Tuesday, September 30, 2008

McCain too reckless to be president

It is with a sense of reassurance that I saw the result of a set of polls conducted by the Gallup Organization in recent days – all of which look beneficial to the presidential campaign of Democrat Barack Obama.

Those polls showed a sizable percentage of people thinking that Obama did better in their initial debate performance than Republican opponent John McCain. Another poll released Monday afternoon showed Obama maintaining an 8-point lead nationwide over the McCain campaign.

WHAT MAKES ME pleased in seeing those results (aside from the fact that I have never understood why anyone takes McCain’s “Maverick” rhetoric seriously) is that it makes me think a majority of the people of this country are seeing through the recklessness that GOP backers like to think is McCain’s willingness to shake things up.

It really is a sign that McCain can take a situation and make it worse.

It was last week that Chicago Sun-Times Washington correspondent Lynn Sweet wrote a column that said McCain was successfully confounding the Obama campaign with his skills in “red cell thinking.”

As defined by Sweet, it is a CIA-type term used to describe offbeat, completely unexpected solutions to address threatening situations.

IT WAS SUCH a mentality that led to a political neophyte such as Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin being tabbed over several white guys with equally conservative beliefs on social issues to be chosen as a vice presidential nominee.

Such a mentality also caused McCain to talk of shuttering his presidential campaign so he could focus his attention on resolving the financial crisis that has confounded the Congress – where on Monday the House of Representatives rejected the $700 billion buyout that was proposed by President George W. Bush and the Congress’ leadership.

On a certain level, the strategy worked.

For about one week after the presidential nominating conventions, it was the McCain/Palin ticket that was drawing the public attention and leading in various polls – at least until the financial mess rose to a level that demanded it gain top billing and reminded many undecided voters why it was that the Democratic Party should theoretically be cleaning up at the polling places on Election Day.

THE PUBLIC BLAMES the Wall Street mess on a Republican majority of the past that they think let their big business allies run amok. Whether or not that is a fair viewpoint, it is the one being seen among the general public – which is why many people are badgering their members of Congress to vote against any Wall Street bailout.

For a couple of days, it looked like McCain might be able to portray himself as a leader in the attempt by Congress to resolve the mess; even though as a rank-and-file member his presence was not needed in the room where a buyout was being negotiated.

Neither is Obama’s, when it comes down to it.

In fact, by getting too involved, Obama would run the risk of getting in the way of those people who have serious work to do. I’m starting to wonder if McCain has actually crossed over that line – associating his name with this mess so much that he’s now going to get the blame for the inability to solve the situation.

AND WHEN IT comes to Palin, her lack of interest in the real world outside of Alaska has become apparent to the point where many of those people who were praising her views just a couple of weeks ago are now shuddering at the thought of her being the V-P nominee.

Not that I expect her to take the advice of conservative newspaper columnist Kathleen Parker and step down from the second-in-command post. Actually using Parker’s suggested excuse of claiming she wants to spend more time with her children would seem to her like surrender. She’s one of those who’d rather sink with the ship than try to find a lifeboat.

So the Republicans are stuck with Sarah. And McCain may get stuck with the blame.

Now I can already hear the rhetoric from the GOP faithful (the roughly one-third of the nation that still gives President Bush good marks for his professional performance), claiming they are being picked on by people who are out of touch with their vision of what the United States should be about.

BUT THAT PERCENTAGE of the electorate is getting smaller.

Those Gallup polls I mentioned earlier? Only 34 percent of those surveyed thought McCain did better than Obama, compared to the 46 percent who preferred Obama’s debate performance from Friday in Mississippi.

That 34 percent sounds awfully like the roughly 33 percent “favorable” job performance ratings Bush the younger gets these days.

Overall, Obama on Monday had a 50 percent support level, compared to 42 percent for McCain – the second day in a row that Obama hits that 50 percent level that would indicate he could win the election even if all the “undecided” voters were to decide to shift to the McCain campaign.

I VIEWED THE Palin move as a wasted opportunity, and the financial crisis action as reckless. Apparently, I’m not alone.

Those actions may have gained McCain some attention for a few days. But after people digested them, they came across as brash acts done out of desperation without any serious thought put into them.

To take that now-famed image from the Democratic primary campaign of Hillary R. Clinton, what would we want to happen when that 3 a.m. phone call comes?

Do we want someone who will give a little thought and try to figure out the proper way to act? Or do you want the guy who makes a snap decision, only to realize a week later that he blew it?

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EDITOR’S NOTES: The Gallup Organization shows Barack Obama starting to maintain solid leads (http://www.gallup.com/poll/110788/Gallup-Daily-Obama-Maintains-8Point-Lead.aspx) among the electorate, and getting a majority of support from people who watched (http://www.gallup.com/poll/110779/Debate-Watchers-Give-Obama-Edge-Over-McCain.aspx) the first presidential debate.

Did syndicated newspaper columnist Kathleen Parker just manage to get herself (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003855789) uninvited to the White House Christmas party for the news media in a John McCain presidential administration?

Is “red cell thinking” causing McCain to act rashly in his attempt to remain as a viable Election Day (http://www.suntimes.com/news/sweet/1184246,CST-NWS-sweet25.article) option to Obama?

Monday, September 29, 2008

EXTRA: 'Whities' vs. 'Twinkies,' while Cubs fans dream that they own Chicago

One more win, and the Chicago White Sox will be able to forget those horrid memories of last week in Minneapolis when they managed to blow their long-held lead in the American League’s central division.

The White Sox finally finished their 162-game regular season schedule on Monday, and their 8-2 defeat of the Detroit Tigers gave them an 88-74 record – identical to the Minnesota Twins.

SO JUST AS the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox finished 1948 with a tie, as did the Red Sox and the New York Yankees in 1978 and the Seattle Mariners and California Angels in 1995, the White Sox and Twins will now have the dreaded one-game tiebreaker to qualify for the playoffs.

A 163rd game will be added to the schedule for both teams – to be played on the South Side (thank goodness our Sox won that coin flip held a few weeks ago, or we’d be playing again in Minneapolis).

Now I know some geeky types who root for the Chicago Cubs are going to claim the fact that the White Sox did not finish off the Twins last week is evidence they “choked.” Of course, the fact that Minnesota didn’t then proceed to finish off the season this past weekend – losing two of three to fourth-place Kansas City Royals – is equally bad.

Ultimately, the winner tomorrow gets the AL Central Division title and (more importantly) the memory of their choke erased.

ONE THOUGHT ABOUT Monday’s “do or die” game, which is now nowhere near as important as Tuesday’s “do or die,” I was glad to see that Freddie Garcia did not get the loss for the Detroit Tigers.

The one-time Sox star from that memorable season of 2005 has suffered arm troubles, and hurt his shoulder so that he came out of the game with a lead. It was the Tigers’ relief pitchers who blew the lead for Detroit.

One thought I will have. In recent years, Major League Baseball has created the notion that the cities that host the teams that make it to the playoffs should hold downtown rallies to celebrate their pre-playoff accomplishment.

The White Sox had one in Daley Plaza in 2005, and the Cubs had one last year. They also are getting one this year – as the news anchor team over at WBBM-TV seemed to be wetting their pants with glee as live footage was shown of a giant Cubs cap being put on the Picasso statue in preparation for the Tuesday rally celebrating the Cubs’ division title over in the second-rate National League.

WILL THE WHITE Sox (if they manage to beat Minnesota on Tuesday) get a similar rally later in the week? Or are they just out of luck, on account of how long it took them to finally win a division title?

And would any city officials be bold enough to mention the White Sox and the possibility of rooting for an all-Chicago World Series in front of a crowd of Cubs partisans? Just imagine the “boos” Mayor Richard M. Daley would get if he dared suggest that the world does not revolve around Wrigley Field?

But talk of a second World Series in four years on the South Side is getting ahead of ourselves. After all, the Sox (or the “Whities,” as Twins manager Ron Gardenhire likes to call our team) still need to beat the Twinkies in order to say they accomplished anything in 2008.

If anything, that attitude is the big difference between the fans of the two Chicago ball clubs – both of which have stretches in their histories of losing teams.

I STILL REMEMBER a Cubs fan in 1998 who, on the day that the Cubs won a tie-breaker playoff game against the San Francisco Giants to qualify for the playoffs, said that made the season a complete success, on the grounds that the Cubs ended the season with “a symbolic victory.”

Any actual playoff victories would be a bonus.

By that logic, the White Sox would be able to claim a “symbolic victory” by forcing the Twins to play an extra ballgame.

By our logic, victory only takes place on the field. “Symbolic” wins are what we call losses. So let’s follow the lead of Captain Stubby and his Buccaneers. “Let’s Go, Go Go White Sox.” At the very least, let’s show the nation that this truly is a two-team town.

