December 2008

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz  

With his impressive track record of prosecuting Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; former Illinois Governor George Ryan; and, now, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Patrick Fitzgerald is on top of the world. If Eliot Ness was alive today, he would have gladly relinquished the title of “Untouchable” to Fitzgerald.

Eliot Ness was immortalized in the television series, “The Untouchables,” in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1987, an Oscar-winning blockbuster movie of the same title was also produced.

Ness and his team were called the “Untouchables” because they — unlike a lot of the their peers in those days — resisted bribery attempts by Chicago crime boss Al “Scarface” Capone during the Prohibition era. During that time, a lot of politicians, judges, and police officers were on Capone’s “payroll.”

After a couple of years of trying to prosecute Capone for his criminal activities including murder and bootlegging, Ness eventually got Capone convicted for something else — tax evasion. In 1931, Capone was sentenced to 11 years and incarcerated at the infamous Alcatraz Island federal penitentiary.

In 1934, the 32-year old Ness was promoted to head the Treasury Department’s state office in Cleveland, Ohio. He didn’t waste any time and immediately went after the state’s bootleggers. In less than a year, Ness wiped out the illegal distilleries and crippled the bootlegging industry in the state.

The following year, Ness left the Treasury Department and took a job as Chicago’s Safety Director in charge of the police and fire departments. The two departments were in pretty bad shape and had low morale when he took over. He cleaned them up and turned them around into efficient units.

Ness’s roller coasting life took him to drinking. In 1942, he was involved in a car accident where he was believed to have been under the influence of liquor. Consequently, he resigned as Safety Director and went to work for the Federal government.

In 1944, he quit his federal job when he was offered the Chairmanship of Diebold Corporation in Ohio. It was an offer he couldn’t refuse. He did very well in his new job and successfully diversified Diebold into several new companies. He became well known in the international business community. Finally, Ness had reached the apex of his life.

Never been a politician, Ness began toying with the idea of running for public office. In 1947, he ran for Mayor of Cleveland as an independent candidate. He was up against a formidable foe — the popular incumbent Mayor Thomas A. Burke. He lost by a wide margin in the election. He also lost his savings which he used for his campaign and, worst, lost his job with Diebold. It was the turning point of his life.

He never recovered from the triple whammy. He tried several business ventures but failed. Down on his luck, he left Cleveland and settled in a sleepy town in Pennsylvania. One day, a man came to town and told Ness that he could help him write a book about his exploits during the Capone era. He liked the idea. The book — “The Untouchables” — was published in 1957. But he wasn’t around to savor the fruits of his literary work; he died a few months before the book came out. The “Untouchables” television series followed and it was a hit. Eliot Ness became a legend.

Patrick Fitzgerald’s life story and career may not be as exciting as Ness’s — the Roaring Twenties are a bygone era. In this day and age, shoot-outs are no longer in fashion. Criminals are now more sophisticated and cunningly subtle in the way they conduct their illicit business. However, Fitzgerald proved that he has what it takes to fight criminals, be they of the “organized crime” variety or corrupt public officials in high places.

Fitzpatrick graduated from Harvard law school in 1985 and started practicing civil law. However, he changed direction in 1988 and took a job as an Assistant US Attorney in New York City. Initially, he was involved in prosecuting drug-traffickers and Mafia dons. In 1994, Fitzgerald got his first high-profile case when he prosecuted Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others in the celebrated World Trade Center bombing. In 1996, Fitzgerald was part of a team that investigated Osama bin Laden. Little did they know that five years later — on 9/11 — bin Laden would ignite the “War on Terror.”

In 2001, Fitzgerald was appointed US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. His first big case was the investigation of then Governor George Ryan and many of his political appointees for corruption. Ryan was indicted in 2003 and convicted in 2006 for racketeering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice.

In 2005, Fitzgerald investigated several aides of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley for corruption. His biggest case then was the conviction of the Chicago City Clerk who pleaded guilty to taking $50,000 in bribes.

