Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Dolly Parton the “official voice” of the Illinois Legislature these days?

I’m starting to wonder if the country singer with her own amusement park and other physical attributes ought to be designated the “official voice” of the Illinois Legislature.

Because when I think of our Legislature returning to Springfield on Tuesday to once again ponder what to do about state government’s financial status, I keep hearing in my head that old song that Dolly Parton turned into a hit.

IT WAS “HERE You Come Again,” and it was the southern-accented tale of a woman whose life kept getting screwed up by an unscrupulous man who keeps popping into her life and making a mess of it.

I’m starting to wonder if the General Assembly is doing the same thing to us with their repeated trips to the Statehouse to pretend to be putting together a budget – only to be unable to do a thing and digging us Illinois taxpayers into a deeper hole with their continued inactivity.

Because when I study the situation regarding the state budget, the conclusion I keep coming to is that we’re no closer to having a real balanced budget in place on Monday than we were back on May 30 – the date that it was supposed to get done.

By now, Gov. Pat Quinn should have gone through the formality of putting his signature on the document that would give state government the spending proposal by which it would operate for the fiscal year that begins Wednesday.

INSTEAD, WE HAVE nothing.

We have a budget plan that Quinn refuses to approve because it only provides spending priorities for state government to operate for the rest of 2009. The Legislature would have to return in November for their fall session and include more rounds of negotiations in order to ensure that government continues to operate between Jan. 1, 2010 and June 30 of next year.

Quinn is being responsible in refusing to go along with such a scheme.

But that is about the only hard-and-fast rule I can cite with regard to these negotiations – which I must admit I have no clue how they will turn out. This year has given us some of the most bizarre set of circumstances ever (and consider that in the past couple of years, we had budget negotiations that didn’t even come close to meeting the deadline).

WE HAVE THE budget deficit that could be between $7 billion and $9.2 billion (Quinn cites the latter figure, but his critics say he’s exaggerating so as to try to justify that income tax increase he keeps calling for).

Yet even at $7 billion, that is a significant budget hole that cannot be plugged by just cutting spending in government agencies.

Yet the people in the Legislature who usually get all worked up whenever the word “Tax” comes up are digging in their heels to prepare to vote “no” to anything resembling that Quinn tax hike (which if it ever does get approved would likely put Quinn’s name in the Illinois history books right next to that of Dick Ogilvie).

In fact, there’s really only one thing that has changed between May 30 and Monday – the presence of Republicans.

THE FACT THAT the Democratic majorities in the state Senate and Illinois House of Representatives are no longer large enough to pass a budget all by themselves means that GOP legislators will have a say.

But rather than being a presence for good and toward compromise, Republican legislators are showing themselves as being just as petty and partisan as their Democratic Party colleagues.

Republican legislators these days seem more interested in pushing the notion of passing a resolution that would allow state government to operate at 2009 fiscal year levels for a month. By that time, they figure, there would be some real solution.

Yet if there were going to be a “real solution,” it likely would have been reached during the past month. If the Legislature really thinks they can get away with voting for a continuing resolution on Tuesday, then go home while Quinn and the four legislative leaders negotiate the real solution, they had better guess again.

FOR ALL THAT is taking place these days is that the Republican legislators who until June 1 were irrelevant to the problem are showing that they’re just as capable of doing nothing as the Democrats in the General Assembly.

That is something we ought to keep in mind next year during the election cycles when the GOP inevitably claims that all Democrats are like Rod Blagojevich and that Democratic officials have too much influence.

Perhaps they do, but I’m not seeing much in the way of evidence that they have any real solution. They seem to be just as much a part of the problem.

Does this mean that stubbornness and incompetence in political officials is a bipartisan concept? It would appear neither political party has a monopoly on the inability to achieve a legitimate solution to our state’s budget problems.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: From the circus-like atmosphere of the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday to the (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-lawmakers-springfield-budgetjun29,0,3117471.story) nonsense-like rhetoric of the General Assembly on Tuesday, it is uncertain which environment Pat Quinn will find more ridiculous.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Burris sides with black people, gays

It would seem that “The $845 Man” is trying to bolster his “liberal” credentials these days.

Roland Burris wants to keep his political post in the U.S. Senate beyond next year, and he’s making the gestures that a serious Democratic candidate would do in order to gain the support of two factions that have become stalwarts of the party – African-Americans and gay people.

BURRIS ACTUALLY VENTURED outside of his Chatham neighborhood to appear along with other political people in the Gay Pride Parade – which has become an annual tradition in the neighborhood just east of Wrigley Field (not that there was any gay people/Cubs fan conflict on Sunday, the Cubs/Sox matchup took place on the South Side).

For those who think that is a bold statement, it really isn’t.

The parade is little more than any other parade, except that some of the costumes worn by some people both participating and watching may be a little more outlandish than something worn to the “Back to School/End of Summer” parade held every year in Naperville because the locals can’t stand the thought of honoring Labor Day.

Roland likely looked as ridiculous waving to the crowds of more than 400,000 people who gathered along Halsted Street as he did during his cameo in “The Fugitive.” Remember Roland at the St. Patrick’s Day parade of 1993?

THERE’S ALSO A good chance that the people who were paying any attention to participating politicians were more likely to catch a glimpse of Lisa Madigan or Pat Quinn (two candidates whose political chances in the future are a tad more optimistic than Burris’ these days).

But this has become the kind of event where, if a political person doesn’t show up, it comes across as more of a statement than intended.

So Roland, Roland, Roland was out waving to the masses that gathered in Lakeview to make a political statement by doing little more than enjoying a sun-shiny day at a parade.

I don’t know how many people who saw him at the parade on Sunday will actually bother to cast a ballot for him in February come the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. But I’m sure it didn’t hurt, particularly since Lakeview is close enough to Chatham that even his struggling campaign could afford to pay the cost of a couple of gallons of gasoline so he could drive up to the North Side neighborhood.

IF ANYTHING, BURRIS’ more bold political action of recent days took place last week when the Senate approved a resolution that offers an apology, of sorts, for the fact that enslavement of Africans was ever considered legal in the United States.

The resolution even offered some legal language that could be construed as an admission that the “Jim Crow” laws that enforced racial segregation throughout the Southern United States were wrong.

But this resolution is intended to be a symbolic statement with no real power.

So Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa (how many of you remember when Harkin seriously thought he was fit to be president of the United States?) included some legal language to indicate that nothing in the resolution should be construed as an endorsement of reparations.

THAT IS WHY the black members of the House of Representatives are now seriously talking of voting against the resolution when it comes up for a vote before their chamber. Some people are trying to claim it is absurd that black people could be against an apology for slavery and segregation.

But this reminds me of a measure I once wrote about in the Illinois House of Representatives. It was a change in state law with regards to interracial adoptions (specifically, white people adopting black children).

The vote itself was something like 109-3, with 6 more voting “present.” It sounds like a non-controversial, overwhelming support measure.

But all of the support came from non-black legislators. The vote among black representatives was 4 for it, 3 against it, and 6 voting “present.” In short, the people who might see the most direct impact from the measure were split, while everybody else just sloughed off the issue.

COULD THAT BE what is happening in the Senate, where most officials are just assuming they should take the symbolic vote and get it over with? But the black politicos whose constituents would be directly impacted are finding the measure to be inadequate?

By the way, what do the black members of the U.S. Senate think? Don’t forget, there’s only one. Roland himself. So he became the voice protecting the interests of those who believe that black people are entitled to some sort of financial compensation for the suffering of their ancestors in this country.

After the measure passed on a “voice vote” (which means everybody officially says “aye” and there’s no actual “yes” or “no” record for the resolution), Burris made a statement saying he does not want the disclaimer about non-endorsement of reparations to be seen as some act preventing the Congress from approving some form of reparations payments in the future.

Roland is the “black caucus” of the U.S. Senate, even though some people are inclined to dismiss that fact as insignificant.

I’M NOT SAYING that Roland’s race ought to be the sole factor taken into consideration when we go to the polling places next year.

But perhaps it is at moments like this that Illinois voters ought to give serious thought to what kind of statement it sends to the rest of the nation if we are so eager to dump the only African-American currently in that congressional chamber.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Roland, Roland, Roland is the prototypical politician in that (http://cbs2chicago.com/local/gay.pride.parade.2.1063041.html) he likes parades.

The “black caucus” of the U.S. Senate wants to make sure that an apology for slavery and segregation (http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/20090618/pl_mcclatchy/3255365) under consideration on Capitol Hill does not permanently cut off the option of financial reparations. Of course, the black caucus these days is little more than Burris himself.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

News judgment a personal thing

I recall having a conversation once with a young college graduate who had the great (mis)fortune of being a reporter-type intern working for me. She wanted to know more about news judgment.

