Monday, September 26, 2005

UPDATE: Cindy off to the clinker.

You ever get the feeling you're watching a Saturday Night Live parody of a war protest. The arrest of the mourning-after mother, Cindy Sheehan, is almost that funny.

It is widely reported that she took up her position in front of the White House for the sole purpose of getting arrested -- or, more accurately, for the sole purpose of getting lots of publicity for getting arrested. But, give her credit, she accomplished her mission.

Hey! Is that a big grin on her face? Yes! Yes! Cindy Sheehan is smiling -- one of those really self satisfied smiles. She is one smug happy lady. And, why not? She just got the gift she had hoped for. A real arrest. She is now a bone fide member of the great Civil Protest Society of America. She has proven herself so dedicated to "the cause" that she will endure the swift sword of justice. Not that it is a terribly sharp sword.

She will suffer about as about as much as getting picked up for a DUI. A trip to the station, then out on the streets awaiting a trial date. Maybe a fine, no jail time. Actually, she will be treated much better than a drunken drive ... even though her actions are likely to kill a lot more people.

Perhaps she will come out of the police station with a couple of self inflicted bruises, and a tale of the brutality of the cops. Remember, she is the one who cautioned about the coming violence during her camping out vacation outside the Bush ranch. I say cautioned, but her delivery suggested a certain hopefulness. I am not talking people getting killed, or badly hurt -- she just could have used a bit of rough stuff to further her woe-is-me victim charade.

Well, it is good to know she can smile. Quite a difference from all those other photos of people getting arrested -- crouching down, looking angry or scared. Then there are the folks who hid behind hats and newspapers. Not Cindy. She knows a good thing when she sees it. You go girl!! Directly to jail ... do not pass "Go."

P.S. I could have made some wise crack about that police hand between her legs as the sources of that smile, but that would be beneath my dignity.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

SIDEBAR: Barenboim to leave Chicago Symphony

Note: SIDEBAR is the term I use when talking about my personal experiences that relate in someway to news of the day. In news reporting, it refers to a secondary feature, usually in a "box," that highlights a facet of the primary news story. It is borrowed from the legal profession, when judges and attorneys stand to the side of the public "bar" (judge's bench) to engage in an unrecorded private discussion.

Internationally renowned musician and conductor Daniel Barenboim will surrender his baton at the Chicago Symphony.

I am way too much of regular guy to have more than a passing interest in the goings on in the hoi polloi world of the symphony. I do enjoy classical music of the type that most snobs consider schmaltzy. I like Liszt ... sway to Strauss ... like Beethoven basically ... Mozart mostly ... Hayden religiously ... and I think Rachmaninoff rocks. However, I am cool to Copland ... boycott Bartok ... and Mahler makes me moan.

None of this takes anything away from the professed genius of Barenboim. In fact, I have no frame of reference with which to comment or pass any sort of judgment on his talent. I can only accept the written word of music critics that he is, in fact, a talented genius.

Hence, this is not about Barenboim the music maker, but Barenboim the man -- at lease from my anecdotal acquaintanceship with him as a short term neighbor. You see, for several months he lived across the hall from us, in an apartment often used by great figures from the symphony and the Lyric Opera. We had the pleasure of friendly hallway encounters with such people as Eve Marton and Boris Godunov. Among the most frequent residents of the neighboring apartment were Maestro Bruno Bartoletti and his wife. He was musical director for the Lyric Opera. They were two of the warmest and most charming people on earth. Every music superstar we met was a wonderful neighbor.

Let me stress that we were not looking for social interaction with these celebrities, but did enjoy a gracious “passing in the hallway” relationship – maybe a bit more personal with the Bartolettis, who doted on our younger son and took a professional interest in our older and very gifted opera singer son.

Then there was Barenboim. All due deference to him as a musician, I can only say that the pejorative phrase "pompous arrogant insufferable jerk" seems to pop into my head whenever I see his name. This is a guy who would not so much as acknowledge a passing hello in the hallway. Even such a common courtesy would earn a scornful look, as if you had gotten a cell phone call during Debussy – and your ring tone was something from Led Zepplin. If Barenboim was about to enter the elevator, and saw someone coming down the hall, he would actually press the door closure button before they could enter.

I am not an anti-smoking zealot, but his late night cigars wafted smoke into our kitchen enough to put our noses and ceiling smoke detector on alert. The problem was somewhat ameliorated by the building management providing an air purifier.

Barenboim did not have one apartment. He had two. While he and a lady friend seemed to be ensconced in the luxury two-bedroom corner unit, his wife, kids and servant or nanny (as it appeared) were crammed in a one bedroom apartment down the hall. On those rare occasions when we actually saw him interacting with his family, his brutal authority over the family was, shall we say, discomforting -- bad enough to conjure up feelings of pity for the wife and kids we never got to know.

At least Mrs. Barenboim could still say "hi" in the hallway -- unless HE was with her, of course.

They eventually moved out of that apartment, and we moved to a higher floor in the building. The up close and personal Daniel Barenboim vanished from our daily life, thank goodness. The only aftermath is my insignificant, but self satisfying protest. While I still enjoy a good classical CD, I will not purchase any where Mr. Barenboim is conducting or playing.

REACT: Sheehan and Jackson find common bond

There they are. Anti war protester Cindy Sheehan and serial activist Jesse Jackson in the very same newspaper photo, brought together by a deep common bond. No! I am not speaking of their opposition to the war in Iraq or their mutual genetic aversion to George Bush. I am referring to their lust for the lenses.

The photo captures them in their best crafted poses -- a smiling Jackson surrounded by cameras and Mrs. Sheehan drapped on his shoulder giving the photogs her well rehearsed vulnerable look. It is almost too intimate to observe, as each tenderly shares their most precious possession, the limelight.

If there were Academy Awards for "theatrics as news," these two would win hands down. In their case, paparazzi have no challenge in seeking and shooting their prey. In fact, I can even imagine charges being filed against Jackson and Sheehan for harassing those otherwise annoying shutter buggers in "turn about is fair play." I can see Jackson and Sheehan ambushing the photogs at ever opportunity, chasing cameramen down the street and jumping in front of their lenses without warning.

