Monday, August 31, 2009

Will anyone care what McCain thinks?

I’m not sure what to think of the fact that Mark Kirk is using Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to help plug his bid to move up to a seat in the U.S. Senate.

It just strikes me as odd that the reason some political pundits think Kirk might not be a shoo-in for the Republican nomination for the post is that he’s not conservative enough on social issues.

SO WHAT DOES Kirk do? He turns to the presidential nominee from 2008 who many social conservatives thought was not adequately aligned with them on the issues, so much that some just stood home and allowed the hard-core Barack Obama supporters to be an Election Day majority.

Does Kirk seriously think that this endorsement does him any good when it comes to gaining support outside of his particular segment of the electorate? If he does, then his judgment is questionable – and perhaps that is the reason that people such as Dan Proft think they have a good shot to win the Republican nomination come Feb. 2, 2010.

What Kirk has to do is get many of those moderates who in recent years have become repulsed by the GOP’s conservative ideological taint that they have been voting for Democrats.

He has to get them to believe that he is the kind of Republican who can be acceptable to them. Those people, combined with those who are so hard-pressed for a Republican to win election next year that they will be practical instead of ideological in casting their vote, will be the ones who could create a sizable majority that could win.

IT ALSO WOULD cut into the size of the vote that a Democratic nominee could count on come the general election in November.

But after watching McCain make his concessions to the conservatives to get the GOP nomination, there are going to be many moderates who will not be inclined to trust him.

And the presence of McCain could wind up scaring away some votes from Kirk from people who figured they didn’t trust the nitwit in the presidential election in 2008, so they’re not about to care what he thinks about anything in 2009.

So what was really accomplished on Sunday when McCain issued a statement that the Kirk campaign plans to use to make himself seem like the choice of a new generation of Republicans (even though the “new” generation is mostly the people who least want Kirk or anyone of his ilk to win).

IT GOT HIM a chance at attention on the Sunday night newscasts, and may even warrant good play in those Monday newspapers (unless people think that promoting the upcoming trial of another defendant in the Palatine slayings at a Brown’s Chicken franchise 16 years ago is more important).

But this early in the election cycle, I can’t see that it matters much.

This is still a time when most people are not going to want to have to pay much attention to an Election Day that is just over 5 months away.

So having a statement from McCain (“The people of Illinois deserve a senator who will restore honest government, strengthen our national security, fight for veterans and bring fiscal discipline to Washington,” it reads in part) is merely a stunt that will get lost in the shuffle of political events and news nuggets by the time people start paying attention to the campaigns in those days after they recover from their New Year’s hangovers.

OTHERWISE, IT JUST doesn’t do much.

If anything, Kirk’s chances of victory center around creating the image that he’s the lone rational human being in the running for the Republican nomination for Senate, and that picking any of the other GOP dreamers to be the Senate nominee would be sacrificing any chance the political party has to have its candidate defeat a Democrat and actually win the seat that has been held by Barack Obama, Carol Moseley-Braun and Alan Dixon – just to name a few.

Picking a conservative ideologue would backfire against the GOP similar to how it misfired in 1994 in the U.S. House of Representatives race from a central Illinois district, where Richard Durbin managed to be one of the few Democrats to win re-election in what otherwise is considered a “historic” GOP year.

Durbin ran against a GOP candidate with no political experience who took pride in his membership in the John Birch Society.

THE FACT IS that no amount of reciting Rod Blagojevich’s name would scare most people who bother to vote into picking an uncompromising ideologue over a Democrat.

While I realize that the social conservative, hard-core ideological types are dominant in the GOP these days, there’s always the chance that Kirk gets the nomination because the majority splits up among the other five candidates – letting Kirk’s minority support be large enough to win.

But I wonder if stunts like this merely make people think that Kirk is just another politico – which would make them think he’s no better than anyone else in the running.

If that’s the case, why would they vote for him?

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Call it the Chicago-style school of hard knocks, one that no longer exists

One of my first jobs after completing a college education was one I often have alluded to in my commentaries published here – I was a reporter-type person for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago.

I was at the local wire service back in the late 1980s into the early 1990s, and my stay there got extended, so to speak, due to the last recession our nation went through. So few places were hiring that I got stuck at a low-paying job a bit longer than I would have desired.

NOT THAT I’M complaining.

Because for me, the end result was that I got to maximize the experience of being a Chicago-based reporter for the old wire service, and it gave me an education in the ways of Chicago that I sometimes think every resident of the metropolitan area would benefit from. It’s definitely a shame that new reporter-types in this city don’t get the experience.

Like many people who were born here, I had a home neighborhood, and a few other places where I knew people (born in the South Chicago neighborhood, and grew up in and around Calumet City). I also had visited some of the tourist-type places downtown that constitute Chicago attractions.

Yet there were also vast parts of this city that I had never set foot in. And I certainly had never bothered to go to places on Chicago’s outer rim such as Waukegan, Woodstock or Crown Point, Ind.

BUT I CAN say that City News sent me to all those places, and many more, as a reporter-type in search of the news.

I can also cite times I had to set foot in the district police stations, churches in ethnic neighborhoods and public housing complexes, some of the latter of which are now ancient history as they have been torn down as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s attempts to beautify Chicago.

For me, the 8900 block of South Burley Avenue will always be the place where an intoxicated man tried to tell me at about 3 a.m. that a local tavern fire was started by “Martian-type dudes from outer space,” while breathing the stench of whiskey straight into my face.

I may have started out as a $190 per week reporter ($156.23, after taxes) who routinely complained about my pitiful salary (only to hear my managing editor say how he started out at City News at $29 per week some three decades earlier).

BUT A PART of the payment I got was literally an education in Chicago, which is unique because of its vast diversity in its neighborhoods. The fact that there are places so radically different from each other that can claim to have in common the fact that they both are within the city limits IS the character of Chicago.

Would anyone ever seriously mistake Englewood from Sauganash? And people who live on the East Side think both of those neighborhoods are somehow alien territory.

It put me into a mindset where I believe the people who need to be felt sorry for are the ones who literally know nothing beyond their immediate neighborhood. They would benefit from having suddenly to hop in their car or on a bus to venture into a strange neighborhood and immediately try to figure out who is what.

I literally remember the one time I had to go to Sauganash. I was working the overnight shift in those hours that technically are Sunday but many think are still Saturday night, and there was a fire at a church in that northwest side neighborhood.

I GOT TO the church, then realized I was in such a domesticated neighborhood that finding a pay telephone was going to be a hassle (these were the days when only technical geeks carried portable phones, and the rest of us laughed at them for hauling around that brick with an antenna).

But an elderly couple who lived across the street literally allowed me into their home (at about 4 a.m.), and gave me unlimited use of the phone to call the office at 35 E. Wacker Dr. to turn in the details, where a rewrite man then turned it into pedestrian copy that got used by news radio (remember when Chicago had dueling news radio stations?) all through the upcoming day.

It also was in those days that I got my first exposure to political people (I literally remember Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart from the days when he was a low-level assistant state’s attorney at the courthouse in suburban Markham) and the ways in which they attempt to do “the people’s business,” and if they can managed to give themselves a perk or two, what the hay?

But it was also during those years that I saw Illinois’ very own Sen. Paul Simon attempt to run for president (I remember chasing him down a flight of stairs trying to get an answer to a question) and also the rise from obscurity to prominent of Carol Moseley-Braun.

I ALSO CAN say I was on hand the day that Chicago gave a big downtown parade for the military veterans returning home from the first Gulf War, along with the day that protesters attempted to punish the state of Illinois by blocking the stairwells and entrances to the Thompson Center state government building, which resulted in government workers having to use fire exits in order to maneuver around the building.

These are just a few of the “war stories” I have in my mind from my City News days, which I may wind up sharing Saturday when I show up for what will be an informal reunion, of sorts, of City News types at the Plymouth Restaurant, 327 S. Plymouth Ct.

It will definitely be more interesting than any high school reunion, particularly my graduating class which was so inept that we did our 20th reunion 21 years after we graduated.

Then again, I’ll be in a room with dozens of other people with their own tales of working the streets of Chicago in search of news.

SO IT MAY be more interesting for me to just sit back and take it all in and hear about the days back when a Radio Shack T-80 model 100 was considered newfangled high-tech and one of the keys to being a good reporter in a competitive situation was to always be aware of where the working payphones were at any given moment.

I must admit that even though I now carry around a cell phone, I always try to make sure I know if there’s a pay phone on hand – just in case. It’s an old City News habit that likely will never completely go away.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

A DAY IN THE LIFE (of Chicago): Illinois ain’t ready for reform either

If Chicago wasn't ready for reform in '55, then the actions at the Thompson Center on Thursday showed that Illinois still isn't ready in '09. Photograph provided by State of Illinois.

In theory, the Democratic leaders of the Illinois House of Representatives and state Senate worked with Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this year to create a bill that would bring significant reform to the state’s laws concerning campaign finance.