What were the rules that determined which story got top play, and which one got reduced to a three-graf brief – if not cheaped out altogether?

SHE HAD TROUBLE accepting my explanation that ultimately, the news judgment of any organization that was paying me to work for them was what story intrigues me the most.

My point is that it is a crapshoot. There is no right or wrong. There just is.

Something has to fill the space on a newspaper page or a website, or the airtime on a television or radio broadcast. There are times when totally cheap stories get big Page One play because there’s nothing better.

Then, there are days like Thursday.

ON A TYPICAL day in the Chicago news market, the fact that a federal judge set a trial date for former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and that police found a body in rural Indiana that they suspect belongs to a 2-year-old who had been reported missing more than a week earlier would have fought for attention as the top story.

It would have come down to a brawl between editors who prefer politics, or those who’d rather have crime. Corruption, or cops and robbers?

But on Thursday, we had that other news judgment phenomenon that ensured neither of those stories had a chance at Page One – celebrity deaths.

First, Farrah Fawcett (although I’m of an old enough generation that a part of me wants to add “Majors”). Then, Michael Jackson.

I CAN’T RECALL a date with two such “big” entertainers passing on since May 16, 1990. That was the date that both Jim Henson (founder of the Muppets) and Sammy Davis Jr. (remember the Rat Pack?) died.

I recall the outcry caused by the Chicago Tribune when they gave Henson’s death top billing over that of Davis. Some saw a racial angle at work. Others saw some sort of elitist thought being used.

This time around, there doesn’t seem to be as many qualms.

The death of Farrah Fawcett (even though it offered newspapers and websites the chance to reproduce those full-color posters of Farrah in the bright-red bathing suit with her nipples poking prominently through the fabric) got buried by the death of Jackson.

AS FAR AS I can tell, there is one newspaper that gave Farrah top billing over Jackson – a Polish-language paper based out of New York. There also is a newspaper in Mankato, Minn., that gave the Jackson story top play, but also included a box directing people to the Fawcett obituary inside (while getting the Farrah poster picture on Page One).

Everybody else seems to be in love with the Jackson story.

Now I know the so-called rules of news judgment.

Both Fawcett of 1976 and Jackson of 1983 were pop culture icons. Back then, they were everywhere. Seriously, “Charlie’s Angels” (the program) and “Beat It” (the song) were things that will trigger memories of youth for people falling in that generation of people who are now in their early-to-mid 40s.

BOTH OF THEM since then have engaged in behavior that many consider to be (at best) erratic.

Jackson gets top billing because nobody suspected the 50-year-old was near death. By comparison, Farrah had been on a “death watch” for days, and had had the “last rites” administered just a couple of hours before she finally succumbed Thursday.

Still, I would have thought more news outlets would have tried to be like The News of Opelika, Ala., and try to do some sort of dual coverage of the two – even though that would have left fans of each respective person displeased that their preference didn’t get top billing.

In fact, it was an attempt at dual coverage that caught my attention the most. The Times of Northwest Indiana (a Munster, Ind.-based newspaper I do some work for, although I had nothing to do with the news judgment they showed for Friday’s front page) had their own reporter at Jackson’s boyhood home in Gary, Ind., to do the expected story of fans turning the site into an informal shrine to the one-time lead singer of the Jackson 5.

BUT THEY ALSO gave big Page One play to the story that on a typical day they likely would have taken over the page – the discovery of a body that likely belongs to Jada Justice.

She’s the 2-year-old mentioned earlier who had been missing, and whom police say they suspect her babysitter/distant cousin was somehow involved with her death.

It’s nice to see that at least one news organization in Chicago that had been treating the Justice search as a major story didn’t suddenly ditch the story just because of Michael Jackson.

Now if only they could have got Farrah on Page One as well (even though the only local angle I can think of is that many middle-aged men from the area were among those who once lusted after her poster), they would have managed to hit just about all the big stories.

EXCEPT FOR BLAGOJEVICH.

It appears that his court date being set never had a chance. Oh well, I’m sure his goofy antics in coming months will take over front pages and get him ample attention on many more occasions.

-30-

EDITOR'S NOTES: Even professional baseball is managing to find ways to mourn the deaths of (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090625&content_id=5537200&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb) Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

I don't know that I think Jackson's death is being overplayed, but I am surprised that some other stories aren't (http://www.eandppub.com/2009/06/question-of-day-for-friday-is-media-overplaying-michael-jackson-death.html) creeping their way to equal attention.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Mark your calendar – June 3, 2010

Republicans in Illinois who are determined to use the image of Rod Blagojevich to try to boost the electoral chances of every single GOP candidate on the ballot in next year’s elections ought to give a big thanks to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

He is the judge who is presiding over the upcoming trial of Blagojevich, whom federal prosecutors say engaged in all sorts of corrupt activity during his six years as governor.

ZAGEL ON THURSDAY set a date for the trial.

Now in the world of courtroom antics, nothing is ever set in stone. Dates can always be changed, deadlines extended.

So there’s always a chance that June 3 of next year will turn out to be nothing more than a routine Thursday at the Dirksen Federal Building.

But that is the date Zagel told the defense attorneys he wants to actually begin jury selection for the Blagojevich proceedings.

WITH THE LIKELIHOOD that such proceedings will take a few weeks, and the actual presentation of evidence for and against Milorod taking a couple of months, then giving the jury time to wade through the mounds of testimony that they will be buried in next summer, it is very possible that the Blagojevich case could reach a verdict some time around Labor Day.

In electoral circles, Labor Day is also the time when campaigns for statewide and federal offices step up their activities. It is the time when regular people start paying attention to who is running for what (prior to that date, it is only the campaign junkies – most of whom have an ideological bias against a candidate from the start – who pay any attention).

So there is a very good chance that right at about the time people are starting to pay much attention to who is running for U.S. Senate from Illinois, or for governor or any of the other state constitutional posts, there will be fresh news to report.

In the imaginations of the Republicans, that news will be “Blago Guilty!” Of what, we don’t know. Not that it really matters.

ALL IT WILL take is for a few of the charges against Blagojevich to result in a “guilty” verdict for the GOP to start screeching that all Democrats are just like Milorod.

Despite Blagojevich’s attorneys repeated statements that he’s “not guilty then, and he’s not guilty now,” it would be a surprise if federal prosecutors were not able to trip up the former governor in some sort of technicality. Beating a criminal charge in U.S. District Court is next to impossible, and Blagojevich doesn’t have much to bargain with these days in terms of trying to negotiate a guilty plea to a lesser charge.

There’s even another potential plus. If the trial were to wrap up around Labor Day and if Zagel were to give himself a couple of months to ponder the case before imposing a sentence, that would put the actual sentencing for Blagojevich sometime in late October or early November.

Election Day next year is Nov. 2.

WHAT BETTER FINAL image would there be for the Republican hopes (which quite frankly may be long shots even with the presence of Blagojevich in the Illinois political air) than to literally see the former governor receive a prison sentence (no matter how little, it will be presented by partisan operatives as a major event) in the days before Election Day.

Now realize that much of this scenario is speculation on my part, based on my past observations of how long it can take to get through a criminal trial at the federal court level.

The only hard-and-fast fact is that Zagel literally did set the June 3 date, saying he wants to begin the trial as quickly as possible.

For those people who say that a date nearly a full year away is not quick enough, keep in mind that there are nearly 3 million documents that the Blagojevich legal defense team has to work their way through to try to figure out exactly how they will defend his behavior.

HOW WILL THEY try to claim that the goofy antics we saw Blagojevich partake in were merely stupid, and not illegal? To me, that is the aspect of the trial I am waiting to hear – all the rest is nothing more than trivia.

If Zagel were to try to push for a trial sooner, he’d be giving the defense attorneys a legitimate legal grounds for an appeal – which could result in any conviction being thrown out and the federal prosecutors having to repeat the whole process of trying to put Blagojevich on trial.

As it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn if Blagojevich’s legal team tries to argue for more time. Not that I think Zagel would give it to them, but I’m sure there are some people who would prefer if the whole Blagojevich affair were to come to a head in December, or perhaps in January 2010.

By then, the elections would be past. I don’t think that Lisa Madigan taking the oath of office for whatever government post she ultimately decides to run for would care much what happens to Blagojevich if its potential political impact on her is kept to a minimum.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

One-time Sears Tower could someday regain a “world’s tallest building” status

For all those people who get worked up over the concept that the Sears Tower is no longer the “world’s tallest building,” relax.

