Saturday, October 3, 2015

Did the Pope bless Kim Davis’ beliefs? About as much as Mark McGwire bat!

Talk about some serious media mismanagement; how else to explain the fact that the Vatican is feeling compelled to come up with clarification after clarification about the “meeting” the Pope supposedly had with that county clerk from Kentucky who wants to be the heroine of the homophobic community.

Did it really happen?
For it seems that back when Pope Francis was in the United States last week, Kim Davis was one of a dozen people who were taken to the Vatican’s embassy in Washington.

SHE GOT A brief bit of face time, where Davis insists she was told by His Holiness himself that he told her to “stay strong” in her ongoing fight against people who expect her to fulfill her legal duties as clerk of Rowan County, Ky., by signing off on all marriage licenses.

Even those issued by gay couples wishing to have legal legitimacy added to their personal relationships.

Most of what has been spoken about this “meeting” has come from Davis. The woman who isn’t even Catholic (she’s part of an Apostolic faith) wants us to think she has the backing of one of the world’s leading religious faiths.

The Vatican, which likes to think it is above all these worldly considerations, initially came up with a “we can neither confirm nor deny” strategy in response to Davis and her followers’ antics.

IT LATER BECAME a “we confirm they met, but will not elaborate” type of response.
No longer the highlight of the papal visit
But even that was not enough to put to rest this issue. By Friday, a Vatican spokesman had to issue yet another clarification – providing scant details about an issue upon which the church usually thinks are no one else’s concern.

“The pope did not enter into the details of the situation of Mrs. Davis, and his meeting with her should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects,” we were told. Then, we learned how the pope also greeted a gay couple and their friends during his tour -- the same amount of attention that Davis got.

Not that I expect this to put the issue to rest – there are those who are going to keep this issue alive for as long as possible. It may well be that it was people within the Catholic church hierarchy who arranged for Davis to even be on hand to see the Pope in Washington – perhaps those who want to push the church toward the ideologue side with regards to the gay marriage debate.

JUST BECAUSE THE courts may have ruled a certain way doesn’t mean there won’t be those wishing to overturn them. Abortion was decided by the courts to be a legitimate medical procedure more than four decades ago – yet the issue isn’t anywhere near going away.

A comparable moment to Kim Davis?
Now I’m not about to claim Davis is flat-out lying when she talks about her papal moment. Only that I realize being allowed into the pope’s presence shouldn’t be thought of as being a bigger deal than it really is.

I still remember in 1999 when Pope John Paul II came to St. Louis. One of the people he met with was then-St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. They shook hands, and McGwire got to introduce his son, Matt, to the pope.

The whole incident lasted a few seconds before the pope moved on. Aside from creating the opportunity for some jokes about the pope meeting with a cardinal, it was just a brief tidbit.

YET IN A papal journey to the Americas that ventured into Havana and saw Pope Francis speak both at Madison Square Garden AND before Congress, there’s a very good chance that this trip will have as its lingering memory the few seconds that Davis worked her way to the front of the line and had papal face time. Then again, the pope’s visit also got upstaged by the death of one-time New York Yankees great Yogi Berra, so maybe the pope was going to struggle for top-billing.

His death put Pope on Pg. 14 of NY Post
By that definition of papal attention, perhaps I should consider my own ’99 moment – I was a United Press International reporter back then and I was in St. Louis for the John Paul II trip. At one point, I was watching a motorcade through the city and the pope was about 50 feet away from me when he looked in my direction and waved.

For his later mass at the now-former TWA Dome, I was relegated to another room and had to watch him speak via a video screen connection. Admittedly, Davis’ proximity to a Pope was better than I had.

But somehow, I think her experience was closer to mine than to a true papal audience – which is the impression some conservative ideologues seem to want to create. Which strikes me as a repulsive use of religion for one’s own beliefs!


Friday, October 2, 2015

Why does the modern ballpark feel more like a giant TV viewing room?

The ambiance of attending a ballgame in person (rather than viewing it on television, like so many people do these days) is no longer about the sight of so much green grass mowed ever so perfect, or the smell of the concessions wafting out toward the field.

Do we really need to see Sox rally-killing double plays so large? Image by Illinois Sports Facilities Authority
It seems to be more and more about the video boards that stadiums seem to think are the keys to the success of the facilities in which they actually play their games.

