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Obama Thu Feb 19 2009

KassWatch: Makin' Shit Up

John Kass makes me sad. He likes to pretend he's just a common sense South Side guy, who used ta play da stickball over by dere, tellin' it how sees it. Kass is the consummate phony tough guy, a name-calling hit-and-run artist who traffics in innuendos and sloppy arguments. He thinks by inheriting the physical space, and he has inherited the wit and wisdom of Mike Royko, who never got tired of sticking his finger in the eye of local politicians. Kass takes Royko's lovable grumpiness and turns it into unfocused hatefulness, meant to appeal to a certain kind of Chicagoan (actually, mostly former Chicagoans living in the suburbs) who idealize some (non-existent) past version of the city before the lib'ruls got a hold of it.

Royko, however, wasn't hateful. The reason he mocked power politics, identity politics and inefficient bureaucracy was because they failed to help the most needy in our society ("Mary and Joe, Chicago-Style"), not because he just hated those damned lib'ruls, like Kass. Royko was a New Deal Democrat who identified with the working class, not a White Flight principessa.

To obscure his hatefulness, Kass draws hazy or nonsensical conclusions from circumstantial evidence. Let me translate that so Kass can understand it himself: He makes shit up.

Comme ca:

First, there are two Chicago politicians who should get credit for Burris being in the Senate to embarrass everyone in Illinois. No, not just former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He appointed Burris, but that's not the whole story. I'm talking about two other Chicago pols:

President Barack Obama.

And Illinois House Speaker Michael "What Affidavit?" Madigan.

I know it is heresy to mention Obama's name here. Obama's legion of gentle Hopium eaters will become enraged, like flesh-eating zombies in a video game, and trade in their cakes of Hopium for the chance to gnaw on my rather large and meaty head.

Yes, my head is quite chunky with meat, but facts are facts. Obama was the beneficiary of Burris' lies.


Though Blagojevich appointed Burris, that was just the beginning of our descent into madness. Like I said, there are two others who deserve credit.

Obama could have demanded a special election to fill his own vacated Senate seat, the one that Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell to the highest bidder. Obama also pressured Senate leaders to seat Burris, in the hopes of ending the fiasco before his inauguration.

And, after Burris tried to fix the lie he told to Durkin in the impeachment hearing--that he had no contact about fundraising with Blagojevich people other than one aide named Lon Monk--Burris sent an affidavit to a Madigan flunky, state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Madigan), dated Feb. 4.

Currie held that affidavit in her desk, conveniently, until after Burris voted last week for the near trillion-dollar Obama pork/stimulus package. Now Madigan is demanding an investigation of possible perjury and has sent the documents to a Springfield prosecutor.

He made up a word! Porkulus! Oh, that Kass is so awesome! Stimulus + Pork = Porkulus! It's rare that a political argument is so rankly stupid that it can be mathematically disproved, but Kass amazingly manages that feat.

First, on the Kass accusatory style. Notice he says "deserve credit." What does that mean, exactly? If you're not sure, that's because it doesn't mean anything. As usual, Kass is hurling accusations without really even understanding what he's saying himself. So Blagojevich appointed Burris and Burris accepted, but Obama deserves "credit?" What does that mean? That Obama engineered it? That Obama provided the cover? That without Obama interference it wouldn't have happened? Was his participation necessary and sufficient?

No. It's just Kass' lazy way of working President Obama into the story. He tries to claim that it was Obama's "pressuring" that got Burris into the Senate, and draws the connection that Obama did it for the 60th vote he would need on the stimulus. He provides no evidence; he just states that those things are the case. Blagojevich forced the hand of lots of politicians by appointing Burris, and Burris exacerbated it by infusing race into the matter and accepting the nomination. Putting it around Obama's neck and attributing it to a (pre-inauguration) knowledge that he'd need Burris' "60th vote" is wholly unsupported by any evidence Kass offers. He made the accusation, so the burden of proof is on him, not me.

Here's the math: If Burris hadn't been in the Senate -- if we had scheduled a special election -- there would have been no need for a 60th vote. Why? Because the cloture rule is a proportion, not an integer. Of course, if Kass was more interested in "facts" than feeding hateful red meat to his fellow "anti-politics" princesses, he could have bothered to check that fact. The result, of course, would have been that 59 votes would have been needed for cloture (3/5th of 98) and the three Republican crossovers (Snowe, Specter and Collins voted with the President) would have been sufficient. Oh, and Ted Kennedy didn't vote. Zing.

