Monday, June 30, 2008

A new year is upon us Illinoisans with no state government budget proposal in place

Nobody is going to be popping champagne corks or singing Auld Lang Syne at the “Statehouse in Springpatch” Monday night, but it is a new year. And this year, things look ugly because of the inability of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the Legislature’s leaders to put aside their petty bickering.

Monday is the final day for Illinois fiscal 2008. To people whose world centers around the activity in Springfield, 2009 begins Tuesday, and there’s still no balanced budget in place for Illinois government.

BUT WHILE THAT fact was kind of cute a month ago, it is getting scary now.

There’s always the chance that something will break Monday and the General Assembly’s leadership and Blagojevich will come up with a true budget proposal for Illinois. Then, reality intrudes on that political fantasy.

The people who run Illinois government are no closer now than they were a month ago to approving a legitimately balanced state budget.

My guess is that Blagojevich will take some sort of action or make some sort of public pronouncement on Monday that will be the basis of his future claims that it is, “the Legislature’s fault” that government could cease to function some time next week, or will be tangled up in chaos for months to come.

The Statehouse almost resembles a haunted house in this turn-of-the-century postcard. The activities of Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the General Assembly's leaders give the building that same creepy feeling today.

SUCH AN ACT would be no less petty than the budget the General Assembly approved at the end of May – the one that had a revenue shortfall of between $2-2.5 billion. The Legislature’s members knew their budget plan was flawed, but they approved it and left the Statehouse for the summer, figuring they could say “it’s the governor’s fault” when problems arose.

The fact that the Legislature went so far as to approve a budget (in theory, they met their obligation) is what confounds this whole situation when trying to figure out what is going to happen in coming weeks.

In theory, Blagojevich could make changes on his own. He could select portions of the budget and use his amendatory veto power to impose cuts totaling about $2.1 billion (the figure the governor believes accurately encompasses the revenue shortfall).

The Legislature would then have to reconvene in the autumn to decide whether the cuts are so onerous that they should be overridden. But until then, Illinois government would have a balanced budget proposal in place for fiscal 2009. The potential for a financial crisis would be averted for the time being.

OF COURSE, THAT would be too simple. Blagojevich wouldn’t be able to grandstand against legislative irresponsibility causing Illinois government to shut down. Also, he would have to make the hard choices over which programs would have to take cuts in their state funding in order to balance out the budget.

In short, Blagojevich would wind up getting all the blame for whoever winds up suffering from the budget mess. In Blagojevich’s mind, it is the Legislature that should shoulder the entire blame, and he is going to take whatever legal procedure enables his staff to say, “it’s the Legislature’s fault.”

That’s why members of the Legislature wrote off Blagojevich’s threats last week to make up to $1.5 billion in cuts to programs they favor as mere trash talk. The Journal-Courier newspaper of Jacksonville, Ill., went so far as to label the governor’s threat a “publicity stunt.”

The problem is that Blagojevich has tied a budget proposal in with another issue (one that technically does not have to be addressed this year, although it would behoove the Legislature to seriously consider the matter sometime in the next couple of years).

THAT IS THE concept of a capital projects plan – a massive list of construction and repairs the state would pay for to maintain roads and help with public works programs across the state.

If it were up to Blagojevich, he would do the capital projects plan (one version put together this spring would cost $31 billion, in addition to the nearly $60 billion state budget) and forget the budget talk.

Legislature types who don’t want to have to incur complaints from prospective voters for so much debt being incurred would prefer to ignore the capital projects and just do a budget.

We’re at the classic stalemate. Who’s to say how long it will last? It wouldn’t shock me if we got a political brawl this summer the equivalent (in terms of sheer stupidity) of the mess from ’07, where a budget didn’t get approved until August and a shortfall for mass transit programs didn’t get resolved until January of ’08.

SO SINCE IT is physically impossible for a budget to be in place for fiscal 2009 when that fiscal year begins (legislative procedures and processing of paperwork would take about 24 hours from the time political leaders reached an agreement until an actual vote could be taken by the General Assembly), what happens now?

State law prohibits any money being spent by state government if a state budget approved by all the parties is not in place. Money continues to come in to the state coffers and (for the time being) state agencies continue to do their work.

But the only bills that can be paid are the ones for work or services done during the old fiscal year. Anything that specifically relates to fiscal 2009 has to remain unpaid until a budget is approved.

In theory, this is a very sound requirement. The state should not be spending any money if a budget documenting spending priorities does not exist.

BUT IT MEANS that eventually, bills will have to go unpaid.

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes sent a letter last week to state officials that says July 10 is the key date.

That is when his office will have to process the paychecks for state employees for the work they did during the first pay period of fiscal 2009.

If a budget plan is not in place, those checks won’t get cut. They won’t be delivered (or automatic deposits into state worker bank accounts will not be made). State workers will be in the position of having to show up for work and fulfill their duties, without any knowledge of when they will actually get paid.

ONCE A BUDGET is approved, those workers will receive all the money owed to them. But that is not of much comfort to those workers who will have to spend July explaining to debt collectors why they couldn’t pay their bills.

Just imagine how grumpy that motor vehicles bureau staffer will be without a paycheck after having had to justify his existence to a collection agency.

Just imagine how little he will actually care about doing his job properly, which will trickle down to those of us Illinoisans who actually rely on the state to perform services in our daily lives.

While imagining this, keep in mind that it all comes down to the governor and legislative leaders trying to posture and position themselves so they can say “it’s the other guy’s fault.” Somehow, I think the voters will just assume it’s everybody’s fault. For once, they will be right.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Repeated meetings between Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s budget aides and the Legislature’s ( leaders throughout June have failed to reach a financial solution.

Blagojevich doesn’t want to have to make budget cuts, while Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, doesn’t want to have to return to the Statehouse this summer (,0,5492748.story) to address the budget issue. Who will break first?

A massive mess in state government could be averted if the top people get their act together ( within the next week or so.

There is no pretty solution to the financial problems confronting Illinois government ( these days.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pilsen is anything but fashionable

My news chuckle for the day came from a New York Times account of the Pilsen neighborhood and Chicago’s other Hispanic influences. Specifically, I find humorous the reference in the story’s lede to Pilsen being the “fashionable Latino neighborhood.”

Trust me when I tell you that any person of Latin American ethnic background who chooses to live in a Spanish-oriented neighborhood (In reality, we are scattered across the Chicago area in all types of communities) is not the least bit concerned with being “fashionable.”

AS FOR THE artsy types who in recent years have moved there because of the perception of cheap rent (it’s nowhere near as cheap as it used to be a couple of decades ago), many of them probably view the Mexican orientation of Pilsen as a drawback overcome by its close proximity (about a 15-minute elevated train ride) to downtown Chicago.

Anyway, here’s the link ( to the story, which is an interesting account of a continuously evolving neighborhood continuing to evolve.

Seriously, Pilsen is a one-time Bohemian community (Did you think a bunch of crazy Mexicanos named their neighborhood for the one-time capital of West Bohemia?) that throughout the years has been home to just about every eastern European ethnicity when they were immigrants.

Now, it is a neighborhood oriented to newcomers from Mexico.

THE REAL QUESTION is to wonder if the neighborhood will retain a Spanish-speaking flavor, or will it continue to evolve with some new immigrant group? Or will those artists come in, price everything out of range of lower-income Latinos, and turn the neighborhood into an artsy community.

In short, will they turn it into something truly fashionable? And does that make “fashionable” synonymous with “dreadful?”


McCain’s “town hall” cry is silly

Am I the only one in the United States who is sick and tired of listening to Republican presidential hopeful John McCain try to make a campaign issue out of “town hall” meetings?

He did it again on Saturday while appearing before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. During a noon-hour event where McCain and Democratic opponent Barack Obama gave separate speeches to the group interested in promoting Hispanic political empowerment, he ad-libbed an attack against Obama based on the event’s format.

“I WISH MY colleague were here from the U.S. Senate, but he is not here,” McCain told the gathering of Latino politicos and others, some of whom spent their time heckling him. “I would have appreciated it more if we could have had a town hall meeting.”

It was a trivial enough issue when McCain (on the day earlier this month that it became apparent Obama had defeated Hillary R. Clinton for the presidential nomination) tried to take control of the news cycle for the day by turning Obama’s “victory” into his “refusal” to engage in “town hall” meetings.

Actually, Obama has not refused. He hasn’t committed yet either. But there are still just over four months that will be loaded with lots of activities (both substantial and trivial) meant to promote the ’08 presidential election.

To be complaining now about the refusal of a “town hall” meeting gives McCain the appearance of a whiner – a crotchety old man who’s upset that those dang kids don’t see the “wisdom” of his ways.