Yet Quinn used his veto power Thursday to kill the measure that was approved by the General Assembly. And it was House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats, who urged him to do it.

SOUND STUPID? IT shouldn’t, at least not by the political realities of Illinois.

This was the bill that was only considered by the General Assembly because legislators wanted the appearance that they were trying to reform state law in the wake of the behavior of Rod Blagojevich – the governor who has since been impeached and indicted by federal prosecutors.

It’s not like legislators would have touched the issue under any other circumstances. They definitely didn’t want to start making changes that might impact their own chances for future re-election.

The resulting bill was so filled with compromises and half-hearted measures that many of the good government types who want serious reform were willing to see this bill wither away.

IT IS WHY Quinn, who historically has aligned himself with the good government types to the detriment of his political ambitions, can say with a straight face that his veto of campaign finance reform will not hurt him politically.

“Many, many people felt that we should go back to the drawing board,” the governor said, when issuing the veto. Excuse me for being skeptical of the political rhetoric that such efforts might take place when the General Assembly reconvenes next month.

In fact, the only controversy came due to early reports from the Associated Press, which claimed early in the day that Quinn would use “amendatory veto” powers to try to change the bill. Instead, he kissed it goodbye. Who knows when the state Legislature will feel compelled to take the issue up again.

What else was notable on the Chicago news scene?

WHAT BALLPARK TAUNTS ARE APPROPRIATE?: Let me say up front that one of the differences I have observed throughout the years of the different ballpark “cultures” surrounding the Chicago Cubs and White Sox involves race.

I’m not saying that no black people care about the Cubs, but it always struck me that there were fewer African-Americans as part of the Wrigley Field scene compared to U.S. Cellular Field – and that very fact was a part of the attraction for some of the white fans who go to Cubs games rather than see the White Sox (where there is some racial interaction, and where the fans sometimes behave badly).

So when I read reports that Cubs outfielder Milton Bradley, whose weak hitting is part of the reason the Cubs are not “fine in ’09,” says he has heard racist taunts coming from the stands (http://www.suntimes.com/sports/baseball/cubs/1737720,CST-SPT-cub27.article) at Wrigley Field, a part of me was not the least bit shocked. I’m not saying that every Cubs fan in the ballpark is a racist.

But is it possible that the bleacher crowd that thinks getting a little unruly is a part of the stadium experience and also may think that razzing a ballplayer is part of why they pay so much for tickets will include certain crude, naughty taunts? Of course they will. Anyone who says otherwise is living in a fantasyland – perhaps the same place where the Cubs are perpetual contenders.

A NEW D.C. ATTRACTION, VIA CHICAGO: A month ago, it was rusting away and some raccoons had taken to living inside it. Now, it is destined to become a part of our history, put on display as part of the Smithsonian Institute’s new museum on African-American culture.

I’m referring to the casket that for a few decades contained the well-preserved remains of Emmett Till, the boy killed by Southern racists for violating their sensibilities of public behavior. When his body was exhumed a few years ago for some tests, it was reburied in a new casket.

But because we’re talking Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, it turns out that the issue wouldn’t just go away. The old casket wound up sitting abandoned in a tool shed and some animals were living inside it. It was only because of the investigation into practices at the historically African-American cemetery that it was discovered.

Now, the Chicago Tribune reports (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-emmett-till-casketaug27,0,4384363.story) that the old casket will be donated by the Till family to the museum being developed in Washington. Come 2015, we can all check it out, if we’re so inclined.

OUCH! TODD’S EGO TAKES A BLOW: Cook County Board President Todd Stroger will never be able to live down his latest injury – a blow to the head while playing basketball that caused him to get eight stitches at the county hospital named as a tribute to his father, John.

People who are determined to trash Todd are going to come up with many different facets of this “issue” with which to criticize him.

What was he doing playing basketball at 2 p.m. on a weekday? Shouldn’t he have been working? And how does anyone manage to get into the one-time Cook County Hospital, get treatment and get released within a couple of hours, unless there was some sort of favoritism showed in treatment?

And not only that, but how bad of a ballplayer must Todd Stroger be if he manages to get that roughed up during a pickup game held at the East Bank Club earlier this week. Somehow, I have the feeling the blow to his ego is worse than the physical injury itself.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Has Democratic Senate primary in Illinois devolved to no-name candidates?

Am I losing my memory, or was there once a time when we political observers who are Illinois-oriented were talking about how our state’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2010 could wind up being a fight between a Kennedy, a Jackson, and maybe even a Madigan?

So what happened?

IT SEEMS NOW like we’re going to get a scrap between a Giannoulias, a Hoffman and a Jackson. And by the latter, I mean Cheryle, not Jesse Jr.

The decline of the field for the U.S. Senate race is likely even bigger than the dropoff for Illinois governor – which some of us thought could be a fight between a Quinn and a Madigan, but at least has remained a battle between a Quinn and a Hynes.

Democrats are still going to have to go through a fight for the party’s nomination for the right to live in the publicly-owned “mansion” at 5th and Jackson in Springfield.

There’s no such fight for the seat held by the junior senator from Illinois.

NO WONDER SOME Democratic operatives are wondering if the field of Mark Kirk and a few no-name Republicans may actually produce a more competitive campaign for the U.S. Senate seat.

All of this setup is meant to let you know in no uncertain terms that the idea of David Hoffman getting himself into the campaign for U.S. Senate doesn’t do a thing to intrigue my intelligence level.

For one thing, he’s probably as big a no-name as any of the Republican hopefuls – even though he has a nice job title.

Inspector General for Chicago city government. In theory, that means he’s in charge of ferreting out corruption within city government, and there are those people who think that Hoffman was an annoyance to Mayor Richard M. Daley because of the way that his office pointed out that the leasing out of city parking meters to a private company became a public mess.

BOTTOM LINE AS far as most people are concerned – Hoffman has an incredible grasp of the obvious. Some might want to argue that corruption doesn’t appear to be on the decline due to Hoffman, so how much could he have succeeded?

Anyway, Hoffman is now unemployed. He quit his post on Wednesday so he could devote his full time to a campaign for Senate.

Not that he can be blamed. The field of Senate candidates for the Democratic nomination is so weak that some reportedly are considering asking Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart (the man whom Time magazine adores so much) to give up his post to run for the Senate.

So why should Hoffman feel intimidated by Giannoulias or Jackson? He probably has as good a chance as either of them to actually get the nomination.

SO WHAT IS wrong with the Democratic field of candidates (assuming that Dart does not give up his chance to be Cook County’s top lawman – as well as the unofficial Chief of Police of suburban Ford Heights)?

Personally, I’d feel more confident about Giannoulias if he weren’t so eager for advancement. There’s just something about a 33-year-old who couldn’t even finish his first term in an elective office before he decides he wants to run for one of the Big Four posts of Illinois politics (the two Senate seats, Chicago mayor and Illinois governor).

It’s not even the so-called misjudgments that he has made in his professional life that Republican candidates will go out of their way to highlight next year if he gets the Democratic nomination.

While I know it is possible to use rhetoric that makes it seem like Giannoulias is lucky to not be serving time in prison for his acts, they amount to too little in my mind to take all that seriously. But I’m also not going to get all enthused about him just because he has played pickup basketball with Barack Obama.

EVEN DAN HYNES waited until his second term as state Comptroller before he tried running for U.S. Senate (back in ’04), and seems to realize he is better qualified to seek governor now by having three full terms as the head of a state constitutional office among his experiences.

Then, there’s Jackson, whom I almost feel guilty thinking of as a lightweight. But the one-time Amtrak official who also was Rod Blagojevich’s public face (his press secretary) before becoming head of the Chicago Urban League isn’t exactly a household name. And the fact that “Blagojevich” is in that last sentence is going to be enough to scare some people off – even though it shouldn’t.

To me, the question about the seriousness of Jackson’s candidacy will come down to race. If people start to sense that the Democratic Party ticket has a potential to become virtually all-white and if Cook County Board President Todd Stroger really does get dumped by a white challenger, would there be those people who would vote for an African-American woman for the Senate seat – just to avoid the inevitable (and hypocritical) Republican rhetoric that the Democrats aren’t representing their black supporters?

Think about it.

YOU MAY WANT to say you won’t take race into account and that you will always vote for the “best qualified person” (however you define that), but can anyone really say Jackson has any less a resume than either of her two challengers at this point?

And maybe “Roland, Roland, Roland” isn’t being totally absurd when he has his delusions of taking back his retirement announcement and seeking a full term for Senate after all.

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Japanese-Americans weren’t the only abused ethnicity in 20th century U.S.

Illinois state Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago, is about to get his moment of “glory.” Every nativist nitwit will be trying to jump down his throat on account of the fact that one of his bills this spring actually got signed into law.

We’re talking about the measure Gov. Pat Quinn approved that will require schools in Illinois to include mention of the forced migration of Mexicans from the United States back during the 1930s in their U.S. history courses.

