Sunday, December 20, 2009

St. Louis calling Julie Doucet in Montreal

I dip in and dip out of most things, not much of a completist or expert, but I do buy everything by Julie Doucet I can lay my hands on.

The other day at Star Clipper I laid my hands on a book by her I had never seen, 365 Days (Drawn & Quarterly). Mine now!

It's a year in the life of a struggling, mid-career artist, successful by most objective measures, but frayed - sometimes, flayed - by the uncertainty of the market and technical aggravations of the work.

Julie and I are nearly precisely the same age, and dispersed similarly across a lot of projects, so I can certainly relate to her personal diary of November 2002-2003.

She was living and working at the time in Montreal, though she had an eye on Paris and lands a steady smattering of international gigs, related to her art and books.

St. Louis makes a surprising cameo. In her entry on March 22, 2003 - a period stained by the earliest stage of the current Iraq War - she is told by phone about the local (to her) band Godspeed You Black Emperor getting interrogated by the FBI as suspected terrorists while on tour at a gas station in St. Louis.

That was enough to tee me up for this blogpost. As a matter of fact, various accounts place the band in Ardmore, Arkansas for their stop/frisk by the feds. But they were on their way to a gig that night in St. Louis, and they told the dramatic tale onstage here, which explains the confusion.

The mention of St. Louis in Julie's diary made me realize that my arts project Poetry Scores could pop up in her narrative. It would have appeared, if at all, as one of her endless, marginally irritating art opportunities.

All she had to do, in our case, was give approval for the use of a few images she had drawn years before and we already had in our possession, on the pages of a comic book.

We were scoring a Turkish poem titled, in translation, Blind Cat Black. The imagery in the poem of a black cat in a blind alley, within her sack a child just dead, made me think of Julie's drawings from Dirty Plotte.

The zombie cat is saying something else - the more evocative "I am the only man!" if memory serves - in Julie's panel.

This image, which we used on the back cover of the CD, I find even more amazing.

True to form - for Julie, but also for us - logistics posed problems. I seem to recall payment was not prompt, and Julie resorted to fretting with me before the financial ducks could be made to get in a row, finally, from St. Louis to Quebec.

When I searched my email inbox and found our exchanges, however, they were dated a couple of years later than when these 365 days end. Julie will have to write and publish another diary before our project will have the chance to crop up in her prose as yet another flattering but wearying gig.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Strumming Swedish elf home movie of my life

So what do you do when some Swedish bloke makes a home movie about his brief waltz through an important part of your life?

You blog it, I suppose.

Fabian Grapengiesser accompanied songwriter Anders Elfstom from Sweden to East Nashville, Tennessee to make a record, and Grapengiesser (really, one must swoon over these amazing names!) made a compelling home move out of the journey and the session.

I'm projecting that this journey seemed larger than life to these two Swedes due to the name magic of Nashville. I'm guessing that exotic connection was what motivated this wide-eyed and loving intimate portrait of their session.

I can certainly relate. St. Louis is lot closer to Nashville than Stockholm is, but the music city always has held mystique for me. Many years ago one of my best friends and musical brothers, Lij Shaw, relocated to Nashville from St. Louis (by way of a stint playing blues in Hong Kong).

Lij has been able to make a living playing and recording music in Nashville, which strikes a certain awe in the heart of an amateur like me, and for many years I have thrived on the drive to Nashvegas for sessions with him. That is the amazing part to me about Grapengiesser's video - he fetishizes the pecise studio scenes and images that have become familiar and beloved to me over the course of many years.

Anders Elfstom (it seems important to note that the "o" in his last name bears an umlaut) recorded at Lij's latest studio, The Toy Box, in downhome East Nashville. As such, the tiniest details of studio life down there that I have come to know and cherish - the quirks of the alarm system, the dry-erase board and its ever-present forum for documenting inside jokes, the clumsy back gate for egress of amps - have now been documented for the world to see.

Our current songwriting project, Poetry Scores, recorded most of our 2009 record The Sydney Highrise Variations with Lij and Marc Primeau in The Toy Box. I know that the people who worked on our record in Nashville will feast on this video, and I hope the many artists and volunteers who support Poetry Scores' efforts will also enjoy a glimpse into our working conditions and process.

Anders Elfstrom - a man with a strumming elf in his name - is hereby invited to help Poetry Scores set a long poem to rock music, which is one of the things we do. Not only do I like the songs he recorded with my boy Lij in East Nashville, but this man has a strumming elf - and an umlaut - in his name!

Anders Elfstrom - The Nashville Sesssion
Produced by Fabian Grapengiesser

*Bonus Music Video*

Anders Elfstrom - "I Fell Into Your Arms"
Produced by Fabian Grapengiesser


Image of Lij, fretting at the drum kit, working with Dave Melson on a Poetry Scores session in The Toy Box earlier this year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A thank-you note from Missouri death row

I received the following letter, hand-written, from Missouri death row inmate Reginald Clemons this week.

Reginald was scheduled to be executed on June 17 of this year, when the Missouri Supreme Court - which had scheduled his execution - suddenly sent his case to an independent judge with subpoena power.

As far as anyone I have spoken with is aware, this was an unprecedented development for a death row case with an execution scheduled. Judge Michael Manners has scheduled a hearing for May 2010 to hear old and new evidence.

Our newspaper, The St. Louis American, continued to cover weaknesses in the case against Clemons as his execution date neared. This relentless coverage is the subject of this letter, which speaks for itself.

Hello! How are you doing today? I hope this letter finds you doing well and in the best of spirits.

I have been very busy trying to prepare for the hearing coming up this May 2010, to make the most of the chance to prove my innocence. It has been a blessing to spend time talking to my family. I can hear the difference in the voice now that I’ve got breathing room. I know that’s due in part to your help with getting the word out.

I’ve already started laying groundwork to make the most out of the new lifeline I’ve gotten. Just like God made it possible for me to reach you in my greatest hour of need, I am fully confident that I’ll be able to finally accomplish some of the things I hope to do for the world and the Earth.

I know it was the weekly articles you put out there for people to become informed. It solidified for me how important it is to trust people to know the truth when they hear it. Thank you for helping me and taking the time to hear me out.

Reginald Clemons

Monday, November 30, 2009

Old trombone my verbiage into some Italian rock!

I learned from a blog this morning that one of my poems has been translated into Italian and set to rock music.

The translator and songwriter is a man named Andrea from the northern Italian band Van Cleef Continental. I met him years ago on a listserv devoted to The Replacements, thinking I was flirting with an Italian girl who was into American post-punk. It's a man's name in his country.

Andrea and I met once in the Milan airport, where I was connecting en route to Ghana, and we have kept up with one another's projects over the years. In fact, his attention to my work scoring long poems was what motivated him to request some of my poetry so he could score it.

He chose this poem - the first piece in my chapbook A heart I carved for a girl I knew.

