Saturday, November 29, 2008

Much of Obama memorabilia on the market these days is not worth the price

I’m trying to figure out what kind of person is going to shell out good money for dishes with Barack Obama’s picture emblazoned on them.

Or what about those Obama coins being sold through television advertising? How many people are going to spend legitimate money for phony currency?

THEN, THERE’S ALL the other assorted junk being peddled these days with the Obama visage. Where does it stop?

Now, I’m not talking about the merchandise being sold by the Obama campaign, which mostly consists of campaign buttons and assorted sport shirts and t-shirts, all of which have the campaign logo – the red, white and blue “O” that sort of resembles a rising sun.

We’re talking about all the petty junk that’s being sold to suckers with assorted rhetoric implying that they’re buying “limited edition” items that will have monetary (as well as historic) value in future years.

Both sides of a campaign mailing that wants us to think Barack Obama kills children. It is one mailing I will keep as an example of how ugly Campaign '08 became at times. Illustration provided by
How many people are buying this junk thinking they’re ensuring they will have an inheritance to pass along to their children (or something they can sell for “big bucks” in their graying years)?

NOW I WILL be the first to admit I am intrigued by the electoral process, and find displays of old memorabilia from past campaigns to be interesting. (Yes, I probably do need to get a life).

But it amazes me that people think this mass-produced pap is worth buying, or would ever have value. I can’t envision spending $34.95 (plus $5.99, shipping and handling) for an Obama dish that has (in my opinion) a horrid likeness of the man.

There’s also the fact that for anything like memorabilia to accumulate value, it has to be fairly old and scarce. The mass-produced stuff is never going to fall into that category.

In fact, I’m inclined to think that the Obama items that people received free-of-charge are the ones most likely to have some value, because they have the chance to be scarce and unique.

WHEN IT COMES to the Obama ’08 saga, there are three items I am going to hang on. Two are mailings put out by political people meant to influence the way people vote.

One is a mailing by the Illinois Democratic Party that is a glossy, multi-colored “palm card” featuring the Obama campaign logo, and informing us potential voters who they should vote for in the Feb. 5 primary.

The other is a glossy card printed in brown and white tones by the Black Republican political action committee, which tells us would-be voters that not only are one of 10 black babies aborted, it tells us, “That’s just fine with Barack Obama.”

Both of these items catch my attention because they show the tone of the campaign. It will be possible for some future generation to pick up these items (so long as they don’t manage to get destroyed while in my possession) and get a sense of the degree to which certain people supported Obama while others opposed him with hostile rhetoric.

THOSE, ALONG WITH some Obama items I have from his pre-presidential campaigns, are the things that might stand some chance of growing in value someday.

By comparison, the third item I have says nothing.

It is a roughly 7-inch-tall punching bag designed to sit on a desktop (there’s also a six-foot-tall version) that depicts “Bam Bam Obama.” It’s cute and colorful (and sits about five inches from my laptop).

It’s good for a quick chuckle when my mind gets hung up on how to phrase a thought while writing news or commentary.

BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, I only paid $2 for it – which is about $1.95 more than it will ever be worth.

At least I didn’t get ripped off as badly as people who are shelling out money for those plates (whose ads I see every time I turn on the television or pick up the newspaper)!

While I realize that some people (including my step-mother’s mother) like to collect plates (she keeps them on special wall-hangers in her dining area), there usually is a theme to those plates.

The most common one is to pick up a souvenir plate from a gift shop whenever someone happens to travel somewhere. The plates become a record, of sort, of places they have traveled to.

HOW DOES AN Obama plate fit into such a theme? For that matter, what kind of theme could an Obama plate ever fit into?

I can’t envision anyone would ever eat off such a plate, although I once stumbled across a website written by one of “those people” who is determined to believe Obama is a “Socialist” who said he’d never punish his cat by making it eat off an Obama plate.

If one really wants some sort of useless item for an Obama souvenir, I recommend a postage stamp. Admittedly, Obama won’t be eligible to appear on a U.S. stamp until at least one full year after he dies. But the African nations of Liberia and Chad beat his father’s homeland of Kenya to the punch, issuing an official stamp for sending mail within their boundaries. Those might wind up being some of the most intriguing Obama memorabilia to exist, even though most of them will wind up being saved by collectors - rather than ever being used to mail a letter.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Denver was a mecca for people wishing to buy all kinds of tacky items ( depicting Barack Obama’s picture.

Some people are still so bitter about the Election Day results that they are taking it out on the ( mass-produced, overpriced attempts at memorabilia.

Stamp collectors can get into the whole Obama-mania if they’re willing to purchase stamps ( from African nations.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Shaws used local government to build allies, amass their political influence

One-time House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill is remembered among political geeks for the saying, “All politics is local.” And if ever there was anyone who took that saying to heart, it was the brothers Shaw of the far South Side and, later, its surrounding suburbs.

There was once a time when Bob and Bill Shaw threatened to be some of the most politically powerful twins anywhere in this country. Bob was an alderman from the Roseland neighborhood, while Bill represented the neighborhood in Springfield – both in the Illinois House and later the state Senate (until 2002).

THAT ERA IS definitely over, now that Bill has succumbed to colon cancer earlier this week. He was 71, and is survived by, among others, brother Bob.

But in my mind, what made the Shaws unique was that they sensed the changing demographics of the Chicago area, particularly in the early 1990s when many south suburban towns that once were lower-middle class white changed to majority African-American populations.

Rather than feeling hemmed in by their existing neighborhoods and the need to continue to live within their respective wards or legislative districts, they moved. They left city life in a decaying Roseland neighborhood for the suburbs.

Bob Shaw accommodated no longer being a city resident by giving up a City Council seat for a post on the Cook County Board.

HIS TWIN BROTHER merely shifted over from a city-based Illinois House seat to a state Senate seat covering both city and suburban territory. He paired that post with his election in 1997 as mayor of Dolton – a position he continued to hold to the present day.

When the Shaws went suburban, they had hopes of bringing their Chicago political skills to the suburbs to organize local officials into a series of allies who would make them the two big political powerbrokers of south suburban Cook County.

They definitely saw themselves as a political pair. I remember Bob once telling me during a visit to the Statehouse Springfield to help his brother gain support for education-related legislation, “I’m watching his back, the way he’d watch mine.”

They never became the county-wide powerbrokers that they dreamed of being, in large part because around the same time that the Shaws went suburban, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had his son, Jesse Jr., get elected to a seat in Congress that represented the far South Side and surrounding suburbs.

BASICALLY, POLITICAL POWER in southern Cook County during the 1990s became a squabble between the Shaws and the Jacksons. There were many local elections that had their significance in that they were between candidates who were allies with Shaw and allies of Jackson.

One of Jackson’s perennial opponents for his seat in Congress in recent elections has been the Rev. Anthony Williams – a Shaw brothers protégé from Robbins who usually campaigns on the theme that Jesse Jr. has “lost touch” with the reality of inner-city and suburban black life. If one had asked the Shaws, they would have given the same answer.

Insofar as a lasting legacy, many will argue the Jacksons won.

With Bill Shaw now gone and Bob’s political glory in the past, it falls short of Jesse Jr., who has a semi-legitimate chance of moving up to the U.S. Senate (even though Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday verbally touted the chances of another member of Congress – Danny Davis – for the post).

WHEN IT CAME to the public perception among local voters, the Jacksons always came out ahead based on the national glamour/notoriety of the reverend’s lengthy record as a civil rights leader. Jesse Jr. was the guy who would get the glory in the national press, with the Shaws usually coming off as petty, small-minded people who couldn’t see beyond their own immediate neighborhood concerns.

But that would be an inaccurate way of looking at the Shaws, who if anything were guilty of taking Tip O’Neill’s advice literally.

They built up influence by using their skills to get local trustees elected to village boards throughout the area surrounding Dolton. And within Dolton, Bill Shaw was a political boss with the same control that some people like to remember Dick Daley as having in the old days in Chicago proper.

I still remember when Dolton politics got its moment in the Chicago-area mindset, when critics claimed that Dolton police department credentials (including those stinkin’ badges) were given out to Shaw allies with criminal records and to family members and other friends.

