What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

So Bibi and Abu Whatsisname have agreed to come to the good old USA and sit face to face and arrive at a final agreement between Israel and those calling themselves Palestinians. I identify the latter that way because the Arab residents of the area didn’t always identify themselves that way. It will be a waste of time. The Palestinian Liberation Organization is still one of the parties involved. What does that mean? That the Arab goal is to "liberate" the land on which Israel sits? Refugees and their "right of return" is still on the table as is Jerusalem as a desired capital for the Palestinians - a desire that never existed before the modern state of Israel came into existence. Perhaps there will be handshakes with the parties and Obama as there was with Carter and Clinton. But there will be no Nobel Peace prizes in the offing and there will be no agreement. Unless of course, both sides come to their senses - the Arab side successfully persuades the madmen in Gaza to swap madness for peace and the Israeli side convinces settlers and ultra orthodox nuts that there can be no "greater Israel" - and all parties accept the as close to perfect as you can get, Jeff Smith solution of October, 2003.
In the same vein, I have a solution for the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy which is getting out of hand with street protests and threats of violence against someone wearing a skull cap - he wasn’t Muslim. Convert the old Burlington Coat Factory building into a YMWCHMA - a Young Men and Young Women’s Christian, Hebrew and Muslim Association. And just in case the AARP files a law suit - throw in a Senior Citizens Center. Oh - and an atheist discussion group. And an AAF - All Other Faiths adjunct. And if that doesn’t do it, tear the (Blagojevich) building down and put up a parking lot!!
I keep hearing that American businesses are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash instead of spending it - or some of it - to hire people and expand. It leaves me asking two questions. Who did the counting and if those businesses are doing O.K. - as in making a decent profit - what incentive is there for them to hire more workers? And my question remains even if, as some are claiming - that they are deliberately hanging on to cash and not hiring just to make Obama look bad and lose to some Republican - any Republican - in 2012.
I hear that Ann Rice has abandoned Christianity but not Christ. Does this mean that she’s about to adopt her savior’s religion? In other words, is she planning to convert to Judaism?? And speaking of Judaism, will Bill and Hillary be joining Chelsea and her husband for Passover or will the kids be joining the old folk for Easter?
So one of the John McCains won the Republican primary in Arizona and presumably will be reelected to the Senate in November. The question is - which John McCain will return to the Senate? The maverick or the "I’ve never been a maverick" McCain? The never voted against a tax cut McCain or the McCain who voted against the Bush tax cuts TWICE but now wants to keep them forever. Or maybe the McCain who was all for comprehensive immigration reform but now wants to seal the borders so tight that even an ant couldn’t crawl through. Oh, what the heck. I’m too busy to keep speculating on which McCain will be re-elected in November. It’ll be ONE of the guys who held or now holds one of the positions listed here.
These few comments will amount to my 996th post since I began these writings in April of 2003.Four more and I will hit a thousand at which point I think I will stop to reflect and review all that I have written and assess its value as a possible volume of work that might be worthy of preservation the old fashioned way - on paper. I may then start another thousand observations of the passing parade - or I may start a brand new blog of a more focused nature - perhaps on religion or in response to silly letters that the Chicago Tribune regularly publishes - a pet peeve of mine. Or maybe I’ll try something completely different - as John Cleese used to say. Stay tuned. I’ll be back.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Well I was partially right about the Blagojevich jury. They came back with one guilty verdict - and there was at least one juror who, though not able to persuade the others to see things her way - at least prevented verdicts that would have sent the ex governor away for 30 years or more. But prosecutor Patrick Fizgerald - the Inspector Javert of the Department of Justice, has made clear that he is determined to retry both Rod and Robert Blagojevich and based on the reports of how the first jury voted on various counts - unless another "holdout" is on the panel - they will be hard pressed to escape a lengthy visit to the big house. My advice to Blago would be to follow his brother’s example the next time around and testify. Not testifying wasn’t a winning strategy, so I doubt that there would be anything to lose by doing what he told the world he was going to do for months on end and tell the truth as he sees it.

I’m truly amazed at the one guilty count, considering that the holdout juror couldn’t be moved on any of the other counts. First of all, this was a five year old FBI interview, done without a court reporter or a tape recorder, so what was actually said in the offices of the Chicago law firm of Winston and Strawn was open to interpretation. I don’t know if he was under oath - but if he was - it was criminal - if you’ll excuse the word - to conduct an interview, the outcome of which could have - and as we now see DID place him in jeopardy. He may well have said that there was a "firewall" between fund raising and state business - but without the exact words and the context - it’s a statement that could be interpreted in more than one way and a defendant in a criminal case should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt - especially if his life is virtually on the line. But it was also a charge that referred directly to other charges on which the jurors could not agree - "guilty of doing something that we can’t agree on."