IT IS NO secret why McCain is eager to have the concept of a “town hall” meeting as the major forum by which the two candidates interact with each other. He’s comfortable with it, particularly when his campaign staff stages the event.

That is what people must understand whenever one sees these “town hall” format debates or other programs. They are staged to give the appearance that “common folk” who just happened to attend a presidential event suddenly get the chance to spontaneously ask the candidates about what issues are on their minds.

It’s Reality TV, political style – which means a “town hall” meeting is about as real an event as an episode of “Survivor.” It is just as staged an event as any campaign rally or speech, or any debate (the format that McCain would prefer to avoid engaging Obama in).

My observations as a political reporter in Chicago and Illinois throughout the past two decades have shown me that the people who get to be in the audience for “town hall” meetings are usually selected because of their political partisanship. Simply put, they are not hostile to the candidate in question.

THE QUESTIONS THEY ask are submitted in advance, and the people who wind up getting chosen to ask their question are the ones who are asking about some point that the candidate wants to make.

The campaigns always create an environment for these “town hall” meetings by which anyone would feel too intimidated to point out if the candidate was dodging their question with a non-answer.

For a certain type of personality, the “town hall” format gives them the chance to appear to be talking with people – even though the only people who get talked to are the ones who have indicated a willingness to shut up and accept whatever the candidate spews.

In that sense, even formal structured debates are a preferable format for getting some tidbit of new, useful and real information, and that statement comes from someone who detests what campaign debates have become.

THE PROBLEM WITH debates is that, all too often, they are designed to promote the logo of whichever television station happens to be broadcasting the event. They become the personal interview with the news anchor of that station, who is usually more interested in showing off on national television – rather than getting at the truth.

The broadcaster’s ego actually gets in the way of finding out the truth.

But at least there, the two candidates are put on equal footing. They are forced to address questions that were not of their choosing (and can be openly hostile, as anyone who remembers the ABC-sponsored debate just before the Pennsylvania primary will recall the sight of Obama being verbally smacked around by George Stephanopoulos).

People who get tense when having their political platitudes questioned can appear to lose their temper or become befuddled. That is McCain’s concern with a debate, and why he’d prefer to avoid the format in coming months.

HE EVEN ADMITTED it Saturday when he told the Latino political group, “Senator Obama, whose talent as an orator, as you might notice, is somewhat greater than mine.”

This is about trying to use tactics to gain an upper hand for what he perceives as his strengths. I don’t blame him for trying.

But there comes a point when it becomes repetitive, and insulting to the intelligence of the American people to expect us to believe that the fact that no “town hall” meetings have yet taken place is somehow a negative against Obama.

For what it is worth, I expect there to be some use of the “town hall” format to take place during the upcoming months. I hope they occur in addition to formal debates, the speeches the candidates make to special interest groups and the fluff parades and other pageantry that all combines to give us a picture of the two major candidates who want to be Leader of the Free World for the next four years.

NO ONE COMPONENT of the campaign season is more significant than any other. It is the mixture that makes the concept of political campaigns an interesting (if often infuriating) process.

There’s one other concept I will share with you. It is a rule I developed for myself in covering campaign activity when trying to figure out who is succeeding in gaining popular support and who is failing.

The first candidate to try to make an issue out of “My opponent will not debate me” is a loser. Invariably, the issue gets tossed out when a candidate’s struggling campaign is having too much trouble getting anyone to pay them any attention.

SO THEY CRY and whine that it’s their opponent’s fault, rather than figure out why their message of what they stand for is not catching on with the electorate.

Now, I’ll be the first to concede that McCain is not claiming Obama “won’t debate me.” (Technically, McCain doesn’t want any debates). But his continued complaints about political programs using a “town hall” format sounds way too similar, even though the phrase “he won’t town hall me” is awkward.

I hope McCain snaps out of using this lame excuse of an issue. Because in my mind, it made his presidential campaign a loser on Day One.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Republican presidential hopeful John McCain offered up this speech Saturday ( to a gathering of Latino politicos in Washington.

Aside from McCain’s “town hall” shot at Barack Obama, the two candidates used their appeals ( to try to convince Latinos they are more sympathetic to the interests of Hispanic people than their opponent is.

On a slightly different subject, old-school political debates ( can be very informative, moreso than any "town hall" format session or television-oriented debate.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

“Whole wheat” pizza isn’t worth high prices charged at Taste of Chicago

I have never been a fan of the Taste of Chicago, the nearly three-decade-old food festival whose 2008 incarnation began Friday.

The annual event that is supposed to give the unique assortment of restaurants in Chicago a chance to show off their custom items is really nothing more than an opportunity to overpay for bite-sized morsels of pizza and barbecue.

NOW SOME PEOPLE are more than comfortable trotting out to Grant Park in the July heat of a Chicago summer to eat these items that I can order up just about any time I want.

Personally, I will avoid the park for the next 10 or so days, until after the Taste of Chicago is complete and the crews have removed all the trash (which leaves such a lingering aroma of unpleasantness that wafts its way into the Loop proper).

The Taste of Chicago’s food fare is too predictable.

Fair officials this year are promoting pizza as one of the unique food items. Specifically, they are touting the pizza by Connie’s Pizza, which is making some slices with a special whole-wheat crust – claiming it to be a healthier food choice than “regular” pizza.

I DON’T HAVE a problem with pizza crust made by whole wheat dough. I have had it on occasion, and it has a nice texture to it. But it is not the kind of item that I will make a special trip for (and have to pay Taste of Chicago-type prices).

And for those who take offense to the notion of eating any version of pizza that pretends to be healthy, be assured that there will be plenty of more conventional versions of pizza for sale from many other vendors at the Taste of Chicago.

How ridiculous are the event’s prices?

In theory, tickets for the Taste of Chicago (which must be used to purchase food – vendors don’t take cash or charge cards) cost little more than $0.60 apiece.

BUT TICKETS ARE not sold individually. They are sold in strips of 11 – at a cost of $7 per strip. Even then, most food items cost anywhere from five to eight tickets apiece, which means that a single strip isn’t going to get one much more than a lone bite or two of something greasy.

Multiple strips must be purchased, and that is just if one comes alone. Bringing a friend adds to the expense. A group of three can easily go through $50-60 to spend a couple of hours tasting a few food items – then have to spend more money to eat elsewhere because the portions were so small that they weren’t all that filling.

And what’s worse is that I have never been able to see anyone manage to use every single ticket. It is all too common to be left with a stray ticket or two – which means returning to the Taste of Chicago for a second day (and more money spent on ticket strips).

The mystery of the number of tickets sold on a Taste of Chicago strip ranks right up there with the question of why hot dog buns are sold in packages of eight, while hot dogs often come in packs of seven.

CROWDS ALSO CAN make a mess of the Taste of Chicago, particularly on Thursday of this coming week – when the combination of overpriced food and an elaborate Day-before-Independence Day fireworks show will cause more than 1 million people to cram their way onto the Chicago lakefront.

That is the day to avoid Chicago at all costs, unless your life is not complete without pyrotechnics.

But even on the other nine days of the Taste of Chicago, the mass of people can be overwhelming.

I still remember the Taste of Chicago from 1998, when then-Democratic gubernatorial nominee Glenn Poshard tried to use the summer festival (which is billed as Chicago’s preeminent outdoor event of the year) to get the urban people of Chicago to accept his Southern Illinois ways.

AS A REPORTER-type person with the old United Press International, I was working that day – following Poshard around as he tried to mingle with the masses.

Yet it quickly became obvious that the event was overwhelming. Poshard himself ate nothing more than an ice cream cone, and seemed bewildered that so many people could convene in such a small space for the explicit purpose of eating greasy junk food.

His reaction might very well be evidence that he had a strain of common sense.

AS MUCH AS I can enjoy crowds (a capacity group in a sports stadium doesn’t freak me out in the least), the sense just exists that the Taste of Chicago has no taste whatsoever.

If I really want to experience some of the unique culinary experiences of Chicago, I’ll get in the car (or figure out how to take the “el” or a CTA bus) to try out some of the unique restaurants located in the neighborhoods.

If I am able to find one new restaurant this summer in Chicago that serves me a truly unique meal, then I will consider that a much more worthwhile experience than spending a couple of hours at the Taste of Chicago.

AND FOR THOSE people who just have to experience some time in Grant Park this summer at a public event, I’d suggest trying the music festivals.

The Chicago Blues Festival has already passed, but the gospel, Latin music and jazz festivals all are coming up this summer and will offer one a much more pleasing (and less grubby) way of spending an evening in downtown Chicago.

I’m actually looking forward to hearing the skilled saxophone playing of Ornette Coleman, who aside from being thoroughly enjoyable any time of the year is scheduled to be the highlighted musical act performing on my birthday.


