Sheep Mountain, Wyoming
Photo by Joe Carducci
AT THE CIRCUS: Swimming with the Big Fish at the Blagojevich Fry
by Jack Hammond-WHAT-TV
1.) Two Pissers
There’re only two urinals in the men's room on the twenty fifth floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, two urinals and one stall. These are the only facilities available for the guys visiting courtroom 2503, the courtroom where the “Family Secrets” guys, the Calabreses, Joey the Clown, etc. were tried and sentenced, where George Ryan went down. And today it would be where Rod Blagojevich and his high powered legal team would be asking the Honourable Judge James B. Zagel to subpoena the president of the United States, Barack Obama, along with Rahm Emanual, Dick Durbin, and who knows, Ron “Woo” Wickers, maybe, to testify on his behalf.
Oh, and also appearing in Judge Zagels’ courtroom today would be my kid, “Johnny”, who happens to be scheduled for a parole revocation hearing, in the same court room, at the exact same time, as Blago and the gang. I know, huh!?
You have to pass two checkpoints to even be up on the twenty fifth floor, and only credentialed press, or party's to a particular case are allowed. The elevator lets you off at the end of a long hallway lined with seven other elevators, four to a side. At one end is the US Marshalls service, where defendants have their own special elevator if they won’t be using the public ones.
The other end opens into a spacious waiting room with a great window view 25 floors down to Federal Plaza below, where Alexander Calders sculpture, “Flamingo”, scowls across the square. Across Adams street, you can see Dirksens twin sister , the Kluzsinski Federal Building, both designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. Together they house the federal apparatus for the Northern District of Illinois.
Two large corridors branch off right and left, the right one leading to a small complex of offices: the court secretaries, the court reporters, a conference room, Judge Zagels chambers (there’s a security ante room and an office before you get to them) and the solid hardwood doors of the “Hubert S. Will Memorial Courtroom.”, room 2503.
I checked the posted docket.
That’s my boy. Show’s on.
(I’m avoiding a more detailed explanation of the reason for “Johnny’s” appearance today, because the cases are still pending. Short version, the charges are highly political in nature and involves Chicago's bid for the Olympics, Nazis, Daley, hacker culture, the Picasso, civil disobedience, and holocaust denier David Irving hiding in a closet. Yeh.)
Though the lobby is spacious, there’s room for at best thirty people. I’m there early and stake out a chair in the middle of the room, so that whatever camp someone was in, somebody important would have to sit within earshot of me. Plus, most people won’t violate the one seat spacing rule, and I was not dressed in my Armani best that day, (I did have on my dark green camel hair ‘Bill Blass’, bought for three bucks at Good Will!) So at quarter to showtime, there were only two seats left: those on either side of me. Blago would have to sit there, right?
Instead, an old lion of the press, (still working out who it was) sits down next to me, and begins noisily dining on take out chicken stirfry. In between mouthfuls he asks about why I’m here, and I tell him. He seems to be getting angrier at every word, and occasionally barks “That’s bullshit.” and “... then that’s no crime.” We both talk about how tough Judge Zagel is until he finishes his lunch, wishes me luck, and deposits the styrofoam in one of the discreetly concealed trash containers, meticulously scraped clean of every spot of teriyaki sauce.
More players are arriving now. Here’s my kids prosecutor Assistant US States Attorney Brandon Fox, the FBI arresting officer, Special FBI Agent Brian Brasaukas and “Johnny’s” P.O. “Johnny” and his lawyer, who have been conferring downstairs, arrive and join the group. We all talk amicably, and double check each others information. G-man Brian and I know each other pretty well, and he asks me how’s business. “Good,” I say. “How ‘bout for you guys”. He laughs. “In this economy? ..Booming!”
Every time the elevator bell rings, everyone turns to see if it’s him, Blago. A few press straggle in, and Childers, who looks absolutely amazing (in a tailored summer floral outfit with a daring slit skirt), is speaking to another woman, late 20s, who is dressed like a secretary, but has a serious aura of confidence and purpose. This is a young, quietly powerful, behind the scenes woman, a producer maybe, who means business and is in total control. I would love to have a drink with her. They discuss projects they are each working on.