-30-

Stebic lawsuit an offbeat move

When former WMAQ-TV reporter Amy Jacobson filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the CBS-owned television station in Chicago for the way they covered her coverage of a Will County missing person case, it was a predictable move.

Jacobson has been out-of-work since the summer of 2007 when the NBC station at which she was employed for just over a decade let her go. She is reduced to making occasional guest appearances on Chicago radio stations, but her days as a broadcast news reporter in this city are likely done.

ANYTHING THAT CAN be done to help regain a portion of her professional reputation is a plus – she has nothing to lose. Whether a judge will be willing to let the lawsuit go through is questionable, but we’ll see.

What was not predictable was the lawsuit filed last week by the family of Craig Stebic. They claim the WBBM-TV’s stories that were meant to make Jacobson look ridiculous also managed to make the Stebic family look silly.

At stake is the Stebic story, as Craig’s wife has been missing for years now. At the time that Jacobson was covering the saga in 2007, law enforcement officials in Will County were actively trying to find Lisa Stebic.

Some like to speculate that Craig did something to have his wife killed, but no evidence has come forth that would even come close to allowing police to make an arrest in the case. Officially, this is nothing more than a missing persons case.

BACK WHEN THIS story was hot, WMAQ-TV liked to think that it was a leading news organization that was keeping ahead of the story – in large part because Jacobson had developed a personal relationship with the Stebic family.

Basically, the family trusted her a little bit more than they did other reporter-types who would come around the house trying to find out what was going on.

So on the day that Jacobson says she got a call from Craig Stebic wanting to talk, she came – even though she had her kids in tow. Because she had been planning on taking them swimming, they came along with her and spent a couple of hours in the Stebic family pool while Amy talked.

We really don’t know what information, if any, she got out of that particular interview, because the focus of the story quickly changed when a neighbor called someone, and WBBM-TV found out.

THE END RESULT is the now-famed video stills of Amy Jacobson talking on a telephone, while clad in a bikini top and towel that is about as unerotic an image one could ever see.

Yet put the words “blonde reporter” and “bikini” into a story, and everybody envisions some sort of salacious activity. The Stebic lawsuit, filed Friday, claims that Channel 2 wrongly implied a sexual affair was taking place – an act that Jacobson and Stebic have vehemently denied, and of which no one has offered evidence.

They want money from the CBS-owned station. And for what it’s worth, they also are suing the neighbor whose call tipped off the station to the image that everyone will forever have burned into their brain when the name “Amy Jacobson” comes up in conversation.

WBBM-TV officials won’t say much about the lawsuit, other than to say they look forward to defending themselves in court.

NOW AS A reporter-type myself, I fully understand what motivated WBBM-TV to act as they did. The response to learning that your competition in the news business has a potentially thrilling story that you don’t is to “match it.”

In reality, “match it” means “drown it.”

Stick that story in so much cold water that it loses whatever spark it might have ever had. If one can make the competition look ridiculous, that is almost as thrilling as getting the big story for oneself.

That is what happened to WMAQ-TV, which officially said they accepted Jacobson’s forced resignation because of concerns that she had become too close professionally to the Stebic family to objectively cover the story.

NOW BACK WHEN this story happened, I thought that terminating Jacobson’s employment was an over-reaction – although I know of many others who are convinced she did not suffer enough for her behavior.

What intrigues me is whether this Stebic lawsuit has a chance of going anywhere. I have no problem envisioning the Jacobson lawsuit being seen as a crass move, and rejected by the courts.

But will those elements of our society who want to blame newsgathering organizations whenever possible be willing to let the Stebic lawsuit advance in the judicial system because it would be perceived by some as punishing a “big bad news organization” for picking on people.

Will this become one of those lawsuits that advances in the courts, only to be ruled on objectively by an appeals court? Which means years of litigation, regardless of who ultimately prevails.

OF COURSE, THERE are those in law enforcement who think the Stebic family is getting off lightly in terms of this whole affair, and would think it ridiculous for them to claim they are the victims in any way.

I’m curious to see which point of view prevails in this legal fight.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: The Stebic family wants at least $50,000 to compensate them for what they say (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-stebic-suit-both-28sep28,0,458977.story) is their humiliation due to Channel 2’s coverage of their family’s moments in the news.

I have a little more sympathy for Amy Jacobson’s situation than certain other people (http://www.beachwoodreporter.com/tv/amy_jacobsons_resume.php) who observe the news media.

Jacobson’s lawsuit (http://chicagoist.com/2008/07/08/amy_jacobson_sues_cbs_2.php) tied to her dismissal (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-070709jacobsonjul09,0,3666517.story) as a pseudo-investigative reporter on television is still pending. Who’s to say when anything will be resolved.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cubs a flop if they don’t win NL pennant, & Sox fans would love to flop them

What are the odds the Detroit Tigers will play here Monday? Or the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, or Tampa Bay Rays next weekend? Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

To listen to many Chicago Cubs fans, the gods of baseball have been excessively cruel to them. How dare anyone not realize that their team is a fun-loving batch that deserves multiple championships?

They certainly don’t deserve to be the team that has managed to go a century without winning a World Series title, and according to the title of one written history of the ball club, has overcome odds of “1 Million-to-One” by not even winning a National League championship since 1945.

IN SHORT, CUBS fans are becoming insufferable in their belief that they are somehow “owed” a championship this year, since their favorite ball club has managed to win its division and likely will finish the season Sunday with the best won-loss record in the National League.

My personal favorite snit-fit is the two fans who are upset that an elderly man who they usually share a Cubs’ ticket package with during the regular season decided he would keep the playoffs and World Series tickets he was eligible to buy.

Their whining went so far as to result in a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming the 84-year-old man was cruelly depriving them of their “right” to see a baseball game.

Of course, they managed to resolve their dispute Friday by deciding to share the tickets, and alternate which games they went to.

THERE ALSO ARE the “fans” who are upset that the city wants to impose restrictions on alcohol sales in the taverns surrounding Wrigley Field during the ballgames. For every “fan” who actually gets a ticket to enter Wrigley Field during a playoff game, there will be three or four more who decide to hang out in the Lake View neighborhood bars within a block or two of the stadium.

They will then claim that because they were drinking while hearing the roars of the crowd emanating from Wrigley Field, that they were “there” when whatever winds up happening actually happened.

It probably shows that I’m not a fan of the concept of the Cubs being in the baseball playoffs this year. Part of it is because I have never had any use for the Cubs, or anything in the National League (although this year, I would get a kick out of seeing the Los Angeles Dodgers make it to the World Series in the season after Joe Torre was released as manager by the New York Yankees – who fell short of making the playoffs in 2008).

If the Los Angeles Angels (who likely will finish the season with the best record in the American League) manage to win the two rounds of playoffs, that could set the scene for a “City Series,” although I suppose third-rate baseball pundits will try to call it the “Freeway Series” or something equally lame in a California-ish style.

OF COURSE, THERE’S always the chance that the White Sox will manage to eck out a division title – overcoming their awful play in Minneapolis this weekend. The first City Series in Chicago in 102 years would be an incredibly tense event.

White Sox fans (and anyone who carries the spirit of Chicago’s South Side in them) would view such an event as a life-and-death war. I believe Mayor Richard M. Daley (whose family is long-time White Sox season ticket holders, on account of the fact they grew up about a six-block walk from the old Comiskey Park) when he says a City Series in Chicago would create an ugly mood in the city.

A good part of the reason that such an event would be ugly is that Cubs fans would resent having the White Sox in what they would see as “their” World Series.

The fact is that for a Chicago baseball fan, rooting for one’s ball club includes having a desire to see one’s team come out on top of the other team, even though former Chicago sports broadcaster Mike North recently derided such thought as being “the way 12 year olds think.”

HE MAY BE right in a purely logical way. But if professional sports is a batch of grown men playing a child’s game, then it only makes sense that watching professional sports is a way of turning back the clock emotionally to a simpler time.

Like, when we were 12.

For Cubs fans, part of the joy of the 2008 season is that their team won a division title and could win a league championship and go to the World Series, and could even win it, while the White Sox fall short.

If it turns out that on Tuesday of next week, 2008 goes into the local history books as the second time that both the White Sox and Cubs managed to finish the regular season in first place, it means they’d have to share some of the glory.

SOME WHITE SOX fans I know would be willing to “settle” for knowing that the baseball record books would record both teams as having accomplished something in 2008, and that the Cubs didn’t get all the glory. Meanwhile, Cubs fans would see it as some sort of plot to steal their glory.

Some I know resent the fact that the White Sox actually managed to win an American League pennant and World Series title in 2005. In their minds, the White Sox weren’t supposed to win anything until AFTER Cubs teams took some sort of title.

