Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Table Talk"

Playing card games with a partner is tricky. It doesn’t matter if the game is Euchre, Spades, or Magic The Gathering, partners have the challenge of communicating with each other but still not explicitly revealing their hands. Good partners can reveal their intentions with a raised eyebrow, a deep sigh or other body language. Many use vague phrasing such as “I can get you one” or “No help here.” The caveat is to not actually tell your partner (and the other players) what is really is your hand. To do so, risks the integrity of the game and is certain to incite the wrath of your opponents. “Table talk”, as it is commonly called, has a set of unwritten rules that tends to be determined by the game players themselves.

Ironically, the first rule established by the card players is always “no table talk”. Although strict enforcement of the rule is rarely followed, players agree on its concept before the first hand is dealt. As the game playing progresses, the rule is flexed, bended and usually broken completely by somebody. The accused player sometimes apologizes, feigns innocence and sometimes gets really angry. The anger doesn’t come from being caught, however. It is usually stemmed from the knowledge that all players were engaging in some form of “table talk” but for some reason they were singled out as the violator. Accusing a card player of “table talk” rarely depends if they player is winning or losing, just a general frustration of their behavior during the game.

Like card playing, politicians have engaged in “table talk” since the beginning of democracy itself. Again, the rules are implicit and unspoken. What are lobbyists if not professional table talkers? If Congressman X looks the other way while a chemical company dumps their toxic waste next to a school playground, he or she is certain to get a sizable financial contribution for their next campaign. All of this is completely illegal, providing there is actual evidence to support the claim of unjust influence. Given the substantial amount of money involved in this chicanery, surely more than a few people know about these underhanded deals. However, all the players tend to stay silent. What is discussed at the card table, stays there.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has had the misfortune of being singled out at the political game and accused of “table talk.” Blagojevich is accused of attempting to sell President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Supposedly, there are hours of F.B.I. wiretapping tapes to support this. There’s no question Blagojevich did a bad and possibly quite illegal thing. The problem with the governor’s activity isn’t the fact that he tried to sell Obama’s seat (which I’m pretty darn sure he did) but the incessant fingerpointing by hundreds of politicians who have engaged in similar activities. I’m willing to bet Senator Ted Kennedy was constantly contacting New York Governor David Patterson, lobbying for his niece Caroline to be appointed Senator. There is no concrete proof, of course (silence by all players at the card table) but how else can her candidacy be taken so seriously when she had literally no political experience and seemed clueless during interviews? Ted Kennedy is reportedly furious Caroline withdrew her name from consideration for the Senate seat. My “inner Fox Mulder” suspects several high-ranking politicians and businessmen spent quite a bit of the last month harassing Patterson on Caroline’s (or Ted’s) behalf. What Governor Patterson was offered (implicitly or explicitly) will never be known or proven, unless his conversations were also wiretapped. Wait a minute, didn’t George Bush and Dick Cheney have everyone wiretapped? Hmmm…something’s not right here.

The question that’s been itching at my brain since Governor Blagojevich’s arrest does not revolve around his actions but why someone or some people would choose to single him out over all the other dirty politicians we have elected in supposed good faith. What did he do that annoyed the other players so much that he would have to be singled out and eliminated from the game? My “inner Fox Mulder” has identified a specific incident that more than likely was the impetus for Blagojevich’s undoing. On December 8th, 2008, Blagojevich suspended all state financial dealings with Bank of America until they agreed to pay severance to approximately 200 workers at Republic Windows and Doors. Although Bank of America had received billions in government bailout money, they refused to lend any of it to Republic Windows and Doors so the company could pay the discharged workers money that was legally theirs. Coincidentally, the following day, December 9th, Blagojevich was arrested and Bank of America agreed to pay the workers. Bank of America is currently the largest bank in the United States, with probably enough money and political influence to arrest my Grandma if they wanted to. We’re talking a billion-dollar bank with billion-dollar connections and all the perks that come with it. Having Blagojevich use a power play with them must have been infuriating, possibly enough so to pull political strings and have the government arrest the Illinois Governor, using tapes that supposedly the F.B.I. has on most of us (especially politicians).

Rod Blagojevich’s refusal to resign or stay quiet is either the actions of a delusional lunatic or those of a card player who revealed too much of his hand, despite tolerating similar actions by other players. Democrats (and probably Republicans) want him to go away faster than Billy Carter and Roger Clinton combined. The longer Blagojevich keeps the governorship, the more likely he may spill the beans about other individuals involved in the “pay to play” scandal. A kangaroo court may certainly impeach him, but his removal from office could be constitutionally questionable, especially if he pursues his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice John Roberts will have much more substantive issues to consider than the correct wordiness of the Presidential Oath of Office. Roberts and the other justices may have to decide what constitutes a fair game of cards and issue a statement on the validity of “table talk” itself. Chess, anyone?

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