one Patriot fan is not happy about it (see above).

Darlington quotes “a reliable NFL source” on the Vick sighting, which comes on a day in which rumors began flying that Vick was sighted at Logan International.

What is known for certain is that the Patriots so far are the NFL team that has seemed the most receptive to bringing on Vick. Bill Belichick said he “wouldn’t rule out” a deal, and Rodney Harrison is on record saying that Vick would be a good fit for the team. And PRO FOOTBALL TALK said earlier today that they’ve been getting several tips that Vick is in Boston. But one blog, BARSTOOL SPORTS, goes a step further.

He is 100% meeting with the Pats right now. That’s not a guess. That’s a fact.

But in an update, an indication on how BARSTOOL perhaps cannot be trusted:

(Poor choice of words by me. He 100% landed at Logan. I made the mental leap that therefore he is 100% meeting with the Pats. Maybe he’s just hanging at the Vineyard, but I doubt it. In any event I’m turning into John Tomase over here.)

All of this comes a day after Vick said he was “getting closer” to finding an NFL team (John Clayton disagrees with this).

As a reader points out, Vick was in court in Virginia on Thursday, and presumably today, for a hearing on his bankruptcy case. But that makes for a relatively short flight to Boston.

The most humorous take on this whole situation so far, however, as been from FOX SPORTS football writer John Czarnecki. I can only surmise he was serious when he wrote on Thursday that Vick would be unlikely to sign with the Patriots because: “I visited Boston last month and, boy, do they love their dog parks. That might not make for the best environment for Vick.”

Anyway, Brady is back, and he’s always good for a few laughs. When asked on Thursday if wife Gisele Bundchen is indeed pregnant, he refused to confirm it, invoking of all people David Ortiz.

“I heard Big Papi say, ’I don’t have all the information,”’ Brady said. “I don’t have all the facts and it hasn’t been researched enough.”

Red Sox Acquire Victor Martinez

1:38pm: Done deal, says Yahoo's Gordon Edes. MLB Network's Tom Verducci says pitcher Bryan Price is the third hurler going to Cleveland in the trade.

1:35pm:'s Jonathan Mayo says (via Twitter) pitchers Nick Hagadone and Justin Masterson are in the deal (ESPN's Peter Gammons agrees). Gut reaction: nice haul. Mayo also says the two clubs are looking at additional names to add for Cleveland.

1:27pm: FOX now says Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard are not in this deal.

12:55pm: USA Today's Bob Nightengale via Twitter: the Red Sox are about to acquire first baseman/catcher Victor Martinez from the Indians. Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse, trying to confirm, says it "looks good." FOX Sports agrees, and notes a lack of a third team involved. They also believe this kills the Adrian Gonzalez talks.

Eminem fires back at Mariah Carey

In response to Nick Cannon's open letter and Mariah Carey's latest video, Eminem has released his latest song "The Warning," and it's pretty much everything you'd expect from Eminem. Via PopCrunch:

"Yeah, what you gonna say? I'm lucky? Tell the public that I was so ugly that you had to be drunk to me?
Second base? What the fuck you tell Nick, punk?
In the second week we was dry humping. It's gotta count for something.
Listen, girly. Surely you don't want me to talk about how I nutted early cos ejaculated early and bus all over your belly, and you almost started hurling and said I was gross, go get a towel you're stomachs curling. Or maybe you do.
But if I'm embarrassing me, I'm embarrassing you and don't you dare say it isn't true.
As long as the song's getting airplay I'm dissing you.

You know what would be awesome about this song? If it were 2001 and more than five people know who the hell Nick Cannon is. That said, Eminem's willingness to embarrass himself doesn't exactly make everything he says true. For example, just because I'm willing to admit I only have a two foot long penis that doesn't mean I can honestly claim to be Spider-man. -- Or does it?

Dodd Has Prostate Cancer

Sen. Chris Dodd has been diagnosed with early stage prostate cancer, according to the Hartford Courant.