Of course, there is the White Sox mentality that will enjoy the thought of the Cubs fizzling out in the first round of the playoffs, just as Cubs fans will take pleasure if the White Sox are unable to get into the playoffs.

And if both Sox (Chicago and Boston) manage to get into the American League playoffs, then White Sox fans will take a certain amount of pleasure in knowing that they have robbed Cubs fans of some of the satisfaction they desired from this 2008 season.

SO EVEN THOUGH this season is not yet over, and the playoffs and World Series will stretch the U.S. baseball season into the days surrounding Halloween, I will venture this observation.

I know that Cubs fans will claim they had the better ball club in the first decade of the 21st century – citing the two consecutive division-winning teams they had in 2007 and 2008.

But unless the Cubs manage to win both rounds of the National League playoffs, thereby making late singer Steve Goodman’s song lyric about the last Cubs’ championship coming in, “the year we dropped the bomb on Japan” an obsolete thought, then the Cubs will have fallen short.

After all, White Sox fans don’t celebrate the memory of 2000, when our favorite team had the best regular season record in the American League, but lost in the playoffs. Nor do we go on about the fact that our team usually finishes with winning records (2007 was an aberration).

UNLESS 2008 BECOMES the year the Cubs beat out three other playoff teams to win the pennant and go to the World Series, the year will be a failure.

And even if the Cubs do manage to bring the World Series to the North Side, our local history will always record that it was the White Sox who were the first Chicago baseball team to win a championship of any kind during the lifespan of any Chicago resident currently under the age of 50.

I suppose we could allow the Cubs fans to follow in our footsteps for now. But next year, …

-30-

EDITOR’S NOTES: “A Dying Cub’s Fan’s Last Request” is one of the few things about the Chicago Cubs (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_cubs.shtml) that doesn’t annoy me.

“Sports Illustrated” is convinced that 2008 is the year that Cubs fans get to be insufferable boobs (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_cubs.shtml) in their World Series celebration. Does this mean the Cubs’ chances of actually winning are doomed?

What combination of White Sox victories and Minnesota Twins defeats this weekend will (http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/whitesox/chi-080926-white-sox-twins-chart,0,2994230.htmlstory) keep alive the chance of the second-ever World Series played (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20080923&content_id=3532201&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb) entirely in Chicago?

Friday, September 26, 2008

OBAMA VS. McCAIN: Debating the debacle on debates (Who loses more?)

There’s one thing to keep in mind about political debates of any kind – the only way there’s a “winner” is if somebody says something stupid.

So on a certain level, the world will not come to an end should Republican presidential nominee John McCain maintain his hissy-fit mentality and manage to prevent the first debate of Campaign ’08 from taking place Friday as scheduled.

THE REAL LOSERS of “no debate” will be the operators of hotels and restaurants that would have gained some extra business from a two-day flood of extra people (political- and reporter-types) who would have made the trip to Oxford, Miss., to see McCain take on Democratic opponent Barack Obama.

It’s not like either Obama or McCain is a natural when it comes to the debate format, which is more about being quick on the draw verbally with brief snippets of speech. And if one can manage to get a cheap shot in without coming off as too mean-spirited, that increases their chance of being perceived as the debate “winner.”

Obama is the guy who can actually write his own speeches and have deep thoughts that can take complex sentences to explain. He’s the guy who has the potential to constantly have the debate clock cut him off in mid-thought.

And as for McCain, he’s the guy who could potentially fall asleep in mid-debate, or come off as too feisty and grumpy. In short, he could be the sequel to Bob Dole’s “mean old man” persona.

McCAIN IS THE guy who hates the debate format (with its structured questions and limited time for responses) so much that he has repeatedly tried to push for a “town hall” format type of hearing – which creates the illusion of “common folk” asking questions of interest to them, but really amounts to hearing from people who were picked because they were political partisans of the candidates.

In short, they could be trusted not to try to embarrass the candidates.

The debate season this year is going to be more about who puts their foot in the mouth more than anything else. It won’t be about raising the intelligence quotient of the electorate.

Despite that, I must admit to being disgusted that McCain is trying to mess with the format of three debates (with one other between the vice presidential hopefuls) that his campaign staff agreed to – and which has become the expected routine in recent years of presidential campaigns.

I UNDERSTAND WHY he is doing it.

McCain is gambling that a significant portion of the electorate is so inclined to think in terms of voting “ABO” (Anybody But Obama) that they will believe him when he says he wants to spend time focusing on the financial problems confronting this country – particularly if the U.S. government has to provide a bailout of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the rest of the financial community.

He’s hoping they will go so far as to demonize people like David Letterman, who spent a good portion of his late night talk show Wednesday trashing McCain for his actions, particularly since they resulted in McCain skipping out on his scheduled television appearance with Letterman with virtually no warning.

Some people are inclined to believe McCain’s rhetoric, even though another significant portion of the electorate thinks McCain is merely trying to dodge Obama. Those of a “conspiracy theory” mentality will even go so far as to claim that McCain is covering up some sort of illness that makes him incapable of participating in a debate Friday night.

ALL I HAVE to say is that I think McCain is being short-sighted in wanting to pull out of a Friday night debate, and not just because I agree with the Obama campaign rhetoric that says a debate is the perfect chance for the presidential candidates to express their views about what needs to be done to resolve the financial crisis.

What gets to me is that the Friday night debate in Mississippi was supposed to be the one that focuses on foreign policy issues.

That supposedly is the area in which the long-time member of Congress has significant experience over his opponent – who although he has been an elected official for a dozen years now, has only spent four of them in Washington.

A poll commissioned by the New York Times and CBS News found that 23 percent more people think McCain is very knowledgeable about foreign affairs compared to Obama – 45 percent to 22 percent.

BUT PERHAPS McCAIN is more influenced by various polls that showed Obama regaining a lead after a one-week period following the presidential nominating conventions during which public curiosity over vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin caused McCain to have a lead.

The most recent study by the Gallup Organization on Thursday showed the two in a 46 percent tie with each other, with evidence that many people are inclined to blame Republicans for financial problems confronting this country.

Does McCain want to avoid the chance of saying something stupid that would cause Obama to come off as the intelligent one with a vision of the future? Perhaps he thinks that by cutting the number of debates reduces the odds of creating a gaffe that will be forevermore remembered by political scientist geeks.

Of course, some have speculated that McCain’s real intent is to reduce the chance that any debate will take place between the vice presidential hopefuls.

AFTER ALL, THE point is to have all four debates within a 15-day time period. Rescheduling a presidential debate in Mississippi for a few days later could mean there would no longer be time for the Alaska governor to have to confront Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., on the issues.

If that is what the McCain campaign is thinking, I can’t help but believe they are making a mistake.

It’s not that I think much of the intellect of Palin. Or even of her public presentation skills. Unlike Obama who can actually write his own copy for speeches and is a strong influence on their content, Palin is purely a product of the GOP campaign machinery.

But I can’t help but think that the social conservatives who like her blind support for their ideology are going to be so determined to find evidence that Biden is “picking on” Palin that she has already “won” her debate.

ANYBODY WHO DARES suggest otherwise will be demonized as a member of the “East Coast Elite” that is out-of-touch with the portion of the United States whose real desire is to isolate itself from the rest of the world.

Why take away a chance to have a situation where Biden can have his words and actions twisted into a menacing figure? I would think that the Palin appearance is the most important for the GOP sympathizers to have. And as a Democrat, it is the one I would most want to avoid.

-30-

EDITOR’S NOTES: Is John McCain giving up a chance to discuss on national television (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/26/us/politics/26poll.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin) issues in the one area where a significant portion of the U.S. electorate thinks he is more knowledgable?

On the off-chance that both major presidential candidates show up at the University of Mississippi for the first scheduled presidential debate, a local attempts to offer a little bit of (http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2008/sep/23/rebel-yall-a-southern-survival-guide/) advice on how to cope with the locals

Only in cases of highly-competitive political campaigns do the debates have any real significance in influencing the way people vote. Or so says the Gallup Organization, the same (http://www.gallup.com/poll/110674/Presidential-Debates-Rarely-GameChangers.aspx) people who gave us “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Will New Yankee Stadium become the expensive version of New Comiskey Park?

I must admit to paying attention Sunday to the sentimental schlock that took place in the Bronx, when the New York Yankees played their last ballgame in their 85-year-old stadium where many legendary athletic and social events took place.

What intrigues me about the whole concept of the Yankees tearing down their aging stadium and building a new version directly across the street (going so far as to keep the same name – only with a “New” tacked on) is that it sounds so like what our Chicago White Sox did nearly two decades ago.

IS NEW YANKEE Stadium destined to get the same derision that U.S. Cellular Field (which for 12 seasons carried the name New Comiskey Park) gets?

I doubt it, mainly because the Yankees brass will throw a massive hissy fit if anyone dares to badmouth their own fancy building being erected in what some might politely describe as a deteriorating neighborhood.