While Jackson is the experienced camera hog, Sheehan has one advantage. She is focused (no pun intended) on one issue. Jackson, like an ambulance chasing attorney, shamelessly shows up for every news event that garners more than three cameras.

To that extent, Jackson has made so many appearances on so many issues that his messages are becoming an irrelevant white noise (again no pun intended). Even worse for the good reverend, he is becoming more of a comedic character. Even his son, Congressman Jesse Jackson, makes fun of his father's publicity craving -- noting recently that he (the junior Jackson) had only had five press conferences in 10 year, but his father has that many a day.

On the other hand, Jackson has an advantage over Sheehan. As the war issue ebbs, as surely it will one day, Sheehan will disappear like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland (leaving for last that perma-pout instead of the enigmatic smile). The omni-issue Jackson will continue to find cause in every camera.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

REACT: Christians and gays at it again

Just read an item about a Christian school in California that booted out a kid because his "parents" are a gay couple. Methinks the school officials should learn a bit more about being Christians.

Let us respect the right of the Christian school to proffer the belief that homosexuality is an immoral life style for the moment. Rather, just focus on this issue.

I see nothing Christian about booting a kid out of school because his PARENTS do not perfectly represent the life style of the faith. They are punishing the child for the perceived "sins" of the parents. Punishing the innocent is not a good thing to do, in my judgment -- and does not seem consistent with my understanding of Christianity.

In addition, I would think the school would be happy to have that young soul within the bosom of the faithful every day, instead of exiling that youngster to the totally secular world. Because it is likely that the child loves both parents, the example of the school can only drive the youngster away from Christianity in the belief that all the faithful are as bigoted and shortsighted as the local school leaders.

Thirdly, it is obvious that the parents were faithful enough to send their child to a strict Christian school. One must assume that they value Christian doctrine and religious education. In setting aside the Christian admonition to “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” these school officials can only alienate the person from the body of the faithful. They are guilty of both judging others and acting hatefully against the perceived sinner.

Should Christian schools expel kids of parents who do drugs, commit adultery, drink, smoke, or maybe not even be Christians believers? What level of parental orthodoxy or moral precision is necessary to assure a young person a proper education within a loving Christian community?

This is not an abstract issue for me. My 12-year-old son attends a Christian school where at least one child is parented by a gay couple. Rather than boot the kid out, our school has no problem with the situation. The administrators, teachers, parents and children all seem quite comfortable in welcoming and interacting with the child and the parents. Of course, it is the subject of discussion, but only in that it is newsworthy. I have sensed no prejudice or malice in the observations.

How is it that some Christians can be so zealous in their Christian belief that homosexuality is toally immoral by the word of god, and yet be so oblivious or rejecting of Christ's clear admonition not to judge others? From whence do THEY get the right to pick and choose from the buffet of moral mandates? In deciding which moral transgressions are to be followed, and which are to be ignored, they arrogantly supersede Christ -- imposing themselves as the godly decision maker.

Christianity teaches that we are ALL sinners. This means that every parent in that school, and the very people who expelled that student, are, themselves, sinners. By what yardstick of relativism to they then determine which "sins of the father(s)" requires punishment of the child, and which are exempt.

I have to say, whatever anyone thinks about the gay issue, I deeply believe that our school has out “Christianed” the one in California by a long shot. We may hold varing beliefs on the quesiton of homosexuality, but we are not about to judge others in our midst -- or to treat them in a hateful manner.

Friday, September 23, 2005

OBSERVATION: The new Spanish-Indian war

The Spanish proved to be fair weather friends. Based on a narrow and selfish view of themselves and the world, the Spanish elected a government with an anti-American bias, and then proceeded to make an ignoble retreat from Iraq. I cannot help but wonder if there is any connection between that and the recent installation of Indian warrior Po'Pay in a place of honor in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Po'Pay's claim to fame is the brutal slaughter of about 400 Spaniards?

OBSERVATION:Supreme Court -- balance schmalance

With the ascension of John Roberts to the tallest of the tall-back chairs of the Supreme Court, all attention is now focused on President Bush's nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. If he sends the the Senate a person even slightly to the right of Justice O'Connor, the Court will likely course to the starbord for a generation to come.

In response to this potential, the liberal legions have lockstepped to the cadence of the "preserve the balance" drumbeat. It is their claim that somehow the court is currently in balance -- perhaps a bit of a conservative lean. For the sake of public debate and their own credibility, however, they will proffer a currently balanced Supreme Court that serves the public best by remaining without a teeter.

Of course, when President Clinton held authority over Supreme Court appointments, the word "balance" could not be found in their vocabulary. The liberal mission was to correct the "imbalance" by securing seats for only leftist jurists -- and that is exactly what they did.

The left wing's balance argument is no more valid than their argument that the person nominated must support certain icon planks of the liberal agenda. They argue against a "litmus test" so long as they can be provided with up front assurances of fixed philosophic postions on self-selected issues -- and they see no inherent hipocriscy in the illogic of it all.

Of course the liberal's view of balance would put the Court even further to the left of the national philosophic fulcrum. Since they see themselves as the natural ruling class, however, the norms of a less enlightend populace are not to be favorably considered in conjucntion with liberal superiority ... the arrogance of that notion buffered by their claim of noblis oblige.

Of course, we all want a balanced Supreme Court. The problem is our philosophic definition of IMbalance. Liberals assert that the old Court was in some sort of balance, or at least as far right as is tolerable. To appoint a jurist to the right of anyone would creat an imbalance.

On the other hand, I personally think the Supreme Court has been effectively imbalanced for almost my entire life. To appoint a strict constructionist conservative would go a long way to finally correct much of the imbalance.

It my impression, and hope, that the President will appoint to the right without consideration to the languashing liberal voices that demand adherence to their own self-defined version of balance. This is his among Bush's greatest potential legacies. I trust he will seize the opportunity.

Despite the fickle popularity polls, it is clear from the 2000 election that Bush was given a mandate to move the Court to the right. Democrats campaigned hard, using the next President's likelihood of naming several justices as a centerpiece issue. The public clearly took notice of that potential and overwhelmingly endorsed Bush in person, and conservative principles in general. The only way Bush can keep faith with the public, is to use that mandate to send the Senate another conservative -- maybe even more like Scalia or Thomas. Contemporary popularity polls, and the threatening barks of the left, should not trump the manifest will of the people. Bush has no re-election to compromise principle with political practicality.

