Missing in Plain Sight

3/6/10 UPDATE: Just heard that Blase will not actually enter prison until sometime in April 2010 due to a lack of bed space.  Kinda like a hospital, eh?  When’s the last time you heard that one?

(written 3/1/10) Today’s the day Nicholas Blase, the former mayor of the little Chicago suburb of Niles, Illinois, goes off to a white-collar jail somewhere in Wisconsin, or  maybe Indiana, or maybe Minnesota, or maybe Michigan.  Whatever.  You get it, though — he won’t be sharing a cell with someone who is wearing his prison uniform sagging below his backside and itching to pick a fistfight just for the hell of it.

What Blase leaves behind is a village government now run by a longtime friend who refuses to utter a single condemning word about him, the village office allegedly crawling with FBI agents because Blase was, in fact, so worthy of condemnation — and a population of 30,000 or so, most of whom are barely aware of what has happened, if at all.

How did an entire community become so disengaged?  Well, it happened over a period of 50 years, during which dissenters were hunted and harassed, and those outside of the village-hall clique were treated as…well…outsiders.  I remember hearing years ago that someone outside the clique who was running for a position on the Park Board suddenly found himself to be the recipient of bomb threats.  More commonly anyone who ran for mayor against Nicky Blase was either ignored or skewered with barbs tipped in vicious, Sarah Palin-type venom.  You know, that sort of thing.

Public disengagement is the offspring of long-lived and intense political corruption.  That’s what Niles has now.  I’ll wager if you walked up to ten locals today and asked them (1) what Nicky Blase was charged with, and (2) was he convicted, and (3) when was he going to jail, eight of them would never get beyond a dropped-jaw reaction at the first question.  “What is Nicky Blase and who the hell are you?” they would ask.

On that note, I recall the Send in the Clowns story: a few years ago, during the annual 4th of July parade, Blase (who I believe had just been arrested quite recently), walked with a group clowns rather than sit in his usual ceremonial seat on a dais on someone’s front lawn.  I don’t think anyone noticed that one of the clowns was plain-faced, nor guessed who it was, nor the reason he was walking with the clowns.  Answer: it was Blase and he probably thought the clowns would shield him from any rude laughter from the crowd.  He needn’t have worried.

Of course the Republicans in the area would be fully aware of the situation only through their own low-powered microscope, and would be blaming Blase’s faults on the fact that he was a Democrat.  And so they are.  Nice try — except that Blase distanced the town’s Democratic party from the national party years ago, claiming that the national party was…are you sitting down…not only too liberal, but out of touch with the people. The area Republicans can put that in their pipes and smoke it along with whatever else it is they have apparently been smoking for years now.

Anyway, today’s the day Blase goes to jail.  But today’s also the day where the people of Niles should notice that nothing has changed, and that at long last there is an opportunity for something to change.

Why does this concern me?  I grew up in Niles.  I still have friends and relatives there.  And having moved beyond the town, I am well aware that Niles has a reputation as something little better than a well-hidden festering zit on the butt of the glittery North Shore.

Granted it is not a vacation spot, but it doesn’t deserve an assessment like that.  The thing is, the people currently in office in Niles aren’t the ones who are going to save it, since they represent little or no change over who was there before.  Only the people outside the doors can do that, and that’s only if they can emerge from their 50 year sleep.

People of Niles, wake up and do so soon.

Update: The Little Town Still Struggles

This is just an update, since a few folks seem to be interested: I’ve been following the situation in Niles, Illinois and it seems there is a new wrinkle.

Sometime during the sentencing for fraud of Nicholas Blase, the former mayor of the town, it emerged that other people in town government were involved and this possibly includes persons in the police department and in the building code enforcement department.  If this has gotten your interest, read my post of a few days ago and tell me if my previous information and guesses weren’t completely on the mark.

Gosh.  Well, look at it this way: at least Blase is now too old to run for governor — or worse, President — like someone we know in Alaska who did and may.  But seriously…

I knew just from local gossip that the FBI was far from finished with Niles, but I never expected things to move so quickly, nor something like this to come out of a sentencing hearing.  Stay tuned, folks.  The fun may be just beginning.

P.S. For the whole gory story, read this.  (This link posted here on 2/9/10; read asap before they take it down.)

God had nothing to do with any of this

It’s no secret that Haiti’s record on child abuse is probably among the worst in the western hemisphere.  It’s also obvious that the recent catastrophic earthquake has placed a lot of kids in further danger.

What is a secret is what was going on in the brains — if they have any — of a U.S. church group that tried to kidnap a busload of Haitian kids.  Of course, the church group says God sent them.  You may have guessed that I look at it in quite a different way.  And so, apparently, does the Haitian government.

You know, this sort of thing makes Pat Robertson look like a Christian.  In doing what they did, the church group not only put the kids’ future in even more jeopardy than it already was (gee, they would get to be illegal aliens in the Dominican Republic or the U.S.!), but angered the Haitian government as well.  The act shows not only a disrespect for Haiti, but for the kids, their parents (and some of them do have parents), and an entire government.  That’s a pretty big pile of crap to lay on God.