I used to be precocious.
I’ll spare you that bit,
The old fart expostulates
On his precocious youth.
I was right on time, though,
Or a little behind the swerve,
On this middle-aged thing,
This old blues. I have no eye
Out for car lots, or hair pieces,
But I did want to run away and join the circus, again.
I do, I do want to run away and join the circus,
I want to somersault out of a cannon, into the empty air,
I want to sleep beneath the stars and my carnival ride,
I want to put my head into the mouth of the lion. I do.
I want to run away and join the circus, with you.
The Van Cleef blog has Andrea's Italian translation, which I can't read. Though Google Toolbar gives me the option of translating his Italian with the flick of a switch. Doing so gives me this English version of my poem:

I was quite early
I shall spare you this part,
old trombone that verbiage
about his early childhood.
But I was more than punctual, however
Or a little below average
this thing to middle age
this old blues. I never had a great eye
for the resale of cars or the hairstyles special
but I wanted to run away and join the circus
and I still want to run away and join the circus
I want to do a spin in the air, fired from a cannon
I want to sleep under the stars, near the carousel horses
I want to poke your head in the mouth of the lion. yes.
I want to run away and join the circus with you.
I love "the old fart expostulates" going into Italian, then coming back into English as "old trombone that verbiage"!

I'll have an mp3 of his song soon - I am told it is a piano rock ballad (I love me a piano rock ballad). I expect Andrea will sing the English version - my English version.


Andrea is the man playing bass to the left in this photo from the Van Cleef Continental MySpace page.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A year and a day for Jeff Smith

Judge Jackson sentences former state senator for obstruction of justice

By Chris King
Of The St. Louis American

Former state Sen. Jeff Smith’s good works saved him at least three months in federal prison.

On Tuesday morning Judge Carol E. Jackson sentenced Smith to 12 months and one day in prison and a fine of $50,000, whereas sentencing guidelines for his crimes called for 15 to 21 months of incarceration.

In August Smith pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Jackson sentenced him to 12 months and one day in prison (and two years of supervised release) for each charge, but the sentences will run concurrently.

“These are very serious offenses – ongoing efforts to thwart ongoing investigations by the FEC and FBI,” Jackson said to Smith during the sentencing hearing Tuesday morning in federal district court.

“Serious, in that these were the legitimate efforts on the part of two government bodies to perform the duties they are supposed to perform: investigating allegations of misconduct.”

Smith and his codefendants conspired to obstruct justice in 2004 when the Federal Election Commission investigated a minor act of campaign fraud committed in the course of Smith’s 2004 congressional campaign against Russ Carnahan in the Democratic primary.

This year they conspired to obstruct justice when the FBI investigated the earlier conspiracy, which was uncovered through recordings made covertly by a campaign operative, who remains imprisoned on other charges.

The 2009 conspiracy against the FBI was recorded by a cooperating witness, codefendant Steve Brown, a state representative at the time, who avoided a prison sentence for his cooperation. He and Nick Adams, the young treasurer of Smith’s 2004 campaign, were sentenced by Jackson to two years of probation and fines of $40,00 and $5,000, respectively.

Transcriptions of those wire tapes, which prosecutor Hal Goldsmith read aloud in the sentencing hearing, reveal Smith scheming to lie and conceal evidence of their crimes and even attempt to pin them on a co-conspirator from the 2004 campaign who had since killed himself.

The Jeff Smith revealed on these tapes stood in stark contrast to the selfless public servant described in the many letters of support submitted by the defendant. “Reading these letters, then reading these transcripts, leads me to wonder: Who is the real Jeff Smith?” Jackson said.

Clearly, the testimony in the letters impacted the judge – and she said she had taken them into consideration.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you have contributed significantly to the community and social causes. Moreover, your contributions were motivated by a genuine desire to help people and better lives, not motivated by personal, professional or political gain,” Jackson said to Smith.

“Your service was significant, perhaps even extraordinary, compared to what others have done. A lot of politicians have showed up at events to have their picture taken, we all know that. You showed up because you wanted to be there and you wanted to participate. You touched a lot of people’s lives.”

Ultimately, though, Smith’s obstruction of justice – continued for five years through two separate conspiracies against two separate federal investigations – weighed too heavily against him to keep him out of prison, as his attorney had requested.

“What’s most troubling is you had many, many opportunities between 2004 and 2009 to come clean, and you didn’t do that,” Jackson said.

“You and your codefendants continued to think of ways to conceal what you did. One lie led to another, and they built on each other. That is very troubling. Our justice system doesn’t work very well when people interfere with it.”

The need for deterrence, the judge said, demanded prison time.

“Deterrence is an important factor, not only for yourself but for others in your position. It is important that your sentence reflect promotion of respect for the law, which you and your defendants showed very little respect for in your conduct,” Jackson said.

“Probation and house arrest is not punishment. How you perpetrated these crimes, and the period of time you perpetrated them, warrants something more.”

The film Frank Popper made about Smith’s 2004 campaign includes footage of Smith’s mother saying she wished her son wouldn’t pursue electoral politics because of the dirty things people do to win. Those haunting words may now be joined in Smith’s memory by something incisive Judge Jackson said when weighing Smith’s crimes against his record of community service.

Jackson said, “I have to wonder, because you seem so sincere and have such a stellar record, do people tend to believe you, even when you are lying to them?”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Nightingale's Song at Powell in a rainy season

Possibly it has always been true, but most of us these days are not taught the things we really need to know and are left to ourselves to learn them for ourselves.

I feel fortunate, first, to have survived into adulthood, and then to have emerged with abundant curiosity and gumption to venture into the places where it might have been said by others that I didn't belong.

One such place is Powell Hall. When I was younger and had far less money but much more freedom in time, I bought season tickets in the nosebleeds, and sat up there rapt with wonder, learning how symphonies move and even the names of instruments in the orchestra.

I knew so little; had so much to learn. Now I only know the proverbial more that alerted me to the vaster more I have yet to learn.

Friday night at Powell, not in the nosebleeds, I learned more about how a symphonic poem, as opposed to a symphony proper, moves. The program opened with Stravinsky's Song of the Nightingale, a symphonic poem that follows the rhythm of a story, rather than historic expectations as to the structured movements of composed music.

It occured to me that this kind of music is not about movement at all, but rather space. I had a strikingly visual experience of the music, as David Robertson brought alive different sections of The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and even individual players, with waves of his wand and magic little puffs from his fingers.

Song of the Nightingale is a tentative, atomised, delicate piece of music, a dreamscape, and the way David led the band through its changes was a revelation to me.

I dream when awake with intensity, and resist being shook from my dreams, so I remained absorbed in the Stravinsky and my new sense of space in music throughout the next piece of music, which was the anchor of the program.

This was Tan Dun's Water Concerto, featuring Colin Currie guesting on lead percussion. There is an undeniable wow factor to this piece, because it introduces big glass bowls of water into the orchestra as musical instruments.

Traditional African music is one of those other things I wasn't supposed to find, but found, and have dreamed into with intensity; and I have in my possession numerous recordings of African villagers making music by splashing in water. I am down with this sort of thing and adored seeing it melded into symphonic repertoire.

