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Thursday, April 27, 2006

When I first began this blog and decided to more or less confine it to observations of "the passing parade" - or to put it another way, to comment on whatever current issues struck me as being important or at least interesting - I never thought about how difficult it would often be to write about something other than horribly bad news.

I can almost sympathize with those poor souls who complain that the media almost never report the good news - whether it’s alleged "good news" out of Iraq or any other kind of "good" news. It’s hard. It’s damned hard. The "news" is just plain mostly BAD. Whether it’s the price of gasoline and the nonsensical things that are being said and written about it during the past few days and that I just have to comment on some more in the days ahead - or stories about soldiers badly wounded in Iraq and subsequently discharged from the service - only to be told that they owe the army money because they didn’t complete their agreed term of service and having collection agencies hound them. Yes, it’s happening in this great country of ours. That and a lot of other sickening things that make you wonder just how "great" the greatest country on earth is nowadays.

But the sudden revelation that Don Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice were both paying sudden but "separate" visits to Iraq caught my eye and brightened my day. I could of course speculate about the "separateness" of their visits - and throw out veiled hints about a brewing triangular problem in the White House. But I’d rather speculate in another direction.

Could it have been a Bushlyan act of strategery to have sent the Don of Rumsfeld off to Iraq just in time to clear the decks for the introduction of Tony Snow? It’s possible. Maybe someone in the White House anticipated that Rummy might be asked what he thought of the transition from McLellan to Snow. Or maybe even how he viewed the role of the White House Press Secretary. There may have been fears that he would try to make us all understand the difficulties inherent in the job. Indeed, Rummy might tell us that a press secretary can’t know everything and can’t have all the answers. He very likely would be faced with things he knows he knows but also that he knows that there are unknowns. That is to say he knows that there are things that he doesn’t know. But - if Rumsfeld were to be asked - he might say that Snow’s toughest job of all would be dealing with unknown unknowns - that is to say - the things he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.

On the other hand, there are those who believe that he was dispatched to Iraq to brief new prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on the true meaning of "Henny Penny The Sky is Falling." You have to remember that a foreigner who is not familiar with the children’s tale of Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Goosey Poosey, Cocky Locky and the voracious Foxy Woxy might have misinterpreted the coincidence of Rumsfeld’s reference to those fictional characters and the explosion of the post "victory" insurgency. After all, when Sy Hersh wrote a piece about possible secret plans to attack Iran with nuclear power, Rumsfeld reacted with that very same combination of strange words - which were duly reported as having an ominous meaning by Iraq’s most watched and most revered American news anchor - Jon Stewart - and al-Jaafari may well have wondered if Jon was sending him a personal warning. Watch and listen.

The above WAS a link to a Daily Show video clip on the crooksandliars web site - that is there one day and gone the next. When I figure out how to solve this problem - or better yet to link directly to the Daily Show collection of clips, it'll be back.

Meanwhile, I'm sure you'll agree that even when the news is mostly bad and can’t be avoided, we can always look to the Daily Show to help us feel not quite as bad about it.

Speaking of the silly season - I don’t have a video clip of this handy, though I’m sure I could find it of I wanted to bother to take the time to do a search. Over to the left of this page are some selections of past posts which I haven’t bothered to look at or update for a while but which somehow seem to keep current. Like the hands of a stopped clock which are still right twice a day, the philosophical thrust of almost all of these few selections are as relevant today as they were when they were written. The clip that I don’t have available is that of Vanna White of Wheel of Fortune "fame" - having her "star" dedicated on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Now just keep that image and her "career" in mind while you move your cursor to the left of the screen and click on the 8/2/03 post of "The Vast Wasteland Keeps Growing."

To which I can only add - I rest my case.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

There I was the other day expressing a measure of pleasure that at least we’re acknowledging the existence of futures market trading instead of just the greed of oil companies when we’re complaining about the high cost of gasoline. But now it’s getting silly.

The crude oil/gasoline bandwagon is becoming overloaded with all who want to get in on the act - and driving me to an immeasurable measure of distraction that will likely load this page with mixed metaphors of every conceivable stripe.

You know it’s getting to the annual silly season when the President himself weighs in on the act with calls to roll back tax breaks for oil companies that he championed for years, and promises to investigate any hint of price gouging or manipulation by the oil companies. This from an old oil con man who let his veep set the nation’s energy policy that is a mystery to all but boozy birdshot himself - and his mystery advisory council of energy companies who we know had only the best interests of the American people and the future of the globe at heart. And now the President talks - wholesale gasoline prices drop a few cents - and some people think we’re on the right path!! Give me a break!!

As the years - no, the decades go by - this whole scene becomes exponentially more nonsensical. The oil companies get tax breaks to persuade them to search for more of the finite resource on which the world runs - while others call for a windfall profits tax to be assessed against their excessive profits so that the tax money gained can be used to investigate alternate sources of fuel.

