I'm back in Chicago. It's one of my favorite cities in the late spring to early
summer. There's a lot to do and the city is teeming with people.
I arrived Saturday around noon at O'Hare airport from Los Angeles. I didn't
have much luggage with me so I decided to bypass the taxi line and take the
subway from the airport to downtown.
The subway is usually the fastest and quickest way to get downtown from O'Hare.
Not this time, though. As the train pulled out of the O'Hare station, it stopped
after about two minutes of travel inside the tunnel. The train stood still for
about ten minutes before it began to move again. When the train pulled into
the next station, the Rosemont stop, there were about 15 uniformed police at
the station and three or four police who looked to be undercover cops.
I was sitting in the first car and heard one of the cops remark, "Number
3110, this is the train." 3110 was the number of the first car. Four of
the cops entered through the car while all the other subway car doors were kept
closed. They went through the first car and every other car. Every time they
came across a Hispanic man wearing a white shirt, they asked the man to step
out. The police outside asked them all for ID's and had them all step to the
side. After doing this to about five Hispanics, they came across someone who
was wearing a white shirt and appeared to be Pakistani. He got the same treatment.
Then it was another Hispanic and then a Middle Eastern-looking man. They were
all ordered out and all ID's were checked, then they were all told they could
Of course, while all this was going on, the others on board were surmising
that the police were looking for a terrorist.
Whatever it was, it certainly was strange. Someone had the power to stop the
train almost as it left the station and then was able to get 15 police to the
next station to search for Hispanic, Pakistani and Middle Eastern men wearing
white shirts. Did the FBI bungle a surveillance operation? Was the FBI tailing
someone at the airport and he managed to give them the slip while they were
buying fare cards? Who knows? The police obviously had a description of who
they were looking for and also a name. Now what's curiouser is that the police
weren't able to find whoever they were looking for. The O'Hare station is the
start of that subway line, so if the police were looking for someone, that someone
would have had to have gotten on at that station. The train was stopped in the
tunnel and no doors were open until the Rosemont stop, so it would have been
very unlikely anyone could have gotten off before the Rosemont stop, yet the
police couldn't find whoever they were looking for.
Strange, very strange.
I wondered to myself what would have happened in this day and age of "material
witnesses" and "military combatants" if one of the poor souls
taken off the train didn't have ID with him?
After that episode, I did get downtown, checked into my hotel, took a short
nap and then headed out for a night on the town. My first stop was at the Hotel
W where, at the bar, I ran into a woman that I have been bumping into, it seems,
every time I am in Chicago. Her name is Jennifer and to describe her as a bleeding-heart
liberal is certainly not overstating her worldview.
The last time we spoke, she was calling for more aid to African countries where
poverty was "everywhere." At that time I gave her a standard libertarian
reply that a lot of the problem was the result of a lack of property rights,
so people had no incentive to farm because others could take the produce.
This time when she saw me she said, "You know, I thought about what you
said about property rights. I think you are right. You know, I think you are
a complete thinker. I think about things but then I let my emotions get in the
way and don't think things through."
She then told me what the United States needed was what she called "Grandma
Economics." Grandma Economics, according to her, seemed to be a combination
of price controls, higher minimum wage laws and a redistribution of any profits
earned by corporations. I told her it sounded more like Grandma Totalitarianism
Although Jennifer is a Stanford grad, she seems to be having trouble landing
a job, and I get the sense she is real low on cash. I bought her a dinner at
the bar. Our conversation continued on for a couple of hours. She really has
the left-wing arguments down, and it is a pretty good workout to spar with her
and understand why her left-wing intervention proposal of the minute will lead
It was now around midnight, so it was much later than she planned to be out,
so instead of her taking the subway, I put her in a taxi home. From outside,
I took the five or six block walk to a club named Narcisse. It's one of my favorites
in Chicago when it's humming. But the crowd is unpredictable, sometimes it is
a good crowd, sometimes it is a boring crowd and sometimes there is no crowd.
On this particular night the crowd looked promising. I introduced myself
to two women there, and after a short while, one of the women told me she worked
for the CBOE. The CBOE is the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It is the exchange
that handles trading in, among other things, stock options. I half-jokingly
asked her, "Whatever happened to the CBOE investigation of all the profits
made by those who bought put options on airlines stocks before 9-11?" (You
make money on put options when a stock goes down in price.)
Her answered floored me. She said, "It probably would have been
easy for us to find out who was behind the trades, but the government came in
and told the CBOE president to stop the investigation."
Just to make sure I heard her right, I said to her, "The government
came in and told the CBOE president not to investigate?" She said, "Yeah,
it was really strange."
The conversation changed for a minute, but I wanted to get back to
the government not wanting an investigation. I said to her again, a third time,
making sure I heard right, "The government didn't want you to investigate?"
She looked at me said "Yes, that's right." Then she looked at me a
little longer, she knew I had interest in this topic, she looked a little nervous
and then blurted out to me, "We erased the data. Our data on the trades
I am not an investigative reporter, but if someone reading this is,
this certainly looks like something that should be investigated further.
After a day filled with a bizarre police action, my left liberal friend's Grandma
Economics and now a scary story from a CBOE employee, I decided to call it a
The next day I had a leisurely brunch, took a walk along Chicago's beautiful
lakeshore and headed back to my hotel room. I turned on C-Span, which was broadcasting
a panel discussion that included John Dean, Oliver Stone and Arianna Huffington.
Stone related that any filmmaker who wanted to use official US government military
equipment in a movie had to tow the complete Pentagon line. He said the movies
"Blackhawk Down" and "We Were There" were nothing more than
acted out military video games. "When you get Pentagon cooperation, they
require approval of every line in the movie, and you can't veer from that approved
script at all. They have a handbook of how soldiers are supposed to act in various
military situations, and you can't portray a soldier as acting any differently
from what is in the manual," he said.
By Sunday evening, I was contemplating the weekend. The weekend was kind of
a twilight zone experience for me. Everywhere I turned from subway, to clubs
to television, I experienced some reminder of the power, mystery and secretiveness
that government can be. In between these experiences was Jennifer who seemed
to want to naively expand the power of government at every turn. The only sane
thing that seemed to happen the entire weekend was when she admitted to me that
she reacted, often, on emotion and not thinking things completely through. Jennifer's
admission seems to be where a lot of Americans are today in what they're thinking.
They are not thinking things through but reacting at an emotional level to the
sometimes-choreographed events they see unfold in front of them. They then they
go to movies that Oliver Stone points out are scripted with the obligatory use
of manuals created by the Pentagon.
"Maybe, just maybe, I had a bad weekend," I thought by Sunday evening.
All this mysterious government flexing of power was just a bad coincidence.
It will be back to reality on Monday, I thought. Well it is Monday as I write
this and the newspapers and TV are announcing the 30th anniversary of Watergate
and that infamous abuse of power by President Nixon and his cronies.
Watergate was an abuse of power that all condemn. Yet, government power, that
can be readily abused, is obviously expanding everywhere far beyond the power
that existed during the Watergate era. I can only hope that this expansion does
not create abuses far greater than those of the Watergate era. I truly fear,
though, that this weekend in Chicago was just a tiny precursor of what we may
all experience in the years ahead if things don't change very dramatically,
very soon. If ever there was a time to strike at the root of government expansion,
before it is too late, that time is surely now.