If the White Sox tried throwing a similar fit in defense of their own park and Armour Square/Bridgeport neighborhoods, they’d be trashed for being too defensive, and certain Cubs-fan pundits would lay on the White Sox criticism even more intensely.

Yet I can’t help but think that the Yankees are on the verge of doing what the White Sox tried to do back in the early 1990s.
New Yankee Stadium won't bring back the character of its predecessor ballpark any better than U.S. Cellular Field retained the feel of what was once on the site of a White Sox parking lot at Bill Veeck Drive. Photographs provided by Library of Congress collection.
BOTH BUILDINGS HAD lengthy histories (Comiskey Park stood for 80 years) of hosting major league baseball events, along with National League Football (Comiskey had the Cardinals, while Yankee had the Giants), Negro league baseball (Comiskey had the old East-West all-star game and the American Giants, while Yankee had the Cubans and Black Yankees).

Both had a history of staging some significant boxing matches and concerts (Comiskey was the scene of the Beatles in Chicago in 1965, unlike Yankee – as the Beatles chose crosstown Shea Stadium when they felt the need to perform in New York).

Now I’m not about to complain that Comiskey didn’t get the same amount of sentiment upon its demise that Yankee Stadium is getting. After all, with the exception of the late 1910s, the World Series was a rare event on Chicago’s South Side.

Thirty-nine World Series at Yankee Stadium, along with 45 years in which post-season baseball was played in the Bronx, adds an aura that no other sports-related building can match.

BUT STILL, THE similarities strike me. Both new stadiums were built (or are being built) in neighborhoods that non-residents would likely never venture into – if not for the desire to go to a ball game.

The White Sox have been blasted in recent years for using their new stadium built in the ghetto as a cash cow – a chance to milk every single dollar possible from their fans.

Already, similar talk is being heard about the New Yankee Stadium, where the growing Dominican population in the South Bronx is unlikely to ever afford the prices the Yankees plan to charge to be allowed to enter the gates and see a game.

New Comiskey gets trashed for having too many private boxes for corporate fans, while the New Yankee is being built so as to make those private boxes a primary seating area. If anything, the fact that fewer seats are being installed in the new Yankee compared to the existing one (about 51,000 seats, compared to 56,000 now) is being seen as a way of keeping the “unwashed masses” from spoiling the view for those more wealthy fans.

AT NEW COMISKEY, the White Sox initially tried to duplicate the concept of the old ballpark by copying the playing field dimensions and installing a center field scoreboard that put on the same lights-and-fireworks display whenever a Sox player hit a home run.

New Yankee plans to make similar gestures to the past by copying the playing field dimensions (although, sadly enough, not the dimensions of the park the way it used to be, when 450-foot fly balls could become routine outs) and the outer walls of the building.

Pseudo-Yankee Stadium will be the same as pseudo-Comiskey, only at a higher pricetag. New York is spending up to $1 billion for its new stadium, while Illinois made sure to stay within a $130 million price tag when it did a new White Sox stadium.

The Yankees made sure to have a strong law enforcement presence on hand for their final games in the old ballpark, so as to ensure that people didn’t try to rip out chairs or signs or sod or any other pieces of the building for a souvenir. They plan to have the ballpark taken apart (rather than demolished, so that the pieces can eventually be sold off to fans – making the old building yet another revenue stream).

THAT IS SO similar to what happened with Comiskey Park, which was literally taken apart all through the 1991 season. White Sox fans had to watch all year from the new park as the old one was gutted, instead of just blown to pieces one sudden day.

The pieces were then salvaged and sold off – so much so that there are many people who can say they own genuine Comiskey Park chairs (my step-mother’s mother actually has one, which is stored away in a garage somewhere) and bricks that the novelty of such items is miniscule.

Perhaps 200 or so years from now when most of those items have been destroyed by the elements and only a couple of pieces remain, then Comiskey will be worth something.

Is this the fate that Yankee Stadium, the building that hosted three papal masses, is destined to suffer?

THERE IS ONE difference, insofar as I can tell, of the way the two ballparks are departing this Earth.

New Yankee Stadium’s plans intend to include a playing field on the site of the old ballpark, which creates the possibility of future generations of youth leagues and other amateur ball clubs having the chance to play baseball on the same site where such ballplayers as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio roamed.

That may wind up getting the New York version of a new stadium more respect than U.S. Cellular, which wound up using the site of Comiskey Park to add to the paid parking lots the ball club maintains for its fans.

Admittedly, many White Sox fans these days make a point of going to the lot and stepping on the spot where home plate was – as a gesture of good luck.

BUT THE REST of the playing field is covered by asphalt and white lines, marking spots where cars can park during the ballgame. I still remember the time my brother and I went to a White Sox game (against the Yankees, I believe) where we parked our car, then noticed we were right on top of the right-field foul line, literally about 90 feet from home plate.

Yankees fans will be able to look at their old field and dream of seeing the spirit of Billy Martin charging in toward home plate to catch an infield pop up because everybody else on the field lost sight of the ball in the sun.

But my brother and I?

It felt that day like we ran over the spirit of Dick Allen while playing first base during that awesome season he had in 1972 where he very nearly single-handedly led the White Sox to a division title.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: A reminiscence of the building where the Chicago White Sox (http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/2008/09/21/2008-09-21_yankee_stadium_closes_doors_but_history_.html) compiled a record of 255-428-3 during eight-plus decades of baseball.

Some memories (http://www.whitesoxinteractive.com/OldComiskey/index.html) of the events that once took place at a parking lot on the northeast corner of 35th Street and Shields Avenue.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

VOTE “NO”: “Con-con” is a con

I must admit that when I received my little blue booklet in the mail on Saturday, I didn’t realize I was holding in my hands evidence of an attempt by the corrupt political hacks of this state to scare we, the people, out of approving a Constitutional Convention to consider making changes to the 38-year-old document.

And now that I look at the booklet after having heard Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn’s accusation that the wording of the question to be placed on the Nov. 4 election ballots is biased, I still don’t see it.

IT’S TOO BAD that Quinn didn’t wait until Sunday to make his latest announcement (that he’s prepared to go to court to challenge the wording of the ballot question). It would have been totally in character for him to hold a weekend news conference so as to get all those real news-starved television broadcasts out to cover him.

Instead, by holding it during the week, he’s going to get the serious-minded people who actually understand the concept of a Constitutional Convention and why it should be considered a radical step, almost a last-resort.

The last thing we should be doing is revising our state’s constitution on a regular basis. As it is, it is embarrassing that our state (which dates back to 1818) went through four different state constitutions before finally coming up with the current version that was approved in December 1970.

That doesn’t mean I have a problem with the issue being up for question in this year’s elections.

WHEN THOSE OF us throughout Illinois go to our polling place to express our support (or disgust) with favorite son Barack Obama’s presidential aspirations, we’re also going to have to decide whether Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., needs to be replaced.

Then, we’ll go through our state legislators, a few county officials (will Anita Alvarez truly become Cook County state’s attorney?) and a few referendum questions that will vary depending on where exactly we live.

Then, our ballots will end with the “con-con” question, which goes as follows:

“In 1988, the electors rejected the call for a constitutional convention, with 75 percent voting against calling a convention and 25 percent voting in favor of calling a convention. If you believe the 1970 Illinois Constitution needs to be revised through the convention profess, vote “YES” on the question of calling a constitutional convention. If you believe that a constitutional convention is not necessary, or that changes can be accomplished by other means, vote “NO” on the calling of a constitutional convention.”

WHEW! THAT’S A mouthful (or should I say a fingerful, since I had to type it out.)

Under our state law, voters have to be given the chance every two decades to decide whether the constitution is so flawed that it needs to be scrapped, and completely rewritten.

If a majority of Illinois voters decide to vote “Yes” to that overly verbose question (I could have written it in half the words), then officials from across the state will gather at a convention, which would try to draft a new document for consideration by the year 2010.

The drafting of a new constitution ought to be a scarce moment in history.

AFTER ALL, IF the existing document is so flawed that it needs to be replaced, then there are some serious problems with our society.

In a sense, it is kind of embarrassing to think that our state’s constitution was created in a post-Apollo 11 mentality – as though the Illinois founders from the early 19th century had nothing worth preserving in terms of their thoughts on the way this state should be governed.

For those who want to argue that things become obsolete, I’d argue that one of the advantages of the U.S. constitution is that it remains from the late-18th century, a testament to the fact that the ideals remain relevant – even if there have been times when our government officials have done a terrible job of implementing them into a daily reality.

If anything, it is those government officials who should be blamed – not the document itself.

I WISH THE people who are so desperately calling for a Constitutional Convention (I can’t stand the term “con con,” it trivializes a significant document) would focus their intention instead on working to defeat the government officials who particularly offend them.