Then most of the press and hangers-on, who have been chillin in the lobby downstairs, arrive in a pack. Jeff Goldblatt (FOX News-Chicago) is the center of attention, as he tells some story about Rostenkowski and a helicopter. He can’t remember Rostys opponents name, and Kass, who happens to be walking by, shouts out ‘Flannigan”. He catches my eye and we nod. I knew that! Some woman asks “How do you remember all that?” and Kass shrugs, “It’s all part of the...” His voice is lost as Goldblatt interrupts and starts in again.
The place is filling up pretty good now. I’ve been there awhile, and now I find myself thinking again about those two urinals. But what if I’m in there, at one of the only two pissers for the whole floor, right? ...and up sidles the Rod the Mod himself, nodding at me as he unzips to take a wizz. I mean, is it ‘fuckin’ golden’?
The disgraced former governor of Illinois, one of the most recognisable people in America, outside a federal courtroom, angles up to the urinal next to you. What do you say? Go!!
(Me, nodding back:) “So, uh...what are you doing here?”
Good one, Jack. Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and everything came out O.K.
2.) The Paper Industry Subsidy and Paralegal Employment Act (Sheldon Soroski Shakes his Money-maker)
The first thing you notice upon entering courtroom 2503 is the immense stack of black, labelled, folders on the right, the notorious thousands of hours of recorded phone calls, transcripts thereof, and tens of thousands of pages of testimony, stacked on two long folding tables triple high. Each folder is at least four inches thick, and there are at least 200 of them, all at the ready, should someone need to refer to some arcane wording or detail. You can almost sympathise with the high fees that are charged to process and sort through this minutiae. Almost.
The cost of producing the pile of folders, counting investigation, research, processing, salaries of the dozens of agents assigned to the case, is well in the _illions of dollars. The prosecution better have it nailed, or the taxpayer is really on the ass end They won’t need any of the folders today, though, so it’ll all have to be packed up again and removed to storage until Blagos’ next court check in, sometime in late May, where it’ll all have to be reassembled again in case anyone wants to use it. A simple dedicated laptop computer could do all this and save a lot of trees.
The press has been relegated to the jury box. I recognise Kass, Paul Meincke, Childers, Goldblatt, several who I should know but I can’t match faces with names. Judge Zagel speaks very softly, so during the hearing, you can see the journalists all straining forward to catch his words. Kass even comments on it the next day in his column. Me, I’ma sitting at the back of the defence table, twenty feet away from the bench, , openly taking notes, and I can hear every word.
The court room audience is wall to wall with Gucci and Hugo Boss, the Chicago glitteratti, you know them all, schmoozing and finding seats for themselves to watch the circus. It is at this point that a crowd of “Johnnys’” colorfully dressed supporters, good street anarchists, all, who really know how to do circuses, enter loudly from the rear, and begin looking for seating among the bourgeoisie.
Many handshakes and highfives ensue, friends reunite, as the cream of Chicago media and legal look on, some in horror, most in amusement. Many have already looked up “USA vs. HAMMOND” when they saw it listed on the docket, and well remember the Olympic/Picasso incident and it’s dramatic TV footage. (After, there is even some mingling between the groups... .See! Blagojevich is able to bring dispirit groups together!)
At noon precisely, “All Rise!” is heard and Judge Zagel enters. He is not a tall person, but it is soon evident that he is the biggest man in the room .
Judge James Block Zagel is an extremely impressive man, with a formidable intellect. His resume is basically that of a cop and a prosecutor (the Speck murders). Recommended by Henry Hyde(!), and nominated to the bench by Ronald Reagan (!!), he was assistant attorney general and prosecuting attorney in Illinois and Arizona(!!!), and director of the Illinois State Police, and the Illinois Dept. of Revenue, among many other Illinois based things. (They say you want a judge who was a prosecutor: He always frets about the innocent guys he might have sent away, while a former defence attorney knows that they’re all guilty liars!) He is an author, (“Money To Burn”, a big heist caper, about a federal judge and a plot to loot the treasury. I read it,... excellent!), has acted in several films, and has a reputation as a cerebral jurist, and for not tolerating a lot of nonsense in his courtroom.
