Friday, April 29, 2005


The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled a Virginia county can limit the privilege of giving the invocation at its meetings to clergy representing Judeo-Christian monotheism.

From the ABA Journal:
The 4th Circuit ruled Chesterfield County’s Board of Supervisors did not show impermissible motive in refusing to permit a pantheistic invocation by a Wiccan because its list of clergy who registered to conduct invocations covers a wide spectrum of Judeo-Christian denominations. ***

"The Judeo-Christian tradition is, after all, not a single faith but an umbrella covering many faiths," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote in the opinion.
"What kind of music you usually have here, Judge Wilkinson?"

"Oh, we've got BOTH kinds -- we got Country AND Western!"

Thursday, April 28, 2005



As discussed below, John C. Twohey, the Tribune Media Services' vice president of editorial and operations, urged that Arianna Huffington's be described as something other than a blog because it would get top-notch Tribune "editorial intervention" which would make it "of a higher order and more useful" than some nasty, error ridden-blog.

Well the karma police have been working overtime.

In addition to Tuesday's "higher order" misidentification in the Tribune -- in which they mislabeled a photo of a Chicago businessman who has no mob ties as a convicted mobster -- yesterday's "more useful" Trib once again misidentified a innocent elderly Chicagoan as a mobster.

From the Tribune:
The photo that ran on the front page of Wednesday's Chicago Tribune was, in fact, of a dapper old man.
So far so good...
But he wasn't Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo.
He was Stanley Swieton, 69, a soft-spoken Chicagoan who never figured he'd make the front page of the newspaper.

The photo, under a headline asking, "Have you seen this 'Clown?'" was described as a picture of Lombardo, the subject of an international manhunt after he was indicted in a broad mob conspiracy Monday.

"I couldn't believe it," Swieton said Wednesday, after seeing the picture--of himself--pedaling down Grand Avenue dressed in a hat and overcoat. "I don't want anything to do with the mob." ***

Lombardo, 76, was charged with racketeering conspiracy Monday. ***

Swieton, who lives with his sister near where the photo was taken, said he found out about the photo when he saw a copy of the paper on his way to a county clinic to get a blood pressure pill.

"I think it was wrong," he said Wednesday. "I think they should have gotten their story straight." ***

"I just want to clear my name and go back to my life," Swieton said.
But to its credit, the Tribune did offer this explanation of the "editorial intervention" that led to this second mobster misidentification in two days:
On Tuesday, a Tribune reporter took a copy of the picture to Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, who said the man was Lombardo.

Halprin said Tuesday that it was "definitely" the man he represented, adding the cigar in the right hand and the style of dress were a "dead giveaway."

But on Wednesday Halprin denied that he positively identified the photo as being that of Lombardo.
It's no wonder the Tribune made this "higher order and more useful" error.

After all, if you can't trust the word of a mob an accused mobster's lawyer, who can you trust?

For more on the story, the Sun-Times' Mark Brown rhapsodizes on the Swieton/Lombardo switcheroo and Sun-Times' Metro Briefs section covers legitimate Chicago businessman Frank Calabrese's $ 1 million defamation lawsuit against the Tribune.

But first a word of caution: The Sun-Times stories, like those in the Tribune, feature "editorial intervention."

UPDATE: This story is sure taking its toll on the traditional media.

Now the Washington Post has put a story on its website with the headline "Two Men Sue Chicago Tribune for Defamation."

But the story's opening sentence says, "Two men claim photographs in the Chicago Tribune misidentified them as high-ranking mobsters, prompting one of the men Wednesday to sue the newspaper."

The Tribune may be getting sued, but at least they can count.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Zorn's gone golfing... so let's beat-up on the Trib.

From Phil Rosenthal's column in today's Sun-Times Tribune:
[Tribune Media Services] plans to sell and distribute a version of Arianna Huffington's celebrity blog,, set to debut online next month, showcasing a stable of big names from Hollywood, New York and beyond.

The major distinction from what's available online is that the syndicated version will be copy-edited and fact-checked, raising the issue of whether an edited blog is still a blog at all.

"I had urged Arianna to find a different description," [John C. Twohey, vice president of editorial and operations for Tribune Media Services] said. "As soon as there's editorial intervention, you've got something else, which to me is of a higher order and more useful."
Also from today's Chicago Tribune, the flagship of the "higher order and more useful" Tribune media empire:

At first, Frank Calabrese thought Tuesday's front-page Tribune story was simply another article about the mobster who shares his name.

Then he turned to page 18.

There, in black-and-white, was his own picture in a graphic titled "Infrastructure of a Chicago mob."

Calabrese, a longtime Chicago businessman and horse owner who has no mob ties, could barely believe his eyes.

"I opened it up and I said, 'God, what am I doing in the paper?'" Calabrese, 76, said Tuesday. "It's aggravating. People assume things."

Tribune editors said they had intended to run a head shot of Frank Calabrese Sr., 68, a convicted mobster who is in prison on a 1997 conviction for using violence to collect several million dollars in "juice" loans. ***

Frank Calabrese the businessman did nothing wrong, but on Tuesday was paying the price because he has the same name and the newspaper made a mistake. ***

Frank Calabrese said he has never met the mobster who shares his name. ***

"It's just upsetting," he said. "I have voice mails from people calling me who were my customers asking me what's happening. Is that you?"

