Thursday, January 29, 2009


The Senate voted unanimously to impeach Rod Blagojevich this afternoon. They also voted unanimously to prevent him from holding public office in Illinois in the future. Justice has been done. Blago gave a impromtu press conference outside his house tonight (no security now that he is a private citizen so the press was able to get close). He repeated many of the same things he's been saying over the past couple days, including in his closing arguments. He teared up, but it looked fake. He repeated his claim that "the fix is in" when asked about the unanimous vote. Blago just can't accept that he was wrong. We know it. The senators knew it. And he will have to live with it. I'm just glad he's gone.

Blago's last stand

I listened to Rod Blagojevich's closing argument today in his impeachment trial. Again, I heard the same spiel about how he wasn't allowed to call witnesses. I expected as much. He tried to explain away his activities as just politics as usual. Just a governor trying to get things done for the people of Illinois. I think he hoped the senators would shake their heads in agreement and say, "Sure, this is politics as usual." But whether it is or not, it shouldn't be. This is not how government in any city or state, or in our nation, should be. Many of us are cynical already about politics. Politicians are liars and crooks. Government doesn't work for the people. Why vote? Why care? Rod Blagojevich is an example of why people feel that way. And it is a shame. It is not a defense.

Blago said he did nothing wrong. He said he wasn't guilty of the criminal charges and would prove it in his criminal trial. Then he went charge by charge over the rest of the Articles of Impeachment (those charges that were not in the criminal complaint) to explain why he wasn't wrong in those instances either. But in each case, all he seemed to do was explain why he was wrong. Blago argued he did nothing wrong by going around the legislature to expand healthcare, to buy flu vaccines with taxpayer money, and to buy prescription drugs from outside the U.S., which was against federal law. But he did, and his explanation proved he did. He said he didn't need to go through the legislature for these things, or through the Joint Committee on Adminstrative Rules, even though state law required he do so. Blago argued that these actions had been done before he was elected for a second term, and he should have been impeached before then. He's right. I know impeachment was talked about even before Blago's arrest. Blago himself mentioned it in his national interviews. I can only guess that some Democratic representatives and senators were not on board with impeachment, even if it was deserved. Maybe even some Republicans were reluctant to get on board, because it would have been an embarrassment to Illinois. Maybe they didn't think it would get this bad. But after Blago's arrest, impeachment could no longer be just a whisper in the halls in Springfield. Blago was already embarrassing Illinois. What more could an impeachment do?

For the most part, Blago said nothing new in his closing argument. Nothing that I can see would change any senators' mind on impeachment, if they were for it. So far, it seems I'm right. I've been listening to the deliberations the past half hour and each senator who has spoken has said he or she is for impeachment. They are embarrassed. They are appalled. They want a new chapter to start for Illinois, one that doesn't include Rod R. Blagojevich. I can only hope tomorrow begins that chapter.

SIDE NOTE: Blago left right after his closing argument in his state plane to fly back to Chicago because he was afraid to stick around to listen to deliberations and the final decision. He was afraid because if he stuck around and was indeed impeached, he would no longer have access to the plane and would have to find another way home. Yep, the Governor, always thinking about himself.

Flying in

I was quite disturbed to read that Rod Blagojevich was flying in to Springfield to make closing statements today at his impeachment trial. Flying in? Yes, he boarded a small plane at O'Hare this morning to fly to Springfield, and plans to fly back after he gives his statement. And who paid for that small plane? Something tells me it was the taxpayers of Illinois. So it's nice to see that after his whirlwind media tour where he proclaimed he was just trying to do what was best for the citizens of Illinois, he continues to screw us. Is Blago above getting in a car the night before and driving to Springfield? After all, it's only a few hours. No, I suspect the governor thinks he's still too special for that sort of transportation. Hello, he's been on NATIONAL TELEVISION! National TV darlings don't DRIVE to their destinations. They are flown, like celebrities. I suppose that's the problem with Blago, one of them anyway. He seems to think he's better than anyone else, and can get away with almost anything. Almost. His closing statement is at 11 a.m., for anyone interested in watching. The Chicago Tribune has a link to the proceedings online.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We voted for him