And nothing will happen. Not as long as there is oil to be pumped out of the ground and profits to be gained by the big oil companies. If we have to look to CEO’s of Big Oil to come up with the solution to our energy and transportation problems , we’ll be back to rickshaws at about the time when the last barrel of crude gets pumped from a Saudi oil well - and we know there’ll be plenty of bodies ready to pull the new mode of transportation around town for minimum wage and tips.

It is long past the point where the discussion should be about price gouging and windfall profits and windfall profits taxes and tax breaks and changing our driving habits or building more fuel efficient cars. The inevitable has been known from the beginning. We are surely not so stupid as to believe that we could go on like this forever - pulling oil out of the ground with ever increasing speed as though it is stored in a bottomless pit. At least we learned that we couldn’t forever own and control the oil buried beneath the soil of foreign countries.

The cars using alternate, reproducible fuels that Arab nations don’t control, should be coming off the manufacturing lines and onto the streets of the world now!! And not just concept cars. All cars!! We shouldn’t be talking about alternate fuels - and certainly not alternate fuels that are a mixture of gasoline and something else. They should be here by now - in common usage.

But as long as Big Oil continues to be Big Oil and politicians continue to be politicians, I don’t see anything changing. We’ll adjust to the new cost of gasoline - just as we’ve adjusted to cars costing more than our houses cost just three decades ago. And smaller cars with better mileage will become more popular - as they already are in Europe where gasoline is sold by the liter!! It’s too expensive there to be sold by the gallon. The sticker shock would overcrowd the hospitals.

The only thing that will change this ridiculous situation - before the crude oil dries up that is - is to elect a leader who will promise, jump start and oversee a Manhattan type of project involving a total restructuring of the automobile manufacturing business and control and production of an alternate, reproducible fuel to power the new cars. There isn’t any question about producing the fuel. It can be done - and when the need for it becomes as evident as did the need for atomic power to end World War 11, it’ll be here. But it will take a leader who doesn’t indulge in political gobbledygook to try to please everyone and to pretend that he isn’t something that he is. It will take a leader who says - for example - that he plans to push for universal health care - a single payer system that takes obscene healthcare profits away from insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies - and yes - even doctors.

Am I saying that there is some relationship between universal healthcare and cars that run on reproducible fuels? Yes - in the sense that it will take a leader or leaders who recognize and acknowledge the inevitability of both and won’t allow themselves to be distracted from achieving both by crass political considerations. I think those kind of people are called statesmen -not easily found among today’s political leaders.

Friday, April 21, 2006

As I was saying yesterday - below - any way you want to look at it - there was something that caught my eye in the letter that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin wrote to the Justice Department asking if they were investigating Edward McNally, formerly an attorney for George Ryan, currently a US Attorney based in Washington - and a recent defense witness at George Ryan’s trial.

Durbin wants to know if McNally was receiving favorable treatment from Ryan’s current defense firm, Winston & Strawn - who also are charged with collecting money on behalf of creditors of a defunct law firm of which McNally was once a partner - and subsequently a debtor. .He also wanted to know if they were looking into allegations by the prosecutors in the Ryan case that McNally may have taped an FBI interview of Mr. Ryan about which he testified.

The junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama has also joined in the call for an investigation of Mr. McNally - but interestingly, neither are making any direct suggestion that McNally’s trial testimony was false. Indeed, even though it wasn’t their intention - they infer the opposite when they raise questions about the possible taping of the FBI interview - at which McNally of course was present in his capacity as Ryan’s lawyer. McNally’s trial testimony about that interview differed substantially from that of the FBI’s witness or witnesses. McNally was sure of what was and wasn’t said while alleging that the FBI didn’t even bother to take notes while conducting the interview. In other words, questioning their memory of just what was asked and answered.

It seems to me that if any questions are to be asked about Mr. McNally’s conduct at Ryan’s trial and whether or not he should have revealed that Winston & Strawn had been charged with collecting thousands of dollars from him on behalf of one of their clients - it should all be balanced against the truthfulness of his testimony. In what are our public servants interested? Whether or not McNally dotted every ethical "I" and observed the crossing of every ethical "T?" Or was his testimony truthful and the FBI’s not so? Incidentally, I heard the lead FBI investigator being interviewed on the radio this morning, referring to his agency’s investigation of Ryan as a "mission." An interesting choice of words.

Yesterday, I said the Durbin letter - what it asks and what it doesn’t question, reminded me of an incident in my past - and here it is.

Many years ago, I was producing a monthly magazine on audio tape for members of a medical association who’s name I will not mention. It isn’t relevant to the story. I was doing this as an independent contractor. I did all the work from beginning to end and billed the association a modest sum monthly. Somewhere along the way, there were some internal changes at the association and they hired someone who - among many other duties - was internally responsible for what I was doing for the association. He also got his job by virtue of his friendship with another independent contractor who had been working with the association for many years and who was in charge of a great many of their revenue producing ventures. These two wanted to wrest my project away from me and I got wind of what they were doing, so I was prepared. For ease of reference, I’ll call the "inside guy" X .