I sure hope that Tribune Media Services' John Twohey develops a different description for

We wouldn't want such "higher order and more useful" publishing associated with the good name of blogging.


"Sound the Retreat Pivot!"

From the AP:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, leading a Republican retreat, said Wednesday he stands ready to scrap controversial new ethics rules, possibly by day's end.

"I'm willing to step back," Hastert told reporters after a closed-door meeting with members of the GOP rank and file. ***

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., said the speaker told fellow Republicans it was important to resolve the ethics committee deadlock because it was becoming a distraction for the party at a time when it is attempting to accomplish its legislative goals.

He praised Hastert for being willing to "pivot" on the issue.
When I was in the Army, we called that particular type of pivot an "about face."


The smoky haze settling over the Land of Lincoln is fall out from the fire fight between Central Management Services and the Auditor General's office.

Archpundit and Capital Fax are providing excellent reporting on the action.

IL Pundit has thoughtful analysis on how the General Assembly may react to the audit of CMS.

OneMan is hoping that the GOPers stay out of the way and let Blagorgeous' Democratic adversaries take shots at him. (And OneMan drops the veil on his secret identity)

I don't have much to offer on this topic other than an ironically titled article on Blagorgeous from The Nation. It's entitled "Corruption -- a Proven Winner."

No, it isn't about corruption in the governor's office. Instead, it tells the tale of Blagorgeous rise to power by "by successfully exploiting the taint of scandal against his opponent" and by promising to "to clean up state government and pass ethics reform."

It also contains this bitter nugget that I am sure was never intended to embolden disheartened Illinois Republicans:
Congressional Democrats should take a page out of Gingrich's and Blagojevich's books and propose comprehensive ethics reform. They should talk about the "corrupt Republicans" and "restoring transparency and integrity" at every turn. They should use DeLay's mounting ignominy to tar fellow Republicans who benefit from his fundraising and clout. In short, they should make Republican scandal and Democratic reform one of the central narratives of their opposition over the next two years. "Newt Gingrich came to power because of an ethics scandal," says Obama's state political director, Dan Shomon. "Rod Blagojevich got elected partly because of scandal. You can defeat an incumbent if you can catch his or her hand in the cookie jar."

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


From USA Today:
Former President Clinton has a message for Democrats inconsolable after President Bush's re-election: Buck up. It's not that bad. You need to improve your image.
Thanks Bill, here's my message for you: Shut up. It is that bad. If you had kept your wang in your pants, America would be in the fifth year of the Gore administration.


During his State of the Union speech, George W. Bush said:
Now we need to focus on giving young people, especially young men in our cities, better options than apathy, or gangs, or jail.

Tonight I propose a three-year initiative to help organizations keep young people out of gangs, and show young men an ideal of manhood that respects women and rejects violence.

Taking on gang life will be one part of a broader outreach to at-risk youth, which involves parents and pastors, coaches and community leaders, in programs ranging from literacy to sports. And I am proud that the leader of this nationwide effort will be our First Lady, Laura Bush.
While some mocked the very idea of putting Laura "O.G." Bush in charge of reaching out to young males at risk of becoming gang-bangers, others looked at the bright side and presumed that George wouldn't cut the funding out from under his own wife.


From USA Today:

President Bush's budget proposal for 2006 contains $50 million for Helping America's Youth, his wife's new project to help children who are at risk of delinquency or joining gangs. Laura Bush is traveling the country to call attention to programs that provide mentoring, character-building and tutoring to low-income children.

But the president proposes cutting $4.2 billion from youth and crime-prevention programs with similar aims. ***

Even some programs Laura Bush has visited are targeted for reductions in her husband's budget. They include Boys & Girls Clubs of America. She visited a club in Philadelphia in February and said Boys & Girls Clubs are "a great example of a community-based center that engages young people through positive youth development." Under her husband's budget proposal, the clubs overall would lose 19% of $80 million in federal funds. (emphasis added)

Mel Watt, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus said it best: "All of those (programs) that are under the president's ax can't be offset by a public-relations campaign."


From the Sun-Times:
When Bush and Abdullah held hands walking into their meeting, the gesture prompted questions about two men showing that kind of physical intimacy.
Fred Jones, the National Security Council spokesman, said hand-holding is an Arab expression of "friendship, respect and trust."

The gesture goes further than a symbol of friendship, according to James Zogby, of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based Arab civil rights organization. "The president and Crown Prince Abdullah were also sending a real political message that they are partners and friends and intend to remain that way," Zogby said.

"To the Saudi people, the message was that their leader has the respect and support of the American president. And the fact that President Bush confidently took the crown prince's hand and held it all the way into the office said to Americans, 'This is my friend and I am going to walk with him,'" Zogby said.
It also said to Americans, "This is my friend and we are both rich oil-men. Our mutual love of that sweet, sweet black gold transcends any bounds of nationality and religion. And we would both like you peasants to stop whining about record fuel prices."

Friday, April 22, 2005


but nobody ever does anything about privatizing it.


From The Associated Press:
The Bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese recalls being directed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to have books destroyed that promoted women in the priesthood.