I shook my head in agreement while reading the Chicago Tribune's editorial today titled "Illinois, policing itself." The editorial discussed why Illinois residents are responsible for the mess with Rod Blagojevich, for the most part. We voted for him. Well, not everyone did. I didn't. Actually, 1,750,452 didn't. Blago won re-election in 2006 with less than 50% of the vote (okay, it was 49.8%, but that's still less). But be that as it may, he was still re-elected. So we, the voters, are responsible. Now, I'll admit between Blago and Judy Baar Topinka, there wasn't much of a choice. Topinka wasn't a saint, being tied to former Gov. George Ryan. But in reading one of the comments to the editorial, I was reminded of an issue I have with elections, whether state or federal. The comment by "tired of it" said, in part: "Seriously, what were our options in the last gubernatorial election? An off-putting woman less appealing than a t-rex or Blago--is that a real choice??? I voted green, thank you (BTW, a little more press on the green party might help us stupid citizens understand our options)."

I voted the Green Party as well, but it's true that there wasn't much press on any other party, as is the norm in elections. I had to find my own information about the Green Party candidate, Rich Whitney. We have very few choices in politics. I'm not saying having more parties and candidates in elections would mean less corruption, but at least we'd have options. At least the Democratic and Republican candidates would know they had more than just one other candidate to beat out, and we would have more of a choice if the Democratic or Republican candidates were corrupt losers. And voters wouldn't get a sense that they were "wasting" their votes if they voted for someone other than a Republican or a Democrat.

And this goes for city elections too. How long has Mayor Daley been in office? I think I might have been in diapers when he was first elected. No, that's an exaggeration. I believe I was 14, so a good 20 years. I have two words -- term limits. Daley is re-elected because no viable candidate runs against him. Again, we don't have enough choices, and many voters just choose the usual, even if they know the usual isn't working anymore. But term limits would be nice. I don't have a huge beef with Daley, but I'm starting to get annoyed. The increase in the Cook County portion of the sales tax pissed me off, but I'm close enough to the suburbs that I can avoid the city taxes, at least. Then he decided not to plow the side streets right away when we started getting some serious snowfalls last month. That was his way of saving money. Of course, when my side streets are one huge sheet of ice and people are falling and breaking hips and legs, lawsuits are bound to follow. Don't think the city is going to save money that way. Daley must have realized it too, because a few weeks after he made that announcement, he changed his mind. Perhaps a few of those lawsuits started rolling in. Or perhaps he remembered that Jane Byrne was elected mayor when when the current mayor, Michael Bilandic, couldn't handle the snow. Then today, it's reported that Ron Huberman will be selected as head of the Chicago Public Schools.

For those of you not from Chicago and unfamiliar with Ron Huberman, he has been the head of the Chicago Transit Authority. And what a wonderful job he's done of managing that agency. Train cars that are so dirty the blue fabric on the seats look black and the floor is covered in dirt and garbage. Oh and the smell of piss! Fantastic. Then there are the people who beg for change on the train, or try to sell things. Or the muggings or assaults that happen on or around the train platforms, even though security guards man the stations at night (I once saw a guard sleeping in the booth at the Red Line Sheridan stop -- so glad she was getting paid to nap). The buses are just as bad, and if they show up, you usually get four buses at a time after waiting 30 minutes. And for all this, the CTA just raised fares. It now costs $86 a month to ride the train, up from $75. Yes, for $11 more a month you can ride in filth, elbow to elbow with your fellow Chicagoans, smelling the body odor and bad breath. For all Huberman's great work with the CTA, he now gets the job at CPS. Problem is, not only has he not shown himself to be a good manager but he has no educational background. So a guy who has been a Chicago police officer and been head of two Chicago agencies -- neither of which were education-related -- will now be running one of the most important agencies any city can have. I wonder how long it will be before Chicago students' test scores start going down again? Is this the best Daley could do? I know Huberman is his main man, but that doesn't mean he's qualified.