Of couse, since this is the seminal moment for the left, we can expect their most brutal partisan attacks on the nominee. They are not looking to advise and consent. The Senate liberals want nothing more than to appoint by default. There only hope is to make the President believe that only a candidate acceptable to them will avoid a political donnybrook that will further sink his political fortunes.

In his next appointment, Bush will affirm his legacy with a philosophic nomination, and will fight to the mat to achieve confirmation, or he will succumb to the illusionary benefit of acquesence to the wilting assault of the left. I am betting on Bush to do what is right -- in every sense of the word.

OBSRVATION: What is with Cindy Sheehan?

I have been involved in public issues for two score, and like to think of myself as one of those who can respect opinions I do not share -- and even like the people who express them.

I generally support President Bush on the rationale and necessity of the war in Iraq. I have many good friends who disagree. I have had many a civilized debates with such friends, leaving the discussion with the same friendship and respect with which I entered it.

Then there is Cindy Sheehan, the crusading mother of one of our fallen heroes. I would rather spend eternity tied to my old school desk while tormentors scratch the blackboard than to listen to her shrill voice screeching out inanities. Her camera-petrified dropping face is an assault to my eyes. The intelligence quotient of her argument is as close to zero as is humanly possible.

She brings out my least generous side. I even wonder if her son's enlistment was not a means of getting away from "mommy dearest," and if the flight of her husband was not a rational act of self preservation. Oh, I know these are terrible thoughts, and I am at a lost to know why she so readily conjures them.

It is not as if I have to deal with her real person on a day-to-day basis. I need no military enlistment or divorce to keep her at distance. I am fortunate to only have to turn the page or change the channel to have her removed from my presence.

As I ponder my own reactions, I know that part of it is my belief that she is now overtaken by her own ego -- caring no longer for the cause, those other soldiers, the truth, or even her son. She has defined her whole being in her narrow mission. Everything else is a pretext.

Virtually no one in authority agrees with her "pull out now" position. Certainly not those of us who believe that the war was necessary, weapons of mass destruction not withstanding. But, even those who originally opposed the war reject instant withdrawal. They, too, understand that abandonment now would create not a safer world, but rather would give reign to an orgy of political violence, the collapse of Iraq into a terrorist anarchy, destabilize the middles east, wreak havoc on the world's oil-dependent economies and increase acts of terrorism within these United States.

While I take comfort in the fact that her pleas will go unheeded by the rationale and responsible world, the fact that she would give aid and comfort to our enemies maybe at the root of my uncharacteristic animus. Or maybe my realization that her egotistical malevolence or pathetic stupidity will only embolden the madmen to step up their killing efforts. To the extent she gives hope to those maniacal killers, she will cause more of our soldiers ... and more innocent civilians ... to be brutally and ruthlessly slaughtered.

The war in Iraq will ... and must be continued. Cindy Sheehan's only contribution will be to increase the number of American soldiers returning home in body bags, and the number of unsuspecting men, women and children blown to bits.

Maybe the fact that I have a grandson in the front line in Iraq ... maybe that is why I find her so very offensive. I do not want him to be one of Cindy Sheehan's victims. I wish she would have the decency to go home in silence ... and stay there.

LMAO: Getting into jail is not difficult for some

A guy goes to the Cook County Courthouse to find his attorney. When confronted at the security station, he glutches and asks the guards to track down his attorney on an upper floor. When they check with the courtroom, the guards are advised that there is an outstanding drug-related arrest warrant for the visitor. He is then detained and searched. The guards discover more than $45,000 worth of herion on his person. Now this guy REALLY needs to see his lawyer -- and probably a good shrink to deal with his diminished mental capacity.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

OBSERVATION: No wonder some think blacks look alike

There is an old thing about all blacks looking alike through caucasian eyes. Well, artist Simmie Knox is not helping matters, and he is black.

Let me preface my observation by saying that I think Simmie is one hell of a portriat painter. If I were famous enough or rich enough to have an official protrait, I would ask Simmie to do it. For one thing, his portriats actually look like the real people ... only even better. That is what I want ... realism, but better.

Anyway, when researching the background of U.S. Representative Josepth Rainey (R-SC) and Senator Hiram Revels (R-MS), the first blacks to serve in those respective bodies, I noticed that the recently dedicated portrait of Rainey looked a bit familiar. When I checkout our Revels old portrait, my confusion was understandable.

Check out Rainey on the left (being admired at his dedication this week) and Revels on the right. One gets the sense that Semmie was not going for originality when casting the setting for his study of Rainey. Same pose. Same chair. Same table. Same flag.

They are so similar (maybe that's what Simmie stands for) that you can play "pick out the ten differences." I'll give you some hints. Different ties ... one has crossed legs ... and the hair length ... and a window. I can't find anymore. Can you?

SPIN: Bias by omission?

In covering the unveiling in the U.S. Capitol of a portrait of the first elected Black Congressman, Joseph Rainey, of South Carolina, the Chicago Sun-Times (September 22) noted the attendance of Congressional Black Caucus members, fairly well known as a Democrat lobbying group, and the ever camera ready Jesse Jackson, a Democrat. It then quoted a Democrat congressman noting that Rainey is the first “person of color” to have a portrait installed among the hundreds of paintings on the House side of the Capitol.

Since most might assume, from the reporting and “prevailing wisdom,” that Rainey was a Democrat, I searched perused the story for that pro forma information. When I did not find it, my gut instinct predicted that Rainey was a Republican, and the omission made to keep the story in line with current liberal mythology. I found an online biography that confirmed my suspicion. Rainey was a staunch Republican.

I am not a terribly cynical person, but the article begged for the inclusion of the partisan designation as a relevant biographical fact. It is almost unheard of for the media to not identify a legislator’s affiliation, making the omission that much more glaring. It is not something that can be simply overlooked, or thought irrelevant to the article. This exception to newspaper tradition gives credence to existence of a subtle and pervasive or media bias.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

UPDATE: Chicago schools ... the BAD news

A while back, this blog took exception to the rosy spin placed on a very modest improvement in SOME national test scores by Chicago public school students. The "good news" was trumpeted on front page headlines. City and school officials engaged in a round of reciprocal back patting.