DELGADO WAS THE voice of reason that pushed for this measure, which already is upsetting those people who want to keep reliving the past and its mistakes over and over and over yet again.

The problem is that it is an embarrassing moment for the United States, whose immigration officials seemed to be incapable of figuring out what constituted a real live Mexican. Many of the 2 million who ultimately were deported were native-born U.S. citizens.

Then again, the first immigration laws written in the 1920s were designed more to keep Eastern Europeans (particularly Jewish people) out of the United States. Those first immigration restrictions specifically exempted Mexican citizens from any limitations.

It wasn’t until a decade later when some people got it into their heads that these Mexicans caused the Great Depression by “stealing” so many jobs that nativism overcame Democratic ideals.

CONSIDERING THAT IT came just one decade before the forced internment of people of Japanese ethnic backgrounds into special camps during World War II, it shows a pattern – one that would be nice if our nation were to try to break free of these days.

Those of you who would like to read more about this measure (or those of you xenophobes who want to have your blood pressure shoot sky high) should check out the Chicago Argus’ sister weblog, The South Chicagoan (http://southchicagoan.blogspot.com/) for Friday’s commentary.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Did William Delgado just write the lead of his obituary that will be published (http://www.ilga.gov/senate/Senator.asp?MemberID=1321) a few decades from now?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is the worth of a “friendship” on Facebook with a political person?

I am now “friends” with Pat Quinn.

Yes, that Pat Quinn. The guy who gets to call himself governor of Illinois for just over one more year (five more, if he's lucky).

NOW I DON’T mean to use the word “friends” in its true meaning. While I have known of Quinn and first met him nearly two decades ago, our true relationship is one of reporter-type person/political-type person (even though I’m sure there’s a part of him that would detest being lumped in with political people).

But when I woke up Tuesday morning and booted up the laptop to check on a couple of things, I noticed in my e-mail a request from Quinn to be my “friend” on Facebook.

Since I am of the type who is willing to be a Facebook “friend” with just about anybody, I accepted. So now I can read the personal details that Quinn has put up about himself (most of which are rather generic biographical details – no good “dirt” here).

I can also see that Quinn mostly uses his Facebook page to give people a chance to post comments about him and questions to him. My favorite is the from the man who wants the governor of Illinois to crack down on all the perverts who use public computers at the Harold Washington Library to view pornographic pictures and video snippets.

I GUESS IT never occurred to someone to complain to library officials. Go to the governor!

I shouldn’t mock this person so much. After all, he’s merely using the page for what Quinn wants him to – to feel like he has a direct contact, and Quinn as of Tuesday had 1,417 “friends” (22 of whom are also among my Facebook “friends”).

But can one seriously envision Quinn being among those people who use their every spare moment of time (and a lot of time they really don’t have to spare) playing those ridiculous games like “Mob Wars!” or taking the survey to figure out which Chicago street best (I’m “Avenue O”) fits their personality?

Everybody has their own use for a Facebook page.

PERSONALLY, THE REASON I use it is to provide yet another way for people to read the commentaries I write and publish at the Chicago Argus. It’s self-promotion, and if people want to use my page to send me comments about how moronic my commentary is (rather than post a comment on the weblog itself or send me an e-mail at the address published on this weblot), then so be it.

A part of me wants to be read, and I’m using this fad (who’s to say if anyone will pay attention to Facebook five years from now?) to make it easier to be read.

Quinn and other political people who use Facebook to promote themselves are doing the same thing. Only instead of wanting more people reading my weblog, they want more people to vote for them on future Election Days.

So yes, I realize just how pompous it is to make the statement that led off this commentary. It sounds like I’m claiming a personal relationship with the governor, which really has nothing to do with it.

IN FACT, I took a look at the list of Facebook “friends” I have managed to compile in a rather haphazard manner. Some are political operatives, while others are reporter-types who I once worked with or against but haven’t seen in years. A few are old school “chums,” while a few are people who for whatever reason picked me out at random as a Facebook “friend,” and I accepted.

But it turns out that seven of my “friends” are elected government officials, and one is a former elected official (one-time state Rep. Bill Edley, D-Canton).

Aside from Quinn, I can claim Facebook “friendship” with Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, state Reps. Dan Rutherford, R-Pontiac, and Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, state Sens. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, John E. Bradley, D-Marion, and Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Not that I’m claiming to be overly close to any of them.

BUT IT CAN be useful to figure out what a political person is up to by reading the snippets about themselves that they are willing to post publicly.

And if they are willing to let me read what is up, I will take advantage of it.

Yet the degree to which these officials use Facebook is interesting. I can’t remember the last time I heard anything from Bradley, yet Brady now makes daily appearances in my e-mail.

His every campaign stunt winds up in my box. Hynes is running for the same office on the Democratic Party side of the election, yet I can’t say he’s been anywhere near as active on Facebook. (Of course, getting the endorsements of several organized labor groups and having strong financial support means he doesn’t have to do as much).

BY COMPARISON, BRADY is one of the six Republicans who has dreams of becoming governor, so he has every motivation to get his name out there – since the GOP field is one that is largely unknown to the general public.

Only the most hard-core of political geeks who specializes in Democratic criticism would be able to claim in honesty that he/she knows who all six are in any detail (most of what I know about Brady is that we both attended Illinois Wesleyan University, although he was there a few years ahead of me).

But it could be intriguing if Brady’s heavy use of Facebook helped get his name out to his 1,490 “friends”, who spread his name about to their “friends” – and maybe even to their real-life friends as well.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michael Jackson death will be the 21st Century story that won’t wither away

Call this commentary Reporter 101. There are a few bits of the English language that any reporter-type person worth anything manages to pick up, and it would be nice if the public at large could do the same.

A “burglary” and a “robbery” are not synonymous. One must always be careful with their typing when using the word “public” in a story.

MOST RELEVANT ON this day in late August of 2009 – “homicide” and “murder” are not the same thing.

The problem is that most people think they are, which means we’re going to be dealing with many weasel-y type people in coming days who are going to think that we now have a murder investigation going in the death of Michael Jackson.

The pop singer whose soul departed this earth nearly two months ago (but has yet to be buried) is gone, and police investigators looking into his death have found unusual behavior with regards to his doctor.

They seem to think the medications he was taking may have somehow been improperly used in amounts that far exceed appropriate levels. In short, they are wondering what was going on.

THIS WEEK, THE death of Jackson was officially classified by the coroner’s office in Los Angeles as a “homicide,” which seems to mean that police do not believe the drug overdose was solely Jackson’s fault.

That may be true. But too many people want to equate “homicide” and “murder” in their minds as being the same thing. Now we’re going to get more rounds of Michael Jackson conspiracy theories.

It makes me wonder if Jackson’s death is meant to be for the 21st Century what the shooting of John F. Kennedy was for the 20th? Are we determined to go through our lives hearing all kinds of whacked out theories about how, who, and why the “king of pop” was deliberately put to death?

And will an aging Oliver Stone someday take it upon himself to give us a film that purports to tell us the Jackson saga, similar to how “JFK” is seen by too many people as somehow being relevant to the death of the former president?

IF ANYTHING, THIS ruling has ensured that we likely will never hear the end of the Jackson conspiracy – even if someone someday is arrested, charged and put on trial for the “crime.”

It all comes back to some people thinking that “homicide” is somehow some legalese fancypants alternative word for “murder,” and they think that by using or thinking “murder,” they’re somehow being more honest.

So here’s where we get into the Reporter 101 rhetoric. “Homicide” is a medical term. “Murder” is a legal term.

“Homicide” is the medical phrase used to describe any human death that was caused by the deliberate actions of another human being (just like “suicide’ is the medical phrase for any death caused by one’s own deliberate actions).

BUT “MURDER” IS a legal term, specifically the name given to a criminal charge applied whenever someone dies because of another human being’s deliberate actions, and it can be shown that there was some foul, illicit motivation behind such actions.

Basically, all “homicides” are not “murder,” although all cases that get classified as “murder” can be called “homicides.

The classic example of this difference relates to executions. All of them count as “homicides” in the home counties of the prisons where they are conducted. Yet the fact that a court order authorizes someone to take a deliberate action to kill someone means it’s not “murder.”

I’m not saying that’s the case here. I doubt anyone had a court order authorizing an overdose of any type for Michael Jackson. I just don’t want to see this story get exaggerated because many people don’t understand the nuance of the word.

SO IS IT possible that the Jackson “homicide” will not result in a “murder” charge being filed against someone? It could be. In fact, much of the reporting I have read out of Los Angeles these days seems to imply that any criminal charge that will result from Michael Jackson’s death will be a lesser offense.

That will probably upset the people who want to think that Michael Jackson’s death somehow warrants the top-level criminal charges. If anything, I shudder when I hear the word “homicide” used in connection with this story because this is a story I want to end. I’m tired of it, and not particularly interested in having to have a “criminal trial” of any type take place.