That would be working within the system in a way that would be in complete compliance with “the American way” of doing things.

I say that because I understand many of the people who want a new constitution feel that way because they want to put the concept of “recall elections” into Illinois law. Our state does not now have such special elections, and some people are so determined to be able to dump people from office in mid-term that they now want to rig the rules in their favor.

Will we also get people determined to eliminate the provision of state law that allows for political maps to be drawn by a commission whose tie-breaking member is chosen by a random lottery? I don’t trust the people who argue that computers should draft the maps of legislative and congressional district boundaries randomly, because I wonder if the person who programs the computer is capable of putting his (or her) political bias into the mix.

THAT KIND OF political shortsightedness is why I am skeptical of the need for a Constitutional Convention, even though in theory, the voters could decide in November to have a convention, and the delegates themselves could decide that the existing document is just fine, as-is.

As I read through my blue booklet (published by the Illinois secretary of state’s office), I can’t say I’m terribly swayed by the portion that gives the argument for why there should be a new convention – even though I agree with the idea that the people should be asked to consider this issue every 20 years.

So when I walk into my polling place on Nov. 4 (the recreation room of a Lutheran church in my neighborhood), I’m probably going to vote “No” on the question, along with casting my many other votes.

I’d hope that would put the issue to rest – at least until 2028.

AND FOR THOSE who are upset that the constitution can’t be rewritten to make it easier for them to dump on their political enemies (particularly all those people who can’t stand Rod Blagojevich), I wish they’d put their attention into just trying to find a credible candidate and get him elected.

If they did that, I might very well support them.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Creation of the U.S. constitution brings to mind the image of white men in powdered wigs discussing high-minded principles of democracy. The Illinois constitution’s creation (http://www.ilga.gov/commission/lrb/conent.htm), by comparison, was done by a batch of guys in polyester suits and wide ties (it was the 1970s).

Is a reminder of the previous rejection of a constitutional convention an illegal attempt to distort the results (http://www.sj-r.com/news/x154126448/Quinn-Boland-seek-new-wording-on-con-con-question) of a new plea to redo the state constitution? Or is Patrick Quinn too desperate for publicity?

For those of you who have become incapable of handling the concept of “ink on paper,” here (http://www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/index/constitutionalcon.html) is the official booklet published by the state explaining the “pros” and “cons” of a Constitutional Convention.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Is McCain campaign’s “Chicago” television spot too technical for nation?

Those of us who pay attention to the activity surrounding City Hall and the Statehouse in Springfield knew this ad would come. Republican presidential nominee John McCain wants us to think of his political opponent as just another Chicago hack.

Yet after seeing the campaign advertising spot that the McCain campaign began airing this week, I can’t help but think the “damage” is minimal.

EITHER THAT, OR the McCain people are holding back something. In which case, I’d wonder, “why wait?” They should hit Obama now with everything they have to try to knock him out of the running – unless they secretly want to lose on Nov. 4.

The ad in question attempts to link Obama by association with four political people known to all of us in Chicago.

Following is the text of the ad:

Announcer: “Barack Obama. Born of the corrupt Chicago political machine.”

Obama’s voice: “In terms of my toughness, look, first of all, I come from Chicago.”

GRAPHICS THEN IDENTIFY former Commerce Secretary and mayoral brother William Daley as Obama’s “economic adviser,” political fundraiser convicted on corruption charges Antoin Rezko as Obama’s “money man,” retiring state Senate President Emil Jones as his “political godfather” and Gov. Rod Blagojevich as “his governor, with a legacy of federal and state investigations.”

Announcer: “With friends like that, Obama is not ready to lead.”

Perhaps I’d take this ad more seriously if there was something specific about it, even though I realize that 30 seconds is minimal time and the key to an effective campaign advertisement on television is not to drown out the general theme with a whole lot of details.

The reason I question the point of this ad is that I wonder who outside of the geeky people (such as myself) who pay attention to Chicago politics have ever heard of any of these people?

I DON’T CONSIDER Emil Jones to be a household name in Illinois, let alone across the United States. Rezko and Blagojevich are probably to the people outside of Illinois just a couple of ethnic names that they don’t even try to pronounce correctly.

And while some people might remember Bill Daley as the guy who passed out from heat exhaustion when his cabinet appointment was announced, I wonder if the majority of people in this country will just draw a blank when seeing his face and reading his name?

In short, I wonder if this spot is too technical, requiring people to have too much background knowledge in their minds about the state of Chicago government.

This ad might very well work in downstate Illinois, where the Republican majorities in the 96 counties of this state that resent being affiliated with Chicago could use it to stir up trouble and boost the vote.

THE ONLY PROBLEM with that strategy is that the Chicago vote in support of Obama is going to drown out the rural Illinois vote so much that any extensive use of this spot in downstate Illinois would be perceived as a waste of campaign cash by the McCain campaign.

And as far as getting to people outside of Illinois?

I wonder if most people are just going to see this as a “laundry list” of names of political people they don’t know, and will just move on mentally to the next commercial (probably a beer ad with blonde bikini babes bouncing about).

Now I realize that some people are just going to see the phrase “Chicago politics” and the name “Obama” linked together and will draw a negative connotation from that combination.

THIS AD IS meant to make Obama out to be a political hack (which anyone who has ever dealt with the guy knows is a ridiculous concept). But if that is the sole attempt, then the ad is a waste of campaign cash anyways.

The kind of people who are going to resent the Obama campaign because it supports a candidate from corrupt Chicago (the “City of Sin,” as it was referred to in a re-issue of Jack MacPhaul’s book about the old days of Chicago journalism, “Deadlines and Monkeyshines”) already knew he was from Chicago.

The McCain campaign spending money to remind us of nothing more than the fact that Obama considers himself a Chicagoan (he has lived the bulk of his adult life there, after being born and raised in Honolulu) just stirs up opposition among people who were never going to vote for Obama. I don’t see anyone being swayed by this campaign ad.

They might as well spend money to remind us that Obama is bi-racial. Or at the very least, non-Anglo. (Perhaps that will be the point of the future McCain campaign ads that remind us of the Rev. Wright and his raucous religious rhetoric).

NOW I’M NOT saying it can’t be done to try to bring up remnants of Obama’s record as a local politico (nearly eight years in the state Legislature will create one) and use it in campaign ads.

But they would have to come up with something specific to be tied to Obama’s name.

Thus far, the best that the Republican attack dogs have come up with is that often-repeated claim that he voted “present” 130 times (during an eight-year period when he was asked to consider more than 4,000 bills). When looked at objectively, it is a “nothing” charge.

They wish they could have come up with something on Rezko and Obama, other than to claim that the two men knew each other (Rezko made it a point to know everybody in Chicago politics).

THE SLEAZY DETAILS that came out during his corruption trial caused more problems for Blagojevich than they did for Obama, which means Republican political operatives will be able to haul out the dirt in 2010 (when Blagojevich seeks re-election).

What I am curious to see is the final week of the campaign.

It will be in late October when Rezko is sentenced, and there’s always the chance that something will come out during the sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court that could allow the GOP campaigners to resurrect Obama’s name.

At the very least, I envision a spot that says Obama’s “good political friend and advisor” is now in prison. It would be a cheap shot, but likely contain a more powerful punch than the current “Chicago” campaign ad does.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Barack Obama responded to the McCain “Chicago” campaign ad (http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2008/09/mccain_camp_runs_ad_on_obamas.html) by reminding us that the senator from Arizona was provided $2 million by lobbyist interests who wanted less regulation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – both of which had to be bailed out financially by the federal government.

Democrats put their spin on the “Chicago” (http://progressillinois.com/2008/09/22/chicago-angle) ad, while the Republicans use their favorite newsgathering organization to put their own spin on the spot (http://elections.foxnews.com/2008/09/22/hard-hitting-mccain-ad-links-obama-to-chicago-political-machine/).

If John McCain truly believes that everything about Chicago is inherently corrupt, is he willing (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/09/sarah-palin-m-1.html) to give back any of the $4 million he raised from our city’s residents at a fundraiser two weeks ago?


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Monday, September 22, 2008

Ultimate “New Yawker” backs Chicagoan

If Barack Obama’s campaign got all worked up at the thought of Lindsay Lohan publicly supporting him, I can’t help but wonder how much they shudder at the thought of Woody Allen.

That was my reaction to learning Sunday that the famed film director whose best days professionally are definitely behind him (just like Sammy Sosa) made a point of giving a plug to the Obama presidential campaign.

DURING A FILM festival event promoting Allen’s latest film, the director who will forevermore cause mention of half-wit jokes on account he married his one-time stepdaughter showed himself to be the ultimate Manhattan type with a broad view of the world that manages to overlook Middle America.