Bishop John Kinney says he's met the man who is now Pope Benedict the 16th several times and found him to be a gracious and insightful man.

Ratzinger is expected to be a conservative leader who follows church doctrine closely.

In 1998, Kinney said Ratzinger directed him to have 13-hundred copies of a book destroyed that promoted women in the priesthood. The books were published by the Liturgical Press in Collegeville.

Kinney says at the time that it was something many people in his diocese supported.
(emphasis added)
So the books were burned or shredded because "many people" supported their destruction and the books were filled with "degenerate" ideas...

Gee, where have I heard that before?


The Republican Illinois District 6 hopefuls are starting to take shots at each other.

From the Sun-Times:

The ethical questions dogging House Majority Leader Tom DeLay boiled over into the west suburban 6th Congressional District race Thursday, as one Republican pledged support and another called on the Texas congressman to relinquish his leadership post.

"What I read in the paper, whether it's correct or not, just seems to be an embarrassment for the Republican Party," said former DuPage County Recorder of Deeds J.P. "Rick" Carney. "To stay in his leadership position seems arrogant to me."

But state Sen. Peter Roskam, who worked for DeLay 20 years ago, voiced support.

"Trotting out some of ... these old accusations that are two and three and four years old is a little bit tiresome," Roskam said. "I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt." ***

Carney even took a poke at Roskam for running in the neighboring 13th Congressional District in 1998.

"If he loses this race, he'll run in the 14th [Congressional District], when [House Speaker J. Dennis] Hastert retires," Carney said, laughing. ***

Roskam also dismissed questions about whether he was too conservative, opposing abortion and most gun control and gay rights measures. ***

Roskam, 43, is a lawyer who lives in Wheaton. He worked as an aide to DeLay in 1985 and part of 1986, but said he has "not had any contact with him essentially for 20 years."

"I think everybody agrees that he's one of the most effective legislators in Washington, D.C.," Roskam said. "Knowing what I know now about what Tom DeLay's been accused of, my attitude would be to support him." ***

DeLay has been embarrassed by news reports raising questions about who finances his overseas travel and his ties to lobbyists, including Jack Abramoff, who is being investigated by a federal grand jury and a U.S. Senate committee.

Carney, 58, who also lives in Wheaton, quipped that Roskam might not want to advertise his past work for DeLay.

"He should keep that to himself," Carney joked. ***

"Do we want a congressman to serve the 6th District who is ultra-conservative, or are we going to go in the direction that all America is taking, a more moderate stance?" Carney asked. "I am for freedom. I'm for America being the home of the free."

The story did not reveal Mr. Carney's views on other controversial issues like "motherhood" and "apple-pie".


More new strips at Get Your War On!

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Think Progress says "Hastert Should Start Naming Names":

Yesterday, Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV) refused to reorganize the Ethics Committee, despite an offer by Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) to investigate Tom DeLay. Here was Speaker Dennis Hastert’s reaction:

There are “probably four or five cases out there dealing with top-level Democrats. There’s a reason they don’t want to go to the ethics process.”

Two responses:

1. If Dennis Hastert knows of members, from either party, who have violated House rules, he has an obligation to start naming names. America deserves an ethical Congress.

2. Haster’s claim that Mollohan is trying to protect his own makes no sense. The offer was rejected by Mollohan because DeLay refuses to restore the rules of the Ethics Committee, which allowed an investigation to go forward in the event of a 5-5 split. (The Ethics Committee is the only committee in Congress that is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.) DeLay insists that no investigation move forward with fewer than six votes. In others words, the rules Mollohanwants will make it easier for Democrats to be investigated.

If Denny really knows of "four or five cases" of unethical "top-level Democrats" this Democrat asks that he stop protecting them as part of a corrupt quid pro quo.

And if Denny is just blowing smoke, this American asks that he start telling the truth about congressional ethics violations.


Hank "Youthful Indiscretion" Hyde told Channel 7's Andy Shaw that one Republican motivation for impeaching President Bill Clinton was GOP retaliation for driving Richard Nixon, Hyde's former boss, out of office:
In an exclusive interview, Hyde delivered a big dose of candor and some reflective second guessing. He said, among other things, he might not try to impeach President Clinton if he had it to do all over again. ***

Hyde is known for his eloquence, courtesy, civility and his fierce partisanship on behalf of conservative GOP principles, including authorship of the Hyde Amendment, which outlawed federal funding of abortions, and leadership of the House judiciary committee in the impeachment of President Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. ***

The veteran DuPage County congressman acknowledged that Republicans went after Clinton in part to enact revenge against the Democrats for impeaching* President Richard Nixon 25 years earlier.

Andy Shaw asked Hyde if the Clinton proceedings were payback for Nixon's impeachment.

"I can't say it wasn't, but I also thought that the Republican party should stand for something, and if we walked away from this, no matter how difficult, we could be accused of shirking our duty, our responsibility," said Hyde.

Hyde's comments reflect what Democrats have been saying for years about the Clinton impeachment.

*Atrios reminds us: Nixon was never actually impeached - the Judiciary Committee passed the articles but they never went to the House.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


From The Austin American-Statesman:
They've got a house in rural Texas and a nice home-office setup on Pennsylvania Avenue. But for tax purposes, President Bush and his wife, Laura, claim a Chicago post office box as their "home address."