But why should Kass let that stand in his way, when he thought of a simple-minded way to try to give the President a black eye and win the huzzahs of his legions of fans from Oak Lawn to Orland Park, from McHenry County to northwestern Lake County, stretching from the 7200 block of West Bryn Mawr to the 8400 block of West Bryn Mawr?

It's bad enough that Kass suffers from the chest-puffing common to all phony tough guys -- but that he can't bother to check a fact or apply a mathematical formula makes him either a dim-witted or a purposefully dissembling phony tough guy.

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Joe Lake / February 19, 2009 4:10 PM

Non-KassWatch: Not making bleeping stuff up

The race in the IL 5th CD boils up.

Josh Kalven Feb. 19, 2009 writes in Progress Illinois:
"IL-5: Fritchey's Fundraiser, O'Connor's Ad, ..."

Joe Lake, Bucktown

Ramsin / February 19, 2009 4:13 PM

Thanks for the update, Joe, but please stay on-topic.

Good Luck / February 19, 2009 9:26 PM

Oh my god, did Ramsin just call someone out for being a phony tough guy?


Is that the pot calling the kettle black?!?

Ramsin / February 19, 2009 9:29 PM

I only know two things about tough guys: (1) how to spot them and (2) that I am not one.

Tough guys don't argue, for example. Guys like me have to argue, because we're not tough guys.

Anna Tarkov / February 20, 2009 2:30 PM

Actually Kass didn't come up with "porkulus." It had been circulating for some time on many conservative blogs. I couldn't tell you who used it first, but it definitely wasn't Kass.

Also, I'm intrigued by your mention of the geographical area where Kass' fans supposedly reside. Could that be an attempt to give a "black eye" to a large swath of people based on nothing more than where they choose to live? :)

I do agree that it was intellectually dishonest of Kass to imply that Burris' vote was needed to pass the stimulus package when, as you demostrated, it wasn't. But stimulus bill notwhithstanding, can you really say with a straight face that an assured Democratic vote had absolutely nothing to do with why a special election was ruled out and Burris was seated so quickly in the end?

Ramsin / February 20, 2009 2:54 PM

All good Points, Anna. I'll try to respond point by point:

"Porkulus": Kass failed to cite his source, so he was apparently taking credit for it.

Geography: I have no problem with where Kass' fans live, and I'm not one of those people who looks down their nose at where somebody is from. My point there was just that Kass has a laserlike focus on haranguing city politicians from his perch in the suburbs, where, we know, there is no corruption in local government. Also to contrast him with Royko, who lived in the city almost his entire life.

As for your last point, this is really why Kass is so pernicious: It's not incumbent on me in the least to say anything with a straight face, because I didn't make a heavy-handed accusation of serious corruption by the President, did I? Kass did, and he didn't back it up. Maybe he's 100% correct. But he doesn't prove it, or provide anything past circumstantial evidence for it.

A few weeks ago I said I found it curious that Toni Preckwinkle would pursue a higher office (County Board President) just as the city was planning to fundamentally change her ward with the Olympics, at a time when her constituents there would need her most--not only this, but should she win, the Mayor would pick her replacement.

But I didn't allege a corrupt bargain because I have no evidence for that. Ald. Preckwinkle's motives should be taken as pure unless we have evidence--facts--to back up a serious accusation that she was selling out. Unlike Kass, I don't pretend to be able to read people's souls.

the watcher / February 20, 2009 10:11 PM

a few historical facts:

first, royko's job first went to trib reporter tom hardy, who was a much smoother, wittier, wiser columnist than kass. but hardy bailed for a better gig, leaving the page to kass by default.

there are people who like to hear themselves talk, well kass likes to hear himself type.he is right on in some respects, barticularly calling barry obama and the illinois combine out for their duplicity and disingenuousness.

otoh, i knew mike royko and worked with him for a number of years. sometimes drank with him. sometimes sat mouth agape at the cruelty that ryoko would inflict on ordinary peons trying to get on with their lives. and this had nothing to do with his columns.

royko was evil mean, especially when drunk. most people don't know that. they think he was this crafty ol' grampa of a political columnist and friend of slats grobnik

he wasn't. he was a mean bastard, and one of the most gifted writers journalism has ever seen.

and one of its most pathetic figures.