Blagojevich is all nonsense, of course, so you’d expect some good fireworks, but Judge Zagel listens carefully as Sheldon Soroski ( one of four Blago attorneys here today) outlines his reasons for subpoenaing the president and the others. You can tell Zagels’ already decided no, but he pretends the nonsense isn’t nonsense long enough to listen attentively, then to patiently explain that were any of these indictments to contain testimony that actually involves any of the named parties, he would hold the door open for further information. As it stands, those parties are not relevant to these specific charges. Soroskis’ motion is denied.
Then he refers to another motion filed by Sam Adam Sr. asking for the dismissal of the ‘Honest Services’ charges. Everyone laughs when Zagel thanks Adam for keeping the motion to one page.
This is a charge based on the idea that voters have a right to expect honest services from their elected representatives. While seemingly obvious, it’s a touchy legal nuance, because it’s hard to describe the difference between criminal negligence, or honest mistake, and the US Supreme Court is grappling with that very definition right now. Consequently, it is difficult for prosecutors to bring accurate charges that may survive a supreme court ruling, and they might have to revise or reword the charges later on (as they already have, twice). Because of this ambiguousness, Adam wants this charge thrown out, on the grounds that it is difficult for the defence to respond to constantly shifting charges, much less make a cogent opening statement.
Zagel shuts them down again. This is not an unreasonable accommodation, and the Supreme Court’s decision is expected in June, coinciding with the start of the trial. There is plenty of time to redefine the charges, and for the defence to respond. Zagel questions lead prosecutor Reid Schar (one of three) about how the case is proceeding, and then it’s over. Blagos team goes home empty.
3.) The Doorkeeper at the Cavalcade of Media Stars
Speaking of holding the door open, as Blagos hearing concluded, Judge Zagel exited momentarily, so I followed the crowd out into the lobby. AUSA Brandon Fox, my kids prosecutor, held the door for me and as part of my niceness assault, I gave him a big, smiling “Thank you!” and grabbed the door, holding it open as I waited for my folk to exit...and faced a single file procession of Chicago's press elite, with no break in sight that would enable me to abandon my new post any time soon. Some mumbled polite thank yous, some were officious and aloof, the serious girl averted (God, who is she), Childers, engaged, cool... Only Kass spoke to me more then a murmured thanks.
“You got stuck with the door, huh.”
Kass is a fine writer, and damn smart, though truly deluded on some things. I read him every day. He knows what his readers want to hear, I guess. I say:
“Yeh, you have to be selective. Hey, look, FOX news...(door slam)”
...in Jeff Goldblatts superior-ass face.
Because we actually have a case in front of Judge Zagel today, too, we get out of Dirksen too late to catch much of the media zoo outside, but Soroski and Ettinger are still holding court with whoever will listen. Mienke and several others are still there with cameras. We hang around for a few, to see if anybody had anything interesting left to say. Nada.
Oh, and I got to watch the lady that draws those courtroom pictures at work. That was pretty cool. She’s really fast..
Blagojevich himself never did show up, nor Fitzgerald, all the gunfighter allegory aside. He ll have to show up eventually, tho.
Judge Zagel likes my kid, and his hearing was continued.... Jury selection for Blago starts June 3rd.
(Ettinger, Soroski, Meincke, photo by Jeremy Hammond; Blago/Nixon photo from WTTW/Time Out Chicago)
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From the Kroehler midwestern desk of Joe Carducci…
The Wagon author/policeman Martin Preib interviewed by Jeff Johnson in the Chicago Sun-Times.
