Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making sure ‘fans’ won’t defect


We’re a couple of weeks away from Labor Day, which is the symbolic beginning point of the hard-core campaign activity for candidates in the upcoming Nov. 4 election cycle.

That is when many people will start giving serious thought as to whom they will actually cast ballots for. Those many undecideds will wind up deciding whether they will actually bother to vote, and for whom.

WHICH IS WHY the two major candidates for Illinois governor are using the time right about now to make sure there aren’t any surprises amongst the people they’re counting on to be already locked up amongst their supporters.

It is why Gov. Pat Quinn was at the South Side’s Quinn Chapel AME Church in a meeting with many African-American public officials and activist types. Republican challenger Bruce Rauner has thrown some money around to certain black pastor types in hopes of depressing the share of the African-American electorate that will back Democrat Quinn.

Quinn wants to make sure he has the Democratic Party leaders in the African-American community on his side so they will go out and encourage the voter base to actually get off their duffs and cast ballots on Election Day.

In short, Quinn wants to ensure that what Rauner will be remembered for is all the money (much of it from his own personal wealth) he is spending in a losing political effort.

ALTHOUGH CONSIDERING HOW the Rauner personal donations are into the several millions of dollars already, his campaign likely will go in the books for the most money spent per vote. We’re going to learn come November if it is possible to buy a political office in Illinois.

Quinn is reaching out these days to shore up his support amongst people who should be regarded as on his side.

Then again, so is Rauner.

Ever since his Illinois State Fair appearance, Rauner has been on board his self-named “Shake Up Express.” That’s a bus he’s riding around all over central and Southern Illinois so he can cram in up to a dozen appearances per day in small burgs all across the rural parts of the state.

I’D BE WILLING to bet that the “T & T Pizzeria” in Sullivan, Ill., isn’t usually a stop for political campaigns. But Rauner included it, and many places like it, in his 38-county tour that is meant to get him face-to-face with the many rural residents who view this election cycle as a chance to dump a Chicago-oriented governor and replace him with someone they think will focus attention on them instead.

Just how much a venture capitalist from Winnetka (with a high-rise residence in Chicago proper) really identifies with rural Illinois is questionable. But if Rauner picks up a tip or two during his rural Illinois tour, then perhaps the event is worth it.

At the very least, he’s getting to see a string of restaurants in the off-beat communities of Illinois, which means he’s not going hungry these days.

While also ensuring that a batch of people who aren’t inclined to vote for Quinn under any circumstances will bother to turn out to vote for Rauner for governor – and perhaps a string of other GOP officials for other offices to appear on the ballot.

WHICH MEANS THAT come Sept.1 (a.k.a., Labor Day, or the end-of-summer for those who resent the idea of organized labor being the subject material for a holiday), the candidates can go back to trying to sway the sympathies of those people who truly are undecided.

My guess is that many will decide to just not vote. But it also is likely that those who do make up their minds at the last minute will be the ones who decide whether we get four more years of Pat Quinn – or a Republican governor with a hostile, Democrat-led Legislature.

Then again, with the way the current Legislature often responds to Quinn’s initiatives, there may not be much of a difference.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Is a “Ferguson” incident inevitable somewhere in the greater Chicago area?


We’ve all been inundated with reports of the violent outbursts taking place in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, where the police killed a young man whom they’re now claiming was a suspect in a convenience store robbery.

The outbursts have become so intense that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has sent in the state troopers and even called in the National Guard to try to restore order to the community located to the northwest of the city.

NOW I’M NOT about to engage in a 600-word diatribe about the ineptitude of the local police. Nor about whether the behavior of local residents borders on criminal itself? You can find many other pundits who will eagerly engage in such debate.

What intrigues me about this incident is the way in which it seems so likely that we’re going to get something similar occurring in the future in a community that is part of the Chicago metro area.

I’d like to think I’m wrong. I’d like to think I’m over-reacting. I’m sure the apologists for police will send me rants telling me how ridiculous I’m being.

But there are just too many circumstances about this incident that make me wonder how long it will be before we hear of something similarly stupid happening in a place like suburban Riverdale or Blue Island, or perhaps across the state line in Hammond.

I PICKED THOSE communities off the top of my head – they are places that not all that long ago had significant white populations, but have now become majority African-American in their composition.