EDITOR’S NOTES: It may sound interesting that Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt and Chaka Khan all will perform at the Taste of Chicago. The only problem is that the stages ( where the music is performed usually get lost amidst the mass of greasy food.

Soldiers in Iraq will get to experience a piece of the Taste of Chicago, as Lou Malnati’s ( pizzeria has arranged to ship up to 3,000 of the pizzas they’re selling at the food festival to the troops.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Nature more powerful than Communism?

Former Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka recently came up with a commentary that everybody ought to give a read.

She used her column published in the Riverside/Brookfield Landmark newspaper to recall the story of a doll that had been in her family for decades – one that was dressed in a Czech ethnic costume and had actually been slipped out of the country when Communists gained control of the government.

TO TOPINKA, THE doll represented the ideals of a people struggling to survive under a repressive regime, and she wanted to try to preserve that concept by donating the doll earlier this year to the Czech and Slovak Museum.

That museum is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is now under water from the severe flooding that has struck the Midwestern U.S. The doll that survived Communism likely was lost due to Mother Nature and the overflow of the Mississippi River.

I don’t even come close to telling the story as well as Topinka does. Her commentary ( can be found in the west suburban newspaper where she is a regular columnist.


Chicago officials are going to have to fight for the right to keep their firearms ban

Social conservatives from rural communities like to say they are trying to protect their approach to life from outsiders, particularly urban types who they think show disdain for their beliefs.

Yet it often turns out to be just the opposite, as evidenced by the reaction of the activists who get worked up over firearms ownership issues. When the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the handgun ban that exists in the District of Columbia, the activists' first reaction was to say they were now going to go after the gun ordinances that exist in Chicago.

THE NATIONAL RIFLE Association says it considers the gun ordinances in Chicago and San Francisco to be just as onerous as what existed in the national capital. They are hoping that federal judges appointed by decades of Republican presidents will strike down the gun bans that exist in our city and others of likeminded views.

Insofar as Chicago is concerned, the City Council’s knee-jerk reaction to the assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan was to ban the sale or ownership of handguns within city limits.

Basically, anybody who lives in the city of Chicago who has acquired a firearm since 1982 is in violation of the law. City residents who go to gun dealers in the inner suburbs to purchase firearms commit a crime when they bring the weapons home – similar to how Illinois residents can legally purchase fireworks in neighboring Indiana but cannot legally have or use them in their homes.

I can remember my days as a police reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau when a police sergeant explained that an outright ban made it easier for police to control gun-related crime by eliminating various categories by which some firearms would be legal under some circumstances, but not others.

IT ELIMINATED LOOPHOLES by which people might try to claim their weapon is legal, while their neighbors’ is not.

As police explained it to me back then (and which they have a legitimate point), no one in an urban environment seriously is going hunting for sport. People who seriously see something “athletic” about firearms and competitive shooting are going to want more space than can be found in an urban environment.

The argument that legitimate sportsmen are having their rights impinged upon was absurd. Police in general, and the cops of Chicago in particular, are never going to be mistaken for some liberal-minded organization.

To me, the fact that legitimate law enforcement personnel are in support of these extreme firearms bans is the evidence that it is the people who oppose bans who are the radical fringe of our society – and not the norm, as the NRA would have us think.

I’M SORT OF willing to concede that in a rural community near open areas, the hunting aspect of firearms creates a different situation. While a part of me subscribes to the old joke that hunting will be a sport the day that deer are armed with an AK-47 and can shoot back at the hunters, I’m willing to admit that those rural communities might have some reason for having differing laws than the urban areas.

That is the case.

These are city-only ordinances that ban firearms sales, although select suburban towns in the Chicago area (most notably, Morton Grove, Ill.) have gone so far as to impose their own bans on firearm ownership within their boundaries.

That’s why the fact that the NRA and its allies are eager to shoot down Chicago’s gun ordinances strikes me as perverse. It’s almost like they want to impose a small-town, rural mentality that is completely inappropriate to the third-largest populated city in this country.

THEY DEFINITELY WANT to play politics with the issue of firearm ownership, hoping to score a few more rural votes by bashing around what they want to perceive as the “big bad wolf” of Chicago.

Why else would Republican presidential hopeful John McCain have bothered to bring up the issue on Thursday, praising the Supreme Court’s ruling and reminding people that his likely opponent, Barack Obama, hails from Chicago.

It’s probably just a matter of time before GOP aides remind us of ties between Obama and the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has devoted years of his life as a priest to trying to fight the spread of firearms in his Gresham neighborhood parish and surrounding inner-city neighborhoods.

For his part, Mayor Richard M. Daley is bracing himself for a fight with the NRA, as he wants the courts to ultimately maintain the city’s gun sale ban. He is skeptical, as are many law enforcement personnel, that it is realistic to expect people to be able to protect themselves by allowing them to carry handguns on their person.

“DOES THIS LEAD to everyone having a gun in our society? If they think that’s the answer, then they’re greatly mistaken,” Daley told reporters. “Why don’t we do away with the court system and go back to the Old West? You have a gun and I have a gun and we’ll settle in the streets.”

Specifically of the Supreme Court’s action, Daley said, “They’re changing the rules. Why should we as a city not be able to protect ourselves from those who want guns in our society?”
Basically, Chicago is going to become a new legal battlefield for people who want to have the courts impose rules that somehow maintain a rural sensibility to this country – even though this country has long ceased to be urban-oriented (the typical American these days lives in a suburb of a major city).

THAT IS WHY towns like Kennesaw, Ga. – the town that reacted to Morton Grove’s gun ownership ban by imposing its own law requiring all households to own at least one firearm – are just ridiculous.

Kennesaw officials like to spew statistics claiming their crime rate has declined. When one considers how small the population is in that Southern town, it doesn’t take much of a drop to create a large percentage decline in crime.

It also would mean that differing circumstances exist there than in Chicago. Trying to move Chicago more in the direction of Kennesaw is just misguided.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The right-leaning Supreme Court’s elimination of the District of Columbia’s gun ordinances ( are giving activists motivation to go after Chicago’s bans on handguns within city limits.

Chicago and San Francisco are getting ready to fight in court to keep their gun sales ( restrictions in place.

Supporters of the handgun sales bans in Chicago want to believe that the now-invalid Washington, D.C. law ( was so much stricter than what exists anywhere else that there will not be a large-scale legal effect by Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling.

The far right has been demonizing Rev. Michael Pfleger since before his comments about Hillary R. Clinton’s presidential campaign (, as he has long taken an active role in trying to fight the spread of firearms in the city from suburban gun dealers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bulls fans place faith in 19-year-old

Have we forgotten the Eddy Curry experience already?

Those of us Chicagoans who get excited over the Chicago Bulls and professional basketball (I prefer the college game myself) are once again willing to believe that a kid barely out of high school will be the Chosen One who leads this city to championship-level teams in the National Basketball Association.

WHY ELSE WOULD so many be so eager to celebrate the fact that the Bulls used the top draft pick in the nation Thursday to choose Derrick Rose, the one-time Simeon Career Academy star who played one year of college ball at Memphis – before deciding he’d rather be a part of the NBA than a university student.

Of course, that is one more year of college than Curry had when he decided to bypass DePaul University and go straight from Thornwood High School in suburban South Holland (where he nearly led a team to an Illinois state championship) to the Bulls, where he had a couple of non-descript seasons before being traded to the New York Knicks.

Curry became a better ballplayer once he no longer had the pressure of being the hometown hero who would lead the Bulls to the exalted levels that Michael Jordan took the franchise back in the 1990s. It would be a shame if Rose winds up regretting that he did not go to Miami.

Rose could easily turn out to be another guy who can’t possibly live up to the pressure that is going to be put on him by Chicago sports fans who seem to forget that the Jordan years were a historic aberration and that the Bulls throughout their existence have been a mediocre-to-terrible basketball franchise.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Derrick Rose gets to return to Chicago after one year of college ( in Tennessee. Here’s a quickie summary of what Rose ( was worth when he played high school ball in the Chicago Public League.

The day will come when “The Tower” won’t be Tribune office any longer

It doesn’t shock me to learn that the top management of Tribune Co. is seriously thinking of selling off their iconic office building overlooking Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River – and not just because the media company’s top boss is a real estate developer who buys and sells buildings for a living.

The building that combines with the Wrigley Building to give the “Magnificent Mile” its southernmost entrance point faces the prospect of being sold. That’s what Tribune boss Sam Zell says.

HE’S THROWING OUT the hints that a sale of the building could generate enough cash to keep the actual media properties going awhile longer (at least long enough that he can dream about a future economic uptick that could bolster the company’s long-term financial situation).

Some people are going to cite sentiment and tradition as reasons why the Tribune can’t leave the riverfront – the Chicago Tribune newsroom and corporate offices have been there since the 1920s.