As a former school consultant, I questioned the rosy analysis.

Well, the Chicago Sun-Times (September 19) reports a "harsh reality" -- most notably that only 54 percent of kids entering Chicago high schools will graduate in four years. Not get this! Most of the kids who DO graduate and move on to the city colleges (not talking Harvard here) will have to take remedial classes to make up for educational deficiencies. Up to 74 percent will need remedial English. Image that! The public schools cannot even teach kids to read and write. A whopping ninety-four percent will need remedial math. And, of course, civics and social studies are totally hopeless.

Much blame goes to the teacher unions and their policy of "social promotion," which is nothing more than moving an uneducated kid to the next level. Up and out ... all the while the education bureaucracy sucks up the taxpayer dollars under the guise of really educating our future generation. Kids in Chicago earning a B average fall into the D range on national tests. Grades and diplomas mean nothing.

Arne Duncan, the head of the Chicago school system, admits that they are not preparing most kids for any life after high school ... work or college.

Interestingly, the high school drop out rate, and student statistics, are not much different than there were in 1970s, when I began beating up on the education establishment for the abuse … yes, abuse … of our children.

REACT: The naked law

There has not been a lot of news coverage, but the Nate Kinsella story should be a major story. Or ... it should never have been a news story at all.

Seems like Nate, a 20-something a drummer with a rock band, was playing one of those outdoor concerts off in the suburbs of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. His group was one of the acts for a Christian rock festival.

At any rate, his band was playing in sweltering heart, and like many other performers and religious rockies, the boys in the band shed most of the outer clothing. Nate, however, overwhelmed by the heat of the moment, weather not withstanding, briefly shed his briefs -- providing the Christian revelers with everything the Lord had provided him.

This led to his arrest, even though no complaints were pressed, and his musician colleagues and goodly number of the godly audience, objected to his arrest. Nonetheless, the local constabulary took Nate into custody and charged him with indecent exposure, assault (for wringing his sweaty boxers over the audience) and disturbing a religious meeting. The latter two charges were dropped in a lapse of bad judgment by the police.

Well ... here is the rub (as Shakespeare said). Young Nate is now going to stand trial where his max sentence is up to 10 years in jail and a $20,000 fine. In addition, if convicted, he would forever more be required to register as a sex offender.

Hey! This was a rock concert for god sake ... literally. We show nudity and sex to little kids on prime time television. Our whole culture promotes hedonistic entertainment (not that I am entirely complaining here). We have live stage shows featuring naked choirs, the full monty and simulated sex -- and I am not talking about porn houses. What Nate did was not a sex crime by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I cannot see where it should have been a crime at all. Well ... ok ... maybe a misdemeanor ... $50 fine.

Not only is this a gross injustice to Nate, it is an injustice to every victim of a serious sexual assault. It trivializes the violent crime. If Nate has to bear ... or bare ... the scarlet letter, then how can we ever trust that some registered as a life long sex offender is anything more than a prankish fraternity guy at a toga party or ... a rocker doing his shtick.

I hope the Bartlesville prosecutors are sane enough to simply drop the charges -- and that the police chief will advise his men and women to focus on real crimes. I am way no softy when it comes to crime ... just that I think there ought to be a crime committed. Just because a law is on the books, does not mean the book as to be thrown at every violator regardless of circumstances. Indecent exposure applied to a 45-year-old pervert flashing kiddies on their way to school is one thing. Nate au natural for a few moments at a rock concert is quite another.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

OBSERVATION: End Stereotyping ... just accept that Republicans are mean and Democrats are stupid.

When you start adding it all up, it appears we have come to a national consensus, at least as the news media reports it, that Republicans cause bad things to happen because they are malicious and evil. They hate minorities and the poor. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is due to an insensitive, uncaring, evil George Bush.

On the other hand, Democrat leaders are merely victims of those who betrayed their trust. The MASSIVE scandals that are rolling over Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and now rising to the ear lobes of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, are only the result of two well intentioned guys who were soooo busy doing the public good that they were oblivious to the shenanigans of there most senior aids, closest friends and even immediately family. That is the spin.

Uh huh!

SIDEBAR: Governor Ryan saw it coming even before he took oath of office

Note: SIDEBAR is the term I use when talking about my personal experiences that relate in someway to news of the day. In news reporting, it refers to a secondary feature, usually in a "box," that highlights a facet of the primary news story. It is borrowed from the legal profession, when judges and attorneys stand to the side of the public "bar" (judge's bench) to engage in an unrecorded private discussion.

As Governor George Ryan stands ready to be tried on a number of counts of criminal activity relating to his tenure as Illinois Secretary of State, I am reminded of a prescient conversation I had with top political insider, John Glennon. It was between the time Ryan was elected and sworn in as Governor. I had invited Glennon to get a "read" on the new regime. He reported to me his most recent meeting with Ryan.

Glennon said that Ryan surprisingly seemed less than excited over the prospect of becoming governor -- an office for which he lusted for most of his adult life. It was an office that seemed lost to him when outgoing Governor Jim Thompson hand-picked Jim Edgar as the successor over the all-but-begging Ryan eight years earlier.

Glennon said that Ryan told him that now the governorship may not be worth the problems. -- that it would not be an easy or happy term in office. Ryan expected to be dogged by the truck- license-for-pay, which had almost blown his campaign against Democrat Glenn Poshard. Ironically, it was the public boost Ryan received, in the former of a disclaimer of culpability by the then-U.S. Attorney that took the wind out of Poshard's accusations of gross criminality in the Secretary of State office. Poshard turned out to be right, and the intercession of the U.S. Attorney remains an example of the coziness of past prosecutors with the most powerful political figures.

Glennon said that Ryan specifically lamented the trucker scandal as the source of his future grief. Glennon tried to offer assurances to the Governor-elect, with a hint of a question, "This issue will not hit you personally. Right?" In response, the politically savvy Governor simply shrugged his shoulders in uncertainty.

Glennon felt that the Governor-elect, with the advantage of specific knowledge and keen political skills, saw the distant possibility of scandal. In fact, he said Ryan even alluded to the possibility of a shortened stay in the Executive Mansion by saying "if" instead of "when" he completes his first term.