Which makes me wondering if the long-standing, but now a minority, white populations there could take a similar attitude in support of their police if some sort of incident were to break out.

Just this weekend, I caught part of a conversation about the Ferguson incident that included one person whose cousins had once lived there. He claimed the incident was so out-of-character for the Ferguson he remembered – a peaceful community where middle-to-lower income people raised families.

But it was a place where white people lived back then – unlike the current composition where 67.4 percent of the 2010 population of 21,203 people are African American.

THAT IS WHAT provoked the anger in Ferguson to the shooting earlier this month of an 18-year-old by a police officer. It didn’t help that for the longest time, police tried keeping the officer/gunman’s identity secret – then made sure to unveil it as part of a larger statement that tried to claim the 18-year-old was a robbery suspect.

Stealing some cigarillos from a convenience store; not exactly the second coming of John Dillinger.

The matter is now under investigation, and I won’t be surprised if it turns out that police are somehow cleared of this. We should realize that the reason we permit police to carry weapons in public is because we expect there to be instances where they will use them.

And sometimes, unfortunate things happen that just don’t cross over the legal definition of what constitutes criminal behavior.

IT MAKES ME recall an incident in suburban Calumet City from a couple of years ago – one in which a boy with a form of autism was shot to death by local police. That incident, too, caused some outbursts – albeit none with the physical violence of Ferguson.

Rev. Jesse Jackson made his appearance in Calumet City to try to bring back peace and comfort. But the local officials were eager to do as little as possible.

Once an Illinois State Police investigation came back with a finding of no criminal charges against the officers, that became the end of it. Aside from the lingering resentment in the community that likes to talk of its Polish immigrant origins but is now 70.6 percent African American.

Maybe we got lucky that we didn’t get such an outburst a couple of years ago and that “Calumet City, Ill.” didn’t wind up on the map of public opinion. But how much longer can we be that lucky before something stupid happens in our state?

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Davis vs. Jones could be the sporting matchup of the year for Chicago fans


It has become the matchup I’m hoping becomes reality in coming days – pitcher Mo’Ne Davis going up against slugger Pierce Jones.

He of the three home runs and a triple who led the Jackie Robinson West team from the Roseland neighborhood to a victory to kick off the Little League World Series. She of the Philadelphia-area team that also is playing in Williamsport, Pa., who pitched a complete-game shutout and only gave up a couple of hits.

BIG SLUGGER AGAINST top pitcher – a key matchup that will occur if the Little League tourney plays out in such a fashion that the Chicago and Philadelphia ball clubs wind up facing off against each other.

Much has been made of the fact that Davis is a 12-year-old girl. Although all it really proves is that girls can be athletic, and most likely many of the boys she is facing have yet to go through that teenage growth spurt that turns them into adults and will erase whatever physical advantage she now possesses.

Although as one who enjoys watching baseball and often hears of the decline in the number of African-American ballplayers in the professional ranks (largely because of the upshot in recent years of ballplayers from Latin American and Asian nations coming to the United States to play ball), I would find this story to be a bit encouraging.

For Davis is black. As is Jones, and his entire Chicago-area ball club. That’s what happens when a Little League program representing an African-American portion of Chicago winds up getting good and winning the qualifying tournaments to represent the Great Lakes states in the Little League World Series – which has eight U.S. ball clubs and eight international teams.

YES, I’M FOLLOWING the activity of the team from Nuevo Leon, a northernmost Mexican state along the U.S./Mexico border – which kicked off its play by beating Canada 4-3, then losing Sunday 9-5 against a team from Japan.

But the big games that caught attention early on were that 12-2 victory by the Sout’ Side club against a team from Lynnwood, Wash. (I'm going out of my way to erase Sunday's 13-2 defeat from my memory); along with Davis’ shutout against a team from South Nashville, Tenn.

It was unique to see black ballplayers being such a dominant presence on the ball field. Not that I mean that in any bad way.

The degree to which some people with racial hang-ups were probably getting annoyed at the sight (or thought) of such activity was pleasing to me.

IT WAS ENCOURAGING to see some of the nonsense-talk that some people spew get rejected while watching these particular kids excel at something that some people would want to think they’re not supposed to have any interest in.

Plus, there’s the fact that they were kids – not quite at the stage in life yet where such an experience would lead them jaded.