He said it would be embarrassing for the United States if the McCain campaign prevails. “It would be a terrible thing if the American public was not moved to vote for him, that they actually preferred more of the same.”

Allen apparently is among those people who noted the positive reaction Obama got during the European portion of his foreign tour earlier this year, and sees that as a plus for the nation.

And there is a significant portion of the American people who agree (the latest Gallup Organization survey released Sunday showed Obama with a 4-point lead – 49 percent to 45 percent) with the view that only the Democratic Party can give us the radical change from the Bush years that this country so desperately needs.

BUT IT ALSO places him directly opposite the isolationists among our society who would just as soon have someone working in the Oval Office who could care less about foreign issues.

Be honest – that’s exactly how George Bush the younger got elected twice. It also would be key to a McCain victory, if it is to happen on Election Day.

Now the point of this piece is not to trash the Obama worldview. Nor is it to say that Allen should shut up. After all, everybody is entitled to their opinion.

The thought of Woody Allen marching into a Manhattan polling place on Nov. 4 to vote for Obama just means he will be in the majority of those who live in New York City, and just about every urban area in the United States.

IT’S JUST MORE evidence that the Republican Party has become the political party of choice for rural America, and has used that organization this decade to assert its influence over its urban brethren.

What I’ve never understood is why I should particularly care, or not care, about what Allen thinks. Just because he once made a classic film like “Manhattan” (although my personal favorite Woody Allen film remains the 1971 farce “Bananas”) doesn’t mean I have to base my vote on his beliefs.

Perhaps I’d feel differently if every Allen film since 1999’s “Sweet and Lowdown” wasn’t inherently dull.

But it is just that I really don’t care about celebrity endorsements. I think political campaigns are too quick to jump on them for a jolt of attention.

AND THAT INCLUDES those entertainers who like to give their public support to the social conservatives, while always claiming that they are neglected in their line of work.

In my mind, the thoughts of Bo Derek (right), Ted Nugent and Chuck Norris are equally as insipid as those of George Clooney or Scarlett Johansson (although it was humorous to read earlier this year of speculation that Johansson (left) and Obama had some sort of e-mail pen pal relationship going – only to learn it consisted of one lone e-mail from Obama to Scarlett).

By that standard, Obama is now “best buds” with a good segment of the population (including myself) who gave out our personal e-mail addresses when we went along with his campaign stunt to “personally inform us” who his vice presidential running mate would be.

The only celebrity-type endorsement that even remotely intrigued me was that of talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey – and even then only because her past track record shows that her “brand” placed on books and magazines and movies and other goods could help to move merchandise.

PEOPLE PAY GOOD money to get the Oprah “seal of approval.” I was curious to see if it would translate to electoral politics, although it appears it hasn’t.

In fact, various studies indicate Oprah herself has taken a hit from a segment of the female population – upset that she backed Obama rather than Hillary Clinton, John McCain or any other political person they were inclined to support.

I realize some people are now going to take Allen’s comments and try to twist them against Obama. I would hope intelligent people realize that the “twist” is just as irrelevant as the original Allen comment.

Will Allen’s belief that an Obama victory will give us a better world be used against him in the future the same way that actor Alec Baldwin will never live down his pre-Election Day comment that he would no longer live in the United States if Bush the younger were elected president?

OF COURSE, BALDWIN never did move out of the country after either of the two Bush electoral victories. Nor should he have had to. It was just his opinion, and didn’t mean much in the greater picture.

Nor does it mean much when Allen says, “it would be a disgrace and a humiliation if Barack Obama does not win.”

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EDITOR’S NOTES: For what it’s worth, Antonio Banderas can’t vote, but he says he hopes (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedishrag/2008/09/woody-allen-say.html) Barack Obama wins the presidential elections, so as to create a better world for his daughter.

Here’s how Allen’s comments played in newspapers and on broadcasts around the world (http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iZfbZD9W5XbWBqd66_Qkx5AjGgHg).

I wonder what Penelope Cruz (http://www.wesleyanargus.com/article/6713) thinks about the upcoming presidential election. Her view is about as relevant as anyone else in professional entertainment.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Cubs must lose so that greedy geeks with egos don’t benefit in any way

The past few days have seen the uprising of a pair of people who were hoping to use the Chicago Cubs’ likely appearance in the baseball playoffs next month as an excuse to enrich themselves, either in the wallet or in their ego.

There’s the landlord of the residential building at Waveland and Kenmore avenues, which is right across the street from the back wall of Wrigley Field’s left field bleachers.

THIS IS THE building that has come to be known for the way in which its rooftop has been painted so that an Anheuser-Busch ad for “Budweiser” brand beer is visible to the roughly 40,000 people crammed into the stands for Cubs’ games.

Then, there’s the Rev. James Meeks, who is planning his latest protest to promote the concept of inner-city kids getting cheated when it comes to the quality of their educations. He’s talking about having a few thousand kids in tacky orange t-shirts create a ring around the ballpark on the day of Game 1 of the first round of the National League playoffs.

As he envisions it, all those network broadcasters on hand to witness the Cubs fizzle out in the playoffs yet again will wonder publicly about what is going on, and will promote his cause on the air during a national sports broadcast. Packed crowds at Wrigley Field, such as this 1930 Opening Day throng, are the potential audience for a pair of people who want to either make more money or feed their egos with various stunts tied to potential Cubs playoffs baseball. That building in the background is the one that now has a tacky "Budweiser" ad painted on its roof. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

I’m not sure which of these two annoys me more.

THE REV. MEEKS (also a senator from the Roseland neighborhood) could take the prize because he’s trying to use children to advance his cause (and bloat his own egotistical sense of self-importance).

But the property owner at 3701 N. Kenmore Ave. is so blatantly tacky in his desire to make money off a Cubs’ appearance in the playoffs, that I literally cheered when I learned a Cook County judge did the right thing in ordering the landlord to put an end to his “scheme.”

What is at stake is that the “Budweiser” ad has become a part of that outfield backdrop that many think gives the Cubs’ antique stadium its unique charm. So the landlord was looking for an excuse to put the rooftop up for sale to the highest bidder.

Either Anheuser-Busch would have to cough up a few more bucks to keep their spot (which turns up on national television just about every time a home run – or even a cheap fly ball – is hit to left field), or some other company would come in and offer bigger bucks.

THE LANDLORD TRIED claiming that a rent payment was missed, thereby justifying him covering his roof with a brown tarpaulin, which prevented the ad from showing up (with the exception of a little sliver of white lettering that allowed us to see the bottom of the “ud” in “Budweiser.”

But Judge Martin S. Agrin on Friday issued a restraining order against the landlord that allows Anheuser-Busch’s ad to be exposed to the public once again.

The order would indicate there is the possibility that Anheuser-Busch was never properly informed that their rent payment was missed. One factor involved in the case is that the building was recently sold, and this is a new landlord who probably does not feel like waiting for a lease agreement to expire before getting a crack at negotiating a new advertising rate on his property.

By then, the Cubs could stink once again, and any windfall from having the ad seen on national television would be lost.

BUT WHILE COLD cash motivated one person wanting to leech off the Cubs, ego is at stake in the other.

Rev. Meeks told a gathering this week at the Union League Club of his plan to use Cubs playoff baseball as an opportunity for an attention-getting stunt.

He literally hopes he can get Tim McCarver or Joe Buck to quit talking baseball for a few minutes and start speculating on the chances of improving the quality of public education programs in Illinois.

Think I’m kidding? He told a gathering in Chicago, “We want the Goodyear blimp shot.”

PERHAPS IN HIS wildest dreams, he thinks he can get Jeanne Zelasko to do one of her silly little rhymes about schools, instead of ballplayers.

I can’t help but think that the Reverend’s recent stunt on the North Shore has gone to his head. Getting some sympathetic attention from the New Trier officials when he brought inner-city kids to visit the suburban schools may have made him think everybody cares about his cause.

The sad thing is, they do not.

I couldn’t help but notice the amount of nasty attention Meeks got for going to the suburbs. But trying to stand in the way of Cubs’ fans who want to enter the ballpark to watch a ballgame (particularly a playoff game where the cheapest of seats go for over $100 per seat)?

I CAN’T HELP but think those Cubs fans would treat a White Sox fan with greater respect than they would a kid who wants to “talk politics” (which is the way they view anyone who thinks ERA means anything other than Earned Run Average).

Would the reverend literally be adding to the congestion of the Lakeview neighborhood on a playoff game day? Would he be placing children in the path of a mob?

Does the reverend need to get a grip on reality? There’s a good chance that baseball fans would not only ignore his issue, they also would gain a negative connotation to whatever he says. Trying to turn baseball into a political issue is never going to work.

So reason Number 1 that I do not want the Chicago Cubs doing anything of significance in the playoffs is because, quite frankly, I can’t stand the Chicago Cubs – or anything having to do with the National League.