I’d rather have him put to rest in whatever tomb his family manages to have erected for him, and have his fans remember his memory through the music – which remains in circulation. It’s not like all those long-playing records, compact discs and other recordings have suddenly disintegrated, although I wonder if anyone young enough to truly enjoy an iPod has ever bothered to download a Michael Jackson song.

Somehow, it just seems more respectful to the one-time Gary, Ind.-resident’s memory to listen to “Beat It” or “ABC” for the millionth time, rather than obsessing over who “murdered” him.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

EPA attack is little more than early, but typical, partisan campaign exchange

Did the head of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency just get job security for the next year, despite the fact that his office may not have done enough to investigate environmental wrong doers?

Because there’s no way I could see Gov. Pat Quinn actually going along with the suggestion made Sunday to fire state EPA Director Doug Scott.

THAT WAS THE suggestion made by state comptroller/gubernatorial hopeful Dan Hynes, who tried to cut into Quinn’s attempt at a media stunt on Sunday by holding a stunt of his own to overshadow it.

If Scott were to be fired now, it would create the impression that Quinn only did so because Hynes told him to – and that is the last image he wants to create these days.

In Quinn’s mindset, the news story from his office for Sunday broadcasts and websites and more thorough writeups in those Monday ayem newspapers was to be the governor signing into law a measure that would require local residents to be told if there was the slightest chance their local water supplies were tainted.

It also would call for tougher criminal penalties for people who get caught trying to cover up activity that causes such pollution.

YET NOW, THERE are going to be those people (mostly broadcast types) who will make the story into Scott deserving to lose his job because of the perception his office didn’t do enough to root out pollution and find evidence that the state attorney general’s office could turn into a criminal prosecution.

In a sense, it is obvious that this would happen.

A “fire the bum” story – particularly since the name Blagojevich got dredged up because Scott was hired by the impeached governor – is a nice peg for a campaign story in these early days of the electoral race for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor in next year’s elections.

Hynes hopes that he can knock the historically pathetic campaigner Quinn off the pedestal that his campaign gains just by being the incumbent.

IF HE CAN turn Quinn from mighty into a stumblebum early on, there is the chance that his own fundraising abilities and strong support from organized labor (some unions already haven endorsed the son of one-time state Senate President and Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes) can make him the front-runner throughout the primary season.

There’s also the fact that the Quinn bill signing in and of itself kind of deserves to be knocked around.

This particular bill was the Illinois General Assembly’s attempt to make it seem like it was reacting to the situation in southwest suburban Crestwood, where there is reason to believe the local water supplies were tainted with carcinogenic substances for nearly two decades.

There is a degree to which Quinn’s Sunday press conference/bill signing was little more than a stunt – one that was meant to make Quinn look less stumblebum and more mighty.

IT ALSO WOULD reinforce the impression that this IS the governor, who has the ability to do things for the people right now. And if you like what you’re getting now, vote for Pat come February to get four more years.

In short, it’s all about the campaign season leading up to the Feb. 2, 2010 elections to be held in Illinois.

All this talk of the environment is about as cheap as that guy who offers to sell you a load of swampland – Sunday was about partisan politics in the gubernatorial campaign.

The scary thing is that I doubt many people are paying that close of attention. In fact, it wouldn’t shock me if the few people who seriously care right now about the campaign for governor are the ones who are Republican partisans who are trying to figure out which of the six “unknown legislators/political hacks/goofs/whatever you want to call them” will wind up as the GOP nominee to run against the winner of Quinn/Hynes.

THIS IS GOING to be an election cycle where the bulk of the people who will take the time to show up at a polling place either before or on Election Day won’t pay serious attention to what is going on until likely some time after they recover from the New Year’s Eve hangover.

They’ll spend those four weeks or so considering where the various candidates are at that point, and which have the endorsements of the interest groups they take seriously. Then, they’ll figure out who to cast a ballot for – and get on with their lives.

Anything done before that is a waste of time in terms of trying to get votes.

What it is more about is each candidate trying to undermine their opposition early on so they can’t build momentum with the hard-core political operatives and other followers.

HYNES TRYING TO undermine Quinn’s environmental stunt was less about him caring about the environment, and solely about him wanting to turn Quinn into a political hack less relevant than Roland Burris come mid-January of 2010.

Which means that for all practical purposes, the campaign nonsense for next year has already begun. We can all grab some aspirin to cope with the headaches from all the political rhetoric we’re going to hear in coming months.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wrigley to Tribune to Ricketts? I’ll believe it when the leagues approve it

So at just about the time it appears that Sam Zell could be dumped from Tribune Co., the corporate types there finally got their act together enough to unload the Chicago Cubs – creating only the third ownership group for the team in the past eight decades.

Anyone who has read this weblog in the past knows I think the negotiation process dragged on way too long, so I’m not about to reiterate my disgust for that – which may very well be one of the few things I have in common with Chicago Cubs fans.

BUT THE SALE of the Cubs was the alleged big news of Friday. News reports using words such as “official” and “finalized,” although I noticed one interesting snippet of reader comment on the website of Crain’s Chicago Business from a self-appointed business expert who tells us that “finalized” doesn’t mean “closed.”

Now I’m not going to claim to be enough of a business expert to understand this issue, other than to admit I’m trusting certain reports that the Tribune types are no longer considering other officials, and that their preference is that the Ricketts family get the ball club.

Yet the reason I’m skeptical is because of the fact that this is professional sports, and the ways of the business of sports resemble the ways of the real world in virtually no way.

There is the simple fact that the owners of other National League ball clubs and even those in the American League now get to have their say.

AND THEY DON’T necessarily need to have logic on their side. If they somehow get it in their minds that someone is not worthy of being included in their fraternity, they can throw a snit fit and refuse to let them purchase the team.

Let’s not forget the last time the Chicago White Sox were up for sale. It’s not like Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn and their allied business executives were the top choice of former owner Bill Veeck to purchase the team.

I’m not aware of anything in Ricketts’ background that could be used against him such as the financial interests in horserace tracks that were used against the preferred choice for White Sox ownership.

But who’s to say what could come up, or what kind of trash could be used to try to justify someone not being suited for the “best interests of baseball” (whatever that phrase is supposed to mean).

THERE IS ONE aspect of this deal that intrigues me.

Tribune Co. is not leaving the scene completely when it comes to what passes for Major League baseball in the Lakeview neighborhood.

They’re keeping a 5 percent interest in the team, which means they won’t be able to call the on-field shots anymore – a good thing because the broadcast types who ran Tribune Co. throughout the years may very well have been successful at making money off baseball broadcasts.

Which means anyone who “fears” the idea of Cubs games being broadcast elsewhere other than WGN-TV can likely relax. It’s probably strong enough for the Tribune broadcast types to retain a hand in the team’s marketing – which was strong.

THEY ARE, AFTER all, the guys who figured out a way to market a pathetic ball club so as to draw in top-level TV ratings to the point where the Cubs are now the team who would disappoint many of their fans if they ever actually won anything.

But they sure couldn’t figure out how to sustain anything concerning on-field athletic success, both in terms of winning seasons or keeping talented ballplayers who happened to start their careers at Wrigley Field.

Greg Maddux and Bruce Sutter are likely the quintessential Chicago Cubs of the Tribune era. The Hall of Fame pitchers showed their stuff and made it clear how good they would turn out to be while in Chicago, but Atlanta and St. Louis got to see them at their peak.

But enough of the Tribune, whom I’m assuming many off the team’s fans would prefer to forget ever had a hand in management of the ball club.

THAT IS, ASSUMING the deal goes through.

My bottom line is that I will believe the Chicago Cubs have a new owner when I hear that the league owners by an overwhelming majority have given their approval to a sale – which only took nearly three seasons to complete.

In the end, a period in the ball club’s history that should be remembered for a string of winning seasons and division titles likely will go down in memory as the time when nobody had a clue who was going to get the Chicago Cubs.

And now that we know the Ricketts family is a part of the baseball fraternity, we can envision the new owner receiving a ritual paddling as his initiation to the club.

OF COURSE, HAVING to endure seasons without a championship will be worse than all the possible whacks he could receive.

Because, after all, these are the Chicago Cubs, the National League’s answer to the St. Louis Browns.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Is Fitzgerald biting off too much with involvement in Mexico drug indictments?

Lewis I. “Scooter” Libby. Judith Miller. George Ryan. Someday (possibly) Rod Blagojevich.

These are just a few of the people who have managed to come under fire from Chicago’s very own U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. With these prosecutorial scalps, Fitzgeraold has amassed a record of high profile – higher than a Chicago-based federal prosecutor usually gets.

IT’S BECAUSE OF his willingness to get involved in the big national investigations that require him to put in time elsewhere, rather than becoming overly parochial like many of our city’s public officials.

So could it be that he’s bored these days, and uses that boredom to justify his latest target – Mexican narcotics traffickers?

