Saturday, May 30, 2009

A lot of “*,” but no real punishment

When it comes to the concept of high school kids skipping directly to professional basketball, I have never been one of those people who got all worked up.

I do believe those young people would be better off going to college, being exposed to the academic atmosphere, and possibly even learning something in their courses.

BUT I AM realistic enough to know that some people have little to no interest in academia. Some aren’t cut out for it. There may very well be some young people who spend their every spare minute practicing their dribble and their jump shot – out of the delusion that they will be the one in the few who will be able to play in the National Basketball Association for a long enough time period that they will be able to stash away enough money that they never have to work a real job in their lives.

Probably the only reason many of these young people pay attention to colleges at all is because they know that the NBA uses NCAA Division 1 athletic programs as their minor leagues.

Playing a year or two in college ball is the key to catching the attention of NBA scouts. Otherwise, why bother. The last thing most of them have any interest in doing is playing for all four years of a college athletic career.

That clearly is the mentality behind Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls star who once was the big shot ballplayer of a nationally ranked high school team out of Simeon Career Academy – which published reports in the Chicago Sun-Times indicate had people who were willing to tamper with his high school transcripts to bolster his shot of getting into college.

AS IT TURNED out, Rose did one year at the University of Memphis, helping to lead the Tigers to a Final Four appearance before moving on to the NBA and the Bulls – where he may very well be the guy who someday leads Chicago to its seventh NBA title (and its first ever without Michael Jordan).

Officials are investigating whether Rose’s “D’s” were bolstered to “C’s,” and whether someone took the SAT college entrance examination for Rose, in order to improve his chances of being accepted to college.

After all, what good would Rose’s athletic ability be if he weren’t able to take it any higher than leading the South Side high school to state championships?

Admittedly, nothing has yet been proven. This is not a court of law, but Rose is entitled to the same “innocent until proven guilty” standard that everyone in this country is supposed to get when they are confronted with an allegation.

BUT THE SPORTS pundits already are speaking out about the punishment, which is really a joke.

The official record of Illinois High School Association basketball may very well be changed to say that Simeon’s state championship isn’t legitimate because of a player participating in inappropriate activity.

Memphis fans will continue to remember the stellar play that led their favorite collegiate team to a Final Four appearance in the NCAA tourney – even if some sort of asterisk will be put aside their record to indicate that something funky took place.

And somehow, I doubt the Bulls are going to care much – so long as Rose plays well on the court. If he doesn’t, he’ll get traded away, just like the last local high school star who was supposed to lead the Bulls to a championship – Eddy Curry.

A WHOLE LOT of asterisks will clutter up the athletic record books to create the impression that “justice” took place and that punishment was administered. Yet I don’t see it that way.

It’s like a whole lot of athletic record keepers were trained in the old Soviet Union, where negative aspects of history were written out of the books in revised editions. A whole lot of people at Simeon and Memphis will try to act as though Rose is somehow a non-person.

But they’re not about to do anything to get at the real problem, which is kids who probably don’t belong in an academic environment being used by universities so long as their athletic skills can help those athletic departments make a few bucks for their home colleges.

It goes back to the issue of whether kids directly from high school should be playing in the NBA. I say why not, and not just because there are the occasional high schoolers (and younger when one considers the rush of Dominican teenagers who get to play minor league baseball) who make it to the U.S. major leagues.

I’M NOT A professional basketball fan. What interest I have in the game goes to the college level, and I’d rather have that level of the game kept free of this kind of grade-altering (or even the appearance of it).

If it means that the level of ball played at the college level declines somewhat, I can still enjoy the game because my interest in it is in all that athletic “rah rah” spirit. I’d rather not have the ballplayers whose only interest in being on campus is to use the school as the equivalent of a year in the minor leagues before going on to the NBA.

And for those who might be concerned about what happens to Rose, I’m not overly worried about that part of this story. He got through, and he’s a professional.

Rose got the big payoff (unlike the kid who’s a second too slow and never advances beyond small-school basketball), and is now focusing on playing well enough without getting injured to have a lengthy (and wealthy) athletic career.

HE’S NOT GOING to suffer from this. Nobody else will either, in all likelihood.

That is what we should be outraged about.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Derrick Rose’s exceptional athletic abilities are hard to find, which is why someone ( may have thought that a mere “D” was not worth derailing his potential for a life in professional basketball.

Will nativists make La Raza Sotomayor’s version of Obama’s Bill Ayers?

Bill Ayers is the education professor from the University of Illinois at Chicago whom social conservatives tried last year to turn into a millstone around the neck of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama because of Ayer’s activist days against the Vietnam War.

It failed. Most people saw through the cheap rhetoric and considered it a non-issue.

YET THOSE SAME conservatives seem to be trying the technique again. Only now, we’re hearing about the National Council of La Raza and the fact that Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, has been a supporter.

I’d like to think the cheap rhetoric will again be ignored (how else to explain the absurd comments from former Congressman Tom Tancredo). That means I’m putting my faith in the intelligence of the American people.

It just seems that the same people who remember the name “Willie Horton” and the way it helped take down the 1988 presidential dreams of Michael Dukakis will spend their lives trying to come up with symbols meant to scare the public, rather than trying to find a solution to the problem. Of course, those people largely ARE the problem.

For those interested in learning more about the latest demonization of La Raza, this site’s sister weblog The South Chicagoan ( offers a detailed commentary worth reading.


Friday, May 29, 2009

To Mancow and Drew, Oh be quiet!

The next time that radio “personality” Mancow Muller claims his critics ought to shut up because they don’t appreciate the “wit” he brings to the airwaves, we ought to remember what happened this week on his WLS-AM radio program in telling him where he can stuff his complaints.

I’m referring to Wednesday, when Drew Peterson used the telephone at the Will County Jail to make a collect call to the downtown Chicago-based radio station, which not only accepted the charges, they put him on the air.

FOR ABOUT SEVEN minutes (according to the Associated Press), they did a “jailhouse interview” with Drew – the one-time Bolingbrook police officer who likely breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week when officials announced that a body they found in the Des Plaines River was NOT that of his most recent wife Stacy (who has been missing for over a year).

There’s no evidence to connect Drew to that disappearance, so all the criminal charges he faces are related to the death of another of his wives – Kathleen.

Now it is not uncommon for news organizations to go to the jail and try to talk to inmates whose stories might be unusual enough to warrant public interest. There are times when a legitimate (if macabre) story can come out of the thoughts of an inmate.

And I also realize that Muller is not a reporter-type by any means. He is an entertainer.

SO ANY DISCUSSION he would have with Drew is not going to be about the great legal issues involved in the case, or trying to get the perspective of a one-time cop who may very well be in the same jail with people he helped lock up (which is why Peterson is being kept in solitary confinement these days; Will County officials don’t want a jail riot if at all possible).

But the content of that “interview” was so ridiculously trashy as to be pointless. It was a waste of radio airtime, particularly from the station that once gave us “Uncle” Larry Lujack and Lil’ Tommy (as in Edwards).

While some people might argue freedom of speech and Muller’s right to air whatever he thought appropriate (so long as his boss approved), I’m now using my right to freedom of expression to write this commentary that says the interview was stupid.

I never expect anything particularly highbrow from Muller, but this bit was just so crass that I have a hard time believing that anyone in the portion of the public that comprises the Chicago area found it to be entertaining.

IT CERTAINLY WASN’T informative.

Or do you really think the thought of “Win a Conjugal Visit with Drew” to be intriguing? I’d hate to think anyone would seriously take Peterson up on such an offer.

That is about the level of humor that was achieved during this entire bit, while also maintaining his innocence of any criminal activity in the death of wife number three (whom officials originally thought died by accident, but later ruled to be a homicide).

In fact, only one part even came close to giving me a chuckle.

THAT WAS PETERSON’S crack about the quality of food served to inmates in the Will County Jail. I’m not going to repeat his line, but the implication is that it causes inmates to put heavy wear and tear on the jailhouse toilets.

Isn’t this the same Drew who a couple of weeks ago wisecracked that one of the perks of his new situation was “three (free) square (meal)s a day?” Now, he gives us bathroom humor.

I outgrew that kind of wisecrack at about age 12. I’d like to think most of us did as well.

The ironic part is that I can easily picture in the past that when Peterson was a police officer, he likely would have been the type of person who would have lambasted “the media” for airing such trash.

MOST COPS I have known during my life can’t stand the inmates getting too much attention. It can go a long way toward humanizing people who may (or may not, there is that presumption of innocence) have made a stupid mistake in their lives and must now pay for it with loss of freedom for a time.

About the only thing I can think of that this “interview” accomplishes is that it humanizes Drew Peterson by showing him to be a nitwit (although he has said in a serious tone that his use of sarcasm in humor is his way of dealing with the stress of his incarceration).

So I don’t blame Peterson so much for making the call and acting like a buffoon on the radio. But I really have to wonder about the level of common sense that went into deciding that he was worthy of putting live on the air.

That lack of sense goes a long way toward undermining any credibility that Mancow the broadcaster ever had. That offends me more than any toilet joke told by Peterson.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is “Roland, Roland, Roland” exonerated?

Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., would have us believe we now have the evidence that shows he did nothing illegal in order to get now-former Gov. Rod Blagojevich to appoint him to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy created by the election of Barack Obama as president.

Blagojevich’s harshest critics who want to take down anyone who was even remotely connected to him (if I were Milorod’s kindergarten teacher, I’d be very wary these days) say that tape shows Burris was in cahoots with the brothers Blagojevich in order to get a U.S. Senate appointment.

PERSONALLY, I THINK the transcript released this week of a wiretap recording made by the FBI during their attempt to get the evidence of criminal behavior against Blagojevich really doesn’t say much of anything.

Assuming that the recording has been accurately transcribed (I haven’t heard the actual tape, whose aural quality likely is very poor), what we know is that Burris once spoke with Blagojevich’s brother about the possibility of help with political fundraising.

Burris wants us to believe the fact that he is heard to say that he can’t just provide direct assistance is evidence that he knew there were legal restrictions on what kind of assistance he could provide.

Yet the Blagojevich critics want to believe the fact that Burris did not immediately say “no” and in fact tried to consider what legal forms of assistance he could provide to the then-governor is evidence that he was eager to make a deal to get himself the Senate appointment.

MY POINT IS to say that this transcript, which may become one of those things we hear about over and over in coming months, is almost the equivalent of a political Rorschach test.

People are going to read into it whatever they want to in order to confirm their preset beliefs. And I suppose what I am writing here is that I read these quotations from Roland Burris and Robert Blagojevich and I see the political equivalent of just a batch of ink blots.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter much.

Most people appear to have already made up their minds about Roland Burris, and the impression is not a positive one. Despite his past years of political posts and doing “the people’s business,” Burris these days has become little more than the doddering old man who doesn’t realize he should quit.

REGARDLESS OF HOW much money he ultimately raises for his re-election campaign, people are always going to talk about the fact that during his initial months in office he raised the grand total of $845 (which is barely enough money to pay for the sound system used at one political rally).

And now, they’re going to talk about Burris being the guy who had repeated chances to tell various panels the “whole” truth about how he got Rod Blagojevich to resurrect his political career (he had been out of office for 14 years), but kept getting caught in, not quite lies, but half-truths.

I even consider that to be something of a political Rorschach test, since I have always been under the impression that when someone is under oath, they answer the specific questions put to them and usually try to say as little as possible.

If it sounds like I think anybody’s testimony about any issue could be taken apart by people who want to nitpick, then you’d be correct.

I REALLY DON’T know what to think of Roland Burris these days.

While the political science geek in me can appreciate the need to understand the circumstances under which a soon-to-be-impeached governor used Burris to deliver a “drop dead” statement to his critics, I’m more inclined to want to look ahead to the future.

And when I think about the future, I don’t really see Roland Burris as a factor. He will serve his purpose as an “interim” member of the U.S. Senate, while the long-term choice to represent Illinois will be determined in next year’s elections.

I don’t expect him to get the Democratic Party’s nomination, although I’m not sure who the party’s nominee will be. The only thing I am sure of is that the party primary will be a contentious one.

PERHAPS THAT’S THE way it should be.

What I want to see is if so many people get their feelings hurt that the party can’t unite behind whoever does win the nomination, which could be the Republican Party’s best chance of having their candidate ultimately prevail come the November 2010 general election.

I keep getting hung up about the fact that the people who are most eager to dredge up nasty little details about the selection process are the ones less interested in legal issues and serious political study and who are more interested in playing partisan games related to next year’s elections.

That makes the Senate ethics committee, which got permission this week to review the FBI tapes in their effort to determine of Burris should be censured for his behavior, little more than opposition researchers for the 2010 campaign.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Does the phrase “keep me in mind” amount to something improper ( when it comes to the process of trying to get a political appointment?

This ought to be enough evidence that partisan politics, and not any sense of good government, is a large part ( of the movement to dump on Roland Burris.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Barnich brought Chicago vision to Iraq

It strikes me as ironic that one of the the Iraq casualties to occur on Memorial Day this year was a fellow Chicagoan. By now, we’re getting the reports of how one-time Illinois Commerce Commission chairman Terry Barnich was killed by an explosion while working in Iraq.

It has been several years since I last saw Terry Barnich (it was back in the late 1990s when I was a reporter-type at the Statehouse in Springfield and he’d be hanging around the building working as a lobbyist for various interests).

YET THE STRONGEST memories I have of him go back to the days when I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. I was the reporter for the local wire service based at the Thompson Center state government building.

As things worked out, the press room in that grandiose government building that sprung from architect Helmut Jahn’s vision was located on the same floor as the Illinois Commerce Commission offices. In fact, the press room was near an obscure back door that one could take to get past the ICC’s front desk and go directly to the chairman’s office.

I know, because there were times I managed to get statements directly from Terry Barnich by making the roughly 25-step walk from my desk to his.

Some people might think that was presumptuous of me. But security in that building back in the early 1990s wasn’t as rigid as it is these days, and a reporter usually comes to appreciate any time he (or she) can get direct access to political people – rather than having to rely on the canned statements put out by their press people.

BARNICH ALSO WASN’T exactly the type whose first response would be to call security and have me removed.

In fact, Barnich was usually the type who would spend his spare moments making the same walk in reverse – popping into the press room to shoot the breeze with reporter-types for City News, the Chicago Tribune and the Illinois Radio Network (which back then were the only news organizations that thought the state building worthy of staffing).

Now I’m not going to start nominating Terry Barnich for sainthood just because he was a little easier to talk to than some government officials (I’m talking about the types who want you to think they’re doing you a favor by acknowledging your existence).

Part of what came from his mouth was pure political spin (he was a Republican of the James R. Thompson mold). He was just as interested in getting his perspective included prominently in any stories written about him as any other political person.

BUT I HAVE to admit that part of the practical knowledge I have accumulated from some two decades of observing the Chicago and Illinois political scenes came from Terry Barnich – both in terms of watching him and listening to him when he worked.

There also were the moments when he’d tell us the little anecdotes of what it was really like to work for Jim Thompson – who by that time was approaching the end of his record-length 14-year run as Illinois governor.

Barnich was a guy who literally started out at the bottom of Illinois government (I recall him telling stories of what it was like to be a young law school graduate who held the governor’s coat or took the gubernatorial dogs for a walk), but worked his way up and ultimately became head of a state agency.

I’m sure on a certain level, he viewed those trips to the press room as being a part of the job to try to keep us reporter-types under control. I’m sure he had that attitude because I can remember a couple of times he would storm into that press room in anger – acting almost as though he thought we had betrayed him.

BETRAYAL, OF COURSE, isn’t the right word, even though there were stories that would paint the Illinois Commerce Commission (which regulates utility companies and any other business interests such as railroads that cross through Illinois and other states) in a negative light.

That is part of a reporter-type’s job – to tick off political people and occasionally bite the hand of the occasional politico who comes by willingly.

But while there are some political people in this state who have shown an ability to hold a grudge against me, I can’t say that Barnich was in those ranks.

Eventually, Barnich went the route of many a government official – he gave up a spot on the public payroll for the private sector. In his case, he became a consultant. Like I wrote earlier, for a few years he was one of the lobbyists pushing for the political interests of whichever company was paying him.

EVENTUALLY, HE MOVED on to a bigger scale – choosing to try to earn his living by being a part of the coalition trying to rebuild Iraq into something resembling a Democracy.

I can’t say I had kept in touch with him, but I must admit to having always gotten a kick out of the idea that somebody I knew “way back when” had moved up to such a reputable post.

He had been in Iraq for just over two years, working as a senior advisor for the State Department’s Iraq Transition Assistance Office. I actually found an interview he gave early in 2008 where he said he expected to be back in the United States to stay by April 1 of last year.

But just as the Iraq situation isn’t resolved, neither was his work. Which is why he happened to be a part of a convoy on Monday that was returning from a wastewater treatment plant inspection when it was hit by a roadside bomb. Barnich was one of three killed in the explosion.

SO IN THE case of the life of Terry Barnich, we’re talking about a guy who worked his way out of the South Side's Hegewisch neighborhood (he was a 1971 graduate of Washington High School) up through the ranks of the Statehouse Scene before achieving some moments of significance trying to bring stability to what has become a troubled region.

It’s just a shame he couldn’t live long enough (he was 56) to see if his work would end in success.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I found it most ironic to read of how Terry Barnich narrowly escaped ( death during a past explosion – 44 paces and eight seconds, by his estimation. He wasn’t as fortunate ( this week.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

BASEBALL: Will it be fine in ’09 – now that the standings become relevant

I am a fan of professional baseball who enjoys the sport particularly because of its daily nature (you don’t have to sit around all week waiting for “the big game”) and the fact that anything can happen at virtually any time in the 162-game season.

Yet it wasn’t until Monday morning that I seriously looked at the league’s standings. It’s my own personal rule – I don’t pay much attention to the standings until Memorial Day.

BY NOW, WE’RE just over one-quarter of the way through the American League season (and for those foolish people with little sense, the National League too). By now, we’re able to see just enough of play to know how good (or bad) our city’s ball clubs truly are.