Even more to my liking was the play with overtones. Currie and two house percussionists also bowed and struck some odd instruments I have never seen before, creating eeries overtones. The same effect was made by bowing a gong and dipping the gong into the water. The score called for violins and other instruments with high registers to echo these overtones and embellish them. This made for brilliantly colorful splashes of sound that hearkened back, tonally, to the Stravinsky.

But I thought the performance Friday night had some problems. The orchestra didn't seem to be hearing Currie very well. The rhymic interaction between his playing and the band as a whole seemed, often, to be off. This would be understandable when the instrument was something as evanescent as water, but I found the disconnect more dismaying when he was rapping out louder beats on more solid instruments.

If I'm right about this - and the disconnection could be integral to the score; I don't know - then I expect David Robertson will fix this before they take this show on the road to Carnegie Hall.

That's the other thing I have learned about music from this orchestra - in this case, at rehearsals, rather than concerts. If the conductor looks superfluous on the bandstand at the concert - most of the time, most of the musicians don't even look at him - that's because he really earns his keep at rehearsal.

That's when he stops the band, stamps out the proper rhythm, sings the accurate pitch, redirects the players to the starting place in the score, and has them hit it again. David Robertson takes musicians through this process with a joy and generosity that must make him a very pleasant man to work with and for.

But really, my biggest problem with the Water Concerto was not the orchestra's performance of it, in tandem with Colin Currie. The problem was, it wasn't the Stravinsky, and I wasn't finished thinking about the Stravinsky. I am thinking about it still.


The image is of Joan Miro's painting The Nightingale's Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain


Noted with shame: I spent the seven days previous to this concert in virtual quarantine with an H1N1-addled child and desperately was needing some social life. My friend Bradley Bowers was hosting an open house to share some of his art work before it gets shipped off to a gallery elsewhere, and a number of other friends were expected to attend. So I skipped out of the second half of this program. It pains me to have missed the Bright Sheng and the Bartok, but a man also must be a friend.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little love to, and from, the White House

One of the cool things about editing a newspaper is that when you see a beautiful new portrait of your country's beautiful First Family, you can display it loud and proud on the front page in full color.

So long as the publisher agrees. And I knew our publisher, Doc, would agree. Here is a pdf of our front page tomorrow for The St. Louis American:

Page A1, Oct. 29, 2009

I don't usually have a pdf of the front page the night we go to press; usually, I'm there with the rest of our little newsroom and the publisher, proofing black & white printouts as they roll out of our ancient printer.

But today, I am home with a sick kid, and stayed away even when my wife came home to relieve me, since the girl has H1N1. She is doing fine, and her parents don't seem to be getting sick, but I have been exposed and don't want to communicate the virus to anyone else while I may be contagious.

Having proofed the front-page design by pdf (and corrected a few errors on this version that won't appear in tomorrow's paper, multiplied by 70,000), I had the idea of sending it to our contact at the White House.

Barack Obama set a new standard for outreach to the minority press; I've actually had a far easier time communicating with the Obama campaign and administration than the Slay for Mayor campaign or administration.

Anyway, I emailed this front page to our man in Washington, with the note, "Thought you'd appreciate how we played your peeps."

And he wrote right back in moments:

Chris, you guys are too good for your own good. That made my day.
Hope the kid feel better. Thanks much.
Well, hell. Approval from the White House, and the paper isn't even at the printer? I think I deserve a beer. I think I'm going to go get one now.

p.s. If you want to continue reading the stories that start on 1A, here are the jump pages:

Page A6, Oct. 29, 2009

Page A7, Oct. 29, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Call him sperm whale poop

I understand from a report in The Telegraph that a British broadcast medium will try reporting news and issues of the day using impersonators for literary figures of the past:

Dr Samuel Johnson will be interpreted by the broadcaster David Stafford, John Ruskin, the critic, will be played by Professor Bernard Richards, a Ruskin expert at Brasenose College Oxford, and Jane Austen will be performed by Rebecca Vaughan, who wrote and performed in 'Austen's Women' at this year's Edinburgh festival.
I like it - if only because I dislike so much what so many broadcasters do when they don't impersonate anybody.

We are told, further, that "Dr Johnson will examine the knowledge economy and learn how to use the internet" and "Jane Austen,will consider modern courtship and the waning popularity of marriage," while left to guess what faux Ruskin will natter on about.

This made me imagine dead American writers we might bring back to talk about the news and issues of our day.

This deserves to be an occasional series, rather than a hurried roundup. So let me start by bringing back one dead American scribe - Herman Melville - to report on climate change.

Herman, of course, was the great poet of the sperm whale. As his news director, I would have him interview Trish J. Lavery of Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, who just busted out some fresh research about Melville's species of choice.

Turns out since Hermie kicked, sperm whales have been getting a bum rap for allegedly breathing out skads of carbon that contributes to greenhouse gas buildup, and thereby global warming. Bad sperm whale! Bad, bad!

According to Science News, Trish is putting the kebosh on that slander. A whale whose name is associated with a bodily fluid is actually rehabilitating its reputation through a bodily solid. It's all about diving to the depth and bringing up iron that, returned to the surface of the ocean, nourishes plankton that scarfs on - y'all guessed it - carbon.

Using numbers from studies of feeding and nutrition, Lavery and her colleagues calculate that each whale brings up about 10 grams of iron a day from the depths
and then defecates it at the surface. The beauty of this sperm whale output is that it takes the form of drifting liquid plumes that can feed life in the upper ocean, Lavery says. She notes that experiments with iron have struggled with iron fertilizers that clump and sink before upper-water plankton can eat all of the goodies. Yet, she says, those experiments document measurable carbon trapping with even less iron fertilizer than sperm whales contribute.
I know, I know, I know: this clip talks of "the beauty of this sperm whale output," when said output is sperm whale poop. Bad Branson dinner theater joke in there somewhere. How many scientists does it take to see beauty in sperm whale poop? Just one I guess.

And I know just how I'll coach old Herman to start his every stand-up on camera: "Call me Ishmael!" And, then, in this instance, "Or, call me sperm whale poop! Reporting from the Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Quebec City, Canada ..."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Antonio French responds to Rainford's 'Katrina' insult

Alderman Antonio D. French hand-delivered this letter to the Mayor' Office around noon today.

Dear Mayor Slay,

I would like to call to your attention comments made yesterday by your chief of staff, Jeff Rainford. On the 10:00 PM broadcast of KMOV Channel 4 News, Mr. Rainford compared north St. Louis City to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

While it is certainly true that parts of the City of St. Louis have suffered greatly from decades of population loss and benign neglect under past administrations, to have the chief of staff of the Mayor make such a broad characterization of half of our city completely undermines the efforts many of us are making to improve the quality of life in our wards.

As I work daily to attract the interest of rehabbers, developers and entrepreneurs who can help us rebuild the 21st Ward house-by-house, block-by-block, I definitely do not need to have an official City spokesperson on television painting a negative picture of my northside

Furthermore, if it is truly the opinion of Room 200 that sections of north St. Louis are similar to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, then I welcome a proportional response from your office in terms of a true commitment of attention and resources to those sections of our city that present both the biggest challenges and the greatest opportunity for the City of St. Louis.

