Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Review of a Book I Haven't Read

Did you happen to notice last year, while plane loads of reporters were roaming over the tundra in Alaska trying to dig up a scandal they could connect to Sarah Palin, there didn’t seem to be any interest in sniffing around Barack Obama’s home town? Unless you're interested in moose hunting, seems like Chicago is where the action is.

Well, it looks like somebody has finally done some sniffing.

Michelle Malkin’s book, Culture of Corruption maps the murky waters of Chicago politics in which President Barack Obama swam during his formative years as local organizer and politician. Evidently, there exists a lot of curiosity among many in the reading public, because within days of its release Culture of Corruption became #1 on the non-fiction best seller lists.

I’d like to read the book myself. I work in a book store but have been so busy lately that I haven’t even had time to pick the thing up and flip through it to see if my favorite Chicago Stories made it into print. My wife and I have lived in the area for 21 years and from the day of our arrival we have been amazed at the political messes that the natives step around – and pay for – without even seeming to noticing.

"An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. From that standpoint alone it is easy to understand the book’s appeal to those who live in other parts of the country. We have a new president and a lot of people are curious about his Political Family Tree. A lot of people are watching the new administration's conduct in the current Health Care debate. Without reading the book, I can divulge the secret: his method of operating is Pure Chicago: avoid substance, pit constituencies against each other and take names.

On a lighter level, Chicago politics has a novel cachet in the rest of the country. People out there in Kansas or Texas or Georgia or where-ever voters feel is a safe distance from which to watch, wonder: “How do those people in Illinois put up with all of that?” It's like watching a three-ring circus complete with freak show, only in this circus it’s the monkeys who are throwing the peanuts at the people, and the people don’t seem to mind all that much.

Like I said, we’ve lived here for over twenty years and we still can’t figure it out. Every few weeks another miscellaneous official, from building code Safety Inspector all the way up to Governor – you name it – gets caught in some low intrigue or other. Not long ago we heard on the radio that "Fast Eddie" admitted to taking over a Million Dollars of public money. Admitted. He got off with a wrist-slap. No mention of whether he had to return the money.

Some of these shenanigans are laughable in their audacity. I hope Michelle Malkin included a couple of the goofier scams, just for laughs. A few weeks ago Alderman Issac “Ike” Carothers got popped for accepting $40, 000 worth of home remodeling in exchange for greasing through a $3 Million Dollar land deal. I know. I wondered the same thing: the developer gets 3 Mil and Ike gets a measly 40K? Never the less, that’s the case.

Other goings-on are less funny: In ’03 there was an early morning panic stampede in an illegal after hours joint, the E2 Nightclub, in which 21 people were trampled to death and another 50 were injured. The fact that the story disappeared from the news so fast – you’d have thought it was a fender-bender involving a yellow cab and a garbage truck – lends credence to the rumor that a big political family had a financial interest in the club. Twenty people dead and the story just went away? What about lawsuits? Was everything really cleared up quietly out of court?

A couple months later there was another disaster in which six County employees were killed in an arson fire that started in the Cook County Office Building evidence room. Another Keystone Cops investigation went nowhere. In 2006, US Senator Barack Obama endorsed the man in charge of the investigation, John Stroger for re-election as County Board President.

So here is what I suspect the net effect of Culture of Corruption will be: people will read the book from cover to cover. They will put the book on the coffee table, or pass it along to a friend, and they will sit back and reflect on The Chicago Way of doing things.

As it sinks in, they’ll begin to reflect on what the country can expect now that this same bunch has “gone national”. People from this soup, trained in these ethics are now filling Federal posts, tweaking the budget, fiddling with healthcare, and otherwise not looking out for the common good – just like they were back home in Chicago.

And, I have a point here…

Take for instance this story from last Friday’s Chicago Tribune(8/7/09), headlined “Daley Insider Corners Olympic Spots”. This may be illustrative of where we are headed.

The Tribune report is markedly "passive" in it's tone. So, allow me to put it into a nutshell for you:

Michael Scott is a member of Mayor Daley’s Chicago Olympic Committee, and he's a real operator. At the same time he's been working to bring the Olympics here he has been busy buying up land where the Games would be held should Chicago be named Host City. If that happens, Scott will be in a position to resell the land to the IOC.


Before you say “that’s just smart business”, consider that the City of Chicago controls many of the lots and is selling them at distressed prices of $1.00 apiece. I know, that doesn't sound right to me either. Chicago, like most other cities, is in sad financial condition. Why does not the City of Chicago sell the lots to the IOC themselves and let the profits give taxpayers a break? Why take what could be valuable land and treat it as the real estate equivalent of the Cash For Clunkers program, letting someone with political connections pocket the money?

And there’s more. Michael Scott is also President of the Chicago Public School Board. The previous CPS President is now Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration, in case you were wondering.

Pop Quiz -- What do you think of when you think of Chicago Public Schools? Yeah. You bet you do: Bullets, drugs, gangs, and chaos, along with low achievement and high drop-out rate.

But, in Chicago there are, effectively, two school systems; the so-called Magnet School Program for the City's best-and-brightest and the regular public system for everyone else.

If you are hip to the way government tends to operate, the minute you learn that there are two systems set up for anything you know that one system is for “us" and the other for “them”. "Them" being people with political clout, people who need to be attended to. Got it? Now hold that thought.

Students are required to test into the better schools. However, true to Chicago form, a phone call and a little curried favor will improve admission chances. There seems to be plenty of opportunity to sneak politically connected kids into elite public schools. Yet, for every under achieving student who gets in on Dad's clout, there is another, truly deserving student, who is denied.

This kind of thing goes on all the time. In fact, right now, there is a similar scandal going on at the Illinois State University level.

The easy question would be to ask, Is this fair? Of course it is not fair.

But there is a more important question we need to consider: What will happen when these people, these oily politicians and malleable bureaucrats, control our health care? I suspect, although I haven't read it, that that is the question left by Culture of Corruption.

What’s going to happen when you have to apply to a governmental body to get a knee replacement or a valve job or an MRI? While everyone knows there are problems with our current delivery system, I have never heard of anyone offering to “tip” the nurse in order to get the sheets changed, or donate to Congressman X’s campaign in order to get moved to the front of the line for a hernia repair. But that is how things are done in Chicago. And we should be considering the likelihood that this is how things will be done once the health care system is taken over by politicians and bureaucrats.