Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Republicans Say the Darndest Things

I missed the president's speech tonight. After a long delay, I was finally able to meet with my personal Geek Squad alum to install additional memory in my computer and had promised to take him out for dinner as payment for his services. The installation was completed at 8 p.m. and we left for dinner so I'll be watching the speech on YouTube.

As we left the restaurant, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was delivering the Republicans' response to the president's speech. He had, of course, drafted the response well before he heard the speech. For all I know, he also left for dinner at 8 p.m. and returned the to the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge in time to deliver the prepared remarks. Since it wasn't really a "response", Governor Jindal used his time to paint Democrats as evil proponents of big government intent on telling Americans what to do as they spend the nation into generational poverty. The Republicans, of course, offered the better alternative of cutting taxes so workers could keep more of their hard earned dollars and small businesses would receive incentives to create more jobs.

It made me sick.

I don't know if Vice President Biden was high (no pun intended) or low when he estimated that there was a 30% chance that the economic stimulus package just passed might not work. I do know that the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats have the sense to realize that something different than the failed policies of the past eight years has to be tried.

I don't know where Governor Jindal was when the Bush Administration was running up trillions of dollars of deficits with the assistance of Republican lapdogs in Congress. I do know that his concern over the legacy of debt we are leaving for our children and grandchildren rings hollow and, as I've noted here before, has a Captain Renault air of genuineness about it.

I am so tired of Republicans, clearly engaged in a strategy of distancing themselves from any meaningful bi-partisan efforts to address our country's problems in its time of crisis, posing as reasonable, sensible alternatives to Democrats, primarily by relying on half-truths and red herrings. So what if money from the economic stimulus package is going to be used to buy the government new vehicles? It seems to me that Detroit could use the business and the government will not have to spend as much on repairing aging vehicles. I even supported the plan to spend money to repair the National Mall. If you make an investment to beautify an attraction, you encourage more tourism and the dollars it brings. Ask the folks in Time Square in New York.

Listening to Governor Jindal tonight, you would think that we are on the verge of an unplanned wild spending spree with no accountability and no concern for the burden taxpayers face as they foot the bill. Republicans must be worried that Halliburton is in charge of the stimulus package. If only they had expressed an iota of concern about spending taxpayer dollars when they held the purse strings.

What really got me going tonight was the governor's criticism of the health care reform contemplated by the Obama Administration. I think he said, "Republicans believe that health care decisions should be made between a patient and their doctor, not by some government bureaucrat." It took a split second before I had my "wait a minute" moment. Does that mean, I asked myself, that Governor Jindal and the Republican Party have become supporters of the pro-choice movement? His concern, which, in his context, was mere pandering to deeply rooted anxiety over the well-being of ourselves and our families, is exactly the same concern reproductive rights activists have been expressing about keeping the government out of the doctors' offices. The hypocrisy is absolutely galling.

We need to continue to hold Republicans accountable for their failed policies and not allow soothing rhetoric to substitute for difficult policy implementation. It is heartening, as noted by White House Chief of Staff Raum Emanuel after Governor Jindal's response, that a significant number of Republican governors and local officials have endorsed the strategy contemplated by the economic stimulus plan. Removed from Washington, and experiencing the very real problems facing us all in this economy, these public servants recognize that partisan politics have to give way to a unified effort to address our challenges. Similarly, the bi-partisan consensus of economists that a massive program of government spending is necessary to take us out of our downward spiral provides substantive reassurance rather than hollow fear-mongering.

I am looking forward to listening to President Obama's speech. He still brings tears to my eyes, so I'll do so with a box of tissues by my side. From a personal point of view, my uneasiness over the uncertainty of what lies ahead is mitigated by having someone I trust at the helm of the Ship of State. I refuse to allow the mutineers ganging up to challenge President Obama's judgment and leadership rule the day. Please join me in that focus.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Senate Recount in Minnesota: Are We There Yet?

My good friend and blogging mentor, Charlie Leck, sent me an e-mail today. While it was likely a nudge to post something, I took the bait.

