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  • Pennsylvania Lawmakers Caucus in Shared Prison Cell

    For years, centrist observers of American politics have bemoaned the decline in civility in Washington and in our state capitols.

    Where once lawmakers from both parties would never place their devotion to partisan principles above their commitment to alcoholism and  would wile away their afternoons in bipartisan drinking sessions, today's elected officials are much less likely to interact socially with their political opponents. The time pressures of fundraising, the need to please partisan activist bases and the decline of Georgetown salon culture has reduced the spaces in which Democrats and Republicans can come together.

    Luckily, there's still one taxpayer-funded locale with bipartisan accommodations – prison…

    John Perzel, a Republican from Philadelphia and Bill Deweese, a Democrat from Greene, share the distinction of both having served as Speaker of the Pennsylvania State House.

    They also became convicted felons within a month of each other after separate convictions on corruption charges. Now they’re both at Camp Hill state prison, and according to the website PoliticsPA, they're sharing the same cell…

    Democratic Rep. Ronald Waters, who serves in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and worked with both Perzel and Deweese prior to their convictions, commented that "to the best of our knowledge, it seems to be true."

    The unusual housing arrangement allegedly came about after Deweese, a Democrat convicted of using state funds to pay his campaign staff, was uncomfortable bunking with his original cellmate — his own former chief of staff Mike Manzo. Understandable, as Manzo testified against him.

    Luckily, both are facing relatively short sentences. Deweese was sentenced to 30 to 60 months in prison while Perzel will serve 2 to 5 years, barring a successful appeal. It will probably be the first time politicians express gratitude for the existence of "term limits."

    Photo by Federal Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

    Tags: Corruption, Pennsylvania, Prison
  • White-Collar Criminals for Newt

    newt gingrichNewt Gingrich may be struggling to win over Latino voters, business leaders and former colleagues. But according to jailed ex-congressman Duke Cunningham, there's one voting bloc that's solidly pro-Newt

    Cunningham, a Republican who represented northern San Diego, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion in 2005 in one of the biggest federal bribery scandals in recent memory.

    Cunningham tells Gingrich in an electronic message he says he sent to the candidate last month that his fellow prisoners, and their families, support Gingrich:

    "Newt, a voice out of the past. Down but not out and still fighting. First I do not want anything from you but have been watching the debates. I have 80% of inmates that would vote for you."

    This is a wonderful opportunity to combine two important issues: prison overcrowding and America's lack of moon colonies. Under President Newt Gingrich, both problems could be solved simply by sending prisoners to live on the moon. As anyone who has studied the prison population can tell you, inmates love space. Quick, someone register I think I smell a new super PAC.

    Sure, prisoners can't actually vote for Newt – or for anyone for that matter – but they can tell their families to vote for him — or else.

    Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    Tags: Crime, Newt Gingrich, Primaries, Prison, Republicans
  • Haley Barbour Wants to Let Convicted Murderers Go Hunting

    Mississippi governor and onetime possible presidential candidate Haley Barbour wears his cholesterol-filled heart on his sleeve. He's a true compassionate conservative, not like those other southern governors who execute children for sport.

    So before leaving office on Tuesday, Barbour made sure to pardon some murderers

    A Mississippi judge barred the state Wednesday from releasing prisoners newly pardoned by former Governor Haley Barbour, a conservative Republican who outraged some by granting clemency to more than 200 convicts as he was leaving office…

    Among those pardoned were four murderers who had been allowed to work at the governor's mansion doing odd jobs because of good prison behavior…

    "The pardons were intended to allow them to find gainful employment or acquire professional licenses as well as hunt and vote," Barbour said in a statement.

    See, that’s all. Barbour just wants to let a few convicted murderers roam around a desolate forest with their friends, carrying rifles and slaying large mammals. I can't imagine what all the fuss is about. Denying a killer the right to hunt would be like denying a shoplifter the right to wear baggy clothes, or a rapist the right to use Axe body spray. It's just not fair.

    And as Barbour himself said, hunting and voting are practically the same thing. Preventing convicted murderers from shooting animals is a violation of their civil rights. Remember what the great Martin Luther King Jr. once said: Men should be judged not by the color of their skin, but the color of their deer hide.

    Photo by Bill Clark/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    Tags: Crime, Haley Barbour, Mississippi, Pardons, Prison
  • Dick Durbin May Block Religious Freedom Commission's Renewal Until Feds Buy His Favorite Prison

    The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is one of those obscure federal panels that does yeoman's work with little notoriety and an even smaller budget.

    Created by Congress in 1998 to advise government officials on the plight of persecuted religious groups, the USCIRF now faces a shutdown unless Congress approves its reauthorization. But with the House having already approved a funding bill, only a few Tea Party zealots stand in the way of the agency's renewal.

    And by "Tea Party zealots," I mean "one liberal Democratic Senator with a parochial interest in an Illinois state prison…"

    The Thomson Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison near the Mississippi River town of Thomson, was built by the Illinois government for about $140 million a decade ago but hardly used because of staffing issues.

    [Senator Richard] Durbin, according to advocates for the religious groups that are the commission's most ardent supporters, wants Congress to come up with the money to buy the prison and make it a federal facility, and he has put a hold on the reauthorization bill until that happens. His leverage could be that Rep. Frank R. Wolf , the Virginia Republican who sponsored the legislation creating the commission in 1998, chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds federal prisons.

    These heartwarming stories of semi-anonymous Senate holds always remind me of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. If only Mr. Smith were a career politician willing to stand up to the influence of corrupt interest groups like "Big Refugee" and "Big Persecuted Minority" in order to advance the economic agenda of his home state.

    Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    Tags: Dick Durbin, House of Representatives, Illinois, Prison, Religion, Senate
  • Jon Stewart on the Senate's New "Go to Jail with No Trial Forever" Bill

    The way I see it, being locked up indefinitely for reasons that are never fully explained to be is a small price to pay for protecting my freedom.

    Coverage continues after the jump.

    The Daily Show airs Monday through Thursday at 11/10c.

    Read More »

    Tags: Barack Obama, Bill of Rights, Carl Levin, Constitution, Guantanamo Bay, John McCain, Jon Stewart, Lindsey Graham, Prison, Rand Paul, Senate, The Daily Show, Video