Race and Corruption

Both the State Senator, Dianne Wilkerson, and as of yesterday, our City Council member, Chuck Turner, have been accused by federal prosecutors of taking bribes and then lying about it.  Both were caught on tape in sting operations.   Chuck is a neighbor.   I know both and have worked with them on various projects including constituant services.  I have supported their campaigns.  So this is a major shock.  I have mixed feelings and a lot of questions about the situation. 

First, there is the question of how much we can trust the Boston FBI office.  This is the office that had agents in bed with the Winter Hill Gang and James Bulger.  One agent has just been convicted of murder and will probably finish his life in prison.  So when they produce evidence that two black politicians representing the largest concentration of African-Americans in the City of Boston I have to feel to some degree that this is racial, a singling out of two office holders who are black and trusted by the community.

Second, assuming that this was a trap set by the FBI why would either of these two intelligent people walk into the trap?  Have they taken bribes all along and just happened to get caught this time?  Why didn’t they refuse the offered money?

Third, why are they being prosecuted when the current Speaker of the House, Sal DiMasi, is suspected of rigging a state contract bid so a friend could benfit?  I do know the answer to that one:  The investigation of that situation is on-going with it just having been turned over to the Attorney General.

Finally, I want someone to do a study of all the African-American officials nationwide and through the last 40 years who have been brought down by scandal.  There has to be more than selective prosecution because of race.  Is there some feeling of entitlement that develops once they have been elected?  And they are all smart people who should have been able to learn from history.

The following quote from Chuck Turner in an interview conducted prior to his arrest which will be published in the Boston Globe Magazine tomorrow as part of a column by Tom Keane  I find troubling.

From an ethical standpoint, I don’t think the vast majority of Congress should be allowed to sit. Ethics should include a commitment to the needs of the people of this country which the Congress has not displayed. Given the fact that all our state governments and the federal government is controlled by money, I think it is hypocritical to talk about ethics when you talk about our political leaders or our business leaders, religious leaders, etc.

Its time for Americans to admit that ethics never have had a significant influence on American politics. If Americans cared about ethical behavior, why did slavery last for two hundred years and neo slavery last for another two hundred? Why does America have the weakest laws in the Western World to protect a working person right to have a fair return on their labor. Why were the Irish treated as animals when they were driven to America by the politics of the English ancestors of the Yankees who treated them as if they were black when they were driven here. I’m surprised Tom. I didn’t think you were in denial of the reality of the moral depravity of this country.

Is Chuck really saying that because the political system is controlled by money rather than by higher moral principles a green light to take a bribe?  Is this the “everyone else does it” excuse?

Yes, there is money in government.  Money gets spent and contracts get let.  That is how governement gets things done.  If he is talking about the election/campaign system being corruptive, there is truth there.  But I’m not sure that money is the only reason slavery persisted and is not the only reason government often fails to act.  Is the real issue that Turner and Wilkinson are still trapped in a world that sees everything as racial, everything though the eyes of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s while the world has moved on?

The Boston Globe quoted several young men who are likely to run for Turner’s seat.  Ego Ezedi, Carlos Henriquez, and Scotland Willis have all run unsuccessfully for City Council.  All expressed the same general idea that maybe it was time to move on.  That maybe it was time to stop looking constantly through a racial lens.  Ezedi in particular looks to Barak Obama:

Ego Ezedi, the executive director of the Roxbury YMCA who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2003, said: “I am not a black politician. I have never represented myself as that. I’m a public servant who happens to be black.

“This is not a black-white issue; it’s an ethics issue,” he said of the arrests of Wilkerson and Turner.

Ezedi added that he draws more inspiration from the way Barack Obama’s campaign energized younger voters. “It’s important for all of us to transcend boundaries of race when it comes to politics,” he said, “and what better time than now, especially when you look at what’s happening nationally?”

Does Experience Matter?

Rachel Maddow expressed concern the other night about whether or not putting so many Clintonites into the Obama White House was really change.  She had as a guest, Malcolm Gladwell, who explained a theory I had not heard of before.  Gladwell thinks that in order to get mastery of anything  – playing the piano, writing, managing, etc. – one needs, on average, 10,000 hours of practice.  So if we want cabinet secretaries and White House staff who can begin work immediately what choices does Obama have?  He needs to turn to Democrats who worked in some capacity either in the Clinton/Gore administration or have experience on the Hill.  I think we need to remember that whatever policies they carried out in the past, they will now be implementing Obama policies.  Gladwell points out in the interview that the ideal would be a mix of neophytes  and experienced hands.  I will have to get a copy of one of his books like The Tipping Point or his newest, the Outliers.

I’m not as invested as some on the left in seeing him create immediate radical change – and I’m not certain what exactly that would mean.  For me, just having a President who speaks in complete sentences is a radical change.  Just having a President who can listen to various points of view and distill them into a plan of action is a change.  

And we have the Clinton lesson of gays in the military as an immediate action which got Bill off on the wrong foot.  To say nothing of the health care fiasco.  So moving slowly is OK with me.  I agree with Amy Goodman that Executive Orders can set the tone and it would be wonderful if President Obama’s first was to outlaw torture.  A good message internationally as well as domestically.  It is one on which even Republicans (who still deny they engaged in the practice) could agree.