BUT DESPITE THE people who want to believe that Bill Shaw was running some sort of criminal operation in Dolton, nothing illegal was ever proven. In fact, much of the criticism tended to come from people who remembered the old days of Dolton as a white-majority town (rather than its current population of 82.4 percent African-American people).

And in the Legislature (where Bill Shaw did double duty for six years), he is remembered for measures to require increased attention to the contributions of African-American people in the teaching of history in public schools.

So in figuring the legacy of the Shaw brothers (and one has to consider them as a team, watching each others’ backs), it will live on because there are still officials on village boards and park districts and school boards who control local concerns of interest to many people who owe their initial election to Bill and Bob.

Jackson may have gotten the national glory, but the Shaws for a time had the actual Chicago-style political power.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Here’s hoping the Shaw family and friends have a happier Christmas holiday than (,shaw-dies112608.article) they did for Thanksgiving.

Both Bob and Bill Shaw were ultimately replaced on the Cook County Board and in the ( Illinois Senate respectively by challengers allied with the Jackson family.

Clues as to just what the Shaws and Jacksons thought of each other can be found in this newspaper account ( that Jesse Jackson Jr. made a point of distributing on the Internet.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What is going through Durbin’s mind when it comes to the fate of George Ryan?

We’re going to learn in the near future who has more influence with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. – an elderly woman who misses her husband, or an angry mob that likely will convene if the senator shows any compassion for the woman.

If we trust the reporting of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Sneed, Durbin first became inspired to consider taking action on behalf of former Gov. George Ryan after sitting with his spouse, Lura Lynn, at a luncheon earlier this year only to hear about how she is struggling with her husband’s incarceration at the minimum-security work camp that is part of the maximum-security Terre Haute Correctional Center.

SHE MUST HAVE made an impression, because the fate of George Ryan has been bouncing around in his head ever since. Durbin admitted earlier this week that he is considering asking outgoing President George Bush to grant a commutation of sentence to Ryan, who has served just over 1 year of the 6 ½-year prison term he received for assorted government corruption charges related to his time as Illinois secretary of state.

But Durbin went so far as to concede that he hasn’t actually done anything yet – for good reason.

The topic of George Ryan does not bring out rational thought in anyone. And the thought that someone might show compassion to the 74-year-old man with health issues already has some people angered.

While I’ll be the first to admit that Internet surveys are pretty much worthless, the Chicago Tribune had one on Wednesday that had people opposed to sympathy for Ryan by a 4-1 ratio. A Chicago Sun-Times poll had a similar ratio of Ryan-haters overwhelming people who want to think more rationally about the former governor.

OF COURSE, I can’t help but wonder how many of those people were inspired into feeling disgusting thoughts by looking at the Sun-Times’ front page on Wednesday with it’s double-stacked banner headline reading, “Bring George Home for Christmas” atop a full-color photograph of Ryan and Lura Lynn back in happier days in front of a decorated Christmas tree at the Executive Mansion in Springfield.

I’m sure that some people took one look at the picture, thought to themselves, “How Dare He Ever Be Happy!,” and went to vote “no” for a commutation of sentence (which is not a pardon), before then writing a vehement comment or two on somebody’s web site.

Reading such comments has reinforced my belief that the only way some people will be happy is if they learn someday that George Ryan was killed in some sort of prison brawl.

Sorry, but that is sick. And the fact that such a thought process motivates much of the opposition to Ryan is a good part of why I still believe commutation would not be an outrageous act.

AFTER ALL, COMMUTATION merely says that he has served enough of his prison sentence. It does not, in any way, ease the stigma of his criminal conviction – which is likely to hang around Ryan’s neck for what is left of his life, considering that every appeals court has rejected his plea for a new trial.

The key to understanding the concept of presidential pardons and commutations is to remember that President Bush can use whatever criteria he wants to determine who is worthy of his sympathy.

Considering that Bush has issued far fewer pardons during his presidential terms than other recent presidents, it is a safe bet to say that the outgoing president is not going to be inclined to feel much of a need to do anything.

When combined with the fact that Ryan’s acts as Illinois governor related to the death penalty caused embarrassment for death penalty proponents and social conservatives who felt betrayed by someone they think should have been on their side of the equation, I’m convinced that it is a complete long-shot to think that George Bush will do anything for George Ryan.

IN THE END, the fact that Lura Lynn Ryan got a Republican operative to hand-deliver a letter from her directly to Bush (if one believes Mike Sneed’s reporting) might not mean much.

Bush will have his own pardon scandal in his final days in office when he uses his federal power of forgiveness to benefit his political friends. The last thing he’s going to want is to take on the stigma of showing compassion to George Ryan.

So it also won’t shock me if Dick Durbin ultimately decides not to take any formal action in support of George Ryan. Word that he was even considering it will be used as rhetorical ammunition against him in the future by the most rabid of conservatives. Actually taking action for Ryan will increase the number of people who will bad-mouth him.

Which is a shame, because it has never been much of a secret that I continue to have some respect for the government legacy of George Ryan, who was one of those old-school political people who was willing to put aside partisan concerns if it meant taking action toward a specific goal.

IN TODAY’S ERA of partisan politics run amok, that is considered a bad thing, almost as if one is selling out his personal beliefs by being willing to listen to “the other side.”

If it sounds like I think a bit of compassion for a 74-year-old man who has already lost just about everything he worked to achieve in life, that would be accurate – even if it puts the Chicago Argus in opposition to the official editorial stances of both of Chicago’s major metro newspapers.

Both think Bush ought to ignore any plea on Ryan’s behalf. He probably will, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.


EDITOR’S NOTES: About the only difference between now and back when the Supreme Court refused to hear George Ryan’s appeal is that Dick Durbin has managed ( to get himself involved in the affair.

The people of Ryan’s hometown of Kankakee seem to want Ryan back in their midst, rather than in ( a prison in western Indiana.

A sampling of ( the vociferous comments felt by some people toward Ryan’s plight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why is Washington to be remembered?

We, the people of the city of Chicago, have been living in the Age of Daley (the younger) for so long that we literally have people who are legally adults to whom Harold Washington is just a line in the history books – he was never a living, breathing human being.

There are others of a slightly older generation to whom the two Daleys have dominated their political perception, and the fact that there was once an interlude with people other than a Daley at City Hall seems like a dream – maybe it didn’t really happen.

IT IS WITH that attitude in mind that I take a few hundred words to try to recall the era that once was the mayoral term of Harold Washington. This is as good a time as any, because even though Tuesday was the 21st anniversary of his death (at his desk at City Hall, he was at work), he died on the day before Thanksgiving.

It was the early days of the Christmas holiday shopping season of 1987 that became the crazed era in which we mourned Washington and started to fully appreciate how ridiculous the Washington opposition was while he was alive.

And in the ultimate sign of absurdity, we even allowed David Orr (now the county clerk) to be acting mayor for a week, until Eugene Sawyer was pulled up from aldermanic obscurity to be mayor for a couple of years, until Rich Daley could get himself elected (restore order, in the minds of some Chicagoans).

I’m going to offend some people of a certain age with this next statement. But Washington wasn’t one of the “great mayors” of his age, or of Chicago. The fact is that having served only one term and a few months into a second term, he didn’t live long enough to achieve anything lasting.

ULTIMATELY, WASHINGTON’S MAYORAL term can be summed up in the trite phrase “first black mayor of Chicago.” Five words that don’t come close to capturing the mood of what Washington meant to this city. It’s too bad we never got to see what he could accomplish had he achieved his verbalized goal of being mayor for “20 years.”

Some might think that experiencing the rise from political obscurity of Barack Obama to the White House is comparable. It is, to a degree. But Obama ran at a time when opposition to the Republicans was so intense that any Democrat would have won the ’08 elections.

Washington ran for mayor at a time when the thought of a non-Irish guy (or gal) as mayor was “unthinkable” to many Chicagoans – even though those who knew how to read Census Bureau reports and analyze population trends should have seen it coming that the African-American population of this city was large enough to exert political influence.

Now I wasn’t quite a reporter-type person back then, although I was a rookie reporter writing for a newspaper in Chicago Heights when I learned of Washington’s death. But I was a high school kid when Washington was elected mayor in 1983, and was away at college in Bloomington during much of his mayoral term.