Over a period of months, I had many conversations about the project with "X" - and those that were telephone conversations were all taped by me. Yes folks - I done broke the law!!

Eventually, X prepared an elaborate report for the Board of the Association, knocking me six ways from Sunday and saying how bad it was for me to be running the project instead of someone else - and proving how bad I was for the project and for the Association by citing many things that I had said in the course of many conversations with him over a period of many months. It was a pretty good hatchet job. But just as I had found out about his plans months earlier, I found out about this one as well. I got a copy of his Board report and I prepared a response - more elaborate than his package of lies.

In my response, references were made to X’s versions of our telephone conversations as follows. "According to X, on such and such a date, the following was said. (X’s version of a conversation). Here is a word for word reproduction of what was actually said." It was repeated again and again throughout the many pages of my response to his report. It was obvious that I was calling X a liar and that I was challenging him to call me out - being quite prepared to produce what everyone knew I had ready to produce - the tapes of all our conversations. After all, this wasn’t a court of law and this wasn’t a trial. Had X questioned anything I said, I would have produced the tapes in a New York minute. He didn’t and the issue died. He didn’t last long with the Association after that.

I’m quite prepared to believe that McNally taped at least one FBI interview of Ryan - and if Durbin, Obama, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald or anyone else also believes it - and believes that by having possession of such a tape he was able to testify accurately and dispute the version given in testimony by the FBI - then they also have to believe that the FBI witness was being less than truthful. Maybe even lying!!

Maybe my idea of what is or isn’t important about this matter is off base - but it would seem to me that he truth of McNally’s testimony is more important than the issues that Durbin et-al have raised about him.

One more Ryan/Warner trial comment and then I’ll leave it alone. Even though the BBC reported on it, it really doesn’t hold much interest for my readers across the pond. (Incidentally, happy birthday Your Majesty.) More and more information is being revealed about jurors who neglected to acknowledge past involvement with civil or criminal courts on their jury questionnaires. Maybe it’s not a question that should even be asked - though it is the law in Illinois at the moment - but I sure wouldn’t want anyone sitting on a jury who was on probation - which condition was revealed yesterday about one of the jurors.

A number of them are now complaining about matters of their private lives being bandied about in public and questioning their honesty and integrity. To a certain extent, I don’t blame them for being upset - but it now has become apparent that Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer applied different rules to similar if not exactly the same sets of circumstances in dismissing some jurors and hanging on to others. Had she applied her rules consistently, one of two things could have happened. There wouldn’t have been enough jurors to proceed - thus calling for a mistrial - or the makeup of the jury that did the deliberating would have been different, perhaps resulting in some different verdicts on some of the many counts.

This case may drag on for quite some time before there’s a final adjudication - but I doubt that I’ll spend much more time on it unless something sensational happens.

And speaking of sensational, why is virtually no one talking about the fact that Patrick Fitzgerald has announced that he plans to present a grand jury with multiple criminal charges against Karl Rove?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I was pleased to see - or at least hear - I was listening to radio news at the time - an observer of the oil market say that you couldn’t blame the oil producers or the refiners or the gas companies for the crazy upward spiral of crude oil. It’s being caused by TRADING!! By those who trade in oil futures. Big funds. Individual investors. They are the reason for the price increases. It’s something you almost never hear when the price of gasoline goes spiraling upward - as it does year after year and particularly at this time of year. But it’s what determines how much we have left at the end of the week after driving back and forth to work - or to the unemployment office - which is still doing land office business in this "booming" economy.

So much more refreshing that the usual gobbledygook that we hear from the likes of Betsy Stark when ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas turns to her with a concerned frown upon her forehead to ask why we’re all going broke at the pump. Iran, Iraq, China, Katrina, fears of another Katrina, summer, SUV’s, demand, supply, Russia and Russian Roulette - at the end of which Elizabeth nods knowingly and continues to read smoothly from her TelePrompTer.

Now of course I know there are fundamentals behind the price increases - but for the most part, they are anticipated fundamentals.. All one has to do is believe that the price tomorrow will be higher than it is today in order to persuade yourself to buy today - thus helping to fulfill your own prophecy.

Once again, some of our elected officials are talking about price gouging and calling for hearings. Well I hope that there will be hearings - and this time, I hope that they will call some of the right people to explain what has been happening - the people who buy and sell crude oil future contracts by the barrel full. The average individual doesn’t much care when the stock market goes up or down - other than to be concerned about stocks he or she might own. But those fluctuations don’t affect their daily lives. Nor do the fluctuations in most other commodities. You wouldn’t expect to hear calls for congressional hearings because IBM is down or gold is up. But in a nation that runs on wheels, rising oil prices touches everyone - and harms many. It’s time to call ALL of the players before congress and expose what is actually going on.

We’ll still be getting hosed every time we fill up - but at least we’ll have a clearer idea of why. And maybe it’ll persuade some of us to join with the hosers instead of just being hosees!!!