But Fitzgerald’s biggest “catch” was Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who was recently arrested and accused for shaking down people and corporations for campaign contributions in return for government contracts or favors. In addition, he was also accused for trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat which he as governor has the sole authority to appoint.

With a string of successful prosecution of corrupt public officials, Fitzpatrick’s star — he just turned 48 last December 22 — is rising fast and high. Obama, impressed with his performance, indicated that he will re-appoint him to his job.

If Fitzpatrick keeps his nose clean and remains “untouchable” for the next four years, he could run for Governor or Senator in 2012. And if he wins, he would then be ready to run for the plum job in 2016 — the presidency of the United States.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

 

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

The lives of Philippine President Gloria “Glo” Arroyo and Illinois Governor Rod “Blago” Blagojevich have, in so many ways, ran parallel — but similar — courses in the way they governed the people whom they swore to serve. Today, the Philippines is the most corrupt country in Asia and Illinois is one of the most, if not the most, corrupt states in the United States.

The similarities between Glo and Blago are striking. Hey, they even coif their hair the same way. Both practice “pay to play” politics. Both are corrupt kleptocrats. Both have been called “liar, thief and cheat.” Both have illusions of grandeur: Glo wanted to be Prime Minister for life and Blago wanted to be US President in 2016. And both refused to step down from their positions. In 2004, Glo claimed, “The Lord put me here.” Last week, Blago defiantly said, “I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight, I will fight, I will fight, till I take my very last breath. I have done nothing wrong.”

Gloria Arroyo, her husband and a legion of government officials and business cronies have been implicated in at least 30 major corruption cases including the IMPSA deal, “Hello Garci” scandal, fertilizer scam, ZTE/NBN bribery scandal, North Rail and South Rail overpriced projects, Spratly sell-out to China, and Jose Pidal kickback accounts.

Rod Blagojevich has been accused of shaking down people and corporations for campaign contributions in return for government contracts or favors. In a wiretapped conversation, he said, “I want to make money,” as he demanded $50,000 campaign donation from an official at a children’s hospital and threatened to withhold $8 million for pediatric care if the official failed to donate.

When President-elect Barack Obama resigned his Senate seat upon his election, Blagojevich immediately put up a “For Sale” sign on the vacated Senate seat which he as governor has the sole authority to appoint. On another wiretapped conversation with a subordinate, he said, “I’ve got this thing, it’s [expletive] golden, and uh, uh, I’m just giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, I can always use it. I can parachute me there,” which means that he can appoint himself to the vacant Senate seat.

While Arroyo had survived four impeachment petitions in the last four years, Blagojevich might not survive an impeachment petition filed recently because even his fellow Democrats in the state legislature want him out. He has been known to use bully tactics to persuade legislators to support his pet bills. But in one bill — a $7 billion tax increase on business– which he actively lobbied for, he was repudiated when the bill lost 107 to 0.

Illinois and the Philippines have long histories of corruption. Corruption in the Philippines started during the more than three centuries of Spanish colonial rule which ended in 1899 with the arrival of the Americans. During the half-century of American administration which followed, corruption was at a minimum. But as soon as the Philippines gained its independence in 1946, corruption started to increase and reached its highest level during the Marcos dictatorship. The People Power revolution of 1986 ousted Marcos and brought in a relatively peaceful era in which corruption decreased for the next 15 years.

In 2001, when then Vice President Arroyo was catapulted to the presidency in another People Power revolution, corruption increased dramatically. Within four days of her takeover, the first corruption scandal erupted: the controversial IMPSA deal which Arroyo’s newly appointed Justice Secretary Hernando Perez signed. Six years later, Perez was indicted for allegedly extorting $2 million from former Congressman Mark Jimenez in relation to the IMPSA deal. However, the charges were dropped by the Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez when Jimenez executed an affidavit of desistance. It is interesting to note that Gutierrez was appointed by Arroyo to the job and was also a law school classmate of the First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo.

