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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Since I have written about the trials and tribulations of Rod Blagojevich on at least a half dozen occasions - sometimes humorously - sometimes with serious advice - I feel obligated to make some comments about his conviction on seventeen of the alleged criminal acts contained in his indictment. If you have read any of my previous comments about the man and his two trials, you will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with the verdict. Meaning no disrespect to the members of the jury who convicted him, I think they were bamboozled into their decision - not so much by the evidence but by the weight of the accusations and the conduct of Judge Zagel. I wasn’t at the trial and I haven’t read transcripts of the proceedings - but I pretty much know the nature of the charges and I have read news accounts of some of the Judge’s rulings - such as telling the defendant what he can and can’t say in his own defense - a ruling that I find mind boggling.

The problem facing the jury, one that was extremely difficult for them to overcome, was the assertion that many of the activities described in the indictment were criminal in nature. What for decades was known and accepted as the down and dirty business of politics has in recent times been endowed with the label of criminality - and without someone in the jury room questioning that kind of interpretation, the outcome was inevitable. I’ve said it before an d I’ll say it once again - I’ve been where Blagojevich was. I was once indicted on multiple allegedly "criminal" counts. Nothing alleged in the indictment was true and nothing alleged was criminal - but had the judge before whom the indictment was presented allowed it to proceed to trial, a jury might well have accepted the assertion that perfectly normal business activity was in fact "criminal.". Blago was about as unsophisticated as one could be in his pursuit of a political career - and he probably crossed the line of acceptable political discourse and behavior on multiple occasions, but in the end no individual was harmed and no actual damage was done to the business of the State.

The assertion of the prosecution and of the judge was that the mere stated desire to accomplish something, the accomplishment of which would be illegal, is in itself a crime - but sifting through all the recordings and live renditions of Blago’s unfortunate affliction of Diarrhea of the Mouth secondary to Flights of Nonsensical Fancy - who could really tell at what point he may have crossed what I would think of as an imaginary line between the ramblings of a fool and the cunning plans of an arch criminal? But even if his looking to be rewarded for naming a desired candidate fill the President’s unfinished Senate term and even if his efforts to squeeze campaign contributions from those needing or entitled to some help from the state had the smell of freshly manufactured sleaze - was that enough reason to expose him to the possibility of a jail term of ten years or more - which will certainly be the result of those seventeen guilty verdicts?

I’m no fan of Blagojevich. I agree with Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn that he had no business being Illinois’ chief executive. He was totally the wrong person for the job - and that was almost bound to get him in trouble. But I also agree with Zorn about the argument that Blago and his lawyers couldn’t raise at his trial. The "Oh Come On." argument. It’s an argument that I would have advanced had I been sitting in that jury room. He’s a clown who didn’t know any better. He’s been disgraced, kicked out of office, broke and in debt with his political career over. with no sure way of making a living and there are no dead or broken bodies in his wake. Enough already. Not guilty of being an arch criminal who deserves to rot in jail for the next ten or more years. But I wasn’t on the jury, nor was there anyone skeptical of the prosecution’s theories or the neutrality of the judge. So it’s farewell to Blago. And look out Governor Quinn. Nice guy? Honest? Maybe, but can he spell Patrick Fitzgerald?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A few weeks ago I read a news item in the Chicago Tribune about Palestinians clashing with each other in a Lebanese based "refugee camp." Those facts were revealed in the opening sentence of the piece. Casually. Total acceptance. Sixty three years after the Arab world tried to destroy Israel, Palestinian "refugees" are part of the world landscape - that claimed status almost never questioned when reporters write stories such as the one mentioned here. I thought it was tine once again for me to question this astonishing status quo and since I didn’t remember the date of the story or the headline, I tried to find it by querying Google with "Palestinians clash in Lebanese refugee camp." I got 4,400,000 hits. Most of them probably had little to do with the information I was looking for, but on the first page there was story after story of such clashes over a period of years. I would have proceeded with comments on these stories except for the fact that while in the Google site I checked on current news stories and found a Wall Street editorial titled "WHAT IF JEWS HAD FOLLOWED THE PALESTINIAN PATH’ by Warren Kozak. I would like to have written as clever a look the true nature of the Palestinian "refugee problem as Mt. Kozak has penned in his editorial - but since I didn’t and he did, here it is with my admiration and endorsement.
It is doubtful that there has ever been a more miserable human refuse than Jewish survivors after World War II. Starving, emaciated, stateless—they were not welcomed back by countries where they had lived for generations as assimilated and educated citizens. Germany was no place to return to and in Kielce, Poland, 40 Jews who survived the Holocaust were killed in a pogrom one year after the war ended. The European Jew, circa 1945, quickly went from victim to international refugee disaster. Yet within a very brief time, this epic calamity disappeared, so much so that few people today even remember the period. How did this happen in an era when Palestinian refugees have continued to be stateless for generations?