It makes a lot more sense than trying to predict a pennant winner in mid-April, based off a couple of good weeks that could be a total aberration. I still remember a few years ago when the Cleveland Indians started off the season with a record of 11-1 and many pundits were ready to start thinking of them as one of the truly great ball clubs.

Fourteen games later, they had a record of 13-13, and they wound up not even finishing with a winning record that season.

So what should we think of our city’s teams? I’m finding the White Sox to be a maddening ball club.

THEY’RE CAPABLE OF playing as though they’re one of the league’s elite teams, and they’re also capable of playing like they want to take over the image the Cubs have built up throughout the years for ineptitude.

With a record of 20-24, it would not be unreasonable to think they’re not going to repeat as a division title winner.

Yet they get the dumb luck of playing in an American League division where none of the teams are dominant. How else to explain the fact that they’re 4 games under .500, yet only 5 1/2 games behind first place Detroit?

Now some people want to think that the “story” behind the 2009 season is the “resurgence” of the Kansas City Royals – they’re not in last place in the division like they usually are.

YET LET’S BE honest. They may be in second place, but they have a record of 22-23, which means they have a losing record, which also means they’re only a couple of ballgames better than the White Sox.

Am I delusional to think that the White Sox could suddenly hit a hot streak, win a few ballgames and put themselves back in serious contention (1st Place by July 4, which is supposed to be the date upon which serious championship contenders have put themselves into the running).

It could happen. Then again, it may not.

Any ball club that could lose so many games in early May (for a stretch, the only games they weren’t losing were the ones Mark Buehrle started) may not have it in them to have a hot streak.

BUT THEN I look at the rest of the American League’s central division and see a batch of teams that could easily start playing as badly as the White Sox. We could have a team that finishes anywhere from 1st through 4th place.

Heck, even when the White Sox manage to play “well,” they also do things that overcome any positive impression that might be received.

Take this past week into account. They played two three-game series in Chicago and won four (literally winning two of three each against the Minnesota Twins and the Pittsburgh Pirates).

Yet what are going to be the two games that people will remember? It will be the two losses.

THAT’S WHAT LOSING 20-1 will do for the national reputation, along with taking a lead into the ninth inning against one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball with your so-called top relief pitcher on the mound – and finding a way to blow the ballgame.

There are four more months to go in the 2009 season, but I don’t know if baseball on the South Side is going to be a cheerful or maddening experience. Will this be the fourth division title of the ‘00’s for the White Sox, or a year we’ll want to forget (like much of the latter half of the 1980s)?

Intriguing is about the most accurate words I can think of to use, but I count on following baseball to be a means to forget about my life’s problems – not add new ones to the list.

Now as I have written before, I don’t care much about the Chicago Cubs or anything having to do with the National League (which is why I didn’t care much about so-called star pitcher Jake Peavy of the San Diego Padres turning down a chance to play for the White Sox).

YET IT JUST strikes me as odd that a team so many pundits want to believe is a legitimate pennant contender that is “due” to win something after coming so close the past two years went into the holiday at 21-22 (fourth place, out of six teams). I know they were higher until they hit an 8-game losing streak (which is something not even the White Sox have managed to do this year).

But I’m getting the impression that baseball won’t be fine in ’09 – at least not if you measure a season’s success as to whether they were legitimate contenders for a league championship.

While I can appreciate the idea that baseball being played at any level can be a thing of beauty to watch (I will always find the mind games played between pitcher and batter to be the most intriguing aspect of athletics), there could be so much bad baseball played in Chicago this year.

It’s almost enough to get me to root for the New York Yankees (at 26-19, only 1 game out of first place), just because it would irritate those Cubs fans who think their team shares some cosmic “bond” with the Boston Red Sox (which is in itself an absurd thought, but that’s a subject for future commentary).


EDITOR'S NOTE: Or perhaps I should just spend the summer following the Chicago Fire, who have managed ( to win their last 10 matches. When was the last time either Chicago baseball club ran up a winning streak like that?

Monday, May 25, 2009

From Guantanamo to Tamms?

It’s more about political grandstanding than offering up a serious suggestion.

I don’t expect the federal government to take Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., up on his offer to take some of those suspected terrorists who have been held at the military base at Guantanamo Bay (that’s Cuba) and keep them in custody in the depths of Southern Illinois.

DURBIN WENT ON the “Meet the Press” program Sunday, and made his statement that Illinois could easily handle some of those people who think they’re earning their way into Heaven by igniting a bomb or two against the Western world.

Specifically, he’d have them sent to the closed-unit prison built near the town of Tamms – located about 12 miles north of the state’s southernmost tip.

To those of us who rely on newspaper headlines and smart aleck pundits for details, a closed-unit facility is known as “supermax,” although most prison officials I have ever met detest that term.

But regardless of what one calls it, Durbin is offering up our state’s most isolated prison as a place to keep people who view themselves as “enemies” of our nation (or may have mistakenly been taken for terrorists, who’s to say. It’s not like these people were ever tried and found guilty of the allegations against them).

“I’D BE OKAY with them in a supermax facility, because we’ve never had an escape from one,” Durbin said during his interview on the long-running weekend interview program whose ratings have been on the decline ever since host Tim Russert passed away last year.

“We have over 340 convicted terrorists now being held safely in our prisons,” said Durbin. “I just don’t hear anyone suggesting releasing them or sending them to another country. That isn’t part of the program that we have before us.”

The issue of the “enemy combatants” picked up in desolate parts of Afghanistan or other parts of the world and being held in U.S. custody has long been a feisty one.

Former President George W. Bush will have the fact that these people were held in Guantanamo Bay as a negative part of his legacy, and that is what is behind President Barack Obama’s desire to get those people off the naval base maintained by our nation at the southeastern tip of Cuba (the bizarre nature of that deal is a topic for another day’s commentary).

OBAMA IS NOBLE enough in his desire to get these people out of a situation where it looks like our nation is incarcerating them without any concern for their legal rights (and yes, every human being has certain legal rights – that’s part of what makes our nation so noble).

But what do we do with them?

The obvious situation would be to hold them within the existing prison system maintained by the federal government. But the Bureau of Prisons only maintains one closed-unit facility (in Colorado), and officials there have made it clear they’re filled close to capacity.

One broadcast report I heard this weekend indicated that prison in Florence, Colo., had room for only one more inmate. Obviously, there is more than one person being held in Cuba who needs to be put elsewhere.

AND NOBODY IS suggesting that one-time Evergreen Park resident Ted Kaczynski (a.k.a., “the Unabomber”) should be moved to a lesser-security prison so that someone who thinks his ultimate reward is 72 virgins can have his cell.

So what should become of these people who have had a particularly un-luxurious Cuban “vacation” in recent years, and whom the United States would prefer not to have freely in circulation around the globe?

The smart aleck in me wants to welcome Durbin’s suggestion.

After all, if the Illinois Department of Corrections were required to take custody of inmates because of the federal government, it would be able to send a bill to Washington for the expense of custody and care of these people.

PERHAPS ONE KEY to helping plug the state’s budgetary problems is to offer up a few cells in Tamms, with the state adding on a certain “gratuity” of sorts to ensure that a profit is made.

I don’t think we’d want to take on so many people to plug the entire budgetary gap, but a few extra bucks couldn’t hurt.

Nonetheless, I don’t seriously expect anyone to take up this suggestion – even though Durbin has offered up Tamms and Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., said last week he’d be willing to have some of those inmates transferred to the maximum-security federal prison in Marion.

I can already hear the outrage of the roughly 5 percent of Illinoisans who live south of Interstate 70 if such “dangerous” people were put in their midst, even though such an argument would be ridiculous.

THE WHOLE CONCEPT of closed unit/supermax/whatever you call it is that inmates are kept in their cells for about 23 hours per day, and NEVER have contact with any human being other than the guard who gets to put them in shackles for the few minutes of fresh air they are allowed each day.

In short, people of Southern Illinois would never see these inmates.

Neither would the rest of Illinois, since Tamms is such an isolated place (I made the drive down there once, it’s not the kind of place one accidentally stumbles across) that one could argue these combatants had more contact with the rest of the world when they were at Guantanamo Bay.

So will it soon become every state’s obligation to take on a few of these inmates (who are a significant part of the Bush legacy) so Obama can try to appear as though he’s being humanitarian? It’s not like life in isolation at Tamms is a picnic.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Did Dick Durbin upstage Newt Gingrich? Or did the Gentleman from Sangamon ( make himself look foolish?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tougher than a TV jungle, Chicago is

“Politics ain’t beanbag” – the mythical Mr. Dooley.

“Chicago ain’t ready for reform” – former Ald. Paddy Bauler.

“After being in, you know, Chicago and Illinois politics for this many years, the jungle doesn’t seem too scary” – former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich.

Could it be?

Has the former first lady of Illinois managed to come up with the 21st Century’s quote that summarizes how tough and feisty the Chicago political scene is?

IF SO, SHE may very well have made a more lasting contribution to Chicago political history than her husband. He may very well be the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office, but eventually his name is just going to become yet another one on the list of would-be politicos who couldn’t keep themselves out of trouble.