But I can recall as long as 20 years ago hearing Tribune employees themselves talk about the day when they expected to be working in another building. If anything, my reaction to hearing Zell talk about a sale is to be amazed that the company (in previous incarnations) held onto the building as long as it did.

Whenever I heard Tribune newspaper people talk about “the Tower,” they would note that the printing plant had long ago left Michigan Avenue. The paper is printed at an elaborate (and huge) complex on Chicago Avenue where it has easy access to the routes that trucks use to ship bundles of newspapers to vendors across the Chicago area.

I WOULD ALWAYS hear how it would be likely that someday, Tribune Co. would just build an annex to the printing plant to house the newsroom. In some ways, it would make sense. Most newspapers are published out of complexes that more closely resemble factories than downtown office buildings.

Insofar as the idea of a newsroom close to the downtown business district being important, one needs to keep in mind that the Tribune already keeps most of its city-based reporters scattered in the press rooms of various government buildings. Much of its metro staff actually works out of offices in far-flung places such as Oak Brook, Vernon Hills and Tinley Park.

To these people, it really doesn’t matter where the “home office” is located. The whole concept of a downtown-based home is an antique concept.

The gothic castle-like structure desired by Col. Robert R. McCormick (with its 24th floor corporate suite designed with secret passageways so that McCormick could escape undetected) is a luxury most media companies never indulged themselves, and the few that did got rid of long ago.

BESIDES, THERE’S ALWAYS the possibility that talk of a Tribune Annex at their printing plant will never happen. They could just as easily sell the building, then pay rent to their new landlord. There likely would even be some understanding that the rent paid by the newspaper would be minimal – the new owner would be expected to find other ways to make money off ownership of “the Tower.”

It also would mean building maintenance would become someone else’s problem, rather than that of the Tribune.

That is what many people never seemed to comprehend when Zell talked about another division of the company – the Chicago Cubs, which for awhile was anxious to sell off the structure where the team plays its games.

“How can you have the Cubs not own Wrigley Field?,” they would ask. Actually, the Cubs would love it if they could find someone else to pay to maintain the building, and to oversee the significant renovation that will be necessary for the structure to remain in use for several more decades (which is the desire of many Cubs fans, even moreso than a championship ball club).

IF THAT ENTITY could enhance its image, and profitability, by being associated with the Cubs, that would be their reward.

I expect Zell to try to sell off as much in the way of assets as possible. So I can’t get all worked up over the chatter going around Chicago this week that he would dare to sell off the structure.

In fact, I can’t help but believe that the day will come when someone not only buys the building, but deems it worthy of destruction so that something “modern” could be built on the site – which not only oversees the river but also has an excellent view from its upper floors of Lake Michigan.

Col. McCormick had a wonderful view of the Midwestern landscape from his office at the tower. No wonder he was willing to “rule” over his “empire” like a feudal lord – he had a structure like a castle and a personal office/throne room that was impressive. Why look up to someone as low as a U.S. president, when he probably had a more impressive office than Franklin D. Roosevelt did?

SOMEONE IN THE future is going to decide that the site can be put to better use – just like the old Sun-Times Building (the sight of which I actually miss) was sold off and demolished so that New York real estate developer Donald Trump could erect a hideous-looking Chicago-based monument to himself.

When that day comes (and I fully expect to still be alive when it happens), then the one significant issue of historic preservation related to Tribune Tower will occur – what will happen to all those rocks?

For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, I mean all those culturally significant boulders that (throughout the years) have been embedded into the outer walls of Tribune Tower.

Tribune correspondents in the early years managed to snag chunks of structures such as the Great Wall of China and the Coliseum in Rome so that they could become a part of McCormick’s monument to himself. Since then, bits of rubble from the now-destroyed World Trade Center have been added. There’s even a rock from the Moon on display inside the building.

I WOULD HOPE that someone would have enough sense to remove those chunks before the building itself ceased to exist.

Otherwise, we face the possibility by forgetting that a piece of the Alamo (which Texans love to remember, but Tejanos could care less about) could be ground into the Chicago pavement, its dust to forever become a part of the Near North Side.

Then again, with Chicago’s growing Latino population, that act could turn out to be intentional.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Would Tribune Tower become like the Sears Tower, a Chicago structure ( that kept its iconic name even after its parent company sold it off to outside ( interests?

Chicago officially recognizes the significance of Tribune Tower to the city’s physical character (, which could have had ( a significantly different design had a different contest winner been chosen in 1922.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

News-oriented websites not yet ready to be our primary source for news, information

The thought that Internet-based sites will replace newspapers as a primary source of news and information would not scare me so much if these sites were producing content that was worth reading.

Yet all too often, the sites that like to think they are creating a media revolution are doing little more than recycling the same stuff that any worthwhile newspaper is offering. For those people who think the Internet is superior because they can include snippets of related video, all I have to say is that anyone with a brain knows a good still photograph taken at the “moment of impact” will more dramatically tell a story than any video clip.

SO WHILE I am curious to see the project being undertaken by Arianna Huffington, the socialite who likes to think she’s the queen of Internet news, I am not expecting to see the “future” of Chicago newsgathering.

Specifically, Huffington is the politically oriented pundit who constantly turns up on television to pontificate about everything who three years ago started up her own website, the Huffington Post, as a way of creating and distributing half-intelligent features and commentary about the news.

Now, she wants to start creating sites oriented toward local markets across the United States, and she plans to start with the Second City. She has hopes of having a Chicago version of her website up and running before the August date on which Barack Obama (our hometown U.S. senator) formally receives the Democratic party’s nomination for president.

In theory, this means more competition on an already clogged Internet landscape, although the prospect of yet another Chicago-oriented site commenting on the news doesn’t scare me so much. Very few of these sites generate much in the way of content – other than telling me why they think the Chicago Tribune “stinks.”

I HAVE MY own reasons for believing that (and for realizing that the Tribune at times also does some of the finest work in journalism today). I don’t need some Internet geek to reinforce it.

Doing a local news report of any substance is a labor-intensive operation. It takes people actually doing the legwork to root around the much of facts and figure out which are of any substance and worthy of being written up into stories. There are times I realize how much better this weblog’s offerings would be if more were done in the way of reporting.

Which stories then deserve further analysis or commentary is another skill that takes time to acquire as one learns the intricacies of the Chicago market (I’m not saying only a native Chicagoan can learn, but it takes someone who is willing to become a Chicagoan “in spirit” to truly accomplish this).

From what I hear, the Chicago version of the Huffington Post (I’m not sure exactly what she plans to name the new site) is not going to be generating much in the way of copy. It plans to follow the business plan of many websites – scour through existing news and information and collect them in one place, with links taking a reader to specific places across the Internet where the news is really being reported.

BASICALLY, THE PERSON who puts together this new report is going to be someone who is content to sit in front of a laptop or some other computer and read other people’s work – rather than getting off his or her duff and come up with information that would allow them to create original journalism.

Why should I bother to read this new site when (in all likelihood) it will do little more than guide me to stories in the Chicago Tribune or Chicago Sun-Times that Arianna’s editor thinks I should read? I’m already scanning through those sites and many others (and reading the actual papers, which is a superior reading experience than any website can offer).

When it becomes a reality, I will read through her site a few times to figure out what it is actually adding to the mix of news and features. A pure aggregator of other peoples’ content would be worthless.

On the off chance that the site does generate a piece or two of original content, I’m not concerned. I believe the original content and commentary of the Chicago Argus (and its sister weblog, The South Chicagoan) is superior to anything her people will generate.

BUT THERE ARE not a lot of websites that are generating much in the way of original content. In fact, the business model of too many Internet-oriented information businesses seems predicated on the concept that someone else is paying for the actual compilation of facts into copy and other content that goes on the sites.

So what’s my point here?

I welcome Arianna Huffington to Chicago. I’m also awaiting the arrival of the Politicker, the New York Observer-affiliated collection of political websites meant to cover government intensely in each state. For some reason, these people think sites in places like Vermont and Nevada were more important to start up than a site for a place like Illinois – or anything in the Midwest region surrounding the Great Lakes.

Let them come and try to put together something that pretends to be a local news report.

UNLESS THEY ARE willing to start significant amounts of time and money (in short, to conduct herself like she is publishing one of those dastardly newspapers that the Internet is supposedly exterminating) into compiling the news, their products won’t be all that significant. Huffington will find that the existing newsgathering organizations are doing a more detailed job of informing people than she can dream of.

Advertising on the Internet is not yet at the point where it can support such an intensive newsgathering effort, so they likely would have to kick in some of their own cash to start things off. That is not likely.

For all we know, the Politicker will never arrive in Illinois. And Huffington could easily come and go from Chicago by year’s end, unless she views this project similar to how Rupert Murdoch views the New York Post.

