Category Archives: Otto Kerner

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Like its politicians and its war, society has the teenagers it deserves.” — Joseph Priestley

WANTING TO REBEL IN THE WORST WAY

Let’s look at something from the viewpoint of a dopey kid who’s burning up with the desire to piss people off.

It’s an easy task for me because that’s precisely the kind of dopey kid I was. That urge to thumb my nose at grownups and society at large was so overpowering that I got myself busted. It wasn’t until a couple of tough guy detectives pounded on the back door of my family’s home and slapped the cuffs on me when I was 17 that I realized the whole F.U. I was shouting at the world might not be a strategic success.

Believe me, having my belt and shoelaces confiscated, sitting in a cell where the toilet has no seat because inmates can kill themselves with it (I still don’t know how they can do it), and being offered the traditional bologna sandwich and a glass of water for dinner profoundly changes one’s attitude toward senseless rebellion.

Anyway, a couple of Bloomington teenagers presumably faced that same reality check this week. The two high school students, a boy and a girl, were hauled in on suspicion of drawing a swastika and writing the word Hitler on a poster at the Jewish studies program office in Goodbody Hall.

Apparently, the kids were hanging around the IU campus, bored, and decided to liven up the decor. The IU police say crude drawings of female parts were also found around Goodbody, drawn with the same type of black marker that the anti-semitic stuff was scrawled in.

I could have been that boy (if I had a girlfriend at that age). So I ask myself, Why would I have done it?

When I was 15, 16, and 17, the Vietnam War was just winding down, Watergate was just gearing up, and the country was just emerging from the chaos of assassinations and race rioting. I concluded this was a sick nation, that I was one of the select few souls perceptive enough to grasp that elementary fact.

Sick Nation

My parents were the two stupidest people to walk the face of this Earth. How they survived the mere act of getting to work in the morning baffled me. My teachers were idiots — all they were concerned about was the length of my hair. The cops were fascists. Politicians were crooked. Corporations were run by greedy pigs who’d sell out their grandmothers for a profit. And even the music on the radio was execrable — I mean, honestly, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”? And what about “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”?

For pity’s sake, can you blame me for wanting to overthrow the world?

The Last Straw

I was too much of a dope to understand that I could have channeled my rage in some constructive way. I hadn’t the slightest idea what I could have done to, say, force the executives of Ford Motor Company to mend their ways, or convince the Illinois governor not to slurp at the public trough.

The only thing I could think of was to roar.

Yeah, I was dopey, but I didn’t really mean anybody any harm. I wasn’t about to take a gun (which I had access to, thanks to some of my associates in small-time crime) and go out blasting for the lark of it.

Hell, I could hardly muster the bile to punch a guy in the face, although that talent was considered requisite in my neighborhood.

So what was I to do to inform the citizens of this holy land that I considered them consummate boobs?

I fell back on the old reliables: busting windows, splattering paint on walls, petty theft, flashing the finger at passing squad cars (all the while making sure they wouldn’t see me doing it), and other teen boy annoyances.

“Yeah, This’ll Show ‘Em!”

Those two Bloomington kids might well be harboring some of the same grievances I did. Hell, cops are still dousing protesters with pepper spray these days. Corporations are still run by greedy pigs. Pointless wars are still being fought. And Illinois governors are still going to prison.

Work Hard, Study, Mind Your Elders And You, Too, Can Grow Up To Be Governor

The two kids may not know exactly who Otto Kerner was or Rod Blagojevich is, but rest assured they know pols still are adept at digging their hands in our pockets when we aren’t looking. It’s a safe bet to assume, as well, that the two Bloomington teens feel their parents are spectacularly uninformed and incapable of tying their own shoelaces.

And maybe — just maybe — they needed the world to know just how contemptible they think it is.

So, pretend you’re a kid with a half-formed sense of morality. What’s the worst thing you can draw on a wall that illustrates how despicable you think the adult nation is?

A good starting point might be a penis or a vagina, no? That’ll shake ‘em up. They’ll realize what idiots they are when they catch sight of that, huh?

Okay, now that we’ve made our point clear on that score, how about politics? Let’s see now, who was the most evil politician of all time?

Duh! Adolf Hitler!

“This Is What I Think Of You.”

Man, nothin’s gonna show these pigs what we think of ‘em better than writing the name of history’s most evil man on a poster and drawing a swastika.

You think you’re gonna pull me into your bullshit world, man? Take that! Hitler. Hah!

You may counter that I’m being too forgiving here. Perhaps these two kids have had their brains turned to mush by the rantings of neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Perhaps one or both of the kids really hates Jews.