There is a way in which a “world’s tallest” label can be affixed to the building (which will soon become the Willis Tower), and it has to do with the way in which developers are considering making the structure more environmentally friendly.

THE BUILDING’S NEW owners say they want to build a hotel right next to the office building, and they say the new structure would be designed in ways to make the building use as little energy as possible, while emitting as few pollutants as possible.

Some of the changes being considered also would be to the main building itself.

That has some people speculating that the new owners want the Sears/Willis Tower to get recognition by the U.S. Green Building Council as a certified building for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

This could someday be the world's tallest green building, located across the street from an environmentally-friendly hotel. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

If the Sears/Willis were to get that designation, it would definitely be the “world’s tallest environmentally friendly building.”

THAT’S A MOUTHFUL.

But it would be recognition and a designation on the building, reinforcing its status as one of the unique manmade structures of Planet Earth.

John Huston of American Landmark Properties told the Chicago Tribune that the proposed changes, ‘will re-establish Sears Tower as a pioneer.” As officials note, the hotel would not draw upon any energy from the city’s power grid.

I just have one question.

IS THIS REALLY the time to be building a new hotel in downtown Chicago? Is there really a need for more downtown hotel rooms, without an Olympic Games some seven years from now to fill them?

When I first saw the headline on the Tribune story about the proposed changes, I thought that perhaps the Willis people were figuring on converting a portion of the tower itself into hotel rooms.

It could be a way of filling some of the vacant office space with people who would be willing to pay premium rates to assuage their egos by staying in a hotel that tries not to harm the environment.

Instead, we’ll get a new building. I will be curious to see how many rooms it can rent out.

THE OTHER PART of this concept is that the Sears/Willis Tower owners apparently want to follow the lead of City Hall and other downtown buildings. Those structures planted trees and other shrubbery on their rooftops on the theory that the existence of so much greenery will help reduce the amount of heat and air conditioning the buildings must use to maintain comfortable temperatures in the structures year-round.

We could soon get grass and shrubs, and maybe even a tree or two, atop the structure up there with the broadcast towers.

There will just be one problem, and it’s not necessarily the $350 million estimated tab to plant these plants.

The other downtown buildings have structures looming over them. So if one can go into one of Chicago’s tallest buildings, you can look down upon the patches of green that are developing in downtown Chicago.

WHO, OUTSIDE OF a passing jet plane that theoretically shouldn’t be getting that close to the Sears/Willis Tower anyway, will ever see the sea of green that could develop on the roof?

It is a noble goal, though.

Chicago could become known for having the “world’s tallest green building.”

-30-

EDITOR’S NOTES: An environmentally-friendly hotel and the world’s tallest green building (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chi-biz-sears-tower-green-hotel-june24,0,187802.story) could both be in downtown Chicago’s future.

What should we call (http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/31739/chicagoans-want-sears-tower-to-keep-its-name/) the world’s tallest green building?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Partisan politics depends on official

Pat Quinn wants Illinois government to impose a significant hike in the state income tax, while Todd Stroger is the guy who wishes he could keep the significant boost he got the Cook County Board to approve last year.

Basically, both men have come out in support of tax hikes at a time when certain people are determined to demonize anyone who doesn’t preach a mantra of “cut, cut, cut.”

BUT QUINN GETS a bit of a break because people remember that we could still have Rod Blagojevich as governor, while Stroger is going to get bashed for every single thing that goes wrong with county government – regardless of whether or not it is his fault.

I found it interesting to learn Tuesday that on the same day Quinn is forcing the Legislature to return to the Statehouse in Springpatch to consider taking actions that would balance the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Stroger is being forced to take back the sales tax increase that was approved in 2008.

Few people are criticizing Quinn for being in support of something that would produce more revenue for state government – although they might claim he’s getting a tad hysterical in his claims of how severe the problem truly is.

For his critics, Quinn is exaggerating the size needed for a tax hike. Those critics are just as likely to get public criticism as is Quinn on this issue.

STROGER FACES JUST the opposite situation. One can make a completely legitimate argument that the sales tax hike enacted by the county last year is not all that much – and that Cook County’s portion of the overall sales tax (10.25 percent in Chicago, about 9.5 percent in the suburbs, depending on which town one buys something in) is not that significant.

Yet Stroger will get the blame, even if there’s enough to go around to all of the county government officials.

I’m sure there are people out there who view the local political scene as a trio of Blagojevich, Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., and Stroger. They dumped one – and now they want to get rid of the other two.

Both Burris and Stroger are likely to survive any attempt to unseat them. So they will get to finish out their terms that run through all of next year. The Democratic primary of 2010 will be the chance to turn both men into lame ducks for the bulk of the year.

I DON’T KNOW how the state situation will turn out. I was curious to see if the Legislature remained in Springfield for more than one day on Tuesday.

Would they go through the motions of pretending to try to reach a deal that would create a state budget that has enough funding for all of state fiscal year 2010 (which begins July 1, 2009)?

Would they actually engage in serious negotiations with Quinn’s budget people (fat chance, I’d say)?

Instead, they wound up walking away from the Capitol after one day Tuesday, claiming that it is a waste of their time to stay any longer. If that’s the case, they’re gambling that Quinn is bluffing when he talks about the severe cuts to many needed social programs (particularly health care-related) that he says will have to be made if the Legislature does nothing.

IN SHORT, THE political games are going to reach a peak in Springfield in the coming week.

By comparison, the “games” are over at the Cook County Building (the less-glamorous half of City Hall).

The county board that has been engaging in politically-partisan efforts to repeal the sales tax hike and blame it all on Todd Stroger – knowing full-well that Stroger has the authority to veto their efforts and make it stick – is done doing that.

Watching the county commissioners go through the process and make grand pronouncements about why they’re all doing “the right thing” for the county taxpayers has gotten old.

IT IS TIME for serious negotiation.

And that is what Crain’s Chicago Business reported on Tuesday appears to have happened.

The business-oriented newspaper says that county Commissioner John Daley (also known as the mayor’s younger brother) has worked out a deal by which half of the increase that was approved last year will be repealed as of Jan. 1, 2010.

That means instead of reverting to the county share of the sales tax being 0.75 percent, it will be 1.25 percent. Which is significantly less than the 1.75 percent that people shopping in Cook County have been paying this year.

THAT CHANGE IS likely to be voted on when the county board meets again next week.

It will enable the hard-core anti-tax types to claim they got a decrease of some sort, which is something that rarely happens with government. Usually, a tax or fee increase (once approved) is here to stay.

Even those temporary fees that are written in ways so that they expire on a future date usually get expanded.

But for Stroger, it also will be helpful because he’ll be able to spin the issue and claim he was able to produce a little bit of extra revenue (and that it is his critics that prevented the full increase from taking effect).

NOT THAT STROGER will be out of the line of fire yet. His critics have so many reasons for wanting to dump him that they will easily come up with another issue to bash him about with.

It’s a shame that Stroger replaced his father as county board president, rather than someone who was politically despised (such as with Quinn taking over for Blagojevich).

Because then, Stroger could do just about anything he wanted and the public reaction would be a sigh of relief that we got rid of the old guy.

-30-

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The rat race begins

Who among us would care in the least about Christopher Kelly if not for his association with this man?

The Blagojevich-bashers among us (you people know who you are) must have been incredibly ecstatic on Monday. Somebody associated with the now-former governor was sent to prison.

I can only imagine the countdown that begins toward the day that Milorod himself gets sentenced to a prison term.

ADMITTEDLY, MONDAY’S MOMENT wasn’t directly related to the wrongdoing that Blagojevich faces criminal charges for – there’s nothing about replacing Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate with the highest bidder.

Nobody tried to shake down the Chicago Tribune. None of those activities in which Blagojevich is alleged to have engaged came up.

But Christopher Kelly was a fundraiser for Blagojevich. He was one of the people who helped produce all that campaign cash that enabled Blagojevich to be competitive against Republican Jim Ryan in 2002 – and totally bury ’06 opponent Judy Baar Topinka in a mound of absurd campaign spots.

How else to explain the fact that she got annihilated in that election cycle for being seen dancing badly with former Gov. George Ryan?

KELLY PLEADED GUILTY to his offense – tax fraud – and on Monday was sentenced in U.S. District Court to a prison term of just over three years (37 months, to be exact – he could have received a four-year term maximum).

Federal prosecutors say Kelly was one of those people who enjoyed Las Vegas action a bit too much and wound up losing money. To cover his losses, prosecutors say he tried to use funds from his business.