Last December 17, 2008, Gutierrez ordered the filing of graft, extortion and falsification charges against Perez, his wife, brother-in-law, and a business associate. However, it was immediately ridiculed by the opposition as a farcical show — “moro-moro” — to dispel allegations of “selective prosecution” by the Ombudsman.

Illinois has a notorious history of crime and corruption. Chicago was one of the bloodiest and corrupt cities during the Prohibition era when Al Capone’s criminal and bootlegging empire ruled. Politicians, judges, and police officers were in his “payroll.”

Corruption became the rule rather than the exception. During the 21-year reign of the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley which ended in 1976, he built a powerful political machine. Although he was never indicted of corruption, a lot of his underlings went to jail.

Since 1971, more than 1,000 people have been convicted for corruption in Illinois. From 1997 through 2006, the state had 524 federal corruption convictions. Since 1973, three governors have been imprisoned: George Ryan (Blago’s predecessor) convicted in 2006 for racketeering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice; Daniel Walker in 1987 for savings and loan fraud; and Otto Kerner, Jr. in 1973 for bribery, conspiracy and perjury. If convicted, Blagojevich would be the fourth of the last eight governors to be jailed.

In the case of Arroyo, since she cannot be prosecuted while she’s still in office, she may eventually have to face the music when she steps down from the presidency in June 2010. Unless, she finds a way to extend her term of office beyond 2010, she could — like her predecessor Joseph Estrada — be charged with plunder. However, Gutierrez, whose appointment as Ombudsman is a fixed term of seven years, will still be around until December 1, 2012. The question is: Would she prosecute Arroyo at the end of Arroyo’s term of office? Debt of honor — “utang na loob” — goes a long way in the Philippines. However, should Gutierrez decide not to prosecute Arroyo, she’ll live out the rest of her life in ignominy.

At the end of the day, Glo and Blago would probably have to deal with their own conscience. And sometimes one’s own conscience could be very unforgiving and could be tormenting to one’s sanity.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

 

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

With Christmas just around the corner, we need to reconnect with our faith, be it Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish or any other faith known to man. Why Christmas? It’s because Christmas is no longer just a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ but a reaffirmation of people’s “hope for peace” in a tumultuous world. Indeed, people today find commonality with one another on Christmas Day — we yearn for PEACE.

In the last 100 years, there has been more destruction on Earth than in the past 5,000 years of civilization. Wars among nations have put mankind on the brink of annihilation. The “War to End All Wars” — or World War I — led to another world war of such magnitude and destruction that should a third world war occur today it could be the prophesied “Battle of Armageddon.” That, indeed, would end all wars… and civilization as well.

In Christian communities, people look forward to reconnecting with relatives and friends from near and far away places. It’s that time once again to send Christmas cards with short notes like, “we have a new grandson…” or “our daughter got married…” or just “We missed you…” In recent years, it has become very popular to send postcards of family photos. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes it more personal and heartwarming.

But what many have overlooked is that they failed to reconnect with their faith. Christmas has become just another holiday to celebrate. The Christmas season starts on “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. “Black” because it’s supposed to be the day when people start their Christmas shopping; thus, putting the retailers’ books in the black, not red. It has become the most important period of the year for retailers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Christmas is good for business and that’s what would keep the economy booming even for just a flash.

But on a sad note, the booming sound of discontent has reached global proportions. With war, overpopulation, hunger, and global warming, the planet is faced with the prospect of colossal destruction that could bring it back to the Dark Ages.

Isn’t that what is supposed to happen after the Battle of Armageddon? Could be. Nobody has accurately prophesied what the timeline would be. In a few years? A hundred years? Or perhaps, a thousand years? The Doomsday Clock — nuclear holocaust — is now only two minutes to midnight. However, man could slow it down by avoiding the things that would imperil Earth and mankind, foremost of which is WAR.