I would also like to invite Mr. Rainford on a personal tour of the Penrose and O’Fallon neighborhoods to show him the beautiful and wellmaintained blocks that make these some of the finest places to live in the City of St. Louis and not at all like an area destroyed by a natural disaster.
Alderman Antonio D. French
City of St. Louis, Ward 21

Missouri man indicted for threatening Obama

Josh Randall McCallum was indicted on federal charges of making a threat to kill the President of the United States, Acting United States Attorney Michael W. Reap announced today.

According to the indictment, on August 3, 2009, McCallum mailed a letter threatening to kill the President of the United States. At the time he mailed the letter he was an inmate at the Northeast Correctional Center.

McCallum, 32, Bowling Green, MO, was indicted by a federal grand jury October 8, 2009, on one felony count of threatening the President of the United States. He is expected to appear in federal court later this week.

If convicted, this charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000.

Reap commended the work on the case by the United States Secret Service; and Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Rea, who is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Monday, October 12, 2009

‘An affirmation of American leadership’

One peculiar experience I get as editor of The St. Louis American at this historic juncture is on a regular basis to edit a speech given by the president for publication. I know his flow, and that of his speechwriters, pretty well by now. We will run this in the paper this week.


President Obama responds to Nobel Peace Prize award

By Barack Obama
U.S. President

Washington, D.C.
– Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning.

After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, "Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday!" And then Sasha added, "Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up." So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize – men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build – a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action – a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

These challenges can’t be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration has worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek.

We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people. And that's why we’ve begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons, because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.

We can't allow the differences between peoples to determine the way that we see one another, and that's why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years, and that effort must include an unwavering commitment that finally realizes that the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today.

I am the Commander-in-Chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I'm also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work. These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.

Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration – it’s about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity – for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America. And that's why I believe America will continue to lead.

Edited from remarks delivered in the White House Rose Garden on Oct. 9, 2009.


President Barack Obama and his daugher Malia read an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence at the Jefferson Memorial, Sept. 27, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Osama, Obama, and the Nobel Prize for Peace

I'll have to admit some good-faith understanding of the Americans who loathe President Barack Obama and oppose every last thing he says or does without regard for our country.

I felt much the same way about President George W. Bush and his father, President Geoge H.W. Bush. During both Bush presidencies, things got so bad for me that I quit watching national television news because the sound of the president's voice immediately pitched me into a towering rage.

I have never killed anyone, don't plan to kill anyone, and would never kill a president, but I hated both of these men with a quality and quantity of rage that could fairly be described as "murderous".

I get all that. And I would never let anyone convince me that I hated the Bushes because I hate rich white men. I hated them because I hated their rhetoric and policies and what I thought they were doing to our country.

So, I think it is possible to hate Barack Obama for his rhetoric and policies and what he is perceived to be doing to our country - without being a racist. I think much hatred of Obama is, in fact, entangled with racism and outraged white privilege, but I don't think all of it is.

And no one who hated the Bush presidents as much as I did can, with good faith, deny a fellow American the right to hate the president. (Just, please, don't kill him.)

Here is how much I have hated the recent Republican presidential administrations.

I am married to a woman from West Africa, and we own a postage stamp of land in Ghana. We looked at John McCain and, especially, Sarah Palin (who is, at least, easy to look at, at least for me), and we agreed that if our fellow Americans (my wife is now a citizen) wanted these people to run the country, that we would leave it. I was fully prepared to abandon my country and repatriate to Ghana if John McCain and Sarah Palin had won the White House.

So, I get it - I get the hating. I really do.

I wish the haters were as ready to repatriate as my wife and I were (angry conservative white people are welcome in many places, though fewer and fewer, every day). But it's their country, too, and they have every right to stay right here and hate it and everything about it, including the president. (Just don't kill him with those guns that you have every right to bear.)

I have been thinking a lot about Ghana, lately, after the surprising announcement that Barack Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Let me say, first, that I report for and edit an African American-owned newspaper that worked hard to elect Obama, through the powers of the press, and remains committed to supporting him and helping him to succeed. As our owner and publisher, Donald M. Suggs, said to me once, when he was privately criticizing a piece of public adulation of Obama, "Look - no one loves Obama more than we do".

No one loves Obama more than we do, but that doesn't mean we can't be puzzled by certain things and offer criticisms.

So, yeah, I was among those - and I am fairly certain Barack Obama himself was among those - who was puzzled by his receiving this high honor at this time in his life and career. However, come with me to Ghana for a moment. Maybe that will help us to understand this thing.

I first started visiting Ghana after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, when George W. Bush was the American president. Ghana is a stong, proud nation of strong, proud people, quite preoccupied with their own challenges and initiatives. It is a democracy highly engaged with its own internal politics.

On the roadside and in the streets, one sees and hears mostly about Ghanaians. However, when one saw a depiction of someone who was not Ghanaian, more likely than not the bearded face one would see would be that of Osama bin Laden. One saw a symbol of the desire to destroy our country, the United States, and all it stood for in the world.

We went home to Ghana this past summer to bury my wife's father. It was our first visit home since the election of Obama. I was thinking more about the father we had lost than the president we had elected, but I was immediately struck by the omnipresence of Barack Obama's smiling face on the streets of Ghana.

True, Obama had recently visited the country, in his historic first visit to West Africa as president, and given one of his stirring speeches. And true, too, that Ghana was doing some of its own political soul-searching, with a torpor in its local politics, no local star to hold onto.

But, still, it was striking to see so many publicly displayed images of an American - the president of the United States, no less - in this proud West African nation.

I think this amazing and abrupt transformation is the only way to understand Barack Obama winning the Nobel Prize for Peace when he hasn't ended any wars or closed any torture camps or discontinued any nucleaur programs or even served as president for a complete year.

Yesterday, the most common international image on the streets of Ghana was of a man who wanted to destroy our country. Today, that face has been replaced by the president of our country, the man elected to lead it.

Can you imagine anything more remarkable - or hopeful - than that? Oslo is a long way from Accra, but I think the decision made by the Nobel committee can be traced to this change on the streets of Ghana.

Remember, this is not so much about Barack Obama or our country. It's about the rest of the world.

They look at us, and they fear us. They have very good reason to fear us. For starters, the United States is the only nation that has ever dropped an atomic bomb (two, in fact, when one would have ended the war) on another country. Our nation is powerful and dangerous and people are terrified of us - we, too, strike terror - and the rest of the world has every good reason to be terrified of the most heavily armed nation on Earth.

When George W. Bush ran this nation and its military, the world fantasized about a man who lives in a cave who wanted to destroy our country. With Barack Obama running this nation and its military, the world is fantasizing about our president and where he says he wants to lead us.

It may only be a fantasy, but I like this fantasy a whole lot better than the one that it replaced.

God bless America, and Ghana, and Norway, and you. Just don't kill anybody! Especially our president.

Friday, October 9, 2009

STL coppers indicted for stealing stolen electronics


Ronald Jackson and Christian Brezill have been indicted on charges of theft of government property, after allegedly stealing stolen merchandise after an arrest, Acting United States Attorney Michael W. Reap announced today.