But when Daley is up for election again, who will run against him? Will that person be "serious" enough for voters? I do hope so. We need more choices. We need more than Daley and Blagojevich. Oh and Todd Stroger, don't even get me started on him. He's the reason our sales tax is the highest in the nation. And he ended up in office because his father, John, was too sick to run, even though his father's name appeared on the primary election ballot. People voted for John Stroger because they always had, not taking into account that John was in a hospital bed at that very moment and might not be able to serve. They didn't realize Todd would take over, but they should have. It's Chicago. It's obvious. I voted for Forrest Claypool, but John Stroger won. And sure enough, Todd Stroger replaced him in the general election. The Republican candidate, sadly, was Tony Peraica, who was too severe for me. So I didn't vote for anyone in that race, which I guess wasn't any better than voting for Todd Stroger. He won the election, and the rest is sad history. Hello, 10.25% sales tax so Toddy can hire his friends and relatives and have a private elevator in the City Hall building.

People can say this is just Chicago politics, but that is not an excuse. That doesn't make it right. And the Tribune's editorial is right on -- we, the voters, are at fault for this. We didn't police ourselves.

Monday, January 26, 2009

My favorite Blagoisms

In watching the videos of Rod Blagojevich's various media appearances this morning, I realized there were some phrases or statements he made over and over that have really started to annoy me. I thought I would list my favorites here for all to enjoy.

"Give us a chance to challenge the charges. Give me a chance to call in witnesses, like Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff, who said there was nothing inappropriate in his conversations with me. Give me a chance to bring in Valerie Jarrett, a high-ranking member of the Obama administration. Give me a chance to bring in Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., all of whom have talked to the FBI and have said there was nothing inappropriate in their relationships with me."

Blago made this statement in every appearance, in some way, shape or form. What I find so utterly ridiculous about it is that just because Emanuel, Jarrett and Jackson, Jr. might testify that they had no inappropriate conversations with Blago doesn't mean he didn't have such conversations with others, which, according to the portions of the tapes released and contained in the criminal complaint, is exactly the case.

"You can conceivably bring in 15 angels and 20 saints, led by Mother Teresa, to come in and testify to my good character, my integrity and all the rest. It wouldn't matter."

Again, Blago trotted out this statement a couple times in his appearances. What he seems to forget is that the reason why angels, saints, Mother Teresa, God, the Pope, etc., etc. wouldn't matter is because THEY CAUGHT HIM ON TAPE. You can't refute evidence like that. Unless Blago is going to somehow prove it wasn't his voice on those tapes, well, there's not much Mother Teresa could do for him.

"And then, you know, the day unfolded and I had a whole bunch of thoughts; of course, my children and my wife. And then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and tried to put some perspective in all of this."

When I first heard this, I thought Blago was trying to compare himself to Nelson Mandela and the rest, which I thought was a big stretch. On The View today, he said that was taken out of context and he wasn't trying to compare himself to those individuals, but think about people who had similar experiences. I don't know if that really changes the original meaning of the quote. It still seems like Blago thinks his experience is similar to individuals who suffered much more than he has, and not for being crooked politicians. His plight is borne solely out of his own desire to make an extra buck as governor of Illinois. It wasn't because of his race or his religion. His "persecution" is of his own making. We don't feel sorry for him for that.

"Well, I trust in the truth. And my only request would be I would hope that they get to hear the whole story. Taking snippets of conversations out of context isn't the whole story."

Another constant theme in Blago's appearances today was that the taped telephone conversations, or at least the portions released to the public and contained in the criminal complaint, were taken out of context. I said it in my previous post, what context would make what we heard seem legal? Because frankly, I can't think of anything else the governor could have said that we didn't hear that would make me think he is innocent.