Old Rupert (who some people think still owns the Sun-Times, even though he sold it off 22 years ago) views ownership of a local newspaper in New York City as being something that adds a touch of personal pride to NewsCorp and cannot be measured by accountants and therefore is worthwhile, no matter how much money it loses.

Somehow, I don’t think she has Rupert’s spirit in her.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Some news organizations view places such as the Huffington Post as a way of (,0,534813.column) directing more people to read their content.

I’m not alone in being skeptical that a Chicago-oriented version of the Huffington Post will have much of a chance ( of catching on among people who want news of the Second City.

Arianna Huffington has a vision that a one-person staff can put together a site that ( out-reports the existing news media. Take it from someone who is a one-person staff for this site – no one should ever be deluded enough to think the Chicago Argus does anything more than supplements existing news organizations.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where have you gone Mayor Daley? Hispanics turn their eyes to you

It is encouraging to see the mayors of several of the largest cities in this country cooperating with a project to try to get the potential Latino voter bloc to actually show up at the polls on Election Day and cast ballots.

Univision Communications (which in Chicago has WGBO-TV, Ch. 66 as their affiliate) announced Tuesday it is organizing its “Ya es Hora (It’s Time) ad campaign, with help from the chief executives of Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

It is a noble effort, but there’s a question I have to ask – “Where’s Mayor Daley?”

Officials said they picked the mayors of cities with significant Hispanic populations. Certainly, Chicago qualifies on that count.

We are the city where roughly one of every six residents is specifically of Mexican ethnic background. More than one-quarter of the city’s people are Latino, and the growth in that sector is strong enough that by 2020, Chicago is expected to be a city of roughly one-third Latino, one-third black and one-third white backgrounds.

So what’s the story, Richard M.? Did you get overlooked, or did you blow off an invitation to participate in this project. I hope it’s not the latter, because the Latino voter bloc is a growing one. You probably are “Mayor for Life” – unless you start disrespecting the Hispanic population.

It would be sad if your days in politics came to an end because you couldn’t fully appreciate the changes in demographics of your home city.


Nader wants to get on Illinois ballot

Call it the pairing of the political malcontents – the Green Party and the Libertarians are combining their efforts in Illinois to back the 2008 version of consumer advocate Ralph Nader’s presidential fantasies.

The activists who worked to get nearly 50,000 signatures of support on nominating petitions for Nader (out of hope that at least 25,000 of them are found to be valid, thereby qualifying Ralph for a spot for president on the Illinois ballot) are a combination of the two factions that in theory are ideological opposites.

GREENS IN THEORY are people who push for a pro-environment, highly liberal vision of government, while Libertarians in theory are people who would like to have no government because it often interferes with their socially conservative views on many (but not all) issues.

The two factions have one thing in common – they think the current two-party system is messed up, and they are more than anxious to have a third person to vote for when they walk into their polling place Nov. 4 to cast ballots for president.

Nader’s allies filed their nominating petitions at the Illinois State Board of Elections offices in Springfield, hoping that the powers that be with the two established political parties do not figure out a way to knock off enough signatures of support to kick Ralph off the ballot.

Under the rules governing elections, officials with the established political parties now have one week to decide whether they want to challenge his ballot position on grounds that the signatures of support are not valid.

MY GUT FEELING says Nader got enough signatures that any challenge will amount to little more than political harassment. He will be on the Illinois ballots along with Obama and McCain – and Nader already is going after Obama, claiming he is changing his mind on everything from NAFTA to public spending limits for political campaigns.

Now nobody seriously expects Nader and his running mate, former San Francisco board of supervisors member Matt Gonzalez (who even by California standards is considered a touch eccentric), to win the Electoral College process and actually becomes president.

Nobody even expects him to win any states, or to get any significant number of votes in Illinois.

This is more about giving the people who just can’t bring themselves to vote for Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama a person to support. If in the process, Nader manages to advance public debate on their pet issues, then so much the better. He will have achieved something, in their eyes.

IN FACT, ONE look at Nader’s campaign platform makes it very clear he doesn’t expect to get much real voter support in Illinois – or anywhere in the now-flood-covered Midwest.

Besides calling for health care access reforms, Nader is campaigning against the concept of ethanol – the motor fuel that is a blend of byproducts made from corn. Nader is following the West Coast party line that says federal subsidies to encourage ethanol production are actually doing more these days to drive up the price of food.

That may get him a couple of votes in San Diego, but in the rural Midwest, it will hurt him. Farmers in the regions surrounding Chicago have always liked the idea of encouraging ethanol production because it means that someone else will be interested in buying their corn crop so it can be turned into motor fuel.

Rural Illinois farmers will see Nader as a guy who wants to take money from their pockets, particularly at a time when many of them have suffered severe financial loss due to the Mississippi River flooding that has wiped out their crop altogether for this year.

URBAN ILLINOIS (A.K.A., Chicago) will care less about this issue, other than to see Nader as someone who is spending precious time worrying about something that won’t drive down the price they pay for gasoline.

So the real trick in Illinois will be to see how little Nader gets in the way of votes. When he ran for president in 2000 (the year he allegedly cost Al Gore the presidency), just over 103,000 people cast ballots for Ralph.

But this year, Obama is expected to dominate the Illinois political scene – in large part because of his hometown Chicago popularity. Cook County, Ill., gave Obama nearly 70 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary (his largest primary victory margin anywhere in the United States), and some people are convinced he will do equally as well against McCain in the general election.

There’s a very good chance that the 50,000 or so people who bothered to sign nominating petitions for Nader will be the only people who will vote for him come Nov. 4.

BUT WHAT THEY’RE shooting for is to get enough votes to qualify for automatic ballot positions in Illinois.
State law gives candidates running as Democrats and Republicans advantages in terms of getting on the ballot, based on the belief that the established parties have shown they have significant support among Illinois residents. Third-party candidates have to come up with more signatures of support on their nominating petitions.

Receiving a significant number of votes could put whatever party label Nader chooses to use in line to become a recognized legitimate political party, just like the Dems or GOP.

That’s the odd part of Nader’s campaign this year. He has run on the Green Party label in the past, but this year, he’s going as an independent, using a mixture of his old Green Party followers and other people who view the political establishment with distaste.

SO THAT’S THE real goal of the political malcontents – use Nader to advance their cause in hopes that the day will come that they can put together a campaign for a candidate who stands a real chance of getting elected to a government post.

Some political observers might take one look at the often amateurish campaign tactics used by these people and figure they’re never going to get to that point. But that is their dream.

And as for Nader, he’s willing to use the oddball coalition of Greens and Libertarians to feed his ego and let him make yet another run for the White House.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Ralph Nader hopes to get more votes in Illinois this year than he did in 2004, when his ( write-in campaign received about 3,500 votes.

Did Nader manage to stop off at Norb Andy’s for a “horseshoe” on Monday in between his visits to ( the Statehouse and the State Board of Elections offices? Somehow (, I doubt it.

He might not be their actual candidate, but Green Party officials will be talking up the Nader candidacy ( when they hold their national nominating convention July 10-13 at the Palmer House Hilton and the Symphony Center.

Illinois’ Green Party has its own activity beyond supporting Nader (, while his running mate, Matt Gonzalez, has a record ( of being – to put it politely – a colorful character.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chicago's foodstuffs lose something in their translation to other locales

I have eaten the attempts by people in other cities to create the concept of a “Chicago-style” hot dog and the “deep dish” version of pizza that our residents like to brag about. “Ugh,” is all I have to say.

The culinary attempts at Chicago impersonation are so far removed from what can be found here, and usually are third-rate insofar as being edible food.

SO I WASN’T the least bit surprised when, while scouring through the Internet, I found a restaurant review published Sunday in the Times of London that says the Chicago Rib Shack stinks. It’s not just because the restaurant has an unpleasant aroma.

Apparently, the new London-based restaurant produces a version of pork remaining on the bone that is quite unappetizing. How else to react to a review that says the ribs tasted as though they had been “boiled in an ashtray” and were “glutinously awful pig-swamp bad.”

Now I have never been to the Chicago Rib Shack in London, so I have no way of knowing whether the food is really that bad – or if this particular food critic is just full of it.

But I am more than willing to give this critic the benefit of the doubt. As I said before, I have never had a pleasant dining experience when eating something that is supposed to be modeled after the food of the Second City.

SOMEHOW, FOODSTUFFS DON’T translate very well when they are made in a place where the native experience is radically different. I wouldn’t expect people in Jolly Old England to be capable of creating the dishes that were devised in Chicago, any more than I would expect an “English-style pub” in Chicago to be the least bit authentic.