Bye, Bye, Coco

Today Red Sox news is the trade of Coco Crisp.  I, for one, will miss him.  Unlike Manny Ramirez, Coco never complained.  He played when and where the team needed him.  But I can understand that he really didn’t want to keep playing behind Jacoby Ellsbury.

According to the Boston Globe

Crisp did have arguably his best season in Boston in 2008, batting .283 — .315 in the second half — with seven homers, 41 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 361 at-bats. He shared the job in center field with rookie Jacoby Ellsbury during the regular season, starting 98 games. Crisp started five games in the American League Championship Series loss to the Rays, batting .450 and delivering a memorable game-tying hit in Game 5 as the Red Sox rallied from a 7-0 deficit.

In exchange we got relief pitcher, Ramon Ramirez. 

The buzz at work was to feel sorry for Coco having to move to Kansas City – a team long past the glory days when George Brett was a star.

A Clinton as Secretary of State?

There has been chatter throughout the campaign about the television show West Wing and the similarities to the Obama campaign.   The Jimmy Smits character as Obama, for example.  And we all remember that Smits beat the Alan Alda character in that election.  Maureen Dowd even wrote a fictional account of a meeting between Barak Obama and the fictional President Jed Barlet. But the endless talk about Hillary Clinton as a possible Secretary of State brings to mind another fictional example.

Andrew Greeley wrote a mystery story The Bishop in the West Wing about an Irishman from Chicago elected President in a long-shot campaign.  The Bishop in the story is Greeley’s on-going character, Bishop Blackwood Ryan who comes to solve a mystery in the White House.  The interesting part is not that the fictional President, Jack McGurn, is from the South Side of Chicago but that his Secretary of State is Bill Clinton who is also the former President.  Father Greeley, who was recently injured, in a fall was a guest of the Clintons at the White House several times during the Clinton administration.  The book is dedicated to William J. Clinton.

A Fixer Upper and other transition thoughts

This Tony Auth cartoon from earlier this week shows the magnitude of what the Obama-Biden administration will have to do before they can even initiate any new agenda items.

To begin with you have a President, George W., who keeps talking about transparency while his Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, won’t say what he did with the $350 billion or to which banks and companies he gave money.  Is this a case of the fox guarding the hen house?  Is this a planned looting?  One has to ask.  Bob was reminded of Cato the Elder so I pulled out a copy of Plutarch’s Lives and started reading about Cato.  I know that I read many of the biographies 40 years ago as a student at St. John’s College (Annapolis), but this was really tough going.  I did gather that Cato was known to guard the public purse to the extent that once he gave away his horse rather than put the public to the expense of shipping it back to Rome.

I’m not one who will criticize President-elect Obama for including so many former Clinton officials in his transition – particularly on the teams going into the agencies.  First, they are the last Democratic group who have experience and second, many of them will know what to look for.  I’m thinking, for example, of Roberta Achtenberg who will be looking at HUD.  I was impressed with her when she was heading HUD Fair Housing and I was working in the area.  So I’m not all hysterical about “the return of the Clintons” which some are making sound like a horror movie.  Much better to have some veterans help you than to follow the Clinton model take too long to get started because people you appointed didn’t know the lay of the land.

And speaking of the Clintons will Hillary be Secretary of State?  I think a good choice as it will keep in in the fold and prevent her and Bill from freelancing.  But then what do you do with Bill Richardson?  Energy?  Transportation?  I think Obama would be smart to include both of them in his administration.

Doctor Dean

I was a Dean supporter during the 2004 primaries.  I even went to hear him speak when he had a rally in Copley Square – Kerry territory.  I blogged on his site.  Worked on organizing the Asian American community in Boston on his behalf.  After he dropped out and announced his run for DNC Chair, I cheered his 50 State strategy as did most of the state chairs and committee people from states that the Democratic Party had neglected. 

Now as John Nichols writes in the The Nation today:

When the DNC chair said, “I hate what the Republicans are doing to this country, I really do,” everyone knew he meant it. And, as it turned out, Americans were coming around to the same conclusion.

….

The fact is that Dean’s work is done. He was an essential player in the transformation of the Democratic Party from what former Labor Secretary Robert Reich described back in 2005 — “essentially a glorified fund-raising mechanism” — into the clearly-defined “movement” party that Barack Obama would lead in 2008.

With that 50-state strategy, his full embrace of netroots activism and, above all, his refusal to pull punches, Dean made being a Democrat mean something. That turned out to be the cure for what ailed a party that has benefited immeasurably from the doctor’s able treatment of its condition.

Howard Dean saved the Democratic Party by creating the base that lead to victories in 2006 and 2008.  Will he return to being a doctor in Vermont or will he be Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration?

Pot and Gay Marriage

If you look at the referenda that passed in the various states, I’ve heard it said that you can smoke weed, but you can’t get married to someone of the same sex.  Homophobia is alive and well.

Particularly disturbing is the passage of Proposition 8 in California.  I wondered if it were legal given the ruling of the California Supreme Court and it seems that others are asking the same question.  Several lawsuits have already been filed saying it is a violation of the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

Here in Massachusett same sex couples can both marry and smoke pot!