BUT REASON NUMBER 1-A is that having the Cubs in the playoffs creates a forum for these greedy or egotistical people to come out and try to tout their issues.

If it were at all possible, I’d be rooting for the Cubs to fail to make it to the playoffs, although I realize that they have come so close that it would take an athletic miracle of historic proportions for them to fall short now.

So what I want now is for a Cubs playoff performance that is so mediocre that no one particularly cares about paying attention to it. That would result in minimal benefit to the Rev. Meeks, or the landlord who already is able to charge prime rent to his tenants for giving them the opportunity to say they live so close to Wrigley Field.

And if they gain minimal attention, it means the true focus of the baseball playoffs in Chicago can go back to where it belongs (the South Side, I can only hope).

AS AN ANHEUSER-Busch spokesman said following Friday’s court ruling, “We are glad the focus can now return to where it rightfully belongs, the game.”

You know something is out of whack with an issue when a beer brewer winds up being the voice of reason.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: A rooftop advertisement for “Budweiser” beer that has been across the street (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2008/09/judge-to-rule-on-budweiser-sign-at-wrigley.html) from Wrigley Field for 18 seasons will be restored this weekend.

From New Trier to Wrigleyville, who’s to say where the Rev. James Meeks will use for his (http://www.suntimes.com/news/education/1172950,CST-NWS-meeks19web.article) next stunt to try to garner attention to the cause of improved public education for inner-city youth.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Palin e-mail break-in a sad saga

I would have been inclined to be sympathetic with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin for getting her personal e-mail account hacked – until I learned that one reason the Alaska governor uses her personal e-mail for state business is to get around requirements that her official government communications be made public.

Basically, all e-mails she sends via her state account become public record under the state’s Open Records Act.

IT IS WHY the political dirt-diggers have been trying to get to her official e-mails, in hope they can find something incriminating that could be used against her during the next seven weeks prior to the Nov. 4 elections.

If anyone found anything that seriously reeked of criminal activity, such official state messages could be used as evidence in future criminal proceedings. Even without charges, tidbits written in the informal manner most people use when knocking out e-mail messages would be embarrassing (particularly if she’s one of those people who uses cutesy spellings or ridiculous symbols in her messages).

But if Palin is using a private service to send out state government messages, that is a deliberate attempt to evade detection.

There’s a reason public officials should not be using Yahoo! to send their official messages, and not just because Yahoo!’s security measures are less than ideal for government purposes.

GOVERNMENTS GO TO some expense to create their own personal e-mail systems (along with their websites). Because such communications are ultimately “the people’s business,” it is not ridiculous to expect that such information ultimately be accessible to the public.

There’s also the fact that it is important to maintain a certain separation between government and campaign business. Palin herself is aware of that fact. Seriously, I couldn’t help but notice that several portions of the Alaska government website contains the following disclosure:

“Alaska law prohibits the use of state equipment or resources for campaign or partisan political purposes. Please do not send any messages concerning campaign or partisan political activities to this e-mail address or any other state of Alaska office. Also, please do not send donations, contributions or written correspondence to the state Office of the Governor or any other state of Alaska office. Information about elections and candidates can be found by calling, writing or e-mailing a campaign office for that particular candidate.”

Does using a personal account for government business indicate a willingness to use that same account for campaign business? Do we literally have the chance that government and campaign business are being commingled in an improper manner?

I DON’T HAVE evidence that she is doing any such thing, but it creates the appearance of impropriety.

It certainly becomes a question to be asked – Are Alaska taxpayers being asked to provide support for Palin and her attempt to prop up the campaign of Republican John McCain at a time when the bid of Democratic opponent Barack Obama was threatening to blow it away?

She certainly benefits because, even if the Republicans lose the Nov. 4 elections, Palin now becomes a nationally known political figure. Alaska will certainly get more attention in the future with Palin in office for at least two more years in her current term.

There is a reason why people who use e-mail for the delivery of significant correspondence need to maintain all their different accounts, and why it is such a “big deal” when people spend their time at work goofing off by sending personal e-mail messages on their employee e-mail accounts.

I’D HATE TO think Palin didn’t realize that. If she was really that clueless, then she truly is unfit to be in the line of succession to working in the Oval Office.

But since I don’t think she was truly that clueless, this whole issue makes me think Palin is just one of those people who thinks that she has a right to do government business in private.

Isn’t that the mentality we have had too much of during the past seven-and-a-half years? Is this really what McCain envisions when he claims he will shake up the D.C. establishment? It’s no wonder that a recent Gallup Organization poll showed that only 3 percent of people who want serious change in government say they will vote for McCain (compared to 37 percent for Obama).

Not that I’m in defense of the wormy people who hacked their way into her e-mail account. I have never understood what it is about “hacking” that causes some people to get such a perverse thrill from it – aside from the fact they have too much free time on their hands.

I WON’T BE the least bit offended if the Secret Service and the FBI crack down on somebody, even though I have noticed some Internet comment section pundits seem to think this whole thing was a teenage prank that should be treated as such.

It becomes a pain in the derriere to have to reset an e-mail account because some twit decided to mess with you. I know from experience, since someone a couple of months ago managed to mess with the e-mail account associated with this weblog and its sister site, The South Chicagoan.

That was probably someone’s idea of a prank. It was really a waste of time.

And there actually is one individual whom I do feel sorry for in all of this – Bristol Palin.

SHE’S THE 17-year-old daughter of the Alaska governor who has had her teenage pregnancy turned into a focus of national gossip. Now, because the person who hacked their way into Sarah Palin’s e-mail also got access to her account lists of e-mails and telephone numbers, Bristol’s cellular telephone number was briefly made public.

Just imagine how many horny teenage boys saw that number, mentally inserted the words “For a good time, call …” in front of the number, then called. The hassle and embarrassment she went through until having that number changed is disgusting.

But perhaps it was appropriate to think of that piece of information as being the equivalent of a piece of bathroom graffiti. There are times when the content of sites available only via computer screens, and the ways of the Internet in general, seems like it belongs in the toilet.

Now, if only we could flush.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Sarah Palin inadvertently gave away in her Republican convention speech (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/sns-ap-palin-hacked,0,2207794.story) the personal details that enabled someone to change Palin’s Yahoo! e-mail account password.

Want to contact the Alaska governor? Here (http://gov.state.ak.us/govmail.php) is the form allowing one to send an e-mail message to her official state government account.

The same methods used to hack their way into Palin’s personal e-mail account could just as easily be used (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13505_3-10045407-16.html) to get into your account. Have a nice day!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rural judge gets chance to revive soon-to-be-shuttered prison in Pontiac

The on-going political brawl over who has control of Illinois’ system of prisons has now worked its way to the courtroom, which means a judge is going to have to decide politically partisan questions in a way that will impact all of the state’s taxpayers.

At stake is the desire of Gov. Rod Blagojevich to close one of the state’s maximum-security prisons. He says such a measure is a necessity to save the state money (about $58 million per year) it does not have.

YET PEOPLE IN the communities that have the prisons have always argued their towns rely on the maximum-security correctional centers as a significant part of their economy. And the labor union that represents prison guards (along with other state government employees) says a governor does not have the right to arbitrarily whack so many jobs.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees went so far Wednesday as to file a lawsuit against Illinois state government, arguing that since the General Assembly specifically set aside money for the maintenance of a prison, it would be an illegal use of funds for Blagojevich to try to take that money and spend it on anything else within state government.

The lawsuit was filed in Pontiac, where a Livingston County judge will issue a first ruling in the case. The locale was chosen because Blagojevich (for now, at least) has targeted the Pontiac Correctional Center as the prison to be closed.

There’s no way a local judge who wants to get re-elected will issue any ruling that will be perceived as costing local voters (yes, prison guards vote) their jobs.

THIS IS A case that is going to be decided in the appeals courts and the Illinois Supreme Court in Springfield, Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it wind up in Washington with the Supreme Court of the United States having final say as to whether a governor can close a prison as a cost-cutting measure.

The problem with viewing this issue as purely a prison closing is that it isn’t.

The Illinois Department of Corrections earlier this decade oversaw construction of a new maximum-security prison in Thomson, Ill., a tiny rural town in northwestern Illinois to whom Galena and Dubuque, Iowa, are the closest “big” cities.

But shortages in state funding have prevented that facility from ever opening.

UNDER THE ONGOING Blagojevich proposal, that modern prison facility with all the security amenities expected of a 21st Century facility would be opened, with inmates being shifted from the to-be shuttered prison.

Technically, the number of prison guards and other prison employees on the state payroll would remain roughly the same, because the new facility in Thomson would have to go on a hiring binge.

But the people of Pontiac don’t feel like they should suffer an economic hit, even if Thomson would gain a boon unlike anything they ever envisioned as possible.