Now Ryan stands ready to fulfill his hinted prophesy. Accused and indicted, his trial begins. In another twist to the unending succession of indictments, Glennon also is among those indicted by the feds.

OBSERVATION: Private sector trumps public sector ... again

Everyone who knows me, knows I am a let-the-private-sector-solve-the-problem-first kind of a guy. I could not help to go "ah ha" when I read two articles in the same newspaper on the same day.

Seems the government owned and operated Nationtional Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) is planning to get another human being or two on the moon by 2018. On the other hand, the newly formed private company of 4Frontiers Corp** has announced plans to have an ENTIRE HUMAN SETTLEMENT ON MARS, for goodness sake, in the early 2020s.

Of course, they first intend to build a model of their moon village on earth, and charge admissions to experience it. Hmmmmm. Could this be a fancy public relations scheme for popularizing yet another theme park? Will the real Mars village have rides?

**Would someone please advise the people how name things to avoid that number upfront. It screws up the alphabetizing. I know it is the new wave of techno sounding names, but it annoys me ... so there!

**Would someone please advise the people how name things to avoid that number upfront. It screws up the alphabetizing. I know it is the new wave of techno sounding names, but it annoys me ... so there!

UPDATE: Blame game gets more players

As I suggested in a previous blog item (September 10), the voluntary George-Bush-is-responsibile-for-the-entire-Katrina-disaster-disaster committee has been loosing ground as the facts start coming in. I have been noticing that articles, editorials, editorial cartoons and letters to the editor are starting to reflect some of the eggregious lapses and errors-in-judgment of Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin. (By the way, if you were create fictional names for characters in a satire of this mess, could you do better than the clueless Governor Blanco, the every gripping Mayor Nagin and a lost and bewildered sheriff named Compass.)

Even the old budget issues seems to be shifting focus. Example: It is not repored that $500,000 appropriated by the Republican Congress to study and develop an evacuation plan for New Orleans was diverted by Democrat officials and bureaucrats to study of the Causeway bridge that crosses Lake Pontchartrain. In the budget process, the beef turned to pork. Ironically, the central goal of the study was to assist in the development of an emergency evacuation plan.

You may not have read about this scandalous and deadly miss use of funds since too much of the press still operates as a liberal Dem public relations medium.

OBSERVATION: Death on decline

Well ... finally some good news. According to a recent American Cancer Society study, death rates are declining across the board, due to improved treatment for such killers as heart disease and, of course, cancer. Talking the study to its logical conclusion, by the year 2048 Americans will no longer die. I was of the assumption that the death rate among humans is 100%. It is good to know, however, that fewer of us will die each year.

Of course, these findings are sure to enflame the science versus religion debate, since not dying will preclude the faithful from going to heaven. Unless, of course, the religious commit suicide. In that brave new world, would suicide then become a religious rite ... right ... which ever?

This futurist thinking is just too much of a brain strain for a Sunday morning. Besides, I have to go to church ... maybe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

SIDEBAR: How Chicago corruption works up close

Note: SIDEBAR is the term I use when talking about my personal experiences that relate in someway to news of the day. In news reporting, it refers to a secondary feature, usually in a "box," that highlights a facet of the primary news story. It is borrowed from the legal profession, when judges and attorneys stand to the side of the public "bar" (judge's bench) to engage in an unrecorded private discussion.

I grew up in Chicago, spending my life under the Daley family "machine." One of the reasons corruption is difficult to pin on the big guys is that after 75 years, the system is so subtle and smooth that it operates more on understandings than direct communication from the top. Everyone knows how the system works, and what is expected of them, without seeking traceable orders. You know, and yet you don't KNOW.

Let me illustrate from one of own experiences. My public affairs/lobbying firm had an engineering consulting firm as a client. The firm had previously done work for Cook County, but had "fallen out of favor." I arranged a meeting for the firm with then County Board President George Dunne. The meeting with George was most cordial. He spoke very encouraging to my clients, and made sure they knew that I was his friend and they were lucky to have me representing them. Actually, I had very little interaction with Dunne, but it was customary to do the lobbyist a favor by boosting him or her with the clients.

After the meeting, Dunne's secretary pulled me aside, and said I should go see Mickey Segal, the head of Near North Insurance, and a well recognized go-to guy for top Democrats and Republicans alike. I inquired why he wanted to see me. The secretary explained that he had is reasons. It was odd, since I had never been invited to visit him before, and knew him only superficially. In fact, I would not have thought he even knew who I was -- and how did he know I was seeing President Dunne?

A couple days later, I kept an appointment with Segal. This was the first time I had ever been to his office. It was huge, and one could hardly miss the life-size naked plastic female sculpture work. I was later told that it was his wife. Geeez, glad I did not know that before the meeting.

Anyway ... Segal assured me that his invitation had nothing ... but nothing to do with whatever business I had with Dunne. I still wondered how he knew of the meeting, and yet was so clueless as to the purpose of the meeting. I let it pass.

Rather, he wanted to talk about Dunne's upcoming fundraiser. He said he was sure with my many friends, I would really help "our buddy George." He even suggested that he thought it would be really great if I could raise $20,000. He was sure I knew someone who could handle that size contribution ... he was very sure.

Dunne was also 42nd ward committeemen, and the funds were to be donated there. It is sort of a secret slush fund the committeemen could keep outside of public scrutiny. It was widely believed that Dunne had millions stashed in his. Now, if Segal really knew me, he would have known that I would need about 200 of my friends to raise $20,000. But, I had the distinct impression that he had a certain donor in mind. Maybe an engineering consulting firm?

At the conclusion of our brief meeting, Segal again reassured me that his request had nothing to do with my business with Dunne -- whatever that was. He had assured me so many times, that I could think of no other reason for the request. He patted me heartily on the back and expressed confidence that I could find someone .... someone with a spare $20,000 to donate to the Dunne committeeman fund.

Now ... did I suspect that there WAS a link between my client's potential and the $20,000 "contribution" to the Dunne committeeman fund? Duh. I told you I was raised in Chicago. I did not suspect it, I was sure of it. I had no doubt the money and the meeting was linked. You have to admire the smoothness of the operation, however. I even imagined what I would be asked by a defense lawyer in court -- and this was long before we had a real U.S. Attorney kicking over rocks to expose the critters below.