Speaking of oil and money, I have a nomination for the American Olympic Arrogance team - if, as I speculated yesterday - Arrogance Exercises ever becomes an Olympic sport. It’s Lee Raymond, ex CEO of Exxon. In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, they sell gasoline,

Reportedly, Raymond’s retirement package amounts to around $400 million, which is making a few people unhappy!!

A couple of nights ago, Jon Stewart had a little fun with Raymond
and his enormous jowls. With the story of his megabuck package all over the news and the way this guy looks, it was hard for the Daily Show crew to resist taking a poke at him.

But my nomination for Arrogance honors stems from his reaction to questions that some in Congress are raising about all those millions. He was on the news telling the world that he couldn’t care less about talking to members of Congress with oil at $70 plus a barrel, nor was he interested in talking to them when it was $10 a barrel. As he put it, no member called him when it was a lowly ten bucks and asked him how he and his company was managing. So why would he want to talk to them now. So bug off all you complainers. It’s my four hundred mill and you can’t have it.

Step aside Rumsfeld. You’ve got company.

Incidentally, some others - among them Steve Chapman writing in the Chicago Tribune, don’t agree that Rumsfeld should quit. They think he should hang in there as the symbol of the Bush administration until his bossman steps aside at the end of his term. And that Bush administration symbol? As I said yesterday - Hubris! Arrogance! And all the other words meaning the same thing. So they really agree with me. They just think he’d do more good for the good guys (political opposition) staying where he is. They have a point. He’s no Tom DeLay but he serves the same purpose. I withdraw my resignation request. Stay where you are Don and just keep on being you.

The George Ryan case gets curiouser and curiouser. Now we learn that there were a whole flock of jurors who weren’t totally revealing on their juror questionnaire - but the judge chose to bounce some and not others. Had she flipped a coin and bounced a juror other than Evelyn Ezell, there may have been a not guilty or hung jury on a number of counts - and the future of the case might look a lot different from the way it looks today.

We also have Dick Durbin, our distinguished senior Senator from the State of Illinois wondering if the justice department shouldn’t be looking into Ryan’s former attorney who testified on his behalf but didn’t reveal a potential conflict of interest because of some dealings he has with Ryan’s current attorneys.

But what caught my eye in Durbin’s complaint was something that reminded me of an incident in my past and that I’ll get to tomorrow if my psyche and soma will combine to let me do a little uninterrupted writing.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

If the International Olympic Committee ever decides to add "Exercise in Arrogance" as a competitive sport, the United States would have to be one of the front runners to win gold - either in the individual or team competitions. The Muslim world would have some favored entries to be sure. Osama Bin Laden and the al Qaeda team of course - and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who would be a natural selection based on his thumb to nose attitude towards the United States and his grand Israel destruction plan.

But the favorite would have to be our own Donald Rumsfeld - who’s name alone is fast becoming a Thesaurus alternative for pomposity and disdain. In defending himself against relatively mild criticism from a half dozen retired generals along with the likes of John McCain, he is now floating the idea that the criticism stems not from his mishandling of the Iraq adventure but from resentment at changes that he has introduced during his five years on the job. And some people are buying into at least some of that nonsense. Witness the lead editorial in today’s Chicago Tribune.

But is that really why the generals are calling for his resignation? Think about it. This is the man whose response to looting in Iraq after we had toppled Saddam Hussein was that "freedom is messy." This is the man whose answer to a soldier in Iraq who asked why he had to scrounge for scrap metal to protect his vehicle was "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time." This is the man who told us that he knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. "We know where they are" he said. "They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." This is the man who revealed the clarity of his thinking with his comment that " Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know." Now why wouldn’t you want someone like that leading you into battle?

This is the man who showed his respect for the opinions of others by saying "Secretary Powell and I agree on every single issue that has ever been before this administration except for those instances where Colin's still learning." And when Army Chief of Staff , General Eric Shinseki testified that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to control conditions in post war Iraq, this was the man who said "The idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far off the mark." Shortly after which, General Shinseki was gone - and we all know what conditions prevail in Iraq today.

In defending himself with his usual arrogant flair, Rumsfeld wanted us all to know that "The fact that two or three or four retired people have different views, I respect their views. But obviously out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the secretary of defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round."

Well nobody is suggesting that "every time two or three people disagreed we changed the Secretary of Defense." I don’t think that there’s ever been a situation where retired generals have called for a Secretary to resign in a time of war. And you’ll note that Mr. Rumsfeld forgot to mention that among those "two or three people" were the generals actually involved in conducting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a little like Scooter Libby saying that out of hundreds of prosecuting attorneys, only Patrick Fitzgerald who brought an indictment before a grand jury. As the average pre-teen of today would say Dah??

What the secretary didn’t forget was where to go to put out his defense. To Rush Limbaugh - whose right wing radio program just happens to be on the armed forces network that can be heard by our troops in Iraq. It’s an appropriate combination. Limbaugh the distorter - (and I’m being kind with that description) - coupled with the frequently incomprehensible Rumsfeld.