“It’s something that’s very common among men my age,” said Dodd, who is 65 and the father of two young daughters. “In fact, one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their life.” Dodd, a Democrat who is up for re-election in November 2010, said he feels fine. “As you have probably noticed, I’m working some long and hard hours lately,” he said. “And that will continue.”

Though noted that it was caught early, there aren’t many further details about his condition. The Senator will hold a press conference this afternoon at 2pm.

Python patrol bags biggest beast yet -- a 17-footer

As if Florida's python problem couldn't get any bigger, one of the largest snakes found yet in the wild was killed Thursday north of Lake Okeechobee.

The constrictor, found and destroyed on the grounds of Okeechobee Veterinary Hospital, stretched 17 feet, 2 inches and weighed in at a staggering 207 pounds. That's four pounds more than the Miami Dolphins' brawny No. 1 draft pick, Vontae Davis. It measured 26 inches in diameter.

``The capture of this large python shows us how well these snakes can thrive in the wild and create a dangerous situation after illegal release or escape,'' Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in a press release. ``It also illustrates why the FWC is partnering with other agencies to implement python control measures in South Florida.''

On July 17, the FWC began an experimental permit program that allows reptile experts to capture and euthanize Burmese pythons on state-managed lands around the Everglades. So far, the effort has bagged five pythons and the agency intends to add to the seven existing snake hunters in coming weeks.

The program will end on Oct. 31, and the agency will evaluate data before deciding whether to continue or expand it.

Wildlife officers scanned the python but did not find a microchip, which is required for Burmese pythons kept as pets.

Woman Guilty of Killing 4 Daughters

WASHINGTON — A judge found a District of Columbia woman guilty Wednesday of killing her four daughters and living with their mummified bodies for months in a case that brought scrutiny to the city's child welfare system.

APBanita Jacks, 34, was convicted of four counts of felony murder, three counts of premeditated first-degree murder and four counts of first-degree child cruelty. She was acquitted of one count of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of her oldest daughter.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Frederick H. Weisberg decided the case himself after Jacks waived her right to a jury trial. Bench trials are rare in murder cases, said Benjamin Friedman, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington.

Before reading the verdict, Weisberg said the case was one of his most challenging in three decades as a judge.

"It was a very lonely assignment," he said. At the end of the hearing, he buried his face in his hands.

Jacks faces life in prison when she is sentenced Oct. 16.

U.S. Marshal deputies discovered the girls' decomposing bodies in January 2008 while carrying out an eviction at their mother's southeast Washington row house. The girls are believed to have been ages 5 to 16.

Jacks, who walked into the courtroom with a cane, looked at Weisberg as he read the verdict and at times shook her head, but did not show any visible emotion.

In a lengthy interview with police, she said her daughters were possessed by demons and inexplicably died one by one in their sleep. She believed they would be resurrected.

Weisberg said the extreme decomposition of the bodies provided strong evidence of Jacks' guilt but also made it difficult for experts to determine how the girls died. Experts confirmed Brittany was stabbed, but there was not enough evidence to prove who did it and if that was what killed her. That's why Jacks was acquitted on one of the premeditated first-degree murder charges.

But Weisberg said it was clear she contributed to Brittany's death by mistreating her. That's why he kept the felony murder charge, which indicated that Jacks caused her daughter's death while committing a felony, in this case child cruelty.

"I can only imagine the torture and torment Ms. Jacks inflicted on her ... must have really done damage to her psyche," he said.

Weisberg said evidence showed the other three girls were strangled. He said Jacks also starved them and denied them basic necessities.

It was unclear why Jacks killed the girls, but evidence indicated she was extremely depressed. Nathaniel Fogle, her boyfriend and father of the two youngest girls, died from cancer in February 2007. Following his death, Weisberg said Jacks lost her last emotional and financial support and became frustrated with her daughters' behavior.

