Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Celebrating the New Year in Australia

The year past has been an extraordinary year, and 2009 promises to be equally so. Let's all hope and pray that the good outweighs the bad for most people around the world.

Blagojemess: a wider, deeper investigation?

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald

In asking a court to give him a 90-day extension of time to present an indictment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and Blago's now ex-chief of staff, John Harris, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald revealed some details that may point to a much wider and deeper probe of corruption in Illinois politics.

We learned from Fitzgerald's filing that the "investigation was initiated in approximately 2003, and involves multiple potential defendants."

We also learned that the investigation involved a non-specified number of court-approved telephone intercepts and that through only "the most recent set of...intercepts" some "thousands of phone calls were intercepted between late-October 2008 and early-December 2008." The document is silent on how many phone calls may have been tapped going back to "approximately 2003."

And not surprisingly, we learned that "multiple witnesses have come forward in recent weeks to discuss their knowledge of criminal activity in relation to the ongoing investigation."

Based on what we know about past Illinois politics, (including the fact that Blago's immediate predecessor as Governor is now in a federal pen), "Fitzmas" may come to Chicago and Springfield around late March, and everyone who's been naughty had better watch out.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rep. Bobby Rush backs Blago Senate pick: "Don't lynch the appointee"

Blago with Roland Burris (center) and Rep. Bobby Rush (right)

At today’s presser, the Blagovernor announced his choice of former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama’s Senate seat, and then Rep. Bobby Rush gave Burris a big thumbs up.

The Rush endorsement was, I think, the most important news. Rush (the guy to whom Obama lost a House race a while back) represents a big chunk of Chicago's African-American population. In a direct appeal to allow the appointment to go forward, so that the Senate will have at least one Black member, Rush said: "I would ask you not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointer. Roland Burris is worthy." Rush promised to push acceptance of Burris in the Congressional Black Caucus and the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate Democratic Majority issued this statement: "Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus." Barack Obama quickly agreed that the Senate Democrats "cannot accept an appointment made by a governor who is accused of selling this very Senate seat."

That's all well and good, but the Senate's unwillingness to make it absolutely clear in advance that no one appointed by Blago would be seated, period, left the Blagovernor this opening to name a guy it might become touchy to refuse. In any case, if the Senate does refuse to seat Burris, he and can go to court and stands a fair chance of winning. A protracted battle would leave one half of Illinois' Senate representation in limbo for at least many months.

The Illinois Secretary of State also jumped into the fray, saying he would not "co-sign" the certification of Burris's appointment. It's not clear what the effect of this might be except to give the Senate a hook to hang their refusal on and launch another lawsuit.

Not surprisingly, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn renewed his call for Blago's impeachment, but the impeachment row may yet turn out to be a hard one to hoe.

Blago, Burris and Rush all made a point of asking people to judge Burris on his own merits, separately from their opinions about Blagojevich, and by all accounts, Burris, 71, has had a long career in public service free of controversy. This, combined with Rush's appeal to seat a man who would be the one and only African-American among 100 Senators, could prove to be an argument that carries weight with millions of African-Americans in Illinois. If so, Blagojevich might win himself some support from a key constituency and throw another obstacle in the way of the move to impeach him.

We'll soon find out. In any case, the Illinois Legislature should be ashamed of its failure to pass a bill stripping Blago of his appointment power when it had the chance.

Blagojemess update: Blago tells adversaries to !@*#% off!

The Blagovernor names "Senator" Roland Burris

Rod "I am the Governor" Blagojevich is calling every one's bluff. According to news reports, Blago is set to appoint former Illinois Attorney General and Comptroller Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat.

Back on December 9, I made the obvious point that the only "absolutely certain" way to prevent Blago from making this appointment was this: "the Senate leadership of both parties should announce that they will recommend against seating any such replacement — no matter who it might be — and as many Senators as are willing to do so should publicly join in their leaders' declaration."

The Democratic Caucus did make an unnecessarily vague statement along those lines, but Reid and company didn't follow through, so it shouldn't be surprising that Burris is willing to accept the appointment. And while it shouldn't matter, the fact that Burris is African-American does matter. Since Obama resigned, the Senate once again does not have a single African-American member. Blago will wield that fact as a weapon against anyone who opposes the appointment. Since the Senate did not make it 100% clear that no one appointed by him would be accepted, Blago will do his best to cast any move to refuse to seat Burris as a slap at black people. At the very least, this will give him an argument to make to the state's sizable African-American community, a crucial constituency as the federal criminal case against Blago and impeachment proceedings in the Illinois Legislature unfold.

Incredibly, another thing did not happen to block the Blagovernor's appointment -- even with the passage of three weeks since Blago's arrest. The Legislature did not even try to strip the Governor of his power to appoint. It's true that Blago could have vetoed any such bill or simply let it die at year's end, but passage of a bill would have further tainted a Blago appointment and made it harder for him to find a compliant appointee. But the Legislature failed to act because the Democratic leadership, after giving the matter a bit of thought, decided they did not want to risk a special election in which a favored Democrat might not win. Lieutenant Governor Quinn prefers to oust Blago and make the appointment himself. Attorney General Madigan would like to get the appointment for herself, and her Dad, the powerful leader of the Illinois House, would prefer to make a deal than let the voters of Illinois decide.

So, nothing has been done except to launch an impeachment inquiry looks increasingly pretty lame. Blagojevich said he was going to fight "to my last breath." He obviously meant it. His message to his adversaries seems to be characteristic of him: @!%#*$ off!

Ted Kennedy's "Ted Kennedy moment"

For all you youngsters out there -- as well as the saner people who aren't political junkies -- here is the classic candidate crack-up: Ted Kennedy's muffing of the answer to the obvious question, "Senator, why do you want to be President?"

CBS correspondent Roger Mudd put that question to the Senator in an interview on November 4, 1979, as part of a CBS special, Teddy, aired three days before Kennedy officially announced his candidacy for the 1980 Democratic Presidential nomination. Up until this interview, Teddy was doing great in polls of Democrats matched against President Jimmy Carter, who had become deeply unpopular inside and outside his own party. Teddy's rambling, nearly incoherent answer made everyone wonder whether Teddy had ever stopped to think about why he wished to be President or why people should support him. He lost ground rapidly from that point on and went on to lose the primaries and the nomination to Carter.

He may have simply thought himself entitled. If so, he wasn't the first or the last person to feel that way.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Dame Caroline finally speaks for herself ( know...kinda)

(Hat tip: Michael Calderone at

Dame Caroline of Camelot finally sat down with several major media outlets over the past few days, presumably to counter the growing criticism of her running away from questions and saying little or nothing about the issues that will come before the Senate she wants to join.