I don’t know if any of these kids is destined for professional athletics in any form. It may well be that these few days in Pennsylvania will be a highlight moment that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I’m also not convinced this is some seminal moment that will help shift black people back to an interest in baseball away from certain other sports. It would take several consecutive years of this – along with a certain shift in the baseball mentality itself – for that to happen.

BUT WATCHING THESE kids does create some intriguing moments on the ball field.

Particularly the thought of a Jones/Davis matchup.

Will Jones and his Jackie Robinson West teammates be the ones who can handle Davis and smack her pitches around the ballpark as easily as they did the kids from Lynnwood, Wash., last week?

Or will Mo’Ne be the one who schools Jones and company – giving them a lesson in humility that our city’s professional ball clubs give Chicago fans every time they lose another game on the field?

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

The “enemy” is out to get you – or so political operatives want you to think!


As a reporter-type person myself, I have often heard the argument from ideologues of all sorts how it is a good thing that the old means of disseminating information are being knocked on the ropes, so to speak.

It is now possible for people with varying ideas to get their messages out to the public (or at least that segment of the public they want to reach) without having anyone try to edit them into any sense.

ALTHOUGH I’VE COME to believe that this is just a batch of nonsense from ideological types who can’t survive in a true world of ideas – and think their only chance is to be able to outshout the opposition.

We’re in the campaign cycle, and in a few weeks will begin the most fervent activity prior to the Nov. 4 general elections.

So it’s to be expected that things are stepping up now. But part of the reason I have come to detest my smartphone is the flood of nonsense that is popping up through my e-mail accounts.

Now one of the drawbacks to publicly posting an e-mail address for this weblog is that there are some people who want me to hear what they have to say, and they feel compelled to put me on their automatic mailing lists.

HENCE, I GET many dozens of messages per day from political activists who are convinced they are going to sway me to their side.

And yes, I get the messages from all sides. Some people will beef up their mailing lists by putting anyone on.

So just this Friday afternoon, I got a message from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee telling me that if I don’t make a donation (which I can conveniently do via the Internet) to their efforts, then, “If we can’t cut the Republican advantage THIS WEEK, our chances of beating (House Speaker John) Boehner’s Republicans drop to zero.”

Along with a message from the House Majority PAC telling me of the ad buys by Republican operative Karl Rove that self-respecting Democrats just can’t let go unanswered.

“IF WE WANT a Democratic majority, we can’t afford to let Karl Rove’s latest ad blitz go unchallenged,” they write. Heck, earlier this week I got an e-mail message apologizing for the number of e-mails sent in the names of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi -- then asking me for yet another donation.

All of which comes across as a little bit whiny – poor little Dems who are getting bullied politically by the big bucks of wealthy individuals of a conservative ideological leaning who want a Republican-run government to bolster their interests.

But whining isn’t limited to anyone of a particular ideology. In addition to those messages, I got one from Jim DeMint of the Heritage Foundation that “liberals know how to reach the American people” and how they need my money to help them fight back to ensure that the conservative-leaning interests prevail.

As DeMint told us in his mass-produced e-mail, “Why is it that liberals continue to win victories despite decades of big government,” adding later, “We conservatives need an answer, and fast.”

FOR THE RECORD, I’m not sending money to any of these people. In fact, once I finish writing these commentaries, I’m deleting them from my log. Because as far as I’m concerned, they all amount to people whining and claiming “victim” status to get my money.

These people want me to vote against someone else, rather than telling me why I should vote for them. Which may well be the biggest flaw of the electoral process as it exists today!

Although I have to admit I find it laughable to read DeMint’s claim that liberals know how to reach the people. If they truly did, then there wouldn’t be so much circumstantial evidence indicating the GOP’s interests may wind up prevailing on Nov. 4.

Although it does have an element of truth as well. Because it seems the election cycles of recent years where there is respectable voter turnout are the ones where Democratic Party interests prevail.

THE ONES WHERE the people become apathetic about the electoral process are the ones that turn into “big years’ for the Party of Lincoln that often acts as though it is ashamed to have his name associated with them.

“Apathy” and “shame” most definitely are a pair of words I would use to describe the political mood I see amongst the public these days.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Pol cheap shots a sign of a mini-mind?