But if the daughter of Ald. Dick Mell has managed to come up with a comment that sticks, she could be remembered for the ages. Chicago politics is tougher than a Costa Rican jungle.

What a concept!

For those who haven’t been paying attention to every word coming from the Blagojeviches these days, Patti made this comment earlier this week while appearing in an interview broadcast by WVON-AM.

FOR THOSE WONDERING why she’d willingly subject herself to media questioning, it was one of those softball-type interviews where the local radio guy was so thrilled to have her on the air that he wasn’t going to start pressing her on details of her husband’s criminal case – or those audio tapes the feds have that show our one-time first lady to be a potty mouth.

Broadcasters at the one-time Voice of Negroes (which is still a significant radio station focusing on community events in the African-American neighborhoods of the South Side) were willing to play along and let Patti talk about her upcoming appearance on a national television program – one that will pay her enough money so that she and husband Rod will be able to feed and clothe their two daughters for a few months while his criminal case is pending in the federal court system based in Chicago.

This, of course, is the same program that originally wanted Rod to appear as a pseudo-celebrity, eating bugs and struggling to survive in a jungle of Costa Rica.

That inspired Patti to say she thinks she can handle the heat of the jungle. After all, she’s coping with the “heat” of the Chicago political scene – which for the past few years badgered her and her husband with repeated questions about his alleged criminal behavior and now wants him to talk about his criminal trial.

ACTUALLY, WE DON’T want him to talk about his criminal trial, most of us want him to admit his guilt and beg for the maximum penalty possible, which won’t happen. But that is an issue for a future commentary.

So what should we think of Patti Blagojevich’s comment (which I think is more interesting than the Legislature considering a measure that would deprive Rod of any royalty payments he may ever receive from the book he allegedly is writing)?

It is a bit of an overstatement, but only because a real jungle setting is much more harsh than the environment at City Hall – even on those days when the air conditioning conks out in mid-August and the building gets incredibly stuffy.

Keep in mind that while the “reality” show that will include Patti Blagojevich is being set in Costa Rica, the “jungle” setting that will be used to shoot the program is going to be a controlled environment.

SHE MAY GET dirty, sweaty, and literally have to eat a bug or two.

But she’s not going to have her life put at risk, the way anyone who wandered into the real jungle would be. So yeah, the Chicago political scene probably is a more hazardous place for the Blagojeviches than the outdoor television set being used as a Costa Rica jungle.

But it has just enough of a sense of exaggeration to be catchy. It could be the kind of comment that sticks in peoples’ minds. If the officials at WVON have any sense, they ought to do everything they can to document the fact that this comment was made during one of their live broadcasts.

Maybe even make the audio available somehow (put it on their website, so that people could make a click and hear Patti herself compare “da Hall” to “da jungle.”

IN FACT, A part of me is inclined to think that Patti has topped both Bauler and the Bridgeport bartender character created by Finley Peter Dunne in coming up with a line that tries to summarize the Chicago political scene for the ages.

Then again, Bauler set the gold standard for corruption quotable quips. What other city has a line that summarizes their character so succinctly?

Of course, the ultimate quotable line in Chicago doesn’t relate to City Hall or politics. It refers to our police.

As put by the long-time Mayor Richard J. Daley – “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder. The policeman is there to preserve disorder.”


Friday, May 22, 2009

What makes for a biased judge?

Hearing the prosecutors of Will County complain about the judge being biased against them reminds me of a trial I once covered some 20 years ago when I worked for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago.

On trial at the courthouse in Markham were two teenage boys (just barely old enough to be considered adults, but both under 20). To listen to the prosecutors, these two were thugs who liked to go around beating people up.

IT WASN’T SO much that they were robbers. These two (who I’m not naming because I don’t think they’re worth the public attention) liked to administer beatings.

Oh, and by the way, all of their victims could be described as elderly. As I recall, prosecutors pointed out that every single person attacked by the two used either a cane or a walker. In short, they weren’t people with great mobility, or much of any ability to put up a fight or flee.

What I remember the most is that the public defender initially was pleased when he learned which judge the case was assigned to – it was a man whose reputation was to be sympathetic to defendants, remembering that they too were human beings.

He definitely was not the type of guy who felt the need to “play God” from the bench, pronouncing sentence upon the guilty with a flourish.

THAT PUBLIC DEFENDER, however, made the mistake of saying how he was convinced his two clients would get a light sentence (it could have been as little as three years in prison). When the judge found out that he was being perceived as a wimp, he turned into a stickler for the prosecution.

Upon finding the two guilty (it was a bench trial), he went ahead and issued a string of sentences for the various offenses, and made most of them consecutive. It came to 55 years in prison each for the two teens (who now would be in their late 30s, having spent more than half of their lives in prison).

All because a judge felt the need to show he wasn’t anti-prosecution.

That’s why I think it pathetic that the prosecutors in Will County who are trying to put one-time Bolingbrook cop Drew Peterson in prison for the death of his third wife.

WHO’S TO SAY that the judge in this case wouldn’t have felt the same pressure everyone else is feeling to try to come up with a ruling in this case?

It almost makes me wonder if prosecutors realize their strategy of trying to use hearsay comments from one-time wife Kathleen Savio herself is potentially weak, and they want to shift blame for a future acquittal of Peterson from a weak case to a weak judge.

Now I don’t know personally the judicial record of Richard Schoenstedt, the judge whom prosecutors wanted out. And it’s not like prosecutors ever publicly said just what it is about his record that made them think he would be inclined to oppose their actions.

Some evidence was offered up that he wasn’t sympathetic to their previous attempt to prosecute Peterson on an unlawful use of a weapon charge, but it could just be that that was a weak criminal case that deserved to be thrown out of court.

PERHAPS THEY SENSED he would realize that the $20 million bond set for Peterson borders on ridiculous, and ought to be brought down a bit (while defense attorneys argue for $100,000, I’m inclined to think $1 million sounds right – but what do I know, I’m not a judge).

But prosecutors got the county’s chief judge to go along with their concerns, and now Peterson has a new judge to argue before.

Carla Alessio Policandriotes was assigned to the Peterson case, and she gets her first crack at having the jumpsuit clad former cop in her courtroom on Friday. It will be curious to see what her demeanor will be in dealing with the mass of attention her every move will now draw.

Because she is going to become one of the best known Chicago-area judges, particularly if she needs to take any action to reign in Peterson’s overblown ego or arrogant attitude.

WILL SHE BE for the prosecutors? Who’s to say!

She could easily turn out to be just as sympathetic to defense attorneys, if prosecutors fail to put up a strong case for consideration.

Because that is what a lot of this ultimately comes down to. Some people become assistant state’s attorneys to gain legal experience for their future political or legal ambitions, while others just enjoy the idea of being the one who “puts the bad guys away.”

Prosecutors in this case sensed someone who might realize the other side has a legitimate point on occasion, and they didn’t like that – even though the U.S. legal system is based on that concept of, “innocent until proven guilty.”

IN THAT SENSE, it’s not much difference than the trial earlier this week in Kane County Court, where a nun was on trial for causing an accident that killed a teenager. She was allowed to wear her habit while in the courtroom, which may have created a perception that one was punishing the church.

It definitely created an image different from most “your word against mine” cases where the “mine” is a uniformed police officer. It created an image of someone who might be equally credible.

Not that I’m saying Drew Peterson has the same credibility as a nun (who, by the way, was acquitted of the charges against her). But it makes me wonder if prosecutors in this case are going to start screaming every time something goes against them in this case.

Or, if they’re desperately praying that the female body found recently in the Des Plaines River turns out to be that of Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy. That, at least, would provide physical evidence for more criminal charges, which could turn out to be more solid than the case they currently have for the death of wife number three.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Prosecutors got a new judge to handle the case against Drew Peterson ( Will they soon get hard physical evidence that he committed murder ( against another of his wives?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Kennedy “mystique” to hit Illinois

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Christopher Kennedy (the son of Bobby) has made a life for himself in Chicago. And he comes from a family drenched in electoral politics.

So it was only a matter of time before he started thinking seriously of combining those factors and becoming a government official – running for a political post in a city where the magic name is “Daley,” not “Kennedy.”

FOR IT LOOKS like Kennedy, the guy who runs the Merchandise Mart (for many decades, the Kennedy family included the riverfront office building among their real estate holdings), thinks the world needs another Sen. Kennedy on Capitol Hill.

Unlike his Uncle Ted who stood in the Kennedy "homeland" of Massachusetts, Christopher would like to be the junior senator from Illinois.

In short, Christopher Kennedy has aspirations of being the guy who dumps Roland Burris from the U.S. Senate. Considering that the field is going to be crowded enough, I’m not sure what to think of the fact that a building manager with no prior elected offices on his resume wants to have one of the Big Four positions in Illinois politics.

It could be that in a crowded field, the Kennedy “mystique” will be sufficient to generate about 25 percent of the vote – which could be enough to win the Democratic party’s nomination in 2010.

WE COULD VERY well get a 21st Century sequel to the 1960 presidential campaign. That is the race where Richard J. Daley’s political organization (the dreaded Machine) turned out the vote to win Illinois’ electoral votes for John F. Kennedy.