We’re down to having a choice between WAR and PEACE. Sounds simple? It should be. But, actually, it isn’t. Indeed, nations go to war to seek peace. Shouldn’t they seek peace to avoid war instead? Yes, but man has made that choice so complex that war seems to be the “convenient” choice simply because seeking peace has become so complicated.

In 1914, during World War I, the British and French armies were manning the 27-mile Western Front fiercely defending French territory from the advancing German Army. Across the British and French trenches, as near as 200 feet away, the Germans were dug in. What separated the opposing armies was called “No Man’s Land.”

On Christmas Eve, one of the most incredible — and unusual — events in human history took place: the Germans started placing candles on trees on “No Man’s Land.” Lit with candles, the “Christmas” trees looked awesome. The Germans began singing Christmas songs and the British and French troops responded by singing too. Soon the entire “No Man’s Land” turned into a Christmas celebration. The Germans proposed a “Christmas Truce” and the French and British troops accepted it.

The day after Christmas, the generals from both sides heard about the “Christmas Truce.” They were aghast and ordered their soldiers to start shooting at each other. The soldiers resumed shooting but most of them — for several days — aimed their rifles at the sky and the stars. In some sectors, the truce continued until New Year’s Day. After all, how can “friends” shoot at each other. It got to a point where the British and French soldiers were redeployed to another sector of the front. And the Germans who refused to fire were punished for not shooting at the “enemy.”

The “Christmas Truce” should serve as a reminder that peace can be attained even under the most difficult circumstance. Although the “Christmas Truce” lasted only a few days, it has to this day inspired a lot of people especially on Christmas Day.

The world today is one humongous “No Man’s Land.” Terrorists can strike anywhere in the world and there is no safe haven from terrorist attacks. However, there is one place where peace can be nurtured — in our inner self. And to do so, we need to reconnect with our faith. As St. Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

If we truly believe that peace can be achieved, we have to set our hearts into it. Confucius said 2,500 years ago, “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right.” Indeed, we have to achieve peace with ourselves first before we can have peace with others. With God’s help, peace emanates from within us.

Peace… Shalom… Salaam.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

The stunning terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India last November 26, 2008 have brought to the forefront of international debate the issue of how secure is any city from a terrorist attack? Ten terrorists and ten targets proved that it doesn’t take a lot of terrorists to wreak havoc any place and anywhere in the world. And like those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the Mumbai attackers were not afraid to die. It’s how much destruction that mattered to them.

Although the destruction in Mumbai is pale compared to 9/11, the impact on the Indian psyche is as devastating as 9/11. India, whether she likes it or not, is now drawn — wittingly or unwittingly — into the “War on Terror.”

With a population of 1.13 billion people of which 151.4 million — or 13.4% of the population — are Muslim, India is the home to the third-largest Muslim population in the world. The largest is Indonesia with 195.2 million Muslims which comprise 88% of the population. The second largest is Pakistan with 160.8 million Muslims which comprise 98% of the population.

With a large population of Muslims, India has to pursue a policy that should not be inimical to its Muslim citizens. Having been to war with Pakistan four times since the Kashmir territorial dispute in 1947, going to war with Pakistan at this time would no longer be about territorial disputes but religious differences and intolerance — Islamists against the “infidels.” Today, war doesn’t have front lines, it’s borderless.

Why Mumbai? Formerly known as Bombay, it is the financial capital and the most populous city in India with 19 million inhabitants. And what a better way to terrorize the entire country — and mesmerize the world — than to attack Mumbai and take foreign hostages including Americans, British, and Jews.

If India and Pakistan would follow the way of the gun, the entire region — South Asia — could be one hell of a battleground. Just imagine: India and Pakistan with nuclear arms pointing at each other; neighboring giants Russia and China with huge nuclear arsenals ready to be used or peddled to client states; NATO countries stockpiled with American nuclear missiles programmed to strike certain targets; Iran secretly developing its nuclear armament program to be used against Israel; Israel ready to use its nuclear weapons in the event that it is pushed to the brink of annihilation; and Osama bin laden ready to send thousands of al Qaeda suicide bombers to population centers around the world. All these could only lead to the fulfillment of the most dreaded prophecy: the Battle of Armageddon.

