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Poetry Slam or News Conference: The Political Theater of Rod Blagojevich

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greenmilllogoIf any of the readers of this blog get to Chicago, or if you are in or near Chicago, then I would highly recommend the Green Mill Jazz Club

Of special interest is the Sunday Night Poetry Slam with Marc Smith.  The Uptown Poetry Slams has been going on for a very long time – since about 1986.  Marc Smith is masterful as MC of this event.  No substitutes, please.

I thought I was at the Green Mill Uptown Poetry Slam when I heard Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at his news conference today when he started quoting poetry.  Today, the Illinois House voted to impeach the Governor.  In his response, Blagojevich quoted some poetry.

We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and fate, but strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,”  Ulysses – by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Famous Green Mill Jazz Club

For people familiar with Chicago’s history its easy to make the connection of Blagojevich with the Green Mill.  Opened in 1907,the Green Mill is quite a famous place.  This is from Green Mill Web Site: http://www.greenmilljazz.com/history.html

Throughout its uproarious history, The Green Mill Jazz Club has played host to a number of famous – and often infamous – celebrities.

As the twenties roared, The Green Mill became mobster territory when Al Capone’s henchman, “Machinegun” Jack McGurn, gained a 25% ownership of the club. Manager Danny Cohen had given McGurn the 25% stake to “persuade” comedian/singer Joe E. Lewis from moving his act south to the New Rendezvous Café at Clark and Diversey.

McGurn managed to convince Lewis by slitting his throat and cutting off his tongue. Miraculously, Lewis recovered, but his songs never regained their lush sound. The incident was later immortalized in the movie The Joker is Wild, with Frank Sinatra as Joe E. Lewis and a Hollywood soundstage as The Green Mill. Of course, his interest piqued, Sinatra had to visit the club.

Throughout the 1930s, ’40s, and 50s, The Green Mill continued to pack ’em in with a heady mix of swing, dance and jazz music. Uptown crowds from the Aragon Ballroom or Uptown and Riviera Theaters would “stop in for one” before or after shows. Business began to slip in the mid-seventies, and in 1986, present owner Dave Jemilo bought The Green Mill and restored it to its prohibition-era, speakeasy décor.

So, having grown up in Chicago, being a regular attendee of “The Slam”, and knowing the History of the Green Mill brought it all together with the Blagojevich news conference performance.  But no Marc Smith.

Political Theater

The causes of the impeachment are because I’ve done things to fight for families – Ill Gov Blagojevich

The speech that Blagojevich made after his impeachment today was a good amount of political theater.  I thought I was at The Mill and watching some sort of performance.  And, a performance it was – but it was not at the Green Mill – it was a serious event at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.

Those watching the video coverage got a hint of the theater to come. In the scene of the podium before the news conference started one of the commentators on WLS Radio noticed there was an unusual high number of disabled people who were in the front rows. 

The commentator remarked that perhaps Blagojevich was going to heal one of them.  Obviously, based on past speeches, we all had expectations of some performance to come.

A few hours before the news conference the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach the Blagojevich. 

From the AP

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached Friday by Illinois lawmakers furious that he turned state government into a “freak show,” setting the stage for an unprecedented trial in the state Senate that could get him thrown out of office. The 114-1 vote in the Illinois House came exactly a month after Blagojevich’s arrest on charges that included trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. The debate took less than 90 minutes, and not a single legislator rose in defense of the governor, who was jogging in the snow in Chicago.

During the House debate, lawmakers complained that Blagojevich had made a laughingstock out of the state.

“It’s our duty to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that’s become Illinois government,” said Democratic Rep. Jack Franks.

Rep. Monique Davis, a Democrat, said: “If the governor walked down that aisle today, how many of us would fall over ourselves to greet him? I think we’d hold our heads down in shame. We wanted him, we elected him, we supported him, and he’s disgraced us.” 

What would Blagojevich say at this news conference?  Why was Blagojevich impeached?  He had the answer.  “The causes of the impeachment are because I’ve done things to fight for families,”

No, the reason for the impeachment as articulated by the House was “Abuse of Power”.  More on this below.

Theatrical Review

The political strategy of Blagojevich in dealing with the impeachment in the speech was twofold.

  1. Divert the conversation away from the issues – the art of misdirection – like a magician does in order to divert the audiences attention away from what is really going on.
  2. Perform a sort of accounting calculation.

The sad thing is that Blagojevich used the disabled people in the front rows as part of the rouse.  They were rounded up and positioned in the room prior to the news conference.  It reminded me of stage props set up as part of the scene.  And scene it was.

So Blagojevich stated talking about all the good things he did.  The disabled people were there to make the point.  Of course, it was part of the political speech to divert (artful misdirection) the conversation away from the real issues of the reasons for the impeachment.  The reasons for the impeachment were clearly identified by the Illinois House of Representatives in HR1671  LRB095 23283 RCE 53981 r and can be found at the end of this posting.