But I’m just as amazed - perhaps more so - that eleven of the twelve jurors bought the accusation - hook, line and sinker - that Blagojevich tried to "sell" Obama’s senate seat. There’s no question about the intemperate language he used to describe his belief that his right to appoint an interim senator could be used as leverage to obtain some political or personal advantage. But that’s a far cry from planning to "sell" the seat - presumably to the highest bidder. Political quid pro quo is standard operating procedure at the ward level and at the highest levels of government. Senator John says to Senator Frank - "your bill won’t do anything except benefit your uncle and six of your cousins but I’ll vote for it if you’ll vote for MY bill to fund a museum to house my stamp collection and old boy scout badges."

When Joe Sestak decided to challenge Arlen Spector in the Democratic Senatorial primary, the White House let it be known that they would prefer not to have Spector challenged and a quid pro quo was floated. If Congressman Sestak would withdraw his challenge, perhaps he could be appointed to a board of some kind. Not one that would reward him financially but with a position of influence on the national scene. The last time I looked, no one from the White House had been indicted or even interviewed by the FBI.

Blagojevich indulged in flights of fancy - an ambassadorship - secretary of Health and Human Services - CEO of a charitable organization funded in the millions through the influence of the president. All in return for appointing Valerie Jarret. But when it became clear that all that the White House was offering was gratitude, Blago responded with scatological derision, some of which was caught on tape - followed by a childlike "I’ll show those s.o.b’s" and tossing out the names of Jesse Jackson Junior and Oprah Winfrey among others - also partially caught on surreptitious tape recordings. If you want to believe Fitzgerald, those discussions were evidence of criminal conduct - just as the expression that you might once have verbalized about someone in a moment of anger - "I’ll kill that son-of-a-bitch" was a conspiracy to commit murder.

I’m not saying that Blagojevich is or was pure as the driven snow - but he was more talk than do and very little was actually done that could be considered criminal. But of course the argument is that if you talk about something you’d like to accomplish that might be considered illegal - even if you never pull it off, that’s enough to indict, convict and send to jail.

Two national papers - the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post have called for Fitzgerald to back off and not retry Blagojevich. The Post called him a persecutor The Journal called for his resignation or firing. The Chicago Tribune had a variety of opinion. Columnist Mary Schmich said she would not have voted to convict Blago on the evidence presented. Eric Zorn urged Fitzgerald to drop the chances against brother Robert and advised Blago to cop a plea, serve some time and get the whole sorry mess behind him. Most of the local media - print and electronic -has been finding him guilty on all counts since the verdict was announced - as they did in the months leading up to the trial. Fitzgerald will pay no attention to any of it - pro or con. A true "Inspector Javert" he will proceed with a second trial against both brothers and if a hung jury results, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him try a third time.

Whatever happens, I can’t conceive of Blago getting a fair trial - just as I believed that the first trial was tainted from the moment that Blaglojevich was unceremoniously hauled from his house and arrested to the astounding accompaniment of prosecutor Fitzgerald telling the world that he had acted to stop a crime spree that would have caused Abe Lincoln to turn in his grave. Abe’s remains might have been turning - but more likely from the Fitzgerald rant than Blago’s alleged crime spree.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Oops. Wrong title….

I suppose I have lots of company when I say that I’ve been bitterly disappointed by two radio talks show hosts in recent days - though by no means in the same way - mostly because I never have listened nor do I ever intend to waste time listening to one of them. O.K. I won’t keep you guessing. It’s Dr. Laura. I knew of her existence of course and that she was close to if not to the right of Atilla the Hun, but that’s about all. Until her Nigger rant of the other day. (Yes, I can write the "N" word here without any feelings of guilt After all, I grew up in a country where an Agatha Christie murder mystery was published as "Ten Little Niggers" - euphemistically re-titled "Ten Little Indians" for the US market - and I didn’t feel any guilt when I read it under its original title, though I sometimes wonder how American Indians felt about the re-titling.)