MP: “I love taking an image and working with it. Everything Walt Whitman wrote was in the first person. The narrative point of view in fiction is a made-up character. That‘s one level removed from the subject you’re writing about. To write about Chicago that one level removed doesn’t work well.”
Jeff Johnson again in the Sunday CST this time on Howlin’ Wolf’s tracks left across Chicago, in advance of this weekend‘s 27th Annual Chicago Blues Festival.
Wolf: “I’m the only one who drove out of the South like a gentlemen.”
ONO at MCA last month; photos by Tamara L. Smith.
Bob Feder at vocalo.org outs the Tribune Media’s brains-trust rust with photos.
Do you have your Eyes “Take a Quaalude Now” coffee mug?
Andrew Stark in the WSJ on Benjamin Balint’s history of Commentary Magazine.
“The magazine's core founding community of writers—among them, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe and Alfred Kazin—came to its pages having experimented with Marxism and ambivalent about their Jewishness. If their vestigial leftist orientation inclined them to raise their eyebrows at America's middle-class culture, their Jewishness—their growing recognition that, in the U.S., Jews could succeed and gain acceptance in a way that they had never done in Europe—brought them, over time, to a deep love of America.”
This Gaza Flotilla piñata is a media moment that says a lot about how the refined western opinion is formed in reaction to western interests and thereby tracks with the fixed lower-brain drive of our intermittently self-described enemies on their little jihad thingy.
Leigh Phillips at euobserver.com inventories EU parliament discourse boiling over.
Roula Khalaf in the FT from Londonistan sees some figment of the Arab mind, or perhaps in London her antennae pick up residual working class/soccer hooliganist propaganda; she certainly isn’t listening to the government or the BBC:
“As no one could reach the activists on board to get their side of the story -- they were being held incommunicado -- Israel had the space to put out its narrative for 24 hours.”
Roula Khalaf again now reporting cap on and minded by Heba Saleh in the FT, Ankara’s new assertiveness shifts balance of power:
“In an assessment of Turkey’s gains and losses from the flotilla incident, researchers at the US-based GlobalSource Partners warn that Ankara’s recent attempts to shake the established order in the Middle East may carry consequences.”
Alain Gresh in Le Monde Diplo on Israel’s Impunity, has it that the blockade is the real war crime -- excellent news because it means the wars may continue, and one may go nuclear even, by the looks of the UN’s handiwork with the other flavor of halal. The future looks bright ahead, I mean it’ll be over in an f’in golden flash.
Robert Pollock in the WSJ, Erdogan and the Decline of the Turks.
“[W]hile there was much hand-wringing in our own media about ‘Who lost Turkey?’ when U.S. forces were denied entry to Iraq from the north in 2003, no such introspection was evident in Ankara and Istanbul. Instead, Turks were fed a steady diet of imagined atrocities perpetrated by U.S. forces in Iraq, often with the implication that they were acting as muscle for the Jews. The newspaper Yeni Safak, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's daily read, claimed that Americans were tossing so many Iraqi bodies into the Euphrates that local mullahs had issued a fatwa ordering residents not to eat the fish. The same paper repeatedly claimed that the U.S. used chemical weapons in Fallujah. And it reported that Israeli soldiers had been deployed alongside U.S. forces in Iraq and that U.S. forces were harvesting the innards of dead Iraqis for sale on the U.S. ‘organ market.’
The secular Hurriyet newspaper, meanwhile, accused Israeli soldiers of assassinating Turkish security personnel in Mosul and said the U.S. was starting an occupation of (Muslim) Indonesia under the guise of humanitarian assistance. Then U.S. ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman actually felt the need to organize a conference call to explain to the Turkish media that secret U.S. nuclear testing did not cause the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. One of the craziest theories circulating in Ankara was that the U.S. was colonizing the Middle East because its scientists were aware of an impending asteroid strike on North America.”
Contrary to Roula Khalaf’s sense of things, the smart boys took a week to begin weighing in on the absurd constructions of immediate media reactions. Christopher Caldwell in the FT is dependably sensible and sharp.
Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com on the new humanitarians in Turkey and elsewhere.