In 1945, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors living in DP Camps (displaced persons) across Europe. They were fed and clothed by Jewish and international relief organizations. Had the world's Jewish population played this situation as the Arabs and Palestinians have, everything would look very different today. To begin with, the Jews would all still be living in these DP camps, only now the camps would have become squalid ghettos throughout Europe. The refugees would continue to be fed and clothed by a committee similar to UNRWA—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (paid for mostly by the United States since 1948). Blessed with one of the world's highest birth rates, they would now number in the many millions. And 66 years later, new generations, fed on a mixture of hate and lies against the Europeans, would now seethe with anger.

Golda Meir pondered what would have become of the Jews had they been destroyed by the Arab armies.
Sometime in the early 1960s, the Jewish leadership of these refugee camps, having been trained in Moscow to wreak havoc on the West (as Yasser Arafat was) would have started to employ terrorism to shake down governments. Airplane hijackings in the 1970s would have been followed by passenger killings. There would have been attacks on high-profile targets as well—say, the German or Polish Olympic teams.
By the 1990s, the real mayhem would have begun. Raised on victimhood and used as cannon fodder by corrupt leaders, a generation of younger Jews would be blowing up buses, restaurants and themselves. The billions of dollars extorted from various governments would not have gone to the inhabitants of the camps. The money would be in the Swiss bank accounts of the refugees' famous and flamboyant leaders and their lackies.

So now it's the present, generations past the end of World War II, and the festering Jewish refugee problem throughout Europe has absolutely no end in sight. The worst part of this story would be the wasted lives of millions of human beings in the camps—inventions not invented, illnesses not cured, high-tech startups not started up, symphonies and books not written—a real cultural and spiritual desert.

None of this happened, of course. Instead, the Jewish refugees returned to their ancestral homeland. They left everything they had in Europe and turned their backs on the Continent—no "right of return" requested. They were welcomed by the 650,000 Jewish residents of Israel. An additional 700,000 Jewish refugees flooded into the new state from Arab lands after they were summarily kicked out. Again losing everything after generations in one place; again welcomed in their new home. In Israel, they did it all the hard way. They built a new country from scratch with roads, housing and schools. They created agricultural collectives to feed their people. They created a successful economy without domestic oil, and they built one of the world's most vibrant democracies in a region sadly devoid of free thought.

Yes, the Israelis did all this with the financial assistance of Jews around the world and others who helped get them on their feet so they could take care of themselves. These outsiders did not ignore them, or demean them, or use them as pawns in their own political schemes—as the Arab nations have done with the Palestinians. I imagine the argument will be made that while the Jews may have achieved all this, they did not have their land stolen from them. This is, of course, a canard, another convenient lie. They did lose property all over Europe and the Mideast. And there was never an independent Palestine run by Palestinian Arabs. Ever. Jews and Arabs lived in this area controlled first by the Turks and then by the British. The U.N. offered the two-state solution that we hear so much about in 1947. The problem then, and now, is that it was accepted by only one party, Israel. No doubt, the situation of Arab residents of the Middle East back then may have been difficult, but it is incomprehensible that their lot was worse than that of the Jews at the end of World War II.

We don't hear about any of this because giving human beings hope and purpose doesn't make great copy. Squalor, victimhood and terror are always more exciting. Perhaps in the end, the greatest crime of the Jews was that they quietly created something from nothing. And in the process, they transformed themselves.
Golda Meir is credited with having said that if the Jews had not fought back against the Arab armies and had been destroyed in 1948, they would have received the most beautiful eulogies throughout the world. Instead, they chose to stand their ground and defend themselves. And in winning, they received the world's condemnation. Meir said she would take the condemnation over the eulogies
. No doubt there will be pro-Palestinian responses to this interesting way of looking at why there have been Palestinian "refugees" for the last 63 years - and if I find any, I might reproduce and comment on them here - but I can’t imagine any of them making the kind of sense Mr, Kosal has fashioned.

Friday, June 17, 2011

As I said a couple of days ago, people who were otherwise disgusted at the revelations of Anthony Wiener’s sick behavior and angered at the week of lies he spun to try to cover it up were perhaps beginning to feel a little sorry for him because of the relentless demands for his resignation from members of his own party. After yesterday’s resignation circus, I doubt that there’s much sympathy left for the sexting Congressman. I would imagine that even his strongest supporters were dismayed at his decision to resign in a press conference type of setting in front of what was likely an array of international media. A simple letter of resignation would have sufficed and added little fodder fort the late night comedians. Instead he provided them with at least two or three more nights of weenie jokes.