At her sit-down with The New York Times, she got testy about the questions she was asked. Reactions in the rest of the media -- print, broadcast and online -- was, to be generous, less than enthusiastic. New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin delivered this especially blunt assessment:

But a strange thing is happening on the way to the coronation. The wheels of the bandwagon are coming off. Fantasy is giving way to inescapable truth.

That truth is that Kennedy is not ready for the job and doesn't deserve it. Somebody who loves her should tell her.

Her quest is becoming a cringe-inducing experience, as painful to watch as it must be to endure. Because she is the only survivor of that dreamy time nearly 50 years ago, she remains an iconic figure. But in the last few days, her mini-campaign has proved she has little to offer New Yorkers except her name.

The YouTube video above is actually the audio of portions of one of her press interviews. In a way, I wish it were different, but I've listened to hundreds of office seekers in my time, and IMHO, compared to many of them, Dame Caroline seems uninformed, uninterested, uninteresting, and at times incoherent.

Listen to it and judge for yourself.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

JibJab 2008 Year in Review

Jib Jab's look back on the year. Not as funny as some of their videos but has a few laughs.

Dame Caroline stumbles on way to her anointment

The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart details the five stumbling blocks her ladyship put in her own way:

-- Not bothering to vote in many elections over the last 20 years.

-- Refusing to say she'd back the Democratic Party candidate against Mayor Bloomberg next year.

-- Despite her enormous wealth, not contributing much to Democratic candidates.

-- Avoiding the press, and answering only a few questions with generalities about her family.

-- Refusing to make any financial disclosures until after she's been anointed.

Any one of these presumptuous stances would have long ago ruled out a lesser mortal.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Secret weapon in the war on terror: Viagra

The blogosphere is alive at this slow news time of year with comments on this story about CIA operatives in Afghanistan using Viagra's little blue pills as an inducement to tribal leaders to cooperate:

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.

The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.

Hey, this could be a major breakthrough. Afghan men of some consequence are allowed up to four wives, which can become, er, taxing -- and not necessarily just for the older guys. After all, there's only so much time in a day for AK-47 and RPG practice, tending the horses and goats, staging raids on neighboring tribes and NATO troops, getting ready for the latest jirga, and of course, let's not forget about bringing in the dope harvest. Your average Ghilzai or Durrani chieftain comes home after a long, hard day of fighting in the hills to face a gaggle of needy wives.

This man could use some USAid -- so by all means, let's give it to him! For that matter, why don't we air drop supplies of the little blue pills into every Taliban-dominated village and district and see what happens?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Joe Biden identifies with his new puppy

Veep-elect Joe Biden may not have gotten a fat portfolio -- or any portfolio -- from Barack Obama, but he does have his new German Shepherd puppy to comfort him and get him the occasional bit of media coverage.

The latest is that Joe has named the little guy, Champ. If not entirely original, the pup's name "has sentimental significance for Biden, whose dad always told him growing up, 'Get up champ,' whenever he was having a tough time." You have to wonder, did Joe's pop also say "Sit, Champ," or "Shake, Champ?" Just asking.

India and Pakistan preparing for war?

Pakistani Army troops on parade: will they clash soon with India?

A flurry of reports in the Indian, Pakistani and Western media continue to indicate that India and Pakistan are taking serious steps to prepare for a new conflict between the two nations, which have fought three wars since 1947, in the wake of the November 26th terror attacks in Mumbai.

According to reports from both sides of the border, Pakistan has cancelled all military leaves, put its forces on high alert, and is moving substantial numbers of troops from the west to the frontier with India. At least two corps of Indian Army troops are also on the move in what officials called "annual exercises." And Indian Prime Minister met for the second time in a week with India's top military officers in a widely publicized gathering to review "defense preparedness."

Meanwhile, the Indian government is warning its citizens not to travel to Pakistan, and both sides are ratcheting up their war of words. Over the past week, India has increased its pressure on Pakistan to take concrete action against the Pakistan-based groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, that India and U.S. intelligence officials believe were responsible for the Mumbai attacks. India pointedly delivered a letter from the sole surviving Mumbai attacker to Pakistani authorities, contending that it constitutes the evidence demanded by Pakistan of the terrorists' Pakistani ties. But Pakistan has refused to consider the letter as ample proof.

The United States continues to call on both sides to avoid a conflict that could seriously harm the American-led war against the Taliban in Afghanistan by diverting Pakistan's armed forces from west to east. A parade of high-ranking U.S. officials have descended on Pakistan and India in recent weeks, making no bones about their strong interest in a Pakistani crackdown on Kashmiri terrorists and Indian forbearance. However, Indian officials have harshly scolded the "international community" -- which in this case can be taken to mean chiefly the United States -- for not doing enough to "deal effectively" with the terror threat in Pakistan, which India considers to be the "greatest danger" to the world. While pushing for heightened international pressure on Pakistan, India is also laying the groundwork to be able to say it exhausted international channels to solve the problem before deciding to strike.

In what might well be a propaganda move designed to counter India's claims about the Mumbai attackers and rally Pakistanis behind their flag, Pakistan said yesterday that it had arrested three Indian nationals for a bombing in Lahore and linked them to an "Indian spy." India immediately dismissed the charge as a "ploy."

Anticipating a precisely targeted Indian attack along the lines I speculated about a few days ago, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned that Pakistan would retaliate for any such attack. Their statements were presumably designed to convince India and others that any Indian military action -- even a "surgical" strike against one or more of the Kashmiri separatist training camps located within the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir -- would lead to a wider war.

I, for one, don't doubt that. The Mumbai attacks have put both sides between a rock and a hard place. Anger over the Mumbai attacks is so widespread among large segments of India's population that India's governing Congress Party must extract significant concessions from Pakistan of a kind that no Pakistani government, civilian or military, has ever been able to give and still survive. There is no chance that Pakistan's weak civilian government will arrest and extradite to India anyone associated with the Mumbai attacks. It's even very unlikely that Pakistan would directly punish some lower-level militants or take serious steps to break up Lashkar-e-Taibi or Jaish-e-Muhammed. The simple fact is that the minimum needed to placate India is more than the maximum that any Pakistani government can afford to do.

Of course, the U.S., NATO, and the Afghan government have a major stake in seeing to it that Pakistan's army is not drawn away from the North West frontier, but as the stand-off between India and Pakistan goes into its second month, it's not clear what more any of them can do to avert a clash.

I'm just guessing, but my guess is that India will launch a targeted strike sometime soon.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Ho, Ho, Ho!