Should we Chicagoans consider it defamation of our city’s character for some other place to peddle substandard takes on our city’s food, thereby giving people the impression that they are somehow experiencing a taste of what makes our city unique?

Ribs in particular are tricky to recreate, in large part because few people can agree on how they should be cooked or seasoned. Who knows exactly what this restaurant thinks is a Chicago version of barbecued ribs.

I know some people who insist that boiling the ribs first before cooking them is nasty, while others insist on it to make the meat more tender. There are questions over whether they should be cooked in an oven or over an open flame – or should be smoked.

WHAT KINDS OF seasoning were rubbed into the meat before they were cooked? Was anything rubbed into the meat? I know people who are absolutely mortified at the thought of adding anything, while others insist true barbecue needs their “secret seasonings” to be even the least bit edible.

Then, what about the sauce?

Should the sauce be added during the cooking process, or should it all come after they are finished? Should that sauce have anything resembling a spice, or should it be sweet-tasting (almost sugary) in flavor?

Should we really expect a Chicago Rib Shack in London to be worth anything? Or are they just pushing rubbery pork on bone with an icky-sweet sauce poured all over them to cover up the fact that any flavor in the meat has been cooked away?

NOW ONE CAN argue that the locals who visit the restaurant likely have never been to Chicago. They likely don’t have a clue as to what barbecue (and I refuse to spell it Bar-B-Q) in this city tastes like. Maybe it is harmless to let them have their delusion that they are somehow eating “Chicago-style” food, even though anyone who seriously enjoys Chicago barbecue still mourns the loss of the Tropical Hut restaurant on Stony Island Boulevard – which mixed a tacky Polynesian theme with some of the best barbecue ever.

But then I think of some of the nasty concoctions I have tried in other cities across this country, all of which entailed some sort of Chicago theme. Thick, overly cheesed takes on pizza in a pan, and rubbery hotdogs without poppy seed buns and totally lacking in much of the way of fixings aside from pickle relish (but too quick to slop on the ketchup).

How about Italian beef sandwiches (that concoction sort of inspired by Italian cooking but created in working-class Chicago) without anything in the way of juice?

The idea that people don’t appreciate that it is the meat and vegetables stuffed into the cheese that make a good Chicago pizza or the pickle spears and tomato slices that turn a hot dog into something worthy of this city (instead of that horseradish-slopped concoction peddled in New York) is just evidence that people outside of Chicago are lacking in a certain culinary common sense.

THIS IS WHY I shudder when I am traveling somewhere (or when I have lived in other cities) and see a restaurant that includes “Chicago” or “Windy City” or something else in its name meant to conjure up images of our beloved home.

What they usually consist of is a local owner hanging up a picture of Mayor Daley (as in Richard J.) and a couple of shots of Wrigley Field, and trying to claim that his restaurant peddling third-rate food has a Chicago “theme” to it.

It didn’t work in the instances I have seen in places ranging from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., and not just because any Chicago restaurant that shows off Wrigley Field will lose the business of about half the city’s population. It just feels too fake.

I’m not the least bit shocked to learn Chicago imitations don’t work in London either.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Comparing a restaurant’s food to photographs of your girlfriend ( from the 1980s is about as harsh a judgment as I can imagine. Remember some of those funky “New Wave” styles of hair and clothing, or the music of Boy George and Culture Club?

What are the best places to find “Chicago-style” food? Through the magic of the Internet, one ( can see for themselves.

If you really feel the need for a Chicago-type barbecue, are not fortunate enough to be in the city but are willing to spend some money (, this is the closest you will come to finding happiness. If you want to scour around town, then check out some ( of these places.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

CAMPAIGN NOTES: Obama doesn’t need no stinkin’ federal money

The only thing that would have made Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s rejection of funds from the public campaign finance system more perfect would have been if a Barack Backer had done his best impersonation from the film “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” in saying, “we don’t need your stinkin’ money.”

That is the case for the Obama campaign, which earlier this week became the first presidential nominee to turn down the federal funds that in theory put all presidential campaigns on an even level.

I SAY BECAUSE in theory, it doesn’t work that way. Republicans and their big bucks donors always manage to come up with support groups that take on some of the costs related to supporting their presidential nominees – which means the GOP candidates always are better funded than their Democratic challengers.

So when a candidate like Barack Obama, who has managed to capture the imagination of a segment of the U.S. population so highly that they are donating large amounts of money to his campaign, he can afford to take a pass.

Accepting the federal funds would require the Obama campaign to comply with various restrictions. And while some will argue that the Democratic Party and its followers could do the same tricks that their Republican counterparts do to help Barack, the reality is they are not as well structured in that area.

Obama sees a case where he can gain a great financial advantage over Republican challenger John McCain by taking a pass on the federal cash.

NOW I UNDERSTAND McCain wants to make a campaign issue out of this, although I don’t think he’s going to get much traction on this issue from the general public. Most people are going to hear that Obama wants to pay for this thing himself, and has a campaign that is capable of raising the needed money by itself.

So the average Jose on the street is going to be relieved that taxpayer dollars aren’t paying for the various cheap shot campaign ads that Obama invariably will use against McCain during the next few months.

If anything, the more straightforward-thinking people who don’t follow all the nuances of politics will probably wonder why McCain doesn’t pay for his own campaign.

People who do follow the nuances of politics are going to realize the reason McCain and Republicans are upset about this situation is because they are used to being the ones who have the financial advantage, and they resent being on the short end of available campaign cash.

WHILE I REALIZE the whole concept of public financing of campaigns is meant to give each nominee an equal financial chance of winning, the reality is that it doesn’t work. I have to respect Obama just a bit for being willing to take a pass on about $80 million. The easy thing for him would have been to just take the cash and maintain the status quo.

And I am not convinced that any amount of talks between Obama and McCain would have created any reforms in public financing that would have made it worth accepting the money. This is a case where Obama is literally putting his (campaign) money where his mouth is.

Should we really let McCain and his followers get away with trying to turn this into a campaign issue? Petty jealousy about money is about as non- an issue as this campaign can dig up.

So what other tidbits are worthy of note as the presidential campaign hits what should be the summer doldrums?

DUELING AUTHORS?: Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., may have been in Chicago only to promote his new book, but there’s something about the conservative with a solid record of military support that seems like a natural to be Obama’s vice presidential running mate.

He’s just the kind of guy who could be trotted out to those places in rural Pennsylvania and Michigan (and Southern Illinois, to be honest) who might be able to credibly tell non-urban types that Obama is willing to listen to their concerns – mainly because he would use his influence to force Barack to pay attention.

While a part of me thinks New Mexico Gov. (and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations) Bill Richardson would offer a lot, I have always figured Obama was going to have to pick a running mate who fits the extremely conventional mode of electoral politics. He will need a kind of Democrat who has people wonderingwhy they are not a Republican.

Not Hillary. Not any woman. And definitely not anyone who could be labeled by McCain followers as “a liberal.”

It would be interesting if an Obama/Webb ticket were to win on Election Day. Considering that Obama has two published books (and technically is contractually obligated to produce a third), what would happen if the American public were to decide it preferred Webb’s literary work?

“VERO POSSUMUS” IS “SI SE PUEDE?”: The Obama campaign has come up with a new logo, and some people think it looks a bit too much like the official insignia of the president of the United States.

To my mindset, the only difference is that the eagle in the Obama logo bears a shield consisting of the old Obama logo (the great big “O” that doubles as a rising sun).

What caught my attention was the Latin slogan that Obama types say translates into “Yes, We Can.” In Spanish, that has always been a slogan of Latino empowerment dating back to United Farm Workers founder Cesar Chavez.

What I want to know is, how long will it be until the phrase becomes (in the mindset of an unknowing public) the intellectual property of Obama, and people start thinking that the Latinos are stealing it from Barack?

AND ON A FINAL NOTE: I’m not sure what the tackiest moment of the week was – although I’m sure it was an Obama-related moment.

Hearing that his aides were dumb enough to want to get Arab women out of the background at one of their campaign events was ridiculous enough, but then having to watch a television spot (put together by Obama supporters, not the candidate himself) where a beautiful blond woman clings to her baby and tells McCain he can’t have her son as part of his “100-year-long” war in Iraq – that is just low class.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The one-time “American Paper for Americans” thinks the system for public financing (,0,2973543.story) of campaigns ought to be scrapped, while the most conservative of the national news magazines thinks Obama should have taken ( the money.

“A Time to Fight,” published as part of the Union League Club’s “author’s group series (, probably will not sell as well as “Dreams from My Father” or “The Audacity of Hope.”

Scholars of Latin say Obama’s translation of “Yes, We Can” isn’t exact, but it is close ( enough.

For those of you so culturally deprived that you have never seen “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (, here is that film’s most quotable moment.