According to one web site listing a bio of our esteemed Secretary of Defense "The cantankerous Rumsfeld has charmed the Washington press corp with his microphone skills." I agree that he at times can exhibit charm, but all too often words cascade from this charmer’s mouth that I believe more accurately reflect the inner being of the man. Arrogant. Disdainful. Dismissive of opinions that differ from his and obsessed with the conviction of his own rectitude that blinds him to the potential dangers of some of his decisions.

At the very least, if the man is a patriot, he should resign if only to remove himself as an issue in the problems we are facing in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the so called war on terror - if it ever gets re-launched against those who attacked us. It would send the right message to everyone. To our enemies. To our military personnel. That we have leaders who are willing to accept responsibility, to admit that no one individual is indispensable and who will step aside and allow new ideas to enter the arena for the good of the nation.

But having watched the guy for lo these many years - I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The world hasn’t missed my observations on the passing parade since I slowed down my contributions to the blogosphere over the past week or two. Of that I’m sure. And whether or not I’d been able to take time out to comment on the trial of ex-Illinois Governor George Ryan and his co-defendant Larry Warner while the jury was still deliberating - it wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome. That might seem like both a silly and unnecessary observation, except that I’m pretty damned sure that the continued observations and reports appearing elsewhere - such as in local newspapers covering the trial - had considerable influence on the outcome.

From the beginning, when U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer declined to grant the two defendants separate trials, the odds were stacked against them, Among the many counts in the indictment was conspiracy - and here were the two conspirators - side by side - for the jury to observe. They didn’t even need to get a whiff of smoke to believe that there must be fire somewhere. I’m amazed that just the lumping of the two together as co-defendants isn’t grounds for an appeal - but that shows how much legal knowledge I have.

I don’t know whether or not Ryan or Warner actually broke any laws. I don’t consider giving your friends an inside track on state contracts illegal - as long as those friends are able to perform legitimate services or provide needed goods. I don’t consider getting minor perks from some of those friends - such as free vacations - a violation of Ryan’s oath of office. I’m amazed that Dan Webb didn’t just admit that they were freebies. If much of what was alleged as criminal activity in this trial was thought of as such when political king maker Richard J Daley was Mayor of Chicago, his bones might be rotting today in some Federal prison cemetery. When he was criticized for giving City contracts to friends and family, his response - as I recall - was to invite the critics to "kiss his mistletoe

How times have changed.

There were so many charges thrown at the two men that even the most cynical of jurors probably felt going in that they must have been guilty of something But from where I sat observing the case as it unfolded - and that was from the comfort of my home with access to a multitude of reports via the Internet - they were helped in their deliberations by what I came to think of as a "thirteenth juror" - the Chicago Tribune - and at least one of it’s columnists.

It was the Chicago Tribune that "accidentally" uncovered information about two jurors that they didn’t reveal on questionnaires that they filled out. It was the Tribune that made a former Ryan attorney who testified for the defense look as though he had a conflict of interest because he had a matter pending with the law firm representing Ryan pro bono. And it was the Tribune’s John Kass who kept trumpeting Ryan’s alleged connection to the death of six children, killed by debris falling from a truck driven by someone who had paid a bribe to pass his driving license tests.

The jury wasn’t sequestered and they were exposed to this kind of reporting and commentary day after day. And now we learn from one of the two dismissed jurors that she was the sole hold out from a panel that had decided on guilt before beginning any deliberations!!

Just listening to brief sound bites from some of the jurors and reading comments of others sent shivers down my spine. These are not people I would ever want on a jury judging the minutiae of my life as they judged the minutiae that was presented to them as evidence of criminal activity.

Evelyn Ezell was dismissed from the jury after it had been deliberating for eight days!! The Tribune had indeed discovered that she had been charged with a crime which she had not revealed on her jury questionnaire. But the charge or charges had been thrown out of court. She had never been convicted of anything. Just as I was once charged with a crime by the Federal government which was rightly thrown out of court because it was a pack of lies. Government attorneys do lie when it suits their purpose. You can take my word for it.

There was no need to have dismissed Mrs. Ezell. This wasn’t at the beginning of deliberations. This was at a point where most juries would already have delivered a verdict. And this wasn’t a juror who was found to be a convicted felon. This was a juror who had refused to go along with the other eleven panelists and agree that both defendants were guilty of everything - and who claims that she was berated by the rest of the jurors and who says that she was the one who sent a note to the judge asking for help. Now we have a jury that has convicted Ryan and Warner on all counts and describes its verdict as the result of teamwork. With Ezell gone, this jury became a "team."

Ryan’s attorneys are going to be looking to overturn or certainly appeal the guilty verdicts - and no doubt the dismissal of the one juror who likely would have forced a hung jury on many of the numerous counts will be at the center of their pleadings. From this laymen’s perspective, her dismissal stinks to high heaven. Is this the juror dismissed for "personal reasons" - and could those personal reasons be those of the judge - and if so, what are they??