SO FOR ME, “Council Wars” was experienced in the form of newspaper copy. It was in that era that I developed the habit of reading multiple newspapers, particularly anything out of Chicago. And one of the things I used to look for were the City Council stories.

While I was born in the 10th Ward and appreciate first-hand the racial mentality (an ethnic island in a “black” sea) that goes through many of the area’s residents (I have some relatives living there who still think highly of the memory of former Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak), I must admit I never fully appreciated how crazy “Fast Eddie,” or political people in general, could be until I heard of many of the stunts that were pulled.

And they were stunts, intended to prevent the Washington administration from accomplishing anything of substance that they could later take credit for. Which makes me wonder what his opposition of back then would think if they were to learn that he would someday have a junior college and the main library downtown named after him.

It wasn’t just the political people. They were feeding off the hostility of those whites who had their problems with the idea of a “black” mayor and who were fully supportive of what the “29” (as in opposition aldermen) were doing to Washington.

ULTIMATELY, THE WASHINGTON era is nearly just as much the Vrdolyak era, because it was a time when partisan politics came to dominate the City Council mentality in a way that is hard to imagine now, where the council has come to think of itself as Daley’s appendage.

It’s like we in Chicago got a 1980s preview of the nasty politics that would hit the District of Columbia in the 1990s during the Clinton era. Only instead of being rural Republican against urban Democrat like in Washington, ours were of a more craven nature – black vs. white.

The Wall Street Journal called us “Beirut by the Lake” for the hostilities that used to take place at City Hall, and it is a smirch the city will forever have to live down just like the memory of how Al Capone was allowed to operate openly in this city.

But ultimately, it means that Washington himself was unable to rise above the racial tone of the politics of the day. The mid-1980s was the “Council Wars era” more than it is the “Washington era.”

INSOFAR AS LATINOS, it was in that era that some activists started to use versions of the phrase “we break the tie,” implying that it was our coupling with black voters that helped get Washington the mayoral post, and that we could have deprived him of it had we switched to the white side (which many of us have done with our consistent support of Richard M. Daley).

And I still remember the one time I actually got close to the man.

It was the Summer of ’86, and I had a job on the Cook County payroll. Which meant that on the day that Vietnam veterans had their (in their minds) long-delayed “welcome home” parade along LaSalle Street, I was able to ditch my work and watch the parade.

I wound up getting a spot about 30 feet from where Washington himself (who served in the army during the Second World War) watched the parade. My impression? I couldn’t get over his girth, which meant that I wasn’t terribly surprised when I learned the cause of his death just over one year later at age 65.


EDITOR’S NOTES: An interesting assessment of the political life of Harold Washington (, written on the day of his death, while a two-decades-later perspective offers ( a view of Washington’s accomplishments.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications may have an uncertain future, but their website ( continues to offer memories of the insanity that occurred 21 years ago next week.

Washington was also a member of the Illinois House of Representatives and of Congress ( during a political career that extended decades.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Former Lottery chief now social secretary

While most people were paying attention to President-elect Barack Obama on Monday because of his Treasury Department appointments, the one that caught my eye was his choice of a social secretary.

The woman who will be in charge of the staff that coordinates social engagements in the Obama-run White House will be Desiree Rogers, the one-time Illinois Lottery director under former Gov. Jim Edgar.

ROGERS, IN RECENT years, was working for Allstate Financial as manager of social networking, and had also been president of Peoples Gas for several years.

But the political stint that set up her ability to draw these corporate gigs was her six years as director of the Illinois Department of the Lottery. Which is an official way of saying she ran the modern-day (and completely legal) equivalent of the old “numbers” racket.

Rogers was in charge of the state agency that managed the lottery in a way that made it seem glamorous and fun and a path toward achieving dreams, rather than just some flaky games with near-impossible odds by which people who least could afford it were throwing away their last dollar to buy a “chance” at getting rich quick.

I can remember being a reporter for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago who covered Lottery press conferences featuring some of the tawdriest people who could be found by Central Casting, only to be staged by Rogers and her staff in ways that made their stories sound like the “American Dream” come true.

IF IT SOUNDS like I’m saying that Rogers is an expert at presenting fantasy, then perhaps she is perfectly qualified for the job of coordinating the details by which the Obama White House becomes a magical place (think JFK’s “Camelot,” only 21st Century and more urban), instead of the setting for a presidency that is getting hit with an unpopular war and devastating economic struggles on Day One.

One bit of irony strikes me in the appointment. Back in the day when Rogers was a state agency director, her husband was John Rogers, an executive with Ariel Capital Management who back then had his own political appointment with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (McCormick Place and Navy Pier). Now, he’s one of three Chicago-oriented co-chairs of the committee coordinating the inauguration festivities.

If someone had told me some 15 years ago that we would someday have an African-American couple from Chicago living in the White House, I would have guessed it would be the Rogers, with their long-time friends, Barack and Michelle, being brought along to work on their White House staff.

What else was notable about the news of the world, as perceived from the World’s Greatest City on the shores of Lake Michigan (and don’t say Milwaukee).

HOOVER ELEMENTARY WAS SLOW ON THE DRAW: So much for the suburban Calumet City school that wanted to be the first in the nation to rename itself for Obama. Ludlum Elementary School in Hempstead, N.Y., will get that “honor.”

Officials with the Hoover-Shrum School District had wanted to rename their elementary school from honoring former president Herbert Hoover to Obama. Officials in the district had implied they wanted the first “Obama School” in the nation to be an Illinois school.

But while Calumet City school officials were trying to build up support, officials with the New York-based school district just up and went and adopted the new name.

This could just be the start of a trend to rename thinks for Barack. Some reports note that officials in Antigua want to rename their Caribbean island nation’s mountain from Boggy Peak to Mount Obama.

SINCE WHEN IS A SENATE SEAT AN X-MAS GIFT?: Gov. Rod Blagojevich may be trying to insert some levity into the oh-so-serious debate about a U.S. Senate replacement for Barack Obama, but is it really appropriate for him to think of his appointment as a “Christmas gift” to some Illinois politico?

That’s how he referred to his yet-to-be-made decision about picking an Obama replacement, for which he has had some talks with political people interested in the post. And he reportedly had a telephone conversation with Illinois’ other U.S. senator – Richard Durbin – Monday afternoon.

Considering how many people around Illinois seem offended that Blagojevich has any say in the replacement (Illinois law lets him make the pick, based on whatever criteria he thinks is relevant), it is mistaken for Blagojevich to even joke about the Senate position as though it is his to grant, rather than a position of responsibility to the people of Illinois.

Of course, there’s one thing tackier. That was seeing Blagojevich and the Illinois first family taking part Monday in ceremonies at the Thompson Center state government building to light the state’s official Christmas tree. Couldn’t they wait until Friday, after Thanksgiving, rather than join the masses who are stretching the holiday season out way too long.

WE’RE NUMBER TWO?!?: I’m still trying to figure out the logic of the Chicago White Sox shelling out a few million dollars to break their lease to have spring training in Tuscon, Ariz.

The White Sox were sharing a fairly new stadium complex with the Arizona Diamondbacks for pre-season workouts and exhibition games, but now will go to Glendale, Ariz., where they will share a brand-new stadium complex with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

As I comprehend it, the White Sox are moving to a suburb of Phoenix along with nearly a dozen other major league teams. Travel expenses and details will be minimal, compared to when they trained in Tuscon – about a two-hour bus ride from most other teams they would play in Cactus League activity. Either way, the White Sox wind up being the “number two team” in their own spring training park.

One bit of historic irony in the move – the Arizona Cardinals football team play their games in a stadium in Glendale. Back in the days when they were the Chicago Cardinals representing the Sout’ Side in the NFL, they played their games at the White Sox’ Comiskey Park.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Policing the Police – What happened to the West Side on Election Night?

Are these merely copycat lawsuits? Or were the Chicago police really running amok on the West Side, taking out their aggression on anyone who dared to express joy at the thought that a biracial man had won a presidential election?

Either way, there will be similar lawsuits being filed in coming weeks. They’re either copying the earlier lawsuits. Or if the police were truly as out-of-control as the existing trio of lawsuits contends they were, it was not limited to just a couple of incidents.