On the 1040 they signed, which the White House released last week, the listed home address is "Northern Trust Co., P.O. Box 803968, Chicago, IL 60680."

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said Tuesday that's because Northern Trust handles the blind trust the couple uses for their holdings since Bush took office.

"As near as I can tell, it's OK," Internal Revenue Service spokesman Tim Harms said Tuesday after shopping the residency question among several people at his agency.

In general, the IRS frowns upon the use of a post office box as a home address on tax forms. Instructions for Form 1040 say, "Enter your box number only if your post office does not deliver mail to your home."

Richard Lenet, an accounting professor at Montgomery College in Maryland, said he is confident the Bushes are on firm legal footing, nonetheless.
"As near as I can tell, it's OK."

If ever there was a motto for the Bush administration, that is it.

UPDATE -- From the Oxford Press:
A review of recent presidential income tax returns shows a definite partisan split concerning what home address to list: Democrats have listed the White House. Republicans list an address of the entity that handled their money.

Democrat Bill Clinton listed "1600 Pennsylvania Ave" and Jimmy Carter simply put "The White House."

Republican George H.W. Bush used the New York address of Besemer Trust Co., but it was listed as a "care of" address, not as his home address. Ronald Reagan listed the Los Angeles office of attorney Roy Miller.


Denny's lunch special is back in the news.

From the AP:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay treated his political donors to a bird's-eye view of a Three Tenors concert from an arena skybox leased by a lobbyist now under criminal investigation.

DeLay's political action committee did not reimburse lobbyist Jack Abramoff for the May 2000 use of the skybox, instead treating it as a type of donation that didn't have to be disclosed to election regulators at the time.

The skybox donation, valued at thousands of dollars, came three weeks before DeLay also accepted a trip to Europe - including golf with Abramoff at the world-famous St. Andrews course - for himself, his wife and aides that was underwritten by some of the lobbyist's clients.

Two months after the concert and trip, DeLay voted against gambling legislation opposed by some of Abramoff's Indian tribe clients.

House ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest. ***

His defenders say the House leader did nothing wrong in the skybox case. Federal law at the time didn't require DeLay's committee to disclose or reimburse for the skybox gift, they note - though the law was changed to require such disclosure a few months later.

"Portraying a lack of reimbursement as news is like saying a driver of a car did not hit his brakes while driving through a green light - there is nothing newsworthy about it, let alone improper,'' said Don McGahn, one of DeLay's lawyers.

DeLay's boss, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, came to a different conclusion in recent days, reimbursing Abramoff for a political event two years after the fact. One of Hastert's political committees had used a restaurant partly owned by the lobbyist, and the Hastert committee decided recently to reimburse for the use.
Will Hastert step up and rebuke DeLay for failing to disclose or reimburse for the skybox gift?

Or does Hastert think such gifts are okay?

And if he thinks they are okay, why did Hastert scramble to reimburse Abramoff for using his restaurant for a fundraiser?

I hope Denny finds the time clear up these ethical questions.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


From The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, by Hunter S. Thompson

Page 185:
One of the handlers, Henry Hyde, presumably felt that I was a threat to the Nixon camp. He called Pageant [magazine] to check me out. This was after he got into my room somehow -- while I was away, eating breakfast -- and read my typewritten notes.

The Nixon people, who wore baggy, dark-colored suits and plenty of greasy kid stuff (they looked like models at an Elks Club style show), seemed to feel I was disrespectful because I was dressed like a ski bum.

Pageant reassured Mr. Hyde as to the purity of my mission and intentions in spite of my appearance.

Page 188:
My request to sit in on the tape session was flatly denied. "This is a commercial taping," said Henry Hyde. "Would Procter & Gamble let you into their studios? Or Ford?"

Hyde was a gear and sprocket salesman in Chicago before he became Nixon's press aide, so I wasn't surprised at his weird analogy.

Page 190:
After several days of watching his performance in New Hampshire I suspected that he'd taken a hint from Ronald Reagan and hired a public relations firm to give him a new image. Henry Hyde denied this emphatically.

"That's not his style," he said. "Mr. Nixon runs his own campaigns. You'd find that out pretty quick if you worked for him."

That's a good idea," I said. "How about it?"

"What?" he asked humorlessly.

"A job. I could write him a speech that would change his image in twenty-four hours."

Henry didn't think much of the idea. Humor is scarce in the Nixon camp.


"The future of Christianity is far too fragile to be left in the hands of the Christians -- especially pros." -- Dr. Heem.


By now you know that Henry Hyde has announced that he will not be running again in 2006. And the initial reactions are up from Archpundit, OneMan and Rich at Capital Fax.

Hyde's 2004 opponent -- and Democratic front-runner -- Christine Cegelis posted her reaction to the announcement at the Daily Kos.

And as for myself, many things come to mind whenever I think of Henry Hyde...

I think of the phrase "Youthful Indiscretion" -- and the Salon article entitled "This hypocrite broke up my family." In that article, Fred Snodgrass revealed that Hyde carried on a five-year sexual relationship with his then-wife, Cherie, that shattered his family. At the time of the affair, the Snodgrass couple had three small children, two girls and a boy. Hyde was also married and the father of four sons.