It appeared that taking care of them placed "a huge burden on an increasingly stressed-out mother," Weisberg said.

Prosecutors said they were pleased with the verdict but noted it would not bring back the girls.

"There's no joy coming out of this courthouse," prosecutor Deborah Sines told reporters.

Peter Krauthamer, one of three public defenders representing Jacks, said they will appeal.

"It's not where we wanted to be," Krauthamer said.

The case prompted the city to review hundreds of child welfare cases and make changes to the agency.

Six social workers were fired last year for not adequately responding to a report of abuse at the home months before the children were found.

A school social worker raised concerns about the family in early 2007 after she visited and thought Jacks was holding the girls hostage. But an investigation was closed because child welfare officials thought the family had moved to Maryland.

Earlier this month, city officials unveiled legislation named for the girls that aims to improve how health and human services agencies share information with one another and coordinate services.

Joe Jackson Says That Omer Bhatti Is Michael Jackson's Son

The one and only Joseph Walter "Joe" Jackson is continuing to stay in the spotlight – a month after his son Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest. The 80-year-old Fountain Hill, Arkansas native – famously known for giving birth and then managing the Jackson 5, and then overseeing aspects of his children's careers as adults – sat down with Interactive One's Chief Content Officer Smokey Fontaine this week for an intimate interview that has caused a stir in the mainstream media.

Regarding speculation that the "King of Pop's" young protege might actually be his child, Mr. Jackson spoke publicly about the rumors confirming that he did, indeed, have a secret son: 25-year-old Norwegian dancer Omer Bhatti.

"Yes, I knew he had another son," Jackson told Fontaine.

Bhatti was seen in the front row of Jackson's glitzy memorial on July 7.

"He looks like a Jackson, he acts like a Jackson, he can dance like a Jackson... this boy's a fantastic dancer," Joe Jackson said.

E. Lynn Harris: Cause of Death Revealed

The official cause of death for best-selling author E. Lynn Harris has been revealed.

According to Associated Press, a coroner's official said heart disease, complicated by high blood pressure and a hardening of the arteries, is what killed Harris.

Yesterday, county coroner Craig Harvey said that the 54-year-old died of natural causes.

The Flint, Michigan native died July 23 while visiting Los Angeles to promote his latest book. The next morning, a Doubleday/Random House executive confirmed the death to BV Newswire.

Harris, who lived in Atlanta, was considered a pioneer of gay black fiction and renowned as one of the most successful black authors of his generation.

He wrote 11 books – including 'Invisible Life,' 'This Too Shall Pass,' and 'Basketball Jones' -- since 1991 – including ten of which became New York Times best-sellers.

The former IBM executive, who had a new book planned for release later this year, had more than four million of his books are in print.

According to Harris' good friend and literary colleague Eric Jerome Dickey, a funeral will be held on Aug. 1 at Gaines Street Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dr Boyce: How Companies Make Money off Prisoners

Dr. Byron Price is a black scholar with a mission. His book, 'Merchandizing Prisoners' opens the door for a discussion on how the African American community is being financially pillaged by the prison industry. You may not know this, but private corporations earn money from inmate incarceration and have a direct financial incentive to house more. This is a problem, since unfocused profit maximization does not leave much room for prisoner rehabilitation. Dr. Price is one of the leading scholars in America, and he has taken it upon himself to help solve this problem.

1) What is your name and what do you do for a living?

Byron E. Price, associate professor, political science department, and interim director, Barbara Jordan Institute for Policy Research

2) Tell us about your book? What does it teach us?

According to National Union of Public and General Employees, "This book examines the steady growth of private, for-profit prison firms and the correctional-commercial complex that has developed tangentially with the private prison industry." It also details the strange bedfellows that have been brought together to expand this industry.