According to the indictment, Ronald Jackson and Christian Brezill were uniformed patrol officers assigned to work in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s Sixth District out of the North Patrol Division. They were responsible for collecting, preserving and inventorying evidence; interviewing witnesses; making lawful arrests; conducting lawful searches; and making truthful and accurate reports of their official activities.

The indictment alleges that on July 27, 2009, Jackson was on duty when he received information from an individual that Jane Doe was in possession of electronics equipment stolen from the retailer Best Buy, and was in a vehicle on the parking lot of the Phillips 66 station at 5728 West Florissant Avenue. Jackson agreed with the individual that he would find Jane Doe, seize the stolen electronics equipment from her vehicle, and split some of the stolen electronics equipment with that individual.

Jackson then shared that information with Christian Brezill, who was also on duty and they both drove their police vehicles to the Phillips 66 station to meet Jane Doe. Jackson and Brezill did a computer check on Doe, discovered that she had outstanding minor traffic warrants, arrested her on those traffic warrants, and placed her handcuffed into Brezill’s police vehicle.

They searched the trunk of Doe’s vehicle and discovered electronics equipment, in original boxes and in Best Buy store bags, including a Sony speaker system, a Phillips I-Pod docking system, speaker cable, a Wii gaming system, an X-Box gaming system, a Logitech computer speaker system, a Dell Inspiron laptop computer, and a Dynex LCD flat screen television.

Jackson and Brezill removed all of the electronics equipment from Doe’s vehicle, and placed the items into the trunk of Brezell’s police vehicle. They then conveyed Jane Doe to the North Patrol Division where she was booked on the outstanding minor traffic warrants. Doe was neither arrested nor charged relative to her possession of the electronics equipment. According to the indictment, Jackson and Brezill failed to report to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, either verbally or in writing, their seizure of the electronics equipment from Jane Doe’s vehicle.

After their work shift ended during the early morning hours of July 27, 2009, Jackson and Brezill met at a residential location and split up the seized electronics equipment between themselves.

Jackson kept the Sony speaker system, the speaker cable, the X-Box gaming system, and the Dynex LCD flat screen television; he later gave the Sony speaker system and the speaker cable to the individual who had originally provided him the information regarding Jane Doe, and sold the Dynex LCD flat screen television to another individual for cash.

Brezill kept the Phillips I-Pod docking system, the Wii gaming system, the Logitech computer speaker system, and the Dell Inspiron laptop computer; he later sold the Phillips I-Pod docking system and the Logitech computer speaker system to an individual for cash.

Unbeknownst to Jackson and Brezill, Jane Doe was cooperating with federal law enforcement, and the electronics equipment seized from her and stolen by the defendants was the property of the United States of America.

Jackson, 57, St. Louis City; and Brezill, 25, St. Louis City, were each indicted by a federal grand jury on one felony count of theft of United States Property. They surrendered to authorities this morning have made their appearance in federal court and were released on bond. They are presently scheduled to be arraigned next Friday, October 16, 2009.

If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of 10 years and/or fines up to $250,000.
Reap commended the work on the case by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Assistant United States Attorney Hal Goldsmith, who is handling the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Drugs, bribes, conspiracy and corruption in St. Louis

The feds’ greatest hits: 2009

I see incipient signs of a backlash, from some quarters, suggesting that public corruption in St. Louis has been getting too much attention. But when you look at this - partial - list of major indictments and plea agreements from basically only one quarter of this year, I think it's clear that corruption has not been getting nearly enough coverage in our mainstream media.

I am talking about actual, documented, prosecuted corruption, not the "swirling whispers" kind.


October 9, 2009 – St. Louis Metropolitan Police Detective Vincent Carr is scheduled to be sentenced regarding his guilty plea to conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements and theft of government funds relative to making drug busts.

Sept. 24, 2009 – State Rep. Talibdin El-Amin pleads guilty to federal bribery charges.

Sept. 17, 2009 – STLPD Detective Leo Liston is sentenced to three months in prison and ordered to pay $8,000 restitution for misappropriation of government funds relative to making drug busts.

August 28, 2009 – STLPD Detective Bobby Garrett pleads guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements and theft of government funds relative to making drug busts.

August 25, 2009 – State Sen. Jeff Smith, State Rep. Steve Brown and Smith’s former campaign treasurer Nick Adams plead guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice relative to Smith’s 2004 congressional campaign. Smith and Adams also plead guilty to obstructing a federal grand jury investigation during 2009, in addition to obstructing the Federal Election Commission investigation going back to the 2004 campaign.

August 14, 2009 – St. Louis City Corrections Officer Peggy O’Neal pleads guilty to attempted distribution of heroin to inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center.

August 12, 2009 – St. Louis City Corrections Officer James Moore pleads guilty to attempted distribution of heroin to inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center.

August 10, 2009 – STLPD Detective Kevin Shade pleads guilty to mail fraud in connection with falsifying inspections for S&H Parking Systems, which held a lucrative contract with the city police.

June 25, 2009 – Former STLPD detective and manager of S&H Parking Systems Gregory P. Shepard is indicted on multiple charges including mail fraud, wire fraud and bribery; these are only accusations.

June 3, 2009 – St. Louis City Corrections Officers James Moore, Peggy O’Neal and Marilyn Brown are indicted for attempted distribution of heroin to inmates at the St. Louis City Justice Center. Moore and O’Neal would eventually plea guilty; Brown is set for trial December 7, 2009 and remains innocent until proven guilty. The Corrections Division is part of the Department of Public Safety, directed by Charles Bryson, an appointee of Mayor Francis G. Slay.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice


This timeline appears today in The St. Louis American as a sidebar to my lengthy interview with Roland J. Corvington, returning Special Agent in Charge of FBI St. Louis, who has a reputation among local federal prosecutors as a solid team player.

Since last week we ran with an even longer interview with outgoing Special Agent in Charge John Gillies, we may be open to the charge of overplaying the role of the FBI in this impressive string of investigations and prosecutions.

That is not intentional. It so happens that Gillies left office when these stories were hot, and both he and the new guy (who also is the old guy, having been in St. Louis just before Gillies) consented to interviews.

I am hoping when the U.S. Senate confirms Richard Callahan as the new U.S. Attorney in St. Louis, that both he and Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Reap will sit down with me and talk.

I will add that it gives me no pleasure to report on dirty cops when cops are struggling for their lives in the hospital, having been shot on the street; but the mainstream media tends to do a good job of covering the noble defender aspect of police work, especially when a man is down.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Appointments would diversity federal appeals bench

Obama nominates Thompson, Chin to U.S. Court of Appeals

St. Louis American staff

The federal bench will be significantly more diverse if two appointments announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama are confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Obama nominated Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Judge Denny Chin for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Judge Thompson, an African-American woman, currently serves as an Associate Justice on the Rhode Island Superior Court. Judge Chin, an Asian-American man, currently serves as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York.

"Judges Chin and Thompson have displayed exceptional dedication to public service throughout their careers," President Obama said.