ANYBODY WHO DOUBTS this ought to consider a couple of actions that occurred this week in Chicago with regards to the facilities used by our city’s two professional ball clubs.

A U.S. District judge issued an order that rejected the lawsuit filed by owners of apartment buildings across the street from Wrigley Field – the one that challenged the legality of the video boards the ball club erected for 2015 and for seasons to come.

Meanwhile, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority gave its approval to a new set of video boards for U.S. Cellular Field. The center field scoreboard with its iconic pinwheels (copied from the old Comiskey Park) will literally become a video board, with additional boards erected beyond left and right fields.

Beginning with 2016, people attending White Sox games will get to see a more grandiose display of video replays – in case you missed the sight of Adam LaRoche striking out, you can see it over and over and over again.

THE SAME WILL be in place at Wrigley, as the legitimacy of those video boards that block out the views from the rooftops of the apartments across the street from the outfield was approved.

Personally, I could care less. One of the reasons I actually enjoyed the last ballgame I went to this season (back when the Yankees came to town) was that I was in a centerfield seat with my back to the video boards.

The old ambiance of Sox and Cubs parks ...
They weren’t the distraction that day that they can often be. Yes, I’d actually rather watch the activity on the playing field – or on occasion check out the activity in the bullpens to see which relief pitchers are trying to catch a little nap before playing.

Although I suspect there are others who could care less, and probably enjoy the video-laced atmosphere, along with the ballplayers having their own personal “theme music” (usually some heavy-metal guitar riff or rap music tune). Maybe it’s not real until it has been on video?

... are definitely things of the past
UNLESS THE CHICAGO Cubs really are destined to go on and on to win the World Series (rather than just being one-and-done against the Pittsburgh Pirates), it could be that these video board announcements will be the highlights of this year for Chicago baseball.

I couldn’t help but be amused by the Crain’s Chicago Business report about the U.S. Cellular video boards, which included the fact that the state was obligated to upgrade the video boards because the current boards at the ballpark are now considered antiquated compared to what other stadiums have.

The White Sox’ lease with Illinois requires the building to be maintained to “major league” standards. I can already hear the people complain about the state wasting money that could have been put to use elsewhere.

Although that lease (with all its perks to the ball club) is what ensures the White Sox remain a viable financial entity and keeps Chicago’s status as a two-team town – rather than becoming like St. Louis, Philadelphia or Boston.

AS FOR THE Cubs, I have to confess some praise for Judge Virginia Kendall and her ruling that tossed out the lawsuits brought by those apartment owners who tried to bolster their own financial bottom-line by turning their rooftops into private clubs (with people paying anywhere from $90-150 a seat) to view ballgames.
Excuse me for not sympathizing for those rooftop club owners whose views are now permanently blocked. Image provided by Chicago Cubs
I’m old enough to remember the days when the sight of people sitting on the rooftops added to the ballpark’s character – in part because being allowed to go up on the roofs was a perk of actually living in the building. Outsiders were verboten!

For a building that likes to promote the idea that it has the same character as when it originally opened in 1914 (and where the Cubs will celebrate a century of activity come next year), those rooftop clubs are so garish and un-historic.

Just as tacky, perhaps, as the new video board for U.S. Cellular – and so unlike anything that Bill Veeck had in mind when he had the original exploding scoreboard put in place at Comiskey Park (or, for that matter, the ivy on the walls at Wrigley).


Thursday, October 1, 2015

No loss. I wasn’t buying Tilapia or goat cheese from Whole Foods anyways

I must confess to being surprised by news reports about how the Whole Foods chain of upscale supermarkets said it would no longer stock items made by prison inmates.

No inmate-made goods, that they know of
Largely because I wasn’t aware they were making such goods available for sale.

YOU’D THINK THAT a business so concerned with putting up an image of hoity-toity, high-falutin’ products would think something made by prison inmates was too crude to include.

Then again, the whole point of prison-made products is that they’re so cheap to produce because the cost of labor is so minimal – it amounts to slave labor, which is the only circumstance under which it is legally permissible in this country.

Now I know I have never purchased such products because I’m not particularly fond of goat cheese or tilapia (It’s fish, for those who don’t know). Also, I rarely shop at the local Whole Foods except to occasionally buy a special item or two that aren’t readily available elsewhere.

Also, I’m not sure if I have ever seen the items in question that were produced by Colorado Corrections Industries, which officially exists to try to train prison inmates in skills that might be usable in their post-prison lives.