IT IS HARD to differentiate the different lawsuits, since they all read and sound so much the same.

They all involve people who live in the impoverished (and heavily African-American) neighborhoods of the West Side who say they were publicly expressing joy at the Election Night victory of Barack Obama.

In all cases, the lawsuits claim police came into the neighborhood and started beating on people, while also telling them to get back in their houses and keep quiet.

Every single incident referred to in a lawsuit claims that police used pepper spray to knock the wind out of people, thereby making them easier to subdue.

THE ONE MOMENT that caught my attention was an allegation made in the first lawsuit (filed a couple of weeks ago) that claims police kicked down the front door of a residence, then forced the family to lie on the floor – while also behaving in a vicious manner meant to intimidate anyone from thinking of fighting back.

Fortunately, we’re in an enlightened enough era these days that the Chicago Police Department can’t just ignore these claims outright. It isn’t a given that a judge will side with police and automatically dismiss such claims as the content of a frivolous lawsuit.

Police officials themselves note that all of the allegations are being investigated by the panel that is supposed to police the police – and merit out discipline in cases where police are found to have acted unprofessionally (such as the recent incident involving the dismissal of a veteran officer who walked out of a Walgreen’s pharmacy without paying for a $1 bag of trail mix).

But what is ultimately going to happen is that all of these incidents are going to have to merge into one in-depth investigation into the 21st Century attitudes of police toward racial political empowerment.

TO WHAT DEGREE do white police officers resent having black (or even biracial, such as Obama) officials who rank ahead of them? I know I have heard some police express disgust at the idea that one-time Black Panther member Bobby Rush is now a member of Congress to whom they have to look up to. When one considers the military mentality adopted by law enforcement, rank means everything to these people.

Does Chicago really have Anglo cops so disgusted with the thought of a non-white man as president that they became overly sensitive to the behavior of black people? Were the police truly so outraged that they suddenly took any sign of joy at something they considered to be appalling as evidence of an outburst – thereby requiring them to “do their job” and subdue the outburst in the name of public safety?

Or could the West Side neighborhoods where all the incidents referred to in the trio of lawsuits really have been on the cusp of aggressive behavior – with people who were pleased with the Obama victory starting to lose control of themselves to the point where passing police felt the need to intervene and put a cork, so to speak, back into the bottle before a spill made a mess?

For those who think it ridiculous that people would behave badly in celebration, just think of some of the stupid things that have happened in cities across the United States in response to a local sports team winning “the big game.” Sometimes, peoples’ emotions cause them to stifle their common sense.

PEOPLES’ EMOTIONS ALSO motivate their reaction to the existence of the lawsuits. Either they want to believe that police are cracking down unfairly, or they want to believe that the West Side is a degenerate part of Chicago where people live because they don’t know how to behave.

Now I’m not claiming to have any first-hand knowledge of what happened in any of the incidents that occurred on the West Side. But if I had to guess, I suspect it probably was a combination of both sides being at fault – with the sad reality being that many other people who happened to be in the area suffered.

There may well have been a few people who left their common sense at home before going outside to partake in very vocal revelation. Some may have appeared to passing police as though they were to burst out of control.

Since many of the police who work that part of the city are inclined to suspect the worst (some of these neighborhoods have yet to recover from the riots of 1968 that followed the slaying of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.), they may have jumped into “overkill” mode when trying to put a stop to things.

IF THAT TURNS out to be the case, it won’t surprise me at all if the police wind up being cleared of any excess misbehavior in all of these incidents.

The simple fact is that we as a society arm police officers because we expect there to be incidents where they will be required to use force. And the concept of “probable cause” may very well give police the legal authority to be suspicious of everybody in those particular circumstances.

One of the lawsuits made mention of how police tossed a canister of pepper spray into a crowd, only to have one person in the crowd throw the canister back at a police squad car.

That, in itself, would give police the legal authority to consider themselves “under attack” and use force. It was that particular moment of force that supposedly caused the moment when police kicked down a family’s front door (they were supposedly chasing the man who threw the canister back at them, and had reason to think he fled into that particular residence).

SO WHILE I’M not surprised at the thought that not everybody in Chicago was overjoyed at the thought of our state’s junior senator becoming president, I’m also aware of the fact that the claims being made in the lawsuits are very difficult to prove.

So if it sounds like I’m bracing myself for the thought of the lawsuits withering away without serious action, I am. I only hope many other Chicagoans are willing to accept the same reality.

I’d hate to think that real rioting would take place in reaction to the police not being punished severely for their Election Night behavior.


EDITOR’S NOTES: All across the West Side of Chicago were incidents investigators ( will spend coming months trying to figure out whether they border on criminal activity.

Were the police merely using the physical force that they are legally allowed to use in certain (,0,1080089.story) instances?

If police fired an officer for shoplifting a $1 bag of trail mix (,0,7368786.story), how would they react to multiple incidents of politically tied behavior that reflects badly upon the city?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Economy gets the blame for taking down one Chicago area sports franchise

Economic troubles have everybody cutting back, and that has one professional sports franchise in the Chicago-area thinking that the responsible thing to do is to shut down operations for one year.

It’s not the Blackhawks or the Bears, or even the Cubs (although after the way they’ve performed in the playoffs the past two years, they ought to shut down next year out of a sense of shame of being seen in public).

IT’S THE STEELHEADS, the Gary, Ind.-based team in the International Basketball League – one of the minor leagues that has teams in small cities and are filled with ballplayers who are a second too slow to excel in the National Basketball Association.

When the league plays out its 2009 season, there won’t be a team in Gary (or in Merrillville, Ind., a nearby town that the team was considering relocating to).

Now most of the economics-minded people who have said in recent weeks they think professional sports will be one of the few industries that won’t be significantly affected by the struggling economy have focused their attention on the “major league” level.

Major League Baseball. The NBA and the National Football League.

THE THEORY IS that people will still want something to provide a diversion in their lives, particularly if times get tough and people are having to struggle with lower incomes or higher prices (or a combination of the two).

And their love of root, root, root(ing) for the home team will help them get through the tough times.

Even if they wind up going to a game or two fewer per year, it will mean more instances of watching their favorite team on television. That could mean higher ratings, and since major league sports teams rely heavily on broadcasts of their games to bring in revenue, it could be a plus.

But all of those factors are completely irrelevant to professional sports teams at lower levels, which rely almost entirely on their gate receipts and concession sales to bring in revenue.

FEWER PEOPLE ATTENDING games (particularly at minor league levels where crowds are smaller by their very nature) means less money on hand, which could mean the difference between barely breaking even and losing one’s shirt.

That was the reality that confronted the Gary Steelheads, who said they expected to encounter serious problems with getting people to purchase season-ticket plans or local businesses to buy sponsorships that would entitle them to advertising in the arena or in the programs and other team publications.

And the team’s owners preferred the idea of shutting down for a season, rather than going for broke (literally) by playing out the 2009 season.

“We don’t want to field a minor league team in this economic climate,” attorney Jewell Harris Jr., told the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper. “It’s just not feasible.”

TEAM OFFICIALS TOLD the area newspaper that the realities of minor league sports is that few franchises have glorious histories with long ties to their respective cities. Some leagues have franchise changes virtually every year.

Even insofar as athletic activity on the basketball court, minor league teams have constant turnover in terms of players. So it is likely that none of the current players would still have been on hand by 2010, even if the team were to play the season next year.

So officials with the Steelheads are optimistic that they can shut down operations in the arena for one year, then come back to the league fully restructured.

The trick is whether area fans will remember that there was once a basketball habit that could be satisfied with a team based at the far southeast corner of the Chicago metropolitan area.

WILL FANS REALLY care enough to want to watch a team that pulled the highly-unusual move (for a sports team, at least) of taking a season off? This move makes it very clear that a sports franchise is primarily about the front office, rather than the activity on the athletic field or court.

Will the Steelheads lose any momentum they ever had gained during their eight years of existence in their current league (and previously while playing in the Continental Basketball Association)?

And will area basketball fans make the same discovery that fans of minor league baseball made back in the 1950s – that superior-quality ball could be watched on television for less time, money and hassle than going to the local minor league team’s games.