It’s interesting to note that soon after the Mumbai attacks, Islamic jihadists started talking about Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim state that is being claimed by both India and Pakistan. Kashmir’s status has never been resolved since a United Nations-brokered ceasefire ended the second Pakistani-Indian War in 1965. Today, the entire Kashmir region is split into three parts with India, Pakistan and China each administering a part. There were talks in Islamic circles of establishing a Taliban Caliphate which would encompass half of India and all of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. Well, that could lead to a holy war or “jihad.” And a “jihad” could really be bloody and could also draw the big powers and their allies into the conflict.

And where would the United States be in such an event? President-elect Barack Obama said during his campaign that he’d like to withdraw the American troops from Iraq and re-deploy them to Afghanistan to finish off al Qaeda and, if necessary, intrude into Pakistan to pursue elements of al Qaeda.

While both India and Pakistan are presently allied with the United States, an armed conflict between these belligerent neighbors could force the United States to remain neutral. However, in the event that pro-American Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari — the widower of the assassinated Benazir Bhutto — is ousted by Islamic forces backed by anti-US elements in the Pakistani military, a Pakistani-Indian war could turn ugly. The US might be forced to covertly support India with military hardware or, as a last resort, overtly send an expeditionary force to stop the Islamists from overpowering India. The American entry into that war could also force Russia and China to rally behind Pakistan. As a consequence, NATO might enter the conflict in support of the US. A wild scenario? Yes, indeed.

Such a “wild scenario” could trigger the “final battle between Good and Evil” — the Battle of Armageddon — in the holiest city on Earth, Jerusalem. Iran would unleash its “secret” nuclear armaments into Jerusalem. And in an almost simultaneous reaction, Israel would send its nuclear missiles into Iran. And at that very moment, all hell breaks loose.

The Battle of Armageddon will probably not happen soon but the events that would lead to that “final battle” could start to happen soon, if they haven’t started yet. Some say that it is inevitable and that early signs are manifested. However, some say that we’re now closer to the End of Days.

With the ascension of Barack Obama as a — if not the — world leader, one wonders what would he do to deal with the various players on both sides of the “War on Terror” to preserve world peace. When Obama announced his selection of the members of his national security team, he said, “The time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century. We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships.” His biggest challenge would be how to prevent the event — or events — that would lead to Armageddon. While he had unequivocally reiterated his support of Israel throughout his presidential campaign, coming face to face with reality after winning the election is a different story. It is reassuring though when Obama promised to give more emphasis to diplomacy and bring a “new dawn of American leadership.”

I remember the chess genius Bobby Fischer who, in a 1964 tour, played more than 20 chess games simultaneously against more than 20 players in each city… and winning them all except a few.

Barack Obama would have to do better than Bobby — he has to play 120 chess games simultaneously with 120 heads of state. He should neither win or lose. All 120 games must end in a draw. And if he wins one, he loses all. Such is the intricate game of world diplomacy.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)

PerryScope
by Perry Diaz

Branded by the Republicans during the campaign as the most liberal presidential candidate in US history, President-elect Barack Obama is just about to prove that he would be the most pragmatic President since Ronald Reagan. While Reagan was the conservatives’ conservative and Obama is the liberals’ liberal, they seem to share a common philosophy that pragmatic centrism is the only way to govern all Americans, conservatives and liberals alike.

In the first 30 days since his stunning victory, Obama has demonstrated — to the chagrin of liberals and to the relief of conservatives — that he is charting his presidency right in the middle, hardly veering to the left or right. His selection of his cabinet members and inner circle of advisers has dispelled the notion that he is going to change America into a socialistic society… of “spreading the wealth around.” Change he will, but in his own terms and right along his vision of what America should be in the 21st century. And that vision is beginning to crystallize itself in recent days.