And speaking of a big pile of crap…

Here in Illinois there is a town called Niles.  In Niles, for the most of the last 50 years, there was a mayor called Blase.  Blase initially banished the Mob from Niles, quite like St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland.   But that only took St. Blase about 2 years to accomplish.  We’re going to be talking about what happened in the next 48 years, in which Blase the Mob-crusher apparently behaved as if he were one of those creatures he himself had driven out of town.

Which is to say that the good works stopped.  The mayor called Blase looked at Niles businesses, and saw they were good — for shaking down.  For years — almost 50 years — the money got shaken out of Niles businesses like apples out of trees in Paradise, and all of it was, basically, “protection” money.  Niles businesses were forced to buy insurance from  a firm Blase was associated with, at high premiums — and he apparently pocketed some of the extra money.  Businesses that did not comply were harassed until they closed down or moved.

That was not all that was going on.  As an example, there was one guy who owned an automobile repair business.  The children of a Niles official decided that they wanted to operate a hot dog stand where his business stood.  So the guy was forced out of business.  The hot dog stand never materialized.  The building stood unused for years, and was only recently knocked down.

Another example: I knew someone who lived in an apartment building that was coveted by Niles’ pet condo developer.  The developer made an offer for the building, (which was not for sale), to the owner of the building.  The owner said no.  Every year after that, the building inspector blew through the building picking on every “violation” he could find, not bothering to be polite or even to consider that he was going through people’s homes.  (Prior to that, the inspector had only come in once every 3 years.)

My friend could finally take it no longer and moved to another suburb, but the landlord learned to laugh behind the building inspector’s back.  And he still owns the building.

Other business owners did not fare so well.  One complained in a local newspaper that if he were identified as complaining about the village government, he would be inspected to death and forced out of business.  Another business owner closed his shop and went online only after his local taxes tripled in one year.

Nice place to live and work, eh?

Anyway, at long last and almost too late, the FBI pointed its haughty finger at Blase and announced in its best Charlton Heston tones: You Are Crooked.  And so this mayor called Blase found himself blustering in court that he had done nothing wrong.

Alas, this past year the court found that Blase had, indeed, done something wrong.  So he was forced to retire from office, but kept meddling in town government anyway.  After being given a slap on the wrist, he apparently stopped — but not before he managed to get a longtime crony elected to take his place.  In post-Blase Niles, I understand, everything is still business as usual.

And so Blase delayed his sentencing.  And delayed his sentencing.  And delayed his sentencing.  I believe the delays went on for nearly a year.

Finally this week he was sentenced to a year and a day for his 50 years of abusing the town he was supposed to be governing.  In his presence as he was sentenced were two priests.  He read an apology and his hands shook.  The judge said he gave the light sentence because he did not want Blase to die in jail — you know, a death sentence.

So how does this tie in with the innocent Haitian kids who were being stolen?

Here’s the point: The fate of the church group is still unclear.  There will, perhaps, be no punishment.  (Can you imagine the cries of the wingnuts — even though the kids involved were black — if the church group were put on trial in the U.S.?)  Meantime this nasty, crooked old man will walk free forever after a year and a day.  50 years of abuse and bullying, and he walks.

I guess it all comes down to who you are and what you steal.

Finally!

Finally some blog-worthy news! Tuned into the Internet this morning just in time to find out that my least-favorite governor, Rod Blagojevich, had been arrested on corruption charges just minutes before.

Note to the Feds: where the hell have you been?

Actually to their credit, the Feds have been investigating Blags for years. It’s just that until now, all the indictments that fly around like snowflakes in Illinois have either missed him entirely or melted when they hit too close. Must have been all that hot air. This time it seems to be different — but the way things go in this state, we’ll all have to sit back and watch for at least the next 2 years before we find out.

Meantime the state Republicans — and probably those in the federal government as well, since Obama’s name has come up in this matter, however tangentially — will be chortling, ignoring the fact that one of their own, the predecessor of Blags as governor of Illinois, is currently cooling his aged jets in the penitentiary. He was convicted on corruption charges just a few years ago.

Anyway, my only hope is that Blags does the honorable thing and leaves Illinois with an exceptional Christmas present — his resignation. But I am hoping for a miracle. The man hasn’t done an honorable thing in memory. For that matter, neither has the Illinois legislature, which is our only other hope of getting rid of Blags any time soon. (Unfortunately, the Illinois constitution does not allow for recalls, and a referendum for a constitutional convention, part of the point of which was apparently to address the subject of recalls, was defeated in the November election.)

In thinking of the legislature, it comes to mind that one suburban mayor in Illinois, Nicholas Blase of Niles, recently pleaded guilty and resigned from his office of 47 years, having been arrested by the FBI a few years ago on an insurance-fraud scheme. From the time he was charged to the time he pleaded guilty (about 2 years), the subject of removal from office never came up. The rumor is that the town’s powers-that-be were too afraid that if they made efforts to get rid of Blase, he’d expose them. So they were, and are, quiet — and will remain so, because apparently some offices of the town’s government are still under investigation.

So it’s going to be a while before anything actually happens in either case. Stay tuned…