Could it be that Fitzgerald’s 21st Century take on Eliot Ness thinks he can fight drugs the same way Ness allegedly (if not fully in reality) took on alcohol?

Will Chicago’s G-men take on the influx of narcotics that are flowing up from Mexico and Latin American nations?

YES. I WILL be the first to admit I’m laying the hyperbole on rather thick here – to the point of being ridiculous.

Because that is what I think of the indictments that were handed down Thursday in federal courts in Chicago and New York, and announced publicly in the District of Columbia, with Attorney General Eric Holder at Fitzgerald’s side in making the announcement.

These acts are pointless if they are to be judged on their realistic potential to actually stop the flow of drugs into the Chicago area, let alone the rest of the nation.

The reporter-type person in me has dealt with many drug busts throughout the years whose significance was exaggerated by law enforcement types who were eager to make themselves look significant in the “War on Drugs!”

BUT FITZGERALD MAY have topped them all with this week’s announcement that some 43 people, including some Mexican citizens currently living in Mexico, now have criminal charges pending against them in the United States.

It’s almost as ridiculous an act as when then Chicago-based federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis tried to have Kaiser Wilhelm II extradited to the United States so he could be hauled into his courtroom to allow Landis to punish him for the sinking of the Luisitania – the act that drew the United States into World War I.

I just don’t see the practical effect such a prosecution would have. You might as well just go ahead and issue the indictment against Osama bin Laden.

It is true that some lower-level people in the United States are now busted and likely will wind up doing their time in prison. It will cause some confusion for a few days in terms of the flow of drugs into this country.

THERE MAY BE someone who is not able to make their usual illicit drug purchase for a few days.

But it is too likely that for every person who spends some time in jail, someone else will rise up in the ranks and become significant. In short, they will be replaced. The order of things by which these narcotics get into this country will be restored, even if it is with different people.

It really doesn’t matter who is providing the drugs, so long as the demand for the “product” is there. Someone will always be desperate or determined enough to take the legal risks to try to fill the desire.

If anything, all these indictments did was little more than open up a few jobs – which can be a plus in today’s times of economic struggles. Someone else is about to get a job as a drug dealer.

AS FOR THE Mexicans at the top who are getting rich off the misery caused by narcotics (so rich that at least one of them is among the wealthiest people on the face of Planet Earth)?

This indictment merely makes it a little more difficult for those dealers to bring their bimbos to “los Estados Unidos” for a weekend of pleasure in Las Vegas or at some other luxury spot that most real people in this country can’t think of enjoying (it costs too much).

Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton was correct a few months ago when she said the United States had an obligation to assist Mexico with trying to stop the flow of narcotics into this country.

There wouldn’t be so many Mexicans getting rich off narcotics sales if it weren’t for Anglo idiots being willing to spend what little money they have on a “quick fix.”

IF IT MEANS we have to focus our efforts on trying to get people weaned away from wanting to resort to such drugs, rather than think the “Law and Order” approach is primary, then so be it.

Because a part of me wonders if all that is going to happen from these new indictments is that some people, particularly those of a nativist ideological bent, will think the problem is solved now that somebody’s cracking down on Mexican drug dealers.

When in reality, the problems caused by narcotics use will remain with us, even if a few more people wind up crowding our nation’s prison systems.

And Patrick Fitzgerald could go back to doing his job of keeping us Chicago-area residents safe from the likes of Rod Blagojevich.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Reports of the indictment of various people, including high-ranking Mexican drug dealers, cracked me up (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-082009-drug-cartel-federal-indictments,0,4228031.story) with their references of drugs being slipped into the country “by submarine.” Could it be that those subs are going up the Mississippi River, across the state via the Illinois River, then coming into the city via the Chicago River? Nah!

For those who wonder why Mexico doesn’t just extradite the 10 of their citizens who are now indicted (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/us/21cartel.html) in the United States on drug charges, think of how many of them would feel if the U.S. willingly turned over its citizens because a foreign country filed some charges.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Even public officials face violence

I remember back a couple of decades ago to an afternoon I spent as a reporter-type person with the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago, which on that particular day had me working at the Belmont Area detective bureau (the one on the site that Chicago old-timers think of as the site of Riverview Amusement Park).

I was checking on what turned out to be a pair of miniscule (from a news judgment standpoint, I’m sure the victim vividly remembers the incidents to this day) shootings that took place on the North Side.

SOMEHOW, THE CONVERSATION turned to the requirement that police officers be armed at all times (even when they were off the job). I recall one of the homicide detectives telling me, “I don’t take the trash out without wearing” his pistol.

Now I’m sure some people are going to read that anecdote and wonder why it is fair that a police officer can wear a pistol, but a so-called law-abiding citizen cannot. That is a topic for a different day (and no, I don’t support the concept of “concealed carry,” since I think too many people are likely to get excited and careless and overreact and shoot themselves).

But I couldn’t help but remember that cop who by now is retired and may well be living elsewhere other than Chicago (my uncle Mike who was a Chicago cop for a few decades retired to Arkansas) when I read accounts of a firefighter who was attacked in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the firefighter was found at about 4 a.m. on the sidewalk near Halsted and Dickens streets. He underwent surgery Wednesday morning at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and officials said he was “in bad shape.”

I’M SURE AT his age (24), he probably was the foolishly fearless type who thought he could wander into any neighborhood and be safe. After all, he was a firefighter. If burning buildings weren’t about to take him down, why should he feel threatened walking through a neighborhood whose residents would like to think they are the elite of Chicago.

But the simple fact is that crime can happen to anyone, at anytime, and just about anywhere.

Perhaps the copper from the depths of my memory was merely ahead of his time in wearing his holstered pistol while walking out to the alley behind his home to take out the trash.

Now I know that some people are going to complain that too much attention is being given to this incident, or to a string of other crimes that have occurred in recent weeks in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

POLICE HAVE BEEN claiming that the individual incidents do not appear to be necessarily connected to each other. So it isn’t likely to be one person committing a batch of serial acts. It’s just likely the potential for violence that can break out anywhere – even in places where local residents thought they were immune.

By comparison, the numbers or types of incidents fall short of what some people are too willing to accept as just the routine way of life in certain inner-city neighborhoods, particularly if they were on the West or South sides of the city.

Think about it. How many of you who now are sympathetic toward that firefighter would be thinking to yourself “he was an idiot to be walking around out there” if the incident had happened at 63rd Street and Stewart Avenue – the heart of the Englewood neighborhood?

Things like this can happen anywhere. I couldn’t help but notice the Tribune newspaper website’s other “big” story for Wednesday – it seemed like too perfect a pairing to go along with the attacked firefighter.

I’M TALKING ABOUT the attacked mayor.

No, not Richard M. Daley. He, after all, has his security detail that recently went so far as to help capture one of three men who escaped from an Indiana state prison when that man happened to wander into the town where the Daley family has their summer cottage.

It was Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett who got beaten up when he threatened to call police to break up an incident involving a man who was beating up an older woman at the Wisconsin State Fair.

Trying to do “the right thing” got him a few punches and scrapes on his upper lip and cheek, along with the national attention of being a public official whose layers of security were not enough to keep him immune from the potential for violence that we all confront in life – even if some of us are in denial and want to think we can hide from it.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: A firefighter is trying to recover from a beating he took in what is supposed (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/08/police-investigate-lincoln-park-beating.html) to be one of Chicago’s elite neighborhoods.

Even a mayor can become (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/08/milwaukee-mayor-to-talk-about-beating.html) a crime victim, particularly when he leaves his security detail at home.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Digging into the political past

Admittedly, not many people pay attention to the assessor’s office of Cook County government.

That is one office whose highlight in the public eye may very well have come 29 years ago when it got mentioned in the film “The Blues Brothers” (remember when Jake and Elwood were in their mad dash to pay the taxes on the orphanage where they grew up? Their destination, with law enforcement and military personnel of every type in pursuit, was the assessor’s office).

BUT THAT POSITION could wind up getting more attention than usual if Bob Shaw proceeds with his declared intentions to seek the office as his way of gaining a return to electoral politics.

Shaw released a statement saying he’d like to run for the post, on account of the fact that incumbent Assessor Jim Houlihan has said he plans to retire, following 12 years running the office that sets the property values for every single plot across the county – which has a hand in determining how high the property taxes will be.

Whether Shaw could win the post is something I’m unsure of.

For the simple fact is that Shaw and his twin brother, Bill, were always one of those breed of political people whose base was a small portion of the Chicago area, rather than the entire area.

THEY HAD THEIR followers on the far South Side of Chicago and in the inner southern suburbs. But whether anyone else will find Bob Shaw appealing enough to cast a ballot for him is questionable.

It is like the commonly accepted political logic surrounding Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, whose legislative district encompasses a couple of wards on the Southwest Side.

He may be all-powerful, but he likely could never win a statewide (or even citywide) office. His power is too concentrated in those select neighborhoods.

The same goes for Shaw, who is an acquired taste who appeals to certain people who feel like they are otherwise ignored by political people.