Russia's Christmas message to Obama: We will use force

Russian Boss Vladimir Putin (left) and Under-Boss Dmitry Medvedev

For the second time since the Barack Obama won the U.S. Presidential election, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued a none-too-subtle threat aimed at his soon-to-be American counterpart.

Medvedev -- who is starting to make his patron, the former KGB apparatchik, Vladimir Putin, look soft -- warned that Russia was prepared to use force to secure unspecified "interests" and appeared to link a contemplated Russian cutoff of natural gas supplies through Ukraine to Europe with fierce Russian opposition to further expansion of NATO. As reported by Reuters:

In an end-of-year interview that signaled an uncompromising stance toward U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration, Medvedev said Russia's war with Georgia in August showed that tough action was sometimes unavoidable. "Russia's interests must be secured by all means available, this is my deep conviction. First of all, by international and legal tools ... but, when necessary, by using an element of force," Medvedev said in the interview, which was shown on Russia's main television stations.

Further expansion of NATO membership is "inadmissible:"

In the interview, a transcript of which was posted on Medvedev's official Internet site, he also attacked long-term plans by the NATO alliance to expand eastwards by allowing ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia to join.

"Today I do indeed feel an attempt to 'put Russia in its place'. And if, sometime ago, when Russia was in a quite different situation, such attempts could still yield some results, in today's situation .... this is simply inadmissible."

He threatened Ukraine with sanctions if it failed to pay some $2 billion Moscow says it owes for gas. Russia has said it may cut off supplies to its neighbor from January 1, potentially disrupting gas deliveries via Ukraine to European states.

The threatened gas cut off supposedly arises from a "contract dispute," and Gazprom, the Russian gas supplier, claims that it will continue to deliver the "full volume" of gas destined for EU countries who receive the fuel from pipelines across Ukraine. However, the same assurance was given in January 2006 when Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine using a similar business excuse. The result was, not surprisingly, that much of the gas never reached the EU, creating shortages of 20 to 50 percent in France, Germany, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria in the middle of a freezing winter.

Russia's geopolitical aims were then and are now to intimidate Western-leaning people and leaders in Ukraine, reminding them who's boss, and to warn the West to stay out of Russia's self-declared "sphere of influence."

Now, as a new Administration prepares to take over in Washington, Medvedev is saying clearly if indirectly that Russia is prepared to fight -- as it did in Georgia -- to secure its "interests," which unquestionably include an interest in binding Ukraine to Russia, whether or not it wishes to be bound.

As readers may recall, Medvedev first snarled at Obama the day after the American election when he ratcheted up Russia's threat to station missiles near the Polish border, if the U.S. and Poland went ahead with plans to install components of an anti-missile system (designed to thwart Iranian intentions) on Polish territory.

To be sure, Medvedev backed off his missile posturing the following week, and since has issued more diplomatic statements occasionally, expressing hopes for warm feelings between Russia and the new American President.

Nonetheless, it's impossible to view this Ukraine gambit, with the prospect of a January mini-crisis in central Europe over essential fuel, as anything but a deliberate effort to test Obama.

It's not the only test the new White House team will face, but it's not small potatoes. Russia may have its "interests" in reasserting control over what it calls its "near abroad," but the U.S., the West, and not least, the Ukrainian people have an interest too -- in moving Ukraine forward as the fully sovereign, prosperous and democratic nation it deserves to be.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I'm starting to think I should get a bailout too

Commercial real estate developers are trying to get themselves in line for a bailout, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription only).

Hey, why not? The developers say that "thousands of office complexes, hotels, shopping centers and other commercial buildings are headed into defaults, foreclosures and bankruptcies." Sounds like as solid an argument as GM and Chrysler have, no?

Actually not, in my view. A GM bankruptcy around this time could deliver a punishing blow of the sort that the economy as a whole would have difficulty absorbing. That said, the case for GM is purely pragmatic, as was the case for propping up the banking system, and has a lot to do with the size and consequence of the companies involved. The individual merits of this or that company or industry have precious little to do with it, unfortunately. Developers and all the rest of us will suffer more if the recession is deeper and longer.

Anyway, if bailouts were based on merit, it's clear to me that my personal bailout should be right of there at the top of the list!

Dame Caroline's record as school booster: "She hardly left a vapor trail"

Taking a close look at Caroline Kennedy's much-ballyhooed record as a fundraiser and booster for New York City public schools -- which is her only claimed public policy accomplishment -- Politico found that the Camelot Princess may not have done much except lend her famous name and occasional presence to the school system.

For one thing, she wasn't there much:

As often as not, [co-workers] were greeted by an empty chair. “I’d get it all the time – ‘Why isn’t Caroline at her desk?’” said a person who worked closely with Kennedy, who ran the Department of Education division that oversaw public-private partnerships from 2002 to 2004.

She may be taking -- or getting -- credit for heavy lifting with donors she didn't do:

[Co-workers] say the 51-year-old lawyer and author, while a dedicated advocate for the schools, was less a traditional fundraiser than a highly credible department spokeswoman who used her name to keep big-money donors from fleeing the cash-strapped system. “She brought us a lot of visibility,” said a person who worked directly with Kennedy, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There was not a lot of fundraising by her personally, but there was a lot of strategizing – ‘Here’s what this organization might do for us,’ – that kind of thing…Her main task was helping to rebuild the credibility of the school system, not directly raising money.”

One business executive familiar with her efforts said that Kennedy provided “star power, not fundraising muscle.”

The friendly press noticed back in 2004:

When she left, the New York Times wrote: “For months after she started, even some high-level education officials said they were not quite sure what she did. In an interview about eight months into her tenure, she would not say how often she worked at the department headquarters or how many hours she spent on the job, saying only, 'I put in as much time as I can.'"

Even the major fundraising accomplishment that her chum and supporter, school's Chancellor Joel Klein, has publicly attributed to her may have been the work of others less celebrated:

When Klein, speaking to the Times, credited Kennedy with securing $51 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for small schools, Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice tracked down officials who claimed the grant was actually set up by Klein deputy Michele Cahill.

None of this should surprise anyone. Caroline Kennedy is a fine and gracious lady. She's lived nearly all of her life sheltered from publicity and public responsibilities. Who can blame her, when she's been chased by paparazzi whenever she's emerged. But nothing in her record -- least of all her role at the New York City schools, it seems -- has prepared her for high office.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Is India getting ready to strike Pakistan?

Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30 MKI multi-role strike fighter

As the luxury Taj and Trident hotels prepared to reopen for the first time since the November 26th terrorist attacks in Mumbai, The Times of India reported that India is "keeping the military option alive and kicking in face of Pakistan doublespeak on the crackdown on terror." According to the report, "a top-level meeting was held on Saturday evening to review the security situation in the region and the state of defence preparedness of the armed forces." Similar accounts of high-level security meetings have appeared elsewhere in the nation's press over the past couple of days. More ominously, another leading newspaper, The Telegraph, quoted "top government sources" saying that the Mumbai attacks were "the direct handiwork of Pakistan’s military that trained and armed the militants and planned the strike in detail."

Meanwhile, on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border, stories about apparent border incursions by air continue to appear, including an Indian report of "massive practice by Indian Air Force planes in Jamnagar" a city in western India a short jet hop from Pakistan.

This should not come as a surprise. Since the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani authorities have gone through the motions of rounding up the usual suspects associated with the Kashmiri terrorist outfits, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, that U.S. intelligence officials believe were responsible for the attacks. But Pakistan resolutely refuses even to concede that Pakistanis were involved in the attacks, much less crack down hard on the Kashmiri groups it has long sponsored and supported.

The Mumbai attacks shook Indian society and the Indian leadership to the core. Unless it gets some hard concessions from Pakistan that are politically difficult or impossible for any Pakistani government to make, India's governing Congress Party government simply cannot afford to kick up a little dust and hope the matter will go away. It will likely lose the next national election.

Speculation about a possible Indian strike has centered on air attacks on Kasmiri separatist training camps inside the Pakistani-administered portion of Kashmir. There is no shortage of such targets. A "surgical" strike against them might satisfy India's need to make it's point and cause Pakistan some pain without risking escalation into a major conflict.

However, the independent intelligence analysis firm, Stratfor, points out that such strikes might be largely symbolic, since the Indian Air Force lacks the heavy bombing capability needed to do significant damage to facilities of this kind. Stratfor theorizes that India may decide to attack a key Pakistani governmental facility in Islamabad, such as the headquarters of the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, which India has long identified as instrumental in creating, training, arming and supporting the Kashmiri Islamist groups.

The the Indians have the resources needed for such a mission, according to Stratfor:

The Indian air force increasingly has been regarded as professional and capable by American pilots at Red Flag exercises in Nevada. India has modern Russian fighter jets and probably has the capability, with some losses, to penetrate deep into Pakistani territory.

Just two days ago, Stratfor confirmed its belief that India is preparing for a strike.

Hitting the ISI would send a clear, loud message. Pakistan would want to retaliate but have few serious options to do so, lacking much of an air punch. And the Pakistan military leadership might be forced to conclude that further Mumbai-style terror attacks inside India are not worth the trouble they bring.

If India is contemplating a military strike, the next week or so would be a ideal time to carry it out. The United States has been working hard to restrain India while pressing Pakistan to make tougher concessions. But the U.S. is in the midst of a government transition, and this coming week, both the outgoing and the incoming administrations will be on vacation, along with most of the rest of us. A critical moment lies ahead.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blago on Balgojemess: "Hell no, I won't go"

In case you missed the Blagovernor's presser today, check it out. Out went the Elvis impersonation and the whole black leather jacket-KGB look. Blago showed up in his most elegant dark suit with spiffy power tie, and quoting Kipling poetry (no less) declared that he's gonna fight, fight, and then fight some more "to my last breath."

So there won't be any easy fix, with Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn stepping up to hand-pick a new Senator from among those ready to play, if not pay. The Democrat-controlled Legislature still won't pass a bill calling a special election, lest the state's voters go crazy and elect someone not annointed by the Party elite. Obama will continue to lie as low as possible to avoid contamination from the whole mess. Illinois may not have two Senators again until the statehouse pols can figure out how to impeach Blago without U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's help. (Plus, you have to wonder if their hearts are really in it, since Blago probably knows a thing or two about other people's skeletons.) For that matter, Illinois may have to muddle through without what you'd call a government for quote a while, as the pols duke it out.

As for the Kipling thing, maybe Blago should have chosen someone else to quote. His more literary fellow Chicagoans may be offended by what the English writer, who traveled to many places besides the Khyber Pass, has to say about their home town: "I have struck a city - a real city - and they call it Chicago... I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages."

What was Bill Clinton thinking?

Over the past eight years, at a time when his party was making a comeback, when his personal popularity was increasing, when his wife was a Senator everyone expected to run for President, why, oh, why did Bill Clinton believe he needed tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in contributions to his charitable foundation from Saudi Arabia and most of the little Arabias, and a host of other foreign governments, potentates, and shady tycoons? And did he really need to roam the world giving speeches for payments of up to $400,000 a pop to assorted overseas companies?

The answer is probably simple: he was thinking of himself.

His foundation presumably did many good works, but does anyone believe the Saudi royal family ponied up multiple millions because they wanted to help Bill conquer disease or fend off global warming? They were buying access, not only to Clinton personally, but also to the whole network of people associated with, or potentially influenced by, him. They were hoping to influence American policies, one way or another.

The charitable foundation and the rest of the ex-President's globe-trotting activities are all of a piece. Clinton would go to the Persian Gulf, give a couple of expensive speeches to favored, insider audiences, rub shoulders with various princes, sheiks and bankers, hit them up for donations to his foundation, and make friends. Even if he never did a single inappropriate favor for any of these guys -- and we have to take him at his word, if he says he did not -- the appearance created was that the past President of the United States on the make for money.

The sad thing is that he did not have to do any of this. Suppose his foundation raised only $300 million instead of $500 million by relying on Bill Gates, Barbra Streisand, et al. for the money? Would the globe be a lot warmer?

I don't believe that any of this means that Hillary Clinton will be compromised in any way as Secretary of State. And President-elect Obama and his team have done the right thing by forcing Bill to make these disclosures and limit his future activities.

We are still left with the specter of a former President appearing to take advantage of his status to aggrandize himself, whether through added celebrity, behind-the-scenes influence, or financial gain. This is no less unseemly because George H.W. Bush has done his share of money-making in ventures involving foreign interests.

In the not-so-distant past, ex-Presidents more or less disappeared, emerging occasionally to promote a book or dedicate a library. Harry Truman returned to his wife's modest family home in Independence, Missouri, and lived a long time without seeming to feel any need to get rich. Dwight Eisenhower retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and mostly kept his mouth shut. Even the always-voluble LBJ went back to his ranch and was rarely heard from again. While Johnson may have been hiding out to lick his wounds, Ronald Reagan was immensely popular when he left office, but he still retired quietly.

Jimmy Carter is, of course, still makes the occasional headline even 27 years after his Presidency ended. Carter drives conservatives up the wall with his penchant injecting himself into international issues without an official portfolio. I find some of his activities annoying, as I'm sure Barack Obama will. But to give Jimmy his due, he has not tried to enrich himself, and he has no close relatives in high office.