Now some minor league baseball fans will note the sport’s minor leagues were resurrected in the 1980s by teams that marketed the entertainment experience of actually attending a game.

BUT THE STEELHEADS would need to actually play games next year to take advantage of that mentality.

So the bottom line question is “Will the Steelheads actually return to basketball in 2010?”

Or are they destined to join the ranks of obscure Chicago-area sports franchises (the Stags, the Hustle, the Cougars) that will have only one unique characteristic about them. They’ll be the answer to the following trivia question:

“What Chicago-area basketball team was never heard of by most Chicago-area sports fans until the day they announced they were ‘taking a break’ from playing ball?”


EDITOR’S NOTES: It will be interesting to see how long this website remains ( active. The league is considering new teams for next year in Eugene, Ore., and Olympia, Wash.

Drawing about 1,500 people per game to an 8,000-seat arena in downtown Gary, Ind., ( this year did not give the city’s basketball team much reason for financial optimism next season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Whether gay or just tolerant, proposed high school concept keeps same flaw

“It” may no longer be a high school focusing on tolerance for gay people. “It” may have morphed into a school that teaches tolerance for all.

But for the activists who want to claim that their “religion” justifies creation of a hostile environment toward gay people, “it” is still going too far. And as far as I’m concerned, the concept of a separate high school for “tolerance” has the same flaw as a gay-friendly high school – but for differing reasons than the religious types.

I HONESTLY BELIEVE that “tolerance” ought to be something encouraged (and enforced) in all of the high schools that are part of the Chicago Public School system – if not all high schools in general.

To me, the idea of saying that a soon-to-be-constructed high school in Chicago will be run in a manner sympathetic to gay students and those of other groups that might feel harassed in a conventional high school sounds too much like we’re conceding that the hostile environment that can comprise a high school experience is the way things ought to be in a conventional educational experience.

Whatever policies would be implemented to make gay, Goth and just about any other group of students feel comfortable ought to be in place in every high school in Chicago.

Instead of trying to build a lone island of tolerance, schools officials ought to be trying to make all students realize that tolerance is the ideal – not their ideal that might be reinforced through physical bullying.

WHEN I ORIGINALLY heard that a gay-friendly high school was being considered for Chicago within a year, I thought it reeked too much of trying to segregate people out of the mainstream – instead of making that “mainstream” realize that not everybody in this society is just like them.

As much as I think it would do good to all to have to deal with students of all types within their midst, I think it is the students who are not gay or Goth or any other special type who most need to have all the differing types of people within their ranks.

Exposure is likely to give them the experience that ultimately will kill off the discriminatory attitudes that are often peddled and wind up poisoning our society.

It is the same as the way the younger generation has come to think of the concept of multi-culturalism as less exotic than their parents view it. We have a younger generation that is more racially tolerant than their elders because they have been exposed to other groups in ways that were not done in past generations.

WE OUGHT TO carry that same concept of exposure to groups of students other than differing races. Whether or not this will wind up happening in the Chicago Public Schools anytime soon has yet to be determined.

It was just in recent weeks that public schools officials backed off of talk of building the gay-friendly high school – which would have been open to all students. But students attending there would have had to agree to a certain code of behavior that would strictly punish gay-related harassment.

Of course, that gets people who like to think of themselves as religious-minded (as though Jesus in their minds was a bigot) all upset, because they don’t want to have to recognize people who are gay.

They certainly don’t want any official institution (such as a public school) giving such recognition, or teaching that gay people are, first and foremost, people deserving of the same respect as any other human being.

WHEN MAYOR RICHARD M. Daley made it clear he wasn’t enthused about the gay-friendly high school concept, schools officials backed off.

In recent days, they have tried to resurrect the idea, but with the twist that it would encourage tolerance for all the groups that might feel susceptible to bullying in the current student mindset.

That “compromise” has some gay rights activists upset, saying they think the original concept is what is truly needed. Of course, some argue in a manner similar to what I think – that there ought to be tolerance taught in general throughout all high schools.

And a group of ministers told the Chicago Board of Education this week they would become a very seriously angry group if anything was done towards resurrecting the original concept.


The school board in Chicago is stuck in a political mess regardless of what it does.

And as for those who will argue that the school board should do nothing, that is not an option. The idea of turning down a new high school, particularly one that will have facilities to accommodate the needs of students who are interested in taking a college-preparatory curriculum, is not possible.

No matter what jokes people from outside of Chicago want to make about the Chicago Public Schools system, its biggest flaw is that there aren’t enough facilities to accommodate the needs of its top students (as the magnet schools do not have sufficient space for all the students who could qualify academically).

THE TRICK IS to figure out how quickly schools officials must act if they are still to get a school built and operating during the 2009-10 academic year – which was the original intent.

That goal might be little more than a dream, however, if the school board cannot act before year’s end. The simple fact is that construction takes time (as well as money). A new school might have to be a dream put off for future years, all because people want to get hung up over whether it is a noble goal to think of gay students as worthy of some protection from harassment.

This latest episode is bound to turn into yet another gag on Saturday Night Live, where Amy Poehler noted a few weeks ago when the original proposal was made that this country already has a gay-friendly high school – before showing the logo of the Disney program “High School Musical.”

So not only is the Chicago Public Schools being deprived of a new school facility, it also is creating subject material for jokes at Chicago’s expense. That, it turns out, is the real tragedy of this political fiasco.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The concept of a public high school with policies sympathetic to gay students (,CST-NWS-skul20.article) even has clergy of different religious denominations split.

Gay rights activists say they plan to resurrect their goal of a gay-friendly high school (,0,2459531.story) within Chicago.

Can the proposed “Social Justice Solidarity High School” be built and operating by (,18793) the year 2010?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

“635” is the key stat in city budget

The scene of the budget cuts, including all those job layoffs.

I have mixed emotions to the new budget proposal approved Wednesday by the Chicago City Council. And no, I’m not getting all bent out of shape at the thought of the various fees being created and increased to try to balance out a $6 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The number that catches my attention is “635.”

THAT IS THE number of city government employees who are going to learn their labor is no longer affordable towards the goal of maintaining municipal services for city residents, although the Chicago Tribune at one point reported a potential total of 770 people to be laid off from their city jobs.

That strikes me as a lot of people to suddenly put out of work, particularly as we approach a Christmas holiday season that already was anticipated to be a down moment for the U.S. economy.

Now I know all the jokes people tell about government workers who sleep on the job, or who do menial tasks for great pay, or who manage to use their government access to eck out perks for themselves and their friends.

And from the one summer of my life that I spent on a government payroll (Cook County recorder of deeds, back in the days of Harry “Bus” Yourell), I know there are some government workers who give the impression of working for the government because they’re too un-ambitious to get a job in the private sector.

YET THAT IS still a lot of people to put out of work. When one notes the numbers of people left unemployed due to cutbacks at private companies, the competition for jobs and employment is going to be all the more tougher.

Now perhaps I’m too sensitive to the concept of unemployment and layoffs – having been laid off from three jobs (one of which was pretty close to being my fantasy job) in the past eight years. I’ve even lost some part-time employment because companies determined they couldn’t afford the pittance they were paying me for my labor.

So I know first-hand how depressing it can be to go through the concept of unemployment. I know the joys of getting a new job the exact week that one’s unemployment benefits run out, and I also know what it is like to have those benefits come to an end with no new income source lined up.

The idea that there are now 770 (or as few as 635) more people in Chicago who will endure the same things I have gone through in recent years is depressing to me. This isn’t a fate I would wish on my enemies.

IT IS WITH that attitude in my mind that I have to give a bit of praise to Billy Ocasio. He’s the alderman who represents the largely-Puerto Rican Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods in the City Council.

And he’s also the lone alderman who dared to vote against the budget proposal put forth by Mayor Richard M. Daley.

It’s not that Ocasio doesn’t realize that cuts in municipal staffing are going to have to comprise a portion of the $469 million that city officials needed to cut in order to ensure that the new city budget would be balanced.

Yet he became the “1” in the 49-1 vote because he was convinced that too many laborers who actually do work in the neighborhoods are going to be included in the ranks of the laid off – rather than middle-management types who work in offices at City Hall.