Imagine the Defense attorney line of questioning ....

Mr. Horist, did George Dunne send you to Mr. Segal?

Ah .... no ... but ...

Never mind the buts .... just answer the questions. Did Mr. Segal say the money was in return for getting your client some business?

Ah... no ... but ....

No buts! Did Mr. Segal even know what your business with Mr. Dunne was about?

I am sure he did.

Sure! sure! How could you be sure.

You just know.

Ah! I see, Mr. Horist, you "just know" such things. Did Mr. Segal say anything to indicate he knew about your business with Mr. Dunn?

Ah ... no.

But, YOU knew. You could tell. Mr. Horist. Did you know Mr. Segal was a fundraiser for Mr. Dunne before you visited him?


So. You knew of his activities in that area?


So, Mr. Horist, you are saying that Mr. Dunne sent you to see Mr. Segal ... even though he did not. You knew he raised money for Mr. Dunne and others on a regular basis ... but his request to you was because of your meeting with Mr. Dunne. Mr. Segal assured you repeatedly that his request had nothing to do with whatever the business of your meeting with Mr. Dunne ... business that Mr. Segal did not even seem to know about. Is that about right, Mr. Horist?

Well.... yeah.

Mr. Horist, I suggest that you are a bit paranoid, have no basis to claim a link between the money and your business with Mr. Dunne. Maybe, as a Republican, you just want to damage the reputation of these fine upstanding men. It seems to me that Mr. Segal went to extremes to assure you that there was no link, and yet you are convinced that the money was in exchange for a contract -- without one single shred of evidence to support your suspicions. I have no more for this witness, your honor.

Yeah. That is how it would go.

I advised the client of the meeting, and said I would not participate in any money exchange. If they wanted to contact Mr. Segal, they could. I would withdraw representation. They did and I did. Not long after, I learned that the firm had secured a nice piece of county business. I bumped into one of the principals at a social function, and asked if they had made a political contribution through Segal. He smiled and winked as he advised me that it was not a good idea to discuss political contributions.

Immediately, I KNEW they had. But then, I am just a paranoid Republican.

Monday, September 12, 2005

LMAO: And this is news???

TidBit # 1: New Orleans Police Chief discovers way to end crime
New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass proudly announced that his city has been almost "crime-free." for the past four days. "We are definitely in control of the city," said. Apparently moving the entire population of a high crime rate city to other states has a very positive effect on crime.

He also noted that one-third of his 1500 person police force are AWOL, no longer on duty. After seeing uniformed police looting the Wal-Mart, it seems that the absence of cops, itself, may have been a contributing factor to the reduction of crime.

So there it is. Wanna reduce crime in your city, just evict all the citizens and send off a big chunk of the police force, and viole ... no crime. Methinks Chief Compass has lost his.

TidBit # 2: Left wing warblers nest together
Two of the most strident Senators in Washington are nest mates on Capitol Hill. Illinois grouse, Dick Durbin, and New York's mocking bird, Chuck Schumer, share a small townhouse near their offices. The Environmental Protection Agency should rush over to check the water to see how these two are absorbing so much toxic pollution. Unfortunately, neither of these birds are on the endangered spieces list.

TidBit #3: Apparently royals lead a sheltered life.
Monaco's Prince Albert was tricked into having a baby with flight attendent. Would someone be good enough to tell His Highness how babies are made so he won't get talked into a game of "gas pump" again?

TidBit #4: Baseball's hot dog wars
The Sun-Times recently compared food served at the Cubs and Sox ballparks, and claims the Sox vend healthier offerings. (You can now add “healthy ballpark food" to your list of oxymorons.)

As anyone who has visited both parks knows, there is something wrong with the study. One look at the respective crowd does the trick. Sox fans out weigh Cubs fan by at least 35 pounds per person -- and that’s only the kids. You do not want to sit between two Sox fans if you hope to inhale. (Of course with their attendance, not much chance you will have to.)

Don't they get it? Ballpark food is NOT supposed to be healthy. It is supposed to be God-awful junk food. When you eat a hot dog from the ballpark, you want that distinctive flavor of a cheap fatty wiener with a hint of overused grease; and served tepid with a garnish of bright green dyed relish, a dollop of crusty brownish sun-baked mustard and a drizzle of onion mush. THAT is a great dog ... but only at the ballpark. I would send it back if served in any other environment.

Remember, we are talking baseball fans. This is not a snooty social event where people accompany morsels of hard to pronounce foods with a glass of hard to pronounce wine that costs more than a keg of beer. This is not the crowd that sips with pinky extended. They are more likely to guzzle several brewskis, and spill and belch a lot --- and the only thing interesting about their pinky is some flashy oversized ring.

And if that is not bad enough, Sox fans are the #1 violators of the cardinal rule of Chicago hot dog preparation. They apply ... ketchup.

Cubs win the food contest, spoons down.

TidBit #5: Why didn't I know that?
Newspaper columnist Paige Wiser said it. No mushy qualified language. This is why we buy newspapers. In a recent column, she said, "The No.1 cause of traffic accidents is hitting other cars." I would never have guessed.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

OBSERVATION: Dem blame game could backfire

Abraham Lincoln wisely noted that “you may fool all of the people some of the time; and some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.” His observation is pertinent today in the political aftermath of Katrina.

Americans may like accountability, but we have a sense of fair play that can make” piling on" a perilous ploy. Even if the crass and highly partisan finger pointing in the direction of the White House prevails at the moment, the future view, away from media driven hysteria, may backfire on the contemporary merchants of blame. While Dems are stampeding the public to an indictment of George Bush, their outcries for investigations may serve the President's interest better than their own. Not only do I suspect the blame Bush strategy will not work in the long run, I think there are already signs of the tide turning.

Widely reported polls show that a significant majority of the public do not think the Prez did a good job in responding to Katrina. Even more significantly, and less reported, the polls place Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin not far behind Bush in negative public opinion.

The New Orleans mayor is already starting to look like loose cannon with a large aperture. It appears his predicted death toll and his day-to-day Chicken Little screeching was more hysteria than the public utterances of a knowledgeable and responsible public official. You will recall is directive to go after looters instead of rescuing the stranded -- a directive he withdrew when the rational public gave him a collective "say what?" One may understand his tearful breakdown as he pleaded in unprofessional panic for help to rescue victims and his own reputation in a situation he screwed up big time. It is not so easy to cut him slack for his radio show appearance where he did his best imitation of a Chicago gang banger.