My first reaction when I heard about her use of the word and a brief (and inaccurate) description of the context, was that it was a storm in a teacup. After all, she wasn’t using the word pejoratively - she was just saying that this was a word that black comedians use all the time. Then I heard a tape of the incident and her conversation with a caller and if she isn’t a racist, she gave a damned good impersonation of one during that conversation - being critical of the caller’s dismay at hearing the word repeated over and over - and pretty much saying that now that you have a black president, you need to stop being so damned sensitive and other similarly insulting comments.
"I really thought once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown. And I don't get it. Yes, I do. It's all about power. "
Those were her actual words.

She apologized the next day for her use of the "N Word" - but not for what she obviously didn’t recognize herself as a racist rant. "Quit bitching about racism. You’ve got an "N Word" president. Enough already." That’s what came across listening to a tape of the conversation beyond the stream of "N Words" - though she probably would have used the word itself and not the euphemism had she said it that way.

I gather her program is one of dispensing advice. I also understand her religion or ethnicity to be Jewish. Perhaps in future programs she will enlighten her audience about the various ways to insult Jews. Hey - one of your kind has an ex-president for a father-in-law. Quit bitching about anti-Semitism. And don’t you anti-defamation league me…..


The other radio host with whom I’m greatly disappointed and who I do listen to, is Stephanie Miller . And let me pause here for just a moment to distinguish between Disappointment - which is how I feel about Stephanie - and Disgust - which is a better way to describe my reaction to Dr. Laura. And of course, the way in which Miss Miller disappointed me, as listeners to her program and curiosity seekers on the Internet already know , is her announcement the other day that she is GAY. Or at least bi-sexual. She used the word Gay - but also said that she has dated and been in love with men, so it’s a little confusing . But she says she’s Gay, so we have to assume she means what she says. She is sexually attracted to and presumably performs sex acts with other women.

Let me swiftly disabuse you of any notion that I am homophobic. I don’t care who has sex with whom as long as it involves two consenting humanoids. Stephanie’s announcement however is more than just an admission of her sexual orientation. It is a death blow to one of the great attractions of her show - the aura of mystery that she exuded that allowed males to fantasize about becoming a candidate in her continuing on the air search for a "future husband" and to call the show and verbalize some of their fantasies - or at least to compliment her on her very pleasing heterosexual appearance after seeing her on a television show.

From time to time, Stephanie - or her producer or whoever has charge of hitting appropriate buttons - would play Rush Limbaugh’s comment about her - "Stephanie Miller - a babe on some days. She knows what I mean." Stephanie would usually comment that she had no idea what he meant - but now you have to wonder if the Rush Mouth was on to something - or was being predictive without realizing it. For my money, she’s been a "babe" ever since I began listening to her on the radio and catching her occasional television appearances. She’s always been witty - but I thought she also exuded a strong sense of sensuality - more on radio than television where imagination could make her anything one wanted her to be - but pretty strong on both media. And now we know that whether it was intended or nor - we - the male gender - were not the targets.

I feel sorry for Stephanie, knowing that she is relegated to the second tier of sexual activity - perhaps even of enjoyment, though I’m in no position to judge the latter. But it’s clear that for matters sexual, nature divided the human animal into the appropriate shapes - concave and convex - allowing for natural sexual activity and presumably enjoyment. Now we know that Stephanie is confined to giving and receiving oral sex and to mutual masturbation with a partner - and while she was able to joke for years about imagined and possible relationships with various males, I’m not sure that similar musings about female partners will come across being as funny and as provocative. But most of all I feel sorry for the countless male listeners to her program, young, old, married or single, who enjoyed fantasizing about this sexy lady who recently admitted or confirmed a revelation by one of her "mooks" that she doesn’t wear underwear.

We’re going to miss Stephanie "the babe" - but we’ll do our best to accept and live with Stephanie the "gay babe" At least we can be reasonably sure that she won’t vent her frustration on any African American male caller who expresses disappointment at her sexual revelation by calling him an intolerant "N word." Just as we can be reasonably sure that Dr. Laura could never be considered a "babe" - not on "some days" - not on any day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It seems that the Blagojevich trial is about to come to an end.