Charlie wrote:

I'm trying to follow these stories in Strib about the vote counting, but it gets pretty crazy sometimes... with Coleman people saying some unflattering things about our boy.

Will Franken really be our Senator?

Second question: When?


Here is my response. For much better political analysis, when you're done reading this, click here for Charlie's take on the idiot Minnesota's Sixth District re-elected to Congress, Michelle Bachman.

Dear Charlie:

Everyone looking at the situation that I've read about, listened to in the media or talked to directly, including Coleman supporters speaking off the record, believe that Franken's 225 vote lead at the end of the recount will hold up.

Assume that Coleman gets the panel to review 3500 rejected absentee ballots. Assume that 20%, or 700, of the ballots are ultimately counted, notwithstanding the fact that election judges from both parties have already reviewed them 2 or 3 times and deemed them non-compliant with Minnesota law (this is key as noted below). 700 would be an extraordinarily high number.

Of the 700 ballots being counted, figure 15% would go to Barkley or no vote. That leaves 595 votes cast for Coleman or Franken. In order for Coleman to erase Franken's 225 vote lead, 411 of the votes would have to be for Coleman and 184 for Franken, a 69-31% margin. That is highly doubtful, no matter where the votes are from. Moreover, Franken has votes he wants added back in on the same theory used by Coleman, ostensibly from sympathetic districts which would take the margin adjustment in the other direction. Finally, the other challenges Coleman has been asserting, regarding duplicates or counting missing ballots from the church in Dinkytown, probably won't prevail and there are not any other large sources of uncounted votes.

This leaves Coleman without sufficient votes to overtake Franken. And it's been apparent for some time, especially after this week's rulings generally viewed as setbacks for the Coleman campaign.

Here's what's really going on: In Bush v. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution's assurance of equal protection to have different standards used to determine the validity of ballots in different jurisdictions. As a result, they refused to allow the recount to continue in Florida since the extensive scrutiny of the contested ballots was different than everywhere else (n.b., this is from memory; I haven't reread the case).

Coleman is setting up for a similar argument to take up on appeal from the Minnesota election contest. He is already suggesting that the panel's refusal to allow all 12,000 rejected absentee ballots to be examined, or allow the 993 formerly rejected absentee ballots to be reviewed, is a violation of the same Equal Protection clause. Why? Because various county election officials have been testifying as to the varying ways they chose to determine which absentee ballots would be rejected and which allowed. Each of them felt they were acting fairly and just doing their job. However, there were variations in how the job was undertaken. Therefore, Coleman argues, the fact that there have been several reviews of the absentee ballots by local election officials is less relevant than the fact that there were no uniform guidelines applied when the reviews took place.

As I opined in my last Prairie Pondering blog, Coleman's game plan has less to do with winning than with delaying the seating of the 59th Democratic U.S. Senator. While he may believe that his Equal Protection challenge will provide a shred of hope that he'll return to the seat, the odds of that happening are diminimus, especially with the Democrats in control of the Senate and the perception that will follow that an election was stolen by Republicans (again) if it comes down to the legal argument of violation of Equal Protection.

I believe Franken will be seated. The "when" is harder to pin. It really depends on how far Coleman will take his appeals, how long it takes the appeals to be heard, and what the U.S. Senate does in the meantime. I don't see how Coleman says "never mind" at this point. The best hope for a "quick" resolution is an expedited decision by an appellate court (if Coleman pursues that route) that rejects Coleman's legal theory. Otherwise, I can see this dragging on into the summer.

Frankly, it's a disgrace and an incredible disservice to the best interests of Minnesotans.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Whose Idea Was It to Put an "S" in "Lisp"?

The question in the title of today's blog was included in an e-mail I received (again) this week. The e-mail poses a number of questions, for which there are no good answers, but which nonetheless leave you scratching your head and, often, giggling. My favorite question in this week's version is "Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets?" I've included the entire e-mail at the end of the blog, but you have to get through the more serious pondering to enjoy it.