I underscore how these for-profit private prison companies have gone public and are trading on the stock exchanges and the inimical impact of prisons being publicly traded. The book debunks many of the claims as to why states seek prison privatization and demonstrates that incarceration is the new form of slavery. ...This work sets the record straight about the decision to privatize state prisons, revealing the political bias that often drives these policy choices.

3) Why do so many black men end up in prison?

The collateral consequences of a felony conviction makes it impossible for African American males to reintegrate into society. A felony conviction for drugs makes one ineligible for financial aid, living in public housing, receiving welfare benefits, obtaining a vocational licenses, such as a barber's license. Social-control strategies are employed to maintain the status quo. Over-policing of the African American community and the criminalization of black males all lead to the disproportionate incarceration of black males. Black males are more likely to be expelled from school, tracked, labeled, placed in special education, be punished for adolescent behavior and criminalized for adolescent behavior. Thus, there is an expectation that black males will end up in prisons, and these expectations are internalized by many black youth. It ends up as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

4) Is there money being made by incarcerating prison inmates? If so, how is it being made and who is earning it?

Corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the Geo Group (formerly Wakenhut), Avalon Correctional Services, Cornell Companies and Industry Property Management. CCA has a $2 billion market cap, followed by the Geo Group with a $922 million market cap. The money is made by contracting out the inmates' labor to Fortune 500 companies and, in some cases, they compete for public works contracts. CCA and the others are making money, and their stock trades on the stock exchange. Telecommunications industries pay prisons to put pay phones in prisons. Pay phones in prisons make $15,000 a day. Transportation companies and all sorts of cottage industries develop around the prison industry. UNICOR, or Federal Prison Industries, created by Congress, was one of the first prison industries established to exploit inmate labor. States also pay a per diem per inmate to private prison corporations.

5) Are the prisons being cooperative in reducing the abuse and sexual assault of prison inmates?

Prison rape is encouraged by guards as a form of punishment. They are not very cooperative when it comes to ameliorating prison rape. The increasing HIV infection rate of heterosexual black females can be directly traced to the prison population. It has also placed black women at a disadvantage, because it has reduced the number of marriageable black men and has undermined black women's ability to negotiate better mates. Many end up with men from prison and end up getting infected by these men.

6) Are there any efforts that have been successful at confronting the strange financial incentives of the prison system?

Not at the level they need to be. We should lead a divestiture campaign of private prisons, and we should campaign to abolish private prisons.

7) What do you think are the solutions to the problems cited in your book?

Our community should launch a campaign to get rid of the laws in place that continue to punish black males long after that have paid their debt to society. For example, the inability to get financial aid. We should ban the question on employment applications that ask, "Have you been convicted of a felony?" We should take control of our children's education -- we need to get our children around people who love them. Abolish gangster rap and reduce the influence of hip-hop because it fosters a thug culture and cultivates misogyny and thuggery. Black men should play a more active role in their children's lives. We should also create employment opportunities for our community.

This interview was conducted by Dr. Boyce Watkins, finance professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Boyce's commentary delivered directly to your e-mail, please click here.

Cats, Dogs and Kids: The Perfect Formula for Good Press

By Richard A. Lee

The lighter moments that took place during the McGreevey Administration were few and far between. On any given day, those of us in the press office would find ourselves answering questions about the likes of Roger Chugh, Amiri Baraka, Golan Cipel and whoever else managed to find his or her way into the 24-hour news cycle.

One of those rare light moments took place in July 2002 when the Governor was scheduled to sign an Executive Order establishing a task force to determine if changes were needed in the state’s animal cruelty laws. The Governor’s outer office was filled with cats and dogs for the ceremony, which was to be followed by a photo op with a group of students who were visiting the U.S. from Ireland.

As was the routine, I popped my head into the Governor’s office about ten minutes before the first event to make sure he had all the materials he needed. Normally, there was a whirlwind of activity underway inside the office – meetings, phone calls, last-minute changes to the press materials. But on this day I found the Governor sitting as his desk rather relaxed while he engaged in small talk with an aide. When I asked if there was anything he needed, he reminded me that when one is doing press events with cats, dogs and children, there is not too much to worry about. It is about as close as of a guarantee you will ever get that press coverage will be positive.