"They have served on the bench with distinction in New York and Rhode Island, and I am honored to nominate them today to serve the American people on the United States Court of Appeals."

In 1988, Judge Thompson became the first African-American woman to be nominated to the Rhode Island District Court, where she presided over state law criminal misdemeanors, civil actions with damages up to $10,000, and tax appeals.

In 1997, she was elevated to the Rhode Island Superior Court, where she currently serves. She was the first African-American woman on that court. As an Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court, Judge Thompson has original jurisdiction over all felony cases and civil actions, including those sounding in equity.

While on the bench, Judge Thompson chaired the Court’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Limited English Speaking Litigants, which was instrumental in the Superior Court establishing an Office of Court Interpreters to ensure that all limited English-speaking litigants have a fuller understanding of judicial proceedings. Judge Thompson is active in a wide variety of community and educational organizations. She is a Trustee of Brown University and of Bryant College.

In 1994, Judge Chin was nominated and confirmed to the U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he currently serves. He was the first Asian-American appointed as a U.S. District Court Judge outside of the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Chin has served as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching legal research and writing since 1986. He is currently the treasurer for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Judicial Council, and he has served as the president of the Federal Bar Council Inn of Court and the President of the Asian American Bar Association of New York.

He also currently serves on the Boards of Directors for the Fordham Law School Alumni Association and the Fordham Law School Law Review Association and as the Co-Chair for the Fordham Law School Minority Mentorship Program.

Judge Chin is a member of the Federal Bar Council Public Service Committee, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Obama said of his nominees, "I am confident that they will be judicious and esteemed additions to the First and Second Circuits."

Their appointments must be confirmed by a majority vote in the U.S. Senate.

The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ed and beans

Did you hear the one about Ed Martin?

Yeah, that Ed Martin. Matt Blunt’s Jeff Rainford.

The guy who used to go on Mark Reardon’s show on KMOX as the red-meat Republican paired with the light-weight “Democrat” that was T.D. El-Amin - before T.D. took a bribe on the wire and took a fall.

The guy who suggested that every Mexican working on the roadside in Missouri was liable to be an illegal immigrant.

The dude who put out the Swift Boat-esque hit on Barack Obama during his presidential campaign.

Yeah, that guy. He is running for U.S. Congress! In Dick Gephardt's old district!

Yeah, we know, that’s a good one.

Martin’s campaign sent out a press release stating that he was hosting a low-rent, pork-and-beans, bring-your-own-beer fundraiser yesterday, to coincide with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi coming to town to raise funds for the incumbent Congressman Russ Carnahan.

Get it? Pork, beans and bring-your-own-beer?

Like, pork. Like, government insider favoritism.

Like, BYOB. Like, the average nobody Joe Six Pack with no money to speak of, just a steel jaw and the urge to take back his country from the slick rich people with the black president.

Like, bullshit.

When an attorney who has run a state government and participated in raising millions of political dollars tries on the hardhat of populism, we are in for some really hilarious political theater.

At least he doesn’t have to change his name from “Addison,” like Congressman Joe “You Lie!” Wilson did.

Forget the pork and beer, though. I'd like to call attention to the beans in this recipe.

We all know one notorious digestive consequence of consuming beans. The things Martin expresses in that respect after his little faux populist party are likely to be as believable and valuable as what words comes out of the man’s mouth on the other end.


Confluence City on Ed's attack on Obama: Ed Martin hopes voters get stuck on stupid

Political EYE on Ed's emails in Matt Blunt's governor's office: The obscene mind of a Missouri Republican

Fire Up! Missouri archive of emails from Martin, Blunt while in office


Image from Uncyclopedia.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Perpetuating the cattle barons' frontier myths

This week John Minkoff sent his former bandmates in Eleanor Roosevelt a link to a blog that posts up Cattle Kate: A True Western Crime Story.

He didn't have to explain the connection. Our band wrote and recorded a song, "Queen of Sweetwater," that deals with the same story.

I stumbled upon this story one summer in Cheyenne, Wyoming with Lij, who plays every folk instrument under the sun on this recording.

We stayed on the edge of Cheyenne with an old Mohawk Indian man named Al Robbins. Rather like a figment from folklore sprung to life, Al regaled us with his rather bitter take on some classic frontier tales. One touched upon Cattle Kate.

I wrote this lyric from Al's yarn, and we recorded it at Webster University with Meghan Gohil. He submitted it as his senior project, judged by Bill Porter, who recorded Elvis Presely. It won Meghan a Webbie for best student production.

We got the story all wrong, though. I later saw a book about Cattle Kate in a bookstore, copied down the author's address and sent him a copy of the recording. He sent back a notecard castigating us for writing the song without reading his book and perpetuating the folklore of Cattle Kate, rather than the facts of Ellen Watson's life.

Even though the cattle barons come off as the bad guys in our song, the song keeps alive the cattle barons' myths of her life and death, I gather - as does the comic book.


"Queen of Sweetwater"
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Lij, John Minkoff)
Eleanor Roosevelt

From the CD Walker with his head down
Available via digital download

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Exit interview with FBi scourge of STL corruption

This afternoon John Gillies stopped by the office of The St. Louis American. This is one-half, maybe one-third, of the interview. The most recent Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in St. Louis, Gillies is now off to lead the field office in Miami. This interview will be reported in Thursday's St. Louis American; but, after six hours of transcribing an interview at home, I am looking for some instant gratification now.

The St. Louis American: We are very sorry you are leaving. We have been covering off-the-record things about political corruption for a long time that everyone is now reading about in the daily newspaper. So this is a promotion for you?

John Gillies: Miami is a bigger office. St. Louis is 41st out of 56 cities in terms of size, while Miami is 5th. So, from that standpoint, the title is the same, the pay is the same, I just get more responsibilities. [Laughs.] But it’s all good.

The American: Many of us are afraid your leaving means we will see less investigation into public corruption. Convince us we are worrying needlessly about that.

Gillies: It’s my hope that what got put in place remains in place. I’ve got the dedicated squad investigating public corruption. Certainly what we’ve got ongoing, none of that will come to an end. The agents and their supervisor are dedicated to continuing on the progress that we’ve made in uncovering the corruption that’s ongoing here in the eastern district of Missouri.

The American: Recently, we are pleased you have successfully investigated charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice in the investigation of electoral fraud, petty bribery –

Gillies: Define “petty.”

The American: It seemed like a small amount of money. [T.D. El-Amin pled guilty to agreeing to accept $2,100 in bribes].

Gillies: There is no small amount of money when it comes to corruption. It irritates me every time I hear that “they only took $500.” That’s $500 way too much money, as far as I’m concerned. When I had this case out in San Diego and they were bribing judges, it was "only $100,000." I don’t know, what is that magic number? If they take millions, that’s okay, because it makes sense to everybody? When they take dollar one … And one of the judges did admit that on the witness stand: “When I took the first dollar, I knew what I was doing was wrong.” And I agree, that’s exactly what every one of these people know, when they take that first dollar, that what they are doing is wrong.

The American: I’m not insulting your case or the value of doing it.