More specifically, they say he under-reported the profits from his roofing company by about $500,000 over a four-year time period so that he could have spare cash to pay his gambling debts.

Personally, I don’t think a business executive who tampers with his company’s books is all that interesting. But there is the fact that he was a Blagojevich supporter.

AND WE ALL know that some people are desperate to believe anybody tainted by association with Blagojevich deserves severe punishment. Why else are there are whole slew of people appointed during the Blagojevich gubernatorial term who now are the focus of a Legislature attempt to fire them all.

It’s so bad that I saw a low-level state official at a recent gathering of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce who felt compelled to apologize for the fact that he was a Blagojevich appointee – before going forward to explain the specific situation for which he was brought before the group to speak.

So Kelly’s prison term, which technically is for activity that had nothing to do with the operations of state government, got significant attention on Monday.

It is going to be like this all through the upcoming months, as official after official who had a Blagojevich association decides that a “guilty” plea and a few months to a couple of years in a federal prison (likely minimum-security) is preferable to an ongoing legal ordeal that links their name more tightly with Blagojevich than they are comfortable.

THESE OFFICIALS WILL build up to people who were closer and closer to Blagojevich, until the day comes when it will be the former governor himself sitting at the defendant’s table in a federal courtroom.

Then, the people who felt some glee on Monday will be downright ecstatic – the concept of Blagojevich himself in prison will be so close they will practically be able to taste it. The sick jokes will really be bouncing all over the place by that point (which I suspect could come some time around October or November of 2010 – literally right around Election Day).

There’s just a couple of points I’d like to make about this whole situation – and anyone who read my commentary back during the impeachment proceedings knows that I think the most vociferous Blagojevich critics are over-reacting and likely need to take a sedative or two.

I’m not all that interested in hearing about a whole batch of officials who, one by one, get sent away to prison for a stretch. Personally, I’m inclined to think the fact that they endured Blagojevich’s erratic personality was a pretty severe punishment, in and of itself.

BUT WHEN TRYING to figure out how much these people were part of some overall conspiracy to defraud the people of Illinois, I’d have to say that the impression I have developed thus far was of an administration where the chief executive was erratic and often ignored the advice of his so-called top advisers.

Prosecutors like to start at the bottom when they suspect a criminal plot, figuring that the first few people who get caught are the ones who truly aren’t that involved. But they provide an initial building block toward a pyramid of “criminal” behavior. The point at the top (in this case, Milorod himself) is the focus that they hope to use the rest of the pyramid to crush him with.

But this might very well be the case where the tip is about the only point worth paying attention to. “Get” Blagojevich, if you feel you must. The rest of the mess doesn’t intrigue me much.

Somehow, I don’t feel like the streets are safer or that society as a whole is all that better off, just because Christopher Kelly’s scam to cover his gambling debts was exposed during the G-men’s attempt to get the governor.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Who will blink first?

Nothing about the current budgetary standoff emanating from the Statehouse in Springpatch surprises me.

I believe Gov. Pat Quinn when he says he’s not kidding about imposing severe cuts in funding to many state government programs – if the Legislature does not approve a significant hike in the state income tax.

I ALSO BELIEVE the legislators who are adamantly opposed to voting for anything resembling even a slight tax hike (and the increase proposed by Quinn is anything but slight) think they are legitimately looking out for the interests of the Illinois public.

After all, there are many people who seriously believe they get little to nothing from state government, yet resent the idea that they’re somehow supposed to pay a larger share of their income to the state to help fund programs that cover others.

And there is a degree to which these people are justified in such thought. After all, nobody is thrilled about looking at a paycheck only to see how large a share is diverted from their wallets to the various government entities that rely on such money to fund their operations.

So the bottom line is that I expect July 1 to come and go without a balanced budget being approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Quinn.

I EXPECT WE’LL be relying on that same budget the Legislature approved at the end of May – the one that only provides enough funding for a few months (with the thought being that the Legislature could craft another budgetary plan when they convene for the fall veto session to get through the rest of fiscal 2011).

That budget is ridiculous.

The actions that government officials likely will take in coming weeks will be extremely harsh to the Illinois public as a whole.

And everybody is determined to lay the blame on the other side in this political battle.

HOW THIS SITUATION will be resolved is something I honestly don’t have a clue about.

It is going to be a matter of who cries “Uncle” first. It’s almost reminiscent of 1991 – when the Democrat-run General Assembly stood up to Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and it wasn’t until something like 18 days into the new fiscal year when they came up with a budget.

That year was a situation where Edgar was determined to show how hard-headed he could be, while Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, acted as though he was trying to see just how far he could push the then-brand-new governor.

That year, it was Madigan who finally made a few compromises that enabled a balanced budget to get approved by the Illinois Legislature and signed into law by Edgar.

I HONESTLY THOUGHT back to that when I heard reports recently about Edgar saying he hoped the Legislature would make the compromises necessary for this situation to be resolved in a way that does not impose much suffering on the people of Illinois.

As Edgar put it, to allow for a political stalemate (the direction we’re headed for right now) would amount to “mismanagement” by Illinois government officials.

“We’ve had enough mismanagement in Springfield over the past few years,” Edgar told reporter-types recently.

In the end, it is going to come down to a matter of how much of a hit to the political ego officials are going to be willing to take.

QUINN IS NOT going to get that full income tax hike he proposed – the one that would produce enough revenue to maintain current government services in healthcare, education and all the other social services that too many conservative government officials want to deride as misguided and not as good as their proponents want to claim.

So I accept the reality that just about all government services are going to receive some cuts in funding. Everybody is going to take something of a hit.

But the legislators who think they’re being noble and idealistic by automatically voting “no” any time anything remotely resembling a tax increase also are going to have to make something resembling a compromise.

Something resembling a tax hike is going to have to be approved. I don’t know if it will be the income tax, or some other special fee that helps raise a significant level of new money for state government.

WHATEVER IT TURNS out to be, we’re going to need that 60 percent of legislators to vote on something this week or early next. That means Democrats who run the Senate and House of Representatives are going to have to make concessions to Republican legislators to get them on board.

I know some people will argue that Republicans have no obligation to do a thing to help produce a balanced budget on the grounds that it was Democratic ineptitude that prevented the state from having a budget in place by the May 30 end-of-session deadline.

That, however, reeks. If Republican legislators insist on playing such partisan political games, then they are going to be deserving of just as much criticism (if not more) than the level they are currently trying to dish out to Democrats for creating the current mess.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens when the General Assembly reconvenes come Tuesday.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Common sense rules as Roland, Roland, Roland avoids perjury, perjury, perjury

When I first learned that Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt was taking it upon himself to investigate Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., on whether he committed perjury before the legislative panel that ultimately impeached Rod Blagojevich, I figured the motivation was politically partisan.

I figured the chief prosecutor for the Springfield area who is Republican was trying to get himself some legal attention at the expense of one of the top-ranking Democrats in Illinois government. My only question was how blatantly partisan would the resulting case against Burris be?

SO CONSIDER ME relieved when I learned Friday that Schmidt (who is NOT the same one-time gubernatorial candidate whose name sort of “happens”) decided there’s no basis for a charge of perjury against Burris.

Reading the reports about the letter Schmidt sent to Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, to explain why he couldn’t justify the charge against the man who once was Illinois attorney general, it almost seemed like Schmidt had read my mind.

Either that, or the commentaries I wrote earlier in the year and published on this site that explained why the people who despise the thought of Burris as a senator are wrong in their eagerness to get the criminal justice system involved.

I’m not so filled with a great sense of my own importance that I think the state’s attorney is truly a regular reader of the Chicago Argus. So I’ll assume that the logic that Burris didn’t commit the offense of perjury was so obvious that even Schmidt saw it.

AS SCHMIDT EXPLAINED in writing, Burris provided vague answers to the legislative committee that interviewed him as part of their proceedings that ultimately resulted in the impeachment and removal from office of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

But then again, Schmidt noted that the questions Burris was asked were vague in and of themselves.

So Burris did not provide inaccurate information in responding to their inquiries. Schmidt also noted that letter Burris sent to the impeachment panel before it adjourned did provide a few additional details.

So in a purely legal sense, Burris made a technical effort to elaborate on his information while the panel could still have acted. So claiming that the offense of perjury took place is too much of a stretch in the legal sense.

NOW FOR THOSE people who are about to respond that Burris’ less than truthfulness means he was not being honest, and that means he lied, which means he deserves some sort of criminal punishment, I have to seriously argue that they need to take some sort of sedative.