THE FACT IS that at their peak, Shaw was the all-powerful Alderman from the 9th Ward (the Roseland and Pullman neighborhoods, primarily), while brother bill was a state Senator from the same area.

Bob at City Hall with Bill at the Statehouse. They made an impressive pair who were willing to give a voice to a neighborhood that when many people think of it at all, it is to comment on how much it has declined in recent decades.

Of course, time progressed and the two made the move to the suburbs, with Bob becoming a member of the Cook County Board of Review. His brother for a time doubled his state Senate service with a stint as mayor of suburban Dolton – although he eventually focused his attention on that post full-time until his death last year.

Now it will just be Bob Shaw, who some always considered the stronger voiced of the two (as in Bill did Bob’s bidding), although it likely was more accurate to say they were a pair with similar goals – focused on trying to get more public attention and awareness of the impoverished communities they represented.

LISTENING TO BOB Shaw these days, he still speaks like he’s representing merely the underdogs of our society – rather than going for a post that would give him a say in the lives of the more than 5 million people who live in Cook County.

He says he’d like to use the post to try to help people who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure because they can’t afford to pay the property taxes that his desired office would have a hand in setting.

(I say a hand because the reality is that it is the city councils and village boards across the county that actually set the tax levels in their communities based on how they use the property values and levies set by the assessor’s office).

That could be a powerful issue – vote for Bob and you might get to keep your house.

BUT I ALSO have to wonder how Shaw’s political past will scare off many prospective voters. Like I wrote earlier, he may have been around the local political scene for more than two full decades, but hardly anyone outside of Roseland or Dolton has ever had a chance to vote for him before.

And somehow, I doubt the feelings of the Jackson family have changed toward Bob Shaw.

I’m talking about Jackson as in Rep. Jesse Jr., D-Ill., who is the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.

There was always the sense that the Shaws wanted to be the political powerbrokers of the far South Side and surrounding suburbs, and were envious of the fact that it is the Jacksons who actually have that kind of influence.

THERE HAVE BEEN many local campaigns in recent years between allies of Shaw running against allies of Jackson, and it was usually the latter who won. Even in the few cases where Shaw allies were victorious, they usually had trouble governing effectively because there were so many Jackson-types willing to oppose them at every step.

Would a Bob Shaw for county Assessor bring out a hard-hitting opposition from the Jacksons? Or will it be a lot of under-the-table kicks to the shins?

Either way, a Shaw attempt at returning to politics could wind up being an intriguing sideshow come the 2010 election cycle.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Will Cook County get its first African-American (http://nwitimes.com/news/local/illinois/article_c64c6755-4ed3-5687-a3f0-250e397d7cd1.html) assessor?

The lobby of the Cook County Building got immortalized in cinema, but the actual (http://www.bluesbrotherscentral.com/locations/cook-county-building/) assessor’s office was on a soundstage in Hollywood.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What is saved with city “holidays”

Roughly $2.7 million.

That is the figure Chicago city government officials will tell you they managed to save by slashing city services to the bare minimum on Monday.

AND MONDAY WAS going to be the first of three such “holidays” in which city workers are told to take the day off, because they’re not going to get paid. (The other two days are the Friday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve).

One can argue that so many people look for excuses to not show up for work on those two days that it makes sense to just let everybody stay home.

Monday, however, appeared to be picked arbitrarily. Of course, any attempt to have unpaid holidays is going to be arbitrary in nature.

But this appears to be the gimmick used by municipal government, which wants to blame their payroll for being the cause of having such high budgets. They don’t want the negative political backlash of any kind of tax hike or other revenue boost, and they don’t want to come out and have to fight with the labor unions to cut salaries.

ALTHOUGH WHEN ONE thinks about it seriously, what else is a furlough except for a cut in salary. The worker is going to get paid this week for only four days of work. It will be a smaller paycheck.

And considering that many people in today’s tough economic times are desperate for every penny of that paycheck (assuming, of course, they have a job of some sort), this is going to strap them.

It might be easier if the salary were slashed, because that would shift the burden from some select weeks to just a slightly smaller salary every week. Of course, then, we’d have city employees in revolt, and that could easily cause pain at the voter booth in future years.

Why vote to re-elect a boss that can hurt their income?

NOW I REALIZE a lot of people aren’t that sympathetic to those who choose to earn a living by working on a public payroll. I’m not talking about the elected officials themselves, or even the top aides who answer directly to the top officials.

I’m referring to the working stiffs who do much of the scut work that enables governments at all levels to provide the services that the public has come to expect of them.

That clerk in the Recorder of Deeds office, or the person at the motor vehicles bureau of the Secretary of State’s office. I know those are Cook County and Illinois state government offices, but there are the equivalents in Chicago government. They exist in every government – and we’re talking people who do drudge work that helps keep straight what government provides to us.

I have always had problems whenever government officials at any level talk about the concept of “furloughs,” as though it is somehow the obligation of the lowest level people of a government to guarantee its continued existence – when usually it is the people at the highest levels who made poor decisions that caused a problem.

THE RESULT IS that they expect the low-level people to take a hit that helps fix the mess that ensures it won’t become a campaign issue in future years’ elections.

In short, a whole lot of people lost a day’s pay this week so that Mayor Richard M. Daley could ultimately come out on top yet again.

He’s gambling that you won’t remember the fact that your garbage wasn’t picked up, or that the neighborhood public library wasn’t open.

Admittedly, the police and fire departments were running with full shifts. But that’s because closing them down for a day is inviting disaster.

NOW IT’S POSSIBLE that some of you weren’t supposed to have your trash picked up on Monday, and the streets in front of your home aren’t as pothole infested as others across the city. It may even turn out that no one in your neighborhood needed the police or fire departments, or any other specific city services.

These are going to be the people who will make the ridiculous jokes about how a day without city government didn’t cause them any difference at all in their lives.

They may even quip about how things were better for a day without some city bureaucrat in place to make someone’s life more confusing. And if it meant that $2.7 million was saved (city officials estimate the three “holidays” will save $8.4 million), all the better.

It’s just that as far as I’m concerned, $2.7 million saved by all of city government just doesn’t sound like all that much money – particularly if it means that others were inconvenienced, either because they lost a day’s pay or because they had to wait a day to get something done by the city.

WHETHER THEY’RE CALLED “furloughs” or “unpaid holidays” or whatever phrase one prefers, ultimately, they are just a stopgap measure. More serious, long-lasting alternatives to balancing the city budget will have to be found.

Otherwise we run the risk of one day having a government that is so far over budget that its workers will have to take every day off in order to balance it.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

I wish Woodstock hype would pipe down

My mind is somewhat weary these days from all the hype it has encountered about the significance of what happened 40 years ago.

I’m tired of hearing about the “Woodstock” music festival that took place in mid-August in upstate New York – even though I have to appreciate that the bill is remarkable.

JUST THINK OF how many hundreds of dollars modern-day concert promoters would charge if they could get the 21st Century equivalents of Jimi Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane and Santana to appear in one show.

Admittedly, Woodstock-goers also had to put up with about an hour of Sha Na Na, but that seems like a small price to pay for what would be the musical equivalent of an All Star team.

What gets to me about the whole concept of this being the 40th anniversary is the degree to which this whole thing has become commercialized. It has nothing to do with celebrating the development of popular music, or even commemorating the ideals of a generation that thought they could re-do our culture in a more civilized manner.

It is about taking advantage of the desire that some people have for nostalgia and trying to figure out how to make money off of it.

FOR THE PAST month, the Barnes & Noble bookstore near me has had a special display of Woodstock-themed merchandise it is trying to sell. I’ve seen the same stuff for sale elsewhere.

The one thing that gets to me is the packet of reproductions of front pages and other newspaper pages from the New York Times that were devoted to coverage of the concerts.

For those people who may have lost their newspapers from that era (or for those like me who were just a couple weeks shy of my fourth birthday), it is a chance for an instant souvenir – sold in a special clear plastic wrap meant to ensure that they age as slowly as possible.

And all for a mere $14.95.

THERE ALSO ARE the picture books, the posters, the biographies of musicians who performed at the concert, and even a few tie-dyed t-shirts for those whose authentic merchandise from that era no longer even comes close to fitting over their bloated guts.

Personally, I only shelled out money for one item.

I have always enjoyed the music of Santana – particularly their first few recordings from the early 1970s (although I’ll take their cover of “Oye Como Va” over “Black Magic Woman” anytime).

So of course, we’re getting “The Woodstock Experience” series of compact discs.

I DIDN’T FEEL the need to buy the disc in the series devoted to Sly and the Family Stone or Janis Joplin.

But I did shell out $12.95 for the Santana take, which is two discs – one devoted to their 45-minute set of eight songs that they performed at Woodstock on Aug. 16 (which I happen to be listening to as I write this commentary).

The other is a disc of their first LP, entitled simply, “Santana.” Remember “Evil Ways?”