It struck me that the concept of asking whimsical questions that illustrate human foibles can be applied to our current political situation. Both with respect to the emergence of radical Republicans opposition to bipartisanship on a national level and the U.S. Senate recount in Minnesota, a whimsical "why" keeps getting asked. As is the case with this week's humorous e-mail, there are no good answers.

When Barack Obama received 53% of the popular vote and a landslide of electoral votes on November 4th last, the American people were signaling that they wanted a change in direction of the management of this country. Certainly, Republicans, who treated the squeakers of 2000 and 2004 as a mandate to impose their will without regard for dissent, should understand that the majority is entitled to have its elected representatives pursue policies reflecting the will of the electorate. This does not suggest that the party in the minority should capitulate on every issue of dispute that arises. However, the minority party should be prepared to compromise and, ultimately, put aside the partisan bickering in order to support efforts to save the Republic.

The fact that nary a Republican voted for final passage of the economic stimulus plan in the House of Representatives this week illustrates a lockstep approach to participating in governing that is disturbing in its resemblance to German goosesteps. Clearly, the stimulus plan is not so toxic that not one independently thinking Republican congressman was able in good conscience to support it. The support for the legislation from professional economic analysts, always with the caveat of no certain success, is widespread across the partisan playing field. The general perception is that something has to be tried; failing to act because of partisan gridlock will only cause a steeper economic downturn, more lost jobs, more suffering and a more difficult recovery.

Getting back to the election, it is unreasonable for Republicans to expect that the Democratic majority in Congress will relinquish to the Republicans the majority's ability to direct the tenor of critical legislation. Republicans should continue to engage the White House and the Congressional leadership and fight for concessions in pending legislation. However, at the point where the compromising has concluded, Republicans, patriots, should cast their votes for or against the legislation solely on the basis of whether, on balance, the legislation is in the best interests of the United States of America.

To the extent that some truly believe that doing nothing or, at least, substantially less than the Democrats' economic stimulus plan is better for the country and its citizenry, so be it. There is no way, however, that each and every House Republican came to that conclusion. Rather, the conventional wisdom goes, the Republicans shirked their responsibility to help solve the country's economic challenges in order to better position themselves for the 2010 mid-term elections. Since, by all educated guesstimates, the country will still be in a recession in 2010, Republicans feel that by voting against the legislation this week, they can take an "it's not my fault" attitude when things are still bad in two years.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about that in two years. In the meantime, I have another whimsical question for the circulating e-mail: "I wonder if Republicans who voted against the economic stimulus package for political reasons are as concerned with the suffering of their constituents as they are with the posturing of their leadership?"

The second "why" question that comes to mind is "Why is Norm Coleman so determined to undermine the credibility of the U.S. Senate election?" I do not begrudge Mr. Coleman the right to pursue his legal remedies in a legitimate challenge of the State Canvassing Board's determination that Al Franken received more votes in last year's election. However, the combination of his constantly changing his position on the propriety of counting certain ballots and his regular proclamation that if every vote is counted he will emerge the winner has the dual effect of unnecessarily dragging out the process and de-legitimizing the outcome among Mr. Coleman's supporters should he not prevail.

When the recount process started, Mr. Coleman was adamant that no absentee ballot not counted on election night be included in the results. 180 degrees later, Mr. Coleman is looking for votes wherever he can find them and the pile of 12,000 or so rejected absentee ballots, net of the ones already determined to have been wrongfully rejected, appeals to Mr. Coleman like a bunch of rotten bananas appeals to drosophila melanogaster.

Senator-elect Franken, on the other hand, has consistently called for the counting of all legally cast ballots. The Franken campaign has never argued that all rejected ballots should be counted. They recognized that in a country where the rule of law prevails, persons who failed to follow instructions for properly casting absentee ballots effectively disenfranchised themselves. Senator-elect Franken took that position even when it was not convenient and lessened his margin of victory.