Those people are the ones who are the true problem in our society today. They want to take someone who, for whatever reason (either disgust with Burris’ tie to Blagojevich or with any public official who doesn’t use the “Republican” label after their name) they don’t agree with, and they want to put ‘em away in prison.

That is a police state at work, and that is so contrary to the ideals upon which this nation was created that the only phrase I can think of to describe how those people feel is to say they are “un-American” (even though I’m sure some of them will argue they’re the only true patriots).

If anything, there was one part of Schmidt’s letter that surprised me. I had always thought that the legislative panel could have asked more specific questions of Burris. Schmidt agreed.

BUT SCHMIDT DOES not think that is any reason to look down on the Legislature, or to be critical of their performance as an impeachment panel.

He points out that their purpose in questioning Burris was to put out vague inquiries that would help them elicit a lot of general information, some of which they could then hone in on in their attempt to determine whether it was appropriate to remove Blagojevich from office two years prior to the end of the term to which a majority of the people of Illinois elected him.

By Schmidt’s view, the impeachment panel had a larger purpose than singling out Burris, who made an effort to say as little as he had to say when testifying under oath. That actually is a sensible course of action.

In one sense, it is his right (a person has the right not to provide incriminating evidence against themselves). I think anyone who has a problem accepting that concept is confused about what our system of justice is truly based upon.

SO IT WOULD appear that Burris, who on Friday issued pronouncements claiming he is “vindicated” by Schmidt’s decision, can now breathe a sigh of relief.

He has one less venue to worry about. He can be the guy whom people shun in the District of Columbia, while also struggling to gain attention in Chicago. He doesn’t have to cope with the idea of being a criminal defendant in Springfield as well.

But he still has his problems. A lot of people in Washington these days consider him to be “persona non grata” and probably will not have much sympathy when the Senate ethics committee decides what to do with Burris.

They are investigating as to whether Burris’ answers do not comply with the way a U.S. senator is supposed to behave. That requires a much lower standard of behavior to constitute as improper, and the people who are eager to dump on Burris are quick to point out that the Senate could bump him from his seat altogether.

PERSONALLY, I THINK they’re more likely to issue some sort of censure against the man – which would put a mark on his legacy. I’d go so far as to say it would ensure he would not get the Democratic nomination for Senate in next year’s elections, but I think that was already set.

Censure won’t make much difference. But at least he won’t have to suffer his political humiliation from a jail cell of sorts.

He’ll just get to slink back to Mahalia Jackson’s former house in the Chatham neighborhood and live the rest of his life in retirement.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The State Journal-Register newspaper in Springfield makes it possible for us to read (http://extras.sj-r.com/pdfs/burris.pdf) John Schmidt’s actual letter to Michael Madigan.

Friday, June 19, 2009

With Claypool out, will Preckwinkle follow Obama path to challenge Stroger?

On the one hand, it was a good day for Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.

One of the guys whom many political pundits would have figured to be a significant challenger to the son of John Stroger (which, in all honestly, is how most people will always perceive Todd) made it known publicly Thursday that he’s not even going to run in the Democratic primary next year.

IN FACT, THE Chicago Tribune reported that Forrest Claypool, a county commissioner who once was Mayor Richard M. Daley’s chiefs of staff, may not run for any office in 2010.

Claypool was the guy who back in 2006 challenged John Stroger, but wound up getting defeated by Todd when the elder Stroger became too ill to complete his term – let alone run for continued political office.

Many of the people who now make up Stroger’s political opposition are those who seriously wanted Claypool to win three years ago, and would have loved for a Stroger/Claypool rematch to try to rewrite political history of 2006.

Coming just a few days after one-time Chicago Schools chief Paul Vallas made it known that he’s not coming back to Cook County to seek the presidency as a Republican, it would appear on one level that Stroger’s potential challengers are refusing to want to get involved.

IT IS UNDERSTANDABLE, since a fight against Stroger will be brutal.

Racial overtones will become entangled, and Stroger will drag out claims among African-American voters that this amounts to nothing more than a white guy trying to depose a black elected official (particularly since Stroger could wind up being the most prominent black pol on the Democratic ballot in next year’s elections).

Claypool may not have wanted to get involved in such a racial mish-mash. There’s also that past tie to Daley, which while it shouldn’t be reason for opposition will be used against him if he ever decides to run for political office.

Basically, Daley critics who don’t have the political strength to dump on Hizzoner himself will take it out on his former staffer.

IT IS BECAUSE of this that I think the real news Thursday of the Cook County Board presidency campaign thus far came in another statement – one that on the surface seems like self-righteous political propaganda.

Toni Preckwinkle put out a statement letting the world know that her campaign now has its own website.

Basically, it means that as of now, we have to include Preckwinkle among the list of political people who are named whenever anyone speculates about who will have the nerve to challenge Stroger.

For those not in the know, Preckwinkle is that lowest of political creatures. She’s an alderman on the Chicago City Council – that government body that has created so many future federal prison inmates.

NOT TO IMPLY that I have knowledge of Preckwinkle doing anything illegal. In fact, her reputation is fairly clean.

She is the alderman from the Hyde Park neighborhood – that overly academic area that produced our president.

Do we really want Barack Obama’s alderman being put in charge of the Cook County Board?

The reason I bring up Obama’s name in conjunction with Preckwinkle is that her statement on Thursday read so much like she’s trying to capture the same aura that Obama himself used to motivate the youth of America to give his presidential candidacy a base.

SHE GOES SO far to tell us that the lesson of the Obama campaign is that online organizing is key, and she plans to engage in plenty of it.

“Technology is not only an important organizing tool, but it also enables great transparency in government, a major component of my administration as Cook County Board president,” Preckwinkle said, in a prepared statement.

Preckwinkle is an African-American woman, but with the kind of resume that could also appeal to white voters (or those who want to claim they’d rather not get involved in racial identity politics).

She’s got that similar University of Chicago background that appealed to a portion of Chicagoans, while also being able to take away from Stroger what could become the most significant reason he tries to give to the African-American population on the South and West Sides to vote for him for another term.

NOW I’M NOT sure whether Preckwinkle has the strength to run for an elective office that takes her outside of her home neighborhood and the 4th Ward (just like there are those who are convinced that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, is lucky he has never had to appeal for votes to people who live outside his 13th Ward on the Southwest Side).

But with the Claypools and Vallases of the Chicago political world deciding they’d rather not take the time to run against Todd Stroger, it clears the path just a little bit more for someone like Preckwinkle.

So will this go down as the day that Claypool dropped out, or the day that Preckwinkle stepped it up? We’ll have to wait and see.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Toni Preckwinkle claims her website (at http://www.tonipreckwinkle.com/) will offer more of substance in coming months, while Forest Claypool (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2009/06/claypool-wont-challenge-stroger-for-county-board-president.html) left his supporters strugging to find a new Stroger challenger to support.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sosa no longer outrages me like he used to when way too many adored him

I can remember the day not so long ago when Sammy Sosa was the face of the Chicago Cubs and the image of the prevalence of the Latino ballplayer in the U.S. major leagues.

He was the home run hitting slugger with a childlike sense of humor, although there were times when Sosa’s schtick came across as being too much like a real-life Chico Escuela.

IN FACT, ABOUT the only people who didn’t think of Sluggin’ Sammy as a baseball golden boy were written off as hopeless cranks whose real reason for not appreciating all that was good about Sosa was the fact that they spent their spare time rooting for the Chicago White Sox.

Petty jealousy, Cubs fans would claim.

But now that the suspicions of some baseball fans have been confirmed with circumstantial evidence published by the New York Times that Sosa failed a drug test for steroids back in 2003, does this mean that White Sox fans are the only people on Planet Earth with their minds grounded in reality?

And what does it say that the only person wanting to be seen in public with Sosa these days is Jose Canseco, the former baseball slugger who admits his steroid use and claims baseball officials are harming his income by refusing to employ him. He wants Sosa to support a lawsuit he is considering filing against Major League Baseball.

ACTUALLY, LET’S GET one thing straight. Sosa passed the test. Failing would mean that no traces of banned substances were found in his system.

So now that people who are quick to dismiss Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmiero will eagerly add Sosa’s name to the list, what should we really think?

For the fact is that back in a certain era of just under a decade ago, Sosa was the face of Chicago athletics. And he also was the modern-age Latino ballplayer personified.

To drop from such exalted status to that of a non-person in a matter of six years is truly unique.

WHAT MAKES SOSA unique is that his rise to sports stardom was so shocking – he had been a journeyman ballplayer for nine years in the major leagues before doing anything that even came close to hinting at stardom.