To the end, this guy wanted to hog a microphone and as many cameras as could fit into the room he chose to use to make his exit and to publicly admit to "mistakes" while pledging to continue to do good works on behalf of ordinary folks. What is it with politicians who get caught with their hands in the cookie jar and who then apologize for making mistakes? How is having a compulsion to take pictures of your body parts and send then unsolicited to women you don’t know a "mistake?" Or maybe he meant that not keeping his sicko activities sufficiently hidden from public view was a mistake. It’s no wonder Congress is held in low regard by so many

And yet there are television and radio and assorted pundits who are predicting that we haven’t heard the last of Anthony Weiner - that he may even have a second political career. And I’ve been hearing the same thing from at least one left leaning talk show host who had not just joined the daily Democratic call for Weiner’s resignation but may have beaten some of them to the punch with his own call for the Congressman to go away. And apparently he still has supporters among "social medias" users - Twitters, Facebookers and the like.

Personally I’m glad he’s gone and that there’ll be nothing else to persuade me to devote another paragraph of this blog to discuss this idiot’s shortcomings - no pun intended but look for a flock of them to emerge from the aforementioned late night comedy television shows.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I didn’t think I would be among the countless bloggers, columnists and assorted pundits writing about Anthony Weiner but Nancy Pelosi, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a few other Democratic politicians made me do it. Like the late great Flip Wilson’s devil.

My first reaction after Weiner admitted he’d been lying for a week was that I wouldn’t vote for him for dog catcher. I can’t exercise that rejection of course since I live in Illinois. But my concomitant reaction was that he’ll either get his comeuppance from the voters of his district of they’ll give him a chance to rehabilitate himself. More than that I had no interest in thinking, talking or writing about this sicko - and indeed that’s what he is. But then Nancy and Debbie and a whole bunch of others started piling on - and while that didn’t evoke any sympathy in me for Weiner, it made me a little disgusted at their combined behavior.

If you recall Weiner’s initial lying reaction when the first picture and first recipient surfaced - it wasn’t an outright lying denial. For whatever reason, he couldn’t bring himself to deny that the picture of his bulging underwear was real and that the bulge was his. He spoke gobbledygook about "photo shop" - sort of hinting that it was him but maybe an altered him. Maybe he knew he was going to be totally exposed - no pun intended - or, as some likely amateur psychiatrists in the world of punditry have suggested - he wanted to be caught - but just couldn’t bring himself to admit his problem right away, though he must have known the gig was up. And of course, like a long line of sinning politicians before him, he forgot that it’s always the cover up that sinks you - not that which you are clumsily attempting to cover up.

I don’t think I’m playing amateur psychiatrist when I call Weiner a "sicko." What he’s been doing is about as sick as it can be - not that far removed from idiots who expose themselves in front of girls and women on public thoroughfares. Some people have tried to say that his actions weren’t as bad as something like being caught with a hooker. He didn’t actually DO anything with these girls they say. I think that what Weiner has been doing is far worse than being caught with a hooker. You can sort of understand that kind of weakness in a man and almost forgive it. And if it happens to be a single adult male, there’s little to forgive in my opinion. He may be breaking the law but he’s not cheating on anyone or breaking any vows. But sending pictures of yourself grabbing your crotch to someone completely out of the blue isn’t a weakness - it’s just plain sick.

Now, having neatly condemned the New York Congressman, let me turn around and sort of defend him. It was to be expected that members of his own party and some members of the liberal press would express shock and dismay and disapproval at the revelations of his strange private life. After all, they’re Democrats. But then they began to pile on. As successive female recipients of his body parts reproductions were revealed - the cries for his head on a block grew exponentially. "Twitter" correspondence with a seventeen year old became "the last straw"- even though police - how did they get involved? - assured the world that nothing "inappropriate" had taken place in his exchanges with her. Even though it appears that she was a fan of his and he politely responded to what would have amounted to fan mail in another era - the fact that she was a kid was enough for Nancy, Debbie et al to insist that Weiner go away and stop embarrassing his Democratic colleagues who have hopes of re-taking the House next year and don’t want to have a "Weinergate" to muddy up their campaign strategy.