I doubt it. My guess is that neither of the kids knows exactly what a Jew is.

They most likely only know that writing Hitler’s name on a wall pisses people off, big time. And it’s a sure-fire way to make the announcement that we are not you.

I hope the kids had an epiphany when they had their belts and shoelaces taken away.

BIRTHERS NEVER DIE

Can you believe it? Birthers are still around and still making bleating noises.

Birthers.

Jerome Corsi is one of them. You’ve heard of him. Several of his books have made the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Corsi

Which is ironic because they’re as far from nonfiction as the number one bestseller called “Heaven Is for Real” by that Nebraska preacher named Burpo about his kid’s fever dream fantasy that he died and came back from paradise.

Corsi, of course, is the fabulist who popularized the Swiftboat canard against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, and has since thrown his lot in with the likes of Orly Taitz, who is to sanity what the hot dog station at the Circle K is to gourmet cooking.

Taitz

Corsi earned a doctorate in political science from Harvard, which proves only that even Ivy League institutions make mistakes.

Taitz, meanwhile, roams the streets freely, always one step ahead of the men with butterfly nets.

Corsi’s latest flight of psychotic fancy is called “Where’s the Birth Certificate: The Case that Barack Obama Is not Eligible to Be President,” published last year even as Barack Obama produced his long-form birth certificate.

Per Corsi’s peculiar logic, that is not the birth certificate.

Whatever the hell ever that means.

Anyway, New Jersey Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, a Republican (duh!) from Morris, has jumped on the Manchurian Candidate bandwagon. The state legislator says Corsi, who gave an SRO speech at the Morristown Masonic Lodge that Bucco attended Tuesday, piques his interest.

Corsi, according to Bucco, raised “interesting points I wasn’t aware of, and it made me believe this thing isn’t going away.”

Bucco, by the way, is an alternate spelling of the Italian word for hole. As in the things in both his and Corsi’s heads. Taitz’s cranium is a sieve.

Osso Bucco — Literally, Bone With A Hole

Bucco is the deputy Republican leader in the New Jersey House. Corsi’s speech was sponsored by a gaggle of Tea Party groups as well the Morris County Republican Party.

So this is fairly mainstream stuff. Within my lifetime, the cranks of this holy land have become respectable — which says absolutely nothing about them but everything about us.

See, there’ve always been those who fixate on marginalia. There were guys I used to see at City Hall, for instance, who rode their rusty three-speed bikes to every single City Council Zoning Committee meeting, convinced they were the average citizen’s bulwark against corruption. You know the type — they loiter in the county building halls and mumble hello to passing county board members and whoever is foolish enough to acknowledge them immediately becomes the object of the loiterer’s mantra-like anecdote for the next few weeks: “I was talking to so-and-so at the county building and she says….”

Or how about the insomniacs who listened to all-night syndicated talk radio shows? They knew that the government was sitting on alien visitation evidence in Roswell.

Proof!

They reside at the flange of the sanity’s bell curve.

For most of our history, the ramblings of these folks have been the aural equivalent of the croak of a toad in a wetland ten miles from the nearest outpost of civilization.

Now, though, that toad croak must be breathlessly covered by TV, radio, and newspaper reporters across the nation.

How did that happen?

Is it the inevitable result of me-generation huffing and puffing from the 70s?

You know, everybody’s opinion counts? Feelings are paramount? Facts are fascist? If you believe it, it’s true?

Self-help authors made millions pontificating in this manner. Remember Robert Bly and John Bradshaw? Later practitioners included Marianne Williamson and, more recently, Rhonda Byrne, she of “The Secret.”

Believe And It Will Be So

They all preached that you create your own reality.

And no matter how much the Right derides the touchy-feely, post-hippie, 70’s generation, most of them grew up in that era. If they didn’t care for est training and I-am-woman-hear-me-roar, they surely dug the patronizing message that whatever you think or believe is valid.

Well, guess what folks — it ain’t.

No matter how passionately you feel, the world is not flat. The Apollo moon landings were not staged. Alien bodies were not hidden in a hangar at Area 51. And Barack Obama was born in Hawai’i.

 

 

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Democrats always like to brag that their guys are smarter than the opponents and Republicans always like to brag that their guys are more moral than the opponents. But if you’re looking for morals in politics you’re looking for bananas in the cheese department.” — Harry Shearer

DEMOCRACY

I generally rake Republicans over the coals in these precincts.