Anna Tarkov / February 21, 2009 8:57 AM

As far as citing the origin of "porkulus," I guess I don't think of it as a major issue. I think Kass probably thought many of his readers had already seen the term elsewhere. So there wasn't much need to carefully attribute it to whoever used it first, if that could even be determined. And besides, the Trib doesn't link to outside content (they claimed they were going to start I think, but I haven't seen it yet).

As for haranguing city politicians from a perch in the suburbs, I've got a bone to pick with you there. Why should it matter where the writer lives? I can't speak for Kass, but personally even when I'm not living in the city anymore, I'll still care about its welfare. I'll still care if there's corruption, greed and waste. I'll still care if people are having to pay more and more for less and less in city services. I'll still care if elections aren't exactly the democratic process they should be. I'll still care if people are ignorant of what happens in their government. I mean, if people can care about what happens thousands of miles away in Darfur or Iraq or China, then is it that inconceivable that they might care what goes on a scant 20-50 miles away? So what if Mike Royko always lived in the city? Does that bestow upon him some sort of street cred that a suburban dweller doesn't have? Some things definitely have to be experienced before you can write about them. But I don't think that's the case here. I guess the question boils down to: does one really have to live in a place in order to care about it or comment on it with some degree of intelligence and insight? I think the answer is no.

Finally, I'm a bit confused. What heavy-handed accusations of corruption did Kass make on the part of President Obama? It's true, we don't technically know if the President pressured Harry Reid to seat Burris quickly. But even if he did, that's not illegal or even immoral. I wouldn't begrudge the President wanting to have attention focused on him and only him during the brief period of celebration and goodwill that comes with an inauguration. So what corruption is Kass accusing President Obama of? I think the issue might be that you, like many others, regret that this unpleasant business with Blagojevich and now Burris has in the minds of some people cast a shadow on our new President. It is indeed regrettable. But just because you're a strong supporter of the new administration ( please forgive me if I'm assuming too much), that doesn't mean that this sort of unpleasantness should be swept under the rug and not openly discussed.

Jeff Cagle / February 21, 2009 11:16 AM

You sure throw the "phony tough guy" card around a whole lot in this piece. Sure, he may connect a lot of political dots via circumstantial evidence when dealing with his Burris, Blagojevich and Obama columns, but I don't see how you can call him a phony tough guy when he's one of the only writers in the city who connects the dots to the Outfit.

Obviously some people didn't think his style is phony, as Kass' family was threatened by alleged mobsters. And what did he do about it, stick his tail between his legs and cower? No, he wrote about it.

He was nominated for the Ethics in Journalism award by the Chicago Headline Club in 2005 for reporting on the threats against Anna Davlantes by alleged mobsters. She went on to win it, but still, how is there anything phony about that?

chris / February 22, 2009 11:29 PM

John Kass assumes that Obama, while attempting to find Cabinet secretaries, craft an economic stimulus package and foreign policy, and draft an inaugural address, needed to dictate the specific terms of how his Senate seat was filled. Because, we all know that President-elects love to involve themselves in the minutia of the politics of their homestate (especially during an economic crisis).

John Kass prides himself as some sort of "truth teller," but he plays conspiracy theorist in this article.

DaveDave / February 23, 2009 11:27 AM

Agree with you on Kass. I went to school with him at Columbia and he was a phony fart then. And as for his column, I too have grown increasingly tired of his Royko-wanna be "Chi-CAW-go" approach to column writing. Who gives a shit about his Greek uncle Stavros, or whatever name he uses, etc. Just because Royko saw fit to insert his based-on-real-people characters into his columns didn't mean Kass had to. Still waiting on him to find his own voice. If he has one.

And as far a reporting harassment of his family by mobster, what's so tough guy about that? It's called drawing attention to a situation so that everyone knows in case something goes down. If he dealt with it by himself in the background, THEN I'd call him a tough guy. As for reporting the Devlantes threats, it's claled selling papers and anyone else who had that scoop would have done the same thing. Ethics, my ass.

Jeff Fiddler / October 30, 2010 9:34 PM

This is way late..Just discovered this site because I have been writing Kass. Never met Royko but I do understand he was a royal SOB. My argument with Kass that he has stopped working. At least Royko got out and worked as a reporter. For the past six months Kass hasn't even bothered to use google. Lazy fart. In addition as a working man he is backing folk who vote against unemployment insurance and the minimum wage. Do I need to say more.

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