THE FISH AND cheese products they produce get sold to distributors, who then provide it to various stores – including some of the Whole Foods supermarkets – where it gets sold to the general public.

Although considering how much Whole Foods likes to boast that it includes locally-made products amongst its stock in the stores, I don’t know if any Colorado-made goods would make it to Chicago-area stores.

Tilapia and goat cheese ...
But I’d like to think this move is a beneficial one – because a part of me wasn’t exaggerating when I equated such inmate programs with slavery, even though I realize that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed slavery does permit such forced labor “as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

While I understand the concept oft-spoken by corrections officials that such work programs provide inmates with something to do – rather than have them spend all that idle time coming up with ideas of their own that might not be so constructive – the idea that anybody gets to benefit financially from cheap inmate labor still strikes me as being offensive. As if companies can’t benefit if they have to pay legitimate wages for the labor to produce their products or services.

SO PERHAPS IT is a plus that Whole Foods officials in Texas were responsive to protests at their stores in the Houston area to the practice.

... will have to go upscale to remain at Whole Foods
Just as some people get all worked up if they find out that articles of clothing offered for sale may be tied in some way to slave labor (or child labor under extreme circumstances) in foreign countries.

It would seem that the idea of “buy American” is not a protection against products produced under duress. Perhaps we ought to play closer attention to just about anything we buy. No matter how much less it might cost in the long run.

Although that shouldn’t be seen as a blast against people who prefer to shop Wal-mart. For it seems even the upper-scale shopping outlets are capable of getting caught up in this scheme. We really don’t know much about where our goods are made – and probably think of such knowledge as being the equivalent of learning about the process of manufacturing sausages.

Training inmates? Or gaining cheap labor?
BESIDES, THE KIND of people who are inclined to want to buy significant shares of their groceries from Whole Foods are obviously willing to pay a premium for the image they think they’re acquiring. Even if it could be argued that the image itself is fake and not worth the higher price.

The idea that this inmate labor results in cheaper prices for food just doesn’t fly.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Will lack of license renewal notices irritate public about lack of Ill. budget?

It shouldn’t make any difference that the state of Illinois will not be able to send out written notices via mail reminding people that their driver’s licenses are on the verge of expiring.

It includes an expiration date!
After all, the date of expiration is printed on every single license. It is spelled out for you right on the card. And it falls on your birthdate every four years!

THE ONLY REAL trick is to remember whether this year is the year you have to make the trip to a secretary of state facility to do the renewal, and whether this year is one of those where you have to submit to a written or actual driving test to show the state that you’re still qualified to be capable of operating an automobile.

But I can already imagine the complaints we’re going to hear from the public; or at least those who won’t receive a notice of renewal in coming weeks – all on account of the fact that the state is running low on cash it has authorization to spend.

It’s that dreaded lack of a budget for state government – something that is required by the state Constitution for the government to operate at full services.

Both the Chicago Tribune and State Journal-Register newspaper of Springfield reported that the secretary of state’s office will have to stop sending out the notices because the cost of postage is too much.

THE STATE HAS been sending out notices the past three months because there was some money left over from the past fiscal year (the one that ended June 30).

RAUNER: You'd think he'd be ashamed by now
The bit that still remains will now be used by the state to mail out license renewal stickers, along with license plates themselves. Although if the politically partisan-motivated stalemate between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, continues much longer, even those services may have to be cut.

Personally, I feel lucky. My license expired at the end of August – meaning I got my notice back in June. Aside from complaining that my new driver’s license photograph makes me look old (then again, I did just turn 50), I can’t complain.

Could Cullerton and Ragodno ...
Just as my brother is due to renew the license plates on his automobile by Wednesday.

I GUESS THIS means we beat the rush. By the time we have to deal with these duties again, I’d hope our state would be in a position to have an actual budget.

At which time, things would resume the way they’re supposed to within state government.

... resolve budget crisis themselves?
Personally, I find little details such as this to be laughable because they show just how ridiculous the financial status of Illinois has become; so precarious that something as basic as one’s driver’s license can be threatened by the inability of public officials to fulfill one of their most basic duties.

Considering that the conservative ideologues of our society believe that state government ought to pass its budget, and do as little else as becomes necessary, it makes me think that the Republican caucus is the ultimate failure in this situation by putting their desire to bash organized labor ahead of their official duty.