This episode comes to mind because there have been few, if any, light moments in New Jersey this summer. The gubernatorial campaigns already are in high gear, with charges and counter-charges taking place on an almost daily basis. Over 40 individuals, among them elected officials, members of the clergy and other community leaders, have been arrested in a massive corruption bust. A state cabinet member has resigned, and one of those arrested has died under circumstances that still are under investigation.

Indeed, these are serious matters and they should be dealt with with the seriousness they deserve. But sometimes in the high stakes world of government and politics, it becomes too easy to overlook the human factor. There is something magical about a child’s smile, the wag of a dog’s tale, or the purr of a kitten that remind us of the good things in life and help put things into perspective. The images we saw earlier this year of President Obama and the First Family having fun with their new dog underscored that message. It was a break from the cut-throat world of Washington politics – a place which reportedly led Harry Truman to advise: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

There is some uncertainty over whether Truman ever actually uttered those words, but the advice is sound, and dogs and other pets have long been a part of presidential families. Although earlier presidents had had pets, Warren Harding was the first chief executive to bring the First Family’s dog, an Airedale terrier named Laddie Boy, into the national spotlight. And Laddie Boy had a positive impact on the President’s image with the American public. “In public, he was a celebrity dog who enhanced the First Family’s image as a kind and nurturing unit, sharing the spotlight and burdens of performance that came with the White House,” Helena Pycior, wrote in The Making of the “First Dog”: President Warren G. Harding and Laddie Boy.

New Jersey may have played a peripheral role in Harding’s decision to get a dog – a decision that started a long tradition of presidential pets.

According to a 1921 New York Times story, the topic came up while Harding was riding to his inauguration with the outgoing president – Woodrow Wilson, who had been governor of the Garden State. The newspaper reported: “After Mr. Wilson had entered the automobile Mr. Harding tried to start conversation as they rode down Pennsylvania Avenue, but found it very difficult and was somewhat embarrassed by the lapses of silence. Finally he said: ‘You know, Mr. Wilson, I am very fond of pets, and I want to get a White House pet.’” With that, the silence was broken. Wilson asked what type of pet Harding was considering and they continued their conversation on the topic on the ride to the inauguration.

Since Laddie Boy, presidential pets have become a White House staple. Before the Obamas brought their Portuguese Water Dog Bo to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, George W. Bush had a Scottish Terrier named Barney and an English Springer Spaniel named Spotty , and the Clinton’s made a home for Chelsea’s cat Socks. The list goes on and on – and not by accident. As Lisa Yudin explained in a journal article titled Canine Citizenship and the Intimate Public Sphere, the general populace often has difficulty identifying with the powerful individuals who inhabit the White House, but not so with their pets, which are no different than their own cats and dogs. Using George W. Bush’s family as an example, Yudin wrote: “While it may be difficult for many Americans to easily identify with other members of the First Family – father George, mother Laura, and twin sisters Jenna and Barbara – making a connection with their fun-loving dogs seems to be less of a stretch.”

Here in New Jersey, the pets of governors and other top state officials generally have kept a low profile. The lone exception I recall was Wacky, a golden retriever who belonged to John Russo when he was State Senate President and occasionally accompanied him to work at the State House complex.

But as one might expect in New Jersey, even Wacky could not keep out of controversy. One day while Russo was tied up in a meeting, he asked a Senate aide to walk the dog, leading to a news report in The Record questioning whether such duties were within the aide’s responsibilities as a state employee.

It may very well have been a legitimate question, but in this case, I think man’s best friend deserved a better fate – even here in New Jersey.

(Dedicated to my dog BJ who passed away at the age of 17 on July 23)