Blago's comparisons of himself to movie characters, reciting lines of poetry, trotting out gospel song titles to describe his situation.

I think this speaks to Blago's possible mental instability. He thinks his life is some kind of fantasy. He's a movie character, a line of poetry, a gospel song. I want to puke. Governor, you're a crook. End of story.

Blago will be on Larry King Live tonight. I'm interested to see how many times he brings up these same Blagoisms on that show. By now, even the national audience has to be as tired of him as we in Illinois are.

"Come to Illinois. Chock full o' crazy."

That's a line from a column written by Rex W. Huppke in the Chicago Tribune today. And right now, I have to say Huppke isn't far from the truth. Huppke's column discussed Rod Blagojevich's hiring of Drew Peterson's public relations firm. People may remember that Peterson is the former suburban police sergeant accused of murdering his third wife, whose death was ruled accidental in 2004, and his fourth wife, who has been missing since October 2007.

And I suppose the PR firm's first order of business was to send Blago on a media tour to proclaim his innocence, similar to what Peterson did after he had been accused. Except it didn't work in Peterson's case, and it sure isn't working in Blago's. However, Peterson wasn't on trial at that time and refusing to show up for his defense, claiming that the whole proceeding was unfair. Blago has chosen to appear on The Today Show, The View, Good Morning America and Larry King Live rather than at his own impeachment trial before the Illinois Senate, which began today. Blago went on about how the rules for the trial were unfair because he can't call witnesses, which is false. He said the politicians were trying to punish him for keeping taxes down, creating jobs, extending healthcare benefits and providing free rides to seniors. All completely ridiculous. Blago seems to have forgotten he was CAUGHT ON TAPE. Although, he did address that issue in his interviews, so I guess he hasn't completely forgotten. Blago's defense was that the statements were taken out of context. Somehow I find it very hard to believe that putting those statements in context would make one bit of difference. What else exactly did you say in those phone conversations, Governor, that would make us believe you weren't trying to sell the vacant U.S Senate seat? Was the phrase "just kidding" in there somewhere?

Blago doesn't realize that it is not the rest of the nation whose sympathy he must win. People in California or New York or Florida don't have any interest in what is happening Illinois. The only thing Blago is providing the nation with is a good laugh. No one feels sorry for him. No one feels the impeachment trial is unfair, except for Blago himself. Most comments I've read on articles or blog posts are calling for Blago's swift removal from office. What Blago needed to do was show up at that "unfair" trial in the Illinois Senate and attempt to defend himself. Use whatever witnesses and previous testimony and/or statements he was allowed. Do whatever he had to do to make the voters of Illinois, those he is so proud of stating twice elected him as governor, believe they didn't make the wrong choice. I still think it would be a lose-lose situation for Blago, no matter what he did, because again, he was caught on tape. But at least I'd have a bit more respect for the man, as much respect as you can have for a corrupt politician. This media tour of his was the last straw. If you'd like to see his appearance on Good Morning America, it follows (in two parts). Quite funny, if it wasn't so sad from an Illinois resident's perspective.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Needs mental help

I am now convinced Rod Blagojevich needs mental help. Even before a former Blagojevich aide said Blago needed a psychiatric evaluation, I thought he was off. First, who proclaims he doesn't care if his phones are tapped, and then goes on to talk about illegal activities? Second, who proclaims his innocence after his illegal activities have been caught on tape? Third, who goes jogging around the neighborhood when he's in the kind of trouble Blago is, like it's just any other day? Does the phrase "keep a low profile" mean anything? How about running on the treadmill indoors? And last, well, last was today's article in the Chicago Tribune.