Friday, June 20, 2008

City Series not worth the hype

This weekend is far from the first time Chicago's two major league teams have faced each other. Take this 1909 confrontation at the West Side Grounds. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

Every year in Chicago sees two weekends when the local population gets absolutely stupid – the weekends when Major League Baseball so decrees that our White Sox and the Cubs ought to play against each other.

Considering that the two teams have actually managed to last this long in their respective seasons in first place in their respective divisions, fans this year are getting particularly ridiculous.

ANY CHANCE OF actually getting tickets (without paying a ticket broker’s ridiculous price markup) for this weekend’s three-game series at Wrigley Field (or next weekend at U.S. Cellular Field) is long gone.

Many people are planning their weekends around the concept of being able to watch the games on television – including the Sunday night game, when ESPN has so decreed that the Sox/Cubs matchup will be broadcast nationally.

So am I the only Chicagoan who is willing to admit I could care less about this series?

I am bracing myself for the pompous rhetoric that will be spewed by the fans of whichever team manages to win at least two of the three games in each series, trying to claim that some “great moral supremacy” is conveyed by that fact.


This weekend could very well turn out to be the most over-hyped event in Chicago sports this year (and Second-most over-hyped event in sports nationwide behind any match-up between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox).

Now don’t take this as some sort of sign that I hate baseball. I don’t.

In fact, it is a particularly pleasurable sport, as I have always enjoyed the “head game” (as prominent writer Roger Kahn refers to the dueling nature that occurs when a pitcher faces a batter). And I am interested in seeing how the White Sox turn out (with mild delusions that they can actually hold on through season’s end in October to win their division) in 2008.

BUT THE CIRCUS atmosphere that crops up every year around the Sox/Cubs series manages to turn me off of actually watching the games. Nothing that actually happens on the playing field will warrant the attention (not even if there’s a repeat of the incident when a brawl resulted from White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski plowing through a former Cubs catcher who was improperly blocking home plate) given to these games.

Having to listen to the ridiculous rhetoric is just more than I can take.

This will be one three-game series where I will be content to look up the box scores after the fact to see how the players did, and if anything truly significant happened.

For those who are now going to say I can’t be much of a baseball fan if I’m not willing to watch the actual games, I’d say that’s absurd.

SINCE THERE’S NEXT to no chance I could actually get tickets to attend any of the games (I’m not willing to spend that kind of money), I would have to watch television. And the simple fact is that watching a sporting event on television is (first and foremost) watching a television program – not a ball game.

I can get wrapped up in the pitch-by-pitch activity of a ball game while watching from the stands, particularly if I can get a seat on top of the infield where I can make out what the pitcher is throwing. Watching on television is just too distracting, particularly if the broadcast crew gets hung up on trivial activity or on showing off their newest graphic elements (like the crew with Fox Sports always does) that usually add nothing to one’s understanding of baseball.

So I likely will try to find some other way of getting a live baseball fix (a part of me is considering a trip to Gary, Ind., to see the Railcats of the Northern League take on the Schaumburg Flyers – all the other Chicago-area minor league ball clubs are on the road this weekend).

Besides, even if I could get tickets to the Sox/Cubs match-up this weekend, I’d probably take a pass. In the same way that New Year’s Eve is for amateurs, so is a Sox/Cubs game. Too many halfwits who only come out because they think the games are an “event” where they “must be seen” to prove they are “somebody” populate the stands.

THAT WAS MY experience the one time in my life I actually did go to a Sox/Cubs match-up (in 1999 at then-New Comiskey Park). Even then, the attraction for me was that I went with several of my co-workers, most of whom were Cubs fans who experienced a deep funk when the Sox came from behind in the 9th inning to win.

Too many of the people who will be in the stands this weekend will be the clowns who are determined to show they are “man” enough to wear a Cubs jersey on the South Side and scream stupid epithets, or to wear blackface with white lettered “Sox” logos on their cheeks while sitting in the sun at Wrigley Field.

This is the weekend that Chicago’s real baseball fans shudder. Those of us who find a beauty in the game will be disgusted at the way in which it is buried under a mass of trivia.

The fact that both of these teams are in first place only complicates things, since everybody wants to envision the scenario by which the White Sox personally crush the Cubs’ hopes of winning a division title. (Nobody with any sense seriously envisions the alternate result).

PEOPLE OF CHICAGO, repeat after me. “It’s only June.”

If both Chicago ball clubs are still in first place come Sept. 1 (as they were in 2003), then we can seriously start talking about the possibility of both Chicago ball clubs making it to the playoffs and possibly having an all-Chicago World Series (the first, and only, since 1906).

Anyone who brings up the subject before then is being ridiculous.

And anyone who tries to turn this into South Side/North Side warfare is being ridiculous.

SO I DON’T want to see anymore of the car commercial featuring managers Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella skipping rope and riding bicycles together. I don’t care what the Las Vegas gambling geeks set for odds on this series – or the chance either/both teams win their respective leagues’ pennants.

And I definitely don’t want to know the results of the Chicago Sun-Times self-promotional contest to determine whether the skanky women who exist at Wrigley Field are better looking than the tough Sout’ Side broads one finds at U.S. Cellular.

All I can think of with regards to this “contest” is one of the most honest moments I have ever seen in a film – 1997’s “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” which starred Julia Roberts and Cameron Diaz, and set their climactic confrontation in the women’s wash room at “the Cell.”

Seeing the two about to get into a fight while surrounded by a bunch of toughs wearing various styles of Sox jerseys reminded me of some of the women I have encountered at the ballpark throughout the years – none of whom I would guess will be in attendance for the “silly show” posing as baseball this weekend and next.


EDITOR’S NOTES: My childhood memories include the 1977 baseball season when both (,1,4835846.story) Chicago ball clubs were in first place through the end of July. Neither team won so much as a division title, let alone a league championship.

What’s more likely to happen? The White Sox will win their second American League championship ( in four years, or the Cubs will go for their 100th straight season without a World Series victory.

Apparently, I’m not the only person who realizes that the baseball played this weekend (,2_2_AU16_TWOCENTS_S1.article) and next is not the “make it or break it” moment for Chicago sports.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Suburban hostility toward Chicago is silly

My perception of Chicago and its surrounding population is a bit different from many others – I didn’t grow up in a single house my entire childhood. I can say that I lived in the city (far south, near north and northwest sides), assorted suburbs and a couple of downstate towns.

If anything, I am a suburban-type person who is a bit more comfortable with the city than many of my neighbors are, and who expects someday to again live in Chicago proper.

SO MY REACTION is to see the humor in a pair of recent incidents where suburban Chicago types are so desperate to maintain their separation from “that urban rathole” that many of them perceive when they think (at all) of the city.

How else to explain the reaction of people from Indiana who on Wednesday learned that some of those “evil Chicagoans” may have tried to cast ballots in their presidential primary on May 6.

Illinoisans (including those who identify primarily with Chicago rather than their home state) had their chance to vote on Feb. 5. Yet elections officials in Lake County, Ind., told local reporters that there were “several” instances of people at polling places in Whiting and East Chicago who asked to cast ballots – and produced Illinois driver’s licenses or other identification indicating they live west of State Line Road.

The Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper reported that none of those people were permitted to vote, and officials are trying to figure out if it was just confusion on the part of people or if there really was some sort of criminal plot to get ballots cast by non-registered voters.

SOME PEOPLE MIGHT think it ridiculously naïve to think that someone would not realize they should not be venturing across the state line in order to try to vote in a presidential campaign. Yet I also have been made aware on many occasions in my life as a reporter-type that not everybody pays strict attention to the specifics of government and electoral politics.

There are many otherwise intelligent people who do not understand the concept of jurisdiction, and can resent it when they are told by a local government official that some facility that sits within a village’s boundaries is actually a Cook County-controlled facility or is a road or other building that falls under state government’s control.

I once had a person (loosely affiliated with the ’92 presidential aspirations of Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot) that all government is really the same, and that one of the “reforms” that ought to be imposed is elimination of various levels of government control.

So could there be some people from Chicago who heard all the intense news coverage of the Indiana primary campaign activity and figured it was their civic duty to make a trip to the Land of Hoosiers so as to cast a ballot?

IT’S POSSIBLE, EVEN though a part of me finds it scary to realize that some otherwise hardworking, decent people in our society are clueless enough to not immediately realize the difference between an Illinois primary election and one in Indiana.

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that the sources of these stories about “Those People” from Illinois coming east to Indiana were members of the Republican Party organization in Lake County.

How weak is the GOP in the northwest part of Indiana? Almost as weak as the GOP in Chicago proper, I would think. At least the Hoosier GOPers in and around Hammond, Ind., know they have the bulk of the rest of their state on their side, whereas the GOP in Illinois has become so weak that it can offer the Chicago Republican Party no moral support whatsoever.

