Wednesday, June 9, 2010



Rarely do I get an opportunity, such as that presented by the Blagojevich trial, to wed two recurring topics/concepts of the Insightful Pontificator. Those two topics/concepts are, of course, Chicago politics and the shocking financial irresponsibility of broad swaths of the American public.

In their opening arguments, prosecutors argued that it was the crushing burden of personal debt that led the Rod-man on his spree of naked, blatant, insert hands directly into people’s pockets corruption. Prosecutors cited credit card debt and those oh so anodynely monikered “equity lines of credit” (second mortgages for those who see through all the marketing crap designed to make those who are broke feel financially sophisticated) that reached $200,000 in making this argument. They didn’t mention the million dollar plus home in Ravenswood or the completely unnecessary condo in Washington. All this on an income of far less than $200,000 before Patty Blagojevich took up her career as a conduit for funneling money to her corrupt husband (my words, not the prosecutors').

Such a heavy, self-imposed burden can lead people to take desperate measures, as the prosecutors allege our esteemed former governor did. But such fiscal frivolity, or worse, does even more far-reaching damage. On the societal level, such behavior has led us to eat the seed corn so carefully husbanded for decades by prior generations’ fiscal prudence, the type of fiscal prudence that enables those fathers and mothers to finance purchases by their progeny of homes, cars, and other trappings of wealth of which their parents could only dream, but that is another issue. It has left us at the mercy of overseas creditors who do not have our interests foremost in their minds. On the personal level, such mindless purchase of useless geegaws and gimcracks is a symptom of a soul-sickness, or at least a spiritual emptiness, as people futilely try to fill voids in important areas of their lives with wretched excess in extraneous aspects of their lives. Such showy silliness not only leads to financial ruin but also frustration, anger, and never-ending emptiness. If people only knew how foolish their spending made them look to a rational observer, they wouldn’t engage in such gormlessness; perhaps they ought to be happy that our country is so devoid of rational observers. But I digress; regular readers of the Pontificator have repeatedly been treated to the ideas espoused in this paragraph.

My point is that if Rod Blagojevich had acted like a leader rather than following the lemmings over the cliff of financial ruin in a vain attempt to achieve happiness where happiness cannot be found, he wouldn’t have placed himself in a financial situation that made his corruption spree so tempting. Perhaps if he had lived within his means, he could have been the governor “of the people” that he professes to have wanted to be. Had he taken a cue from the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, who, aside from a nearly manorial summer home in Grand Beach, probably financed by a large salary from the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, led a very modest lifestyle, Blago could have been as effective an administrator, and as powerful a pol, as Richard I was.

Let me emphasize the word “maybe” in the last paragraph. Corrupt people are going to be corrupt. Thieves are going to steal. So if the Rod-man is truly corrupt, he would have been working his alleged seedy deals even if he lived in a bungalow on 35th and Lowe. And Mr. Blagojevich does not display anything approaching the type of judgment, prudence, sobriety, and attention to detail that characterized Richard J. Daley. But a bit of personal fiscal prudence on the Rod-man’s part would have been one more weight on the side of doing the right thing.

Sam Adam, Jr., Blago’s straight from central casting bombastic, clownish attorney, in his opening arguments, responded to the prosecutors’ contentions with

And do you know why he’s broke? He ain’t corrupt.”

Mr. Adam may be a great lawyer but he displays an ignorance of finance that is shocking yet common. People aren’t broke because they didn’t take or, for that matter, earn, money, often substantial amounts of money. High income people, whether that income was derived honestly or dishonestly, are almost as likely to be broke as low income people. Being broke is a function not of making insufficient amounts of money but of spending more than one makes. Rod Blagojevich was broke not because he wasn’t corrupt but, rather, because he spent at a pace commensurate with an income at least five times higher than his officially reported income.

I do, however, agree with another of Mr. Adam’s arguments when he said of his client

“…his judgment is horrible.”

Though Mr. Adam was not speaking specifically of Mr. Blagojevich’s financial judgment, truer words will not be uttered for the duration of this trial.

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