Blago said his impeachment is a way for the Illinois government to raise taxes. Huh? Yep, he said the government wants to get him out of the way because Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn has made a deal with Democratic leaders to raise taxes once Blago is gone. I suppose Blago hasn't realized that we have the highest sales tax of any city in the nation (Chicago does), and that was under HIS watch. Sure, the county was responsible for that hike, but Blago didn't do anything to stop it. Frankly, Blago's "extracurricular" activities have done far more damage to Illinois and its residents than any tax hike ever could. He has embarrassed our state. He thumbed his nose at the public after his arrest and appointed Roland Burris as senator instead of resigning and letting someone who wasn't under investigation handle the task. Then Blago sat back while Burris fought for his seat, which I guess kept Blago off the front page for a little while. That may very well have been his plan. But the mess it caused for Illinois, for Burris and even for the U.S. Senate could have been prevented had Blago just stepped aside.

And still, even now, even after the House voted 114-1 (the new House voted 117-1, with the lone "no" vote cast by Blago's sister-in-law, Deb Mell, surprise) for impeachment and a trial starting in the Senate, Blago still thinks he's a viable governor. He thinks the impeachment trial is a sham, that the government is thwarting the will of the people by trying to oust him, since he was elected. Sir, you might be governor in name, but many of us can't stand you. If we were allowed to vote on Blago's impeachment, I surely would vote a resounding "yes." I can only hope that the trial goes as quickly as possible and the Senate comes to the same conclusion as the House. Rod Blagojevich is bad for Illinois. Maybe a good candidate for a mental health study, but wrong for our state.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States of America

Barack Hussein Obama, the unlikeliest candidate, the unlikeliest nominee, in the history of American politics, is the 44th President of the United States of America.

Is this the greatest nation in the history of the world, or what?

Despite all the hoo-hah about Rick Warren giving the invocation (I know there are a lot of atheists out there -- see, for instance, Carol Anne from Seattle in the comments section here), I think he did a beautiful, solemn and very reverent job. But then, I'm a Christian (even if a very different sort of Christian than Rick Warren).

There is no one in the entire world like Aretha Franklin, and I confess that her extraordinary rendition (pun intended) of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" left me in tears, sobbing like a baby (was this as cathartic an experience for you as it was for me?). At my age -- can you imagine?

Obama's (first) inaugural address to the nation was, I must say, in my most humble opinion, not his best speech. But it was an important one nonetheless.

I am very gratified that President Obama (don't you love the sound of that?) echoed themes that IN THE DARK has championed for the last four years. For example, the primacy of the Constitution and of human rights over mere "security":

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.

Our founding fathers faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Against the ignorant claim that America is a "Christian nation":

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

And recognition of our complicity in creating and supporting policies that cause others to suffer poverty and exploitation:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

The bottom line: this was an historic day; perhaps the most important day, and certainly one of the most important days, in American history. To think that I lived to see a day that I never truly believed I would see, and yet always -- in my heart -- believed I would see, is to me nothing short of miraculous, and is another sign of God's gratuitous love for us, Her undeserving creation.

America is the greatest nation in the history of the world. And I have never been prouder to call myself "American."

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Oh, Let Us Turn Our Thoughts Today to Martin Luther King..."

What a day.

It is the celebration of the 80th birthday of the greatest American of my lifetime. It is the celebration of his life, of his accomplishments, but especially of his dream...

Tomorrow his dream finds a degree of fulfillment. There is much still to be done in America, much change that is needed, far too many people for whom the word "hope" is still only a campaign slogan. But we have begun.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King. Congratulations, America.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Glad to see him go

I've been quiet lately, not writing much on this blog. I was tired from writing so much before the election, but then the holidays arrived as well as illnesses. It's -7 degrees right now in Chicago, and we've had snow at least once almost every week. It's hard to escape a cold in that kind of weather. And there has been so much news -- Blagojevich, Burris, City of Chicago snow removal and on. I just haven't had the energy to write. But today I read a few articles about Bush's farewell speech tonight and felt the urge to type something out.

Steve Chapman had a good column in the Chicago Tribune today. He talked about Bush's failures, ones Bush himself seems reluctant to acknowledge. Two items stuck out:

The budget

Bush represented the alleged party of small government, yet under him, federal outlays exploded. During his presidency, spending was up by 70 percent, more than double the increase under Bill Clinton. When Bush arrived, the government was running surpluses. Since then—not counting the horrendously expensive financial bailout—the national debt has nearly doubled. You can't blame Congress for all this: Bush was the first president in 176 years to go an entire term without vetoing a single piece of legislation.