You may ask why I don’t extend the same courtesy to the Democrats. They are, in many ways, nearly indistinguishable from the Republicans these days.

The last two Democratic presidents have been what used to be referred to as Rockefeller Republicans. Despite hysterical pronouncements by Fox News faces and talk radio squealers, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama are wild-eyed radicals.

Sheesh, quite the contrary. Like the Rocky Reps of yore, Bill and Barry are staunch defenders of those that have it even as they pay lip service to those that don’t.

Oh sure, Clinton and Obama were and are light years ahead of the GOP on things like the environment, race relations, and Supreme Court nominees whose resumes do not include tutelage under “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS.”

Oh, and I’m not equating the likes of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas with the Nazis. I find this whole people-I-disagree-with-are-Hitler trend of the last decade or so downright infantile. But the Ilsa reference is too delicious to pass up.

Anyway, the Dems who attain high office these days are not quite as crocodillian as their Republican counterparts. But they’re getting there.

If Barack Obama is such an airplane-hijacking, rock-throwing, Islamic terrorist mole, then why has he surrounded himself with so many Goldman Sachs unindicted co-conspirators?

I lay off the Dems because, gee, they’re so pitiful.

I was raised in a Democratic family in a Democratic city in a Democratic state in a Democratic nation. That’s right: when I was just learning who was who in this holy land back in the mid-1960s, my president was Lyndon Baines Johnson, my governor was Otto Kerner, and my mayor was Richard J. Daley. All Democrats.

Richard J. Daley & Teddy Kennedy

Heck, the Democratic precinct captain in my childhood neighborhood, Barney Potenzo, a cigar-chomping, fedora-sporting party hack who visited our house at least once a month just to make sure our loyalty wasn’t wavering in the slightest, even convinced my mother to have the polling place in our basement a couple of times.

Those were exciting days. Some patronage stooges would dolly in the voting machines as well as boxes of supplies and canvasing sheets the day before the election. Then the next day the entire house would be awash in the aromas of coffee, hamburgers, and Barney’s cigar until late at night when the election judges and poll-watchers would be concluding their final negotiations to produce the obligatory local landslide for the Daley Machine.

On Election Day, I’d be sitting at the top of the basement stairs, listening and trying to see as much as I could. I was rapt by the process and the coffee-cum-cigar bouquet intoxicated me.

The first day we hosted the polling place, one of our neighbors, a little old Italian woman who’d finally been naturalized and was voting for the first time in her life tottered into the basement and told the judge she didn’t know what to do.

Barney Potenzo almost swallowed his cigar when he heard that. He dashed to the old woman’s side as fast as a shark who smells chum.

“Doan worry, Nonna*. I’ll take care a’ya,” he said as he put a vise-like grip on her elbow and whisked her toward a voting machine.

(*Nonna: affectionate Italian for Grandma, a familiar term of respect for a superannuated woman.)

In those days, the standard voting machine was an enormous green contraption that must have weighed a thousand pounds. The top half of the face of the machine contained a board with a list of the candidates for the various offices next to little levers that would make metallic plinks when they were flipped.

Plink

To vote, one would enter the booth and pull a big handle that automatically drew a red curtain, affording the voter a measure of privacy.

You might expect that I’d hear thousands of plink, plink, plinks throughout the day but we lived in one of the most dependable Democratic wards in the city so most voters plinked once, for a straight-ticket vote, and then went on their way, assured that any reasonable favor they’d ask of Barney Potenzo would be granted until the next election.

Barney would listen intently as each voter entered the booth. If he heard a single, straight-ticket plink and then see the curtain open up, he’d grin at the voter. “T’anks a lot,” he’d say, his cigar bobbing with each syllable. “Gimme a call, y’need anyt’ing, okay now?”

Woe unto the voter, though, whose moment in the booth produced multiple plinks. That meant she or he was wasting precious votes on Republicans. When those few voters exited the booth, Barney would eye them grimly, his jaw clenched.

And if they had the temerity to say goodbye to Barney, the precinct captain might deign to throw a cold, “Yeah, okay,” at them.

So, on this particular day, Barney led the frail old lady to a vacant booth and said, “Now, here’s whatcha do.”

He proceeded to show her the big handle that would draw the red curtains and then he pointed at the little levers next to the candidates’ names.

“Look up d’ere,” he instructed. “Y’see d’at little lever next to Democrat? Yeah, d’at’s it. Y’pull d’at one and d’at’s all y’gotta do. Yer done, see?”

The little old lady hardly had a chance to say thank you when a young, conscientious cop (each polling place had a cop to stand guard) dashed up and put his hand on Barney’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” the cop said, “but you can’t do that.”