Like Carter, Clinton was a young man when he left the White House, so you'd expect him to launch another career of some kind. But Bill had a world of choices: he might have taught or wrote, sought a university presidency, or launched a campaign, as Al Gore did, on a major public policy issue. Apparently, none of those or other options satisfied his well-known need for attention.

George W. Bush is still in his early sixties, and Barack Obama will only be 55 when he completes a likely second term. We should all hope that Clinton's choice does not set an example for these future ex-Presidents.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Things go better without Coke

Wednesday, New York's Governor David Patterson unveiled a proposed $121-billion budget for next year, which includes a barrage or 88 new or higher taxes and fees to help close a $15.4-billion gap. Among the new revenue raisers are an "I-Pod tax" on downloaded music, sales taxes on cable and satellite TV, new taxes on movie tickets, taxi rides, beer, wine, cigars and massages, and my favorite, an "obesity tax" on sugared soda. So lay off the Coke, unless it's sugar free. The Governor says it's bad for you.

An astonishing number of otherwise sensible people have jumped in to agree with Patterson that the approximately 18% tax on Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper with sugar is just what the doctor ordered so that New Yorkers can shed the zillion pounds of fat we're carrying around.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof opined instantly to the effect that sugary drinks are the new cigarettes. Whereas "some scholars believe they have become a major source of obesity," he wrote, a daily dose of root beer will kill you dead. One such concerned scholar he relies on is -- I could not make this up -- "Barry Popkin, a nutrition specialist at the University of North Carolina and author of the excellent new book, 'The World Is Fat'."

Here's the thing about all this: like millions of other Americans, I've been trying to lose -- or keep off -- some ugly, unwanted fat for years. But the number of sugared sodas I drank in the past three decades you could count on your fingers. I don't need no damn Coke to stay fat! Give me ice cream, pasta, potatoes, fried chicken, candy, pie, cake, cookies, tarts, Danishes, bagels with cream cheese, ribs dripping with sauce, quiche, Big Macs, turkey with dressing, eggs benedict, more gravy, extra helpings -- and I can manage to stay quite fat enough, thank you.

Thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, I already have to read the number of calories contained in every Starbucks muffin I buy. Now, the handwriting is on the wall:

-- First they taxed Coke, and I said nothing, because I didn't drink Coke.

-- Then, they rationed donuts, and I said nothing, because I don't like donuts.

-- Then, they banned Big macs, and I said nothing, because I can live without McDonalds.

-- Then, finally??? I dunno where it all ends.

But I'm getting hungry. I need to go get a snack.

Battle of the families for Clinton Senate seat: Andrew Cuomo and Caroline Kennedy neck and neck in two New York polls

As Caroline Kennedy made a pilgrimage to Harlem to lunch with Rev. Al Sharpton, her rivalry with Cuomo scion Andrew, who is currently serving as New York State Attorney General until he can find a higher office, heated up.

Kennedy actually answered a couple of reporters' questions in a sidewalk press availability, after munching with Rev. Al at Sylvia's, in contrast to her first foray as a candidate yesterday when she ran pell mell for her car to escape from inquisitive ink-stained wretches.

Governor David Patterson, who will appoint someone to fill Hillary Clinton's seat in a month or so, disclosed that he has talked with Cuomo about the Senate spot, although he refused to say in so many words whether the former Governor's son asked him for it.

Meanwhile, two statewide polls were released showing Kennedy and Cuomo running neck and neck in the opinion of the state's voters, who unluckily have no say in the matter. A Siena College survey had Cuomo edging the Camelot Princess 26% to 23%, while a new Marist poll has them tied at 25% a piece. No one else scored above single digits although the combined total of those not choosing neither the heiress nor the heir amounted obviously to about half those surveyed.

The word circulating among some newsies is that Kennedy has the job, if she wants it. Since she has said she does want it, though, it's hard to see why Patterson is personally throwing Cuomo's name out now, when he hadn't before. I still think it's up in the air, although Patterson is getting a lot of public and private pressure to appoint Kennedy.

Why? Because Kennedy in the Senate now is a plus for Patterson only in the sense that her presence on the ticket in 2010 might help Patterson win election to a full term against a tough opponent like Rudy Giuliani. That's nice, but leaving Andrew in the AG slot -- and snubbing him in favor of his ex-cousin-in-law who has never held public office, run for anything, or even held much of any job -- might well mean that Cuomo would challenge Patterson in a primary. Patterson is an accidental governor, beset by mountains of troubles. If you had to bet today who would win that primary, Cuomo would be the better bet. Appoint him to the Senate and, presto, one of your biggest problems goes away.

Would Kennedy and her extended clan, political support infrastructure and fundraising machine be harnessed to help David vs. Andrew? Maybe, but Patterson probably doesn't believe in the tooth fairy either.

Illinois Supreme Court gives the back of its hand to state AG's loony lawsuit

At least one group of Illinois officials are taking their jobs seriously. Thursday, the state's high court dismissed without so much as a brief comment Attorney General Lisa Madigan's absurd "emergency" effort to get the court to declare Governor Blagojevich "unfit" to serve under a statute meant for use when the state executive is in a coma. Then, it gave her the back of its collective hand by similarly denying without comment her request for permission to come back to the court to make a fuller case.

Madigan, whose machinations in this Blagojemess are suspect in light of her well-known ambition to succeed Blago as Governor, ought to have been embarrassed by the thread-bare arguments she advanced in favor of her bizarre reading of the law. But at least, the court has quickly slapped her down.

Astonishingly, some Illinois lawmakers apparently thought the AG's lawsuit might actually work. According to The New York Times, "The ruling stirred consternation among some lawmakers here, many of whom had seen the request to the court as the fastest, straightest route to Mr. Blagojevich’s departure, even if a bit of a long shot." Now, they're really stuck with Plan B, impeachment, but Blago plans to fight them tooth and nail.

Meanwhile, tick, tock, goes the clock on the chance of holding a special election to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat any time soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dame Caroline Escapes Scruffy Scribblers' Scrum in Syracuse

Caroline Kennedy Meets With Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll

My lady of Camelot, I know I speak for all respectable persons residing in the outer provinces when I say how deeply shocked we are by the offensive manner in which your ladyship was received by that pack of louts who badgered you with impertinent questions during your progress through those parts. I hope you will not think me too bold if I say that such wretches -- my goodness, not one of them had the self-respect to wear a decent suit of clothes -- should learn how to behave in the company of their betters. Your exceptional grace and bearing were at all times on display throughout this trial, a testament to the greatness of your noble family.