IT WAS NICE to know someone was keeping those soon-to-be-unemployed city workers in his mind while taking a vote on the city’s near-term financial future.

Now I’m not one of those people who thinks everybody wearing a tacky tie while working a desk job at “the Hall” is somehow worthless. I’m not convinced that every “Streets and San” worker is a noble creature worthy of eternal job protection.

But I do realize that fewer workers in Streets and Sanitation, or any city agency for the matter, means remaining staff being burdened to do more and more work to maintain city services at the same level.

Eventually, it becomes a situation where they just can’t do the same amount of work, and city services suffer. That will give Chicago residents yet more issues to gripe about when they think of city government.

TO ME, DECLINING levels of service is a significant issue. In my mind, it is more important than the increase in parking garage taxes charged by the city, or the hike in taxes charged on sporting event tickets.

Some people are going to hear about the new budget and complain – I’m paying too much already. And perhaps they are.

But I’m going to think just a bit about the several hundred people newly unemployed in order to ensure a balanced budget.

Part of it is a sympathetic thought of being unemployed around the winter holidays. But part of it also is worry about whether these people have the potential to compete with me for work.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Considering the declining financial status of the newspaper industry, both nationally and in Chicago, will this be one of the last news events where we (,budget-chicago-2009-city-council-111908.article) will be able to compare and contrast dueling news coverage of an event ( in the Sun-Times and Tribune?

Some people are trying to create partisan political spats by claiming the added security in downtown Chicago on account of President-elect Barack Obama’s presence there during (,daley-obama-transition-chicago-police-111808.article) the transition period is adding to the city’s police expenses.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Go watch Obama in action while political payback takes place at City Hall

Barack Obama is truly like Adlai Stevenson in one respect. The regular Democratic organization that dominates Chicago’s politics wants us to pay attention to their do-gooder with national interests, rather than to the activity that takes place at City Hall.

Hence, reporter-types are getting lots of leaks informing them of the many politicos coming and going from the federal building complex in the South Loop from which Obama is running his transition team.

FAKE INDIGNATION THAT the people found out about Obama’s meeting with Democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton is tossed about, and we’re also allowed to learn of just about every other bigwig who is traipsing through the Second City – in hopes of gaining a prominent job within the Obama administration.

In a sense, Chicago is now the axis upon which the world of U.S. government rotates. But that shouldn’t be mistaken for Chicago politics itself.

If anything, Obama and his goo-goo nature (with just enough pragmatism to know when to get real and compromise) is supported by the Chicago Democrats because he distracts attention from the funky business at City Hall, similar to how Adlai Stevenson’s gubernatorial and presidential aspirations reflected well upon the Chicago political people of 60 years ago (thereby allowing them to go about their local business unwatched).

That lesson got reinforced in my mind when I read about the City Council’s activity this week. Or actually, I should say their lack of activity. For in the end, the measure that caught my eye was something they didn’t do.

LONG-TIME ALDERMAN Bernard Stone (who represents the far northern tip of Chicago up by Evanston) wants to know where the city’s inspector general gets the nerve to go investigating anything connected to his office.

Stone tried to amend the city budget proposal by deleting all money set aside for maintenance of the inspector general’s office – which is the entity that investigates claims of government corruption.

It is meant to be an internal investigator that puts up the image of Chicago government not tolerating illegal activity.

Yet to Stone, the inspector general’s office exists purely to investigate the executive branch of Chicago government (ie., Mayor Richard M. Daley and the city government agencies to which he appoints directors).

STONE SEEMS TO think the City Council (the legislative branch of Chicago government) is off-limits to any such investigator.

It seems that Stone, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, is still upset that the inspector general’s office did an investigation of absentee ballot fraud that wound up focusing on a superintendent of the alderman’s ward.

That superintendent has since been indicted on criminal charges related to claims by prosecutors that residents of Indian and Pakistani descent were being pushed to fill out absentee ballots in ways meant to benefit the alderman back when he last sought re-election in 2007.

Prosecutors say the superintendent used his credentials from his job with the Streets and Sanitation Department to intimidate some of those people into going along with the absentee ballot actions.

STONE BARELY WON that election, which is embarrassing for him considering he’s been in the City Council since 1973 and is the second-longest serving incumbent alderman.

So now, it was political payback for having to campaign harder than he would have liked for re-election. It’s not like Stone feels any shame about this approach, telling the Sun-Times, “he’s come after me, so I’m going after him. That’s the way the game is played.”

That payback, in Stone’s mind, would have been to shut down the inspector general’s office by depriving it of $5.8 million set aside for its operations in the city’s upcoming fiscal year.

Fortunately for the public good, the members of the council’s budget committee were not inclined to go along with their colleague. They didn’t exactly vote against him. They just refused to support the concept of letting his resolution come up for a vote at all, tabling it for future consideration.

SO IN THEORY, it still exists. But it is highly unlikely that Stone will ever get anyone to publicly support shutting down a government investigative agency because it tried to do its job.

I’d like to think that the council’s budget committee is showing a new way of thinking about city government. Perhaps the aura of Obama is spreading, and our city officials will start thinking about public service in a high-minded manner that will soon start to reflect the public good. Then I realize that such a thought makes it sound like I’ve been sniffing too much glue lately.

“High-minded” is far from the intent of many of our city officials. “Practical politics” is what they consider important – measures that impact a person’s life (even if just for a short-term gain while suffering a long-term loss). For I know that the Stone mentality is imbedded in the City Hall character. Mind one’s own business. Investigate somebody else (you’ll probably find something just as funky over there).

That story probably says more about Chicago’s political character than any trivial tidbits that were picked up by reporter-types who hung out at the federal building that same day while Obama met with former general election opponent John McCain.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago’s inspector general once offered to take a pay cut in order to help ease (,stone-cut-inspector-general-budget-111808.article) the city’s finances. The City Council rejected the offer.

Public servant Bernard L. Stone is hard at work ( for the people who live on Chicago’s far northern edge.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is the Rev. Moon really an issue in Davis’ dreams of serving in U.S. Senate?

Every political person at some point in their public lives does something that looks stupid, particularly if someone happens to be taking pictures.

For Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., one of many people with dreams of becoming a U.S. senator now that Barack Obama is moving to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., his moment was when he helped participate in the coronation of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon as the “King of Peace.”

IT WOULD APPEAR we are now going to see a lot of the color photograph (Davis bringing in a pillow containing the crown that was placed upon Moon’s head that day in D.C. back in 2004) taken that day.

Or at least we’re going to see a lot of that photograph until the day that Davis decides his lot in life is to represent downtown Chicago and the West Side in Congress, rather than all of Illinois in the Senate. Which makes this revelation nothing more than a campaign tactic on the part of people who likely favor someone else to get that Senate seat.

I bring this up because I couldn’t help but notice on Monday that both the Chicago Tribune and the Capitol Fax newsletter of Springfield were reminding us of the fact that the photo exists.

Which means they’re reminding us about the Rev. Moon and the fact that Davis was willing to be seen in public with him.

I’M SORRY, BUT I didn’t get terribly outraged back when Davis partook in the coronation in ’04, and I can’t say I think it’s worth remembering all that much now. Some things are just too stupid to take seriously, including anything that was as pompous a ritual as Moon’s coronation – which most people would have long forgotten except that we’re being reminded again by people who want to use the incident for cheap political stunts.

Before I go further, I ought to make one point of personal disclosure.

I worked for the United Press International wire service in various capacities for 12 years – of which during the last four of those years, the wire was owned by News World Communications (the media company owned by followers of Moon who have visions of spreading his message to the masses).

One could argue that for four years, I took the Rev. Moon’s money. But I must also admit that of all the UPI owners during my time there, the Reverend’s people were the one group that had a sense about how to pay bills in a timely manner, instead of some of the delays of past owners that could have rivaled Illinois government for late payment.

I ALSO UNDERSTAND exactly why some people consider the Reverend – the founder of the Unification Church that many consider to be a cult that bleeds its followers dry financially – to be a controversial character.

From his belief that he is the messiah (which he says makes his birthplace of Korea the new version of the Holy Land) to his two prison terms (he brags about the one in North Korea for preaching Christianity in an atheist country, but is less talkative about his U.S. conviction on tax-related crimes), the Rev. Moon is not the typical Korean immigrant operating a neighborhood grocery store.