Of course, I already owned a copy of that disc (both on LP and CD).

SO IT ALMOST feels like the ultimate scam – finding a way to get me to buy something once again that I already owned.

It feels a lot like the constant upgrading of video players and devices for watching films. Those people who build up a significant library of worthy films wind up having to rebuy them all over again to be in compliance with whatever the current format of player is.

It’s almost enough to make me wish I was one of those people who watched or listened to artistic garbage and never felt the desire to invest in owning a copy of something.

And speaking of garbage, how many people think the soon-to-be-released film about Woodstock (“Taking Woodstock”) is just an excuse to shoot footage of topless blonde girls running around in mud?

SO I’M OUT just under 15 bucks (don’t forget tax). I’m sure some people spent more money (some may have spent significantly more, but their foolishness is a topic for a future commentary).

Somewhere, some marketing executive has managed to take what could have been a chance to look back on what significance, if any, we should give to that time when thousands of people converged on a rural community and managed to behave peacefully.

No riots at Woodstock.

Which is why I feel some distaste toward the people who want to diminish the significance of what happened.

IT’S NOT THAT I’m one of those halfwits who can’t stand the thought that the whole world doesn’t revolve about our pop culture icons. I’m only thankful that the 1980s produced nothing (Boy George? Oingo Boingo?) that could even come close to being compared to Woodstock, or else we’d be equally insufferable.

Nor am I someone of an ideological bent who is determined to diminish the cultural significance of the three-day musical fest because of a desire to keep living in the past (the kind of people who probably think that Pat Boone did superior cover versions of early rock ‘n’ roll hit songs).

When I hear the Eric Cartman character on South Park cartoons go into his rants about “hating hippies,” I shudder not because I think “hippies” were all that great – but because I realize some people do find that line funny.

Which means the “peace” and “love” of that generation managed to miss a few individuals – some of whom are probably of a segment of the older generation that thinks it is “PC run amok” that we don’t still think of Martin Luther King Jr. as some sort of “communist.”

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Are “Mad Men” and “Woodstock” evidence of a generation taking themselves way too seriously (http://www.ethiopianreview.com/articles/24286), or a sign that a younger generation wishes it could accomplish something that people would remember a few decades from now?

Will we be asked to buy new versions of all this junk some 10 years from now when Woodstock (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/ent/stories/DN-woodstock_0816gd.ART.State.Edition1.4c58a78.html) will have reached the half-century mark?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ballpark beer toss shows just how much times have changed in past five decades

I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought that a Chicago Cubs “fan” now faces some sort of criminal charge because he got caught up in the moment and let his beer cup fly onto the field – getting a ballplayer wet in the process.

For one of the “iconic” photographs related to Chicago baseball is of just such a moment. Or have we already forgotten Al Smith?

HE WAS THE Chicago White Sox left fielder who took a half-filled cup of beer in the face when he happened to look up in the outfield stands at Comiskey Park during the 1959 World Series when Charley Neal of the Los Angeles Dodgers hit a home run.

That beer cup had been set on the top of the outfield wall by a fan in the front row, who in his excitement at a home run ball coming near him managed to knock it over – giving us the shot of Smith at the moment the beer splashed in his face.

Now from the video shot at Wrigley Field earlier this week, it was clear that this was not a case of a fan knocking over his beer cup. (If it had been, that mesh basket that sits atop the Wrigley Field outfield wall would have caught it – that’s why it’s there).

This fan (whom I’m not going to bother to name, those of you who care can find out all about him elsewhere on the Internet) clearly threw his cup at Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino (only a Cubs fan would get all worked up over a fly ball hit to the warning track), although his friends now tell the Chicago Tribune he got caught up in the excitement of the moment and lost control of himself when he threw that cup.

OF COURSE, AS I recall from news accounts, the fan at Comiskey Park back on Oct. 2, 1959 was some sort of business executive, who later got Smith to autograph a copy of the picture that the Associated Press managed to get of the moment.

Smith himself estimated that he autographed about 200,000 such copies of that shot during his lifetime.

Somehow, I can’t envision the same end result coming about from this.

For one thing, the “image” that sticks in peoples’ minds is not a still photograph. It is video, and it emphasizes that Chicago Cubs security got caught up in the excitement of the moment and managed to kick the wrong fan out of the ballpark for tossing the beer.

I USED TO think one of the silliest fan ejection moments I ever saw was one time at U.S. Cellular Field when a woman in skimpy shorts and a halter top leaned onto the field to grab a baseball that was still in play. We got to see video of her and her boyfriend (a sailor who was in his Navy uniform at the time) being tossed out.

But watching video of some lowly Cubs fan get tossed out just because he happened to be sitting near a nitwit probably tops the image of a sailor being ejected from the park.

Anyway, what is Victorino supposed to do, autograph video snippets? Or is he supposed to sign stills from that video of images that are so fuzzy that they’re really not recognizable?

In fact, about the only reason I’m not going to be totally disgusted with the Cubs “fan” in question is because he had the decency to surrender himself to police in a timely fashion.

WE WERE SPARED the sight of a police “manhunt” for the lowly fiend who would dare assault a ballplayer with a beer cup.

Which means we can hope that Chicago police can focus minimal attention to this case, and the fan in question about a month or so from now can show up in court and enter a guilty plea to some misdemeanor.

He can pay his fine, be banned from Wrigley Field for a year or so, and the rest of us Chicagoans can get on with our lives.

While I appreciate the idea that people throwing things onto an athletic playing field are creating a potentially risky situation for the ballplayers, I have a hard time seeing this incident as a “crime of the century.”

AS I WROTE earlier, the 1959 World Series is largely remembered because of that one moment (and the fact that the three games played at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles each drew in excess of 90,000 fans per game – which is still an attendance record).

Should we really be getting all that worked up over this incident? It’s not like this particular “fan” pulled out some batteries to throw on the field – which is not a claim that every baseball team can make.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: He’s sorry (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2009/08/friend-defends-wrigley-beer-tosser.html). He’s really, really sorry.

Only in Al Smith’s dreams (http://www.historicbaseball.com/players/s/smith_al.html) did anyone remember that he once hit a home run in a World Series game (1954, for the Cleveland Indians against the New York Giants).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Quinn OK with video poker ban waivers

Gov. Pat Quinn might have the right idea by not getting all worked up over the thought that some of the largest counties in Illinois want to exempt themselves from the new state law that makes video poker legal.

The laws that made video poker a source of occasional raids by assorted sheriff’s across the state (all of whom wanted some attention for their tough-on-crime attitudes by smashing up a few poker machines) were repealed earlier this year, with the thought that the state would tax the revenue as part of the way in which it would come up with the cash to pay for the massive public works programs many people across the state want.

BUT DuPAGE COUNTY recently passed a measure making it clear that the video poker devices had better remain for “entertainment purposes only,” or else they will still be illegal.

There is even talk that Cook and Will counties are considering similar action, along with the chance that Peoria County in central Illinois would do the same thing.

When one considers that Cook, DuPage and Will counties account for about 6.7 million people, or just over half of the state’s population, it sounds serious. It sounds like the counties are preparing to rebel against the governor’s desires and trash any hope that there will be money to pay for all those road repairs and other municipal construction projects that are part of a Capital Projects plan.

But we have to remember that the county boards and their respective sheriff’s police departments have direct control only over those portions of their areas that are unincorporated.

WHEN IT COMES to the Chicago area’s half-a-dozen counties, most people live in incorporated areas.

So for most people, the fact that the county board is “talkin’ tough” about wanting to continue to crack down on crime and the evils of gambling really doesn’t mean much.

Unless the individual city councils and village boards start taking it upon themselves to pass resolution after resolution exempting themselves from the video poker measure, the fact is that the devices will remain legal throughout much of the Chicago area, and Illinois – even though places like suburban Rosemont and Country Club Hills have enacted their own bans.

So Quinn is merely being level headed when he says he doubts that enough communities will take on a video poker waiver to seriously impact the amount of money to be raised for the Capital Projects plan.

THE FACT ALSO is that most municipalities these days are trying to figure out how to pay for all the things they need or want to do, at a time when their local sales tax revenues are down and foreclosures on the rise threaten the amount of local property taxes they will collect.

I honestly believe that most municipalities will go along with the idea of video poker being legal if it means they get money so they can repave their local streets.

Some people will argue that such an attitude is a disgrace.

Legal gambling in any form brings on social problems that threaten the status of our society. They’d argue we ought to be doing everything possible to discourage the very concept that gambling is acceptable in any form.

THEN, SOCIETY AS a whole likely would yawn in response, and a couple of people likely would tell those people to shut their yaps. For the fact is that we as a society have accepted gambling as a legitimate form of raising money.

Many of those people even go out of their way to use the word “gaming” to describe it because they don’t want to have to address the so-called moral qualms about gambling.

And I’m sure there are enough political people who will take that attitude that we won’t see a sea of morals swarming over us to suddenly keep video poker illegal.