Hyde admitted that he was involved with Cherie Snodgrass, and told Salon that the relationship ended after Hyde's wife found out about it. But Hank's former lover -- Cherie called him "Hank" -- said Hyde lied:
According to her grown daughter, Soskin said the affair continued for at least two and a half years after Hyde's wife, Jeanne, was told of the relationship.
"My mother is very mad about Henry Hyde's statement -- she thinks it belittles the importance of their relationship," said her daughter, who asked that her name not be published because of the media firestorm surrounding the story. "Hyde called it a 'youthful indiscretion,' like it was just a fling or something. What a laugh. My mother said it was a long-term relationship." ***

[I]n an interview with her hometown newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, Soskin said Hyde also lied to her about his marital status during their affair. "I did not know he was married," she told the newspaper. "He portrayed himself as a single person, and I didn't bother to check or anything like that."

Soskin told her daughter that she knew Hyde was involved in at least one other adulterous relationship besides the one he had with her.
But I don't want to give the impression that Hank's legacy is nothing but sexual hypocrisy.

As this summary of the book "Henry Hyde's Moral Universe: Where More Than Time and Space are Warped" shows, Hyde was much more than just an adulterer:
In 1981, after stepping down from the House Banking Committee, Hyde went on the board of directors of Clyde Federal Savings and Loan, whose chairman was one of Hyde's many banking industry political contributors. Congress deregulated the savings and loan industry in 1982, and Clyde began dealing in risky financial options, participating in loans for luxury condos in Texas and buying certificates of deposit from a bank in the Cayman Islands, a financial center notorious for money laundering.

Hyde was not only aware of such deals but often made or seconded motions on the board to pursue them. By 1984, when Hyde left the board, it was clear to the directors from reports they received that the institution was failing, but Hyde and others on the board continued to abuse their positions, giving improper financial rewards to insiders and even allowing the institution to overcharge the government on servicing student loans.

In 1990, the party came to an end. The federal government put Clyde into receivership, and ultimately paid out $67 million to cover insured deposits -- more than the cost of bailing out Madison Guaranty, the thrift at the heart of Kenneth Starr's abortive Whitewater investigation. The Resolution Trust Corp. sued Hyde and other directors for $17.2 million in 1993. Four years later, without reaching the stage of full-scale pretrial investigation and taking of depositions, the government settled with the defendants for only $850,000 and made a special settlement exempting Hyde from paying anything.

Hyde, the only member of Congress sued for "gross negligence" in the failure of a savings and loan, was not cleared, as he has claimed. Rather, there's good reason to believe he used his political clout and refusal to settle as a way to escape payment and give the illusion that he was exonerated. Indeed, the presence of Hyde and two other prominent Republican members of Congress on the boards of Illinois savings and loans may have deterred serious investigation of the strategically important role in the national crisis played by the Illinois thrift industry, which worked in conjunction with the politically powerful industry lobbying group, the U.S. League of Savings Institutions, which was based in Chicago.

Though the lawsuit is now closed, the ethical questions about Hyde's behavior -- including the fundamental conflict of interest of a member of Congress sitting on the board of a federally regulated financial institution -- remain open. So should the question of how he was granted such a special deal.
In closing, I'll borrow a line from Robert Novak who, in yesterday's Sun-Times column, called Hyde "a prominent Catholic layman known for telling the truth."

Let there be no doubt -- Henry Hyde is a prominent Catholic layman.

Monday, April 18, 2005


The AP covered a conference held in conjunction with the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Naturally the discussion turned to the nature of Lincoln's sexuality:
"I could build a Lincoln Log cabin of homophobic denial. *** There's been a cover-up, a conspiracy of silence for experts to hide what they regard as dirty linen in Abe's faded carpetbag."
-- Michael Chesson, Civil War historian

"(Lincoln) loved men, and they loved him, at whatever level. *** It does seem to me that Lincoln is a terrifically sexual guy. He seems to exude testosterone from every pore."
-- Jean Baker, author of a major biography of Mary Todd Lincoln.
And lest you think that only outsiders and rabble rousers would say such outrageous things about the state's favorite rail splitter, Illinois state historian Thomas Schwartz says, "I have found that the traditional assumptions about Lincoln, when carefully tested, fall apart."

The story did not confirm that Mr. Schwartz is today busily updating his résumé.


Knight Ridder reports that the State Department has decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks last year than in any year since 1985 -- the first year the report covered.

[C]urrent and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office ordered "Patterns of Global Terrorism" eliminated several weeks ago because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush's administration's frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism.

"Instead of dealing with the facts and dealing with them in an intelligent fashion, they try to hide their facts from the American public," charged Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who first disclosed the decision to eliminate the report in The Counterterrorism Blog, an online journal. ***

According to Johnson and U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the issue, statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center provided to the State Department reported 625 "significant" terrorist attacks in 2004.

That compared with 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades.

The statistics didn't include attacks on American troops in Iraq, which President Bush has recently as Tuesday called "a central front in the war on terror." ***

The State Department published "Patterns of Global Terrorism" under a law that requires it to submit to the House of Representatives and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a country-by-country terrorism assessment by April 30 each year.