Both the Texas Rangers and White Sox had given up on him, with the White Sox deciding that his stubbornness to work the kinks out of his swing at bat would prevent him from ever becoming a truly great hitter.

I know many Cubs fans want to believe that White Sox fans somehow wish their team had never given up on Sammy, and somehow were jealous. It just isn’t so.

It’s because we remember how awful a ballplayer he was during his early 1990s stint with the White Sox, and because we always suspected that the only reason he hung on with the Cubs for so long before finally hitting all those home runs was because the Cubs had such awful teams.

THEY COULD AFFORD to keep a baseball-playing hack like the pre-home run hitting Sosa on their roster for so long.

My point is that my years of nitpicking Sosa (who hit for such awful batting average and struck out so often when he wasn’t hitting home runs, and also was a mediocre-to-terrible defensive player) came years ago.

To me, I don’t see what is to be gained by ganging up on Sosa these days.

My initial reaction to hearing from my brother, Chris, about the reports that Sosa how had something resembling a positive steroids test was to shrug my shoulders and say, “meh.”

DO I THINK this amounts to some evidence that the whole concept of the Chicago Cubs as a superior baseball franchise back in the late 1990s (the days when the Cubs would draw about 2.9 million per year and the White Sox bottomed out at about 1.2 million) is a fraud? Probably.

But the Chicago baseball fan in me doesn’t really care about coming up with more evidence of the Cubs’ natural inferiority. Perhaps that is the after effect of rooting for a team that actually wins a World Series in my lifetime.

If anything, it is the part of me that takes an interest in Latin American ballplayers that wonders what will become of the Sosa legacy.

For the fact is that from 1998 to 2003, Sosa the ballplayer was, for lack of a better word, Ruthian. It was in that era that he became the only ballplayer to hit 60 or more home runs in a single season three times, and hit nearly half of the home runs that he accumulated during a 17-season career.

IT WAS THAT inhuman era that made Sosa a shoo-in for the Baseball Hall of Fame, where currently there are only 11 members who were born in Latin American countries.

Now that we have to look skeptically (and the fact that some Hall of Fame voters are refusing to back Sosa rival Mark McGwire makes it very likely they will dump on Sosa as well), does this mean a little less recognition for the Latino ballplayer?

Perhaps we should have suspected something was wrong just by looking at Sosa’s achievements. Despite being the only player to hit 60 or more home runs three times, it should be noted that in none of those three seasons did he ever lead the National League in home runs.

Nor has he ever been the Major League home run leader for a single season or a career.

SLAMMIN’ SAMMY WAS an inhuman home run machine (when he wasn’t striking out) who always had someone else (McGwire or Bonds) hitting just a little bit better.

So the part of me that follows the White Sox can smirk a bit at Sosa’s predicament (who now is seriously going to argue against Frank Thomas as the best Chicago baseball player of the 1990s?), while the baseball fan in me is already spent with Sosa criticism.

And the Latino in me wonders how many Latino kids were inspired by Sosa’s image, only to have it crushed these days with these latest reports?

Perhaps as much as seeing my favorite ballplayer as a kid, New York Yankees outfielder Lou Piniella, now wearing that ridiculous Cubby blue on a daily basis.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chicago on display for sporting world

I have read reports indicating that Chicago is the favorite to get the bid to host the summer Olympic Games come the year 2016, and I have read others indicating that the Second City is fourth (dead last).

I have read reports indicating that the presence of Barack Obama as president ensures that the games will come to Chicago, and that he literally will get to walk from his Hyde Park home to the Olympic Stadium to be built just a few blocks away.

I HAVE ALSO read other reports indicating that such talk is absurd.

But all of that has been little more than cheap talk. The only rhetoric that truly matters is the talk taking place this week in Switzerland, when officials with Chicago and the three other cities that want to host the Olympics to be held seven years from now will get their only chance to talk to the entire International Olympic Committee.

For Chicago, city officials plan to throw out the same pitch that is given to tourists – all those attractions within walking distance of the downtown hotels, or close enough to mass transit that one can get by in the city without an automobile.

But will getting to see videos touting the wonders of the Bundy Fountain (a.k.a. Buckingham Fountain) truly woo the worldly crowd that comprises the IOC? I don’t know.

ALL I KNOW is that being able to host the games is the kind of event that so-called world-class cities are supposed to be capable of doing so. Hosting an Olympics would be among the historic events that leave their mark on the city’s history (just like the World’s Fairs that came to this city in 1893 and 1934).

I’m not nominating the ’16 Olympics for a fifth star on the Chicago flag (two of the existing four stars commemorate those World’s Fairs). But I can’t help but think that bringing the games to this city could be one of those events that would give us all some stories to tell in the mid-21st Century about what it was like to live in Chicago back when …

What 8-year-old athletic prodigy will wind up having his (or her, for that matter) name forevermore associated with Chicago by performing incredible athletic record-setting events in our fair city.

I also happen to believe these Olympics could wind up inspiring city officials to make some of those long-overdue municipal infrastructure repairs that could provide us Chicagoans with better mass transit and other benefits for years to come.

YEAH, IT WOULD be ideal if city officials would make these improvements for us without the motivation of an Olympic Games. But I’ll take the improvements any way we can get them.

Part of me also is a bit star-struck. It just strikes me as ridiculous that a large-scale city like Chicago cannot handle an event like the Olympics. Too many of the people who are quick to badmouth the concept strike me as being the types who ought to be living in Towanda, Ill.

Not that I’m bad-mouthing Towanda. It’s a cute rural town where the “big city” is nearby in Bloomington.

But I always thought that those of us who choose to live our lives here in Chicago (or those of us who are born here and choose not to relocate) do so because we like the grand scale of the Second City.

NOW AS I understand it, one of the drawbacks to the Chicago bid is that the U.S. government won’t offer up a guarantee that it will pay for any financial shortfalls that occur from the actual staging of the games.

City officials are hoping that a $1.2 billion fund put together from city, state and insurance guarantees is good enough in the minds of the IOC.

I actually think that not having the federal treasury being involved ought to be a plus, particularly when it comes to swaying those people who for whatever reason don’t like the thought of public funding being used for athletic events.

So what is the true significance of this week? It will be Chicago’s last chance to make its strengths known to the world (and I honestly believe Chicago is capable of being matched up to any other city on Planet Earth), since the International Olympic Committee doesn’t plan to listen to too much more public rhetoric.

THERE DEFINITELY WON’T be any more delegations coming to Chicago to check us out.

After this week, it will be a matter of waiting patiently while the committee ponders in a back room – making its final decision public on Oct. 2.

It sounds so much like the ways of Chicago politics of old.

It strikes me as the perfect reason why our city ought to get the games. If there’s anyone who can appreciate the intrigue of the Regular Democratic Organization (a.k.a., the Machine), it’s the IOC.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Could U.S. Cellular Field and Wrigley Field become the venues that see (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/2009-06-14-olympic-bids_N.htm) the return of baseball and softball to the summer Olympics?

The Chinese propaganda machine is making it known that Chicago is “well prepared” to host (http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-06/15/content_11547424.htm) the Olympics in 2016. Chicago’s propaganda machine is (http://www.chicago2016.org/) spreading the same message.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Peraica "gets" it!

It was totally in character for the Cook County Board on Tuesday to pass a resolution praising the memory of the recently-deceased blues singer Koko Taylor.

It also was not at all surprising to see the main sponsor of the resolution was county Commissioner Jerry Butler. Considering that "the Iceman" has his own stellar reputation as an r&b singer, he would be the appropriate choice to pay tribute to Taylor.

BUT WHODATHUNK IT that the most vocal blues backer on the county board would turn out to be Anthony Peraica?

The county commissioner from west suburban Riverside spoke out in saying he doesn't think Chicago and Cook County do enough to celebrate the blues resources that reside here.

"They are more celebrated on other continents than they are appreciated in our midst," Peraica said of blues artists such as Taylor, who has a generation of North Shore types who think of one of the great female blues singers of all time as their maid.

"These are international ambassadors of Chicago, not just part of our local scene," Peraica said. For what it's worth, Butler's resolution cites Taylor's eight Grammy Award nominations, her 25 W.C. Handy awards, and her appearance in that otherwise dreadful film "Blues Brothers 2000."

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CHICAGO CLICHES: Gangsters, deep-dish pizza & Ozzie dumps all over Wrigley

What would Ozzie Guillen have thought of the West Side Grounds -- the ball park the Cubs dumped because Wrigley Field was a step up? Photograph provided by the Library of Congress collection.