I’m even aware of the fact that the reverend has made statements implying that Jewish people killed in Germany during the Nazi era were merely being punished for their support of a religion that killed Christ.

What can I say, my former boss is not the man next door. Although I’m not convinced that he’s the most outrageous person on the planet the way some people would want to portray him.

IN FACT, THE reverend’s politics have always been so anti-communist that he has fit in well with the Republican establishment now that the party has long chased out its liberal elements.

His biggest contribution to U.S. political culture has been trying to operate media properties that openly admit their conservative bias (even though I must admit the Moon-run UPI I wrote for never tampered with my copy, although there were some writers who were hired specifically to write the commentary and conservative analysis Moon’s people wanted pushed by the wire).

Ronald Reagan himself used to call the reverend’s Washington Times newspaper one of his favorites, and what is left of the GOP establishment in the District of Columbia is going to be turning to the Times as its source of information and a sense of community for the next two years that they are destined to be irrelevant on Capitol Hill and the White House.

If anything, I’d be critical of Davis for associating with someone who is so friendly with conservatives, rather than for partaking in a ritual that looked ridiculous.


Just think if a political person showed up at a Shriner convention or a Knights of Columbus-sponsored event. I’m sure an equally goofy looking photograph could be taken of them at such an event.

Just envision Rod Blagojevich in a Shriner fez or Mike Madigan brandishing one of those K of C swords? I can’t help but think Davis’ impression of Moon having a crown put upon his head was similar to what we might think of one of these fraternal groups and their rituals – just another goofy sight he can chuckle over at a later date.

Trying to make more of this incident is worse than anything Davis might have done.

SO I HONESTLY do not believe Davis is a “Moonie” or a sympathizer, any more than I think he’s got a good shot at actually getting Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate seat.

He might be naïve for believing the rhetoric of “world peace” that came out of that particular event, but I honestly believe anyone who tries to create anything more of this incident than a silly-looking moment for the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to mock is a liar or is allowing themselves to be manipulated by people who want to distort the truth.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Is someone taking Danny Davis’ desires to be a member of the U.S. Senate so seriously ( that they feel the need to dredge up ( the Congressman’s appearance four years ago with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon?

Figure for yourself just how dangerous a character ( the Rev. Moon truly is. Here is the ( official Moon propaganda perpetuated on the Internet.

Is sushi (,0,3736876.0) really part of a plot to enrich the Rev. Moon all the more?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Aren’t we getting ahead of ourselves with talk of renaming school for Obama?

He has nearly two months to go before he is officially sworn in as president, yet there are some who are all too quick to want to pay brick-and-mortar tribute to the presidency of Barack Obama.

I can appreciate the simple fact that a man of his biracial background was able to get elected says wonders about this nation’s progress, but really people. Don’t you think we ought to wait to see how long of a political “honeymoon” he gets before we start thinking about permanent tributes?

PEOPLE IN SOUTH suburban Calumet City who are urging officials to study the renaming of an elementary school for Obama are letting their sense of post-Election Day glee get the best of them.

Specifically, the school board that oversees Hoover Elementary School is looking into a local resident’s demand that the building be called Obama Academy. Supporters of the change argue that Hoover (as in Herbert, not the vacuum cleaner) is too old a historic figure to be relevant to today’s youth.

They told the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper they think children would respond positively to being able to say they go to “Obama School.”

Those area residents, at least one of whom was an Obama campaign worker, say they are e-mailing just about every government official they can think of from the U.S. Senate to the Illinois House to quite possibly Gov. Rod Blagojevich, all in hopes of gaining public sympathy for the concept of a school named for Obama.

THESE SUPPORTERS TOLD the Munster, Ind.-based newspaper that an Illinois-based school ought to be the first to pay tribute to the first U.S. president who doesn’t view African origins as a reason for feeling shame (by that, I mean think of how Thomas Jefferson’s relatives feel every time the name “Sally Hemmings” comes up in conversation).

Now I won’t be surprised to see the day some decades from now when I’m a crotchety old man yelling at kids to get off my lawn when there will be Obama statues, schools, bridges and public parks.

The fact that I will be able to say I saw the man in action and actually first met him when he was just an anonymous politico in the Illinois Senate will be among the quirky stories I tell about my days as a reporter-type person.

But the reason that Obama will be worthy of these public tributes is because of the things he is going to do in the next four (possibly eight) years. In short, we should now be paying close attention to Obama so we can figure out exactly what he will someday be honored for.

TO GIVE HIM a tribute of a school named for him now is nothing more than a trivialization of his reputation.

You’d think that Calumet City residents would have learned from the neighboring school district. While based in suburban Dolton, that district has one school based in Calumet City, and it is named for one-time Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill.

Yes, there is a Braun School in Calumet City, about two miles from the Hoover Elementary School that officials are talking about naming for Obama.

Would this turn into a rivalry over which part of town can give the more garish tribute to a black politico (first black U.S. Senator from Illinois, compared to first biracial president) from Illinois?

AND WHILE I could think of schools with names more trivial than that of Moseley-Braun, how many people these days think that she is really someone worth memorializing with masonry and concrete?

There is one major difference between the two schools. When the Dolton district came up with a school named for Moseley-Braun, it was because they were building a new school facility.

Obama gets an existing building (one that goes back several decades) named for him.

Personally, I’m not enthused about the idea of dumping Herbert Hoover’s name from the building. He was a U.S. president (one whose time in the White House got thoroughly trashed by the Great Depression of the 1930s) in his own right.

IF LOCAL RESIDENTS are correct in saying that the name “Hoover” means little to the current student body, then perhaps that is a demerit on the way in which history and civics are taught at the school.

I’m not out to praise the memory of Hoover. But at a time when the nation’s economy is tanking, perhaps we ought to be remembering the Hoover era all the more. He is not a figure we should forget.

Surely, Obama is paying attention to that time period these days. It has been reported that Obama is focusing on how newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt coped with the depression he inherited when he became president in 1932. Such study also includes attention to the mistakes of Hoover, whose rigid adherence to conservative ideological concepts prevented him from doing much of anything to try to bolster the U.S. economy.

Personally, I have never been a big fan of renaming buildings or parks or monuments. I believe that when something is named to pay tribute to someone, the name should remain until the day the structure is reduced to rubble.

FOR WHATEVER REASON Hoover’s name was placed on that school, it should be respected and kept there. If Calumet City officials want to build a new school and name it for Obama, that might be a worthy goal – although I’d still want to wait a few years before seriously moving ahead with the notion.

There’s a reason why serious tributes wait until after a person’s time in office is complete – and in some cases (such as postage stamps) after a person is deceased. It would be nice to know the exact accomplishments so that a plaque to be erected on the building can be made listing them.

Unless one thinks that a chalkboard is a more appropriate plaque. One could write in a new list of accomplishments every day, letting people know what the building’s namesake is up to.


EDITOR’S NOTES: One of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign workers wants to ( honor her boss by putting his name on an elementary school in her suburban hometown.

There really is an elementary school named for the one-term U.S. senator from Illinois ( Will Herbert Hoover ( be able to keep his name on the school that pays tribute to him?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Activists must fight vocal opposition when it comes to marriage for all (even gays)

The most interesting aspect of the marches that took place in cities across the nation to express outrage with Californians backward enough to vote for a measure repealing the state’s recognition of marriage for all people (regardless of orientation) is the fact that some people claim the vote ought to end the issue.

It happened in Chicago as well, as the activists who like to politicize their religion held their own counterdemonstration Saturday across the street from the Federal Plaza – where hundreds (if not thousands) of gay rights activists held their own march and rally.

THOSE PROTESTERS OF the (far) right want to believe that if Illinois law were as ridiculous as California law in allowing so many fringe elements to put their pet crusades on the ballot so easily, they’d be able to get a majority of Illinoisans to vote against allowing gay couples to have any of the legal rights associated with marriage.

“The people spoke in California and we believe they’d speak the same way here,” Peter LaBarbera (who on Saturday identified himself as being with a group calling itself Protect Marriage Illinois – the rest of the year, he is with the group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality) told the Chicago Tribune.

He’s probably right.