It appears that the Coleman gameplan has nothing to do with trying to prevail. Rather, it smacks of purposely delaying the arrival at an outcome for purely partisan purposes. By keeping Senator-elect Franken out of the U.S. Senate, Mr. Coleman and his Republican benefactors are able to maintain a tighter grip on the business of Congress, notwithstanding a clear mandate from the national electorate to the contrary. Mr. Coleman's fight is incredibly expensive and, I believe, is being funded primarily out of the national GOP coffers in order to achieve a hidden agenda as the new Obama adminstration attempts to pass legislation with the support of a strong Democratic majority in Congress.

Mr. Coleman's unprincipaled positions in his election contest and his constant insinuation that the election is being stolen from him by the refusal to count every ballot cast, whatever infirmity renders it void as a matter of law, is offensive and, again for purely political purposes, jeopardizes the ability of the country to unite at this critical time and pull together to face our challenges.

Now that you've managed to wallow through the serious ponderings, enjoy some lighter musings:

Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are almost dead?

Why do banks charge a fee on 'insufficient funds' when they already know there is not enough money?

Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars; but have to check when you say the paint is still wet?

Why doesn't Tarzan have a beard?

Why does Superman stop bullets with his chest, but ducks when you throw a revolver at him?

Why do Kamikaze pilots wear helmets?

Whose idea was it to put an 'S' in the word 'lisp'?

If people evolved from apes, why are there still apes?

Why is it that no matter what color bubble bath you use the bubbles are always white?

Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?

Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?

Why do people keep running over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?

Why is it that no plastic bag will open from the end on your first try?

How do those dead bugs get into those enclosed light fixtures?

When we are in the supermarket and someone rams our ankle with a shopping cart then apologizes for doing so, why do we say, 'It's all right?' Well, it isn't all right, so why don't we say, 'That really hurt, why don't you watch where you're going?'

Why is it that whenever you attempt to catch something that's falling off the table you always manage to knock something else over?

In winter why do we try to keep the house as warm as it was in summer when we complained about the heat?

How come you never hear father-in-law jokes?

The statistics on sanity is that one out of every four persons is suffering from some sort of mental illness. Think of your three best friends -- if they're okay, then it's you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Welcome to Reality

After the November 4th election, I was filled with hope for the future of our country. I recognized the challenges we faced cleaning up after eight years of "winner takes all" politics and a no-accountability executive branch. However, the overwhelming message of the electorate, and the promise of an ethical, articulate president, made me believe that our country could return to a culture of greatness, self-respect and problem solving.

Today, the Dow Jones dropped 382 points and the few remaining Republicans in Congress seem determined to maintain legislative gridlock. What happened?

Nothing, yet.

One of the problems with living in an "instant gratification" society is that we expect all conflicts to be resolved in short order and grow impatient when our expectations are not met. As a nation, we are paying the consequences for bad behavior and when President Obama tells us that there will be no quick fix, he isn't kidding.

As a nation, we spent well beyond our means during the past eight years, wiping out the significant surplus that the Clinton Administration accumulated and betting our financial future on the ongoing cooperation of our Chinese and Arabian lenders. We embarked on a military campaign in Iraq with complete disregard for the concept of patience and caution and meaningful coalitions willing to share the cost. Rather, we chose to nearly bankrupt our military capabilities. In 2004, when we had a chance to change direction, we did not. We allowed President Bush's supporters to swift boat his Democratic opponent and, like lemmings, followed the president to the edge of a cliff marking the outer limits of national pride and international support.

At the bottom of the cliff lie the remnants of former great empires: Visigoth, Persian, Roman, Viking, Mongol, Spanish, Ottoman, Japanese, German, Soviet and British. We're still on the edge but, in November, we decided as a nation to change course. We directed President Obama to back us away from the edge of the abyss and return us to the values that made us a "super power" in the first place.