I haven’t been in the courtroom and I haven’t seen transcripts of the proceedings - but from what I’ve been able to make of the evidence, I don’t see what crimes were committed - unless being a foul mouthed idiot with a case of diarrhea of said mouth and given to flights of nonsensical fancy is a crime. While former Blagojevich staff members and other insiders portrayed a governor ready to put the squeeze for campaign contributions on those doing business or wanting to do business with the state -and others who needed state assistance and/or cooperation of one kind or another - no witnesses testified that - yes, the governor asked for campaign contributions in exchange for whatever. Or yes, he agreed to appoint me to finish out the President’s term in the Senate in exchange for - whatever. The fact that the state declined to call such witnesses would be enough for me to doubt its case. I would want to know who has been hurt by Blago’s actions and whether there is evidence that he enriched himself at the expense of taxpayers. I read nothing of that kind of evidence being presented in news reports of the trial

I suspect however that the jury is about return a guilty verdict - at least on some counts. It seems to be a standard practice when going after a politician. File multiple counts to make the jury believe that at least some of them must be true. The fact that the jury is taking so long and has asked for transcripts of witness testimony and now has indicated that there is agreement on some though not of all counts, makes me think there is no strong personality in the jury room asking the question - is this guy really a criminal or just a loud mouth trying to cut political deals -even deals to benefit him personally - and does his behavior really merit a verdict that will send him to prison for years - maybe as many as 30 years?

Apart from anything else, what bothers me about this and any other major criminal trial, has been the jury’s exposure to free flowing commentary in newspapers and on radio and television. I know that jurors are instructed not to talk about the case and not to read newspapers or watch television or listen to radio where the case is being reported on or discussed - but come on - who are we kidding? Do we really expect ordinary citizens to live like monks for weeks on end? During George Ryan’s trial - a concomitant trial was being conducted by columnist John Kass in the Chicago Tribune with emphasis on an incident that wasn’t part of the trial itself and that occurred before Ryan was governor. It went on before, during and after the trial and whether they wanted to consider it or not, it had to be there in the jury room as jurors decided Ryan’s fate.

In Blago’s case, he conducted his own pre-trial PR campaign, making him look like even more like the idiot who mouthed all the nonsense taped by the FBI and played to the jury as evidence. But the media reports of his alleged crimes during the same period were finding him guilty before opening statements of the trial itself and, as I’ve indicated in the Ryan case, continued throughout the trial - again an almost concomitant trial being conducted in the press and being exposed to the jurors hearing the real trial. And on Tuesday, August 10 in the Chicago Tribune, a page two article speculated on Blago’s pre trial behavior and quoting a political science professor’s opinion that his goal was to turn the whole affair into a joke, hoping that it would influence the jury in his favor. Could it be that one or more jurors read that piece and were offended by the inference and thus moved to be less favorable to the arguments of his defense ?

In England, that kind of "coverage" might well have resulted in some restriction being placed on the newspaper or newspapers reporting on the trial. But not here.

But what will finally be the ex-governor’s undoing will be all of the individual accusations of criminal behavior, listed as "counts." From what we heard from the jury today, it’s obvious that this prosecution ploy was working in their favor. Instead of looking at the totality of the picture of the man that emerged from the prosecution witnesses and the arguments of his defense attorney and deciding whether this was an arch criminal or a wheeler dealer political animal given to scatological streams of consciousness, they have tried to discharge their duties as jurors by discussing and analyzing each individual prosecution allegation of criminal activity. One by one. And that almost certainly leaves Blagojevich facing some guilty verdicts and a long prison sentence. But I truly doubt that justice will have been served.

In today’s Tribune, the op-ed page carried two ancient articles about Dan Rostenkowski, who died yesterday. One was by the late, great Mike Royko, written on April 10, 1996 after Rosty had been convicted of various charges and was on his way to Jail for more than a year. There were a few paragraphs in that piece that struck me and that are worth reproducing here.
There is no one in our society more powerful — judge, governor, mayor, legislator or even president — than a prosecutor. Local or federal.

At the federal level, they have a compliant grand jury and all the investigative tools they need: the agents of the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and every other federal agency. Plus eager assistants who will send their own grannies up the river to enhance their careers.

And the most dangerous and ruthless are those prosecutors who have political ambitions that are most easily fulfilled by hanging a well-known public figure.
That's what did Rostenkowski in, a federal prosecutor's personal ambitions. If I could put those federal headhunters on a lie box and ask: "Do you really believe that what he did was a terrible crime?" and they said, "Yes," the needle would clang when it went past the marking for "liar, liar, pants on fire.
I’m not implying that what Royko believed about those prosecuting Rostenkowski can or should be applied to those prosecuting Rod Blagojevich, but having once been in a situation where a prosecutor accused me of committing crimes and only escaped a trial that might have sent me to jail except for the wisdom of a judge who looked at the accusations and told the prosecutor to take a hike and quit making up crimes where no crimes exist. I paraphrase - but that’s more or less what happened and since that time, I look at prosecutors claims with a jaundiced eye and want a hell of a lot more than accusations of criminal activity before I would conclude that a crime has actually been committed and would vote to send an accused to jail.