A declassified version of the report has been made public since 1986 in the form of a glossy booklet, even though there was no legal requirement to produce one.

The senior State Department official said a report on global terrorism would be sent this year to lawmakers and made available to the public in place of "Patterns of Global Terrorism," but that it wouldn't contain statistical data.

Why do the facts repeatedly refuse to support the President?

Saturday, April 16, 2005


"This is the first question I've had about Hastert." -- Andrew Blum, a spokesman for the lawyer representing GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Today's Chicago Tribune reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert attended a June 2003 fundraiser at the restaurant owned by Abramoff. Nobody paid for the lunch -- or reported it in disclosure documents as an in-kind contribution as federal election law requires -- until inquiries to Hastert's office prompted his political action committee, Keep Our Majority PAC, to belatedly pick up the tab.
The Greenberg Traurig law firm, where Abramoff worked, hosted the event, which was attended by other lobbyists and donors. [John McGovern, a top Hastert aide] said the law firm's political action committee had agreed to pay the tab as an in-kind contribution to Hastert's PAC, but the speaker's office has no record of a payment or an in-kind contribution.

Ordinarily, both PACs would report such an in-kind contribution in disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. The law firm's PAC also is supposed to send Hastert a document reporting the amount of any in-kind contribution, such as the lunch tab.

But, when BusinessWeek raised questions about the restaurant bill, Hastert's office could not locate documentation that the tab was paid, McGovern said. No in-kind contribution was reported on either PAC's disclosure forms.

Ron Bonjean, a spokesman for the speaker, declined to expand late Friday on the explanation offered by McGovern. Aides would not make available a copy of the restaurant bill.

McGovern declined to provide an estimate of how much was raised at the lunch.

But in the days following the event, when contributions typically flow in, the speaker received more than $20,000 from individuals, according to FEC reports. Records show that two weeks after the event Abramoff himself wrote a $2,500 personal check to Hastert's committee. The speaker's PAC also received $25,000 in contributions from Indian tribes, including those Abramoff has represented and are at the center of the controversy over his lobbying.

(emphasis added)
"This is the first question I've had about Hastert."

I doubt it will be the last.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Federal Communications Commission
Enforcement Bureau
Investigations and Hearings Division
445 12th St., SW, Room 3-B443
Washington, DC 20554

Re: Rush Limbaugh/WLS broadcast indecency

Sir or Madam,

The Rush Limbaugh program is broadcast daily between 11 am and 2 pm on WLS, NewsTalk 890 here in Chicago. On April 12, 2005, Mr. Limbaugh said the following about former Vice President Albert Gore:

When does he start up this stupid little network? August? Yip yip yip yahoo. You know what Gore said about this? It's going to be liberal. It's going to reflect the point of view of young people.

What the hell is that, Al? What the hell is the point of view of young people? Blow jobs -- that's what they're doing out there. They're out there getting oral sex all day long -- that's what they're talking about. That's the point of view -- they can't wait -- that your boss, Al, made sure that's become the number one sport in high school today. So, I guess you're going to have a BJ network out there, Al, is that what you're going to do? You're going to call your network the Oral Sex Channel out there -- start competing with MTV?

No, it's not going to have any of this stuff out there, folks. It's going to be talking about liberalism, no, no, no, that's not what we're about. Classic -- cannot even admit who he is.

Even if we disregard the fact that Mr. Limbaugh's statements were in reference to a former Vice President of the United States, his comments regarding high school children engaged in sexual activities were clearly indecent and inappropriate for the noon-hour. The FCC website defines "broadcast indecency" as "language or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary community broadcast standards for the broadcast medium, sexual or excretory organs or activities."

Please apply the FCC's standards of decency to these indecent broadcasters.


So-Called "Austin Mayor"

Thursday, April 14, 2005


From the SunTimes: University of Chicago researchers reported that African Americans who strongly believe in God were less likely to be depressed than nonbelievers.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists the following as symptoms of depression:
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood; Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being "slowed down"
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain

I wonder if anyone at the U of C has considered the possibility that people who persistently feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, guilty, and worthless are less likely to "strongly believe in God" than those not suffering from depression.


1. In the latest offensive in its ongoing battle to protect the nation's air travelers, the Transportation Security Administration will now enforce its ban on all cigarette lighters, including previously allowed plastic cigarette lighters, from airplanes.
The federal government began tightening airline security after terrorists hijacked planes with box cutters on Sept. 11, 2001. A few months later the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reed, tried to ignite explosives in his shoe on a flight from Paris to Miami. He used matches.

The lighter ban does not stop smokers from carrying up to four books of matches on a plane. (Bay City Times)
2. On Wednesday, a dead man was found inside the bathroom of an airplane Wednesday at O'Hare International Airport. The Tribune reports that the flight from Tokyo landed in Chicago at 4 p.m., but that the man was not found -- by a cleaning crew -- until 5 p.m. He was scheduled to fly on to Indianapolis.