You might conclude from the foregoing that I am disappointed at the outcome of this trial and you’d be right. I’m disappointed in the clean sweep guilty verdicts on everything that the government alleged - something that wouldn’t have happened if the original jury had remained intact. From the beginning I thought that the overriding issue that the jury should have taken up was whether or not the State of Illinois was harmed by the governance of George Ryan and his business dealings with Larry Warner and whether Ryan benefited illegally and substantially from any aspect of his governance. And by "substantially" I mean big bucks - not the litany of "perks" that the government cobbled together as evidence of the state being for sale.

I also felt from the beginning that this was a trial influenced by an issue that wasn’t in any of the eighteen counts leveled at Ryan - that of the death of the six Willis children. And in case any of the jury members forgot, the Chicago Tribune was there to remind them throughout the trial. And even if they didn’t read the Tribune stories - there was the vengeance seeking Reverend Scott Willis in the courtroom throughout the trial - and yesterday rejoicing over the guilty verdict.

It’s not the topic I would have preferred to write about as my attempt to come back from blogging "sick leave" - but I needed to get it off my chest. Maybe I’m prejudiced in favor of defendants because of my past experience with the effort of this same federal prosecutor’s office to hang a phony charge on me almost fifty years ago. But I like to think my disappointment stems from my belief that this wasn’t a fair trial from the get go.

Friday, April 14, 2006

If this was a newspaper and I was one of its leading columnists, there would have been an announcement printed here several days ago saying that Jeff Smith is off sick. Or Jeff Smith is on sick leave.

But this is just a commentary blog that sometimes gets used to discuss personal matters - so I don’t need to be that formal. I’ve got a few medical problems that make it hard to sit at the computer and record great thoughts every day. In fact they sometimes make it hard to generate thoughts of any kind.

I know some of the people who read this blog regularly but certainly not all - so the best way to let readers know why there’s a slow down in commentary production is to say here that it’s because of health problems. I don’t post anywhere near as copiously or as often as some who I sometimes think of as blogomaniacs. Not that they’re particularly maniacal - just that they seem to have given their lives over to blogging - with posts every day and all day. Sometimes far into the night. When do these bloggers live??

But I do post often enough to know that people will start to wonder where I am if a few days or - heaven forbid - a week goes by without a blogging new word appearing here.

So now you know why things have been slow - and there’s more than one health problem so they’ve been even slower than they usually are when ill health has me in its evil grasp. But of course any bout of sickness involves the horrors of our healthcare system - which in turn provides blogging fodder, temporarily being stored in my blog reserve silo - to be brought out unto the sunlight of truthful exposure when I’m back among the healthy.

Until then, happy Good Friday and happy Pesach to all our Judeo-Christian friends. And happy - fill in the blanks - to Mormons, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrianists, Taoists and Baha’is. And it’s just another pleasantly warm but otherwise ordinary weekend for Atheists - so watch out for all those previously identified celebrating religionists. Specially on one way streets.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Does it sound right to you? CBS Evening News with Katie Couric? Will she at least drop the second syllable of her first name? I mean would it have sounded O.K. to you to have had Wally Cronkite or Danny Rather or Tommy Brokaw or Petey Jennings bringing you the watershed moments of history as they delivered the evening news?

The one thing you want from a news anchor is some degree of gravitas. You want him or her to look and sound knowledgeable. Katie doesn’t look too bad - though I’m not sure it’s a good "news anchor" look. But when it comes to network news, Shakespeare’s disdain of name importance does not apply. "That which we call a Katie by any other name would carry more weight." If it was a one syllable name that is.

A background in the news business might help offset that un-news like given name - if indeed someone actually gave it to her - but comparing her background with all of the aforementioned male predecessors - she seems to have played in a different league.

There’s a lot of hullabaloo about her becoming the first woman to become a solo anchor of a network newscast. Maybe they don’t count the BBC which has a number of female solo anchors. They don’t hold permanent sway over a time slot, but when they anchor, they anchor alone. They’re all good and none of them could be described as "perky."

I might take a peek at Katie when she starts and from time to time thereafter. I have nothing against female anchors. I’ve been watching Elizabeth Vargas regularly. That might be partially due to my watching Peter Jennings regularly for years and I’m just used to watching ABC at 5.30 Central time. But Elizabeth does a good job. I hope Katie does half as good.

She’ll have to do something about the name though. And that "perky" business.

A tail of two kinds of bankruptcy… If you’re an "executive" at United Airlines….or just an ordinary Joe in financial trouble……

I like the United Airlines commercials. I’m nor sure what they call that visual technique that they use, but it’s impressive. And the last time we flew United round trip to England was at the time of 9/11 - and it was reasonably comfortable - the food was O.K. and the personnel - from the ticket agents to the on board help couldn’t have been nicer.