So making scurrilous charges about Chicagoans coming to Indiana to try to stuff ballot boxes with their “outsider” way of thinking is probably the most attention the Lake County Republicans will get in a long time. And there are too many local people who are willing to believe it because they want to think the isolated ways of their town are the ways of the world.

MY POINT IS that while I don’t doubt there are some people clueless enough to try to vote in an Indiana election, I’m not sure the problem is anywhere near as extensive as Indiana Republicans want us to believe it is.

But the notion of wanting to maintain separation between Chicago and its suburbs is not just an issue for the people who live in the part of the metropolitan area that spills over into Indiana. Sadly, even some of those people fortunate enough to live in Cook County, Ill., don’t truly appreciate the benefits their towns derive from being so close to the Second City (it’s really third), which remains the transportation hub of the nation.

Why else would some residents of the northwest suburb of Palatine be seriously looking into the concept of secession?

Some people up there do not like the idea that they are a part of Cook County, which they feel is totally dominated by Chicago. They would rather be able to say they are in a separate county – one of which Palatine would likely become the county seat.

A BILL IS pending in the Illinois General Assembly (sponsored by Palatine’s member of the Illinois House of Representatives) to make it easier for communities to secede from their counties, although it is far from certain that anything will ever happen to advance that bill.

Earlier this week, county board President Todd Stroger held a hearing at Harper College, where he confronted the masses of Palatine (about 200 people, according to the Chicago Tribune) and listened as they blamed his urban ways for causing the problems that confront Cook County government.

“I think Cook County represents the residents of Chicago,” and “I don’t trust you guys,” were among the lines of rhetoric tossed out at Stroger by people who likely wish they lived in some rural burg without any significant city in or near its boundaries.

I only wish these people could take a look at rural life sometime, particularly the sense of isolation that occurs when one’s home is far from anything and when such daily necessities as grocery shopping requires lengthy automobile drives.

THEY’D SEE PLACES like some tiny communities in Southern Illinois and rural Indiana where overall population is on the decline, and where local officials have to seriously address issues related to the drain of young people with talent and skills from their populations.

A place like Palatine can claim some stability in large part because it is so close to a place like Chicago, which serves as a drawing card to the region, and to which some of its working population spills off into the surrounding suburbs.

If the unique set of circumstances required for secession were to ever occur, we would see a place like Palatine engage in celebration for a day at the thought of their independence.

Then, after realizing just what they lost by not being directly tied to the largest county in Illinois (at 5 million people, it is five times the size of the second-largest county – DuPage), we likely would see a mass movement to undo the damage they had just done. It would be interesting to see how quickly they would clamor to come back to Cook.


EDITOR’S NOTES: And we wonder why some Indiana and Michigan residents make disparaging remarks about ( “F-I-P’s.”

Palatine wants to think of itself as a world separate from the rest of the Chicago (,0,1327158.story) metropolitan area.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

R. Kelly “acquittal” is the way the judicial system in this nation is meant to work

The fact that a jury in Cook County Criminal Court acquitted singer R. Kelly on all criminal charges may leave some people disgusted, but it actually is perfect evidence of the superiority of the criminal justice system, as practiced in the United States.

As a reporter-type person myself, I must admit that when I hear of the end of a criminal case, my attention does not focus exclusively on the actual verdict. I immediately want to know which of the jurors – if any – talked.

I WANT TO hear what kind of account they give of the deliberations, and which bits of evidence they considered to be significant (and equally important, which bits of the prosecutorial or defense legal “strategy” were considered worthless). That is often more interesting than the “bottom line” ruling of “guilty” or “not guilty.”

In the case of sex-related charges against the man who created the song, “I Believe I Can Fly,” five jurors spoke (there usually are a few who are intimidated enough at the thought of trying to explain themselves that they run away from the courthouse without speaking.

What it came down to is that the jury had doubts – not about Kelly. They were all convinced that they were forced to endure repeated (and overly clinical) viewings of the now-infamous sex tape that (in their minds) showed Kelly himself having sexual intercourse with a young girl.

What they were not sure of was whether the girl who was allowing herself to be molested by Kelly was the same girl that prosecutors contend was underage at the time the tape was made, or just some other young girl who was barely of legal age who willingly submitted to Kelly’s video advances.

WHEN IT COMES to a statutory rape charge, that becomes a very important distinction.

Putting Kelly in prison just because one objects to him focusing his attentions on young girls would be outrageous – moreso than the thought of letting a so-called “guilty” man go free.

As they always try to emphasize, a person must be “guilty” beyond “reasonable doubt” in the minds of all 12 jurors in order to get a conviction in a criminal case. If jurors seriously doubted that the “victim” in this “crime” is who the prosecutors said she was, then they were totally justified in voting to acquit.

In fact, as uncertain as it sounds like the jury was, I was surprised that it took them as long as it did to reach their verdict (just over one day, with about half of the nine-man, three-woman jury initially voting “guilty” on the charges).

BUT THIS JURY took its duties seriously, which is why I consider it to be evidence of the superiority of the system that exists in this country.

Some places on this planet have criminal justice systems where guilt is presumed. In fact, some people in this country – no matter what they say publicly when they are questioned for jury duty about their political beliefs – have little or no problem accepting that concept.

Some people see someone who faces criminal charges and figure that the person must have done something to warrant attention from police and criminal prosecutors.

My point is that the prosecution, even though technically they have the burden of proof placed on them, has serious advantages going into any criminal case. From my time when I covered courts and the law (including trials and other legal proceedings at the very same Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California where Kelly “thanked Jesus” after learning of his acquittal), I know that many jurors are people who would not otherwise hang around the place.

THE STRUCTURE DATING back to the days of Anton Cermak as Chicago mayor (he lived in the neighborhood, which is why he had the courthouse built there) is imposing, particularly when one sees the Cook County Jail looming next door. It is enough to intimidate anyone into believing that “bad people” are brought here to be punished.

The easy thing for the jury in the Kelly case to do would have been to vote to “convict,” then go home and enjoy a nice dinner with their families, while beginning to share some personal stories about the time they helped “put away” that bad man R. Kelly.

Instead, they spent the time to seriously consider the charges, and they took the action that they knew would be unpopular – but which they felt was the “right” thing to do in light of the evidence.

Now some people might want to start bashing the prosecutors in this case, although I am inclined to do otherwise.

WHAT HURT THEIR case (which basically amounted to claims that Kelly had sex with a 13-year-old girl and recorded the moment on videotape) was the amount of time that had passed since the crime actually took place.

The girl whom prosecutors claim was the victim of statutory rape is now in her early 20s, which means anyone looking at her now would merely think she was a foolish woman who got involved with someone she shouldn’t have.

The visual image of today bears no resemblance to the video image of what once happened – which is what made it impossible for jurors to be certain that the young girl in the video was the same young woman who exists in real life today.

That is the biggest drawback to the fact that this particular criminal case took six years to come to trial. That’s how long it took from the time criminal charges were filed against Kelly until it finally went to trial last month.

EVEN BY THE standards of a crowded Cook County criminal justice system, that is a long delay (I seem to recall from my days covering criminal courts that the typical case took about 1.5-2 years from the time of arrest to when the case went to trial – if it didn’t end long before in a plea agreement).

That time delay ultimately hurt the prosecution. Perhaps a quicker trial might have provided a different result.

Now some will note that I have not mentioned Jim DeRogatis, the music critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, until now, even though he became a prominent part of this case. He was the one who originally received an anonymous bit of mail that was the videotape that became the primary evidence in the Kelly case.

He turned it over to police, and defense attorneys tried to demonize him for that act.

WHAT THEY REALLY wanted to do was to rip into prosecutors. But one cannot get too vicious in attacking the state of Illinois because if it chooses to be vindictive, it has significant powers of retribution.

So instead, they tried to divert attention by going after a newspaper guy, figuring no one in the general public would care if they beat up on him. All DeRogatis was doing when he cited the 1st and 5th amendments to the U.S. Constitution as his justification for not answering questions was refusing to let himself be used as the defense’s punching bag.

The true high point of the entire sordid Kelly trial was when Judge Vincent Gaughan had the sense to accept DeRogatis’ argument and exempt him from answering questions, rather than allow defense attorneys to try to persist in their attempt to “punish” the guy who cooperated with police and prosecutors by “snitching,” so-to-speak, on their client.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Would-be music fans were split on what they think of the R. Kelly verdict (, heard late last week in Cook County.

“Not guilty” and “innocent” (,CST-NWS-dero15.article) are NOT synonyms.

New Yorkers (at least those included in this commentary, may be outraged by the Kelly outcome. Personally, I held off a few days before trying to write anything about the case so that I could think more rationally about it.