There are enough people who get irrational when it comes to the issue of marriage that a majority probably would be silly enough to vote “yes” on a measure they perceived as opposing the interests of gay people.

BUT I HAVE to argue – that attitude is irrelevant, regardless of how prevalent it is.

There are times when the correct thing for a society to do is the minority opinion, and it is the duty of a responsible government to be able to figure out when those issues occur and to prevent the majority opinion from running roughshod over the rights of the minority.

The most drastic situation was with regards to the days when segregation based upon race was completely legal in this country (it even had Supreme Court backing from the case of “Plessy vs. Ferguson”).

I have no doubt that any “vote” on the issue taken in the Southern states on whether segregation of the races was justified would have created a majority of voters (even if one assumes that black people were not interfered with at the polling places) who would have voted “yes” to maintain it. Anything promoting integration would have been voted down.

IN OTHER PARTS of the country, there likely would have been a majority of the people who would have been willing to look at the issue as being purely local – as though certain basic rights ought to be denied to some people, based upon what state they happen to be in.

That wouldn’t have meant they would have been correct.

If anything, it would have been more evidence of the repulsiveness of society as it existed then, just as the vote in California last week to repeal new laws that permitted gay people to marry legally (just like everybody else) is an example of how flawed our society remains.

It just strikes me that gay marriage is an absurd issue for people to get worked up over, particularly how I don’t see how one couple’s decision to live their lives together and seek the same legal rights as other married couples have affects my life, one way or the other.

THE REALITY IS that these gay couples seeking marriage likely are not going to find many religious denominations willing to perform them. So we’re talking about a lot more people going to City Hall to have a justice of the peace or some other clerk perform the ceremony.

It’s not like we’re hearing people argue for church weddings. It’s not like any religious denomination is being pressured to change its ways or beliefs because of this.

And if this issue comes down to religious fanatics upset that their particular religion’s beliefs are not being allowed to dominate society over all others, then to me it sounds like these people view religion as their excuse to bully others into submission.

They come off sounding as ridiculous as the Illinois General Assembly did a few years ago when they passed a law saying that marriage between couples of the same gender was NOT legal in Illinois – even though the state’s laws concerning marriage already defined the concept as being a union between couples of differing genders.

IT ALWAYS STRUCK me as completely appropriate that then-Gov. Jim Edgar went out of his way to sign that bill into law at a time when there was so much other business pending at the Statehouse that there was no way he’d have to answer questions about it – because I suspect even he realized how absurd the argument truly is.

If someone truly believes that marriage to someone of the same gender is wrong, I’d argue that no one is forcing them to marry another man (or woman, depending on the crackpot’s gender). That’s actually similar to my belief on abortion – nobody forces a woman to have one if she truly doesn’t want to.

In short, the people who make these arguments against gay marriage come off as the ultimate schoolyard bullies, all grown up and still looking for reasons to use force to cram their sense of ignorance into everybody else’s mind.

Aside from being immoral, such an attitude is ironic because it strikes me as being incredibly un-Christian.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Did California voters manage to anger gay rights activists to the point ( they will fight seriously on the issue of gay marriage?

Chicagoans joined activists in many other cities in engaging in protest on the access to legal ( marriage issue.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gambling boat talk headed northbound

It ought to be clear by now that the original basis for having riverboat casinos in Illinois – to bolster the local economies of impoverished towns with few other options – is no longer a priority.

That is the logical conclusion after seeing the Illinois Gaming Board at work on Friday. State officials who are trying to figure out where to locate a 10th gambling boat in Illinois have narrowed the search down to three locations out of seven that applied for the outstanding license.

THE SUBURBAN CHICAGO towns that no longer have any hope of getting a casino boat within their boundaries are Calumet City, Country Club Hills, Harvey and Stickney. All of those towns fit the bill of financially struggling communities, and they all are located in the southern part of Cook County.

By comparison, the three towns that are still in the running to get a casino – Des Plaines, Rosemont and Waukegan – all are north of Chicago, with the hometown of Jack Benny being located on Lake Michigan nearly in Wisconsin.

Now I’m not going to claim that Waukegan and Des Plaines are flourishing communities that couldn’t use the economic boost from having a riverboat casino within those municipalities.

But those towns do not reach the level of economic despair that can be found in patches of the Chicago south suburbs.

IT WOULD APPEAR the powers that be who have a say in the citing of a 10th and final (unless more licenses are created at some point in the future) license are determined to put the gambling boat in a place they believe to be accessible to the more economically solid Chicago North Side and surrounding suburbs.

The idea of a boat in an old-line small city like Waukegan floating in Lake Michigan near the state line would be unique among Illinois’ collection of riverboat casinos, while Des Plaines has a location convenient to the Northwest Side neighborhoods of Chicago proper, and could be a short taxicab ride from the Chicago-area hotels that are congested around O’Hare International Airport.

And that is why all the south suburban sites got shot down at this point.

So Calumet City officials were wasting their breath when they argued that putting a casino in their town, adjacent to the River Oaks Shopping Center on the Little Calumet River, could take away some of the crowds that now flow into Indiana to fulfill their gambling itch at the casinos in and around Hammond.

COUNTRY CLUB HILLS officials might as well give up their huge, and vacant, site that has been open for years, even though their town was centrally located in the south suburbs with easy access to Interstates 80 and 57 – which would mean it would have easy access from Chicago, central Illinois and Indiana.

Mike Ditka turned out to be a useless ornament in the desires of Stickney to build a casino adjacent to the Hawthorne Race Course. The one-time Chicago Bears coach was the celebrity spokesman whose image would have been used to promote the casino as a perfect place for “Grabowskis” to gamble.

And as for Harvey, that town got dumped on even though the company that wanted to operate a casino there placed one of the highest bids to the state ($175 million, compared to the $100 million put forth by Des Plaines).

So much for the town that some people only remember as the site of the now-demolished Dixie Square Shopping Center that was used to shoot scenes in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”

IT WOULD APPEAR that southern Cook County (the roughly 100 blocks of territory located south of the southernmost part of Chicago at 138th Street) just fell off the Illinois Gaming Board’s radar, even though state officials said their priority was to come up with sites where a casino would generate the most money to be diverted to public education.

Either that, or the idea that four sites from the region (compared to two northwest suburban and one far north suburban) all managed to compete with each other, thereby causing them to shoot each other down.

As it turned out, the Illinois Gaming Board gave some consideration to the Calumet City proposal (which means that the concept of dumping on Indiana was considered a worthwhile goal), while ignoring outright all the other three towns.

Now as somebody who has lived in a few south suburban towns (along with Chicago far South Side, near North, North and Northwest sides) during my life, I’m aware of the thought process often applied to the south suburbs.

OR, I SHOULD say, how they are often overlooked.

But I will admit that I expected one of these towns to get included in the final three.

I was convinced personally that Stickney, with its use of Ditka and the existence of a race track, would draw just enough attention to make a “Final Three” list, even though I never expected it to be the town ultimately chosen for the riverboat casino.

For I ultimately still expect the final site for the 10th casino boat to be Rosemont – the same suburb that was given the casino a few years ago, only to lose it because of concerns that then-Mayor Don Stephens had ties to organized crime.

SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE that Rosemont was only included in the “Final Three” to create the illusion that its proposal (with a $435 million bid) was taken seriously, so as to reduce the chances that the village could successfully sue Illinois for putting their previously-promised casino elsewhere.

But I still see a site located so close to O’Hare and the cluster of hotels around the airport being the state’s preference. All of those people could gamble at a Rosemont casino, and possibly shuttle buses could take people from the airport to the casinos while they wait for a connecting flight.

What better goal for the area economy to have people lose their money here during their few hours in Chicago. I remain convinced that state officials will figure out a way to get over the moralistic objections of the past that Rosemont village government had ties to organized crime.

After all, anybody who thinks that gambling can be the basis for economic development is not the kind of person who gets too worked up over morals.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago is destined to get yet another gambling boat in the ( metropolitan area, to go along ( with the existing boats in Joliet, Aurora and Elgin, along with the Indiana-based casinos in East Chicago, Gary and Hammond.

Many of those south suburban casino boat bids were from people willing to put economic jolts ( ahead of social morals.