At times Governor Blanco seemed to live up to her name. It was if she was clueless to her role and responsibilities. Repeatedly she postponed life and death rescue decisions and responses to requests as if she was scheduling budget meetings. The I'll-get-back-to-you-on-that demeanor was also the subject of Nagin's rantings, although those criticisms were largely ignored by a press corps more interested in pinning the tail on George Bush's butt than reporting fairly.

Lower officials were must share considerable blame. Police abandoning their posts –imagine these sworn-to-serve-and-protect first responders ducking tail and running. Of course some of these cops were too busy looting to even change out of uniform. How about Black Democrat Congressman William Jefferson commandeering a military rescue vehicle for a personal tour and trip to his high-brow home to retrieve treasured possessions as people perished for lack of rescue? Is this racism, classism or just plain old self-centered disregard?

Then there is the bottom feeders -- the criminal element that went on a rampage of murder, rape and pillaging. Snipers shooting are rescue workers and vehicles. On the underside, New Orleans has always been known as a corrupt and dangerously criminal city. It is to be expected that those elements would have free reign when society's protectors are over burdened, absent, or gone over to the other side of the force.

George Bush has accepted responsibility for any failures in the FEDERAL response on his watch -- although most press reporting conceals the culpability of others by implying that is personally and maliciously responsible for EVERYTHING that went wrong. It is time for others to admit they made tragic mistakes, and that the response at the state and local levels was too little, too late, too bad.

While the momentary rush to judgment is weighed against Bush, events and less impassioned hind-sight investigations are very likely to shift the focus, and significant blame, on the deadly lapses of city and state officials.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

OBSERVATION: Put a cork in it!

Once again, an important American ... nay, worldwide ... cultural tradition is at risk. I am speaking of the refined rituals associated wine. I am NOT referring to the guzzling of an alcoholic beverage. I mean the partaking of a finely fermented wine, savored and consumed in accordance with ancient traditions.

Central to the experience of wine is the humble cork. It is more than a seal. It is the guardian of the bottled liquid, only one of two elements (the other being glass) that is allowed to come into direct contact with the libation as it mellows undecanted, mellowing as it awaits its aromatic release. No bottle of wine can be stored without being in constant contact with the cork. The cork has just the right characteristics as to form a perfect seal. More recently I discovered that the ancient natural cork is being replaced by a synthetic version. Not only does this artificial cork frustrate removal, it is a plastic imposter.

UPDATE: Chicago Mayor Daley more desperate than imagined

With his administration under siege from federal prosecutors and a wide range of scandals that have literally wiped out his management team -- by resignations and indictments -- Mayor Daley is showing signs of desperation.

It is evident in his appointment of David Hoffman, a federal prosecutor, as the new Inspector General. According to the Mayor, "Mr. Clean" has been told to ferret out corruption where ever he may find it -- even if it leads to the Office of the Mayor. City Hall is taking a zero tolerance approach to official corruption.

As any long time resident of Chicago would know, nothing ... but nothing ... except cold sweating fear and desperate terror could possibly have the machine mayor of Chicago promote real reform. He is taking the last ditch effort to save his own skin. He is going straight. Of course, it may be too late. However, the hiring of a federal prosecutor is a testimony to the Mayor's well deserved reputation as a survivor -- even at the expense of those who sit at his right hand.

A cynic my think that plucking a person out of the very office investigating the city might at once bring to his side (backside, that is) a person better able to understand and deal with the culture of the federal law enforcement office. Hoffman may prove to be a valuable negotiator for the Mayor, and may actually be able to deflect the thrust of the investigation. Of course, I am not sufficiently cynical to think any such thoughts.

The hiring of Hoffman, however, should be a warning to anyone who ever worked for the Mayor. If they broke the law, even at the request of ... or with the knowledge of the mayor ... or just believing the mayor knew, they can count on his well armored shield of deniability to cut them adrift in the sea of prosecution. As one associate of the Mayor noted, he (the Mayor) has thrown so many friends under the train that the wheels don't touch the rails anymore.

Image, real reform in City Hall ... no more graft, bribes, jobs-for-homage, fixed tickets, contracts based on contributions. It has never been truer that desperate times call for desperate measures.

On the other hand, if Hoffman turns out to be an Irish cousin, as the saying goes, then everything I wrote above in inoperative.

UPDATE: Ryan defense wants no talk of six kids killed by trucker with illegal license

You have to give lawyers credit. They will try anything to save a client. I guess that is as it should be. However, it does result in some really strange stuff. The attorney for former Illinois Governor George Ryan is asked that there be no mention of the deaths of six children in an accident with a trucker who got an illegal license by kicking into Ryan's campaign fund. This is a little like putting Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth, on trial, but asking the judge to prohibit any discussion of what he did at Ford's Theater.

I suppose desperate times require desperate measures. Accoding to the gossip mill, and even the opinion of some top columnist, Ryan's enrollment in the federal pen is a matter of "when" not "if."

The trial opens this month, and, as my grandfather would have said, "its going to be a humdinger."

OP ED: The perfect (political) storm?

Democrats have not been faring to well these days. Katrina, however, has been the “perfect storm” for them. It represents the convergence of factors that they believe will create a category 5 public opinion hurricane that will find landfall on the south lawn of the White House.

It is a natural for the donkey party’s strident partisanship, and they are piling on. In addition to the not-so-loyal opposition in Congress, the “Bushwhackers” have the benefit of the Democrat Louisiana governor and a New Orleans mayor -- joining the partisan chorus to cover up their own culpabilities. Add to the mix pandering media magnets like Jesse Jackson, an overwhelmingly Democrat victim group, and the inestimable benefit of a largely biased national news media, and it is no wonder the Hurricane Blame is bearing down on federal (Republican) administration. Unfortunately, this will do no good for victims, current and future. It only deflects from a truly critical look at what might be done better.

There are many others failures to explore.