Monday, August 09, 2010

I find myself in strange company today - well sort of. I’m not in agreement with those who want to repeal the fourteenth amendment to the constitution but I think its provision that awards automatic US citizenship to anyone born in the United States makes little sense and opens the door to a heap of mischief making. The logical roads to citizenship are obvious and non controversial - children of US citizens, no matter where they are born - and children of legal US residents born here. I know there are other countries that award citizenship to anyone born there and they might have logical reasons for doing so - but I don’t understand the logic of awarding them US citizenship without any conditions - just because the birth occurred in this country.

If you’re born in England or Australia for example and your parents aren’t natives of those countries, you can be awarded citizenship if they are legal residents - not if they just happen to be in the country when the mother’s water breaks. That’s a system that makes sense to me. I know that Jon Kyl and Lindsay Graham are looking for ways to prevent illegal aliens from giving birth to American citizens and while there is very little common ground that I can find with these two Senators, I agree that it’s a bad application of the 14th amendment - one not visualized in 1868 by those bent on overruling the horrendous Dred Scott decision and extending rights of citizenship to newly freed slaves. They were natural born citizens. People crossing our southern border without applying for permission to come here are not.

To repeat, in no way do I support the idea of repealing the 14th amendment - but if there is some way a particular paragraph can be changed or eliminated without going through all that repeal would require, I wouldn’t be against it. I wouldn’t see it as chipping away at our rights as some people have been claiming. Neither would I regard it as bigoted or racist. I would regard it as tweaking an ancient document to make it more relevant to today’s societies and circumstances.
My bedfellows on another issue are not quite as strange even though one of them is Newt Gingrich because another is the Anti Defamation League. I don’t agree with Gingrich’s assertion that it would be O.K. to build an Islamic center near ground zero in New York only when Saudi Arabia allows churches and synagogues to be built in that country. I do agree with the ADL that the selection of the site - not at but close to Ground Zero is counterproductive. Except that I’d go a little further and say that it’s also suspicious. We’re talking about some of the most expensive real estate on earth and a site on which sits a building that has to be razed before building can begin. We’re talking about a cost that has to run into the tens of millions and you have to wonder where the money will be coming from and why. The Imam behind the project, who is considered to be the epitome of Muslim moderation but refuses to acknowledge that Hamas and Hizbollah are terrorist groups, says it is to promote harmony and understanding - so you have to ask yourself why would he choose a site that he must know would cause pain to so many people - and indeed we have been hearing those people speak out against the project. There have to be ways that the Muslim community can promote harmony and understanding that would be embraced by some if not many of the people who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack but there has been no attempt to find them by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and his followers.

In England and in Europe, where the Muslim population is proportionally much larger than in the United States, there has been a steady imposition of the Muslim way of life on the body politic. They make little effort to cooperate with the majority way of life and instead insist that the majority must accommodate them and their way of life -and indeed in England, Sharia law has gained official acceptance as being virtually on a par with common law. We need to take heed of what is happening across the ocean and be sure that in our devotion to freedom of religion, we don’t make the kind of mistakes the English and the Europeans have made in their eagerness to prove the same degree of religious tolerance.

Finally a word about the gay marriage decision in California. I don’t really care who marries who, but I can understand the objections of some who are not narrow minded bigots but who are nonetheless uncomfortable with the idea or a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman. It’s a discomfort that comes from centuries of western world history, where marriage between a man and a woman has been a cultural ritual with all of the trappings with which we have become so familiar - the bride in white - the tearful yet beaming mother - the proud father giving his daughter away in a church or synagogue. Somehow, we have difficulty equating a marriage union between a same sex couple with our familiarity and comfort with traditional man/woman marriage. Perhaps the answer is to devise a ceremony that has all of the legal ramifications of a marriage but that is not conducted in the same manner as a heterosexual marriage and is called something else. I know the president and others have expressed objection to the idea of "marriage" between same sex couples but are for some sort of legal union. What we need is a compromise between those two extremes - perhaps restricting the joining of same sex couples to a "ceremony" that is not conducted in a church or synagogue or by any kind of clergyman and is perhaps called something other than just "marriage." I have a feeling that that might even satisfy the bigots.