Now, it could turn to Richard M. to get the powers that be of local politics to put aside their own elective ambitions to turn out the vote for Christopher come next November. For his part, Daley says he thinks the “Kennedy” name has a magic in Illinois.

On the one hand, it would be intriguing to see an “outsider” such as Christopher Kennedy run for office in Illinois. Next year is going to be the campaign where Republican officials at every level will scream the name “Blagojevich!” at every opportune moment (and even a few occasions where they make themselves appear gauche for doing so).

Because he has not held elective office, and hasn’t done much politically other than write out checks to make donations to favored candidates throughout the years, Kennedy might actually be able to dodge such accusations.

HOW COULD HE be just another “corrupt Blagojevich Democrat” (how many times will we hear that phrase?) when he has never been elected to anything. Yet that Kennedy name will draw national attention, which would make it easy for him to tap into sources for fundraising.

But I’m sure there will be people who will resent his presence, and will try to make him out to be some foreigner to this state – even though he has lived and worked in Chicago for decades (longer, I’m sure, than Barack Obama, who is now our ultimate “favorite son” on the national political scene).

I’m sure people like Burris, Jan Schakowsky, Alexi Giannoulias and anyone else with dreams of being in the U.S. Senate will start sniping at the Kennedy name, trying to make it seem as though some Massachusetts guy wants to steal a Senate seat from Illinois the same way Alan Keyes of Maryland tried to do in 2004.

I’m also sure that the hostility he will face will be comparable to the attacks sustained by Caroline Schlossberg. The daughter of JFK had her own dreams of being in the U.S. Senate from New York when Gov. David Patterson had the chance to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Hillary Clinton (herself a Park Ridge native).

BUT SHE GOT hit with all kinds of accusations that she was totally inexperienced and knew nothing of the ways of public policy and public life. I can guess the campaigns against Christopher Kennedy in Illinois will echo that rhetoric – only more harsh.

Personally, I’m not sure if I’d vote for Christopher Kennedy. That is assuming he does proceed with plans to seek the nomination. I’d have to hear more about what he stands for.

But you have to admit it would have been the ultimate in bizarre if Caroline had become the senator from New York, with her cousin Chris being the senator from Illinois. The kids of JFK and RFK on Capitol Hill.

I’d feel all Kennedy-ed out. For those people who used to make an issue out of the fact that a Hillary Clinton election as president would have given us at least 24 years of the U.S. presidency being controlled by two families, I’d say the spread of Kennedys across the country makes the Bushes and Clintons seem like small change.

ACTUALLY, THAT IS the ironic part of this Kennedy conspiracy. Christopher isn’t even the first Kennedy to think of running for electoral office in our city.

Remember William Smith, the son of JFK and RFK sister Jean Smith?

One of the founders of the Center for International Rehabilitation who is most remembered for a 1991 rape trial in Florida (where he was acquitted) gave some thought back in 2001 to running for a U.S. House of Representatives seat from the Northwest Side.

That’s the one Rod Blagojevich gave up to run for governor in 2002.


EDITOR’S NOTE: A modern-day Daley thinks a modern-day Kennedy could do well politically (,daley-kennedy-chris-caroline-052009.article) on the Chicago scene.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This week’s politically partisan budget rhetoric geared toward Nov. 2, 2010

Chicago political observers have had to put up with a lot of scare talk the past couple of days with regards to government budgets.

We’ve heard threats that unless the chief executives of Illinois state and Cook County governments get their way with regard to significant tax increases, there are going to be a whole lot of people suffering.

LIKEWISE, WE’VE HEARD the opposition that claims the only people who will be suffering will be the taxpayers, who will have to pay the higher rates if not for the fiscal responsibility of legislators.

Now I don’t doubt that state and county government are facing serious financial problems. In today’s economic situation, everybody has problems. Why should the government (whom we ought to be able to turn to when problems arise) be any different?

But much of the political talk of the past couple of days has little to do with serious public policy actions.

What it all is geared toward is that date next year when Illinois and Cook County officials have to run for re-election.

THERE ARE GOING to be a lot of negative broadcast advertisements that air next year. And the factual basis of those ads will be rooted in the activity of the past couple of days, along with the next couple of weeks.

That really is the way to view Gov. Pat Quinn’s speech to the City Club of Chicago on Monday – the one where he gave his “doomsday” budget.

That’s the one with severe cuts to everybody’s spending – the one that will leave college students receiving less financial aid to cover their tuition and lower-income people with less medical coverage than the little they have right now.

It also is the speech where we got the ultimate Quinn quip – the one about legislators needing to take prison inmates home with them to live, since the Corrections Department budget also would have to be cut and some 6,000 inmates would have to be released because the state couldn’t properly care for them.

I DON’T THINK Quinn expects to have to make these cuts. He expects something to give in the next couple of weeks. This speech was all about scare tactics – and I don’t mean trying to scare the politicians. Not directly, at least.

Quinn knows if he tries to make threats directly to the General Assembly, they are of a feisty enough mood that they likely would pass something directly to spite him. Whatever solution Quinn finds to the potential state budget shortfall, he needs Legislative support.

But the Legislature is the body that is reluctant to go along with Quinn’s solution from earlier this year – a significant increase in the state income tax.

Legislators fear that voters will turn them out on their keisters if they dare vote “yes” for a higher tax of any type. So Quinn is trying to scare those same voters into being afraid of a prison inmate living near them, or their kid getting less financial help for their rising tuition bills.

I DON’T KNOW if it will work. But I can envision the ads that will run against people who don’t side with Quinn when the General Assembly votes later this month to approve a state budget – it will be something with ominous music that says Rep.______________ was willing to let prison inmates out early. Vote for __________ (insert name of Quinn ally here).

Of course, Quinn will be hit with ads something along the line of, “At a time when the economic troubles were hitting you hard enough, Pat Quinn wanted to take what little money you had left to cover state taxes.”

It was the same thing on Tuesday when the Cook County Board officially tried (and failed) to overturn President Todd Stroger’s veto of their attempt to overturn the county sales tax hike that was approved last year at Stroger’s insistence.

County board members who voted for this tax hike last year, but can’t stand the idea of negative ads bashing them about, now want to be able to point to an action that says they really didn’t mean it when they voted “yes” for a sales tax hike.

SO BY VOTING earlier this month to repeal, and on Tuesday to override Stroger’s veto of the repeal, they’re hoping that people will overlook the fact that Stroger didn’t get the sales tax hike (the one that gives the county the highest sales tax rate in the nation) in place all by himself.

And as for Stroger, even his actions are motivated by trying to create a factual basis for the political spin he will put on the issue when he seeks election to a second term as county president.

He will try to claim that the people who voted to repeal the tax hike were willing to put up with drastic spending cuts on the county level, similar to what Quinn offered up for the entire state.

The only difference is that Stroger was unwilling to offer up a list of cuts. He would put full blame on the people whose interests get slashed all on the county board members.

HOW WILL ALL this play out?

I’m not sure the county board officials have much to lose. Too many people are looking for any excuse they can concoct to make Stroger sound bad (they’re still bitter about the circumstances under which he was elected, although I still say he won because he was the better candidate). This tax trash talk is everything Stroger’s enemies could have wished for.

For Quinn, he might fare better. Because I can picture many people getting scared at the thought of some 6,000 fewer prison inmates.

But the bottom line is that for anyone who didn’t yet realize it, Campaign ’10 is now under way. Give me some aspirin. I already have a headache.


EDITOR’S NOTES: This is all nothing more than purely partisan political ( rhetoric.

Somebody ought to use video from Tuesday’s Cook County board session in their campaign ( advertisements for next year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

EXTRA: Did Collins make election gaffe?

Cook County Board commissioner Earlean Collins may have made a gaffe Tuesday that will live on in campaign commercials throughout next year’s election cycle.

It was during the debate over whether or not to overrule President Todd Stroger’s veto of a repeal of a portion of the county sales tax that Collins said she thought the people so eager to repeal the tax were wrong. She also said she realized that some people would try to use her view against her.

BUT THE WAY she worded it makes it likely that video of her comment will be used in a spot against her, or against Stroger, or anyone who backs Stroger.

As Collins put it, “If you don’t like it, you can vote me out of office. Honestly, I’d love to go home for once in my life and just relax.”

I can already hear the narrator telling us in an ominous voice, “Let’s send them all back home.” We'll have to wait to see if this rivals the sight of Judy Baar Topinka doing the polka with George Ryan when it comes to campaign potential.

By the way, Collins’ tough talk amounted to little. She voted “present” when it came to the attempt to override the sales tax increase desired by Stroger – which only got 11 votes, three short of the 14 actually needed (out of a 17-member county board) to override a county president’s veto.


Nun tops Drew on court scale

What is this world coming to? Drew Peterson was in court on Monday, and his case wasn’t even the biggest legal spectacle to occur in the Chicago area.

That would be the case of the Kane County nun, who went on trial for her behavior in an incident that left a teenage boy dead.

NOW PART OF what kept Peterson from making a fool of himself yet again was the fact that prosecutors managed to undermine his effort to get reduced bond. All he was able to do on Monday was enter the formal “not guilty” plea so his case could be assigned to a trial judge.