Like it or not, we are not in the middle of a Hollywood script in which redemption is readily available at the end of a 90 minute screenplay. We were warned by many as we blindly mortgaged our future. Recall Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's December 5, 1996 caution about "irrational exuberance" inflating stock prices. Rather than accept the sobering assessment and modifying our collective behavior, we chastised the messenger for throwing a damper on the party and returned to our irrationally exuberant ways.

We spent a collective fortune we did not have, justifying our rejection of time worn concepts like living within our means, by relying on the paper wealth accumulated through the artificial inflation of real estate values. When the dominoes started to fall with no real substance in millions of individual economies to keep them propped up, the devastation presented the new administration in Washington with a cleanup job of unprecedented proportions. I have not bothered to research the adult population of the United States in 1931. However, I am willing to bet that our current 8% unemployment rate today approaches or exceeds the double digit unemployment rate during the Great Depression in terms of raw numbers of individuals.

Now what?

According to some, we are unable to move forward because we elected a new president who needs on the job training. Nonsense. That is nothing more than partisan sniping for partisan gain. Under the circumstances, it borders on treason.

According to some, Republicans are not being given enough say in how to fashion a massive government response to the current crises. Perhaps. But they have been given, in the first three weeks of the Obama Administration, more input and sincere consideration of their competing views with respect to the stimulus package than the Bush Administration considered from Democrats in its entire eight years in office. President Obama's reminder that he won the election is not mere boastful rhetoric. It is a reminder to those formerly in control of the government that the electorate, ultimately responsible for guiding the direction of its public servants, demanded a new direction in Congress.

According to some, we are damning our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to indentured servitude, committing their tax dollars generations in advance to pay off the obligations we are about to incur as we attempt to right the listing economy. Again, perhaps. However, we had already mortgaged their future with our reckless buildup of the national debt under President Bush. Now that he is no longer in office, we are free to admit that the cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, carried off the books in W's administration, must also be factored into the economic challenges we face.

The only hope we, our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have for the future, with, frighteningly, no assurance of success, is that the massive investment in jobs, schools, infrastructure, and 21st century energy projects will be enough to rejuvenate our stalled economy on all levels and provide opportunities for Americans with the will to return to work and start anew a cycle of responsible spending.

When President Eisenhower had the United States embark on the Interstate Freeway program of the 1950's, he did not merely shorten the time it took to drive from Minneapolis to Chicago. He put an infrastructure in place that encouraged shipping and interstate commerce, broadened markets, created jobs, encouraged development of businesses all along the modern arteries crisscrossing the United States and instilled a sense of accomplishment that Americans inhaled into the collective psyche, setting the tone for achieving grander goals in space in the decade after President Eisenhower.

We have that kind of opportunity before us again. We really do not have much of a choice. The empires at the bottom of the cliff await us. We need to put our faith in leaders who have the courage to be honest with us about the harshness of the road ahead and unite behind them, as we did in November. This allows them to expend their energy on solving our problems rather than on playing defense to the political hacks who have the audacity to hope for our collective failure.

As citizens, we must show some modicum of patience as alternatives are explored and solutions tried. No one has all the answers to our problems. Some have none of the answers to our problems. We should speak out against those who would surrender in despair to the perceived hopelessness of the situation or, worse, insist on returning us to policies that brought about our economic decline in the first place. We need to avoid being side tracked by sensationalists who make mountains out of cabinet nominees' tax problem molehills. We need to work hard and do our best to perform whatever tasks are expected of us in return for increasingly rare paychecks.

Finally, we need to admit that there are consequences to supporting government spending while opposing taxation and engaging in personal spending without the safety net of a realistic means of satisfying debts. Our new president is struggling to develop programs to address these consequences. Let's show some respect for the effort and, for once, not demand instant, false solutions for long term, real problems. Most importantly, let us not yearn for meaningless rhetoric designed to calm our fears or tolerate rhetoric designed to raise our fears. We tried that for eight years. It doesn't work.

Monday, February 2, 2009

25 Random Things About Me (Continued)

I have become increasingly addicted to Facebook. I can sit for hours and play word games with folks from all over the world. In fact, prairie pondering has suffered since, at the end of the day, I am more likely to just unwind challenging my vocabulary skills by competing on the Internet than invest the substance over form that it takes to sound intelligent in this space.