I'm pretty sure we've flown United since then - but right now I’m not sure that I could bring myself to take one of their flights if there was another airline available. The company emerged from bankruptcy a while ago - after being in that condition for what seems like forever. It’s like an ancient history that we teach out kids as they’re growing up. About the days when United Airlines wasn’t in bankruptcy. And about how they finally came out of bankruptcy on the backs of its employees - pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, ticket agents - all the "non-suit" workers - even though pilots and flight attendants wore recognizable uniforms. But "workers" know the difference between themselves and "suits" - even if the "suits don’t!! The suits, all the way up to the King of All Suits, Glenn Tilton, who got a signing bonus to come aboard and squeeze the life’s blood out of thousands of employees - and has a post bankruptcy package of around fifteen million

And now we have other suits standing in line with their hands out waiting for their turn to collect millions for all that they did to "save" the company.

I want to see this or any other company employing thousands of workers on whose salaries thousands of families rely for survival - to succeed. Absolutely. But the thought of any part of my ticket price going towards the ridiculous payouts that these executives arrange for each other sticks in my craw.

In a rational society, you’d think that our elected officials would step in and try to protect the rights of ordinary workers - or at least to try to push for some sort of financial or moral equivalency between the sacrifices that workers are asked to absorb when their employer files for bankruptcy and the benefits that accrue to company executives during and because of the bankruptcy filing.

But you shouldn’t take away from this stated hope the thought that our elected officials have altogether ignored the subject of how bankruptcy affects the working individual. Far from it. We have a Republican Congress remember? They have re-visited the bankruptcy laws. And they have given us THIS!!

Anti-Semites as "Stooges?"

I was watching part of a re-run of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" a few nights ago - "part" because I can never stay more than a few minutes whenever I light upon this program. At the moment that I hit, the question was about how many different actors had played the roles of The Three Stooges. I went past the station before the contestant tried to answer - but I think the answer was six with Shemp taking over from Curly and then two others who succeeded Shemp.

The Stooges - and their number - come to mind because of a recent story in The Chicago Tribune about two professors - one from the University of Chicago and one from Harvard - who had written a piece for the London Review of Books about the problems of US foreign policy. It can all be traced - they say - to the influence of "The Israel Lobby." That’s right. Professorially speaking, Israel - and more specifically, Jews - are dictating American foreign policy. The tail is wagging the dog.

So how does this tie in with The Three Stooges - aside from the fact that these two may be as nutty as Larry, Curly and Moe? Well, the numbers are beginning to add up. There’s Arthur Butz of course - another University Professor, he of the No Such Thing As The Holocaust infamy - that makes three. And we can almost close our eyes and reach out over the Internet to find numbers four through six. How about Mahathir Mohamad -the Former Malaysian Prime Minister who told an audience of so called world leaders that Jews rule the world by proxy?

I’ll let you pick two more to catch up to the number of actors who brought us the Three Stooges - all of whom, with one possible exception - were Jews!! Hey, maybe Mahathir was on to something. What the hell. We elected George W Bush to run this country. Twice!!!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The pain persists - but what the hell.

As readers of this blog know, I like to speculate and ask questions about religious belief from time to time. It’s been a while since I’ve done that - so today is a day to ask one of those questions. Like if there is a God, can such an entity be found by asking a question of an Internet search engine? Being a fan of science fiction - or at least a past fan - I read the stuff voraciously as a youth but not so much any more - I found the concept intriguing. Perhaps my favorite SciFi short story of all time is Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question - which dealt with a similar topic. That "last question" - posed to a super computer - wasn’t "where is God" - but it nonetheless precipitated a kind of an answer to that very question.

If you’ve never read The Last Question, I would highly recommend it. The link above is to the complete story. Read the whole thing. Don’t jump to the punchline. You’d miss all the fun.

I’ve been thinking that having access to the Internet and to the omnipresent Google - I too can pose the kind of question that Asimov posed in his brilliant story - but in a more direct way. So, a few days ago, I asked the Great and Powerful Google the ultimate question. Where is God? I guess the most direct answer I found was in an ad to the right of the screen that told me "Whatever you’re looking for, you can get it on e-Bay." How’s that for a concept in this dot com world? Supreme being for sale. Last bid twenty nine ninety five!

A non-advertising site had absolute scientific evidence that there is a God and explained away the question that I was going to ponder here about the Big Bang - and what there was and what happened before the Big Bang. This site explains that "God" is someone or something outside of " time, space and energy." Sort of like being in the "hyperspace" that the actors on all of the Star Trek series were always running into or talking about.

It’s all very interesting - as are other sites that purport to prove that God exists with so called scientific evidence. The problem with all of these proffers of "proof" is that they all seem to start with the premise that there is such a thing as God and they set about offering "evidence" to prove their premise. The concept of the modern God of course is tied in with the non acceptance of death as finality - with oblivion. In the times preceding the general acceptance of a single God, all sorts of natural occurrences were attributed to a variety of Gods who were feared and worshipped accordingly. I don’t know if any of them promised life after death, but if they did, it was a promise conceived by the worshipers rather than the worshipped.