I’m not about to get all worked up over Republican lieutenant governor nominee Evelyn Sanguinetti for her apparent cheap-shot against the rural part of Illinois – and her efforts this week to make it appear she didn’t mean anything by it.

For one thing, it would be hypocritical.

I KNOW FOR a fact that I have made my share of snide comments implying that the rest of Illinois (the land that lies beyond the outermost suburbs of Chicago) is somehow lacking in civilization.

Which is nothing compared to the cheap-shots that often emanate from rural residents when referring to the Chicago portion of Illinois – which has become so dominant in recent years that it is the real reason someone like Bruce Rauner will take the overwhelming share of the non-Chicago vote come the Nov. 4 election for governor.

Borderline-lame pot shots at each other may at times be the glue that holds the regions of Illinois together – because it compels us to remember that we are one state, and not a batch of regions that wish they could be a part of surrounding states.

Sanguinetti apparently made a pot-shot in the past while inquiring about the possibility of a government job. The Lee Enterprises newspaper chain reported recently about an e-mail message she sent on the issue, trying to end it with a laugh by writing, “Isn’t cow tipping a work requirement in Springfield (LOL).”

IT’S A DUMB gag, although the part that offends me the most is that “(LOL)” she felt compelled to add to the end.

As though she thought she had to tell people they were supposed to laugh. If the gag had truly been humorous, their laughter would have been spontaneous, and apparent.

Then again, maybe I’m just that old grouch who dislikes the idea of “LOL” being put into any e-mail. Just like I don’t like those people who put smiley faces and other gimmicky symbols (such as “;)”) into an e-mail.

Sanguinetti took the appearance that she was insulting rural Illinois (she’s a suburban DuPage County-type person, a Wheaton village trustee to be exact) seriously enough that she felt compelled to say nice things about the Illinois capital city when she was on hand for the fair-type events.

WHICH MADE HER look rather trivial overall. No wonder that recent poll showed that when people were asked what they thought of the lieutenant governor candidates, they far preferred Democrat Paul Vallas to Sanguinetti.

Maybe Gov. Pat Quinn owes any November victory to Vallas. Or more likely, few people bother to give the lieutenant governor nominees much thought when they go into the voting booth to pick a preference for governor.

Although the part of all this that bothers me the most is the fact that Quinn felt so compelled to pick up on this issue – rather than just let Sanguinetti twist in the wind with her own trivial nonsense.

The Chicago Sun-Times on Friday reported that Quinn said, “I think she should apologize for those disrespectful remarks. This isn’t the right way to talk about any cow in Illinois. We’re proud of our cows. They’re the best that ever was. She ought to say she’s sorry to a bunch of cows.”

WHY DO I suspect the spirit of Robin Williams was lingering nearby, and shuddering at Quinn’s attempt to engage in such lame humor?

It also reminds me of the 1960s anti-war activists who once satirically nominated “Pigasus” for president (“If we can’t have him in the White House, we can have him for breakfast,” the Yippies said) to show their contempt for the establishment candidates.

Does this mean we can nominate a cow for governor – on the grounds that he’d have more sense (and may even smell better) than either Rauner or Quinn?

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sout’ Side (but not the White Sox) make it to a ‘World Series’ of sorts


Baseball fans oriented to the South Side have something to cheer about this season – and not just the fact that Cuban sensation Jose Abreu is in the running to lead the American League in both home runs and runs batted in.

It’s not enough to pull the Chicago White Sox into contention for a division title.

BUT THERE WILL be talk of “World Series” bandied about on Thursday, and hopefully in coming days.

For we’re at that tournament in which youth league teams from around the world converge in Williamsport, Pa. – the annual home of the Little League World Series.

There are some “international” ball clubs present, but most are from the United States. And this year, the team representing the Great Lakes Region is from right here in Chicago – the predominantly-African-American Roseland neighborhood to be exact.

For the Jackie Robinson West Little League champion team this year advanced through the rounds of qualifying games to beat an Indiana team to make the trip to Williamsport.

ON THURSDAY, THEY will play their first game in the World Series against a team from Lynnwood, Wash. ESPN will carry the game live at 2 p.m.\

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked of having a viewing party so Chicagoans can watch the game, while Gov. Pat Quinn declared a “day” across Illinois for this year’s Jackie Robinson championship team.