By competing often, Facebook addicts like me are randomly paired in open games with the same people on several occasions. Facebook etiquette allows you to engage such frequent opponents in "conversation", carried on via the mechanism of instant messaging built into Facebook. Moreover, once you add the frequent opponents as formal "friends" on Facebook, they can view your homepage and learn as much about you as you have chosen to put out into cyberspace.

While I have not met most of my opponents personally, many of us have developed a chat relationship, keeping up on each other's activities, kids, jobs, etc., as if we were sitting down at a local Starbucks and catching up. For example, I seem to have acquired a number of friends among Canadian women who play Scrabble and various timed vocabulary games online. As a result, I am more up to date on Canadian politics than I have been in years. They, in turn, follow this blog since any posting is also posted on my Facebook page and I have become the "go to" person for a number of my nearly 300 Facebook friends for the latest information on the Minnesota Senate race.

The social networking basis for Facebook also results in a number of causes being supported by its members and, typically, invitations from Facebook friends to join in the support of a particular cause. The same can be said of participating in various role playing games, like something called "Mafia Wars" and personality quizzes in which one fills out surveys to determine how similar you are to others with respect to a wide range of subject matters.

For the most part, I ignore the invitations. I am in enough time management trouble just keeping up with my various word game competitions. Recently, however, I relented and agreed to participate in a survey as requested independently by at least six Facebook friends. The purpose of the survey, entitled "25 Random Things" is to share just that, 25 random things about yourself with the person making the request (and 24 others you choose to share the survey with). 25 Random Things must be gaining popularity as a Facebook icebreaker because in the last couple of weeks I ignored requests to participate from a number of different people. In a lot of ways, I am a fairly private person and am selective about what gets publicized. I finally decided that I might as well get it over with and complete my version of the survey so I would have something to send out to anyone making the request.

Here are the rules as explained as part of the invitation to participate:

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

Here is what I came up with, fully expecting that this would be the end of it and that I would just send these responses out whenever asked in the future to share 25 Random Things:

1. I HATE talking about myself outside of my blog (samthinkshecan.blogspot.com).
2. I love writing my blog.
3. I don't have enough time to write my blog.
4. I think I lived a block from the Coen brothers' family when I was young but I didn't know it.
5. Marrying Deb was the best thing I've ever done.
6. Practicing law would be a great career if it wasn't for clients.
7. I have always had a weight problem in my mind but can't understand why I thought so 40 pounds ago.
8. I wish I still had my convertible.
9. I am living Eddie Albert's Green Acres experience.
10. I am addicted to FB word games.
11. I cried during Sleepless in Seattle from the opening funeral scene on.
12. Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra have given me my best lines.
13. I want to hang with George Clooney and this generation's Rat Pack.
14. I used to think calculus was cool because you could figure out the area of an ice rink but now I never go near one so I don't care.
15. I was into James Bond novels before the movies came out because I liked reading about sex. I was 8.
16. My grandmother instilled a love of language in me at a young (single digit) age by playing spelling games, having me read books like The Source and challenging me to play Scrabble.
17. My grandmother had second thoughts when I spent most of the drive home from Palm Springs to Chicago reading The Godfather instead of talking to her.
18. I don't like to be forced into preconceived structures.
19. I am only going to write 19 random things about me. Read the blog for the rest.

Then something funny happened. A few minutes after I posted this on my Facebook page and sent it out to the Facebook friends who asked me to participate, I thought of some additional "random things" about me that I wished I would have included. Some experiences are worth sharing and I decided to use Prairie Pondering to do so. In the future, I'll just direct Facebook friends to this blog in the event they wish to learn more about me. Think of this as the first in a series of personal experiences, randomly recalled, that I plan to post from time to time.

Random Thing No. 1 (it seems easier to start the counting over): I survived negotiations with the mob.