That big ruffian, the one with the loud voice who fairly shouted at your ladyship, particularly ought to get a good thrashing, and many's the decent stout fellow, I'm sure, even in the outer provinces, would be delighted to give the villain what for, if you don't mind my saying, my lady.

I know I am probably speaking out of turn, my lady, but rest assured that the common folk -- the decent, respectable common folk -- are not the least interested in prying into your ladyship's opinions about the economy, taxes, the environment, health care, wars and all such matters of state, which are properly none of our business. Those are matters for your ladyship to concern herself with. I feel bound to say that the good citizens of this fair realm feel a deep bond of loyaty to your ladyship and trust implicitly that these great affairs will be in capable hands.

I'm especially taken aback at the inquisitiveness of those low persons about your views on the various local farming and industrial affairs of the outer provinces. Surely no great personage such as your ladyship can be expected to be mistress of all such folderol.

Thank you so much, my lady, for enduring so much on our behalf with your usual grace and bearing. Whenever you plan another progress through such remote and rustic settlements as Utica, Watertown and, heaven help us, Horseheads, please don't hesitate to call upon me, your humble servant.

"Blagojemess" gets even messier

"Hell no, I won't go" was Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's answer to calls by Barack Obama, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn, Senator Dick Durbin, the Illinois State Legislature, various Madigans, and almost everyone else who lives in Illinois that he resign. Instead, Blago hired a hot-shot criminal lawyer who told the legislators convening in Springfield to get the impeachment ball rolling that he would fight the charges, fight impeachment, and generally tell everyone to [expletive] off. For reasons that escape this New Yorker, some Chicago pols seems genuinely flummoxed by Rod's failure to fold, as if they expected him to give up his one really valuable asset -- his office -- in exchange for their appreciation when all this started because, well, you know.

Meanwhile, the phalanx of high-level Democrats who last week called on the Illinois Legislature to swiftly expunge Blago's Senate appointment power in favor of a prompt special election have all backed off that silly good government idea, apparently because they figured out that whichever Democrat they personally favored might not win a special election. Or worse, OMG, a Republican might even win!

An election ruled out, to step up the pressure on Blago to resign, the state's Attorney General Lisa Madigan -- who is herself a leading prospect for either the Senate seat or the Governor's slot, whichever comes first -- asked the Illinois Supreme Court to rule Blago unfit to serve, relying on a statute designed to replace comatose governors, and toss him out. Unless the fix is in on the Supreme Court (always a possibility, I suppose), the judges are probably having a good laugh over it.

So Lisa's pop, Michael Madigan, the kingpin of the Illinois House, gathered his troops Monday to begin the impeachment process. No sooner did they start than they hit a big, apparently unanticipated snag -- to wit, the need for evidence of Blago's misconduct. Lacking any of their own, they asked U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, for some of his. Fitzgerald told them to write him a letter and he'd see what he could see (I loved that response).

Madigan the Elder is reported to be less than keen anyway on tossing Blago, only to have Quinn get the Governor's office, because Quinn would then have both the power to appoint the Senator and a leg up on Madigan the Younger running for a full term as Governor. Pop may just as soon let the whole thing drag out in the hopes something good will happen, like getting a better look at other people's cards or a deal coming his way.

Get this: the crafty Governor is rumored to be interested in offering his support for a special election to fill the Senate seat in exchange for something (perhaps the leeway to remain as Governor and fight the charges). His willingness to sign a bill is crucial, since the law enables him effectively to kill a special election bill simply by sitting on it. In the meantime, of course, Blago still has the power to fill the Senate seat!

As if all this were not enough, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. revealed that he has been dropping dimes to the Feds on his fellow office holders for the past five years. This may help him with folks who wonder about all that stuff on tape involving "Senate Candidate 5" (or not). It does seem, though, that it will also give him a bit of a reputation among his colleagues as a rat. This would not be a hindrance to his future career, if Illinois politics were to be suddenly and totally reformed. I wouldn't bet money on his getting the Senate seat, if and when it is ever filled.

Finally, even as the press has reported that Obama chief of staff-designate Rahm Emanuel appears 21 times on prosecutor Fitzgerald's tapes, Obama has back-tracked on his earlier promise to investigate thoroughly and disclose everything. While he has a plausible excuse -- Fitzgerald asked him not to talk about it right now -- the potential for this Chicago mess to disrupt and distract his new administration is not going away. Suspicion and cynicism is growing in a press corps that likes Obama immensely but does not like being stonewalled on a matter of this magnitude until some time late on Christmas Eve.

Newsweek's Howard Fineman, for example, who has been more than fair to Obama for the past year, is troubled by the foot-dragging and by the fact that Emanuel has retained a lawyer to help him deal with the Feds:

Still, however justifiable the silence and caution, Emanuel (and, by extension, Obama) could pay a price for both as the Chicago mess simmers on. Emanuel already has blown up at members of the Chicago press corps—a newspaper reporter and a cameraman. Obama's transition team, eager to show its openness and focus on naming cabinet nominees, has been forced to spend day after day dealing with the Blago story. There's too much focus on Emanuel, whose naturally abrasive personality clashes with his boss's cool demeanor.

And Republicans are now piling on Emanuel—and are likely to continue to do so. At this point, there seems little doubt that Emanuel will survive, and will take his place on Jan. 20 as chief of staff in the Oval Office. But he is already a bigger story than is good for either him or his boss—and delay, however legally justified, just makes it bigger.

The man has a point.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dame Caroline deigns to represent us

Oh, thank you, my lady of Camelot. I know I speak for all of your loyal in New York when I say how pleased we are that you have seen fit to govern us, as indeed, you should. Yes, we mark ourselves as fortunate to have one of your noble grace and bearing willing to put aside the many heavy burdens of your charitable and other good works and take up the far weightier cause of championing the needs of us common folk -- whatever they may be from time to time -- as did your father and uncles and cousins and in-laws and grandfathers and so many others of your great and distinguished family.

My lady, I hope you won't think me too bold if I suggest that it is fitting -- yes, fitting -- that you should go straightaway into the Senate without troubling yourself with any of those boring and tiresome lowly labors that are truly meant for others -- those who, how shall I say, simply lack my lady's noble grace and bearing -- like that prickly fat fellow in Congress or that pleasant upstate woman.

Oh, I know these people must be rewarded appropriately for all their toil and loyalty, and I'm sure a lady of such noble grace and bearing as yourself would not dream of depriving them of their rightful places. But after all is said and done, Maloney, Weiner, Ackerman and all the rest have risen a good deal higher than any of them had a right to presume, lacking as they do the greatness and distinction of a Kennedy. I also must dare to say to you, my lady, that young Andrew is also, how do the French say it, an arriviste -- and a bounder as well, as I'm sure you know from Miss Kerry. But there I go, speaking out of turn.