Performing the calculation

Listening to Blagojevich I remembered a book: The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse: How to spot moral meltdown in Companies before its too late by Marianne M Jennings, JD

Jennings thinks she has the signs of Ethical Collapse pegged – not just for companies like Enron but for governments, non-profits, and even churches.  She says the pattern is the same no matter what type of organization it is.

All unethical organizations are alike; their cultures are identical; and thier collapses become predictable.  History repeats itself when it comes to ethical lapses and collapses.

… it will all happen again as the cycle continues, because we keep trying to legislate ethical behavior.  There are not enough lawyers, legislators, sessions, or votes to close evey possible loophole to close every possible loophole that can be found as we continue to regulate business behavior.

The book is filled with examples of real people and real companies in various phases of ethical and moral collapse.

What I was looking for in this book but did not find is why individuals and groups engage in this unethical behavior.  What are the psychological reasons for this?  How do people cross the line from ethical to unethical behavior.  Jennings does not say why, but she does show you what to look for.  This also provides suggestions to proactively mitigate ethical collapse in organizations – if you can spot it before it’s too late.

What do we look for in a company or organization that can provide insight into whether it is at risk of ethical lapses? And what happens to us to that allows us to descend to these bizarre forms of conduct?  Finally, what can be done to curb these problems and flaws?

Why is her book different

Most books on ethics in business tell businesspeople to be ethical.  This book presumes that we understand that part of the equation and moves on to the next phase:  How do we do it?  Therein lies the key question; and once we do it how do we sustain it?  There are traits, habits, and cultural factors that actually get in the way of ethical decisions.  There are also ethical checks and balances that can serve as stop signs when unethical conduct is proposed.

Jennings devotes one chapter to each of seven (7) signs of ethical collapse. Of note is Sign #7

Sign #7 – “Goodness in Some Areas Atones for Evil in Others”

So, while listening to Blagojevich in his news conference, with the stage set with all the disabled people in all the right places, I was thinking of Jennings work and this sign of ethical collapse.

According to Jennings, people do a sort of calculation in their head.. “If I do these 10 good things then you will excuse me for doing N (N<10)  unethical things.”  A sort of balance sheet of good and evil where one is self-satisfied as long as the balance sheet shows more good than evil.  This excuses unethical behavior.  “I trade this for that”.  As long as my balance sheet of good vs evil does not show a negative, I am good to go.  That is the thinking.

As long as they were good to the environment, strong on diversity, involved in the community, and generous with charitable donations, their schemes and frauds at work were not a problem

In the chapter on Sign #7, Jennings shows this as applied to Enron, The United Way, WorldCom, Tyco, Adelphia. HealthSouth, and AIG.

Conclusion

Why is this Blagojevich’s speech political theater?  First, because it is a show – a performance.  It is also a sort of insult to the people watching this spectacle.  What is expected is a professional leader addressing the issues.  What was received was a specific and orchestrated misdirection.  We are smarter than this – give the audience some credit in seeing through this simple and deliberate ploy of diverting the conversation.  If that was not bad enough, a group of disabled people were brought it, almost as theater props, as stage dressing.  They would answer no questions after the speech – who brought them there?

There were thirteen (13) specific issues related to Blagojevich’s impeachment.  A strong leader would have simply addressed these issues head on.  These issues were clearly articulted by the Illinois House of Representatives in  HR1671  LRB095 23283 RCE 53981 r.  Blagojevich could have used this as talking points.  He did not.

Second, it’s theater since Blagojevich has fallen into the hands of Jennings “The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse”.  Jennings book lays out the script – you can follow along, word for word – she has him pegged, dead on.  Its Act #9 in the political play “Goodness in Some Areas Atones for Evils in Others”.  The unethical person makes the calculation (and rationalization).. “I have done these 5 good things so this excuses me for doing these 2 bad things – my ethical balance sheet in in order”  In the case of Blagojevich, the House has identified 13 bad things.  How many good things does he have to do to “atone” for these 13 things?  How many disabled people did Blagojevich bring in for the political theater?

Blagojevich said that he will resign when he “harms the people of the state of Illinois”.  Are were there yet? 

We’ll let the Chicago Tribune have the last word

Following the governor’s press conference, Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, who stands to become governor if the Illinois Senate removes Blagojevich from office, called for Blagojevich to step aside.

“Gov. Blagojevich has lost the confidence of the people of Illinois,” Quinn said at his own news conference. “The proper course is to step aside and resign. I wish he had resigned today.”

Quinn then went on to quote from “America The Beautiful.”

He also said Blagojevich has to realize there are times he should put the country first.