The way the courts work, he can later change the appeal to “guilty” once it gets to the new judge. No one pleads guilty immediately upon their arrest, especially not someone facing criminal charges for the death of wife number three when people suspect strongly that wife number four also perished in ways that qualify as criminal.

But prosecutors don’t like the judge being considered for the Peterson trial, because he’s the same judge who previously tossed out an attempt to make a criminal case against the one-time Bolingbrook police officer based on unlawful use of weapons charges (as though it should be a shock that a one-time lawman would own firearms).

So now, Will County Chief Judge Gerald Kinney will have to come in to try to resolve this dispute over who gets to be the judge at Peterson’s criminal proceedings. The matter will come up in court on Thursday. Once that issue is resolved, then another hearing will have to be held on the issue of whether or not $20 million as bond is excessive.

PETERSON’S ATTORNEYS SAY they think a $100,000 bond is more fair. Considering that it is the difference between having to come up with $2 million versus $10,000, it is a significant issue.

Until it is resolved, Peterson will continue to spend his time locked in solitary confinement at the Will County Jail – which means he’s kept away from other inmates, at least some of whom would like to establish a reputation for their “toughness” by trying to attack a former cop.

And while Drew spends the week in a cell by himself, with his only human contact being the guards who bring him his meals, the Kane County nun gets the legal spotlight to herself.

I’m sure that Sister Marie Marot would prefer not to have so much attention on her attire, or on her behavior. But she has her legal troubles due to a civil lawsuit and a court case – the latter of which began on Monday.

AT STAKE IS an incident nearly two years ago in Elgin while she was driving from a convent in Marengo to a church on the West Side of Chicago. Her van and an automobile struck each other. A 16-year-old boy died as a result of injuries suffered in the incident.

Police ultimately issued the ticket to Marot, despite the sister’s claims that the traffic signal at the intersection was “green,” giving her the right of way. To a cynic, everybody involved in an auto accident says the light was “green,” regardless of what it really was, although Marot’s attorneys insist she’s telling the truth.

What this case will come down to is the classic her word against that of the Elgin police.

Usually in “my word against yours” type cases, the sight of a police officer in uniform is enough to convince many would-be jurors that the lawman is telling the truth. Yet Marot may have the one professional piece of attire more powerful than a police officer’s badge – her habit.

THIS HAS BECOME the case that thus far has centered around what Marot is allowed to wear to court. She insists she ought to be allowed to wear her full dark gray and black robe with habit. She’s playing the “Nun card” and putting her faith in her ability to convince the jurors that she really thought she had the right of way at that particular intersection.

Prosecutors had tried to get some sort of court order preventing Marot from wearing her outfit to court. They even argued that some potential jurors might feel anti-Catholic prejudice against her.

But let’s be honest.

Prosecutors look for any legal advantage they can find. The last thing most prosecutors would care about is a defendant wearing something that might tick off a juror so much that the prosecution benefits.

WE NOW HAVE Kane County state’s attorney’s officials knowing that their careers are about to be defined this week. They were the ones who put a nun on trial for the death of a teenage boy – even though technically, this is just a traffic court case.

What is important to realize is that the teenager’s family has filed a lawsuit seeking financial compensation for the loss of their loved one. I don’t imagine Marot herself has much in the way of financial assets, but I would guess the parents are focusing on trying to get the church to have to pay something.

Yet if Marot is able to prevail and beat the case in traffic court, it goes a long way toward supporting her version of the accident story, and likely would result in any such lawsuit being perceived as a money-grubbing attempt to take from the church.

Be honest. With the exception of O.J. Simpson, few people are able to lose a civil lawsuit after prevailing in the criminal case related to the specific incident.

WE ALREADY HAVE jokes floating about the Internet about the prosecuting attorneys in this case reserving their spots in Hades for picking on a nun. How long until we get similar wisecracks about the family that dares to sue a nun?

And I’m sure some smart aleck will come up with a wisecrack about how Peterson will join them someday to make a perfect trio.


EDITOR’S NOTES: This might turn out to be a criminal case where the prosecution’s attorneys ( got it right with their concerns about the defendant’s courtroom attire.

If Drew Peterson ultimately is acquitted, will it be because the evidence against him ( is weak, or because the judge is biased against prosecutors?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Blackhawks’ performance yet another step away from Chicago sporting tradition

I’m not much of a hockey fan, yet I will be the first to admit I would like to see the Blackhawks make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the sole reason that it would be yet another step away from what had become the Chicago sporting mentality of losing ball clubs.

Being in my 40s, it means I came of age in the 1970s. Some people want to think that polyester and disco makes that decade a shameful period (I say Boy George makes the 1980s even worse).

YET FOR ME, the thing about the ‘70s is that it was an era that established a mindset for many sports fans in this city (myself included). Back in that era, all the teams stunk. And that was just the way it was meant to be.

Chicago sports successes were supposed to be so far in the past that few contemporary people could remember them.

Heck, that includes that Blackhawks. Despite having some talented players when I was a kid (I remember Stan Mikita as something other than a stupid gag from that ridiculous Wayne’s World film), the Blackhawks hadn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1961 (they still haven’t).

The Chicago Bulls, despite players like Norm Van Lier and Bob Love, had NEVER won anything. And forget about the Bears, White Sox and Cubs. This was the era with players such as Bob Avellini, Bill Nahorodny and Dave Kingman.

IF ANYTHING, 1976 was the quintessential season. When other people were getting excited about the Bicentennial, we in Chicago were following dreadful teams, with the Blackhawks coming closest to having a good team (32-30 that season, with 18 ties).

The White Sox, Cubs and Bulls all had losing seasons (with the Bulls being the worst team in the National Basketball Association that year – 24-58). You figure if people should have got excited about the Bears’ 7-7 record that year.

These losing records came despite the fact that three Hall of Fame players in their respective sports were with Chicago teams that year – Rich Gossage of the White Sox, Bruce Sutter of the Cubs and Walter Payton of the Bears.

The lesson learned was that not even an occasional skilled athlete would make a difference – the concept of a championship sporting team being from Chicago was an oxymoron.

THIS WAS THE era where no so-called “major” sports team from Chicago won a championship – not between the Bears’ NFL title in 1963 to their Super Bowl victory in 1986. (The Chicago Sting won titles in 1981 and 1984, but some people like to discount those victories. Besides, they didn’t come in the 1970s).

It is the reason why I have the mentality that a sporting championship that brings attention to Chicago is something to be cherished. I’m not going to look down on the White Sox’ World Series title in 2005 just because it was not followed up with a repeat performance in 2006.

The Bears aren’t a failure because they didn’t follow up their Super Bowl appearance of a few years ago (although it is a bit of a blemish that they let themselves get beat by a team from a minor league town such as Indianapolis).

And the idea that the Bulls rose to a level of six championships in an eight-season period is something that ought to be celebrated. The Bulls of that era, with Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen, give Chicago the closest it has ever come to experiencing what places like New York had back in the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig leading the Yankees in their glory days.

IT IS WHY I think too many of the nitwit kids (which is the way I think of anyone under 30) who call in to sports talk radio to rant and complain ought to get a clue. Things could be a lot worse than they are these days.

Heck, they used to be much worse. But that only means it would be all the more enjoyable if the Blackhawks are able to make it past the Detroit Red Wings to play in the Stanley Cup finals.

It would eliminate “1961” from the list of “Chicago lasts,” just like the White Sox title of four years ago took “1959” off the list.

I’d love to have things turn out so that one day, it will be thought of as quaint that Chicago teams were expected to stink (and perhaps people will think I’m just addle-brained and senile for thinking that a ballplayer named “Larry Biittner” ever really mangled the outfield as badly as he did).

IN FACT, I can think of only one reason why I would prefer NOT to have the Blackhawks prevail over the Red Wings – and it relates to those sports-related bets that Mayor Richard M. Daley is so fond of making with government officials of other cities.

Our mayor of two decades has offered up the usual assortment of foodstuffs manufactured by Chicago-area companies, including a few of those gourmet-type pizzas from Lou Malnati’s.

Yet if I comprehend the bet properly, Detroit’s payoff should the Blackhawks prevail will include pizza from Little Caesar’s. Ugh! Am I the only person who thinks the Second City is getting the worst end of this deal?

Not having to envision the thought of anyone at City Hall having to eat one of those cardboard-type pizza pies would make it worth having to go yet another year in Chicago without a Stanley Cup at the building across the street from the lamented Chicago Stadium.


EDITOR’S NOTES: I always thought the one redeeming feature of the Chicago Blackhawks, no matter how bad the franchise sank in recent years, was their theme song (, which I think is the catchiest of any Chicago sports franchise (and I don’t want to hear from Chicago Bears fans on this point).

Oh well, the Blackhawks merely have to win four of the next six games in order to (,0,3412719.story) keep this season going.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

How will President Obama handle his moment “on the spot” in South Bend?

I’m curious to hear for myself just how Barack Obama chooses to address the controversy that has sprung up among some Catholics (the ones who can’t stand the fact that not all Catholics think just like them about everything) with regards to the president giving the commencement address at Notre Dame.