“Activist is employed to describe a core group of Turks and Arabs, very many of them identifiable by name as affiliates or members or emulators of the Muslim Brotherhood. (I suppose in fairness it also covers such figures as the credulous Irishman Denis Halliday,who used to campaign so loudly for the lifting of sanctions on Saddam Hussein.) And humanitarian is used to describe the materials that these worthies are seeking to donate to Hamas. But is it really humanitarian to make contributions to a ruling party that has a totalitarian and racist ideology and is in regular receipt of nonhumanitarian aid from Syria and Iran, two of the most retrograde and aggressive dictatorships in the world?”
Summary by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi of Melanie Phillips at the Middle East Forum on her new book, The World Turned Upside Down.
“Ms. Phillips began her talk by emphasising the threat of Islamism, which inverts all logic by, for instance, portraying Israel's attempts to defend itself as unprovoked acts of aggression. Yet Western intelligentsia has adopted the Islamist narrative on the Middle East. Ms. Phillips attributes this to the current tendency among the intelligentsia to be swayed by ideology, rather than rationality and empiricism, on issues such as global warming, the Iraq war, Israel, and scientism. Although these ideological stances are secular in nature, they resemble religious beliefs in many ways, for instance, their intolerance to dissent which is viewed as an obstacle to the ‘path to perfection.’”
William Shawcross in the Jerusalem Post on an Irrational, Obscene Hatred.
“Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish Islamist organization IHH, which organized the flotilla, exulted in a speech to an audience he called ‘people of paradise.’ ‘Last night, everything in the world has changed, and everything is progressing toward Islam,’ he said.”
Ross Douthat in the NYT, Israel and Outremer.
“Out of a mix of amnesia and self-abnegation, we tend to remember the Crusader states only as deplorable exercises in Western aggression. (Never mind that in an age defined by conquest and reconquest, they were no less legitimate than the Muslim states they warred against — which had themselves been founded atop once-Christian territories.) The analogy between Israel and Outremer is usually drawn by Israel’s enemies: ‘Jews and Crusaders’ is one of Osama bin Laden’s favorite epithets, and Palestinian radicals often pine for another Saladin to drive the Israelis into the sea.
But Israel’s friends can learn something from Outremer as well. Like today’s Jewish republic, the Crusader kingdoms were small states forged by military valor, based in the Middle East but oriented westward, with distant patrons and potential foes just next door. Like Israel, they were magnets for fanatics from east and west alike. And when they eventually fell — after surviving for longer than Israel has currently existed — it was for reasons that are directly relevant to the challenges facing the Israeli government today.”
Julian Tangermann at Qantara.de on “the Arab perspective” on Franz Kafka according to Atef Botros.
Marc Champion in the WSJ, Rift Arises in Turkey Over Reaction to Raid.
“Asked about those claims at a joint news conference with Syria President Bashar al-Assad Monday, Mr. Erdogan said of Israel: ‘They lie like a lie-making machine, they always do it.’ He also described Hamas as ‘resistance fighters,’ and said Hamas, which rules Gaza, had agreed for Ankara to mediate in talks with its rival Fatah, which runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Mr. Assad was in Istanbul for a Eurasian summit that starts Tuesday. Iran President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Russia Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are also due to attend. Mr. Erdogan continued to raise the temperature of Turkey's dispute with Israel over the weekend. In a speech in Bursa, a city about 80 kilometers south of Istanbul, Mr. Erdogan said the world now perceives ‘the swastika and the Star of David together.’”
Kester Eddy at the FT on the scene at Peyton Place, Pristina, Kosovo.
(photo by Valbona Shujaku)
Marc Lacey in the NYT claims on behalf of the NYT editorial board that Latin America Still Divided Over a Coup in Honduras. They’re divided over most everything else too when you think about Chile and Colombia versus Venezuela and Cuba, no?
Martin Wolf in the FT continues pressing his Grasshoppers v. Ants metaform column from last week, asking which insect benefits, and is this two-insect planetesimal sustainable outside of fable?