For example, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is quick to rant about FEMA, but the high loss of life among the poor was arguably caused by his failure to provide means for the poor to evacuate after he issued the order. At that point, poor people without cars or means to pay for transportation (with very little available), were literally stranded. Mayor Nagin failed to call in state and federal transportation resources, provide municipal vehicles or coordinate private resources before the levees broke and the roadways were unusable. His lack of appreciation for the problem, and absence of foresight, doomed thousands of his poorest constituents to misery and death.

For her part, Governor Kathleen Blanco was slow to authorize needed resources. There was delay in making the request for specific federal assistance, and reluctance to agree to federal authority – both prerequisites to federal intervention. It did not appear that the state and city were coordinating efforts very effectively.

In fairness, it must be recognized that Katrina was unprecedented. Personally, I believe most everyone, including Blanco and Nagin, gave the situation his or her best efforts. I do not believe racism was involved or elitist disinterest. Such accusations are as sinister and self-serving as they are dishonest. There may have been shortcomings, as will happen in any event that exceeds expectations. This does not automatically translate to evil intent or heartless disregard.

The commission to any investigation should be to look at the process from top to bottom, not just the national response. Many of the tragic failures occurred at lower levels, and these should not be ignored by partisan interests.

OP ED: Katrine wrecks American civility

The loss of life and property from Katrina is well reported, but not another sad outcome -- the damage to our national civility and honor. The capacity to rise above differences to unite in the face of disaster has been a noble part of our American culture. In the wake of Katrina, however, we have seen the uglier side of human nature. We have witnessed massive looting, and been told of the countless robberies and rapes. Many of the dead are not victims of Katrina, but murdered by fellow citizens. Rescue workers attempting to reach imperiled victims by boat and helicopter, and construction workers trying to stem the flow of the ravaging waters, were fired upon for reasons no rational person can explain.

Even as thousands of bodies lay rotting in the putrid waters of the New Orleans basin, and tens of thousands still in need of rescue, the pundits and politicians commenced a shameless exercise in partisan finger pointing – with the federal response the target of their partisan-based criticisms. Once it was recognized that the national news media was more than eager to participate in the blame game along its own anti-Bush ideological fault line, the shameless rhetoric superseded all other aspects of the unfolding tragedy. Objective news gave way to opinionated reporting. Commentators became propagandists and provocateurs. Vernacular sunk to low level name calling. The obscenity punctuated rants of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin sound more like the language of a gang banger than a responsible public official.

Rapper Kane West inappropriately used a Red Cross televised fundraiser to make stupid incendiary charges about Bush. He got his marketable publicity, but his comments very likely turned off potential donors. So much for the needs of the victims. Add to this the ranting of CNN’s provocateur-in-residence, Jack Cafferty America’s number one race baiter, Jesse Jackson, holier than thou Father Andrew Greeley, and everything-is-always-George-Bush’s-fault Molly Ivins, and the lack of decency and intellectual honesty becomes all too apparent.

If government response was not sufficient, the lack of foresight and inadequacy of action was evident at every level of government – local, state and federal. Enough hindsight blame to go around, if that is your bent. If mistakes were made in the chaotic aftermath of the hurricane and flood, they were more likely the honest errors of honorable people doing the best they knew how. The media-hyped charges of racism and elitism advanced by self-serving public officials and partisan activists, are a disservice to the courageous first responders, the average citizen, the suffering victims, and to the truth, itself.

The further victimization of the suffering by criminals, pandering politicians or a biased media is as much a cultural tragedy as the storm was a natural disaster.

Monday, September 05, 2005

SPIN: News headlines misrepresent facts (Part 2)

I caught a CNN video clip of Mayor Ray Nagin on AOL. The teaser headline stated that he added more criticism of the federal government. In fact, he was somewhat complimentary of his meeting with Bush, indicating that he was acting forcefully. He praised the President for his assignment of General Russel Honore to direct federal operations. Nagin, however, was quite critical of the slow response to Democrat Governor Kathleen Blanco -- exactly the OPPOSITE of the lead-in.

This was similar to a previous report in which Nagin criticized both Bush and Blanco, but CNN/AOL headlined only his criticism of federal response.

When I went back to show the more recent video to others, the teaser was changed to say only that Nagin was describing his meeting with Bush and Blanco. Interestingly, however, the video clip was edited by CNN to censor the portions critical of Blanco -- leaving a totally false impression that he was still directing his frustration at Bush.

Throughout the crisis, CNN has used every sleazy journilistic trick to spin all responsibility on the Repbulican administration, while absolving the Democrat state and city administrations.

Even in consideration of CNN's well established political bias against Repbulicans, especially conservatives, this was pretty eggregious.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

SPIN: News headlines misrepresent facts

A while back, I noted here how headline writers seem to add their own unique media spin. In considering this, it is important to understand that headlines play an incredibly important role in establishing the mind set for the reader. It is also important to bear in mind that many people skim headlines to absorb the general idea, and then move on without reading the full article.

Case in point: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin recently appeared on a radio show and ranted about the lack of help his city was receiving. He directed hard questions, blame and cursing criticism at both the Republican Bush administration in Washington and the Kathleen Blanco, the Democrat governor of Louisiana.

The Chicago Tribune gave the bombastic remarks of Mayor Nagin the full front-page banner headline treatment. However, it referred ONLY to his frustrated “pleas for help” from Washington, with all the criticism that implies. Both the headline and the article failed to mention his frustration with the state leadership. In promoting the entire radio interview on the Internet, AOL said, “In an interview with WWL Radio's Garland Robinette, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin expresses frustration and anger AT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT.” (Emphasis added.) Again, no mention of the state government.

And so it was, the story rolled throughout the national media, including national television news as a focused condemnation of the White House.

The persistent facts do not comport with the reporting – not the facts of Mayor Nagin’s comments not the facts of responsibility for various perceived shortcomings in the disaster response efforts. It is clear that much of the lack of preparedness, and insufficient and ineffective initial response, rested considerably with the city administration and the state response. This is not to suggest that there were not problems with the national response, only to note that those problems were shared among all levels of government.

Headlines that add spin to a story are not rare. They are frequent. The disturbing fact is that of the scores of such headlines I have seen, I have yet to find one that spins the story to the toward a more conservative or Republican interpretation. Rather, this latest example serves as yet another subtle indication of the ever present and pernicious bias of the major news industry.