THEY’RE NOT EVEN fulfilling their basic responsibility. Which makes me wonder if they’re more derelict in their duties than that rural Kentucky clerk who wants to thwart a basic duty of her own office (marriage licenses) to make an ideological point about the legitimacy of gay marriage.

DAVIS: Who's more embarrassing; her or gov?
Now I’m fully aware that Madigan is just as capable of being stubborn, although I get the sense he’s at least interested in moving forward on the budgetary issue.

Which also makes me note the interviews that Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Minority Leader Cristine Radogno, R-Lemont, gave to WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program earlier this week – saying that if it were just the two of them, they’d be able to approve a budget that would allow the state to move forward.

It makes me wonder if we need to dump all our leadership – and if it will be something as petty as driver’s license notification that will ultimately irritate the public enough to put the pressure on political people to get them to actually do something.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Good, or bad, that Hastert may never actually go to trial on his charges?

I can already hear the rants and rages that will come about due to the word that one-time House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert is considering a “guilty” plea to the charges that claim he made financial payoffs to keep a one-time student of his quiet about alleged sexual misconduct.

HASTERT: May learn next month if trial required

For it seems that Hastert’s attorneys on Monday (Hastert himself wasn’t in court) told U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin that they wanted a continuance because they believed they were very close to negotiating a plea deal with the U.S. attorney’s office.

WHICH WOULD HAVE Hastert shift his “not guilty” pleas on at least part of the charges, in exchange for eliminating the need for a criminal trial at which time evidence would have to be presented about the alleged wrongdoing.

If there is never a trial, then the general public will never get more than the speculation that currently exists about what exactly it was that Hastert did wrong.

Federal prosecutors have said that Hastert, after he ceased being the House speaker, made an agreement with one of his former students back when he was a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School to pay some $3.5 million.

Prosecutors say he made withdrawals of his own money in ways that were meant to evade detection – which is a technical violation. Although one can argue that Hastert has the right to spend his money however he wants – no matter how strange it seems to pay it to a former student.

WHAT WE DON’T know specifically is why Hastert would want to do so. Although the Chicago Tribune reported claims that Hastert had taken advantage of the student in a sexual manner, and now wanted to make sure the one-time student kept his mouth shut.

But that is speculation. We don’t have that “on the record” in any way.

And there are people who are eager for that to come out publicly in the form of a trial. They want to know sordid details of whether Hastert really did do something wrong with one of his students.

Mostly for their own cheap titillation factor. Although I’m sure some political operatives will find ways to use the fact that a one-time House speaker who was Republican somehow reflects upon all of his GOP colleagues.

WHICH MAY WELL be why Hastert would consider entering a “guilty” plea, particularly if his legal counsel is capable of working out an agreement that would put the potential for incarceration at a minimum.

Perhaps even no prison time, but some sort of significant fine. I don’t know for sure what is being considered. Although I’m sure Hastert is most concerned with reducing his level of shame to the bare minimum – as in no more than he has already suffered.

While those people eager for a trial are most concerned with bolstering the shame level to the maximum – even if it means playing off the homophobic fears and thoughts that some in our society are determined to cling to.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing this case go away – largely because the offenses that might be considered the most serious aren’t going to be the key to any criminal prosecution of Hastert. The statute of limitations on any acts committed against students is long past – they’re so old.

THIS WOULD TURN into a technical trial on financial matters that some will try to exaggerate into titillation for their own benefits.

There’s also the fact that Hastert is a retired politico – similar to Edward R. Vrdolyak when he was finally caught and wound up doing about one year at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

Is that going to be Hastert’s fate as well?

If so, we need to realize that it won’t change anything – people who back Hastert will continue to do so, while those who want his “head on a pike” so to speak will forevermore be displeased by the outcome of any legitimate trial.


Monday, September 28, 2015

EXTRA: ‘Kirk’ nowhere to be found

So much for the guess that the big “hit job” on Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., merely got delayed a day in the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

Monday’s paper has come, and there’s nothing resembling an “exclusive” about the state’s junior senator who has to face re-election next year if he wants to remain in Washington for another term.

OF COURSE, THERE was merely a wire service account published on Sunday of the stink that has arisen among political people – as Kirk’s camp seems to be so fearful of this story that they’re going to extremes to undermine it before it becomes reality.

Which makes me wonder about the rationality level of the Kirk camp.