That’s pretty heady stuff, particularly since the Jackie Robinson League baseball program is usually something only the Chicago Defender newspaper bothers to pay any attention to – and even then only to get a picture of a kid looking cute while trying to do something athletic.

So chances are most of us Chicago baseball fans had no clue what was happening in Roseland that a baseball team good enough to make it to the international tournament was in our midst.

REMEMBER THE CONTROVERSY from a year ago when the baseball program at Walter Payton College Prep tried cancelling out a game against Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep out of fear of the neighborhood?

That was Roseland as well, and in fact the Brooks high school uses Jackie Robinson League facilities for its program.

It will be intriguing to see a group of inner-city kids taking on the more heavily-experienced (when it comes to travel) teams that usually wind up playing in these youth tournaments.

And if some baseball fans get a jolt to see that black kids don’t just dunk basketballs, that may be a plus as well.

NOW I’M NOT about to predict a Chicago victory in the Little League World Series. The Jackie Robinson West champions (Jackie Robinson East baseball is played out in Newark and Jersey City, N.J.) may well be among the first teams knocked out this year.

Although let’s be honest.

If they were to accomplish something, it would be the sporting highlight of the year for Chicago – particularly since neither professional baseball club is going to win anything of significance this season.

So go Jackie Robinson West. Beat Lynnwood. And do the city proud as you work your way through the ranks of the top youth league baseball players the world has to offer. Show them you belong!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How deep can Chicago roots be?


It always amuses me to learn of someone of prominence who can place the name “Chicago, Ill.” on a form as their place of birth, even though their career would never give us any indication they had any connection with the Second City.

There’s Walt Disney (whose animated creations continue to generate royalties even though he is long gone from this realm of existence) and Raquel Welch (compared to her, girls such as Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry are just a couple of foolish tarts), to name a couple.

AND NOW WE can add Robin Williams to the list.

The 63-year-old comedian and actor allegedly was coping with depression, and there are those who suspect his ills may have caused him this week to take an action that cost him his life. Autopsies will soon give us the gory details – for those of us who care.

But I’m not sure it matters much about the man born in 1951 at then-Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital and raised until he was 8 in suburban Lake Bluff and Lake Forest.

His life’s work is going to live on so long as copies of his films don’t deteriorate into dust, and so long as the ME-TV thinks it is worthy for them to include “Mork and Mindy” among the ranks of long-cancelled programs they continue to air.

CONSIDERING THAT WE can still watch “Bosom Buddies” (Tom Hanks in drag) and “Welcome Back, Kotter” (which really did deteriorate when John Travolta left the show for bigger and better things), it ought to be a safe bet that they can find a place for early Robin Williams whose absurd behavior was just supposedly the way a being from space behaved when surrounded by mere Earthlings.

I’m old enough to remember when that was a prime-time program, and when we got our introduction to Williams as a guy who could make us laugh with the ramblings off the top of his head. So much of that show and Williams’ bits were unscripted.

But unlike people such as Ron Palillo, whose own obituaries a couple of years ago highlighted a career that went nowhere once his “Kotter” role as “Arnold Horshack” came to an end, Williams went on to bigger things in film.

He even got an Academy Award “best supporting actor” for his role in “Good Will Hunting,” where he served as a street-smart counselor of sorts to actor Matt Damon’s namesake lead character.

ALTHOUGH I’M INCLINED to remember him most for that role he had as a private school teacher in “Dead Poets’ Society.” Even if, in the end, “the captain” was forced to resign his job for having placed all kinds of deep thoughts into the heads of his students.

Even his moment as a gay Miami Beach nightclub owner in “Birdcage” sticks in my mind (largely because I saw it on late-night television recently, but also because it is darned near impossible to forget the site of actor Gene Hackman in a hideous drag queen disguise).

Williams’ Chicago connections may have come to an end when the family moved while he was still a child – first to Michigan, then to San Francisco where he graduated high school and began the path that led to him being a memorable professional entertainer.

But you just know there are those among us who are going to want to claim him for one of our own – as though somehow something was inseminated into his essence as a child that made him so funny as an adult.

FOR THOSE OF us trying to make sense out of the loss of Williams, perhaps we can think to ourselves that “Mork” has merely gone back to “Ork.”

As we read this, he’s giving a detailed account of his decades of life on Earth with Mindy – while also offending his boss, Orson, with a series of one-liners about his girth.

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