If this were just a matter of a downstate town being upset that they were losing something, I wouldn’t care much.

BUT THE SIMPLE fact is that this issue has always been political.

When Blagojevich originally proposed closing a state prison (combined with the long-overdue opening of Thomson) over a year ago, the prison he chose was the historic Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet.

If anything, that community could have afforded the economic loss from fewer prison guard jobs. Being at the edge of the Chicago area and having something of an economy of its own, it was not as dependent on a prison’s existence in its boundaries as any of the other rural towns that host Illinois prison facilities.

But Joliet-area political officials used their pull in the General Assembly, and eventually pressured Blagojevich to back off of his talk of closing down the century-old prison (which would be prohibitively expensive to renovate into a facility approximating what will someday exist in Thomson).

THAT IS WHEN the Pontiac Correctional Center got put on the political hit list.

With Republican legislators representing the area (and much of central Illinois), it is not like Blagojevich was offending anyone who was ever his political ally (unlike the Democratic organization that has pull in Will County).

And it’s not like Livingston County (which consists of Pontiac and little else along Interstate 55) can put on the kind of pressure Will County could to get the governor to change his mind once again.

So this is a case where Chicago-area political people were able to use their political muscle to force a governor to back off. Blagojevich had better hope that appeals courts do not give Livingston County the same influence – or else he’s going to look foolish.

ONE ARGUMENT MADE in the past by prison monitoring groups is that closing any facility is shortsighted. They cite crowded prison conditions in Illinois, and note the facility in Thomson was designed and built to supplement the existing maximum-security prisons – not replace them.

They say that Blagojevich’s attempt to save a few bucks would make worse a prison-crowding problem that exists in Illinois.

The political observer in me does get one chuckle out of the ongoing mess.

Part of the maneuvering that caused Blagojevich earlier this year to give up on closing Stateville was a promise from Will County legislators to oppose any talk of pushing for changes in state law to allow for recall elections for Illinois governors.

KNOWING THAT BACKING away from closing Stateville would reduce the issue of recall from a serious issue to one talked about only by political cranks was good motivation, and legislators from the Pontiac area actually voted in support of their Will County’s allies.

But in voting for the measure to protect Stateville, they wound up shifting the fight down to their home ground, since there aren’t an endless supply of maximum-security prisons that could be closed. “If not Stateville, then Pontiac,”is the logic running through Blagojevich’s mind.

Will any token Democrats running for office in Livingston County have the nerve to accuse the Republican incumbents for voting in support of a measure that will ultimately cost their hometown one of its major employers?

It is an absurd accusation, but it is no more ridiculous than a lot of the rhetoric that comes out of political campaigns prior to Election Day.

AND WHAT HAPPENS if the people of Livingston County are somehow able to protect their prison, getting some sort of court ruling that forces Blagojevich to back off of closing Pontiac?

Then the people of Chester, Ill., and surrounding towns in Southern Illinois would be well advised to start preparing for the political fight now, for their Menard Correctional Center would be the only maximum-security prison left that Blagojevich could even think of closing.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois Department of Corrections, along with the state comptroller and treasurer’s office, all were named in the lawsuit (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-il-pontiacprison-law,0,3847338.story) filed Wednesday by the labor union that represents prison guards.

Illinois prisons designed to hold roughly 34,000 inmates are being asked to confine about (http://www.pontiacdailyleader.com/news/x1366183620) 45,000 people convicted of various crimes.

Some think the Illinois General Assembly should intervene to save the Pontiac Correctional Center (http://www.pjstar.com/opinions/x2070802162/Our-View-Pontiac-deserves-fair-vote) from being closed. Yet that could wind up interjecting all kinds of regional politics into the issue.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

C-number inmates not a new issue

A series of inmates who by now have spent at least three decades of their lives in Illinois’ prison system say the Illinois Prisoner Review Board is so obsessed with punishment that it ignores rehabilitation.

That was the stance taken earlier this week by the John Howard Association, the Chicago-based group that monitors prison conditions and attempts to ensure that the basic human rights of inmates are observed.

SPECIFICALLY, THE ASSOCIATION spoke out once again on behalf of “C number” inmates – which refers to inmates who were sentenced prior to 1978. Their Corrections Department case numbers all start with the letter “C,” hence the nickname.

The significance of that date is that was the year the General Assembly and then-Gov. James R. Thompson approved a new sentencing scheme for people convicted of crimes. Judges now hand down specific sentences.

Previously, judges would set a range of time, and ultimately it was up to the parole board (which has morphed into the Prisoner Review Board) to decide when an inmate should be released from prison.

The change was made out of a belief back then that setting specific sentences was more reasonable, since it let an inmate know exactly how long he could expect to spend in prison.

UNDER THE OLD system, an inmate’s fate was completely out of his control, and he had no clue what would happen to him.

The result is that some inmates kept perpetually coming up for parole, only to be turned down. Take the case of Richard Speck, who was convicted of the 1966 slayings of eight student nurses at South Chicago Community Hospital.

After his death sentence was overturned in 1972 (all death sentences everywhere in the United States were overturned that year by the Supreme Court), Speck was re-sentenced to eight consecutive prison terms of between 50 and 150 years each.

He kept coming up for parole every few years, until he finally died at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet – having never convinced a parole board of his ability to rehabilitate himself.

BUT SPECK WAS not the only case. Although inmates since 1978 have been sentenced to specific terms (with set rules by which specific amounts of time can be knocked off the sentence for “good behavior”), the Prisoner Review Board continues to hear these old cases – for the inmates were sentenced under different rules.

Although some inmates have managed to win their parole throughout the years and others have died off, the John Howard Association estimates there are roughly 300 inmates still in the Illinois Department of Corrections system who have to go through the old system.

The problem, as inmate rights activists see it, is that there are two systems, and the old system has turned out to be unfair to the inmates, since there are many cases of the older inmates who wound up doing significantly more time in prison for the same crime as an inmate sentenced under the modern way of doing things.

Now like I said, this is not a new issue. Although the John Howard Association held a press conference earlier this week to stress the concept that these inmates have spent so much of their lives in prison that they are old and incapable of posing a threat any longer to the general public, this is not a new issue.

SO I HAVE heard the Corrections Department note that some of these older “C number” inmates were given a choice back when the system was changed in 1978 to be re-sentenced to a specific prison term – rather than the indeterminate method that was once common in prison systems across the country.

These older inmates chose to keep their existing sentences, perhaps out of a belief they could persuade a parole board to let them free somewhere closer to the minimum end of their prison term.

By that logic, these inmates chose their own fate, and should not be allowed to have the rules changed just for them. It is the same logic used whenever people argue on behalf of William Heirens (convicted of three North Side slayings in 1946, including that of a 6-year-old girl), who remains in prison to this day and has shown an impressive record of achievements while in prison.

Yet his detractors argue that he agreed to a life prison term to avoid execution, and ought to accept the fact that he will die in prison.

THE PROBLEM BECOMES that the Prisoner Review Board (which argues that it gets criticized by both liberal- and conservative-oriented activist groups, so it must be doing something right) has developed the mentality that it exists to keep people in prison.

Perhaps it is because it spends most of its time these days hearing the worst criminal cases in the Corrections Department system (among its duties, the review board makes recommendations to a governor whenever a condemned inmate appeals for clemency) that it is not suited to deal with many of these remaining old cases, which have resulted in some inmates doing decades in prison for crimes that comparable younger inmates did a few years.

So what is likely to happen? I won’t be surprised if the answer turns out to be, “nothing much.”

Like I said before, this is not a new issue. I remember hearing these same activists making their arguments a decade ago to a lack of interest among state officials.

THEIR ARGUMENTS THAT these are “model inmates” who have taken opportunities to educate themselves in prison and who no longer pose a threat to society because of their age and/or physical condition were ignored back then.

For the bottom line is that too many prosecutors are willing to take the view of DuPage County State’s Attorney Joseph Birkett, who told the Peoria Journal-Star newspaper that these inmates committed heinous crimes and deserve to remain in prison. “It’s not the age that defines who a person still is. It’s their character, what makes them tick.”

With that attitude, this is an issue that will only go away when many of these inmates wind up dying in prison. And for those who think somehow that paying attention to their situation is misguided, all I’d have to say is that it somehow seems to be a waste of state resources to continue to incarcerate these inmates – especially since many now have to be kept in special facilities to accommodate their deteriorating health conditions.

All this is paid for on your (and mine) tax dollars.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Inmate rights activists are once again trying to stir up support for prisoners (http://www.pjstar.com/homepage/x332634564/Prison-boards-parole-rate-criticized) sentenced under old guidelines that have resulted in them spending significant portions of their lives in Illinois’ prison system.

The John Howard Association has created a special project within its group to address the concerns (http://cnumbercampaign.org/ourcause.html) of “C-number” inmates.