Gillies: But I think it’s rightly stated that, “really, you think this is the first time? When people do it?” No, they get caught.

The American: Shall I say, rather than “petty,” “routine” bribery?

Gillies: You can see I get fired up when it comes to corruption.

The American: That’s why I wanted to talk to you. I’m just as fired up. I’m sorry to see you go.

Gillies: That’s why I get irritated when people say, “It’s only $500.” $500? That’s still a lot of money. It’s still irritating that a public official would take any amount of money. They should be doing their job, what the public elected them to do. What we’re doing, we’re catching them now. To those out there who think business as usual is going to continue when I leave, I am here to tell that it’s not. That way of doing business is over. If they want to dabble in it, we’re going to catch them in it. I’m very appreciative of the public that has come forward with information. I think from our actions they are seeing that we are responding to their concerns out there. To the politicians feeling some self-imposed paranoia, I say to them, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, there shouldn’t be any paranoia. And if you are paranoid, I’m coming after you.”

The American: So, let me start over without pushing your buttons. I agree with you more than you could ever imagine. So, we have seen convictions for conspiracy to obstruct justice relating to campaign fraud, and bribery. But the other thing we hear about off the record but that we can’t substantiate is threats. In St. Louis politics, they say it’s bribes on the North Side – you caught one of those – and threats on the South Side. [Gillies takes a note at this point.] We hear a lot about people being threatened to vote a certain way or being threatened to behave a certain way. You can’t comment upon specific ongoing investigations, as I know, but generally, have you guys gotten any promising leads on investigating the threat culture in St. Louis city politics?

Gillies: I’d like to hear how you would define the “threat” aspect of it.

The American: I can give you an example. We were told that an elected official called a committeeperson who is married to someone with a job in the same political jurisdiction as the elected official ...

Gillies: I’m not going to comment on this.

The American: So you’re aware of what I was going to tell you?

Gillies: I’m not going to comment on that one way or the other.

The American: My problem as a journalist is we are told things off the record, and if they are the kind of people who would speak on the record, they wouldn’t be the kind of people who would cave under a threat.

Gillies: Correct.

The American: So are there ongoing investigations into the threat culture in St. Louis politics?

Gillies: All I can tell you is we have a number of investigations that continue in the public corruption arena.

The American: The State audit of City government has made for some good journalism. Some of those audits must have led to investigations. I’m amazed that the state auditor just had two laptops stolen from her car while attending an event in a city she has been auditing, and she left the laptops open to view in her car. Is there an impulse to investigate that? It seems like shocker.

Gillies: [Long pause.] It’s in jurisdiction of the local police department.

The American: Of course, the same auditor is also auditing the local police department. I called the state auditor communications person, who is wonderful, and she said their office received comments from the police department after the laptops were stolen. But white shirts respond to the State audit; the guys on the streets, the blue shirts, they’re going to read about the audit when it gets printed. So I think there would be a motive on the part of the working cop to know what was coming in the State audit.

Gillies: I’m going to tell you that the number of corrupt officers is not that big. I think we’ve done a hell of a job disrupting and dismantling the groups of corrupt police officers that are out there. I’m not going to tell you that we’re done, but I’ll tell you that the number of corrupt officers is in the minority. I’m appreciative of Chief Isom’s leadership at the police department, I’m appreciative of some of the changes that he’s conducted. I don’t think he would object to me sharing the fact that they speak about corruption and ethics to the recruit classes now. I think that’s huge. The FBI started Project Integrity when I was in the Detroit field office. We had corrupt police officers there, and we taped them making their personal comments about how they went wrong and the effects it has on them and their family while they are sitting in jail for the next 20 or 30 years. I think it’s very moving if you are a recruit to see cops telling you about the stresses that they have, the temptations that they have, and the endgame being that “we succumbed to those temptations and now we are in jail for the next 20 to 30 years.” They go on and tell you that “we’re local officers, we do this, we feel like we are big shots – till the feds come around. Then it’s a whole new ballgame.” We show that tape to the recruits. I get moved every time I see it. I think it’s very powerful hearing from corrupt cops about how they went bad. We’ve used it in other police departments across the country, and I’m glad Chief Isom is letting us talk to the recruit classes here. I think if you want to weed that mentality out, you talk about ethics. When I talk to them, I talk about, “You are letting your family down. Your family is proud of you, you’re a police officer, you’re giving back to your community, you’re protecting us – then you’re selling. You sell it all for what?”

The American: This “scared straight on corruption” aspect. I think you can help us here. We have some people waiting for their federal sentencing, and we have some people who think their number may be coming up in one of these press releases from the U.S. Attorney’s Office I look forward to every day I go to work, because we have been reporting on these kinds of things for a long time and we are finally seeing confirmation. We were called "divisive," "alarmists," "liars," all this stuff. We are aware, and you are probably aware, that right now there are a lot of conversations being had about “getting on the same page, let’s not be a hero, we’re all a team, you’re not going to go away for that long, and if you cut a deal, you’re not going to go away for that much less long, and these fines are not that much money, and when you get out of prison you are going to have friends who will take care of whatever your financial problems are.” There is a lot of pressure coming from powerful people on less powerful people who have got caught in the dragnet, and they are telling them that “now is not the time to be a hero.” To someone who is right now being told, “Do your time, do your bid, the amount of money is nothing to” – look at the amount of campaign contributions some of these people amass! They can find money. So, what would you say? And you are going to have chance to tell some of these people this, or your colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s office will.

Gillies: These individuals are standing up and saying that they are doing the right thing. They are doing partially the right thing, in that they are admitting their own wrongdoing, but they know that others are involved in wrongdoing. They have witnessed it, they have been a part of it. And if you are going to quote God and religion and everything else. I think part of doing the right thing would be doing the entire right thing. And the entire right thing would be to share with law enforcement all the corruption that is out there. However, I will tell you that, with or without people’s cooperation, we will continue to pursue these matters, so those who think that by some people pleasing guilty and not cooperating (and I won’t tell you who is or who isn’t), that if they don’t cooperate they will be taken care of, etc. – that’s not going to stop us. We’re going to continue to pursue, if the public continues to come forward, and I’m hoping to convince the public that we do take these charges seriously. We have a responsibility, and through our milestones in weeding out the corruption here it makes our job tougher. People go more underground, but that’s all right. The good thing is, they don’t know who is or who isn’t cooperating with us. When they see the FBI, they see me. They don’t know we are a very diverse group. We look like anybody out there. So that’s good.

The American: I’m reporting on a city with a Democratic mayor, Democratic state auditor, Democratic attorney general, Democratic governor, and now a Democratic president, and this firebrand director of the FBI is going off to Miami where you are never going to run out of opportunities to investigate the stories that motivate you. And so people say, "That just goes to show they got the call, they pulled this guy off the job. Simmer down, it’s going to be okay.”