Let's be clear on what this means:

  • A man flying alone from Asia did not return to his seat before the airplane begins its decent and no one noticed.
  • The same lone international traveler failed to board his connecting flight and no red indicators lit-up on the TSA computers.
  • And no one checked to see if anyone may have left a "surprise" in the jet's washroom until over an hour after the plane was on the ground at "The Worlds Busiest Airport".

But don't worry frequent flyers. The TSA is making certain that -- from now on -- any dead man found on the toilet after an international flight will definitely not have a cigarette lighter in his pockets.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


As the bankruptcy bill has been oozing its way through Congress, you have no doubt read many commentaries like this one by Kevin Drum:
A decade ago credit card companies issued cards carefully and charged a minimum interest rate of 12% and a maximum of 22%. Today, "careful" is a thing of the past. Instead of evaluating a potential customer's creditworthiness before issuing them a card, they issue them to anyone with a pulse -- aggressively wooing their business with introductory rates as low as 0%. Then, when these relatively poorer credit risks show even a slight sign of financial distress -- a late car, phone, or rent payment, for example -- the rate can be instantly jacked up to as high as 40% or more.
(emphasis added)
And -- recognizing the blogosphere's rampant use of hyperbole and the inflammatory rhetoric -- you have no doubt greeted such statements as "they issue [credit cards] to anyone with a pulse" with at least some skepticism.

Well, Drum was wrong. You don't even need a pulse to be offered a credit card.

Yesterday, I received a credit card offer in the mail. And when I say "I", I don't mean the cowardly soul cringing behind the purely fictional identity of "Austin Mayor," I mean a bank offered to extend credit to the purely fictional identity of "Austin Mayor."

The only possible explanation I can imagine is that, years ago at a previous address, "Austin Mayor" joined a CD club -- ten CDs for just one cent! -- and "Austin Mayor" fulfilled his commitment -- six more CDs at regular club prices! -- to the fine men and women at Columbia House.

Who knew that sending back those "No Thank You -- I Do Not Want This Month's Featured Selection" post cards could lead to a life of easy credit?

While this credit card company's curious choice indicates that the credit card companies need to get their own house in order before we start ratcheting-up the bankruptcy rules, another aspect of this incident casts the card companies' judgment into further doubt.

This incident also got me pondering the relationship between credit card companies and identity theft. Although I am not particularly worried about identity thieves stealing of my purely fictional "Austin Mayor" identity, I do find it troubling that, in their zeal to issue more cards, the credit card companies appear to blindly send offers out to any address that has a name in any way associated with it -- regardless of the nature or age of that association.

Are credit card companies still sending card offers in your name to the address of your old apartment? What about the apartment you rented in college? Could there be a more open invitation to identity theft?

During the discussion of the bankruptcy bill, the credit card companies have repeatedly cried about consumers failure to pay the debt owed on their cards. But what percentage of that defaulted debt is due to identity theft rather than bankruptcy abuse? And how many instances of identity theft have the lenders themselves abetted through their slipshod, scattershot credit card marketing practices?

It seems to me that these questions need to be answered before we allow the credit card companies to tinker with U.S. bankruptcy law.

Final note -- Of course I shredded the credit card offer. Remember kids:

Update -- This popped up on my RSS aggregator after publishing the above post: A fellow actually named "Austin Meyer" who has written X-Plane, the ultimate (and open source) flight simulator.

And here I am just trying to make sure my html tags get closed.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Too often we confuse prophets with prognosticators. The prophets of the Old Testament were not trying to predict the future. The Hebrew word for prophet is "nevi" which means "proclaimer." Rather than predictors, the prophets were people who proclaimed The Truth to those in power. Truth that the rulers often did not want to hear and as often did not heed.

And because the prophets recognized and understood The Truth -- about human nature, about politics, about power relationships -- when their calls for change were ignored, the dire consequences of which they warned often came to pass. So while accurate predictions were a byproduct of prophesy, a prophet's primary gifts were profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression.

Since his demise, I have been re-reading Dr. Thompson's books and if you just add "peerless drug and alcohol abuse" to "profound moral insight and exceptional powers of expression" you have a one-line description of Hunter S. Thompson. (And, conversely, the Books of Jeremiah and Lamentations are nothing more or less than "Fear and Loathing in Kingdom of Judah.")

So it should come as no surprise that the post containing a quote from HST elicited an unprecedented number of comments for this blog.

And it should come as no surprise that I will be posting more Gonzo Prophecy in the days to come.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


  1. Six months ago, Richard Nixon was the most powerful political leader in the history of the world, more powerful than Augustus Ceasar when he had his act rolling full bore -- six months ago.
    -- Hunter S. Thompson, on the Watergate Hearings, June 29, 1973.
  2. Presidential approval ratings in the March following re-election:
  • Nixon, 1973: 57%
  • Bush, 2005: 45%
                Update - Juan Cole: Bush Less Popular than Dick Nixon

                COURTING A FIGHT

                Senate Democrats are standing up for judges and the judicial branch. And Illinois' Senators -- who have already asked the Senate for funding to provide security for federal judges at their homes -- are taking the lead.

                From the Tribune:
                Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois called the comments troubling and said Cornyn went too far trying to link judges' decisions with violence against judges.