It is becoming ever so predictable. Every summer when the Chicago White Sox make their annual trip to the “alien” land otherwise known as the Lake View neighborhood, reporter-types will make a point of doing stories about how much White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen despises Wrigley Field.

It is getting to the point where Ozzie trashing the Chicago Cubs’ stadium is as much a Chicago cliché as the notion that all Second City residents spend their time eating deep-dish pizza while dodging bullets from mob guys.

SURE ENOUGH, IT happened again this year. On the eve of the White Sox taking a bus ride north to Lake View (I refuse to call it “Wrigleyville,” and most long-time residents of the neighborhood whom I have met feel the same way), we got stories from every news outlet.

This year, Ozzie says that Wrigley Field makes him ill. Or, as he so “eloquently” put it, “I puke every time I go there.”

In reading this year’s version of the “Ozzie disses Wrigley” stories, it comes off that Guillen won’t pick on Cubs players or manager Lou Piniella. He even manages to give some praise to those misguided Chicagoans who spend their time rooting for a ball club that hasn’t won a National League championship in 64 years (or a World Series title in 101).

It’s the building.

OF COURSE, WHEN one considers that so much of the Chicago Cubs’ aura and mystique is built around the fact that the building the team plays its games in is old and antiquated.

They bill the concept of playing ball games in a building that is lacking in so many of the amenities that most fans have come to expect when going to professional sports events as being a historic experience – watching a game under the same conditions that your great-grandfather watched a game.

In fact, if you’re not careful, that stain you’re stepping in could be the remnants of where your grandfather spit his tobacco chaw so many decades ago.

So there are people who consider themselves Cubs fans whose whole point in backing that ball club is the building. To them, speaking out against Wrigley Field is sacrilege. So such stories will help stoke some anger.

WHAT OTHER TEAM has fans who make a point of wearing special jerseys that tout the stadium, rather than the team? I’ve never seen anyone wear a “Yankee Stadium” jersey – even though the building in the Bronx that finally turned to rubble after 2008 saw more sports and cultural history than Wrigley Field could ever dream of.

So if it reads like I think the “Ozzie hates Wrigley” stories are getting overbearing, you would be comprehending me correctly. We know he doesn’t like the building that much. It’s not really news anymore.

Quite frankly, anyone who’s willing to be honest about the conditions at Wrigley Field would have to admit that Ozzie is merely stating the truth.

I agree with Ozzie in large part because of the occasions during my two decades as a reporter-type in and around Chicago that I got into Wrigley Field. I was never a full-time sportswriter, but I have had occasional assignments that got me temporary credentials that allowed me to be in places (such as the team clubhouses, dugouts and playing field) that some Cubs fans would consider to be a fantasy-come-true.

OF COURSE, MY memory of walking from the Cubs clubhouse to the dugout was not seeing a step and taking a tumble onto the decades-old concrete in the tunnel that connects the two. I have to wonder how many Cubs players throughout the decades injured themselves from making that same tumble?

And I can also remember interviewing ballplayers in a “media room” that was little more than a one-time storage room barely bigger than a walk-in closet. The ballplayer in question has his back up against the wall literally (he’s stuck in the corner) with television cameras stuck just a couple of feet away from his face.

Behind those cameras are the reporter-types, all jammed into a room with pipes popping out of the ceiling and walls at all odd points.

Compared to other sports stadiums, these are downright primitive. Many minor league teams in cities that have spent the money to build new stadiums in recent years have nicer facilities than the Chicago Cubs.

NOT THAT I blame the Cubs for any of this. I can see how they’re taking a building that was designed in 1914 to be little more than a grandstand with seats for about 14,000 people and trying to squeeze in many of the amenities now expected in sports stadiums within a limited amount of space.

The same small confines of one square city block that make the stands so intimate and close to the playing field also leave little room for facilities for the people who actually work in the building.

In past years, Ozzie has ragged on Wrigley for having rats. I never saw any there. But I would be surprised if a building open to the public for more than nine decades did not have some vermin roaming around.

So is Wrigley less than pristine? Yes.

IS IT GETTING old to have Ozzie Guillen dump on Wrigley Field every year? Double yes.

Is the bottom line that most sports fans this week are going to be more interested in the action on the playing field, rather than the decrepit conditions of the building as a whole? Most likely!

And insofar as this week is concerned, I fully expect the White Sox to blow two ballgames to the Cubs. The built our hopes up a couple of weeks ago during that 10-3 stretch, but have lost so many games since then that the whole thing sort of balances out as a ball club built to fall short.

I don’t even think that Chicago Cubs’ style ineptness can give the Sox this series.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't plan to work my way out to Wrigley Field this week for the latest matchup (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090615&content_id=5340198&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlb) of Sox vs. Cubs. But many thousands of Chicagoans will this week.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Patriot, or trash-picker?

It has been a week since I first learned of the activities of Jeff Olsen, and I have to confess that I still don’t know what to make of him.

Olsen is employed by Waste Management, and the old-school term for his job is “garbage collector.” He’s on the crews that work around the Elgin area, going from house to house to pick up the trash cans and haul the waste away.

BUT WHAT GOT Olsen some public recognition last week, and has led to follow-up stories in recent days, is the fact that Olsen makes a point of going through peoples’ trash cans, and takes his action if he finds anything resembling a U.S. flag.

It could be one of those little 3-by-5-inch flags on a stick that one waves with their thumb or index finger, or a full-fledged flag that once was rung up a flag pole as part of a patriotic display.

Olsen told the Chicago Tribune that he has managed to find about 250 flags by going through peoples’ trash. In some cases, he tries to repair them. In other cases, he takes it upon himself to give them a more dignified disposal than being dumped in a Glad bag along with someone’s pizza box and rotted tomatoes that didn’t get eaten in time.

In theory, I don’t really care what Olsen or anyone who gets worked up over his “cause” does. After all, these are items that were disposed of by their owners. So it certainly is not theft.

BUT IT BUGS me to think that someone has the potential to rifle through the trash of someone else, and start making judgments about what those people chose to dispose of.

Now I know some people are going to read this and start giving me a rant about patriotism and proper respect for the symbol that is a U.S. flag. Others may get overly anal retentive and start quoting precise portions of the U.S. Code that relate to proper display and disposal of a U.S. flag.

I suppose I can’t stop you from sending me your messages, but be forewarned that I have read the code. You won’t be informing me of anything I haven’t already seen.

And what I have seen has been vague to the point where I don’t know what constitutes proper disposal of a U.S. flag.

I KNOW SOME people swear by giving their tattered old flags to a local veterans’ organization. Those groups are good about collecting such flags, then periodically holding rituals in which they pay tribute to the nation – before disposing of the raggedly old flags into a pyre.

In short, they burn them.

But somehow, I get the feeling that the people who are most likely to want to make some sort of hero out of Olsen these days would be greatly offended if any of those people who threw their tattered flags into the trash were to have tried to create a bonfire in the backyard and had dumped the flag into the flames.

Police would have been called. Reports would have been filed. Tax dollars would have been spent to pay for the prosecutors who would have had to convince judges about whether someone’s backyard fire was dignified enough to be a legitimate disposal.

IT WOULD HAVE become a fiasco because someone thought the best way to get rid of a tattered flag was to dispose of it quietly, rather than make an elaborate ritual of the affair.

Now I will agree that dumping a flag into the trash bin, then taking the trash can out to the curb probably is not the most dignified way to get rid of a flag of any type. Just envision the stains it would gain from leftover Chinese food cartons that would spill onto it.

And what would people think if the kitty litter had managed to get onto the flag? What an outrage.

But Olsen told reporter-types he thinks people who throw the flags into the trash are the same as those who stomp on them as an act of political protest. That is just absurd. And that is why I have my problems with the patriotic trash-collector (who to the best of my knowledge has never picked up the trash anywhere near my neighborhood).

THERE HAS TO be some sense of degree. I don’t know that I want to start blaming the people who disposed of their flags for doing something all that improper.

After all, I have seen the flags that Olsen chose to have his picture taken with. They were more than just tattered. They were torn. They were definitely battered to the point where it would have been wrong to run them up a flagpole and claim they were a part of any patriotic display.

If it reads like I’m praising these people for at least having the sense not to fly a torn rag (which is what these flags had become) to score some “patriotism” points for themselves, then you’d be correct.

Should we really be trying to make a heroic figure out of someone who is “refuse rummaging” – a practice that most of us quit doing when we were about six?

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EDITOR’S NOTES: A Northwest suburban American Legion post used Flag Day on Sunday (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/06/flag-day-elgin-jeff-olsen.html) to pay tribute to a trash collector who has spent the past 18 months picking U.S. flags from peoples’ garbage cans.