Gillies: That’s bull. This is a great opportunity for me to go to Miami. I go from the 41st sized office to the 5th. And offices 1, 2 and 3 are led by assistant directors, with 4 being Chicago and 5 being Miami. So that puts me in the elite leadership of the FBI in running a huge field office. I could already retire. So I’m looking for my next challenge. This is my next challenge. One of the negative things about leaving is I don’t get to see these cases brought to fruition that I know are out there. But like I said, I got a dedicated team led by a dedicated supervisor. Obviously, I have a boatload of experience in corruption I’ve mentored and passed that on. If you look for corruption, you will find it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Crime does not pay dept.: Steve Brown disbarred

The Supreme Court of Missouri has accepted the offer of former state Rep. Steve Brown to voluntarily surrender his law license.

Steve Brown pled guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice in the federal investigation into petty electoral fraud committed by Jeff Smith's congressional campaign, which conduct, the court said, "reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness and fitness as a lawyer".

From the court order:

"It is further ordered that the name of Mark Steven Brown be stricken from the roll of attorneys in this state, that he be disbarred, and that his right and license to practice law in this state be hereby terminated."

Public documents previously filed by the federal prosecutor suggest that Brown wore a wire and thus later went from conspiring to obstruct justice to collaborating in the federal investigation of political corruption. If that is true, the taxpayers owe him a thanks for that.

Here is the court order today.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Read em and weep: El-Amin plea bargain documents

Hard to feel good about such bad news, but perhaps today we are that much closer to cleaning up politics in St. Louis.

Here are the documents on state Rep. T.D. El-Amin accepting bribes to intercede with City government on behalf of a gas station owner. Read them and weep.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bootblogging #17: Yet more The Lettuce Heads

I wouldn't believe it had I not seen it with my own two eyes, but for the first time since it was recorded in 1993, my favorite-ever St. Louis rock band The Lettuce Heads has its best-ever record ready for purchase by the music-loving public.

Three of the Lettuce lads did a gig today at The North City Farmers Market that I was supposed to be on (I did make a cameo market appearance as alleged "celebrity" judge of local produce, casseroles and pies); and I was stupefied when Carl Pandolfi presented me with a copy of the record that almost looked professionally produced.

I am dismissive of their professionalism on specific grounds. These guys are expert songwriters and musicians, on par with anyone in rock music who is paid to do these things, but they have all the crass careerism and self-promotional gifts of the knobby little spud I judged today to be the Best Strange Vegetable on display.

Hence the sly hilarity of the title under which they released this epic rock record, For Promotional Purposes Only. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. They recorded it in 1993 and "released" it a free 2009 gig at a farmer's market in North St. Louis attended by more children - more weird vegetables - than hipsters.

I have been threatening to release the record for ten years, which lets you know you never want to leave it to me to release your record for you. My title was to be When You Blink, a line from one of the songs - as in, this amazing band and its unreleased masterpiece all happened when you were blinking. Gone in the blink of an eye!

But back! In a blink.


(Mike Burgett)
The Lettuce Heads

(Carl Pandolfi)
The Lettuce Heads

(Jon Ferber)
The Lettuce Heads

I am just guessing who wrote which song - I guessed the lead singer is the writer.

How do you get a copy of the entire cd? You're asking me? Me who delayed ten years to release the record for them? And left it to these self-saboteurs to do it themselves?

More in this series

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bootblogging #16: I will be your volunteer! (for Bob Slate)

Like most sentient beings who lived to see a television, I have always been irritated at the phenomenon of someone talking back to their TV, though I somehow don't mind this when it comes across via Twitter.

Take my old buddy Bob Slate, a fellow Granite City boy who turned journalist, and like members of our tribe, has wandered the Earth from job to job.

Along the way, he developed an attachment to the University of Tennessee Volunteers, though unfortunately for his college football affections, he is now a Vols fan living in exile in Decatur, Alabama, where the people bleed a Crimson Tide.

This past Saturday I was not irritated, but rather amused, to find in my Twitter stream Bob Slate talking back to his TV, where his Vols were in competition, I don't care against whom.


Javier needs to break one.

Where's the flag in the end zone?

Now that was thrown with authority.

McElroy looking like he's confused. Go deep again.

What? What? Did someone say special teams?
Like I say, I don't care whom they were playing, nor who won or lost. But I was entertained enough by Bob's ejaculations at the game to ask him which team he was rooting for, which is how I learned about his thing for the Vols.

At that point, I remembered my favorite unknown and unreleased rock song, "Into the Teens" by Soda - a lost rock band from Milwaukee, Wisconsin - which has as its thrilling chorus "I will be your volunteer!"

I've no clue what the song is about, as the lyrics are suggestive and opaque. I'm pretty sure it's not about U.T. football, but I'm equally sure that a grown man who talks to his TV set through Twitter while the Vols are on the tube will be more than happy to roll down the windows, crank up my favorite lost rock band, and sing along at the top of his lungs, "I will be your volunteer!"



[This song belongs to them, not to me or you, though I can put you in touch with the lads should the Vols want to license it!]

More in this series

Bootblogging #1: Three by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #2: Three elegies for local musicians
Bootblogging #3: Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #4: Three more by The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #5: Chuck Reinhart's guitar circle hits
Bootblogging #6: The silly side of The Lettuce Heads
Bootblogging #7: Songs for "Divorcing God"
Bootblogging #8: More songs for "Divorcing God
Bootblogging #9: Adam Long presents The Imps!
Bootblogging #10: More Michael Shannon Friedman
Bootblogging #11: The Adversary Workers
Bootblogging #12: The May Day Orchestra
Bootblogging #13: Solo Career live in Santa Monica
Bootblogging #14: Four from The Funhouse (Seattle punk)
Bootblogging #15: Four more from The Funhouse (Seattle punk rock)


Pic of Vols cheerleader from somebody's Flickr.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Xylaphone jam ring circle dance in the courtyard

After the Ghana Air Force Band had torn down and the rest of the funeral reception was being dismantled at the Catholic church in Nima, Accra, some young men broke out xylaphones and started to jam in the courtyard where people had recently been dancing to the highlife in memory of my father in law, Kpakpo Mensah.

One guy also was beating a hand drum that seemed to be made out of the same gourd used to construct the xylaphones.

I am a sucker for West African xylaphone music. When Karley and I were married in Lashibi, a suburb of Accra, I insisted that her sister hire a xylaphone player so we could have some more traditional music at the reception along with the club deejay.

Another guy also was clacking a couple of dried shells as sort of impromptu castanets.

The young man on the drum had worked the funeral reception as a caterer. We had struck up a long conversation, as the reception wound down, about his country and my country, and it was because I saw him among these jamming musicians that I felt comfortable joining them.

They were wailing, vocally, singing their hearts out in a local language with the call-and-response fervor that conquered the world after Africans came to the Americas.

This kid was hamming it up. Of course, children are much more shameless at enjoying the odd presence and attention of the outside, the Buronyi ("corn-colored person").

I felt like getting some exercise and expressing myself, so - well aware of what I spectacle I would make - I got into the act, and my wife hurried over to work the camera and capture the moment.

It felt good. I have been listening to this kind of music for half of my life. That doesn't mean I will ever succeed in dancing to it gracefully.

Buronyi dancing really rallied the children to the scene.