Because I’m almost afraid he’s going to try to use humor to deflect the hostility that some people attending the graduation ceremonies Sunday will feel toward his presence.

WHEN IT COMES to abortion, it’s the ultimate issue where some people just can’t take a joke.

It reminds me of Obama himself during the presidential campaign when he appeared before a very conservative crowd at the Saddleback Church.

You remember.

Obama took what was a blunt question meant to put him on the spot and make him squirm because of his belief that it is a woman’s own business if she decides to terminate a pregnancy and tried to laugh it off by saying that the answer to the question was “above my pay grade.”

AS MUCH AS I thought Pastor Rick Warren’s question was a cheap shot, I thought Obama deserved all the criticism he received for giving such a lame answer.

I hope Obama learned from that, and doesn’t try to give us an encore when he speaks at the Catholic university near South Bend, Ind.

For Obama’s press secretary told reporter-types in Washington on Friday that Obama plans to mention the fact that some people are opposed to his presence in Indiana because of the fact that the Catholic Church officially opposes the notion that abortion can be legal.

But press secretary Robert Gibbs also said that Obama is fully cognizant of the fact that the parents from across the nation and around the globe who make the trip to the Notre Dame campus for the commencement ceremony are going there primarily to see the end result of all those tuition payments they made in recent years – a sibling with an education and a degree to show for it.

AS THINGS STAND now, the big buffoon this week in South Bend is conservative commentator Alan Keyes (who keeps getting arrested during protests against Obama’s presence). I hope the president doesn’t feel the need to try to upstage him.

So perhaps Obama will have enough sense not to turn the event into a one-liner that gives Rush Limbaugh an audio snippet to mock for weeks on end. Of course, I would guess that Limbaugh will find a way to mock anything Obama says about any issue, regardless of what Obama says.

I hope whatever he has to say comes right at the beginning, and that he quickly moves on to trying to give an inspirational message to the students who now are trying to find work.

My guess is that he’ll probably try to say something about how the greatness of the American Way of life includes the right to disagree with people.

THAT WOULD BE the way I’d try to handle such a situation. Put the critics who think you have no business setting foot on campus look incredibly foolish and small-minded for their point of view – which admittedly is a foolish and small-minded view to have.

Anything else is risky, because the issue at hand is abortion.

Take the latest Gallup Organization poll, which tried to find out what the nation thinks these days about abortion.

The survey is being spun on the idea that a majority of the nation (or at least those surveyed) prefers to think of themselves with the label “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice.”

FIFTY-ONE PERCENT LIKE the “pro-life” label, while 42 percent accept “pro-choice.” (Personally, I hate both of those labels because they’re both inaccurate, but that is an issue to contemplate for a different day). But I always thought the proper way to view the abortion split was to accept that the people who get most worked up over the issue are the extremes, and that the bulk are more ambivalent.

Twenty-three percent of people are the ones who want to criminalize the issue, while 22 percent oppose any effort to restrict it, while 53 percent are the ones who think that there are instances when a woman is justified in ending her pregnancy (even if they think there are other times when it should not be permitted).

So the trick isn’t to think that Obama is going to sway anyone’s opinion about the abortion issue when he speaks on Sunday.

In fact, there’s a good chance that the students partaking in the ceremony will find some “minor” moment that sticks in their memory about their graduation ceremony.

I REMEMBER WHEN then-first lady Hillary Clinton gave the commencement speech at the University of Illinois in Urbana some years ago, only to have the most sincere moment of student emotion come when they realized that one of the other people included in the ceremony was a musician who had written much of the music used on the “Sesame Street” television show.

So who has the potential to upstage Obama, thereby giving people a moment to truly cherish, and something to inspire a moment of regret for those students who choose to boycott Sunday’s ceremony that caused them to miss a magic moment?


EDITOR'S NOTE: Nobody should make the mistake of thinking that all Catholics are in ( agreement against Barack Obama when it comes to this so-called controversy.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lisa Madigan needs to make up her mind, but she’s going to take her time for 2010

Perhaps it is the advantage of starting out the year with a $3.5 million campaign fund – significantly larger than anyone else considering a political bid in the 2010 elections and more than 20 times larger than that of her most-likely opponent.

Lisa Madigan can take her time to make up her mind as to what elective office she wishes to seek come next year’s elections.

THE TWO-TERM ILLINOIS attorney general is only in her mid-40s. She has the potential for a significant political career ahead of her. And the fact that she, in theory, could crush just about any opponent makes it interesting.

Because a lot of how the ballot for next years’ elections will shape up will be determined by what, exactly, Madigan chooses to do with herself.

It has never been a secret that Madigan herself would like to be the first female to be elected governor of Illinois. In fact, it was long assumed she would make a bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2010 because of the disgust level felt for Rod Blagojevich.

Any benefit he might have had due to two-term incumbency could have been overcome, it was felt by the Madigan camp.

BUT THERE WAS always the possibility of the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois – first because some people felt that Blagojevich would be conniving enough to give Lisa the “up and out” treatment (a “promotion” to Washington makes one irrelevant in many ways on the local scene) to get her out of his way.

And now that Blagojevich is gone and we have Pat Quinn seriously behaving like he thinks he has a chance to get the party’s nomination himself, there are those people who think Madigan might just take the Washington option so as not to stir up a partisan squabble within the Democratic Party.

Quinn may be a horrible political fundraiser and may be committing acts of political suicide in his attempt to fill the billion dollar gaps that exist in the state budget, but he is still the incumbent.

And Madigan’s father, long-time Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, remembers 1976 all too well. Democrats from Chicago so disgusted with then-Gov. Dan Walker put all their energy into defeating him. And they did.

BUT DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE Michael J. Howlett (who was the incumbent Illinois secretary of state at the time) wound up losing to “Big Jim” Thompson, thereby giving us what turned into a 26-year string of Republicans as governor that only came to an end with the disgust factor felt by many toward George Ryan.

Having the Blagojevich years come to an end by triggering another string of GOP governors is Mike Madigan’s worst nightmare. I could easily picture him advising his daughter to think carefully about causing a partisan fight in the primary.

Of course, Lisa is also the one who’s a Democrat because she has liberal views on many social issues, while father Michael is a Democrat because he sympathizes with organized labor and working people. The point is that they don’t agree on certain points, and she has shown a willingness in the past to put aside her father’s thoughts and think for herself.

So what will it be – governor or senator?

THERE’S A CERTAIN theoretical sense in which it would be wise to run for a post in Washington. She could always be the senator who later in life chooses to run for Illinois governor – if the post really matters that much to her. Like I wrote earlier, at age 45, she likely has time ahead of her to do many things.

But now, Madigan is spewing the same rhetoric often heard by our local political people. They don’t want to move to Washington (she’d have to maintain a D.C.-area residence, in addition to her Chicago home). Or at least that’s what she told WLS-TV earlier this week.

Madigan doesn’t want to do the back-and-forth between O’Hare and Reagan International airports. Washington (where she went to college) is a nice place to visit, but not to live. She has young children at this stage of her life, and doesn’t want to spend that much time away from them.

In fact, she’s throwing out the hints that she’d be more than willing to consider a third term as Illinois attorney general.

THE ONLY PROBLEM with that option is that with her campaign cash and the political mood, now is the time for Madigan to make some move up. If she thinks she can stay put for four more years, she could find all her advantages withering away – and she’d be stuck as attorney general for life.

Also, there are other political people who want to move up, and they are stuck waiting for Madigan to make up her mind before they can commit to running for U.S. Senate, Illinois governor or state attorney general.

They don’t have anywhere near Madigan’s campaign fund, so they can’t yet openly oppose her (unless they want to draw the wrath of the Illinois House speaker in their future political dealings).

So in this case, money buys Lisa Madigan time. But what also helps her is that I honestly believe Madigan is the one Democrat who is not going to have to deal with the “Blagojevich factor” that Republicans are banking so much upon in ’10.

GOP OFFICIALS ARE convinced that no matter how weak their political party is and how unknown their leading candidates are statewide, people will be so disgusted with Milorod that they will vote for anyone but a Democrat come the November general election.

Madigan with her youth, funds and (let’s face it) organizational help from her long-time politico father, could very well win regardless of anyone trying to imply she was just a Blagojevich lackey during the six years she served as attorney general to his governor.

And for those who will argue that the last Democratic governor was also someone who won because of his youth, funds and organizational help from his politico father(-in-law), I’d say that I have encountered both Madigan and Blagojevich, and Rod, he’s no Lisa Madigan.


EDITOR’S NOTE: She may have attended Georgetown University and enjoys an occasional visit (, but Lisa Madigan isn’t all that enthused about the idea of living again in the District of Columbia.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar’s press secretary (,0,6193856.story) wonders how much Mike Madigan will use his position to prevent Pat Quinn from looking good at the expense of his daughter’s political aspirations.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mezuzah at center of court fight

My stepmother, Cathy, is Jewish. If one were to visit the home in south suburban Homewood where she and my father live, they would see to the upper right of the front door a mezuzah.