For if this story really were as flawed as Kirk and his people want to believe it to be (supposedly, the Tribune is preparing to write about how obnoxious Kirk’s behavior can be when dealing with his own staff), they’d let it be published – then deal with it once it becomes a reality.

Drag the Chicago Tribune into court, let the lawsuits ramble and let the judicial system find the degree to which the newspaper (allegedly) acted irresponsibly.

THAT WOULD SWAY the general public (and humiliate the newspaper) more than any effort to undercut the story in advance. This merely appeals to the hard-core who already are determined to vote for Kirk (or, in reality, against anyone who carries a “D” after his – or her – name).

I’m sure the Kirk camp is now going to boast about how they subdued the newspaper into backing off of something. Which makes me think that once the story does wind up being published, it’s going to have a harder edge than was originally anticipated.

And if the Kirk camp winds up being hurt by all of this, one could argue they merely brought it on themselves.

Besides, when it comes to Monday morning “news,” I’m sure the Tribune’s decision to play up big on Page One the Chicago Bears is a more popular decision than running any politically-oriented story.


Is Kirk obnoxious jerk toward his staff? Maybe Chicago Tribune will tell us

The Chicago Tribune did wind up publishing a story in their not-quite-as-fat-as-they-used-to-be Sunday editions about Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., but not the one that many people were led to expect.

KIRK: Killed criticism? Or delayed it?
For what the newspaper wound up publishing buried on Page 14 of the front section was an Associated Press story that turned up in other newspapers across the state – one about how Kirk’s campaign manager engaged in tactics meant to cut off an anticipated Tribune story.

IF WE’RE TO believe the Kirk people, the Tribune was threatening to expose a story that would show how obnoxious and bordering-on-tyrannical the senator could be toward his staff.

Supposedly, he verbally harassed four people who worked for him. Which led the Kirk people to come up with affidavits from those staffers saying they never said the things that the Tribune was supposedly going to report they said about their boss.

Kirk people even went so far as to accuse a Tribune reporter of harassing the senator’s 79-year-old mother in efforts to gather information for this story that we have yet to see.

As it turned out, the Kirk people turned to the Capitol Fax newsletter, which on Friday published details provided by Kirk meant to undermine the story and portray it as some sort of personal vendetta by a particular reporter (whom I must admit to not knowing personally, even though there are some Chicago Tribune people whom I do know).

THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES published their own account – one that included a response by Chicago Tribune management that basically said they stood by their reporter’s reporting without elaborating further.

That caused the Associated Press to pick up on the Kirk peoples’ tactic and make it news – which is what the Tribune published on Sunday.

I don’t know how odd this particular tactic ought to be regarded as – because it isn’t odd for someone to try to undermine a story they have concerns about.

Story on hold? Or spiked?
During my time as a reporter-type person, I have had enough political people try to intimidate me into not writing something (a bit of advice to those who want to bully, it usually motivates me all the more to write something). Or maybe they scream to my editor in hopes she/he will give them what they want in order to make the rant go away!

IT ALSO ISN’T odd for someone to want to hurt a news media outlet with a potential story by peddling it somewhere else – usually somewhere where they think it will be written up more sympathetically.

Meaning the person who had hoped for some sort of “exclusive” story winds up having that ego-perk undermined.

Kirk people said they timed their response out of the belief that this “story” would be in the Tribune on Sunday – which it wasn’t. Although for all I know, it may wind up in the Monday paper and you may have read it before you even saw this commentary.

Personally, the tactic strikes me as being petty – and probably reflects poorly on the Kirk people. Because coming up with that many statements from people saying they didn’t say what the newspaper may have said they said makes me wonder if they bullied their staff into “taking back” their thoughts.

WHICH MAY WELL play into the theme of the alleged story (I haven’t seen it yet, so maybe it doesn’t exist).

Could this be from someone who just wants to garner support from those people who will believe anything they’re told – so long as it starts out as an Internet rant? Which usually is the path toward collecting information that is total junk!

My own opinion is that a story claiming a political person engages in tyrannical behavior isn’t that newsworthy – most people who run for office have over-bloated egos and think (on a certain level) that no one ought to be questioning them. It seems to me to be more the material for an item that the Chicago Sun-Times' Michael Sneed would write.

But after reading how much the Kirk people don’t us to read this, it makes me (and I suspect many others) want to see the end result to figure out for ourselves what the big deal was.