And in recent days as well, critics — particularly the Republican National Committee –have come out of the woodwork pronouncing to the whole world that the Obama phenomenon is not going to change the world but will keep the status quo. They’re saying that Obama is going to be an extension — or a remake — of the Clinton presidency. On the surface, the nay-sayers may be right but if you look at it closely, it’s not going to be anything like a Clinton, Bush or Reagan presidency; it’s going to be a change-driven Obama presidency. Interestingly, reactions from Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been anywhere from a lukewarm wait-and-see to a warm reception, a positive sign that Congress might give him a easy pass on his legislative agenda.

What Obama is obviously doing is putting together a team of intelligent people with extensive experience and proven track records of getting the job done. There is no substitute to experience, particularly the “right experience.” And all of those whom he had chosen so far have the “right experience” which he needed to pursue the change he envisioned for America.

Obama is like a great composer — a maestro — who has assembled the best and the brightest musicians of his time to play a musical score arranged to create the symphonic movements that he desire. Indeed, what Maestro Obama has been doing in the selection of his team members is to fulfill the change that he promised the American people. And right now, the American people have high hopes — and unswerving confidence — that Obama would make things happen to benefit all Americans.

Indeed, less than a month since his election, Obama has already laid the groundwork for his administration. He has put into motion the development of a stimulus package — to the tune of $500 billion a year — to jumpstart the economy and get America moving again. It is expected that this stimulus package — which would put 2.5 million Americans to work — would pass Congress and be ready for his signature after taking his oath of office on January 20, 2009; thus, fulfilling his goal to “hit the ground running” on “Day One” of his presidency.

In addition to his cabinet appointments, the most important that Obama has put together so far is his Economic Advisory Board which consists of some of the best minds in the country. In a press conference the day before Thanksgiving, he explained that his choice of experienced, centrist men and women for his inner circle would help him implement the change he promised the American people. He defended his choices by saying that it “would send the wrong message to the nation if he stocked his cabinet with newcomers, especially given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the deepening economic crisis.”

As a wartime president, Obama is going to inherit two wars, one of which he never supported and which he promised to end in 16 months. But faced with the dilemma of winding down the unpopular war in Iraq and pursuing a must-win war in Afghanistan, Obama has adroitly opted to retain Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates. The worse thing that he could do is to change horses in midstream or worse… upstream.

In a press conference last December 1, 2008, Obama announced the appointment of five high-caliber persons to his national security team. They are Sen. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Eric Holder as Attorney General, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security, Robert M. Gates as Secretary of Defense, retired Gen. James L. Jones as National Security Adviser. Clinton is considered centrist while Gates and Jones are apolitical but centrists as well. Jones was a decorated Vietnam veteran and former commander of all NATO forces which included deployment of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Obama said, “The time has come for a new beginning, a new dawn of American leadership to overcome the challenges of the 21st century. We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships.” If that is the gist of his foreign policy, he couldn’t have picked better people for his national security team.

Faced with daunting challenges in the final months of the lame duck presidency of George W. Bush, Obama couldn’t afford to just wait in the wings until January 20, 2009. With the apparent leadership “vacuum” in the White House, Obama has to take the bull by the horn and start the process of rebuilding the economy himself. Indeed, his “take charge” initiative while Bush is cocooned somewhere would help decelerate the fast-plunging economy at this crucial time of transition of power.

Indeed, there is a new ballgame in Washington, DC. The head coach is Barack Obama — an avid basketball player– and the only play he knows to execute is “offense.” It is said in the world of sports that “the best defense is a good offense.” The same mantra may be applied to world politics, especially in this time and age.

It’s time for someone to change the rules of the game of world politics and Obama has the right vision — and determination — to do it. And as he takes center stage in a world fraught with violence and dwindling resources, it behooves the American people to give him their unyielding support. After all, it is the people who would benefit most if Obama succeeds in his mission to bring change to America.

(PerryDiaz@gmail.com)