The cop clearly was new to the force and from a station outside our ward. He didn’t know who he was messing with.

“What the goddamn hell are you talkin’ about?” Barney roared. “Donchyou tell me what the hell to do!”

“Watch your language, sir,” the cop demanded.

“Hey, sonny boy, whaddya, some kind reformer or somethin’? Mind yer own goddamn business,” Barney said.

With that, the cop whipped out his bracelets and cuffed Barney right there in my family’s basement. It was thrilling.

“I’ll be a son of a bitch,” Barney hollered.

“You’re under arrest,” the cop said.

I couldn’t wait to see the news that night, certain this little drama would be the lead story. (To my great disappointment, Barney’s arrest wasn’t even mentioned; I hadn’t fully realized yet what a huge city I lived in and how many times this scenario was probably played out in a hundred polling places that day.)

The rest of the voters and poll-watchers and election judges froze. No one could speak. It was as if they were watching a natural disaster slowly unfold before their eyes, a tornado maybe, or an earthquake. My mother wrung her hands.

As the cop led Barney out of the basement, the precinct captain shouted over his shoulder toward the Democratic election judge, “Call Louie!”

Louie Garippo was the Democratic Committeeman of the 36th Ward. The committeeman was the real power in the ward. The alderman usually answered to him. The 50 ward committeemen met every year with the Big Potato himself, Mayor Daley, to choose a slate for the upcoming election. They seemed to have an innate sense of what the Mayor wanted and would act accordingly.

In return, the Mayor allowed them a pro-rated number of patronage jobs to disburse, based on their relative loyalty and their most recent voter turnout. In the 36th Ward, Louie Garippo was so powerful he could have snapped his fingers and ordered the firing of every cop in the Austin District police station and replaced them with elementary school patrol boys.

The Democratic election judge asked Ma if he could use the phone and then raced upstairs to call Louie. “Y’better get over here quick,” he said into the receiver.

Louie arrived in a matter of minutes. He listened as the judge told him what’d happened. “I’ll be goddamned,” Louie said. Then he asked Ma for the phone.

“Hiya, Commander, this is Mr. Garippo of the 36th. I want you to do something for me,” he said into the receiver.

Louie was only on the phone for a scant few moments. After he hung up, he passed me and tussled my hair. “Hey, you’re gettin’ to be a big boy now,” he said. “I bet you can’t wait until you’re old enough to vote.”

“No sir,” I said.

My mother smiled even though she was still wringing her hands.

And before I knew it, there was Barney Potenzo, sauntering back into our basement, looking for all the world like a cat with feathers sticking out of his mouth.

He’d been chauffeured back to our home in a squad car driven, of course, by a different cop than the one who’d arrested him.

Barney’s Limousine

When he saw Louie, he gushed. “T’anks a lot, Mr. Garippo,” he said. “Some kinda punk kid, that police officer, huh?”

Louie Garippo only grunted. He hustled Barney to a corner of the basement and lit into him in a muffled voice. I couldn’t make out much of what he said beyond, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know any better than to….”

The new police officer on duty locked the door at six o’clock. The judges and poll watchers counted, negotiated, and drank coffee until two in the morning. Not that there was much to count other than an overwhelming number of straight Democratic votes. But Mayor Daley had a policy of holding back vote counts until after the Republican precincts in suburban DuPage County had reported.

Once he knew the Republican totals, then he could release a sufficiently higher number of votes from the city. The incumbent President Johnson destroyed Barry Goldwater in our precinct, as he did around the country that day. It was one of the greatest landslides in American history.

Who knows, maybe the Republicans learned something that day. The next presidential election year, 1968, saw Richard Nixon, utilizing the Southern Strategy, grab the White House.

The Republicans probably were tired of having elections stolen from them. The Dems, they knew, had ballot box-stuffing and jiggered vote counts down pat. The Republicans could never beat them at that game.

So, they pulled the scary black man out of their hat. Over the years, the GOP has utilized any number of scary bogeymen to counterbalance Democratic prestidigitation. There’ve been the commies, the fags, liberated women, atheists who won’t allow our kids to pray in school, brown terrorists, Manchurian Candidates, and socialists.

It’s a hell of a lot more efficient strategy than depending on cigar-chomping party hacks to turn in manufactured vote counts. In fact, the Dems probably don’t even know how to steal a vote anymore.

But the Republicans never run out of bogeymen to scare the electorate with.

That’s why I go easy on the party of my childhood.

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