Party of small government. We've heard that about the Republicans. And I've heard complaints from people I know who consider themselves Republicans that Obama and the Democrats will spend, spend, spend. But what has Bush done in these 8 years? Republicans turn a blind eye to that. We went from surpluses under Clinton to an outrageous deficit under Bush. Much of that was defense spending, but spending all the same. I suppose spending is okay when it is for the small government party's pet projects. It's fine to spend, spend, spend as long as it isn't on silly things like health care or creating jobs or keeping people in their homes.

Executive power

Conservatives are supposed to believe in strict limits on government power, but Bush pushed incessantly to expand the prerogatives of the president. He asserted the right to ignore laws banning torture and restricting wiretapping. The Supreme Court found that his imprisonment of captives at Guantanamo Bay violated the Constitution by denying them the right to challenge their detention in court.

Again, this is the party that believes in strict limits on government power, and then went ahead and exerted government power. Republicans are only the party of small government and strict limits when being small and limiting themselves doesn't interfere with their own agenda. Make the argument that he was protecting America with his abuses, but be careful. If it is acceptable for a president to turn a blind eye to prisoners tortured in Guantanamo Bay in order to protect America, then why is should it not be acceptable for any leader of any country to do the same to Americans? Stick them in some prison and torture them for the supposed purpose of protecting their country. How can we as a country denounce abuses of power by leaders in other countries when our own leader has overstepped his bounds?

In another article on The Swamp, a commenter wondered if anyone would even watch Bush's farewell speech, since he is paid so little attention now. I realized that since Obama's election, no one really has paid much attention to Bush. Oh, it was funny when he had shoes thrown at him or when he was snubbed at the G20 summit, but many people's thoughts were, "When is his last day?" His 34 percent approval rating is evidence -- an approval rating that has gone up with his impending departure. Bush can say that at least he isn't as unpopular as Nixon, but that's not really saying much. I would feel sorry for Bush, for these turn of events that have caused him to be the target of flying shoes or left to be the unpopular leader in the cafeteria at lunchtime, if Bush hadn't brought this on himself and even now refuses to admit to his mistakes. Instead calling many of those mistakes "disappointments" in his last press conference.

The Time article stated that, "In the end, though, there's a difference between self-pity and self-reflection, and it's not clear that Bush has made the distinction." Therein lies the problem. It's hard to self-reflect and understand where you went wrong when you refuse to admit you were wrong. The Time article also stated that, "The difference between Bush's mistakes and his disappointments may just be that he hasn't yet taken ownership of the latter." Maybe once Bush takes ownership of the latter, he will finally understand why Americans, and the rest of the world, are so glad to see him go.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Prayer for President Barack Obama

This month marks what would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 80th birthday (January 15).

Five days later, Americans will inaugurate a President who, without the influence of Dr. King's life on American society, it would have been inconceivable to imagine: an African-American. I must say in fairness to the subject that, without the colossal failure of unregulated laissez faire capitalism, I'm not sure Americans would have elected Obama; on the whole, we haven't matured quite enough to see beyond self-interest. In the absence of catastrophe, even the smarter candidate might have lost to a candidate like McCain.

This is a video prayer I put together. It is neither a celebration of the Obama Presidency (because it hasn't happened yet), nor an anthem of triumphalism. It is not meant to be, in and of itself, a political statement -- although I am aware that to some Americans any prayer for hope and change is distinctly political, especially in a world of mass-produced hopelessness and mediated stasis.

I sincerely hope for the best for the United States of America, and am buoyed by Americans' openness to change that I saw during the campaign. This is a prayer that we get the America -- the best America -- that we deserve, the America inherent in MLK's deam and Barack Obama's promise of change.

God knows we need it.