Today, many, if not most believers in a deity also accept the evolution of earth and of man. The folks who put out the "scientific" site above have no argument with that. They agree that there was a beginning such as the Big Bang and everything proceeded from there. So let’s fast forward a few billion years and ask some questions that should intrigue even the most devoted believers. At what point in the evolution of earth and it’s animal population, did any living creature achieve the nirvana of continuing to have a sentient existence after dying? Did our primitive ancestors possess "souls" that continued to live on after they died? Or was it around the time when today’s major religions were born when God decided that his finest creations would stay alive in a different form after their bodies gave out?

Of course that’s not a difficult question for those who believe that the old and new testaments of the King James Bible describe the literal creation of the world and of man. Before that time, if one accepts the Bible literally, there were no creatures to survive death. Certainly no humans. But for the rest of us, if we believe in God, it’s a difficult question that must give us pause. The best way to handle it of course, is not to ask the question. To not ask any question. But it’s not my way - which is why I fall more in the category of a non believer - pending my Internet search of course.

I think it’s interesting that in Biblical times, God communicated with various humanoids on a regular basis, so it was easy to find him then. It’s a shame that it was before the invention of recording equipment so that there wasn't any way to document the visits for future generations - but maybe he’ll come back and visit again in our lifetimes. Christians are waiting for the "second coming" and Jews are waiting for "The Messiah." One would think that the easiest way for any of this to happen would be for an omnipotent God to break into television programming at the same time all over the world and, speaking in all languages at the same time, simply say - "Hey there humans, it is I, the big Muckety Muck. You’ve been goofing off. Cool it - or I’ll cool this experiment. I have spoken." But maybe he just doesn't have that kind of interest in us.

I think I’ve said here before that for me personally, it’s easier to believe in Gods - plural - than a single almighty deity. "Gods" in the sense of superior - perhaps immortal beings. Something that we humans might become if we keep evolving for a few hundred thousand or million years - and if we don’t destroy ourselves. But if I were to give serious consideration to the concept of an entity outside of time, space and energy as we know it, to be the "creator" of our universe, the last attribute that I would assign to such an entity, would be a personal relationship with or to any of billions of living entities that might have accidentally or by design arisen from the chaos of its creation.

But I could be wrong about all of my questions and speculations. In Asimov’s story, technical advances in computer science over centuries of time, produced a super computer that outlasted mankind and the universe. In the end, there was nothing left but the Cosmic AC - that was the computer’s name - to answer the question that man had been asking it and its predecessors for centuries. Pondering and juggling its chips in hyperspace, it came up with a pretty good answer - maybe the only possible answer, so I’m going to keep looking and asking the great and powerful Google to guide me in my quest.

The question to Google - Where is God - produced 578,000,000 hits and eight ads - including the invitation to find him on e-Bay, so I’ve got a lot of sifting to do. I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Some days my sciatic pain is so bad that it overwhelms my desire and ability to do things I normally do, including posting a commentary to this blog - and today is one of those days.

However, I was able to sit at the computer for a moment this evening to once again urge baseball authorities to give serious consideration to the suggested rule changes that I posted at this very site when I first started this blog three years ago - almost to the day.

Just take a look and see what a boon it would be to the two Chicago teams and all of there fans.

In the case of the champion Chicago White Sox, they only needed five runs for their opening day victory over the four that Cleveland managed to push across home plate -and the other five that they scored would already be in their "reserve run reservoir" bank - waiting to be used in the unlikely event that they are ever behind at the end of nine innings this season.

The Cubs situation would be even more advantageous. They needed only eight runs to beat Cincinnati’s seven - but scored sixteen!!! Under MY rule change, they would have the other eight neatly tucked away in their reserve run reservoir bank.

But even without my new rules - it was a good day for Chicago and even though I’m not really a fan, I’m looking forward to the guaranteed north/south World Series this fall.

And now back to my sick bed.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006 2 p.m.

Still in too much pain to do any regular blogging and on my way to see my neuro-surgeon , but I couldn’t resist adding a comment to the above. The Sox lost yesterday by an eight to two score, so the reserve run reservoir wouldn’t have helped - had it been in effect. The Sox were behind by too many runs at the end of nine innings, so the five runs in their reservoir bank wouldn’t have helped. But throughout a long season, they or any other team might possibly accumulate way more reserve runs than they would need to tie games at the end of nine innings - and I would hate to see those runs go to waste. So…expanding on my three year old New Baseball Rules......

I propose that reserve runs could also be used for other purposes during a game. They could be traded to a team that is short on reserve runs in return for some future needed advantage. For example, they could trade ten reserve runs to a team for the right to call for the opposing pitcher to deliver a walk at any time they are playing them during the season. Of course there would be a rider to the trade agreement prohibiting the team receiving those ten runs in trade to use them against the team trading them. Unless they got traded to yet another team. It could get complicated, but I’d bet it would make baseball games more fun to watch.