If you don't mind my saying so, my lady, that Lowey woman did conduct herself nicely for a person of her sort, what with standing aside for Dame Hillary and now showing proper deference to my lady. While she only did what was proper, I think we would all say, "hear, hear," if my lady were to give her a jolly good word of thanks -- that is, if you don't mind my saying so, my lady.

What was it your father said? I think it went something like, "Ask not what you can do for New Yorkers, but what New Yorkers can do for you?" Or was that your uncle?

Well, in either case, God bless him. And God bless you, my lady. We are so thrilled that you have deigned to become our next Senator. That's especially true, may I say, my lady, of those of us who are, like your ladyship, Irish Catholics. And pardon me if I take a bit of liberty in saying that your ladyship is truly as Irish as paddy's pig and as Catholic as the Pope, and there's no one can deny it, not God Himself.

Please don't hesitate to call on me if I can perform any small service for my lady.

Joe shows off his new puppy

  • Nothing like a warm puppy to make you better when you're feeling down in the dumps.
  • As far as we know, Hillary Clinton has not felt a need for a new puppy since Buddy was run over by a car outside the Clinton residence in Chappaqua, New York in 2002.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Joe Biden, in dog house, to get puppy

Joe Biden may have lost out to Hillary Clinton in foreign affairs, but he has beaten the Obama daughters to getting a new puppy, the one his wife, Jill, promised she'd get him, if the Obama-Biden ticket won on November 4th:

Biden revealed his wife’s pledge on Election Day, telling reporters flying with him to Chicago that she had first promised him a dog if he was elected president, and when his primary bid failed, if he was elected vice president. Mrs. Biden even taped pictures of dogs on the seat back in front of Biden on the plane, according to the report.

“I’ve always had a big dog my whole life, even the time I was a kid. I’ve had German Shepherds and Great Danes and Labs and Golden Retrievers,” Biden said on November 4. “So with Barack inquiring about would I be willing to get vetted, Jill said, ‘I’ll make you a deal: if you get the vice presidency and get elected, you can get a dog.’"

Joe will have a lot of time to spend with the three-month old male German Shepherd, since is supposedly taking it upon himself "to significantly shrink the role of the vice presidency in Barack Obama’s White House," according to this report.

We are asked to believe that it's Joe who wants to make sure he doesn't get his own morning intelligence briefing. He won't "always be the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision" because he prefers it that way. He doesn't want to hold "broad sway – with a particular emphasis on foreign policy" as Cheney did.

What's more -- and this part is really rich:

In fact, Biden’s goal of restoring the office to its “traditional role” is something he and Obama agreed on before the Delaware senator was named to the Democratic ticket, the transition official said. As part of that understanding, Biden is unlikely to have a specific docket of issues.

“He’s been very clear about that from the start that he was not going to take a portfolio in particular areas,” the transition official familiar with Biden’s role said.

That's right, before he took the veep spot on the ticket, Joe made sure, as part of his "understanding" with Obama, that he wouldn't have any nasty "portfolio" of actual responsibilities. Of course, he will "be available widely and broadly to offer his advice on whatever hard questions the president was trying to decide." Just as long as it's not a hard question that required a morning intel briefing, and provided Biden is not the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision.

There still may be plenty of stuff to do:

Those close to Biden say he will be a more town hall-style vice president than Cheney. He will do more television shows and press availabilities. He and his wife, Jill, will likely be out promoting their favorite causes, although they will likely still not be part of the Washington social scene.

And in a small shift, Biden has expressed interest in bringing back the Al Gore tradition of hosting an annual Halloween party for the press corps at the vice presidential residence.

We suspected that Joe was in the dog house with Obama for handing the GOP a terrific issues ("mark my words...they will test him"), but this is ridiculous. Maybe Obama will give Joe the job of picking a puppy for the girls!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Maybe J. Lo could reach across the aisle

Senator J. Lo anyone?

Rep. Gary Ackerman, a veteran Queens Democrat, asked in a radio interview the other day about the buzz over Caroline Kennedy's interest in filling Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, "I don't know what Caroline Kennedy's qualifications are. Except that she has name recognition, but so does J.Lo. I wouldn't make J.Lo the senator unless she proved she had great qualifications, but we haven't seen them yet."

I dunno. Maybe J. Lo could break a few Congressional log jams and bring people together. It might be dangerous, though, having all those old, bald, paunchy guys tripping all over each other to reach across the aisle.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Chicago Way -- The American Way?

Former Illinois Governor George H. Ryan (above) is the Republican who preceded Democrat Rod Blagojevich in the Springfield state house and may soon be joined by Blagojevich at the nearest Federal Big House. Ryan, who served one term as Governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted in 2006 for his role in the widespread illegal sale of government licenses, contracts and leases by state employees during his service as Secretary of State (1991-1999). At least 76 former aides, lobbyists and others have been convicted in this scandal, which led Ryan not to seek reelection in 2002, opening the way for Blagojevich. Ryan now resides in a prison camp at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Over the past few days, remarkably wide agreement has emerged among reporters, pundits and bloggers, from left to right, to the effect that Governor Rod Blagovich’s alleged misconduct is so out of the ordinary as to make you wonder if he’s “nuts” or “delusional.”

The sad truth is that Blagogate is just another example of conduct that is all too commonplace among politicians of both parties. Although not so unusual, it is far more more dramatic than most corruption cases, because it involves the Senate seat of the man who was just elected President, and because the FBI actually bugged the Governor’s office and has him on tape, complete with [bleeping] expletives.

The last time we had such vivid and shocking evidence of crude venality in high places was in Abscam, when we could watch one Congressman after another meet with a supposed “Arab sheik” and sell their offices for cash.

This kind of thing is certainly “the Chicago way” but it may not be too much of a stretch to look at it as “the American way.” One insightful, smart take on this comes from veteran Democratic pollster and consultant, Doug Schoen, who writes:

To be sure, what has appeared in the news has been shocking for those who are somewhat removed from the world of politics. But while what Blagojevich did is undeniably beyond the pale, it is frankly much more common in the political world than anyone has been willing to acknowledge.

But this time, we have it on tape:

Yes, the wiretaps reveal clear and unambiguous evidence that Blagojevich hoped to get something in exchange for the appointment. But this kind of horse trading, in my experience, goes on all the time. It usually isn’t articulated as bluntly as it apparently has here, though–and there usually aren’t as many wiretaps marshaled as evidence.