Is this what it takes to turn the burning of a U.S. flag from an act some want to think is un-constitutional to one (http://www.flagkeepers.org/ProperDisposalCeremony.asp) that gives the symbol its proper due?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

He’s stayin’ in N’Awlins

On a certain level, Todd Stroger had to be incredibly happy on Friday.

That was when it became publicly known that the candidate whom some Republicans publicly claimed was their best chance to dethrone Stroger is NOT going to seek the office of Cook County Board president come the 2010 elections.

PAUL VALLAS, THE one-time Chicago Public Schools chief who now is trying to rebuild the school system in New Orleans, had suggested earlier this year he would return to the Chicago area later this year and would consider becoming a Republican so he could challenge Stroger.

With his family still living in and around suburban Crestwood, Vallas will always be a Chicago-area guy, regardless of where he works.

And Vallas, on paper, would be a bigger name than anyone the Republican Party likely can come up with on its own. But Vallas on Friday let it be known he has signed another contract to work for the New Orleans school system.

So he’s not coming back any time soon to the city and state that rejected him as a gubernatorial candidate back in 2002.

AND NOW, THE Republicans don’t have any obvious alternative to put on the ballot for county board president. Admittedly, Vallas would have been a long shot to win. But just about every other likely GOP candidate is a no shot.

Are we really destined to get another campaign by county board Commissioner Anthony Peraica of suburban Riverside? He has turned himself into a caricature, and I can’t envision any significant change in votes. Anybody who is disgusted with Stroger these days likely was appalled by Peraica back in ’06, and nothing has changed.

So now, Stroger can focus his campaign efforts on next year’s primary election. I fully expect a few of those county commissioners, and probably an ambitious politico or two from outside of county government, to try to challenge Todd for the Democratic Party’s nomination.

But should Stroger succeed in winning the primary, he likely would be able to do a light jog through the marathon of a campaign season to the general election finish line.

IT WON’T BE like the situation with the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois, where whoever wins a feisty, contested primary will have to deal with a Republican opponent who will receive significant help from the national GOP – which would love to put an Illinois seat in their partisan column.

In some ways, this could be good for the Democratic Party (if you believe that the Democratic Party’s electoral success is a good thing for the state as a whole).

For the dumping of Todd Stroger that some people are now fantasizing about (and which has managed to take on racial overtones, no matter how much some people want to deny that fact) could backlash against the Democratic Party.

Like it or not, the African-American electorate of Chicago that provides the bulk of support for Democratic Party candidates in Illinois statewide elections is not going to like the concept of two black officials (Stroger AND Sen. Roland Burris) being replaced by white guys (or maybe a white guy and girl).

THE IDEA THAT Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White would be the only black candidate on the Democratic Party ballot is not going to be seen as sufficient. It could legitimate cause some black voters to “sit out” the 2010 elections (there’s no circumstance that would cause significant numbers of African American voters to cast ballots for the GOP).

I have always thought it was most likely that either Burris or Stroger would need to be on the ballot offered up to local voters interested in Democratic Party candidates. Since I have always believed Burris is nothing more than an interim official completing the two years remaining on Barack Obama’s term in the U.S. Senate, that means I’m unofficially accepting of Stroger running for yet another term – even if watching him work at times gives the impression of a kid who might have been ready for the political post in another couple of years.

Besides, I can’t honestly say I ever thought Vallas would have been successful in the county board post.

Vallas has had success making improvements in public education systems that some people like to demonize as too bloated and too big (as though they have much of a choice in how many students they must accept).

BUT THE THOUGHT of him as a government official strikes me as being similar to the thought of Ralph Nader actually becoming president of the United States.

The consumer advocate has some great knowledge about a couple of specific areas, similar to how Vallas knows education administration.

But being a government chief executive means having to deal with issues of all types, including some things they’d probably prefer to ignore outright.

If it sounds like I’m saying I don’t think Vallas would be able to come up with any significant solution to the sales tax situation that is confronting Cook County government these days, you’d be correct.

IN THE END, Vallas did the right thing by returning to New Orleans. He has the chance to accomplish some great things in that city, parts of which have yet to recover from Hurricane Katrina. Combined with his success in Chicago and Philadelphia, he’s going to have some great stories to tell of his work when he does finally retire to the “country estate” in Crestwood.

But if he gave that up to run campaign bids, he’d threaten to turn his legacy from a great educator to a modern-day Al Hofeld – who despite his personal wealth NEVER won election to anything.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: One more year in New Orleans means no political campaign in ’10 (http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/06/no_schools_leader_paul_vallas.html) for Paul Vallas.

Could Vallas have actually won election as county board President? We likely (http://chicagoargus.blogspot.com/2009/02/vallas-to-gop-is-likely-to-fail.html) will never know.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rev. Wright won’t go away

If we had much in the way of sense, our society wouldn’t care in the least about anything that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright had to say this week, or much any time in the future.

As he has said many times about his relationship these days with President Barack Obama, he is a pastor while the president is a politician.

SO JUST AS I wouldn’t care much to hear Obama give us a theological discussion, why should I be expected to care about Wright’s thought on politics?

The only people who are taking any of this seriously are the ones who are desperate for an excuse to despise the Obama presidency, and who are disgusted that the nation as a whole didn’t share their disgust for Wright and one-time Weatherman Bill Ayers.

But those few are going to try to make much of Wright’s latest rant, which was made during an appearance he did in Virginia at a minister’s conference.

The Chicago Tribune tried to make much of this story (which really wasn’t theirs. A Newport News Daily Press reporter-type got the interview, and the Tribune is trying to make it appear as though the fact they are owned by the same company makes the story their property too).

THE PART THAT is getting people worked up was Wright’s wisecrack that, “them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me.”

All I get from this line is that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel would engage in a seriously obscene diatribe if he ever thought that Obama was considering having significant contact with his one-time pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ – which the president quit attending about a year ago.

Does this mean it is very unlikely Wright would wish Emanuel a “Happy Holidays?” Probably.

He might send him a Christmas card, if he were in a particularly sarcastic mood. But I’d like to think that a man who has devoted his life to preaching the ideals of Christianity would be able to rise above having such thoughts.

WHAT WE’RE GOING to hear is a political spin that Obama associates with people who are not within a so-called mainstream view of U.S. society. We’ll probably hear many comparisons to Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam – who throughout the years has managed to spew rhetoric that has been perceived by some as anti-Jewish, if not outright anti-white.

This appearance in Virginia is going to result in some people trying to accuse an Obama presidency of being “reverse racists.” After all, he already has given us a Supreme Court nominee who thinks there are cases where a Latina can make a more reasoned legal decision than an Anglo man.

Actually, all that Sonia Sotomayor has ever said is that she does not view being Latina as some sort of drawback (the way that real racists would like to think her ethnic background ought to be a negative).

Perhaps it is because I have seen the Nation of Islam types in Chicago, preaching their view of black empowerment and claiming that Christian churches will never permit them to advance in society (while downplaying the fact that many Muslims don’t consider the Nation of Islam to be legitimate members of their religion).

I DON’T GET worked up over such a view, because I haven’t really seen much indication that it is spreading to the mainstream.

I can think of just as many African-American people living in the Second City who look at Farrakhan with bewilderment when he speaks, and will likely take to Wright’s latest rant as being just the latest over-the-top talk of a preacher-man.

Besides, the bottom line of this incident is that even if you are the type who seriously believes the Rev. Wright to be a threat to our society (I think you need to take your medication if you truly believe that), you should not be worked up.

For the fact is that Wright is admitting he has little to no influence over Obama these days, and is not likely to appear at a White House gathering anytime soon.

“I TOLD MY baby daughter that he’ll talk to me in five years when he’s a lame duck, or in eight years when he’s out of office,” the Tribune/Daily Press story quotes Wright as saying. “They will not let him talk to someone who calls a spade what it is.”

So why should people seriously be trying to taint an Obama administration with this attempt by a pastor at political rhetoric. All he is showing is that he is out of his league when he’s talking about politics, and the president seems to realize that.

So when I read that Wright is throwing out a line about “ethnic cleansing” taking place in Gaza, I think of it as little more than some cheap talk – a part of our overall society that makes it interesting as a whole.

Would we really want a society where everybody thinks alike? I doubt it.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Is it a crime that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was among the national majority (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-wright_11jun11,0,5532879.story) that voted for Barack Obama in last year’s presidential election?

Not everybody is so quick to believe that Wright’s rhetoric offers any real proof of some (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/nov05election/detail?entry_id=41571) Jewish conspiracy.