                "The deranged individual who [killed U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow's mother and husband] did so after she denied him a medical malpractice claim in court. That is hardly evidence of judicial activism," Durbin said. "And the man who went on a rampage in Georgia was convicted of rape. To suggest that the judge somehow overstepped his bounds in inviting this kind of response I think is totally off base."
                And Illinois' junior Senator puts this recent GOP attack on the court system into a historical context:
                Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said he believes many of the attacks on federal judges grew out of the civil rights movement and Republicans have continued to complain about judges as a means of playing to their conservative base.

                "What is absolutely clear is that, over the last 20 to 30 years, part of the mantra of the right wing of this country has been that judges are somehow usurping the rights of the people," Obama said. (Monterey Herald)
                And it appears that the Democrats counter offensive on behalf of the courts has put the Republican leaders on the defensive:
                Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said, "I believe we have a fair and independent judiciary today." He said the courts' review of Schiavo's case "was not as complete as we would like," but, he repeated, the courts were "fair and independent." (Trib)
                But while there may be a temporary cease fire in the GOP's war on the judiciary, fans of the Constitution must continue to be vigilant.

                As Sen. Obama pointed out, this Republican campaign against the courts has been going on for more than a quarter of a century. So there is no reason to believe that this GOP attack on the courts -- the citizen's last and best defense against Big Business and Big Government -- will be their last.

                Tuesday, April 05, 2005


                In the last few days it seems that the Republicans have gone bug-house nuts in their attacks on the judicial branch of government.

                From Senator John Cornyn:
                I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country. Certainly nothing new, but we seem to have run through a spate of courthouse violence recently that's been on the news and I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters on some occasions where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in -- engage in violence.
                (C-SPAN Video, Transcript)

                So in the Senate, the Republicans have a member of the Judiciary Committee who appears to be suggesting that recent incidents of murderous crimes against judges can be attributed to -- a lack of judicial accountablity?

                Well, let's hope there is clearer thinking over in the House...

                From Tom DeLay:
                We have unaccountable, out of control judiciary. We are after them. *** The Constitution gives us (Congress) the responsibility to create courts. If we can create them, we can uncreate them.
                (Fort Bend/Southwest Sun)

                That is such an inelegant word -- but what is the antonym for create?
                Oh, that's right -- destroy.

                The Republican House Majority Leader is threatening to destroy the judicial branch of the United States of America.


                Five current events into which I've invested NO emotional capital:

                1. The Death of Terri Schiavo
                2. Illini Basketball
                3. Charles and Camilla's Wedding
                4. The Death of John-Paul II
                5. Wrestlemania XXI

                (apologies to Merlin's Lists of Five Things)

                Saturday, April 02, 2005


                Justin Webb, the BBC Washington correspondent, thinks so:
                In all the three years that I have been reporting from this country, I do not believe there has been a more important moment in its history than this.

                Or an issue that illuminates the complex and vital soul of America as the Terri Schiavo case does. ***

                The reason the Schiavo case is so important, the reason it has Americans talking and arguing, and the reason it should, in my view, have the rest of us re-assessing our view of this nation, is that Americans were corralled but rebelled.

                They were emotionally blackmailed but refused to budge, were told that their deepest held religious beliefs should push them in one direction, but thought for themselves and thought differently.

                America is often portrayed as an ignorant lazy sort of place, full of bible bashers and ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, a place lacking in respect for evidence based knowledge.

                I know that is how it is portrayed because I have done my bit to paint that picture, and that picture is in many respects a true one.

                Look no further than the $25,000,000 creationist museum which is about to open in Kentucky. Complete with models of Adam and Eve being chased by dinosaurs, surely some mistake, and explanations of AIDS that blame the disease on homosexuality.

                There is plenty of barminess and plenty of nastiness here if you look for it, but for me, the revelation of the Schiavo case was that there is plenty of good sense as well. ***

                Americans do believe in God and they do believe in life, but they also believe in law, and rules, and the need for democracy to restrain, not satisfy, the wishes of politicians. ***

                It is a lesson the Republican party, which has allowed itself to become very closely allied with the religious right, will reflect on in the months ahead.

                Already moderate Republicans are talking openly of re-capturing their party from the social conservatives.

                It is possible at least that the high watermark of social conservatism has been reached. Its limit set by the will of a silent liberal majority.

                The founding fathers must be watching from their heavenly perches and wondering at the power of the constitution they created.

                It is common to scoff at American attempts to export Jeffersonian democracy, but after these two weeks the scoffing should stop.

                This system works.
                (emphasis added)

                Friday, April 01, 2005

                WHO KNEW?

                I read this in the Chicago Tribune, so I don't think it is an April Fools joke:
                Cabdrivers who talk on cell phones while they give rides soon will face steeper fines and longer suspensions, Chicago officials said Thursday.

                The city forbids taxi drivers from using cell phones when transporting passengers, and violators will be hit with fines of as much as $750.
                The city forbids cabbies from talking on the cell phone when giving rides?!?

                Anyone who has taken more than two cab rides in the city knows that this must be the least enforced ordinance in Chicago history. Or perhaps the second least enforced.

                Man, if I had a nickel for every time I rode in a cab where the driver was chattering away on his cell phone I'd be a quadrillionare!


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