Sure it’s appropriate for the Democratic leadership to adopt a "high road" approach to this scandal - but there are a lot of Democratic and independent voters who are looking at this growing lynch mob and asking themselves what kind of party they’re being asked to support. The Republicans have been condemning of course - but for the most part, they’ve just watched from the sidelines as the Democrats make a bad situation worse - and now the President has chimed in saying he would have resigned if he found himself in the same kind of situation. I don’t recall any leading Republican members of Congress saying similar things about the behavior of David Bitter or John Ensign or Larry Craig. There was no day after day after day public outcry from Republican Congressional leaders that they commit political hari kiri after their embarrassing and in one case potentially illegal activities were revealed. There was always the underlying feeling that Republicans weren’t about to throw one of their own under the bus unless there was no other option available to them..

No question that a great many supporters of the Democratic party are disgusted with Weiner. He’s been a champion of the liberal wing with his emotional floor speeches and his frequent television appearances on left leaning programs. That adds to the disappointment. But, like me - an independent who more frequently votes Democratic than Republican - they are probably becoming just a little bit sorry for the Congressman because he has been so totally "dumped" by his own party and perhaps becoming more sympathetic to the idea of letting his constituents decide whether he should stay or go. If they want to re-elect a sicko - that’s their prerogative - and if you think that because he’s an obvious sicko there’s something wrong with that and something wrong with the voters in his district - just look at some members from both sides of the aisle that voters keep re-electing. I’m tempted to name a few names but I’ll leave it up to my sophisticated readers to pick their own favorites from this category. Non sophisticated readers who have landed here by accident - take a pass.

Weiner wants to take some time off to seek therapy for his addiction and if the Democratic leaders are as politically smart as they think they are, they should let him do it and stop their daily calls for his resignation. It’s making them look way too ready to throw one of their own under the bus even though there’s no indication that he has committed any ethical violation or done anything criminal. They should heed the ancient admonition that there are times when you should not only be careful what you wish for - but you should do your wishing less loudly and less frequently. It could wind making them look more like villains and Congressman Weiner more like a victim

Friday, June 03, 2011

From what I’ve read of Blago’s testimony so far , he’s well on the road to losing his case - and of course his freedom. Unless the eleven women on the jury are moved by his family history testimony and his and his wife’s tears. But I doubt it. They’re more likely bored by the stories of his rise to and fall from power. And as I warned here a month ago, Blago’s having trouble with Judge Zabel. He’s acting like a member of the prosecution team, telling Blago what he can and can’t say about why and how he believed he was doing nothing wrong in discussions with his aids and others that the prosecution alleges were criminal. Not my idea of what a fair trial should look like when a judge can tell a defendant how he can defend himself - but then I’m not a lawyer so it isn’t that easy to understand the world of courts and judges.

But if I was a lawyer representing Blagojevich and he’s decided to testify in his own defense, my advice to him would be simple. Do not just deny. Tell the truth about what prosecution witnesses have testified to - just make it your version of the truth. When people testify about meetings at which they say potentially damaging things were discussed - don’t say you don’t recall what they said took place - or in one instance that you don’t recall any such meeting ever taking place. The jury isn’t going to believe that these witnesses are creating stories out of whole cloth. They’ll be asking themselves what I would ask. Why would they do such a thing? O.K. Maybe Jesse Jackson . After hearing the disparaging things Blago said about him, he’d have reason to put an anti Blago spin on his testimony - but even so don’t deny that you said he should have given you a $25,000 donation if he’d wanted you to appoint his wife to be head of the Illinois lottery. Just say that you were ribbing him and that Sandy Jackson was never on your "A" list for that appointment.

Backed by all the telephone recordings, it’s likely that the jury will agree with the prosecution that a number of the things they allege in the indictment actually happened. It’s the interpretation of those things on which a verdict will hang - and the task of Blago and his lawyers is to get the jury to agree that however bad it might look in the surface - no crimes were committed. But that task won’t be made easier by Blago posturing as one with only the noblest of intentions, for example wanting only the best for Illinois in his selection of someone to fill Barrack Obama’s Senate seat. It just doesn’t fit the picture of the man as portrayed by those testifying against him and by his own actions since his indictment. His lawyers need to portray him as a flawed, narcissistic individual who had wild eyed ambitions - but who isn’t a criminal.

If I’m representing Blago, I would advise him how to answer questions on both direct and cross examination based on what I would be telling the jury in my summation - and part of that summation would include the following.

"Swearing is not a crime. It’s painful to hear the ex-Governor using the "F" word over and over and you sure hope he doesn’t talk that way at home around his children. But it’s not a crime. Using your influence as Governor to try to help a friend or a family member get a job or in some other way is not a crime. Trying to get your wife a high paying job may be nepotism, but it’s not a crime. If it was, half the elected officials in Cook County would be on trial.