A client found itself doing business with individuals in New York City who were alleged to have connections to organized crime. I knew from comments made by Jimmy Hoffa when he visited my law school not long before he disappeared that there is no such thing as "organized crime". As explained by the missing Teamsters Union president, "It's like you got two guys who are plumbers in different cities. Sure, they might talk business, but that doesn't make them 'organized'." Nonetheless, the client was involved in government contracting and it became necessary to sever its ties with the New York business associates.

I flew to New York, looking forward to seeing friends once my business meeting was done. I had worked out a separation agreement while in Minneapolis and was meeting the other side to the tranaction as part of a closing. I cannot remember how much of a check I delivered to the closing, but it must have been substantial. I do remember that the other delivery was a message that my client was done doing business with the New York group and that we would not be having any future dealings or even communications.

The closing took place over lunch at Il Cortile, a restaurant in Little Italy where, apparently, familiarity with English was not a requirement for employment. My dining companions included the attorney for the New York group who had taken an equity position in the venture that was being terminated, his local partner in the venture, the partner's brother (who had acutally moved to Minnesota) and a local electrician who was also an equity participant and had separate agreements with both sides that also were being terminated.

My first clue that I was in for a "life experience" was when our preliminary conversations were constantly interrupted by locals reporting on the results of the days' numbers running and informing on the status of African American youngsters who had violated the peace of the neighborhood. Once I had witnessed that, the need for pretense disappeared.

Because the waiters did not speak English, my hosts insisted on ordering for me. They suggested I order a dish that was served with red and green peppers so that I "would look pretty when they pulled me out of the river and cut me open". I was pretty sure they were kidding but it was not a time to show any indication of fear.

Lunch actually went well. Because of the scrutiny that had been brought to my client's business by the New Yorkers involvement, they were relieved to be bought out and out of the spotlight. We had a straightforward closing. When it was over, I was escorted out by the electrician who wanted to show me something.

Among the things he showed me were the Federal agents sitting in vehicles on Mulberry Street with headphones listening to wiretaps. I had probably walked by them on the way to lunch but had not noticed them on my own. Only slightly further down Mulberry, we stopped at the non-descript door of a "social club" and went in. The electrician explained that he had recently completed the wiring of the club's remodeled facility and wanted to know what I thought.

The room we were in was tiny. There were not more than five tables and, although the new paneling, lighting and carpet were lovely, the electrician's enthusiasm struck me as a bit overboard given the apparent scope of the project. Under the circumstances, I commented on how beautiful everything was in the 15 x 20 foot room.

We went aroud a corner of the room to an interior door. The electrician knocked and a slide opened, allowing the person on the other side to see who wished entrance to whatever was on the other side.

We were admitted and there, in the middle of Little Italy, less than a block from the Feds with headphones, was a brand new casino, complete with craps tables and blackjack tables. I cannot remember if there were slot machines. The casino, of course, was the real reason for the electrician's excitement. The electrician informed me that the grand opening was that night and extended me an invitation to participate.

To this day, I wish I had said "yes". Instead, expressing concern over the absence of extra cash that I could afford to gamble with (true), I declined the invitation, insisting in addition that I had commitments to spend the evening with college friends I had not seen for far too long (also true, but easily modified).

The electrician took me back outside and down the street to where I could grab a cab to go uptown to my friends' apartment. I thanked him for his help in resolving our business situation and for the tour and told him he did not have to wait with me. "No," the electrician said, "I'm staying with you until you get into a cab. If anything happened to you, your client would think I had you hit and I don't want to have to deal with that."

Years later, during a subsequent visit to New York City, I attempted to find the electrician, hoping ot visit the casino in the social club. He had disappeared. His numbers were disconnected. Directory assistance had no record of a business bearing his former business' name. I was left to speculate on the why. But I realized that my "once in a lifetime" opportunity had proven to be once in a lifetime and it had passed.

Please keep visiting Prairie Pondering for additional Random Things About Me installments in the future and, as always, feel free to post your comments.