Michael Wines and Andrew Jacobs report in the NYT on the Li Peng companion piece to last year’s Zhao Ziyang memoir.
Tom Mitchell and Gideon Rachman in the FT, Loyalist in rare attack on China over Tiananmen.
Geoff Dyer in the FT on China’s stimulus spending on infrastructure.
“Mr Peng believes the government has a window of opportunity to push aggressive investment in infrastructure before the savings rate begins to decline in the second half of the decade. ‘Before that, [China has] five years to build a modern infrastructure. It is not only a convenient way to deal with the decline in exports last year; it is also a necessity for the country,’ he says.”
Dateline: Lucknow. Amol Sharma in the WSJ on India’s Welfare Gamble.
A. Savyon at Memri.org, Ahmadinejad Threatens Russia, Receives Response.
Valentina Pop at euobserver.com, Ukraine drops Nato membership bid.
Jenny Deam in the L.A. Times on the Amish drifting west.
The Sunday NYT lead editorial, The Doctor Payment Follies, which they inadvertently endorse of course the minute they write:
"There will likely be no real solution until the American health care system moves away from unfettered fee-for-service payments that encourage doctors to perform unnecessary and costly tests and procedures and pays them instead for better management of a patient’s care over time.”
This presumes Doctors are a fallen profession as say, Lawyers or Teachers or Journalists are, and further inadvertently argues for the rescinding of any constitutional protections any random collection of journalists lay claim to. It’s the NYT after all that, more than any other institution other than perhaps Harvard, has made of that constitution a “living” contingent fungible document not worth the parchment its printed on. Who but a refugee from the third world will want to be a doctor, were the NYT editorial board to be listened to on the separation of payment and service?
Dave Kehr is an excellent writer on film, and luckily he doesn’t review current releases very often. In the Sunday NYT he traces Bob Hope’s career via a new collection, which underlines the enduring importance of the Vaudeville derisive impulse in American culture. And then in the Monday paper he reports on a cache of silent films resurfacing in New Zealand, once the end of the road for film distribution and so distant from Hollywood that it was cheaper to just leave them there. The slide show of images features an image from the “new” John Ford title, and one produced from a Miller Brothers Wild West Show, one of the important operations that seeded so many early western films with horsemen, gunmen, and authentic looking heavies and extras.
John Ford was a master of course, but with super-director and Lightstorm Entertainment Chairman James Cameron IV, you’re talking about not just an artistic lens-puller but the man who raised the Titanic, or at least went a took a look at it. He could stop up that broken pipe in the Gulf with just his ego’s pinkie.
York Membery in the FT profiling French ex-pat Sebastien Marty, bush pilot during the warm half of the year at Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.
Grace Krilanovich - The Orange Eats Creeps, introduction by Steve Erickson, on Two Dollar Radio books. A couple excerpts were run in the Cal Arts journal, Black Clock. Grace’s new blog at her publisher’s site twodollarradio.com is full of music and notes on life in California.
David Lightbourne by Robert Ham in the Sunday Portland Oregonian. Robert comments on his experience talking to friends and family of David while researching for the Oregonian’s piece.
The David Lightbourne Memorial Obituary of the Week.
Himan Brown (1910 - 2010), creator of radio dramas “Inner Sanctum Mysteries” and “Dick Tracy”, and lifelong defender of the audio drama over visual drama. Mr Brown’s work was highly esteemed by David who listened to radio drama as a kid in the late forties and into the fifties.
You don’t have to know the college game to appreciate that UCLA coach John Wooden, a product of Indiana high school basketball culture, must have been quite exceptional to have turned Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar, aka The Big Goon into a believer, never mind Bill Walton, another pretentious problem child back in the day. Here’s an interesting Wooden sidebar in the CST re. Ray Meyer and DePaul.
Howard Beck in the NYT on NBA ref Dick Bavetta not making the finals.
Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock.
Along Highway 130, Wyoming
Photo by Joe Carducci
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