Soliciting campaign funds isn’t a crime. It’s a necessary evil that a lot of people would like to see changed to remove the association with influence. Unfortunately, it’s been going in the opposite direction with the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to pour unlimited funds into political campaigns.
So who do you go to for political contributions? Obviously people with money - often referred to as fat cats. Sure it would be wonderful if a few million people kicked in five or ten or twenty dollars each. That would be democracy at its best. But even Barrack Obama who collected millions from small donors in his presidential campaign had to look to fat cats to make up the additional millions that he needed. It’s a sad commentary but it takes millions to run political campaigns - sometimes even a campaign for a local office in a city the size of New York or Chicago. And it’s not unusual to look for campaign contributions from people and companies who do business with the state - or who have matters pending with the state. And of course some of these people and companies are looking to gain some influence with that state administration.

In Washington, it’s a big business with hundreds of lobbyists with millions of dollars trying to influence legislation. It’s not illegal unless it goes beyond legitimate contributions to a political fund. Former California Congressman Randy Cunningham accepted more than 2 million in bribes - homes, cars, yachts, antiques and got eight years in jail. There’s not a hint of any such thing attached to Governor Blagojevich’s campaign contribution requests and the prosecution can claim all day long that there was the shadow of quid pro quo hanging over requests from people who - as I’ve said - needed the Governor to look favorably on THEIR needs or requests - but there is not proof to back it up, None of the people the prosecution dangled before you made any contribution yet they all get what they wanted from the State. How on earth is any of that criminal?

And now that I’ve used the phrase that the government likes to use as though it by itself is some kind of crime - let me make it clear that political quid pro quo is not a crime - not a local, state or federal crime. If it was - all 100 Senators and all 435 representatives would at one time or another have had to spend some time locked away behind bars. As a lawyers once said during a Congressional hearing - Politics Ain’t Bean Bag. Or, as former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington once said - Politics Ain’t Mumbbley-peg. . How many times do Senators and Representatives support issues that matter to some of their colleagues in return for support for issues that matter to them? There’s probably no way to count them, it’s such a common practice.

But the prosecution says that it wasn’t political quid pro quo when it came to naming someone to fill the President’s former Senate seat. No, he was trying to SELL the seat. Really? What was the asking price? Was there ever a specific offer of a quid pro quo in terms of - you do something big for me personally and I’ll name whoever it is you want in that seat. You heard a lot of idle talk about what Blago wanted to have happen - to become an ambassador or to head up a charitable organization or to be appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services. Most of it was pie in the sky musing - but let’s say he was hoping for a specific quid pro quo from the White House for naming who they wanted to have the job. And if it happened, would that be a crime? If so, maybe the President of the United States needs to be indicted. When Representative Joe Sestak decided to run against Arlen Spector in the Senatorial Democratic primary in Pennsylvania last year - the White House trued to persuade him not to do it, They wanted Spector to run for re-election. and though he’d been a Republican for years and had only recently switched to the Democratic party , he was well known to Pennsylvania voters who had elected him five times in the past and they figured he stood the best chance of holding the seat. So they made an offer to Sestak. Don’t run and we’ll appoint you to something worth while and important. Sestak declined - after admitting publicly that the offer had been made - but guess what? No prosecutor indicted the President or any of his aids for making the offer. . You know why? Because they didn’t consider that kind of political horse trading that goes on every day from coast to coast and order to border to be a crime.

The prosecutor wants you to accept a new kind of law - one that makes the non Bean Bag and Mumbley-peg of politics criminal. I guarantee you that if you wired the homes and offices and tapped the phones of every Governor of every state in the nation for a few months or a few weeks - under the theories being suggested to you by the attorney for the northern district of the State of Illinois - every last one of them would be indicted and put on trial."

And of course, even though Judge Zabel would come down on me like a ton of bricks - I would try to bring up the absence of Rob Blagojevich from the defendant’s table to emphasize the point that prosecutor Fitzgerald doesn’t necessarily care that much about guilt or innocence. He just wants to nail Rod Blagojevich and if letting his brother off the hook in order to achieve that goal succeeds - even though last year he maintained that he too was an arch criminal - justice - or Federal Prosecutor Fitzgerald's version of justice, will have been served.

And in case you’re wondering why I’ve written several pieces more or less defending the ex-Governor, it’s simply because I don’t believe he’s a criminal - just a clown - and sending a clown to jail for clownish activity serves no useful purpose. He’s already been disgraced by his impeachment - the genesis of which was highly suspicious. He’s through in politics. All for being a clown. It should be enough. I just hope for Blago’s sake that there are one or two jurors who will see it that way - more possible if HE heeds the sage advice offered here.