The point of the mezuzah is that it is stuck to the doorframe of a residence where a Jewish person lives. It is a simple gesture that allows someone to let the world know that Jewish people live in that particular home, apartment or condominium.

YET THE THING about every single mezuzah I have ever seen is that they are small. They don’t draw a lot of attention to themselves. One literally has to walk up to within a couple feet of the front door of my parents’ house in order to notice the mezuzah off to the right.

Even then, I could picture some oblivious people not noticing it (on account of the big brass door knocker with the engraved slogan “Casa Tejeda” on the middle of the front door that tends to draw attention).

So when I learn that a mezuzah is at the center of a legal battle currently pending in the federal courts based in Chicago, I have to conclude that someone has way too much free time on their hands to be making an issue out of this.

Either that, or there is some sort of anti-semitism at stake. Although considering that we’re talking about a board that governs a condominium near the Lake Michigan shoreline (which means they think of themselves as an elite address), it’s probably more the former than the latter.

THESE ASSOCIATIONS HAVE developed a reputation (perhaps unfairly) for being willing to nit-pick every little detail of the physical appearance of someone’s property – out of the belief that every unit in the overall complex ought to live up to someone’s idea of pristine.

In the case of the Shoreline Towers on Sheridan Road (which means the city’s north lakefront, but not quite as elitist as the Gold Coast), one resident was told that her placing a mezuzah on her front door marred the overall appearance of the structure.

That particular condominium association had a rule ready – religious symbols are banned. In theory, someone wishing to erect a crucifix on their front door (or even just a cross symbol) would also be in violation of “the rules.”

So Lynne Bloch was forced to remove her mezuzah.

THIS HAPPENED FIVE years ago. She filed a lawsuit that has been working its way through the court system. On Wednesday, eight judges who sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals based in Chicago had to spend their day hearing “expert” testimony about the appropriateness of a mezuzah, or other symbols of religion.

Aside from the fact that five years after the original incident, this case has yet to be settled, I can’t help but be troubled by the events being heard in the courtroom.

I can’t envision a mezuzah that would seriously be large enough to attract significant attention, or detract from the physical appearance of the condominium unit in question.

Seriously, the mezuzah at my parents’ house is about three inches long and about a half-inch wide. It’s tiny. Like I wrote earlier in this commentary, one has to literally get up the steps right to the doorway in order to notice it.

IN ALL OTHER cases where I have seen Jewish people display mezuzahs, they are about the same size and displayed in the same low-key way.

So either someone on a condominium association is being overly anal retentive, or Bloch came up with some super-sized mezuzah that was designed in a way meant to draw attention to it.

I haven’t heard any evidence indicating that to be the case, and I have never met a Jewish person who would try to turn their religious faith into a tacky display (unlike a few Christians I have met throughout the years).

I don’t know this for a fact, but I sense someone in the past was so upset they couldn’t erect some huge crucifix so they got the condominium association to implement a rule banning all symbols that could be perceived as religious.

IF THEY CAN’T shove their faith in everyone’s face, than no one else can either. So would seem to be the “logic” involved in this case.

What gives me a hint that this might be the case is the portion of reports about Wednesday’s court hearing at the Dirksen Building where we learn the condominium association has filed its own counter-lawsuit against Bloch – challenging the degree of her religious faith.

They cite instances where Bloch used the condo’s hospitality room to hold Jewish-related celebrations, without following all the strict rules involved with Orthodox Judaism. Only I haven’t heard anyone indicate Bloch is Orthodox. She may very well be Reform. There is a significant difference.

When I was in college, I once took a religion course taught by a rabbi who described the difference between the two types of Judaism (there’s actually a third form called Conservative) as, “one group (Reform) welcomes the 20th Century, the other (Orthodox) isn’t too thrilled with it.”

IT ALMOST WOULD be like claiming someone isn’t Catholic enough because they ate something other than fish on a Friday (which once was a part of the religious faith, but has withered away to modern life – even though one can find a few Catholics who will angrily denounce the loss of the old ways).

I’m not comfortable with someone claiming someone else isn’t Jewish enough to be able to put up a mezuzah, particularly since the larger point they are trying to make is to eliminate the mezuzah altogether.

Bloch herself on Wednesday told the Chicago Tribune she thinks this particular case is “much ado about nothing.” She’s probably right, and there’s a sense in which I can respect her willingness to endure a court fight that has lasted for so many years for a principle.

But if this situation had involved me, I probably would have just moved. After all, I don’t think I’d want to live in a complex with neighbors petty and ridiculous enough to get worked up over something as tiny as a mezuzah.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Perhaps Wednesday’s court hearing related to mezuzahs provided some relief ( at the federal courts from the Blagojevich saga or any of the other white collar crime being pondered there.

A mezuzah is a specific object meant to show one’s religious faith ( without being obnoxiously flashy about it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Alderman’s “career” path in reverse

It was a big bold headline in red type atop the Chicago Sun-Times’ website Tuesday morning – “Ald. Ocasio quitting City Council to work for Gov. Quinn.”

It’s the Internet equivalent of that newsboy of old shouting “Extra! Extra!” while trying to peddle papers freshly printed that announce a story so new it can’t wait until tomorrow to get into print.

ALD. BILLY OCASIO, who has served in the City Council since 1993, apparently is willing to “hang it up” in city government after 16 years. The newspaper says he is going to become a “senior adviser” to Pat Quinn.

In their initial brief report (all of two grafs), the paper also indicated that Ocasio has a replacement in mind for himself – Rev. Wilfredo DeJesus. Ultimately, Mayor Richard M. Daley has the authority to pick whomever he wants, which is why the council is so supportive of his goals – he’s picked so many of its members throughout the years.

Now I don’t really know Ocasio. So I don’t know what his motivations are in giving up his elected post that makes him one of the most important people in the Chicago political universe.

I would guess he would say he saw an opportunity to work directly with one of the Top Four political people of Illinois (the mayor, the governor and the two U.S. senators) and couldn’t pass it up.

IT MAY ALSO be that after 16 years in the City Council, he was ready for a change.

But the reason that Ocasio’s “career move” warranted such attention – rather than just a two-graf brief buried somewhere on Page 27 of the Bright One is because it violates the Chicago “rules” of politics in two ways.

It is a move from the city to the state payroll, and it is a shift from an elective office to an appointed post.

When it comes to the Chicago political universe, state government and anything having to do with the Statehouse Scene in Springfield is seen as a training ground of sorts. The Chicago delegations in the Illinois House of Representatives and the state Senate have many younger people (younger being a relative term here) who are holding their first elective office.

IN SHORT, IT is a place to gain experience in the ways of legislative politics and public policy, after which one is supposed to move up in the world. Just like the mayor himself, who served a couple terms in the state Senate several decades ago before returning to Chicago to be the state’s attorney, then later mayor.

Part of what makes Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, unique is that he started his electoral career in Springfield, and became so entranced with the Statehouse Scene that he has never left. Not many elective officials could spend nearly four decades in Springfield without a thought in their head that they’re moving up someday.

Among current political officials, both the current Cook County board President and county Sheriff are former legislators. In my mind, I still think of Todd Stroger and Tom Dart as members of the Illinois House, although Dart actually did terms in both chambers before finally returning to Chicago to run for county office – following his failed bid for Illinois treasurer back in ’02.

A part of me even still thinks of Rod Blagojevich that way, since I remember covering him when I was a Statehouse reporter-type back in the 1990s.

WHEN A CITY Council official moves about, it usually is to a citywide post or a county government office – if not a judicial post such as what became of one-time Ald. Timothy Evans (now the chief judge of Cook County).

Some decide to try for the Washington scene, such as what happened to Ocasio’s predecessor as alderman of the 26th Ward. Luis Gutierrez may have gained national influence and a reputation, but on local matters he was more influential as an alderman.

In fact, I can only think of one other alderman who shifted to the Springfield scene, and that was Rickey Hendon, who used to be one of the most outspoken Daley critics in the City Council before becoming one of the most outspoken members of the Illinois Senate.

Yet the perception among political observers was that Hendon was being “demoted,” in part because he was willing to speak out against Hizzoner Jr.

SO WHAT SHOULD we think of Ocasio’s move? He’s no longer going to be the political big shot of the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Some people will perceive him as the past. But perhaps he has a chance to influence the governor on issues, particularly those concerning Latinos.

That could be important, because there is a perception among some Latino activists that as bad as Blagojevich may have been for the state as governor, at least he understood the need to include Latinos in state government. Those same activists have their doubts about Quinn – although they can’t point to anything blatant that he has ever done to hurt their interests.

And there is the perception among some people (most of whom have their own petty grudges against the alderman) that Ocasio was a little too close to Blagojevich. So perhaps this helps him put some distance between himself and the now-impeached governor.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The all-powerful alderman is now nothing more than a gubernatorial (,ocasio-quitting-city-council-quinn-051209.article) adviser. At least that’s how some Chicago political observers will perceive this move.

Will the alderman alter his website ( to help promote the interests of the state? And how will this move affect the content of the website that touts ( the behavior of “one of Chicago’s suckiest aldermen?”

A little bit of background bio on the now-former member of the Chicago City Council (