So it is cute that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart can get worked up over this issue and wonder what was going through the minds of his former political colleagues (he once represented the Mount Greenwood neighborhood in the Illinois General Assembly) when they went along with a measure to let video poker be illegal.

BUT IT’S NOT going to sway many political people.

I’d have to argue that the sudden move by the county government officials is more for political show than anything else.

They’re taking a vote that they can twist into something moral sounding on their campaign literature for next year’s election cycles, knowing it’s not going to have a significant impact on the character of the state.

For the reality is that we’re always going to have a certain number of people amongst us who will want to pump their change into a machine of some sorts out of hope that they will strike it rich and a lot of change will spit back out at them – at least allowing them to buy a round of drinks for everybody before they go back to trying to find another “get rich quick” scheme that rarely works.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Will far South Side "culture" adapt to having the "el" within its presence?

Many people automatically associate mass transit and elevated commuter trains with urban areas.

Heck, mention the “el” and one thinks of those raucous trains roaring overhead cutting through city neighborhoods taking people from place to place.

YET THERE HAS long been a significant portion of the city for which the idea of mass transit and the “el” was a mythical concept – something that exists elsewhere but is just a dream for us.

I’m talking about the far South Side of Chicago – that land where street numbers are in the hundreds and where some of the streets even bear the names of letters (Avenue O, anyone?)

The Chicago Transit Authority gave its approval Wednesday to a project that could someday change that mentality. But I’m wondering if the thought patterns of a whole generation of Calumet Area types are so engrained that the thought of taking the “el” to go anywhere will remain an alien concept.

I’m sure there will be people who live in places such as the East Side or Roseland who will figure they got along all these hundreds of years without the “el,” so who needs it now.

SOME MAY EVEN think they remain in such neighborhoods because of their mass transit isolation from the rest of Chicago.

So when I looked at the graphics prepared by the CTA that detailed how the Red, Orange and Yellow elevated train lines were to be extended, I was unsure what to think – except for the Yellow line, which is meant to stretch out even further into suburban Skokie so that theoretically, people can go from the State Street shopping experience to the Old Orchard Shopping Center.

That strikes me as silly, but I’m sure there is somebody who thinks it is long overdue for people in Chicago to take the “Skokie Swift” all the way to their suburban shopping mall.

Now I will be the first to admit that when I lived in neighborhoods of Chicago on the North and Northwest sides, I loved using the “el” It was convenient, the trains ran somewhat regularly and I literally could get around the city at a moment’s notice without an automobile.

WHEN ONE COMBINES those “el” lines with the bus system, it works well. But the whole city never had the benefit of the setup that exists north of the Chicago River.

Certain parts of the South Side don’t have an “el” line that come anywhere near them – primarily because the major South Side line is that Red Line train that cuts down the middle of the Dan Ryan expressway.

Unless one lives right by the expressway, using those “el” trains were too much of an annoyance to get to. There also is the fact that the Red Line only went as far south as 95th Street, whereas for most of the South Side, the city/suburban boundary is 119th Street and in some parts (like the Hegewisch neighborhood) goes as far south as 138th Street.

95th and the Dan Ryan wasn’t that convenient for many far South Siders, and when combined with the somewhat seedy reputation that particular stop has developed in some people’s minds, it meant that “el” trains were not a part of the daily reality.

SO NOW, THE CTA wants to stretch the Red Line down to 130th Street, while also making stops at 103rd, 111th and 115th streets. A whole new generation of Roseland and Pullman neighborhood residents will get to experience an “el” train as an alternative to the Metra Electric south suburban commuter trains that make a stop at 115th Street.

Will they get used? Maybe.

Although a part of me wonders if those who live in any surrounding neighborhoods will make a trip into a place near the Pullman neighborhood to catch an “el” train.

The sad part of many people, whether urban, suburban or rural, is that they easily get latched into their habits and it creates a mindset. Those attitudes aren’t easy to break.

I CAN’T SEE many people who currently catch a South Shore line commuter train when it makes its stop in the Hegewisch neighborhood giving up that option to catch an “el” train at 130th Street – even though for some people who live in the western part of that neighborhood, it would be closer to their homes.

It is habit that there are no trains when one gets that far south. Those of us who have a problem with that isolation (such as myself, I was born in the South Chicago neighborhood but don’t live there anymore) left a long time ago.

And those who can live with being cut off from the rest of Chicago (such as some of my relatives who remain in places such as the East Side and South Deering) probably aren’t getting all worked up over the CTA’s latest action – which by all admission will take years to become a reality.

After all, the CTA still needs to get money to pay for the project, let alone time to actually construct it.

THERE IS ONE plus.

When that “el” station at 130th Street (just west of the Bishop Ford Expressway) does get built, it will be within eyesight of the landfills maintained by Waste Management Corp., which has gone a long way toward controlling the smell of rotting trash that used to pervade the air throughout the area.

I’d hate to think of having to wait to catch an “el” train while coping with that stench. It would be unbearable, and enough of a reason to find an alternate mode of transportation.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Extensions of the Yellow and Orange train lines will take people to the Old Orchard and Ford City shopping centers respectively, while extending the Red (http://www.transitchicago.com/news/default.aspx?Month=&Year=&Category=2&ArticleId=2435) line will put people within site of garbage dumps.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Will Blagojevich take down Jackson?

I don’t know what to make of the candidacy of Cheryle Jackson for the U.S. Senate. About the only thing I do know is that I think the people who want to dismiss her because she has the “Blagojevich” label on her are being a bit ridiculous.

For the record, Jackson in recent years has been head of the Chicago Urban League. Because she is of a younger generation and once worked in the corporate world (Ameritech, for those who want to know), her focus on improving the quality of urban life has been less on social issues and more on economic development.

GET THEM JOBS, and their lives will improve. It’s a sound theory.

Combined with the fact that she will be a black woman running in the race (be honest, race still factors into the electoral equation), it means her candidacy will stand out – even though state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias would like to think he already has the Democratic Party’s nomination sewn up.

If she can find sources of campaign money, she could also feed into the African-American vote on the South and West sides that can be strong when it comes out in force.

She could be a contender, particularly if it looks like Todd Stroger will not be able to get the Democratic nomination for another term as Cook County Board president. There’s a good chance that Jackson could be the most credible African-American candidate seeking electoral office in Illinois in 2010.

BUT WHAT SOME people want to believe holds her back is the fact that in between Ameritech and the Urban League, she worked for Illinois state government.

Specifically, she was on the staff of the Illinois governor. For a couple of years, she was Rod Blagojevich’s press secretary/communications director/flack/public mouthpiece/whatever you want to call it.

What it means is that for a couple of years, when reporter-types had questions of the governor, they called Jackson. When TV types needed a quick answer to a question on camera, Jackson would often do the interview.

While one can argue that the press secretary is nowhere near as important as the chief of staff and his top-ranking aides in terms of setting public policy, the press secretary often becomes the face of that policy.

JACKSON WAS THE person that people saw explaining why her boss did things the way he did.

Will some people refuse to cast a vote for anyone who does not vilify Blagojevich to the same level of hatred that they do? Possibly.

But it strikes me as being ridiculous, and not just because Jackson quit that job several yeas ago to take the Urban League post. To my knowledge, none of the allegations of illegal activity have seen her name come up.

Her successors in the post have had to deal with federal investigators, mainly because it appears the activity the feds are trying to prove is criminal in nature occurred in the later years of Blagojevich’s six-year stint as Illinois governor.

BESIDES, AS I wrote earlier in this commentary, there is something of a divide between the press secretary position and the actual government official.

Some press secretaries manage to bridge that gap. Take Earl Bush, who spoke for Richard J. Daley for some 20 years. If you need a more recent example, there is Mike Lawrence, who was a press secretary for Jim Edgar – latching onto him when he was Secretary of State, then rising up with him when Edgar became governor.

Those are examples of people who develop a close enough relationship to impact public policy.

But in many ways, they also are the exception.

FOR ALL TOO often, I have seen my reporter-type colleagues leave a news job (because the pay stinks or they want to quit before getting laid off) to become a government press secretary for a year or two.

Then, they wind up on some corporate payroll doing public relations, or perhaps they turn themselves into “media consultants” who take on contracts to work for various entities – on the theory that a little bit of money from a lot of people can add up to a nice income.

These aren’t exactly the types of people who are going to have such a close tie to a politician that it can accurately be said they influenced the direction of public policy.

That is roughly the category I think Jackson fits into.

I’M NOT PREPARED to demonize every single person who ever came into contact with Rod Blagojevich. If I did, I’d have to include myself, since I remember covering him back in the mid-1990s when he was still in the state Legislature (and no one had ever heard of Barack Obama).

If anything, I want to demonize the people who are eager to use the “Blagojevich” label on every occasion possible. Many of us are tired of hearing about the man, and would like to hear nothing more until his actual trial in U.S. District Court takes place next year.

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