Resources

The book

The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse: How to spot moral meltdown in Companies before its too late by Marianne M Jennings, JD

The Green Milland the Uptown Poety Slam

http://www.greenmilljazz.com
http://www.greenmilljazz.com/poetryslam.html
http://www.slampapi.com/

The Impeachment

“The causes of the impeachment are because I’ve done things to fight for families”– Ill Gov Blagojevich

No, it’s this –

These are the impeachable offenses that the Illinois House cited:
==================================================================
 HR1671  LRB095 23283 RCE 53981 r
  
5  ARTICLE OF IMPEACHMENT EXHIBITED BY THE HOUSE OF 
6  REPRESENTATIVES IN THE NAME OF ITSELF AND THE PEOPLE OF THE 
7  STATE OF ILLINOIS AGAINST ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, GOVERNOR OF THE 
8  STATE OF ILLINOIS, IN MAINTENANCE OF THE IMPEACHMENT OF HIM FOR 
9  CAUSE.
10  ARTICLE ONE
11      Based on the totality of the evidence contained in the 
12  Record of the House Special Investigative Committee created 
13  under House Resolution 1650 (the “Committee Record”) and as 
14  summarized in the Final Report of the Special Investigative 
15  Committee filed with the House of Representatives on January 8, 
16  2009 (the “Final Report”), in his conduct while Governor of the 
17  State of Illinois, Rod R. Blagojevich, has abused the power of 
18  his office in some or all of the following ways:
 
19      1) The Governor’s plot to obtain a personal benefit in 
20  exchange for his appointment to fill the vacant seat in the 
21  United States Senate
, as more fully detailed in the Final 
22  Report at Section IV-A and in the Committee Record as a whole.
 
1      2) The Governor’s plot to condition the awarding of State 
2  financial assistance to the Tribune Company on the firing of 
3  members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board
, as more fully 
4  detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-B and in the 
5  Committee Record as a whole.
 
6      3) The Governor’s plot to trade official acts in exchange 
7  for campaign contributions
, namely the signing of legislation 
8  related to the diversion of casino gambling revenues to the 
9  horse racing industry, as more fully detailed in the Final 
10  Report at Section IV-C-1 and in the Committee Record as a 
11  whole.
 
12      4) The Governor’s plot to trade official acts in exchange 
13  for campaign contributions
, namely the awarding of a State 
14  tollway contract and the expansion of a tollway project, as 
15  more fully detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-C-2 and 
16  in the Committee Record as a whole.
 
17      5) The Governor’s plot to trade official acts in exchange 
18  for campaign contributions
, namely the release of pediatric 
19  care reimbursements to Illinois doctors and hospitals, as more 
20  fully detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-C-3 and in the 
21  Committee Record as a whole.
 
1      6) The Governor’s plot to trade official acts in exchange 
2  for campaign contributions
, namely the appointment to a 
3  position with the Illinois Finance Authority, as more fully 
4  detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-C-4 and in the 
5  Committee Record as a whole.
 
6      7) The Governor’s plot to trade official acts in exchange 
7  for campaign contributions
, namely the awarding of State 
8  contracts, as more fully detailed in the Final Report at 
9  Section IV-C-5 and in the Committee Record as a whole.
 
10      8 ) The Governor’s plot to trade official acts in exchange 
11  for campaign contributions
, namely the awarding of State 
12  permits and authorizations, as more fully detailed in the Final 
13  Report at Section IV-C-6 and in the Committee Record as a 
14  whole.
 
15      9) The Governor’s refusal to recognize the authority of the 
16  Joint Committee on Administrative Rules
to suspend or prohibit 
17  rules, his utter disregard of the doctrine of separation of 
18  powers, and his violation of the Illinois Administrative 
19  Procedure Act by unilaterally expanding a State program, as 
20  more fully detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-D and in 
21  the Committee Record as a whole.
 
22      10) The Governor’s actions with regard to, and 
1  responsibility for, the procurement of flu vaccines
, as more 
2  fully detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-E and in the 
3  Committee Record as a whole.
 
4      11) The Governor’s actions with regard to, and 
5  responsibility for, the I-SaveRx Program
, as more fully 
6  detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-F and in the 
7  Committee Record as a whole.
 
8      12) The Governor’s actions with regard to, and 
9  responsibility for, the Agency Efficiency Initiatives
, as more 
10  fully detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-G and in the 
11  Committee Record as a whole.
 
12      13) The Governor’s violation of State and federal law 
13  regarding the hiring and firing of State employees
, as more 
14  fully detailed in the Final Report at Section IV-J and in the 
15  Committee Record as a whole.
 
16      Under the totality of the evidence, some or all of these 
17  acts of the Governor constitute a pattern of abuse of power.
 
18      Wherefore, this abuse of power by Rod R. Blagojevich 
19  warrants his impeachment and trial, removal from office as 
20  Governor, and disqualification to hold any public office of 
21  this State in the future.

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Written by frrl

January 10, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Posted in Commentary and Opinion

Tagged with

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