Thursday, December 18, 2008

Laughter Obscures Need for Introspection

Everyone has just had a ball teeing off on the corrupt Rod Blagojevich and crooked state of Illinois over the last week or so. Intelligent bloggers and bombastic blowhards came together to share a laugh.

How could he be so stupid?
In this day and age?
Hasn't he ever seen a movie or television show before?
Which state is the most corrupt?

Hardee har har.

I enjoyed it too, but at this point, I'm totally over it.

And no, it's not because I think Louisiana isn't getting enough credit for it's foibles.

It's because I think there is some wisdom to take away from the situation that is obscured when we marginalize Blagojevich or Illinois as anomalies.

Blogojevich is a thug and he should be put away for a good long while but I think it's useful to actually think about the different ways pay-to-play works instead of just laughing at Legojevich.

Everyone was just so appalled, not so much by the corruption but by Blagojevich's stupidity in getting caught. One of the things that I noticed some cable talking heads doing when discussing the Blagojevich scandal was a sort of half-hearted line drawing when it came to what was crime and what was just plain old politics. Some amount of political horse-trading is normal and sometimes necessary even, whereas trading a political horse for a personal money cow is a crime, or so the talking heads said on Hardball or whatever show I was watching.

But perhaps it's worth parsing this out a little bit.

I've noticed a pattern about the way some crooked or ineffectual politicians ultimately get taken down by the FBI. Guys like Edwin Edwards in Louisiana, Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit, Vince Fumo in Philadelphia, or Rod Blagojevich in Illinois don't just get caught up in corruption indictments out of the blue. Rather, these politicians develop grand reputations for thuggery and graft far in advance of any kind of criminal investigation. That reputation coincides with a certain celebrity-centered political lifestyle. Power provides, reputation develops, power erodes and then lifestyle become unsustainable. This leads to increasingly desperate and risky shake-downs that often occur in earshot of federal investigators that have by this time found an actionable complaint from someone no longer intimidated or dependent upon the boss' political power.

This helps explain why politicians that develop vast public reputations for crookedness, even if they never end up getting accused of anything by a prosecutor become so defensive or walled off as time elapses. Ray Nagin might be demonstrating this kind of bunker mentality. Other good examples are former Mayor John Street in Philadelphia or, I dunno, President Bush and all of his lackeys. They exercise their right to remain silent, taking that route over the desperate 0-60 cliff dive demonstrated by Governor Blagojevich, or by former State Senator Shepherd, who had his own unique style.

Allegedly, one of things Blagojevich tried to do by leveraging this Senate appointment was to obtain a plum foundation board salary for he or his wife.

The governor, already dogged by allegations of crookedness and low approval ratings, was likely becoming quite concerned with his prospects for income after his term. Forget his delusions about running for President in 2016, I think the desperation for six figure cash is a way more telling indicator of where he really knew he stood deep down.

This allegation was for some reason treated as among the most shocking in Fitzgerald complaint. That's not to say the behavior isn't deplorable, because it is. But it isn't entirely out of the ordinary.

Or at least, it is treated as regular political behavior in some parts of the country.

Like in Louisiana.

I think back to District Attorney Eddie Jordan's resignation in October of 2007. The writing had been on the wall for quite some time at that point but he remained in office, determined to stay on the job even as veteran prosecutors quit and accused murderers were released on 701s.

Do you remember how his resignation was finally arranged?

Remember this headline:

Jordan's new job part of resignation

Jordan resigned from his post two weeks ago, saying he hoped his absence would allow people to work out some way for the judgment to be paid, forestalling a crippling shutdown of the office he led for almost five years. Though the settlement still looms over the office, Jordan's resignation assured him a private sector job arranged by business leaders.

"It is part of the package that was developed," said Robert Stellingworth, executive director of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation, a nonprofit group. The business community will pay for Jordan's consultancy, Stellingworth said.

The consulting gig, cemented through a contract signed last week, is not a full-time job, said Stellingworth, who declined to give the amount Jordan will be paid.

"We believe he can add some perspective" to the foundation's work, Stellingworth said. The business community has remained in talks about the legal settlement but committed no private money to pay it. Lapeyre, who described himself as an "adviser" to the city on the issue, last week sat in on a meeting between Mayor Ray Nagin and Landrum-Johnson.

Quite literally, the former District Attorney Eddie Jordan nearly forced a total shut down of the criminal justice system, relenting only when he was able obtain a well-paying foundation job for himself.

Mayor Nagin needed to call in "the business community" to do him this favor, to find a job for Eddie Jordan. And "the business community" came through for the Mayor, placing him under Richard Stellingsworth at the Police and Justice foundation. His salary would be paid, not by the foundation, but by "the business community," all as arranged by "adviser" Jay Lapeyre, President of the New Orleans Business Council.

Isn't this exactly what Mr. Blagojevich was trying to arrange for himself in Illinois in exchange for the Senate seat?

Here in New Orleans, we allowed the same exact thing to occur out in the open. It was reported right there in the paper and nobody really batted an eye.

We never did learn if Mr. Lapeyre or "the business community" asked for or received anything in return.

Lucky for us Mayor Nagin doesn't get to pick Senators. He only gets to decide municipal policy.


Anonymous said...

ah, now, finally, enter at WCBF stage right the New Orleans Business Council.

look them up.

Anonymous said...

25. Ethnic cleansing. Is there any cogent reason to believe that the Bush administration and the New Orleans Business Council aren’t brazenly collaborating to shrink the city’s Black Democratic population, wreck its unions, and create a pliable social foundation for a recharged, new urbanistic “heritage and gambling” economy based on postmodern slave labor? (Don’t think Las Vegas—it’s a union-shop, living-wage town—think instead of Nevada’s number two gambling center, Laughlin, an open-shop hell hole.)

Anonymous said...

I don't think Mayor John Street should be named in this article as he was cleared of all charges. Eight years of investigation turned up nothing on him. Can we leave him out of this?

E said...

You're right. John Street was never indicted. I cited him for his bunker mentality, which is pretty indisputable. The FBI only got the city treasurer and some of Street's closest associates.

I won't even bring up Milton.

jeffrey said...

I don't see the big deal. When you fire the coach, you have to find a way to buy out his contract. When you cut Charles Grant, the team takes a big cap hit. When Eddie Jordan resigns, somebody's gotta pony up. It's all for the good of the team.

E said...

I don't know if that's a useful analogy.

I think it's like having a really horrible GM, a GM so bad that he's lost a discrimination lawsuit that threatens to totally shut down the scouting department right in the middle of the combine and then having the situation resolved when another team comes in and offers to give that GM a job as a scout...

you know, i just don't think the sports analogies really apply. sports are protected from anti trust legislation by special exemption so the financial comparisons just do not work.

the bottom line is that the new orleans business council is not 'part of the team.' they're another team entirely. they might be in the same league, but they're not the same team.

jeffrey said...

Are you implying that we can start looking at our politics from an anti-trust law perspective? Is this a new ingenious way of challenging the two-party system? Somebody get Freeman McNeil on the phone.

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