While Governor Ryan’s blazing the trail for Governor Blagojevich should be proof enough that Rod is no innovator, I thought it would be fun to look at some other cases in the recent past, which include these in the great state of Illinois (remember, these are only the guys who got caught):

- Governor Daniel Walker was convicted in 1987 of wrongdoing in connection with the savings and loan scandals and sentenced to a federal penitentiary.

- Governor Otto Kerner, who served from 1961-68, was convicted of bribery, conspiracy, income-tax evasion, mail fraud and perjury.

- Secretary of State Paul Powell was found with $800,000 in cash in a shoe box in his hotel room, but was never convicted. He died in 1970.

- State Treasurer Jerry Cosentino was convicted on check kiting charges in 1992.

- And of course, wheeler dealer Tony Rezko was convicted earlier this year 16 federal felony corruption charges.

Ah, but special kudos are due the Chicago Board of Aldermen for what may be a record-setting conviction rate for a single public office! Consider:

- Alderman Arenda Troutman was arrested and charged with bribery in 2007.

- Alderman Percy Giles was sentenced to three years in prison for racketeering, extortion, among other things, in 2000.

- Alderman Lawrence S. Bloom was sentenced to six months in 1999 for filing a false tax return (what a boy scout!).

- Alderman Jesse J. Evans got 41 months in prison in 1997 for racketeering, extortion, conspiracy, attempted extortion, mail fraud, influence peddling, filing false tax returns, and obstruction of justice (now that’s what I call a record!).

- Alderman Virgil E. Jones Jr. drew 2 1/2 years in prison for extortion in 1999.

-Alderman Joseph A. Martinez pleaded guilty in 1998 to putting “ghosts” on the payroll and sentenced to five months in prison.

- Alderman Ambrosio Medrano pleaded guilty to extortion in 1996 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

- Alderman Allan J. Streeter pleaded guilty to extortion and filing false income tax returns and was sentenced to prison in 1998. (What’s with all these pleas? Are there no real men ready to take the weight left in the Windy City?)

- Alderman Fred B. Roti was sentenced to 48 months in 1993 for racketeering, conspiracy, and bribery, among other things.

Phew! Not to outdone by their colleagues at City Hall, Illinois state legislators have been doing their part:

- In 1992, State Representative James DeLeo was caught in the “Operation Greylord” investigation of corruption in Cook County, indicted by a federal grand jury for taking bribes, negotiated a guilty plea, and got probation.

- In 1997, State Representative Joe Kotlarz was convicted and sentenced to jail for theft and conspiracy for pocketing in about $200,000 for a sale of state land to a company he once served as legal counsel.

- In 1999, State Senator Bruce A. Farley got 18 months in prison for mail fraud.

- And State Senator John A. D’Arco Jr. served time in prison for bribery and extortion.

OK, I admit I’m beating up pretty hard on Chicago, so here’s a recap of some of the greatest hits of American political corruption over the past three decades. Let’s start with some governors:

- Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton (1976-1979) lost his reelection bid after exposure of a bribery scandal. Before leaving office, he issued a large number of pardons to convicted felons, apparently in exchange for bribes.

- Rhode Island Governor Edward D. DiPrete (1985-91) pleaded guilty to bribery, extortion and racketeering.

- Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel was convicted of mail fraud and racketeering in 1977.

- Arkansas Governor James Guy Tucker, Jr. was convicted of fraud cnspiracy in 1996.

- Then there was Vice President Spiro Agnew who resigned his office to face corruption charges involving his years as Maryland Governor. He was convicted in 1973.

- Alabama Governor Don Siegelman was found guilty of bribery, mail fraud and obstruction of justice in 2006 and sentenced to 88 months.

- Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards was convicted of extortion in 2000.

- Connecticut Governor John Rowland resigned in 2004 due to a corruption ivestigation. Later, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and tax fraud and served 10 months in a federal prison.

- Last but not least, who can forget New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey who resigned from office in 2007 under a cloud for appointing his alleged male-sex partner as the sate’s homeland security director. (Jim really had to Pay to Play.)

Yet, year after year, Congress remains home to a mother lode of illegal dealings involving money (not to mention all sorts of sexual hi jinks!).

The Abscam boys are still, IMHO, recent history’s kings of Capitol Hill corruption. In this 1980 FBI sting, fake ‘Arabs’ tried to bribe 31 Congressmen. A mere six were convicted, but many others were tainted.

- New Jersey Senator Harrison “Pete” Williams led the pack, being convicted on nine counts of bribery and conspiracy and became the first U.S. Senator to go to prison in 80 years. Five members of the House were also convicted — John Jenrette of South Carolina, Richard Kelly of Florida, Raymond Lederer of Pennsylvania, Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, and Frank Thompson of New Jersey. (The Feds also bagged a New Jersey state senator and members of the Philadelphia city council along the way.)

- Bronx Rep. Mario Biaggi was convicted in 1988 on 15 felony counts of obstruction of justice and accepting illegal gratuities.

- Speaker of the House Jim Wright of Texas, no less, resigned in 1989 after an investigation into improper receipt of $145,000 in gifts.

- Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, an Illinois (there I go again) big shot, was caught up in the great Congressional Post Office Scandal of the early 1990s, was convicted of heading a conspiracy to launder Post Office money through stamps and postal vouchers, and got 18 months in the slammer.

- Rep. Buz Lukens of Ohio was convicted in 1995 on five counts of bribery and cnspiracy and served a year in prison.

- Rep. Edward Mezvinsky of Iowa pleaded guilty in 2001 to 31 charges of bank fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud.

- Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio was found guilty in 2002 on 10 felony counts of financial corruption, sentenced to eight years in prison, and expelled from the House.

- House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas, after years of ethics probes and reprimands, finally got his in 2005. He was indicted and later resigned from the House.

- Rep. Duke Cunningham of California pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail and wire fraud, and tax evasion and was sentenced to more than eight years.

- Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana — he of the $90,000 in cash stashed in his freezer — was indicted in 2007 on 16 charges of corruption for accepting bribes and defeated for reelection last month.

- Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, without whom no list is complete, at 85 with 40 years in the Senate, was snared in a sweeping federal probe of political corruption in his state and convicted last October on seven counts of bribery and tax evasion.

I have to add one more, a case that is still working its way through the system, because it’s becoming a personal favorite:

- Massachusetts State Senator Diane Wilkerson, a rising star in her state’s politics, resigned a few weeks ago after being indicted by a federal grand jury on eight counts of alleged corruption. Wilkerson is accused of taking over $23,000 in bribes. The FBI has video and audio recordings of many of these alleged acts, including a video tape of Wilkerson stuffing bribe money into her bra.

So, what was that about Blagojevich’s conduct being so over the top that he must be crazy?